Ask the Garden Experts

Get the answers to your spring planting questions from the owners of three local gardening centers.

A colorful garden bed in Oakleigh held back by old Mobile brick. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Many of us in the Bay area have recently found ourselves with the unexpected gift of a little more time on our hands. Some might spend that time reading, others exercising, but many will look at their gardens and imagine what could be. With the help of three local plant experts, Blair Kovar, Wanda Wilsey Brown and Ewa Wiggins, slip on those gardening gloves and make the spring of 2020 one to remember.

What’s your favorite low-maintenance flowering plant right now, and how should it be cared for?

Blair: My favorite sun-tolerant, low-maintenance flowering plants are Drift roses. They come in a variety of colors and have an abundance of blooms. Drift roses are dwarf, low-growing roses that bloom in the spring, summer and fall. With plenty of sunlight and regular fertilizing, these roses will thrive in the ground or in a container.  

Wanda: Our favorite low-maintenance plant for seasonal “knock-your-socks-off” color is “SunPatiens.” It blooms all season in sun or shade, rain or shine — great in containers or the landscape. Just be sure to plant in good dirt and just water if they wilt.

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Ewa: We have many favorites, but as far as outdoor perennials, we love gaura, rhythm and blues salvia, homestead verbena and Mexican heather. Give them plenty of sun and well-draining soil. Fertilize them with a slow-release to eliminate the headache of frequent liquid feeding. 

Coral Drift Roses

What is a plant that has fallen out of favor in Southern gardens that needs to make a comeback? 

Blair: Bridalwreath spirea is one of my favorite low-maintenance shrubs that deserve more credit for its beautiful, white spring blooms.

Wanda: The main plant that is making a comeback in Southern gardens, with good reason, is the Southern Indica azalea. This is the class of azaleas that made Mobile the “Azalea City,” the large-blooming, early-season azaleas. These azaleas put our beloved city on the map!

Ewa: Confederate rose, rose of Sharon and banana magnolia are a few plants that stick out in my mind. 

Is there a vegetable variety you’re really excited about this season that people can plant in May?

Burpee’s Honey Cucumber

Blair: I am excited to be able to plant the new honey cucumber plant by Burpee. The honey cucumber produces a smooth skin and has a crispy honey taste. 

Wanda: It’s too late for tomato seeds. Now, buy tomato plants already up and ready to produce. They have a short window to produce, so it’s better to buy plants. Great time to buy starter plants of peppers, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and okra. We wish everyone a great harvest!

Ewa: By May, most vegetable gardens are planted, so work on keeping those weeds down, controlling insects and staking or stabilizing vining veggies and tomatoes.

What kind of maintenance should we be doing to our yards in May and June?

Blair: Be sure you are treating your lawn and plants for insects and fungi. Also, it’s very important to keep your new shrubs, trees and lawn from drying out.  

Wanda: In the months of May and June, if you haven’t already fed your plants and grass, now is the time. Use a slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer. Prune back spring-blooming plants, such as azaleas. If you have other non-blooming plants, prune and feed them. They will reward you next year.

Ewa: In May and June, weeds will be actively growing. Our lawns need an application of Weed and Feed along with regular irrigation during times of no rain.

What’s the most common mistake gardeners will make this month? 

Blair: The most common mistake I see gardeners make during the month of May is over- or under-watering their plants. 

Wanda: The ugly truth? They will go inside, turn on their air conditioners and forget about the investment they made in their yard. The truth is that beautiful yards take an investment in the heat. Continue to care for your yard, even in the unbearable months. Your yard will pay you back.

Ewa: Scalping their lawns and not watering enough, whether it’s their lawns, their beds or containers. Also, new plantings made during this month will need regularly scheduled irrigation.

What advice would you have for someone that’s interested in starting a landscaping project but is daunted by the options and by gardening in general?

Blair: The best advice I can give to someone interested in a landscaping project is to consult with someone who knows plants and landscaping in our area. Be sure to ask plenty of questions about what plants are best for our conditions and climate. 

Wanda: Our best advice is to do a landscape in stages. Pick a section and plant it. Do a project that will make an impact but fit your budget. A beautiful yard takes time. Just make sure you plant everything in really good dirt. Good dirt makes the difference between live or die.

Ewa: They can come to us with pictures of their beds with measurements, details of the sun exposure and soil type. With all of that information, we can make recommendations for their landscape. Besides that, we have a landscaper in house that can go onsite for consultations.

What garden tool or accessory could you not live without?

Blair: My favorite gardening accessory would have to be my Atlas gloves. 

Wanda: We all agree: great gloves and great pruning shears. We all use Bamboo gloves because they breathe. We use Dramm Pruning Shears because they are sharp and to the point.

Ewa: Me personally? I love my weed eater, my edger and my blower. They all get used very frequently. More important than any of those are my gloves. Everyone needs to be wearing gloves in the garden and protecting their hands.

The perfect potting table in McGregor Oaks. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Aside from plants, what kinds of decorations, fixtures or garden trends are really popular right now? 

Blair: We have seen a large increase in wind chimes this past year.

Wanda: Aside from plants, we are selling lots of pottery, both glazed and terra-cotta. Also, concrete items are selling, such as planters and statuary.

Ewa: Right now, people are installing more water features (bubblers, fountains, bird baths) and sprucing up different outdoor areas with containers, using colorful plants and decorative pottery. People are also decorating their porches with really cool lighting, as well as wind chimes and rain chains.

If my goal is to attract butterflies or bees to my garden, what would you suggest that can be planted in May or June?


Blair: A few of my favorite low-maintenance butterfly- and bee-attracting plants are butterfly bushes, coneflowers and milkweed. 

Wanda: Try lantana, salvia, verbena, butterfly weed and Mexican heather. Let me just say that we are so respectful of our pollinators, we choose to spray our plants after the pollinators have gone to bed and before the fireflies come out. We love our pollinators.

Ewa: We carry an assortment of pollinator-attractant plants, whether they be for birds, butterflies, hummingbirds or bees. A few of the plants we would recommend are milkweed, passionflower vine, butterfly bush, lantana, duranta, gaura and many more.

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