Monthly Archives: May 2015

Winter Wonders: Flowers that bloom in winter

Extension Daily:

With winter is in full swing  and spring slowly approaching, many gardeners are wondering what types of plants and flowers bloom during the chillier seasons.

Winter’s dreary and colorless tone can make many gardens and homes look gray and dull. But there are beautiful plants and flowers that thrive in the cold and can give you that oomph of much needed color to your backyard. Here are just a couple flower and plant suggestions to liven up your landscape. Kerry Smith, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist, gives some insight on the different types of plants and flowers below.

She said that there are both cold hardy annuals which only live for a single season and longer lived perennials that are good choices for winter color.


Pansies & pinolas make a colorful container garden

Pansies (Viola x )

The pansy is a “staple” flower that blooms in the cold. The pansy comes in a large variation of colors and generally grows approximately 6 inches to 9 inches tall. “It is a low, mounding type plant and grows in full sun to partial shade,” Smith explained. Pansies can be used to line sidewalks or other pathways because of the size and shape they grow. Pansies are ideal because they tend to bloom for extended periods, adding long-lasting color to your garden.


Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)


Snapdragons are vertical-growing plants that tend to bloom in dense bunches all the way up the stalk . They come in a variety of bright and light colors and are commonly paired with pansies. Snapdragons require consistent moisture and full sun to grow their best.

“While you can plant them in the winter, they actually perform even better if you plant them in the fall. This allows for better root growth and then a bigger show of flowers,” Smith said.

Snapdragons grow from 1-3 feet tall.

English Daisy (Bellis perennis)

This flower grows close to the ground and reaches about 6 inches tall. Though it is considered an annual in the Deep South, the English Daisy can perennialize in colder regions.  Colors come in pink, orange, white and yellow. English daisies should be watered often and grows best in full or partial sun.

Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia hybrids)

An annual flower that grow approximately 12 inches, it is used primarily to line beds and sidewalks. These flowers come in white, lavender or pink. Sweet alyssum is best grown in full sun or partial sun.  “Sweet” is in their name because of their soft fragrance that catches your attention.

Honeywort (Cerinthe major)

With deep blue and purple flowers, honeywort is a great flower to spruce up a garden. This unusual and rare plant grows up to 3 feet in length and width and should be planted in full sun, or with a little shade.

sweat pea

Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus)

Sweet peas look good and smell good. As its name implies the flowers have a sweet smell. This is an annual vine that can grow on a trellis or other upward-directing support. Sweet peas come in a variety of flower colors ranging from hot pink to deep blues and purples making it another colorful flower to add to your winter garden.


Perennials are plants that persist for many growing seasons. Generally the top portion of the plant dies back and regrows the following year from the same root system . There are good perennial choices for the winter garden. Here are some good choices for the winter garden.

Hardy Cyclamen (Cyclamen coum)

hardy clycamen

This is another beautiful, low-maintenance winter flower that in addition to varying flower shades of pink, it also has foliage interest because of its dappled, silver color,” Smith said. They bloom usually in the fall or spring, depending on the species, but can be planted in the winter as well to brighten up a garden. Hardy cyclamens spread across the ground creating a “carpet in the leaf litter” as she described the plant. They grow in part shade.

And a plus for growing these flowers is that they have a special quality that repels deer from eating them.


After the initial planting, bulbs are low maintenance and can return for many years. Bulbs can create lots of color and are perfect for late winter and early spring. Many bulbs are deer resistant as well. Some bulb suggestions are:

  • Daffodils
  • Crocus
  • Snowdrops
  • Hellebores


Tips for preparing your flower bed for winter gardening


When getting ready to make room for your winter flowers and provide adequate living situations for your perennials, some tidying up needs to happen. Make sure you clean your garden of all old, dead and blackened annuals so they will not run the risk of spreading diseases or insect eggs to your new plants.

Once rid of old and dead leftovers, spread a new level of rich mulch over your garden to protect your plants and soil during the cold months. “Adding compost to the existing soil and gently mixing in where space allows and dividing  overgrown perennials gives you more to spread around,”  Smith advised.

Remember to keep adequate drainage for both annuals and perennials that live in beds. Roots do not do well with continuous water around them. Smith suggests an idea to create good drainage. “Before planting build a slightly raised, or mound bed area by adding compost or chipped leaves from your yard.

To learn more about how to enhance your garden and landscape, check out Alabama Extension’s “Gardening in the South” series. You can find the series on iBooks.

Based on proven Master Gardener training and seasoned with university research, the “Gardening in the South” series of books is packed with information, tips and tricks to being a successful Southern gardener.

More Resources:

Herbaceous Perennials in Alabama

Annual Bedding Plants 

Attracting birds to your garden

Extension Daily:

Bird House Basics

Observing wildlife is the second most done leisure activity in the United State, and birds are one of the most commonly observed types of wildlife. Bird watching has been, and still is, a captivating hobby nationally and internationally.

Birds range in a variety of species, colors, sizes and characteristics- each displaying its own distinct routines and habits that make watching them an enjoyable experience. Not only are birds interesting to watch, but they’re sound is pleasant and even better, they provide many benefits to your garden and backyard.

Birds are heavy eaters of insects, including mosquitos and spiders, so they provide great insect control. For obvious reasons, this comes in handy during summer months when you want to enjoy your backyard without becoming the main course for the numerous insects flying around. Apart from insect control, certain bird species also aid in reducing weeds in the garden by eating weed seeds as well as help pollinate your flowers.

Creating a bird paradise in your own backyard is not a hard process. There are some basics tips and tools you should know before and during the process of attracting specific birds to your yard.

First, creating a desirable space for birds is the starting point. Roosevelt Robinson, an urban regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said “where you live plays a key role in the bird you want to attract.” When creating an environment that attracts birds you have to, “be sure the species of bird is found where you plan to install the nesting box,” Robinson added. You should find out what types of birds are in your area.

Basic wooden bird house

The location of your bird house is important too. But just building a bird house and placing it in the right spot is not the only part of the process.

“Managing and monitoring the birdhouse on a regular basis” is equally important too Robinson said.
For housing, you need to know what type of bird you want to attract. There are many different kinds of houses desisnged for the requirements of different species.

“Placing the nest box in the appropriate location is important,” Robinson stressed.  wood is the most common and easiest to use material to build the houses.  Though there are many types of woods, Robinson adviced using naturally decay-resistant wood. “Cedar, redwood or a good grade of exterior plywood is best.”

Metals should be avoided. The sun will heat metal up and can kill nesting birds.  If you do not want to use wood, there are a few other types of materials, such as pottery (only if it is designed for houses), corrugated cardboard, plastic and natural gourds that can be used.

While providing an adequate home for your intended bird is crucial, bird feeders also play a large role in the amount of birds that flock to your garden.

Choosing Right Feeder

evening grosbeak

Feeders come in a range of designs and sizes, letting you customize it in a way that suits your personal style.
As a publication on Extension’s website directs: The type of bird feeder you choose plays a large role in the types of birds that come to feed. Seed feeders, for instance, do well in attracting a variety of birds because of the basic structure. Smaller, hanging feeders will host smaller species such as songbirds. The small perches and swaying motion of these feeders dissuade larger birds from feeding. Tube feeders specifically will lend an extra hand for the size of birds you prefer to feed, depending on the perch size you decide on.

A second type of feeder that is popular is the weighted perch bird feeder.  These are great for bird-type selection. The weighted perch, in short, only allows smaller, light-weight birds to feed. Larger birds and pesky squirrels are too heavy for the perch, and their weight closes the opening to the food.

If you are feeding birds during fall and winter, don’t stop until well into the spring months when other food sources are plentiful or until the birds have begun to migrate to northern breeding areas.

Housing and feeding are simple ways to attract beautiful birds to your yard and garden.goldfinches on feeder

 More Resources

Are fleas making you itch?

Extension Daily:

The Low-Down on fleas


Fleas, like many of nature’s pests, are persistent and hard to eliminate.  These pests are problematic because of their hardy, durable nature. It can sometimes take multiple approaches to rid your household of these pests. Although fleas are considered less dangerous than some common household pests, they should still be treated as quickly as possible.

Your family pets are susceptible to picking up fleas if they go outside or are around other animals that go outside. Fleas are able to jump from host to host because of their strong back legs that let them jump long distances. Robert Spencer,  an animal science specialist with  Alabama Extension, advises the use of flea and tick prevention when outside and inside pets interact.

“This practice reduces potential problems with indoor pets and households. The fleas initially infest the outdoor animals and through interaction with household pets, the fleas can become a pet and household problem.”

This advice should not be taken lightly either. Apart from possible infestations of the home, fleas also carry diseases and organisms, such as tape worms. Once your animal becomes infested with fleas, the flea larvae have a high possibility of transferring tape worms to your pet. As Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension entomologist, says the life cycle of a tape worm starts as eggs which are ingested by the flea larvae.  Once inside the flea, the eggs continue to grow to their immature form. An animal, usually during a scratching fit, eats the flea carrying tapeworm larvae.  Once inside the intestine, the tapeworm larvae separate from the flea and grow to complete its full life cycle. Then tape worms lay eggs in the intestines which pass out of the body in the animal feces, allowing the cycle to begin again.

“A tapeworm cannot be passed from cat to cat or dog to dog. It must live part of its life in the flea first.  Most of the flea life cycle is spent in the environment and not on the pet. Therefore, stringent flea control is the key in preventing tapeworms in animals. You need to treat the house and outdoors for fleas the same time you treat your pets,” Hu said.

Because tape worms are transmitted via fleas, owners who regularly treat their pets for fleas reduce the potential for tapeworm infection. Pet owners who don’t regularly administer flea control medicine are the owners who run the higher risk of their animals getting worms.

Apart from tapeworms, fleas can transmit various infectious diseases to both animals and humans, Hu said. Cat scratch diseases and flea-borne spotted fever are two diseases that can be passed to humans.

Fleas by themselves pose a serious problem too. . Because fleas reproduce rapidly within the two days of their first blood meal, Hu reports they can lay an average of 27 eggs per day, which can add up to 5,000 over their life span.

“The tolerance of flea on pets and in the home is zero. Take care of a flea problem the moment you see if happening, which is usually the adult stage,” said Hu.

Besides the fast rate in which fleas reproduce, resulting in home invasion faster than you can blink, they also can make your pet miserable.  When fleas bite pets, they make your cat or dog itch and itch, which can lead to skin tears, hair loss and inflammation. Secondary skin infections can appear in sensitive or flea-allergic animals, called flea allergy dermatitis.

So what can you do to stop and prevent fleas from wreaking havoc on your house and pets? First, go to your local veterinarian or pet store and buy a flea and tick preventative.  That’s the first step to keeping fleas at bay.  Second, if you are already experiencing flea problems, remove pets from areas where fleas are and wash pets in a mild detergent (such as Dawn) or shampoo that is designed to kill fleas and eggs. If your yard  is infected, do your best to keep your pets inside until the outdoor problem is fixed. Hu recommends the best method to keeping a flea-free yard and a flea-free home is to keep a flea-free pet.

For the treatment of pets, use adulticides because the adult fleas are what stays on pets; the larvae usually nestle in your carpet or fabric material in the house. For dogs, Advantage and Frontline are two quality products that control adult fleas on dogs from one to three months. A flea collar or oral medication can be used to prevent egg hatching.

To treat the infested areas, such as your carpet, you need to use multiple treatments that kill fleas at all life stages. For eggs and adults, vacuum as much as possible to suck them up, but for larvae and pupae another type of treatment will be needed.

“If you neglect to treat the premises of your home, you will miss more than 90% of the developing flea population,” Hu warned.

Fleas are a problem that can easily get out of hand. Since, they are small and undetectable from a distance, you can miss the early warning signs of infestation. Knowing what to look for is an important part to preventing fleas on your animals and in your home.