Q: We’ve been cleaning up the yard and have had to remove two dead Florida dogwoods and several awful-looking Bradford pears. To continue to get welcoming early spring flowers, should I replant these types of trees or can you recommend something else?

A: Great question! Wow, with the recent heat it’s really hard to even remember the joy of those first warmer spring mornings and the explosion of blooms we get so far in advance of the rest of the country. However, now is the perfect time to plan your purchases and plant trees and shrubs. Fall plantings have time to get well-rooted and established before coping with the heat of summer. Besides, the gardener is much more comfortable planting in the fall.

No, do not replant the same trees. The industry may offer some varieties of dogwood reported to be more resistant to the anthracnose fungus, which has killed large numbers of dogwood trees in our region, but these varieties have not been widely planted here nor proven in the landscape.

As for the Bradford pear, the tree is well known for its weak and fragile branches and relatively short life (20 years or less). Even surviving trees become ragged and unsightly. There are just so many other beautiful options for the Gulf Coast.

To replace the look and architecture of dogwood, consider two-winged silverbell, crab apple, fringe tree (grancy greybeard), Chickasaw plum, Kousa dogwood or Yoshino cherry (think National Cherry Blossom Festival). Since these flower before putting on new leaves you get the whole, unobstructed view of white “lace” and falling “snowflake” petals.

Add a little color to the spring celebration with red maple, star or saucer magnolias (many varieties), redbud and colorful cherries, including Taiwan and Okame. These are mostly small to medium-sized trees that fit well as single plantings or in groups. All are deciduous, losing their leaves in the winter. Some may even give you edible fruit in addition to spring fever!

But why stop with just trees? There are great spring flowering shrubs that can add to the usual Mobile azalea palette. Plant as clusters, foundation plantings (be sure to note the mature size before locating them), hedges or single-feature plants. To continue the red theme try red buckeye, sweet shrub, Florida anise or fire bush.

More subtle pinks are found on mountain laurel (make sure it has Gulf Coast ancestors!) and the “Van Cleve” version of black titi. Mix with the lovely white candelabras on bottlebrush buckeye, snowballs of Walter’s Viburnum or the golf ball-size Sputnik satellites of button bush.

War Eagle fans may enjoy combining Forsythia (golden yellow) with chaste tree (blue). Maintaining shrub size to fit the landscape can be achieved by conservative and careful annual pruning.

Azaleas are a natural choice, offering a variety of spring colors and different sizes. However, I have experienced, as I have heard from others, loss of several mature evergreen, Southern Indica azaleas over the past two years. The experts seem to believe this has resulted from cumulative stress including short periods of hard freezes a couple of winters ago followed by spring and summer alternating periods of heavy rain and prolonged drought this year and last.

These conditions are tough on azaleas, which have relatively shallow, fibrous roots and not deeper taproots like many other plants. If you have experienced some of these losses, you may want to consider the wealth of available native deciduous azaleas and their hybrids, many developed by Mobile’s local plantsmen.

OK. Now you are thinking “what about that mailbox,” “the fence looks so bare” or “how can I disguise the side of the shed,” “the air conditioner,” etc. How about vines that might include the sweet fragrance of yellow Carolina Jessamine or white Confederate Jasmine? Or the large eye-catching orange to reddish tubes of cross vine or large, white discs of evergreen clematis?

This time of year it’s hard not to want coral or trumpet honeysuckle, so attractive to hummingbirds and blooming from late spring into fall.

This doesn’t leave much space for a listing of smaller perennials or specific planting guidelines for each plant mentioned above, but internet searches can provide assistance. In all cases, make sure the planting hole is as deep as the plant in the original pot and twice as wide. Loosen and spread the roots in the hole. Water in well and don’t forget to water deeply periodically to encourage deep root growth.

It’s easy to forget to water when temperatures do not make us so thirsty, but don’t forget your plants through the winter. A good soaking before a predicted heavy freeze will also protect roots from freezing.

What: Mobile Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale
When: Oct. 21-23 (Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday, 12-4 p.m.)

What: Lunch and Learn
When: Monday, Nov. 21, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Topic: Longleaf Pine, a Southern History, presented by Fred Nation

What: Farming 101 (for beginning or transitioning farmers) presented by Mobile County Extension Office
When: Tuesdays from Dec. 6 to April 4 (6-9 p.m.)
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile
Cost: $80 for entire series or $10 per session (includes materials and refreshments)
For more info call 251-574-8445 or email

MASTER GARDENER HELPLINE: Call 1-877-252-4769 or send your gardening questions to