Photo | Judy Weaver
By Jack LeCroy, Regional Cooperative Extension Agent / MobileCountyMasterGardeners.org
Have you ever heard of “snowbird gardening?” That might be a new term for you. Am I talking about a bird species you’ve never heard of? No, I am talking about a group of people. I have been contacted by numerous snowbirds over the past five years while working in Florida and South Alabama. “Snowbird” is a nickname for a person who “flies” or migrates to the South every year from the North. They usually arrive around Thanksgiving and stay until late spring of the next year.
We receive many calls from people who live here in the winter who have grown up many states away. Their needs range from gardening and grass care to plant selection and many other topics. I always try to tell snowbirds that many plants that do well up North do not translate well down here in the Deep South. That is due to many factors such as heat, humidity and excessive rainfall. One example is lilac trees. Many Northerners want to also grow them in the Deep South, but lilacs don’t do well in the area.
Here are some more tips if you are a snowbird who frequents our area during certain times of the year.
Pay attention to our hardiness zones. All plants should have a tag that lists where it grows best. Mobile County covers Zones 8b and 9a. I also tell snowbirds to add plants that bloom while they are visiting for the winter. Your local extension office can always help with your plant selection.
Here are some selections for snowbird season (fall to early spring) blooming plants:
Mahonia eurybracteata “Soft Caress” (Mahonia)
Camellia sasanqua (Camellia)
Camellia japonica (Camellia)
Gelsemium sempervirens (Yellow jessamine)
Farfugium japonicum (Leopard plant)
Chionanthus virginicus (Fringtree)
Helianthus angustifolius (swamp sunflower)
We must remember some landscape plants can grow year-round here. Our Southern landscapes require constant care throughout the whole year. If we are gone for several months, we must be OK with some parts of our landscapes not looking the absolute best upon our return. The state of Alabama is also very different from the north to the south. Plants that do well in Huntsville (Zones 7a-7b) might not do well in Mobile (Zones 8b-9a), even though it is in the same state. Grass care and maintenance can be completely different from some of your grasses in Northern states.
In Northern climates, winter is a time to leave our vegetable gardens alone. One benefit of residing in a warmer climate during the winter is you can also plant a winter vegetable garden. You can generally grow many types of leafy and root vegetables such as carrots, swiss chard, collard greens, cauliflower and cabbage in the South.
When snowbirds try to bring plants or incorporate landscaping and gardening practices from a Northern state to a Southern state, it usually doesn’t end well. Research is critical in minimizing mistakes that might be made. We don’t want you to end up trying to fight Mother Nature. When in doubt, give our local Extension office a call or call our Helpline at 877-ALA-GROW. Happy gardening!
For Your Calendar:
What: Fall Plant Sale, Mobile Botanical Gardens
(In-person shopping; mask required; 40 customers at a time.)
When: Oct. 23-24; Friday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. – noon
Where: 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile
(Marketplace is at the end of the parking lot.)
For more info: MBGReBloomshop.com
What: Charles Wood Japanese Garden (walking trail #1)
When: Daylight hours, no fee
Where: 700 Forest Hill Drive, Mobile
For more info: mobilejapanesegarden.com
What: Bellingrath Gardens Fall Events
-Boo at Bellingrath: Oct. 24, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
-Cascading Chrysanthemums: Nov. 1-30, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
-Christmas Masquerade Gala: Nov. 20, 6:30-9 p.m.
-Christmas Lights at Bellingrath: Nov. 27 – Dec. 31, 5-9 p.m.
Where: 12401 Bellingrath Gardens Road, Theodore
For more info: bellingrath.org
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