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The University of Alabama

UA Matters: Adventures in Alabama Gardening

UA Matters logoWith the warmer days of late winter upon us and the early flowers in bloom, it’s time to plan for the gardening season in Alabama.

Even if you think you have no “green thumb,” Alabama’s hot summer/mild winter climate offers many opportunities to be successful, says University of Alabama botanist Dr. David Francko.

“A garden project can involve something as simple as a small flower or vegetable plot or a complete landscaping make-over for your yard,” says Francko.

“Either way, take full advantage of what our warm-temperate (northern third of the state) to subtropical (central and southern Alabama) climate affords us here in Alabama in the way of plant material and growing seasons.”

One of the most common questions when starting a garden project is “what to plant?”

David Francko

David Francko

Francko says one overlooked category is the group of warm-climate ornamentals that most people incorrectly label as “tropical” plants.

“True tropical species will not overwinter in Alabama, but lots of plants most people assume to be winter-hardy only in Florida actually do quite well in our state as well — think hardy citrus, ornamental bananas, and numerous cold-hardy palms, as well as crape myrtles, magnolias and other mainstays of the Deep South landscape,” Francko says.

“Look around your community — most Alabama towns, even in the northern part of the state, have some old palms and other miss-classified “tropical” species that testify to their long-term hardiness in our winters. In fact, one of the largest collections of warm-climate palms, bananas, and other ornamentals away from the immediate coast is in Anniston – the northeast part of the state.”

Francko also recommends planting for year-round color.

“Winter jasmine, camellias, Loropetalum cultivars, sweet olive, EncoreTM azaleas, and many other winter-blooming shrubs make it possible to enjoy splashes of flower color twelve months out of the year!” he says.

If your tastes run more to a vegetable garden to help supply your family with fresh produce, Francko offers the following tips:

  • Remember to think four-seasons gardening even in your vegetable plot: late winter is the perfect time to plant leaf lettuce, peas, collards, and other cool-season crops and late fall plantings of these same vegetables can produce winter harvests through a typical Alabama winter.
  • Make sure your vegetable plot soil contains lots of organic matter to better retain water and provide soil nutrients.
  • If you choose to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, be sure to follow package directions carefully; excess nutrients and pesticides will not help your plants and the residues simply wash off your plot and cause pollution problems in our streams, rivers and lakes.

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UA Matters is a bi-weekly column that offers information and tips on consumer issues facing Alabamians. The columns are available to reprint in your publication free of charge. Also, access to subject matter experts is available upon request. For more information, contact Suzanne Dowling at 205/348-8324 or

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.