In the Garden:
Upper South
February, 2004
Regional Report

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A bay window filled with orchids and other flowering houseplants is a balm to weary spirits.

Pleasures and Pitfalls

Because gardening is so inextricably intertwined with my life, it has played a role in both the stress and the relief. As we gear up for the 2004 gardening season, I'm thinking about some of the pleasures and pitfalls of plants in my life and where to best spend the limited time I'll have for gardening.

Pests, Pests, and More Pests
At the end of last winter, my houseplants had major infestations of mealybugs, scale, and whiteflies. I applied some treatments, and as the plants summered outdoors, the pests went away. With an early frost this fall, I hurriedly brought the plants back indoors without the proper pest treatments. This winter they have all the same pests in full force. I've tried hot pepper spray, a Neem spray formulated for houseplants, insecticidal soap, and pyrethrin, plus wiping the leaves with alcohol.

The pests have declined but they still exist. The lesson here is to spray thoroughly before bringing houseplants indoors and to be on the attack early with safe pesticides.

Baby, It's Cold Outside
We've had some close-to-record-setting cold temperatures this winter. No doubt, a few of the marginally hardy plants have met their demise. This is to be expected every ten years or so. Hopefully, mulching with pine boughs and surrounding shrubs with burlap will limit the losses.

How Much is Too Much
Seed catalogs have been arriving since November, and I've been in a state of apoplexy since then. Because of family illnesses, I had only a very limited vegetable garden last year, and the weeds won the battle in the flower and shrub beds. As the catalogs entice me with the newest and best, I face the dilemma of what is realistic to attempt in the garden this year.

Some years are just not the time for major experimentation. To put it bluntly to myself, this is not the summer to compare sixty different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. For the vegetable garden, I need to choose just those vegetables that we most enjoy and that are the easiest to grow. For the ornamental beds, I need to set aside time in March and April to eradicate weeds and get mulch down. Major new plantings can wait for another year.

A Wealth of Flowers
Even without much effort, the orchids that we grow in a bay window at my mother's house continue to be an unending joy. We've had some for four years now, and there's always something in bloom. Most are phalaenopsis in various colors. These are remarkable plants. All of them came from discount stores, so don't overlook these sources. Just be sure to check plants for general healthy characteristics. Also, don't be too quick to cut back the bloom stalks after the flowers fade as blooming side shoots often arise from them.

Staggering the planting times of amaryllis bulbs has been another success. We also frequently get a second bloom stalk after the first one has faded. Paperwhite narcissus are child's play and scent the room with their luscious fragrance. Little pots of primroses are readily available now and are another delight, as are the African violets. These are inexpensive pleasures that help make winter bearable.

For the Birds
The plethora of bird feeders that we have in the yard keep us entertained when we look out our windows. Besides the pleasure they bring us now, the winter feeding will enourage the birds to stay in our yard throughout the year, feasting on insects and weed seeds.

Even limited gardening time can produce great rewards. And there's always next year.


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