In the Garden:
Tropical South
April, 2004
Regional Report

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Rosemary is one of the most fragrant and useful of the perennial herb plants.

Dry Times Are Coming

While the rest of the country is singing about April showers, we are entering the driest time of the year. Thank goodness we've had a good bit of rain through the early part of the year But as the days get longer and the temperatures climb, we have to spend more time than usual at the end of the hose. That's not all bad. It is a pleasant place to be. Put pruning snips in your pocket and deadhead or prune a bit as you go.

Trees and shrubs are the most drought tolerant of all our plants because their roots go so deep. What we really have to watch and water are all the potted plants, newly set plants, and shallow-rooted annuals.

Keeping Container Plants Moist
It helps to use plenty of organic matter in the soil mix in containers, ans also a water-retaining gel, such as Soil Moist or Rain Gel or Rain Mats. Be sure to bury these deeply. Otherwise, with the first rain they will swell up out of the soil and dry out and become largely useless. Under the soil, they work like a sponge and make a tremendous difference in the amount of water the soil can hold.

For established plants, watering with a product like Hydretain, which helps plant roots absorb moisture, will double or even triple the days between waterings. Such products not only save on water, they reduce stress on the plants, which can lead to increased yield and extended flower life. They also allow for greater nutrient and pesticide efficiency and improve germination and transplant success.

Automatic Watering Systems
If you have an automatic irrigation system, be sure that it's in good repair, and program it according to this time of greatest need. The best bet is a drip or low-flow system, for which there are -- so far -- no restrictions. In Hillsborough County (Tampa) you can get a $35 starter kit for only $10 if you attend one of the Waterwise
Workshops that the extension office offers year-round. Check the possibilities in your own county.

You can also get good information for making the most of water resources by reading books, such as Xeriscaping for Florida Homes (Great Outdoors Publishing Co., 1999; $18.95) by yours truly.

My best help for all seasons comes from my rain barrels. There are extension workshops for these, also. But if you don't get to them, you can still put barrels recycled from food service (not chemicals) or even large trash cans under your downspouts or just under the places where your gutters overflow in a heavy rain. There are many ways to keep rain barrels from harboring mosquitoes, the most fun way being the addition of two comet feeder goldfish -- at a cost of 12
cents each -- in each barrel.

If the rain barrels go dry, you can fill them from the hose, but mine seldom need that, even in the driest times. And if writing about this will bring on more spring showers than we've ever seen, I'll not mind a bit looking the fool.


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