In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
September, 2009
Regional Report

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Crossandra's flowers last for weeks in sunny orange, bold yellow and true red, too.

What Happened to my Plant?

When you're standing at the nursery, new plants in hand, no one tells you what might go wrong. Here are some signs to watch for, whatever you're growing.

Too Much
There are several situations where plants get more of something they need and the results are not good. Too much nitrogen fertilizer results in overabundant leaf growth at the expense of flowers and fruit. Thus are grown 8-foot tomato plants with no tomatoes in sight.

Too much lime in the soil can make the soil chemistry too alkaline for plants that prefer acid soils, such as azalea, camellia, holly, and gardenia. Shrub leaves will look pale, growth is limited, and the plants often fail to bloom. Sometimes you can acidify soils like these, but often moving the shrubs is a better solution.

Too much sun brings two reactions from different plants. Some, like hydrangeas, wilt every day, your cue to increase watering and mulch or move the plants if they do not also recover in the evening. Some, however, develop burnished patches on their leaves. This is sunscald and can be devastating to shade-loving plants, as I discovered when an ice storm took down the pine trees over my hosta bed.

Too Little
Likewise, the lack of plant growing essentials can produce predictable results. Regular mowing that removes no more than half the grass blade at once keeps lawns healthy. Mowing less often results in thin turf and welcomes pests -- weeds, insects, and diseases take advantage of the poor growth situation.

Crape myrtle trees that won't bloom may benefit from light pruning in January, but sometimes it's the lack of fertilizer. The second and third numbers on a complete fertilizer label refer to phosphorus and potassium, both needed for flowering. Check the label of your product to be sure it has both, preferably in higher numbers than nitrogen, the first number on those same labels. Such products are made for flowering and fruiting plants.

Too little sunlight causes stems to stretch, with leaves spaced further apart than normal. Leaf color can pale and flowers can be few or none when sunlight lacks.

Revealing Signs
Sometimes things in the garden that look wrong can be quite okay themselves, but give you a clue to something else. Lichen looks like gray lace growing on branches. Often the tree or shrub seems to be less than lovely, and we blame the lichen. Lichen is an opportunistic fungus in that it grows where woody stems are not actively growing. Remove the lichen, prune the shrub, and start watering and fertilizing it to promote new growth.

We will always have black ants in the garden and depending on your level of tolerance, don't cause much of a problem. But when you see them marching up and down the stems of a plant, take heed. They're farming aphids, and may be stashing them in crevices so they can fatten up. If the plant, like okra, seems to stop growing, don't blame the ants. Control the aphids with pyrethrin or neem.

In another example, when you stand under a tree, you might feel tiny drops falling. You might think the tree is spitting out sap and must be dying. It's not. Relax and control the piercing and sucking insects that are trying to drink the life out of your tree. Sprays of neem work on small trees, but consider a systemic insecticide if both tree and problem are large.


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