In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
June, 2010
Regional Report

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Summer favorite Indian blanket (Gaillardia) faces high heat with abundant flowers, even when planted next to the street.

Summer Chores

The word "chores" bothers some people because it connotes onerous work. To others the word invokes a time in childhood. Once the chores were done, we were free to go out and play. Not much has changed.

Stimulate growth
Gardenia, chaste tree, butterfly bush and oleander should be at their peak right now, covered in flowers and new growth. Evergreens should be thick, with strong green leaves and obviously working to sprout new ones. If yours are not, take steps to get them growing. Flowering shrubs and trees can be pruned like roses after each flush of bloom. Follow trimming with applications of fertilizer and fresh mulch if you haven't done so lately, and water very regularly to enable the plant to use the nutrients to best advantage. Whether you use evergreens such as ligustrum and pittosporum as individuals or in mass plantings, stimulate them if they are not thick-trunked and lush with foliage. Prune off up to one third of each shrub's overall size, and shape it into a pleasing form. For example, pittosporum naturally forms a mound, while ligustrum grows into more of a vase shape. Both can be pruned to whatever shape you desire, and both respond by developing new interior growth. Those new leaves inside the canopy of the shrub are essential to its long-term survival. Encourage them with a similar regime of fertilizer and regular water.

Solarize
Everyone complains about the heat, but you can put it to work to control weeds in uncultivated areas. Maybe you've been looking at the sad lawn out back and plan to replace it in the fall. Or you want to put in a bed that's in an area covered in weeds. Perhaps nutgrass has taken over a section of a garden bed and you've just ignored it since. Solarization is your answer. Cover the area in question with a single layer of thick (6mil) clear plastic. Using clear plastic, not black, is very important to this process. Ditch around the area and bury the edges of the plastic or anchor it with bricks and boards, but get a tight fit over the plant material on the site's surface. When sunlight hits the surface of the plastic, its rays are amplified and focused, similar to what happens in a plastic-covered greenhouse. Soon you will see the plant material underneath start to die, but leave the plastic in place for 6-8 weeks to kill roots and un-sprouted seeds to a depth of up to 10 inches. This is not just a theory% it works very well and takes little effort to set up.

Shop talk
Whether you're building a new deck this summer or just trying to stay ahead of the weeds, get organized. Here are some suggestions.

To start seeds in pots outdoors, prepare an elevated bench so air circulates around the flats of little pots or peat blocks. Locate your seedling bench under a tree or anywhere the light is bright but not direct, especially in the afternoon. Water from the bottom whenever possible, and check the seedlings daily for insect invasion. Use a simple hoop frame covered with window screen to protect the seedlings; drape it with shade cloth if the situation warrants it.

Keep tools in a bucket near the back door, along with a hat and gloves, sunscreen and insect repellent. If you've never given yourself the gift of a bucket of sand, do it. Plunge tools into the sand when not in use to keep them clean and protected from humidity.


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