Coastal and Tropical South

August, 2008
Regional Report

Plant Herbs

In the tropics, it's time to work up raised beds and containers for vegetables. Besides squash and beans, plan for herbs. Creeping rosemary has good salt tolerance. Lemon verbena benefits from afternoon shade. Basil of all sorts comes easily from seed or plants, and transplants of thyme and sage can be set out throughout both regions.

Care for Shrubs

Vigorous shrubs and small trees can be pruned lightly now. By tipping the new growth of young shrubs and removing errant young limbs from trees, you create a pleasing form for them to follow. Take a few inches off the top of evergreen photinia and cleyera, and clip the old flowers off of trees. Hydrangeas benefit from deadheading and shaping all around. Don't touch hollies, azaleas, or camellias now. Their blooms are setting for next year.

Coaxing Poinsettias Into Bloom

In pots or garden beds in the tropics, poinsettias need attention now. Pinch the plants for the last time. Shorten each growing point by removing the tips. Cut low on the stem, just on top of a set of healthy leaves. Keep watering and fertilizing, and get the closet or drape ready if you want them red by December. Beginning in September, exclude all light from the plant for 12 hours daily to trigger formation of red bracts and tiny yellow flowers. Take the drape off once you can see red at the center of the growing tips.

Harvesting Merliton and Luffa

Two of our favorite big vine crops are approaching maturity. Even though the fruits are set, keep the water and fertilizer coming. Consider spraying fertilizer on the leaves if the soil is very wet. Merliton is ready to pick when the stem begins to shrivel. They don't store as well as onions, but can be refrigerated for several weeks or cut, blanched, and frozen for soups and stews. Luffa gourds will begin to dry on the vine, but should be stored out of direct sunlight until you hear the seeds rattle when you shake them. Remove the skin and clean them to use for spa sponges.

Repairing the Lawn

Sand can be a valuable addition when lawns have dips or lumps that make mowing more of a chore. Add up to an inch of sand to any one spot that needs evening out. The principle here is simple: lawn grass can grow through sand. When it does, its thatch increases in that space and the resulting mowing surface will be less dramatically different from its surroundings.

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