Coastal and Tropical South

January, 2009
Regional Report

Basic Maintenance

Take care of your tools, whether they have engines or not! Spray rusty or reluctant hand tools with lubricant, wipe down with a rag (not a paper towel), plunge each one into a bucket of sand, and store there or hang to dry. Change oil and air filters in power tools, replace trimmer string and saw chains if necessary. Sharpen saws, hoes, and pruner blades, too, in the annual ritual of cleanup and fixup. It's surprising how much longer tools last and how much better they work when the simplest maintenance chores aren't overlooked.

Purple Martin and Goldfinch Watch

Clean out the apartments and buy thistle seeds to welcome purple martin and goldfinch families into your garden. Metal martin houses with telescoping poles are ever popular, as are gourds strung on clothesline wire between trees or other poles. Height and a clear area around the martin houses make them most attractive, as does a good cleaning before they arrive to check out the digs. Goldfinch devour niger seed, the skinny black seeds best supplied in tubular feeders made for their consumption. Hang these feeders close to the house where they can be seen, but out in the open, away from cats and other predators.

Chemical Dump

Take a look around your shed and garage to find chemicals left over or unused. Many communities offer hazardous waste disposal services this month and you really should take advantage of them. Safe disposal is not always simply a matter of bagging up empty bottles to put out with the trash, though you should. If there are contents left in any chemical gardening product (paint and other household chemicals, too), your job as a conscious consumer is to be sure you aren't throwing it into the water supply. Check with your county or municipality's solid waste disposal division for "dump dates" in your area.

Soil Testing

Nobody is more reluctant to test soil than I, but there are certain situations that warrant it, including these: 1) Nothing will grow in one bed or area of your property; 2) Lawngrass is in decline or shows an odd coloration such as purple stems; 3) You have been told to lime the soil by someone who hasn't done a soil test. Your county agent's office can provide local information about where to send samples, costs, and interpreting the results of soil tests.

What to Prune

Trees and shrubs, especially evergreens and others that do not bloom early, can be pruned this month. And they should be if you want to control their height and increase their spread or thickness. Hollies, ligustrum, cleyera, and photinia are obviously good choices for your attention now, since they are evergreen and any berries or fruit have likely been eaten by wildlife. You might also know that fruit trees, now leafless, are best pruned now. But add the summer bloomers such as abelia and summer-blooming spireas to your list if they'll need pruning this year. Don't forget about ornamental grasses -- from mulhygrass to fountains and pampas, cut them down now.

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