Coastal and Tropical South

March, 2009
Regional Report

Fruit Tree Smarts

Growing figs and blueberries is easy, but other fruits require more complicated care. Peach, apple, and plum growers usually find it necessary to spray to control insects and fungus diseases. Spray schedules are available from your state extension service, many garden centers, and product packages. Peaches, for example, begin their spray regime at 2/3 petal drop, or when the full bloom is reduced to about a third of its glory. If you cannot grow your own fruit and cannot afford the premium price of organic fruit, consider buying from local farmers. Not only do they have rigorous laws to follow regarding pesticide use, they live on their farms and can be counted on to grow well-adapted varieties that need less sprays.

Tomatoes Galore

Everybody's planting tomatoes this year, and heirlooms are all the rage. Try a favorite hybrid, yours or your mama's, grow a cherry and a slicer, but take on one of the heirlooms, too. If it does well, save some of your own seed, since heirlooms do adapt to local soil and weather conditions. But don't overlook "new" tomato varieties, packed as they are with research into pest and disease resistance. Especially if you garden in containers, try some newbies like hanging basket types. They demand lots of water and fertilizer, as well as full sun, but they bear abundantly.

Slug and Snail Alert

Soon as you get those new little transplants into the ground or new pots, here come the slugs and snails. Spring's wet weather wakes them up and seems to increase their range. When their radar picks up tender green seedlings, their well-hydrated bodies slime their way to them. If you've had these guests before, take steps now. Rake through deep mulch and leaf piles with a garden rake to disrupt their dark nests, set up copper rings around new plantings, or use a slug bait or control that is not toxic to birds and pets.

Lawn Care Now

Organic gardeners are pulling weeds and applying compost to lawns now, but the rest of you have important lawn care chores, too. Everyone needs to watch out for the brown circles that can signify brown patch disease, in St. Augustine primarily. Know that heavy doses of nitrogen fertilizer can aggravate this problem and consider making two applications at half strength instead. It's time for "weed and feed" products to control existing weeds and fertilize the lawn and time to use pre-emergent herbicides if summer weeds are a big issue. Most important is to mow at the height recommended for your lawngrass and keep it healthy so it can withstand weeds and diseases.

Hummingbirds Now

Wash those feeders, fill with nectar, and hang up all you have -- the hummingbirds are back and they are hungry. Lots of gardeners and birders leave a few hummingbird feeders up all winter, which is a great practice. But if you haven't hung yours out since the fall migration, wash in hot soapy water, rinse very well, and let air dry if possible. Mix nectar 1 part sugar to 4 parts water, do not use food coloring, and fill feeders daily if needed to keep the buffet open. Use plain water to make nectar, and store unused nectar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks -- if it lasts that long!

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