Coastal and Tropical South

December, 2010
Regional Report

Tool Maintenance

At least once annually, gardeners should take a good look at hand tools. Rust is the enemy, but is easily removed from neglected hand tools with a wire brush. Scrape well, and then sharpen the blade with a file. Use a soft cloth to apply a light coat of oil, and then plunge the clean, sharp head into a bucket of sand. Keep the bucket handy and after you use the tool, wipe it clean and store it in the sand.

Oil Sprays

Using oil sprays in the garden is a good way to suppress insects. For example, if the crepe myrtle had aphids last summer, there can be eggs lurking in stem crevices and leaf axils. Spraying with a refined mineral oil (called horticultural oil in the stores) smothers them. Don't spray junipers, cedars or deciduous Japanese maple and redbud trees. They are very sensitive to oil sprays and can be damaged even when leafless. Reserve classic dormant oil sprays for fruit trees and follow the product's directions carefully.

Prune Pyracantha

Some plants are more forgiving than others, and can go without pruning for years. Pyracantha, or firethorn, is not among them. Newer varieties tolerate fire blight better than old ones, but both kinds benefit from annual pruning. Without it, the interior of the shrub grows thick, and new branches shoot out in every direction. Firethorn can be grown as a multi-stemmed bush, or thinned to be a tree or even espaliered to a wall. Pruning now to establish a strong form also increases next year's berries and gives wasps fewer places to build nests.

Winter Vegetables

Gardeners in the Tropics region can direct sow a host of vegetables in the garden. Work up the soil very well so that there are no lumps and the area is level. Plant at the recommended depth and spacing for the particular seeds and keep the planted area moist until the seeds sprout. If your soil dries out easily, lay a board on top of the seeded space to retain moisture, but be sure to check it daily and remove it when you see the first sprout. Among many others, Tropics gardeners can plant these crops now: squashes (summer and winter), tomatillos, spinach, parsley, Irish potato, radish and daikon.

Indoor Starts

The biggest problem with starting seeds indoors is providing enough light for the seedlings to grow sturdy stems. Too often folks complain that they've tried every windowsill in the house, added a grow light to the desk lamp, and still can't grow seedlings worth transplanting. Solve this problem with a simple fluorescent shop light fixture. Hang it so you can raise it as the seedlings grow, and use one cool white bulb and one daylight bulb to get the full spectrum of light.

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