Coastal and Tropical South

January, 2011
Regional Report

Prune Clumping Grasses

Big or small, prune clumping grasses now. Graceful fountain, maiden and muhly grasses need to be rejuvenated each year by cutting their plumes and blades down into mounds. If the grasses are very thick or have outgrown their space, now is the time to dig, divide and replant them. The same rules apply to pampas grass, although few people do more than cut down its plumes. Liriope and monkey grass are also grasses and cutting them back now keeps the clumps thick with new leaves.

Don't Prune Too Much

When gardeners get the pruning saws out, sometimes all good sense goes away and they think, "If a little is good, a lot must be better." Not so in pruning. Even when cleaning up after storm damage or a fireblight break out, prune only far enough back to remove the ruined plant parts completely. Routine pruning to stimulate new growth, shape the plant or encourage flowers and fruit is most effective if you keep to the one-third rule: do not cut back an established woody plant by more than one third of its overall size in one year.

Dig Proper Sized Holes for Tree Planting

An old landscaper once cautioned me not to plant a ten dollar tree in a ten cent hole. Both are worth more today, but the advice stands and refers as much to the size of the hole as its contents. Whatever size pot the tree is growing in, dig a hole just as deep as the pot is tall and more than twice its width. If soil is poor, amend the soil you dig out with ground bark or compost equal to no more than one-third its volume for non-native species, less for native trees, but be sure not to change the texture of the backfill drastically from that of the native soil.

Sow These Seeds in the Garden Now

In the Tropics zone, mid-January brings the best opportunity of the year to seed many traditional "spring" vegetables. Sow these where they will grow in the garden: the root crops radish, beet and carrot; Irish potato; English peas. Amend the soil with a drench of micronutrients if past crops have been unsuccessful. Dig a trench for potatoes or grow them in a large pot so you can fill in around the stems as they grow. This makes room for more potatoes to form. English peas grow rapidly and the vines need support, so be sure to provide a trellis at planting time.

Sow These Seeds Indoors for Later Transplanting

Along the Southern Coasts, get ready for the best chance to grow heads of lettuce. At other times of the year, heat builds too fast for firm heads to form. But by seeding now for transplant next month, you can have real lettuce heads. If the only heading lettuce you've seen is iceberg, you're in for a treat. Look for crisphead varieties like 'Great Lakes' to understand how good -- and green-- these lettuces can be. Semi-heading lettuces romaines, butter, and cos lettuces will likewise perform their best now. Start these seedlings in individual cells, peat cups, or peat pellets for transplanting with the least shock possible.

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