Coastal and Tropical South

January, 2011
Regional Report

Care for Cast Iron Plant

Big clumping perennials like cast iron plant (aspidistra) can be a bear to dig and divide. But when they look pale, with tattered leaves going every which way, it's time to take the plunge. Start by cutting the leaves down by half. Hedge shears or a string trimmer work well for this task. Rake out the cut leaves and compost them, then dig up 10-12 stems to create new clumps. By the time you're done, there'll be plenty of cast iron to replant and share. Follow with a nitrogen fertilizer such as cottonseed meal to stimulate new growth.

Spruce Up Strawberry Beds

Take a look at the strawberry bed now. Groom the plants to remove any that are really damaged or show any signs of fungus. If gray hairs are on the stems, drench the remaining plants with a fungicide and let the bed dry out to stop it. Fertilize the plants and replace any mulch that has washed away. Fertilize now and again in 3 weeks.

Use Bottom Heat for Quicker Germination

Gardeners have heard that bottom heat is important to growing healthy seedlings, but no one tells you why. This simple technique makes for quicker sprouting and stronger root systems, as does the habit of watering from below or using room temperature water. It's especially important for tomatoes, peppers, and many flowers, to replicate the warm conditions of their natural ranges. The classic outdoor "hot bed" does that with hot manure under the seeding mix, but waterproof mats with thermostats are preferred indoors.

Prune Wisely

So often we neglect pruning and plants grow out of bounds. It's natural to want to tame them, but chopping blindly might be worse than doing nothing. Older trees and shrubs may respond to heavy pruning with prolific, weak new growth or none at all. Instead, use this rule of thumb: it's okay when pruning a shrub or tree canopy to remove up to one third of its wood in one year. Additional light pruning during the growing season will help to shape and control the plants.

Propagate Plants with Leaves

Lots of common -- and some rare -- plants will root from leaves and sprout new plants at their base. African violets and most of their kin in the Gesneriad family root easily this way. Make a fresh stem cut and guide it into a pot of sand mixed with perlite or a potting mix made for violets. Don't stick the stem straight in, but rather angle it for stability and greater rooting potential. Be careful not to overwater and look for plantlets in a couple of months.

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