Coastal and Tropical South

July, 2011
Regional Report

Shred Before Composting

Some plant materials, like stiff, woody palm fronds and magnolia leaves, can take years to decompose completely. To speed the process along , make any bulky plant debris smaller by shredding it. That old workhorse, the wood chipper, can be useful for woody prunings and fallen twigs, but does not work on green, or herbaceous, material like canna stems and palm fronds. To reduce their bulk, chop them up before composting. Make a shallow pile and run over it with the lawn mower. Put materials like magnolia leaves into a plastic garbage can and shred them with a string trimmer. Wear your safety glasses, please.

Manage Water

Adjust summer watering routines to saves water when you can. For example, bougainvillea vines have plenty of leaves by now to support abundant flowers. Water them less now, along with other plants that have become well established. Water deeply, but less often, to stimulate flowering in crown of thorns, desert rose, and mature jade plants. On the other hand, more water may be necessary for ferns to prevent leaf burn. Soak fern pots and baskets completely now, by plunging them into a bucket of water for several hours. After a nice, long soak, leaves and all, their color will stay strong for another week.

Seek Spider Mites

Dry weather and summer heat bring out the best in spider mites, which is bad for lots of plants from azalea to lantana and beyond. These dratted mites work unseen until their numbers reach infestation levels and true damage is done. They take advantage of our midsummer laxity, the appeal of air conditioning or a cool dip over walking the garden in the evening. Before too many weeks pass, symptoms appear. Leaves may get pale and drop, or looked stippled, or webs may appear in the leaf axils or under the leaves. Azaleas eventually turn bronzy and lantanas also stop blooming. Hold a piece of white paper under a branch on the suspect plant and thump it lightly. Dust will fall on the paper and if the dust specks move, they are mites. Sprays of a garden product containing neem and good garden sanitation will work together to control spider mites.

Save Seeds

The upside of several dry summer weeks in a row is that seed pods dry rapidly and are ready for saving. Zinnia, celosia, cleome, and more will develop seed heads if their flowers are not deadheaded. Let some go until they are fully brown and crisply dry on the plant, if at all possible. Clip them before they burst open, or tie a brown bag over the flower to collect the missiles. If you must pick them prematurely to prevent rain from spoiling the ripening seed, cut long stems and hang them upside down in a dry room.

Address Drought Issues

Back in the 1960's, people laughed at the idea of cisterns and rain barrels to store water, except for a few of us cheap enough to want free water. Then came the severe Western droughts, water prices went up, and supplies were rationed in California. School children learned to recycle gray water for gardening and painted bricks to put in standard toilet tanks to limit their flow. As the climate warms, plants that needed water a decade ago need more now to show the same growth. Some shrubs, for example, can be grown leaner than is usually done, but many perennials will have smaller flowers in hotter weather unless more water is provided. Greater needs for water, higher costs, and the desire to continue growing the plants we love is inspiring more gardeners to set up rain barrels and keep their gutters clean as an additional irrigation source. Be trendy, but more importantly, be smart and set up a rain barrel.

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