Coastal and Tropical South

November, 2011
Regional Report

Shape Up Camellia Sasanqua

These fall garden beauties range from mature heights of 2 to 20 feet, and their evergreen, slick small leaves are integral to many gardens all year. If pests ever bother them, which happens much less often than with their cousins, the Japonicas, the same oil spray in winter is usually all it takes to clean them up. Most important in their care is annual pruning once the blooms are done. This one task keeps new growth coming, helps maintain their shape, and produces more flower buds for the next year. Take a few inches off the tip of each branch and more if necessary to keep a wayward branch in sync with the rest of the plant.

Look for Grafted Plant Problems

There is not a sadder sight than a grafted plant gone wrong and the signs are easy to recognize once you know what to look for. Grafting is done by attaching the top growth of one plant to the rootstock of a close relative and is done to gain the strengths of both in one plant. Common grafted plants include citrus and many other fruit trees, as well as some roses and camellias. If the graft fails or the top growth dies for any reason, new leaves and branches will often sprout below the line you can see on the main trunk that indicates it is grafted. Such growth is undesirable and should be cut off right away. If the top of the plant still has green stems when you cut into them, prune it back to try and stimulate recovery.

Cut Back Begonias

Whether cane begonias are hardy where you live or not, they can look a bit tired by this point in the season. To rejuvenate this group in tropical beds, prepare them for rest outdoors elsewhere, or to get pots ready to winter indoors, cut them back now. Where they bloom year round, in beds or pots indoors, remove old flowers and damaged leaves. Shorten naked canes and those with leaves only at their tops. You can easily root some of these cut stems in water or a mix of potting soil and sand. To assist the perennials, wait until the canes brown to cut them back, unless you want to propagate some stems. Take those cuttings now, while they are healthy green.

Raise Humidity Indoors

As one who tries hard to reuse and repurpose rather than discard, I am especially proud of this way to improve the environment around houseplants and make it easier to water them at the same time. An old dinner plate lined with gravel can be misted daily or more often to increase humidity in the immediate area. On top of that is one of those rather flimsy plastic saucers that usually stain the table under it if left alone. The potted plant sits in the saucer, above the gravel on its plate. Now I can water neatly from below. If some water is left in a few hours, it is no trouble to lift the pot and empty the saucer without having to strain or clean up spilled gravel.

Pick Those Greens

Sure, all those greens are lovely to look at and easy to grow, but they are even better to eat if you will pick them while the leaves are small. No matter whether you are growing leaf lettuces, Swiss chard, kale, collards, or mustard and turnip greens, size works against flavor after a point. Start picking lettuce and spinach at 4-6 inches tall, and the others when they reach 6-8 inches tall. Not only will you enjoy better flavors, the plants will respond with more new leaves to eat.

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