Coastal and Tropical South
Be Quick to Snip
Keep an eye on plants on the porch or in the landscape to catch the first signs of fungus disease. That cold snap just after the New Year may have done more than chill your toes. Those record low temperatures also open the door to plant damage, and a plant in stress is vulnerable. Hours of temperatures below 40 degrees followed by a rapid warming can lead to fungus, especially on flowers and thin stems. The best control is to clip the damaged parts off and discard them as soon as you see the stems and flowers turning gray. If you wait weeks, the disease will spread.
Clean Up Poinsettias
Poinsettias can quickly lose their good looks if left indoors and neglected until spring, but you can take several steps to prolong their beauty. Get rid of any decorative wrapping still on the pot, remove any curled or yellowed leaves, and when you water, add enough so that it drains all the way through the pot before returning the pot to its saucer. When the top of the soil feels dry again, water the same way with a half strength fertilizer solution added. Keep the poinsettia in a sunny window or put it outdoors where temperatures stay warm at night.
Most every Southerner knows that all parts of castor bean, oleander, and rosary pea are poisonous and should be avoided. The same is true of lantana berries, which explains the popularity of sterile hybrids that do not set seed. Pets should be kept away from grazing on anything but appropriate grasses and herbs, and children must be taught at an early age that not everything in the garden is edible. But there are two other kinds of toxins to be avoided as well. The latex sap in poinsettias, related Euphorbias, and other species can irritate skin, causing reddish patches and serious itching. Rarer but more dangerous, soil borne bacteria can infect skin if it gets in through something as routine as scratch from a rose thorn. Keep the gloves near the clippers and wear them.
In the Southern Coast region, it is time to plant beets, English and snow peas, and Irish potatoes. If you have never tasted a freshly steamed beet, you have missed a treat that is unlike any canned beet or soup in a jar. The same goes for English peas, which bear little resemblance to the pulpy canned products. Many gardeners find that spring potatoes are the best we can grow. Plant Red LaSoda, Kennebec, and Sebago varieties. Further south in the true Tropics, January is also the time to plant potatoes and much more. If the cole crop family of broccoli, cabbage, and their relatives is to have a chance, now is the time. Recommended varieties include Copenhagen Market cabbage, Wong Bok Chinese cabbage, and Snowball cauliflower. Remember to tie the leaves up around that white cauliflower head as soon as it appears to prevent yellowing. And if you want to plant lettuces in zone 10, start them this week.
Pick a Palm
Among the most popular landscape plants are palms and pseudo-palms like the sago palm we like so much. Palmettos are extremely popular for their big leaves, strong profile, and ground level drama. Too many gardeners shy away from other palms or plant them without considering how large they will grow to be. An excellent, trunkless palm is needle palm, which reaches five feet tall and displays a very strong form that is more traditional and less dense to the eye than either of the others. If you have the space, seriously consider Mexican fan palm, also called the Washington palm, which can eventually reach 100 feet tall and deserves to dominate its scene.