Upper South

March, 2012
Regional Report

Get Lucky with Shamrocks

Irish legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Druids, and today the three-lobed leaf is a symbol of Ireland. Irish experts consider Trifolium repens to be the true shamrock, although others argue that it is Trifolium dubium. Neither of these grow indoors, so floral shops sell Oxalis regnelli for St. Patrick's Day decorations. These grow from small corms and produce clover-like leaves that close on cloudy days and at night. Keep barely moist. If the plant dies back, allow it to go dormant for several months. When new growth emerges, begin watering and feeding. So go ahead, celebrate Ireland and have a houseplant for years to come.

Prune Clematis

Clematis begin sprouting earlier than just about any other plant, which means they should be among the first plants that need attention. Properly pruning clematis means that they'll have the best growth and the most flowers. When you purchase clematis, there is usually a label that designates whether they belong to pruning group 1, 2, or 3. If you've lost the tag but know the name, then search online for the pruning group. No name? Most widely available clematis can be pruned back to either 12 inches from the ground or back to a pair of live buds.

Take a Walk, Add a Task

Take advantage of any warm day by spending at least a few minutes walking around your yard. The fresh air will do you good, plus you'll be able to observe your plants as they emerge from the ground or as the buds swell. Your spirit will be uplifted, and your garden IQ will improve as well. Invest a little more time and do some weeding, trimming, and planning as often as possible. By breaking down chores into short stints, you'll be taking it easier on your body and still get a lot of work done.

Start Potatoes Indoors

For those who revel in wonderful little new potatoes in May and June, choose a early potato and chit them now before planting to ensure a good crop. Chitting means letting them sprout before planting. The seed potatoes are not cut as some people do with plantings later in the summer. Rather, they're left whole, set into egg cartons or a tray, placing the end with the most buds facing up. Put in a bright, frost-free place for several weeks, or until sprouts get a half inch or so long, then plant into the garden.

Warm the Soil

For those who like to have the earliest crops, one avenue to success is warming the soil. This is accomplished by using plastic mulches. Clear plastic works well, but it also encourages weed growth. Plus, it must be removed before planting, and a row cover needs to be used to maintain soil temperatures. Black plastic mulches warm the soil, block weeds, and are inexpensive. An alternative is infra-red transmitting (IRT) plastic mulch, which warms the soil as well as clear plastic but blocks weed growth. It is most often used with crops like eggplant, peppers, squash, and melons.

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