Coastal and Tropical South

May, 2012
Regional Report

Grow Healthy Caladiums

A colleague of mine once decided to see how large he could grow a standard caladium plant. He planted in well-drained, richly organic soil and set up a drip system to provide nearly constant water and fertilizer to its base. The result was a single caladium plant with more than 25 leaves that measured 2-3 feet in height by July. You may not want quite so large a caladium, but let its success remind you to plant in well-drained soil and to water and fertilize regularly for continuous growth.

Fertilize Citrus

Whether yours is a kumquat in a garden bed surrounded by annual flowers or a grapefruit tree dominating a courtyard, citrus trees are famously popular for their flowers, fragrance, and fruit. Established trees should be fed three times annually, both before and after blooming, and again in the fall to maintain levels of available nutrients. The numbers on fertilizer labels are always in order of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the product. Citrus trees benefit from lower levels of phosphorus, such as can be found in 5-2-6 and similar formulas.

Plan for Storms

Everyone is aware of the record-setting and at times violent weather of the past few months, and we're all wondering what is to come. Without predicting the future, we can know that it is time to prepare for hurricane season by surveying the landscape and taking steps now to secure it. Start with the hardscape, making sure trellises and pergolas are stable and well-anchored, and that there's nothing else in the garden that can become a projectile in high winds. Tend to trees and large shrubs by pruning out damaged or dead limbs. If a big tree is barely alive and could fall on your home, remove it. If large, leafy trees overhang your home, consider thinning their canopies to allow for better air flow and to lessen the weight they support. Steps such as these can be taken well in advance, but you should still keep a mental list for battening down the hatches when necessary, such as taking down flags and patio umbrellas, tying down furniture, and opening ditches.

Replan the Lawn

Plenty of gardeners are taking the lawn out of the garden, almost or entirely. Xeriscape gardens replace the turf with mulches and rocks, but even rain-soaked areas can be designed to need less mowing. You can begin with a new path that curves around the lawn to take in the beds you already have and define new ones. To begin removing sod, mow or string trim as low as possible, then scrape the area to remove the rhizomes and thatch. Replant with ground covers immediately, or solarize for three months by laying a tight film of 6 mil clear plastic over the area so sunlight can destroy weeds and grass in the space.

Care for Orchids

If you have been fertilizing your orchids at half strength so far this spring, it is time to step it up to a full dose to promote new growth and flowers. Many popular orchid formulas are low in nitrogen, such as a 5-20-20 formula or an equivalent ratio. Such specialty fertilizers are not always necessary, but can be quite useful in orchid cultivation. Be careful of increasing light and heat levels, especially on porches and in sunrooms. Move the plants, close the blinds, or put up shade cloth to prevent sunburn on orchid plants. Repot those that have bloomed if they are crowded or have been in their pots for more than two years, particularly cymbidiums and dendrobiums.

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