Coastal and Tropical South

May, 2012
Regional Report

Plant Summer Vegetables

You can plant summer vegetables, okra, southern peas (aka crowder peas), and sweet potato slips this month. But the list of things to plant also includes peanuts, zinnias, and sunflowers. If you have never planted peanuts, they are fascinating to watch as they grow and send their energy into the soil to make nuts. Spanish and Valencia peanuts are more upright in habit than Virginia and Runner types and may be easier to tend in a small space. Cultivation around peanut plants is important to keep the soil loose, but be shallow about it once the nuts begin to form. The shuffle hoe described below is a great choice for this task.

Check on Oleander

The popular shrub, oleander, is a favorite not only of gardeners, but of the oleander caterpillar. Keep an eye out now for these bright orange pests with stiff black hairs along each side. They are attractive, in an insect kind of way, but a growing population can defoliate the shrubs. Young oleanders are most susceptible, but all ages are vulnerable and the farther south you go, the more likely plants are to be badly damaged. Young caterpillars are readily controlled with 3 weekly sprays of permethrin, pyrethrin, or products containing Neem.

Pay Attention to Yellow Leaves

Shrubs grow like other plants, using nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in larger amounts than the micronutrients, also called trace elements because of the small amounts that are needed. Plants can use others, but the seven micronutrients essential to plant growth are boron, zinc, manganese, iron, copper, molybdenum, and chlorine. Yellowed leaves, especially on the lower parts of a plant, can mean that the plant needs nitrogen and is sacrificing the lower leaves so the upper growth can continue. Ixora or flame of the woods, gardenia, and other acid lovers may develop yellow leaves because they have depleted micronutrients. These elements are included in complete formula fertilizers, but are also available singly. If you have already fertilized the shrubs and yellow leaves persist, use the micronutrient formula alone now.

Prevent Pest Outbreaks

As the rampant growing season roars on, the value of proper plant spacing becomes apparent. Enough room for air to move around each rose bush means less black spot fungus. Caging tomatoes so the leaves of one do not brush the one next to it makes it harder for some pests to move through the crop. When plants are crowded, the first signs of pest issues can be hard to see, as when hornworm eggs are hidden in a leaf crotch behind dense foliage. If you do have crowded plants, part them when you take that daily walk. Look up and down inside the planting so you do not miss any new invaders.

Divide Spring Perennials

As soon as their flowers are done, spring blooming perennials are ready to be dug up, divided, and replanted. Handle the spring bloomers now before the weather gets any hotter. It may mean that you have to water more carefully during this first summer in the next life of these plants, but many will bloom next year if given the chance to get established. To divide clumping perennials, dig up the entire plant and carefully separate individual plants with your hands or a sharp knife. Be sure each new plant has top growth, part of the crown, and some roots. Except in rare cases, perennials should be replanted in the garden or a container immediately after the division process.

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