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Slow spring warm-up

February 18, 2011
By H. JEAN SHIELDS, Garden Club of Cape Coral


Special to The Breeze

OK gardeners, isn't this slow spring warm-up a nuisance this year?

It sure is to me. The nice warm sunny days mixed in with these cold nights are making it hard to NOT do some trimming and cutting of a lot of horticulture around my place.

I can tell I am not alone as conversation after conversation I hear around me are gardeners feeling guilty about snipping a few branches here and there because they just can't wait any longer.

This is not the time to do a big trim of anything. The sneaky cold nights we have to endure are bad enough for people, for freshly cut horticulture it can be deadly. The nicely trimmed branches and stems are laid open to the cold temperatures and will mostly damage the freshly cut branch, stem or whatever you have just massacred.

Wait a little longer.

The gray, drippy days we are having are not too depressing to me, because I know we always need some rain and it does make it easier for plants, etc., to tolerate the cold 40s.

Looking at last year's calendar, it looks like this temperature fluctuation will continue until the end of the month. My timetable allows for me to get going with the clippers sometime after the 15th of this month. How-ever, it looks like it will be some time after 15th again this year.

I do have three outside dendrobiums blooming well and a patch of nice fat pine cone, quesnellias blooming. My one rose bush refuses to stop putting out one bloom after another. The foliage does not look so hot, but I am not about to mess with Mother Nature, yet.

Yes, I do cover it up if the temps are going to be under 50.

An old sheet draped carefully around it, to the ground works for us. It is placed where it gets the first morning sun and I am sure that helps. Especially when I am up and out to remove the sheet early in morning.

One orchid, a dendrobium, is actually 12 years old. I feel like I should have a prize for that one. Actually the prize would go to the orchid, because it does so well out by the front walkway and I mostly leave it alone. It is still in the original heavy pot that it came in, from the Fort Myers Flea Market on Martin Luther King Drive.

I do mess around with fresh soil and orchard bark about once a year. I have never completely removed it from the pot, however it is happy to be setting almost right on top of the pot material.

Because it is close to a big bush, I can just drape a sheet across the top of the bush and down around the pot. With temps in the 30s and windy, I will close it more with some clothespins.

It is pretty tall so have to be careful to not bend the flower buds that began to form around the first of the year.

It is doing well with two sprays of blooms and I hope I do not have to cover it again. It does get some sun a few hours a day and the pot is much to heavy to move about so it is a good thing it does well right where it is.

There are a lot of kinds of dendrobiums and I never cared about which kind I had 12 years ago, but it is a cold hardy one, for sure. The other white one, a gift from a GC friend who grows fabulous orchids, but has moved away. That has grown attached to a large chair on the lanai and there is no way I am ever going to tear it away from that chair.

It is subjected to the cold north winds and has its own sheet to protect it. That one has grown and bloomed profusely for about 5 years. I have tried to start new ones from it but they do not do well for me. This means if I were a serious orchard grower I would be talking to someone to show me how to do the right thing at the right time to produce a new plant.

I am not sure what kind the other one is, but it has pale orchid color blossoms, and has one left. It is put behind the storm doors when temps drop. I have had that about 3 years and it blooms well, but is much smaller and of a different leaf type.

Anyone who has plants in pots knows how seriously dry they have been the past two months. I never can believe how dry they get from day to day. I like to move things around so do have a lot of pots. Also I have a habit of stopping in the the big box stores to see what is there and never leave without something to set in garage until planting time - a time that varies a lot with me. I keep seeing on TV these programs about horders; they have rooms full of things that they do not use and will not get ride of. I guess I am a "horticulture hoarder." Some of my Garden Club friends call my selections, the garage garden. At least I do not have to keep moving them in and out, just shut the door! Luckily the two-car garage only houses one car.

This is a good time to check up on new bugs and critters that seem to be attacking trees and bushes, etc. There are several new ones and the best way to find out what they are and what they are attacking is to talk to the Lee County Extension Service. There are classes advertised in the newspapers that are a big help in identifying these hungry critters and you may be surprised what they are attacking nowadays.

Start using systemic products. You do this when you plant the tree or bush and you will not have to be spraying as much. Not everything has a systemic product but you can learn which one to use on what.

If you have not walked the isles of a big box store or checked with a garden shop, recently, you will be surprised what is on the market to help gardeners.

One thing easy to learn is if you buy things in the Jiffy pots, you must keep them very moist. They dry out fast and once they do dry out, they may not absorb water well at all. This does happen, speaking from experience, so then you can put them on a plate or something that holds water so it can seep up into pot. I have another tomato plant setting in a Jiffy pot and I have to water it every day.

I want to plant it as usual in a 10 or 12-inch black pot but do not want to have to lug it in and out of garage for the next month. A green pepper plant has a pepper already and I have not even repotted that out of its Jiffy pot. I even left it outside, for sun, twice during a cold night. It is doing fine but looks a little tired.

To get a plant out of a pot, clip off the plastic rim, and most of the top of the pot so none of the pot remains above the new soil line. Cut off the bottom. Many times I can just tear off the bottom, no need to be neat here. The plant is easier to hold with some of the pot still around the mid section but if it falls off no real problem. Do not plant deeply, unless it is a tomato plant.

The general rule for most Jiffy pot plants is plant it as deep in soil as it is in the pot.

I go into more detail on planting a tomato plant deeper, in the next column. It does not look like we will be doing a lot of actual garden planting for next week or so. If I am wrong, that's good news.

I did buy a small pot of petunias, left them in the plastic pot they came in and they are doing well, not perfectly beautiful but a nice bright spot of color among all of the cold weary plants.

Several geraniums are happy and blooming brightly, and some poinsettias are holding up well. I do carry the poinsettias back into the garage anytime we are under 50 degrees. Geraniums do not seem to mind, thank goodness.

It won't be long before we can dig in the dirt seriously, so hang in there.

Wish full gardening until we meet again.

H. Jean Shields is a past president of the Cape Coral Garden Club.



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