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Beware this annual drought time in Southwest Florida

February 24, 2012
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze


A sudden drought time may pop up off and on here in Southwest Florida, however this time of year it is a certainty. Cannot be sure of the actual length of time it will hang around, but you can be certain it is a drastic, and even dangerous, time for all of us, gardeners or not.

A drought is such an extreme weather event because it exposes all of us to the dire possibilities of accidental fires which not only burn up our horticulture and manicured lawns, but also our homes and unlucky people.

There is also a fine line between what is considered a fire set by someone, or a fire accidentally started by someone who, being careless with a cigarette or a spent match, may well start a roaring fire in your neighborhood. You may not notice it smoldering but you will surely notice it roaring.

With fire alert signs now up in Lee County, and constant reminders on the news each day we need to pay attention during this extremely dry period.

Hot embers flung out from the few slow trains that we have traveling in our areas is a likely fire starter with the dry brush and wooded areas they travel through.

Parking a hot car off road in dry grasses and weeds, never a safe idea anyway, can spark a fire .

Lawn equipment, garage tools and those fun all terrain vehicles racing through the woods need to be watched for sparks also.

Just be aware that during this drought season there are many of our daily activities that could spark a dangerous fire. When your favorite meteorologist flashes that huge bright red drought map of Lee and surrounding counties, pay attention.

While you are watching out for hot sparks flying around, keep an eye on dry pots and containers sitting around your house. They will not necessarily spark a fire, but sure will wilt for lack of water right now.

Water-wise planting is always the best way to go, however there are a lot of things that are just not real water wise and are still worth growing and enjoying.

I do not know what the growers did to marigolds this year but they are not doing well for me this year. I cannot keep the mailbox ring of marigolds watered well enough to keep them growing. I am on my third planting of these pretty little things already.

As I have said, I never cared much for Dusty Miller but it is a good thing I have some backing up the thirsty marigolds.

I have a pot of impatiens that are doing great and they are well known for their thirsty nature. They are, of course, not setting out there in the hot sun all day.

I am trying a new shade plant. Actually I found out after I bought the plant that it is not even a new plant but one that was named after Johann von Heucher, a German physician. In the 1800s.

The genus Heuchera includes around 50 species of this herbaceous perennial plant in the family saxifragaceae, all native to North America. I have no clue how Johann von Heucher, from Germany, ended up the namesake of this plant.

When you know the common names, alumroot and coral bells, then the plant is suddenly familiar. The plant tag does not give any details to all of the Genus and family, etc.

The plant ranges in colors of yellow, purple, black, caramel and mixed.

I would love to have a carmel because it is considered one of the best for heat and humidity areas. It is also a very pretty caramel hue.

I only saw the one I have and the plant tag does not identify it at all and a computer check does not help me at all either. It looks dark beige.

The plant is a shade loving plant. Good for soil or container growing. Needs watering in well and then just the usual care. I should say that some of these verities will due better in the sun. The plant tag should state where to grow it properly and just how much water it needs.

Can be rich or regular soil and organic fertilizer suits them fine. A layer of mulch in the fall is good, they have shallow roots. They will mound nicely along a walk way or any edging space you need to fill.

They do not have many pests, but do not crowd plants to give them good air circulation and avoid mildew.

Slender coral bell blooms last from late spring through the summer. I have always thought that Coral Bells would not do well here but now I know that some of them will and that will be a reason to figure out where to purchase the correct variety to do the best here. More notes for the flower book.

I have to carry a small little note book around because there are so many names and questions when you like to find new things and figure out what to do with them.

Sometimes it takes a while to find out just which store or garden center has what you are looking for.

You need help remembering when you do pass around plants, too. I envy those who remember where a pass along plant came from three years later. In a garden club there are two types, the remembering types and the ones like me who do not remember.This remembering can make for some interesting conversations.

Make sure your tomatoes and peppers are kept watered evenly. They will do better if they are not allowed to dry out in between watering. I am still having delicious cherry tomatoes coming along and I love not having to pay a high price for the bell peppers.

Beware the drought but enjoy your gardening and look for some new plants.

This is the time to get things planted before it gets too hot.

Happy gardening till we meet again.

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



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