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Springtime gardening in Southwest Florida

April 18, 2014
By H.I. Jean Shields - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze


All gardeners must have noticed by now that springtime has arrived - cold fronts are not really cold now, just cool. The rains are not regular yet, however we have been blessed with more this month than last year's spring.

Rain showers this time of year are great for gardening as they help keep all the new little bedding plants from drying up.

Small plantings prefer to be moist for a few weeks, a one-time watering in will not be enough as the sunny days become longer and hotter. I have some small begonias sound the mailbox and it seems like every time I think to pay attention to their progress, they are too dry.

The sprinkler system just barely sprinkles them and keeps the dust off tender leaves but does not keep the roots moist enough. Also I noticed a long time ago as I gardened that when I plant five or six plants at one time, there is always one in the bunch that is more needy than the others. I actually buy the nice little six packs and only plant four or five so that I can replace one when needed.

What happens when I do not need a replacement? Well, there is always someplace to tuck in a bit of color, coordinated or not. I have actually ended up with some very pleasant color combos that I would never have planned. I do have a pretty white diamond frost plant at the front of the mailbox. This plant is a re-seed leftover from a last summer planting. It is welcome to stay right where it is. The bed, which is enclosed in a white scalloped concrete ring, gets changed once or trice a year. Changing times depend on how healthy everything is growing there, a season change of colors or just my own energy level.

The real change in that bed needs to be the mailbox itself. It has been there for about10 years and while the post seems nice and strong, the box itself is starting to lose its wooden slats. It also kind of shudders when I put mail in and out of it.

When we moved in years ago I really admired some of the concrete animal mailboxes, and other cute sculptures, however the other person living here definitely did not think a $200 mailbox improved the property at all. He ruled the checkbook, and I ruled the plantings. He never quite admitted that it might have been cheaper to have a fancy mailbox, that did not need so many surrounding flowers.

Most of us have tilled and amended any planting areas by now. If not, get busy.

There are a lot of choices of plants, bushes, vines, trees and veggies available to plant. You may also divide many plantings and trade them around with friends and neighbors. Join the Garden Club; we are good playing the "pass the plant" game.

You do need to remember to read plant labels. Planting the right plant in the right place is important. You also have to remember that the sun moves around from spring to fall and a shady spot this month may not be so shady next month.

We can cheat a little with placement, but not much. Flowerings mostly need sun to bloom; tomatoes and bell peppers need sun to grow. Coleus prefer shady, or dappled. As spring progresses into summer, it is more important to understand when a plant card says 4 to 6 hours of full sun, be careful. Our sun is indeed a hot sun and may just burn up the plant or just make it weak and unsightly.

Be sure that sooty mold is not spreading all around the bus.

One good way is to go to a local plant sale, or farmers market and select some plants. The sellers are usually very serious about making sure you are buying something that you know where to plant.

A good sale coming up is in Rotary Park, Saturday, April 19, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. This Native Plant sale is always full of a wide variety of plants and people who know how to grow them. They also do not mind if you already have a plant and need to know more about it.

They cannot fix every problem but they will try, especially if you can tell them what kind of plant you are having trouble with. A plant with a big green leaf and a red flower does not really tell anyone much.

I have a very nice large gardenia bush; it was here when we moved in, and the sellers did not know what the name of it was and I did not recognize the 4-foot-high bush without flowers. I finally found out it was a gardenia when a few weeks later it started blooming and scenting up the area. I was thrilled to death. A whole bush of gardenias! I was used to a little florist pot of gardenias for Mother's Day; 19 years later it is still growing and blooming. The only problem I have had is I forget, about this time, to start watching for sooty mold and spraying before it gets really bad.

The bush gets good air circulation but because it is between two houses the morning sun is not really enough to keep the bush loaded with blooms, but does well.

Sooty mold is not a good thing to have anywhere.

I use Volck Oil Spray. I have been using it for years as the container suggests. It can be used on roses but I have never used it on my one rose bush, preferring something not so oily.

There are other sprays to use and Bayer has a soil drench for trees and shrubs that help with hungry ants also. It is a matter of choice for what you are spraying and where it is. Most spraying onto plants should not be done during a hot sunny day; it may well burn foliage. A heavy rain after a nice spray is not good either, but Mother Nature cares naught for our schedules.

When sooty mold takes hold, you will need to spray a second time within about 10 days. All those healthy sucking type insects feasting on the bush and hungry ants feasting on their droppings creates this fungus problem and it must be controlled or you will lose the host tree, or shrub.

The dry season just before our rainy season is when all this merry-go-round of events take place. A strong hose watering will help if it is done often and early on.

I used to enjoy hoseing down the bush in the old days, now I am much more water use conscious and just do not use the hose that much.

Have a nice Easter and celebrate Earth Day with a new planting.

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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