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Gardening

Gardeners welcome late blast of cool air

By MARY COLLISTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

After a few days of too-high temperatures, we experienced a few days of cooler weather and even some rain. There was enough rain that I didn't have to use my sprinklers on my water day, which always makes me happy!

I hope you had time to work in your yard during the days when the temperatures dipped back down into the 60s. With the cool weather I accomplished a lot between raindrops.

I consider my front yard finished now, although my landscape is always evolving. The last couple of weeks I tackled general maintenance tasks in the front yard, including weeding, raking mulch, fertilizing and clearing grass from around the sprinklers. I did the weeding by hand. The weeds keep popping up, and it is so much easier to pull them before they grow large. The moist soil from the rain made the weeds easier to pull out, roots and all.

I am deadheading (picking off the wilted flowers) the annuals every couple of days. It leads to more blooms. I also scattered about 10 packets of flowers seeds I purchased at a discount store for 10 cents a pack. Many have sprouted. These inexpensive seeds will add much color to the beds.

New mulch was spread; I prefer eucalyptus mulch because the trees are grown for that purpose. It bothers me that stands of cedar trees are destroyed for mulch, so I have quit using it. I like the smell of eucalyptus and it is said to repel bugs, although I can't say I have noticed any difference in the bug population. The color also lasts longer than cedar. This season I found eucalyptus chips, which should mat less while providing the same benefits.

While it was raining I sprinkled fertilizer on the flowering shrubs, annuals and perennials. If I have to provide supplemental water to the annuals, I use a hose end sprayer and fertilize at the same time. I have noticed that a mild fertilizer solution, every two or three weeks, really increases the number of blooms.

With our thick St. Augustine grass, the sprinklers are often buried. This leads to inadequate watering and wasting water. I dug the grass out from around all the sprinklers. This is a good time to make sure the sprinklers are spraying in the appropriate direction and working properly.

My blueberry bushes and peach trees are loaded with fruit. Although I like to go light on chemicals, I did spray the trees and bushes for bugs. Last year I lost many peaches to insects and even more to squirrels. I am still formulating my plan to conquer those squirrels. I have a few weeks before the peaches are ripe and the squirrels attack!

If you missed the University of South Florida Spring Plant Festival last weekend, all is not lost. On Saturday, a workshop on entertaining with herbs will be held there from 10 to 11:15 a.m. Learn how to create centerpieces, napkin rings and other decorative items with herbs straight from your yard. This may give you even more reasons to add herbs to your landscape. The workshop will be taught by herbalist Maryon Marsh and costs $3 for USF Botanical Gardens members and $5 for nonmembers.

Introductory Bonsai is presented by the Hukyu Bonsai Society of Tampa and is a great beginner workshop for learning the basics of this ancient art. The $20 fee for members and $25 for nonmembers includes a pot, soil, tree and basic tools. Advance registration is required for this workshop, scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. Learn all you need to know about heliconias (a tropical plant from Central America) and ornamental bananas April 26. Care and growing conditions are similar for these plants. Cost is $3 for members and $5 for nonmembers.

You'll leave Water Harvesting on May 3 with a rain barrel. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. The second annual Orchid Fantasy is May 10 and 11. This is one of my favorite events. Even if I purchase nothing, I love looking at the blooms. There will be a special lunch on Mother's Day. Call 974-2329 for details.

A workshop on bamboo is May 17. Local expert Roy Rogers will fill you in on the selection, planting and care on this member of the grass family. Cost is $3 for members and $5 for nonmembers.

If you're tired of replacing your annuals two or three times a year or just want to add some diversity to your landscape attend the May 24 Perennials in the Landscape workshop.

All workshops run from 10 to 11:15 a.m. and require advance registration by calling 974-2329.

Whether you are puttering in your yard at home or learning new gardening information at the USF Botanical Garden, there is plenty to do this time of year. Share some of your experiences with other gardeners. Drop a line, call or e-mail and I'll share with other readers.

-- Gardening correspondent Mary Collister of Valrico writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. If you have a question, mail it to: Mary Collister, Brandon Times, 426 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511.

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