tampabay.com

Summer is the time to help gardens thrive

By MARY COLLISTER
Published July 29, 2006


Rain, heat, humidity and bugs. It must be summer in Florida! But there are, of course, many other aspects of Florida summers that make it a great place to be.

Just look at your landscape. There is no better season than this for the exuberant growth of all your plants.

If you planted last fall or winter, the plants have established themselves and are probably bursting with new growth now.

Those that may have been planted in inappropriate areas may already be outgrowing their new home.

If this is the case, now is a good time to transplant, as the rain will help them get established. If possible, trim the plant a bit after transplanting to minimize the shock.

The bougainvillea standard in my front yard is doing great. This is the plant I almost yanked from the ground when I thought the cold weather had killed it. I did discover a few leaves at ground level and decided to try to nurse it back to a standard.

The plant is now about 5 feet tall, and a nice head is forming. I keep the leaves pulled off the stem and have trimmed back the branches that are making up the head three or four times now, just taking a little off each time. I'm confident that by the end of fall I will have a nice bougainvillea standard with a head of no less than 3 feet in diameter.

With all the pruning and shaping I am doing, I doubt there will be many blooms for a few seasons, but it does add that vertical element to the front garden. I'm glad I decided to nurse this plant along.

I did an extremely heavy pruning on my two peach trees in the back yard. Technically, the trees only require keeping the middle of them cleaned up and removing any branches attached to the trunk with an angle of 90 degrees or more.

I decided to do a heavy pruning, mainly to control the size. The squirrels strip the trees clean of all fruit if not protected, and the larger the tree the more difficult it is to fashion some sort of way to scare the squirrels away.

The best technique I've used is to tie compact discs to the trees. The glare from the discs keeps most of the squirrels away. Once the trees get too big, it becomes a huge project to tie the CDs to the trees in the late winter and then remove them after I have picked all the fruit.

Also if I keep the trees shorter, there are fewer discs that are visible to the neighbors, since the trees are behind a fence.

If you had bare spots in your turf this spring, the rain may have helped the grass grow and fill them in.

If there is still bare ground, you may want to add a few plugs or pieces of sod. They must be kept damp, so the rain helps. Sprinkle a little starter fertilizer, keep the roots damp and the grass will soon fill in. Make sure you pull the weeds out, as often they will grow quicker than the grass.

The bare spots may have been caused by chinch bugs, and if that is the case, make sure the bugs are dead before laying new sod. If the chinch bugs are still around, they will love those tender, tasty roots.

Usually it is best to treat twice before placing down new sod in an area killed by these tough little pests.

The water rationing schedule now in place is set to change as of Aug. 3, when we may return to a two-day-a week schedule. To stay informed, read the St. Petersburg Times or visit http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/water/restrictions/.

Usually in August we are still getting enough rain to preclude the necessity of supplemental water. If we do return to twice-a-week watering, it is still best to use sprinklers only when necessary.

This can be a busy time of year in the garden, although many of us may feel this is also the most uncomfortable time with the heat and humidity.

If possible, get your chores done early in the morning and late evening so the hot sun is not shining down on you. I walk around early each morning before I go to work and pull a few weeds, trim off wilted flowers or yellowing foliage, or just make a mental note of a possible chore I may need to accomplish the next weekend.

I do find these little 10- to 15-minute work sessions add up and help me keep my garden in shape.