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Prepare your garden for your vacation absence

By Compiled by OPAL SCHALLMO and NANCY VOLMAR

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 10, 2000


This is the month for sun, fun and vacations. Here are suggested garden activities for the month of June.

VACATION PLANT CARE is important. If you ask a friend or neighbor to check on your plants while you are gone, be sure to give proper instructions on the needs of each plant. Place your outdoor potted plants in a shady location. Potted plants may be placed in the ground up to the rim of the container. A thick layer of mulch will conserve moisture and reduce the number of waterings needed. Place indoor plants in a room that receives indirect fight; direct sunlight will dry the soil more quickly. Do not leave plants in a darkened room because leaf drop will surely result. The last thing to do before leaving trip is to soak the plants thoroughly. Houseplants should be okay for two weeks. If your vacation is to be longer, then move houseplants outdoors and sink pots in a shaded and cool garden bed.

Elsewhere in the garden this month:

Prune gardenias as soon as the blooms are gone. Pruning is necessary to keep plants shapely and in scale with the landscape. Yellow leaves with green veins may indicate an iron deficiency. To correct, apply iron chelate or iron sulphate according to label directions.

This is the last month to safely prune azalea bushes if you want flowers next spring. Fertilize your plants with an acid fertilizer four times each year -- February, May, August and November.

This is the month to plant chrysanthemums. Keep them pinched to make a more compact plant that will produce many flowers. Do not pinch or prune after August.

Marigold seeds sown early this month will bloom from about the middle of July until frost if old flowers are kept cut. Fertilize monthly and keep a check for leaf miner and spider mites.

Leaf spots on ligustrum are caused usually by a disease called Cercospora. Spray plants three times at 10-day intervals, then once a month until spots stop appearing on the new growth. The old spotted leaves will not improve. Use basic copper or Daconil 2787 according to label directions.

Monitor your sycamore trees now for lacebugs. Lacebugs may be small insects, but they do large amounts of damage to the leaves of sycamore trees. Their brown bodies and clear lacelike wings make them difficult to detect. The presence of shiny black spots of excrement on the underside of leaves is a good indication of a lacebug infestation. If the bugs are left uncontrolled, the leaves will turn brown prematurely and leave the tree bare. Control by spraying the entire tree with Safer Soap, Cygon, malathion or Orthene. Make a second application in seven to 10 days. It's best to hire a commercial pest control company to treat large trees.

Crape myrtle, roses, zinnias, squash and melons are often damaged by powdery mildew. This fungal disease develops during cooler nights in humid weather and shows up as a white powdery substance on the upper leaf surface. Remove infected plant parts, if possible, then spray with Funginex, Dithane or any labeled fungicide.

Remember to keep old faded crape myrtle flowers clipped off to encourage more blooms. Clip just behind the flower heads. When crape myrtle is allowed to produce seed, it reduces the flowering vigor and may even affect next year's bloom. Seeds are not generally viable so there is no reason to let them mature.

When croton leaves lose their color and appear blanched or faded, the cause is attributed usually to thrips. This sucking insect removes the juice from the leaves, and plants often defoliate completely. Spray affected plants with cygon, dimethoate, Orthene or Safer Soap.

A good plant for borders or beds is the daylily. There are three groups of daylilies: deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen. Deciduous varieties do best in areas where there is cold weather during the winter months. Daylilies sold at local nurseries are usually of the evergreen type. When you order from a catalog, be sure of the type you purchase, or you may never have blooms.

Take cuttings of many ornamental plants this month. Those easy to start from a cutting are copper plants, crotons, jasmines, azaleas, bottlebrush, viburnum and ligustrum. Take a 4- to 6-inch cutting from the new growth. Dust the cut ends with rooting hormone to speed rooting, then stick them in sterile peat or potting soil. Protect your cuttings from direct sun. It will take about six weeks for roots to develop. Keep the soil damp but not soggy wet.

Watch for dingy brown moths with about a 3/4-inch wingspan. They are the adult stage of the sod webworm. Moths flying around grassy areas are often an indication that eggs are being laid. These eggs will hatch into small green caterpillars in five to seven days. The webworm larva feed primarily at night and remain in a curled position on or near the soil surface during the days. Injured grass has notches chewed along the sides of the blades. The foliage may be stripped in patches.

The soap flush is a good way to detect sod webworms. Mix 2 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid in a gallon sprinkler can. Fill with water and drench a 4-square-foot area. Observe the area for about two minutes. Soap is an irritant that causes insects to surface.

Pesticides labeled for sod webworm control are Bacillus thuringiensis, Dipel, Diazinon, Dursban and Sevin. Sod webworms may reinfest the lawn within one to three weeks after treatment. Continue to examine the lawn and reapply pesticide as required.

Mole crickets are a severe problem in Bahiagrass lawns. June and July are the months when the mole cricket bait works best. The only problem is that the bait is rendered ineffective by rain or watering after application.

Fruits and vegetables:There may be June bloom on citrus trees. Citrus fruit is not always predictable. If your tree fails to bloom in March or produces only a small amount of fruit, it may be worthwhile to allow the June fruit to mature even though the fruit from a late bloom is not always of good quality.

Fertilize citrus trees this month. Use 4-6-8, 4-8-8 or similar fertilizer. Young trees under 10 years should have about 3/4 pounds per year of age and trees over 10 years should receive 10 pounds a tree. Scatter under and out past the drip line and water thoroughly. There is no need to dig holes or scratch up the soil surface.

There is still time to plant vegetables such as okra, southern peas and sweet potatoes. Warm weather brings on many insects and diseases. Be sure to check days to harvest when using a pesticide. Many pesticides have a week or more waiting time after application, and, if your vegetables are almost ready to harvest, be careful not to get the chemical on them or pick before spraying. Systemics not only get on the plant but also inside it.

As night temperatures increase,tomato production usually decreases. There are container-type tomatoes that will produce most of the summer. The varieties best suited for Florida are Florida basket, Florida petite, Florida lanai, patio and cherry.

The squash vine borer caterpillar hollows out the stems of squash, cucumber and melon vines. When borers are present, you will find that part of the vine has wilted. Check along the ground for an entrance hole and pulp where the caterpillar has fed. Split the vine to find the white larva, then remove and kill it. Once it is inside the stem, this insect cannot be controlled with pesticides. Dust or spray plants with sevin to control caterpillars.

If birds are a problem with grapes, use nylon netting, chicken wire or scare devices to control them. Rats, raccoons and rabbits will also eat your grapes. Control them with traps or repellents. Black rot and bitter rot can cause damage if vines are not sprayed regularly. Basic Copper or Captan are applied at intervals of 10 days to two weeks. Keep up this treatment until seven to 10 days before harvesting.

Good advice any time: To shield your home from the hot afternoon sunshine, plant a tree on the west side of your house. Select deciduous trees, which will allow the sun's rays to warm your home during the winter and shade your home in the summer. Plant medium to large trees 15 to 20 feet from the side or 12 to 15 feet from the corner of your house. Oaks, elms, maples and sweetgum are deciduous shade trees that do well in Florida.

Soaps have long been used by organic gardeners for insect control. Soft-bodied insects are most susceptible to soap sprays. Aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies can be controlled through repeated soap sprays. There is evidence that potassium-based soap sprays are more effective than household soaps. Safer's Insecticidal Soap is a commercial product marketed for insect control. Detailed instructions for use can be found on the label. You must be careful when first treating a plant with soap. Many plants have shown phytotoxic (damaged leaves) symptoms as a result of being sprayed with soap. In general, lower spray concentrations reduce the chance of plant injury. About 2 tablespoons of mild liquid soap per gallon of water is often given as a recommended dilution, but, because plants often differ in their sensitivity to soap, it is a good idea to test the soap spray on a few leaves first and then wait three to five days to see if any damage has occurred. If no symptoms are seen after this time, then it is probably safe to spray the entire plant.

We receive many requests from homeowners who would like an alternative to chemicals when controlling insects. The University of Florida recommends spraying plants with a forceful stream of water once every two weeks to remove many insects and spider mites before they have a chance to become established. Be sure to spray the undersides where most pests are found. Washing with soapy water and a soft brush or cloth may be all that is needed to remove aphids, mealybugs and scales from broad-leafed plants. Use 2 tablespoons of a mild detergent to a gallon of water. Hand-picking caterpillars, cutworms, slugs, snails and beetles usually works on small plants or from the soil. If only a few plants are involved, you may be able to control aphids and mealybugs by removing them with a toothpick or tweezers. An easy way to control a light infestation of mealybugs or aphids is to wet or remove the insect with a swab that has been dipped in alcohol. Be careful not to overapply the alcohol, or you may burn the foliage.

In a Florida yard, grass clippings, leaves and yard trimmings are recycled rather than thrown away.

Recycle grass clippings by allowing them to remain on the lawn. Mulching lawn mowers or mulching blades are optional.

Use leaves and pine needles found in your yard as mulch under trees or shrubs rather than bagging and discarding them. They make an attractive, natural mulch, and it's free.

Create and maintain a compost pile with collected clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps (no animal products, please). Free information on building a compost pile is available from your extension office.

To remove or not remove lawn clippings, this is the question we hear almost daily. Contrary to popular belief, clippings do not contribute to the thatch layer. It is the stems, rhizomes and stolons of grass that produce thatch. On most lawns, clippings should be allowed to filter through the grass and recycle nutrients to the soil. If your lawn is mowed often enough, clippings cause few problems. Clippings should be removed only if large amounts accumulate on top of the grass.

-- Compiled by Opal Schallmo and Nancy Volmar of the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service. If you have questions, call them at (727) 582-2100.

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