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by Monica Brandies


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2007 Seasonal Advice

    January is the time to ...
  • Send winter visitors home with cuttings or small plants of bougainvillea or other of our tropical flowers that will do well as house plants or summer annuals where they live. The book I wrote for Sunset, Landscaping with Tropical Plants, gives full instructions for growing these both in Florida and in northern states. It is a good book to have for visitors or newcomers to enjoy, too, because there are color photos on every page and they can identify the flowers they see here but have never seen before.
  • We've enjoyed warm days and nights so far, but frost is likely to threaten any time in the next two months. Be ready. Make a list of the plants you need to protect. Be ready to cover what you can with old blankets, sheets, boxes, buckets, or overturned garbage cans. Take cuttings and bring them indoors as a bouquet. If the damage is minimal, enjoy the bouquet. If the parent plant is seriously nipped, then carefully cut and stick the cuttings in sterile soil or medium to root new starts. My website gives detailed instructions, with photos, for taking cuttings.
  • Start serious pruning. Now until mid February is the best time for pruning roses. With our warm weather, some are still blooming and it is hard to cut off flowers and buds. You still have time to wait for the present flush of flowers to fade or you can just bring them indoors for bouquets. It takes from 30 to 45 days for bushes to come back into full bloom again, so if you are planning for a garden party or company, keep that in mind.
  • My first big pruning job will be the dwarf poinciana, which I cut back drastically every year and it still grows to 15 or 20 feet. Right now I want the seedy branches out of the way so people can see the purple flowers on the queenswreath near my door.
  • Feed winter vegetables and annuals just a bit. They are starting into more active growth as the days get longer.
    February is the time to ...
  • Pull weedy vines. The ones I had in control in November have gone wild again in this warm weather.
  • If you have clumps of ornamental grasses with much dead grass in them, this is the best time to cut them to the ground and let them start over.
  • Keep plugging away at the pruning. Do a little every week and you'll have things in good order before you know it.
    March is the time to ...
  • Watch and water. It looks to be another dry March and April and May are always dry, hot months. Keep you hose handy, especially for container plants, newly set plants, and the water wimps like impatiens.
  • Plants are growing faster now, so they will need more fertilizer. Always apply this after watering, not when they are bone dry.
  • This is our last big chance to gather bags of leaves for mulch. The new leaves of the oaks are pushing off the last leaves that will pile up until next Christmas.
    April is the time to ...
  • Always be on the watch for happy surprises when you walk through your garden. I recently found a gloriosa lily growing clear up into a shrub and ready to bloom. I have many times tried to root cuttings of this but never succeeded. It must be propagated by buying a bulb, planting seed, or dividing a clump. Perhaps a bird planted this one, but I am very happy to find it and am presently enjoying my first ever glory lily flower.
    May is the time to ...
  • Consider how Darlene Caple grows her orchids. Many of them are attached to tree limbs. She wraps moss or other orchid medium around the roots and a bit of net as from onion bags around that. Then she nails the netting to the tree and soon the roots take hold. She also attaches circles of wire caging around the upper part of the plants since she found the squirrels eating the flowers.
    This will also work for bromeliads.
  • When she gets a new plant, she digs the hole where she thinks it should be, sinks the pot, and then waits a few weeks to see if it thrives. If not, she moves it somewhere else until she hits a spot it likes. She is careful not to forget to water the plant during this process.
  • Pick strawberries in the fields at bargain prices, 3 to 4 quarts for $1. Check in the classified to see who is open where. Take containers, a hat, a washcloth in a plastic bag to wash your hands when you finish, and plenty of water to drink. And all of your friends.
  • When you bring your strawberries home, put them in a cool place. As soon as you can, within the same day, wash and nip the green stem out and freeze most of them as they are or cut up with a little sugar, depending on how you'll use them.
  • Eat as you go and enjoy. The redder the riper and sweeter. Choose the not so red ones if you want to save some for the next day or so and do not wash or cut, but store in a shallow container in the refrigerator.
    June is the time to ...
  • Thank God if you got some rain. Hang in there if you didn't. It won't be too long now until the rainy season. I'm planning some transplanting then that I don't want to do until it starts.
  • Consider the wonder that so many things keep right on, not only living but growing, blooming, bearing fruit through these weeks of drought. My hose is getting holey though.
  • It is too late to plant most vegetables now. Almost everything burns out sometime in June. After that the few vegetables to grow are heat lovers including calabaza or Seminole pumpkins, cucuzzi, eggplant, black-eyed peas, some kinds of cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, okra and southern or black-eye peas.
  • Trust in God for help with your garden. We often worry too much. When they first moved here, there was a small palm that did not grow at all for several years. Then their son accidently mowed it to the ground, and lo and behold, it came back and grew quickly to great size.
  • Bob Harris gathers and uses leaves as mulch. "I have six bags hidden in the back for use as needed when there aren't any more to gather," he said. I had not seen them behind the pentas nor had I noticed the compost pile in the back corner behind the plumbago, but both are an important part of his gardening success. Judy puts her garbage in the freezer until he has time to take it to the compost pile.
    July is the time to ...
  • Take your children to nearby public gardens. The Discovery Garden at the Extension Office in Seffner is open during working hours, is small but mighty and full of lesson for young and old. Eureka Springs Gardens just off Hwy 301 near the State Fairgrounds on Eureka Springs Rd is open daily from 8-6. The USF Botanical Gardens at the southwest corner of the Tampa campus, off of Pine St, to the right off of Bruce B. Downs, just north of Fowler is also open daily and all are free except the latter for certain festivals. Wherever you travel there are public gardens to see, if only while you enjoy a picnic lunch.
  • Give each of your children a certain part of the garden to claim as their own, either a tree or a small plot of flowers or vegetables. Guide them as needed, but watch, as they will discover some things that will be new to you as well.
  • Watch for unwanted seedling trees and remove them from your plantings. Your own oaks will give you plenty of seedlings. The ones in the lawn will soon die away if you keep them mowed down. But the ones among your shrubs, flowers, or groundcovers should be pulled out if possible. Oaks have tap roots and tend to go down underground as far as they grow up, so if you can't pull them out, cut them out, again and again. After several times being cut back they will give up and die.
  • Seedling of pest trees will show up again and again thanks to wind and birds. We took out our golden rain tree more than ten years ago but I'm still pulling seedlings. Palms drop a few million seeds. I keep finding Brazilian peppers even though I know of no plants close by.
  • Never let a seedling tree grow taller than you can cut easily yourself before you make sure it is a tree you want and not invasive.
    August is the time to ...
  • Be ready to pull out the winter annuals as they succumb to the heat. It seems like pansies are the first to go. Petunias can last until June in a good year. I hate to pull out the nasturtiums, but already I am pruning them back some.
  • We were blessed with more rain in April than we usually see, but the days are growing hotter and longer and this is our time for most careful watering. Don't waste the water on plants that are thriving without it, but watch the water wimps and the container plants carefully. Mulch heavily.
  • Hang in there and hope for a change, even the slightest one, in the weather. One of these mornings we will wake up and feel a bit of coolness.
  • Time to start the fall vegetable garden. It is not to soon to plant cantaloupe, collard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lima bean, okra, pepper, pumpkin, snap bean, southern pea, squash, tomato and watermelon seeds. I'm planting a few rows of beans now and more in a few weeks when it gets a little cooler
  • Planting times for above ground crops for August include the 24th and 25th. Plant root corps on the 28th and 29th. I'm all for planting by the moon if the right days coincide with convenience, but if it would mean waiting more than a day or so, I plant anyway.
    September is the time to ...
  • My husband spreads boric acid powder under the name of Roach Away around the base of the house from a large plastic bottle with a narrow nozzle that he gets at Wal Mart once a year. It costs around $10 total. He uses about three bottles for a light film all around our 2000 square foot house and we hardly ever see a roach in the house. He keeps Combat packets inside also, but we've never had house or yard sprayed and have few insect problems inside or out. I thought he dug a trench, but he says he just puts it out. I did have to clear some plants away so he could get down the one side. Don't let your plants get too close to the house (my next project and new resolution).
  • Plan to go to the USF Sale where you will find many plants not available in most nurseries. You can also get your questions answered by the growers.
    October is the time to ...
  • Watch out for wasps. I've had two flyby stings from wasps at the church where I really didn't want to put mud on my face. We carry antibacterial hand cleaner in the car and I put that on at once. The one on my face hardly hurt and the small bump disappeared by nightfall. The one on my hand didn't hurt much either until it swelled up and I had to bend my fingers to get dinner, but pain was still minimal and the swelling went down in a day or so.
  • If you get a bee sting, don't make it worse by squeezing the stinger but scrape it away carefully with a fingernail or the edge of a credit card.
  • Remember when you take cuttings, to start with stems you would want to prune away, any that hang over the driveway or path, any that are crowding or crossing other growth.
    November is the time to ...
  • Don't judge a fruit by one tree. If you come to my house you are welcome to eat or pick from the star fruit in the back. It is quite sour for a star fruit. I'm going to have it cut down this winter and replace it with a sweeter one. You may also eat from the Meiwa kumquat in the front yard. This small citrus is the sweetest of the kumquats and is eaten skin and all, just spit out or take home the seeds. I am very fond of this one. On the other trees are family fruit, most of it not yet ripe, and every last orange being eagerly awaited by the Brandies clan.
  • Happily tell you that my column on garden signs has produced a source. Rita Lichtenwalter and her daughter Sue are now making such signs and selling them at very reasonable prices, $10 for a large one, at their booth at the Ybor City Market every Saturday. If you can't get there, you could call her at her Brandon home, 651-1424. In most cases she will even make them to order.
  • Don't throw away the turkey bones. We gather up all of them, even from the plates and boil them with onion, a bit of tomato juice to steal the calcium from the bones, and celery and carrots. Boil until every last scrap of meat falls off, let cool, and pick clean. Then freeze with the broth for great meals like turkey and noodles. You can put them all in your largest pot and put it in the freezer until you get time if you are too tired Thanksgiving night. I do.
    December is the time to ...
  • Relax and enjoy the cool weather when we can garden any time of day and weeds are growing slowly. But keep an eye on containers and newly set plants especially and water as needed.
  • Maybe if we get our boxes and sheets ready, frost won't come. If it does, water well the day before. Well watered plants have much more resistance.
  • Some of us are noticing much more fungus disease and insects on our green beans and tomatoes this fall. Never touch bean plants when they are wet, for this can spread disease. But ours got it anyway. Hopefully they will do better in the spring.
  • Prune shrubs a little bit whenever you have the time except for azaleas and any that are about to bloom.
  • Save popsicle sticks or buy the small wooden sticks at a craft store for labels in potted plants.
  • Confess I have lost both of my silver dollar eucalyptus trees just since August and don't know why. Time to start over. This is one I don't want to live without.
    Now is the time to ...
  • Wish all my readers a joyful twelve days of Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thank especially all the people who have shown me their gardens and shared their knowledge. I couldn't do this without you.