Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
February, 2006
Regional Report

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Combine solid green and variegated dwarf scheffleras for an attractive hedge in the tropical zone.

Leaves, Bold and Beautiful

Tropical foliage plants encompass a huge group that's ideal for growing in our region. Their routine care in winter can make for an even bigger show for the rest of the year.

No Fear
Prunophobia haunts many gardeners when it comes to cutting back the scheffleras, corn, and ti plants when they get leggy. Even worse are those who fear clipping ivies, heart leaf philodendron, and pothos. Too many people let vines get almost naked, with a leaf or two adorning several feet of bare stem. In the office, it's worse. Everyone is afraid to cut any plant back, for if it dies, there's blame to bear.

Take heart! Cutting back tropical foliage that has grown too large or spindly seldom if ever kills the plant, and often produces dramatic, positive results: bushier plants, more leaves, and stronger stems. It's a plus that the clipped canes from that corn plant, for instance, can usually be cut into 3-inch segments and rooted. The tips of dwarf scheffleras that you clip off to thicken the plant below will also root easily, producing plants to fill in any gaps in the green wall you are growing.

Fertilizer Needs
Confusion abounds about what and when to fertilize these great plants. In the ground or in containers, they are perfect candidates for slow-release pelleted formulas. Select a balanced formula (10-10-10, for example) and use it every three months or as directed. To encourage the maximum leaf and stem growth, add a soluble fertilizer (20-20-20) to the water once a month for all or part of the year.

Insect Watch
Winter is a good time to scout the insects that may find a winter home in the folds of these leafy plants. Cottony white and sticky, mealybugs are common. So are tiny aphids and even spider mites. Use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to clean these pests off the plants.

Dust and dirt that accumulates in dry weather can plug up the pores of the leaves, slowing their ability to grow well. Use a soft cloth (old cloth diapers are perfect) dipped in water to clean the leaves. Forget the shiny spray products and the milk concoctions!

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