Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Adam's needle is unaffected by any weather our regions can offer.

Southern Snow

Sometimes a record isn't worth breaking, at least from the gardener's point of view. The city of Houston in our Southern Coasts region saw its earliest snow ever on December 5. The storm then swept across the Gulf South, leaving record amounts of the white stuff in places. While overall losses are few to such storms, they can certainly surprise some of our plants.

Temperature Swings
It's usually not the snow per se that causes problems, it's the suddenness of the snowfall. Temperatures can crash overnight by 40 degrees, stopping some plants like lettuce in full growth mode. The added precipitation has to melt, usually by noon, and can be helpful. Like the day after a serious thunderstorm as some parts of our regions have seen, it's important to survey the garden right after. If you have just planted shrubs, trees, or some perennials, 2 inches of rain or snow melt might be too much at once. Check under the mulch and divert water away if puddling has occurred. In very wet weather, look at newly planted trees to be certain they have not sunk into the planting hole. If the base of the trunk is lower than the ground around it, you'll need to dig it up and raise the tree. Watch for yellow leaves that might appear on lower leaves or in the center of shrubs. They may indicate a bigger problem, root rot, is developing and may need fungicide drenches. If very warm weather follows cold, mildew can form on plant surfaces left wet as temperatures surged. Clip the leaves off if you can, or leave them to fall off on their own. These natural leaf losses are not a serious issue.

Overwintering annuals, from pansies to candytuft and calendula, may lose a few leaves or flowers to a fast temperature crash and may have to be cut back. The good news is that few have needed water since they were planted, but don't forget to fertilize them on a warm day this month. Perennials still in bloom can go crisp from one day to the next, but they need to be cut back anyway. This basic garden sanitation gets put off in our regions and it shouldn't. Perhaps more than anywhere else, the Southern Coasts and Tropics need to take every opportunity to clean up dying plant debris and smother insect eggs laying in wait. One plant that will not let you ignore it after a cold, wet spell is banana. If it freezes, water-filled cells contract. When the cells thaw, they burst. The result is stems reduced to mush, difficult but necessary to cut down. A sharp cane knife or machete works best for this unpleasant task.

Good For Us
Here in the land of 12-month gardening, we need to take a break occasionally and just enjoy the sights the garden provides. Whether it's an Eeyore-gray, rainy day or the morning after snow, stop and look. It's too late or too early just then to do anything about it, and its charm seldom lasts very long. The hardiest roses are already back in bloom, the ornamental grasses never missed a beat, and maybe some fire ants succumbed or at least had to move.

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