Coastal and Tropical South
The signs of scale insect infestation on shrubs like camellia are usually seen in summer, but the damage starts now. Tiny greenish yellow crawlers emerge from under the shiny brown bumps that lay unnoticed on stems since last year. After feeding for less than a week, the crawlers insert their beaks and begin sucking the life out of your woody plant. Once that happens, control is difficult to achieve without using systemic pesticides. Instead, look for the crawlers now while they are vulnerable to oil sprays and pyrethrin dusts.
Last call for veges
The end of February brings the final round of planting for some of our region's favorite vegetables. It's almost too late for potatoes and green peas, but they'll make it if summer doesn't arrive too prematurely. Smaller versions of vegetables meant for container growing and those intended for garden culture where summers are short make good choices for cabbage and greens of all kinds.
Sometimes vegetable or flower seedlings that looked great one day simply collapse overnight. Three factors can cause this devastating problem. Temperatures that vary greatly in one direction or the other can lay the plants down. They may recover but also may be stunted after such trauma. Light that is not adequate for the seedlings to remain compact can lead to stretching seedlings that fall over of their own weight. The third factor is a fungus disease, usually Pythium. The disease is best avoided by using clean pots, sterile seed starting soil mix, bottom heat and careful watering.
Good soil, better results
When you visit the garden centers this month, the racks are full of fertilizers, growth enhancers, soil additives and all manner of products claiming to make plants grow. Most of them do assist plant functions, but none work if your soil is compacted or so sandy that it cannot hold plant roots in place. I am not one to go overboard, but I amend every soil with organic matter before planting. Turn a shovel's depth of the native soil, then top it with 3 inches of organic matter. Mix them together, let rest for a week or two, then plant.
Our beloved LA iris have resumed growth and may need a boost now to insure sturdy stems in a couple of months. If the leaves are thinner than they used to be or if flowers were few last year, fertilize them now with phosphorus and potassium. These elements can be found alone or in combination, usually with nitrogen. Look for a very low nitrogen if you use combination products.