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  • Mark Govan

What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA

ABC Pest Control Inc. FloridaGarden Tips to Save Time and Money

Every nurseryman or woman has learned their trade by working with the plants they sell to keep them healthy and green. Some of the procedures we have learned could be called “trade secrets.” In this article, I want to give you a few of the lessons I have learned over time. These tips have helped me to produce stronger, healthier plants and landscapes. Many of these simple “tricks of the trade” can help save you time and money as you work with your own landscapes. Let’s get started.

Container gardening is a passion of mine, and many of you like to grow plants in pots of differing shapes and sizes. Some of these containers are used for large trees, and others may be used to decorate the borders of a deck or walkway. When I plant a container garden, I use a simple three staged method to get the best show out of each pot. Each of my containers utilizes a thriller, a spiller, and filler.

The thriller is the main plant that will be the center focus of the container. Thrillers are planted in the center of the container and will grow the tallest. The spiller will be comprised of several plants with growth habits that fall down along the sides of the pot. Filler plants are used to spread across the center of the pot giving color to the base of the tallest plant. Please make sure the growth habits of each plant you select will match your eventual plan. A short trip to the garden center to select the proper plants will give your containers that extra burst of color you are looking for.

Many of us have experienced a plant which has fallen over in its container or over time, has tilted and no longer grows upright. Some of us have tried to straighten out the plant by tying it to a pole for support. A nursery secret I am about to share with you can help you alleviate this problem. When my listeners ask me what I do I tell them to “dig a crooked hole.” This may not be totally correct, but if you have ever worked in a nursery, then you would know that plants that have fallen over or grow slanted to the sun are very common. All you have to do to correct this problem is to remove the plant from the existing container, then repot or plant the crooked tree so that the tree or shrub is pointed straight up. Sometimes, this requires the existing roots to be placed sideways in the hole, but the result is a perfectly straight plant. I can guarantee you that you probably have already purchased a plant that has been re-potted in this manner, and you never even knew it. Try this tip on your plants!

Division of plants in the landscape can give you several more specimens, which can fill in a border area and will only cost you a little time. Society Garlic, Daylilies, Amaryllis, Gingers, Lemon grass, and the Bird of Paradise are just a few examples of plants that can be divided very easily. Simply use a sharp shovel and dig down into the middle or side of the clump, and divide them. You do not have to separate the roots of each plant. Just scoop out part of the clump and re-plant them several feet over. Water them in and in a month or two, you will have two or more clumps growing. Some large clumps will give you several plantings to add to your garden. The nice thing about dividing existing plants is that because they are already doing well in your landscape, you can count on them to grow well a few feet over! Plus they tend to fill in relatively quickly.

Have you noticed any dead spots that pop up in your lawn from either insect or mechanical damage? Then here is a tip that can save you money on filling in these areas. Rather than going to the garden department to purchase new sod or plugs, how about digging out your own plugs from areas of the grass that are doing well? Turf grasses always fill in along the borders of your foundation plants. Some people use roundup to kill grass in these areas. I like to cut out about a foot or so of the good sod around my ornamental plants and then use these cuttings to fill in the bare areas in the lawn. This also gives you a clean look around your foundation plants.

Another reason using grass from your own lawn to fill in dead areas is a good idea, is that when you go to the garden center to purchase plugs, you may receive a different cultivar of sod than you are currently growing. If you buy a set of plugs or sod that does not match your existing turf, then you may end up with a different color of grass or varying growth habits in the cultivar you purchased rather than what you have now. There is nothing worse than having multiple types of grasses growing in one yard that looks different. Example – let’s say you are growing St. Augustine grass, and even though you purchased a St. Augustine plug, the cultivar you purchased might be different. Please do not make this mistake. This may cost you plenty in years to come. For my next tip, let’s talk about your soil.

Most of our Florida soils have high pH content. The lawns I test come back at 7.5 or higher. Unfortunately, our plants and turf grass like the pH to be in the rage of 5.5-6.5 in order to grow healthy roots and take up the fertilizers we apply. Roots of lawns and plants which have been damaged by insects or disease cannot take up the essential nutrients due to high pH.  Alkaline soils’ lock up these nutrients’ plants need to re-grow their roots. There are two tips I can offer you, which will help you to overcome this problem. The first is to apply cracked sulfur to your lawn and plant beds every two months to help lower the pH which will allow your plants to take up the nutrients you may have already applied.

However, if your lawn or plants root structure was eaten by grubs or mole crickets, then you will have to revert to my second tip, which is to feed the grass or plants by applying foliar nutrients to the blades and leaves which will help sustain the plant while new roots are formed. Foliar feeding can give your landscape the energy needed to produce new roots, which will then grow strong enough to feed the plant.

My final tip of the day can save you many backbreaking hours of pulling grasses out of your ornamental plants. Instead of pulling these grasses, how about using a product which can be sprayed over the top of your plants and kill off these unwanted grasses? I suggest using a product called Fusilade II. Fusilade II is a weed control product which can be safely sprayed directly on the foliage of your shrubs and flowering plants, eliminating only the grass which grows through them giving you a grass-free bed. You will need to re-apply this product every two months as new weeds emerge, but the time savings alone will pay for this product. Make sure you do not apply this product to your turf grass, as it will kill it.

Growing plants in containers using the methods I have outlined above will make your container gardens the talk of the town. Even small containers can be transformed into works of art. By dividing plants you already are growing, you can reduce the costs of purchasing new plants. Straightening up your crooked plants will add symmetry to the garden, and making your own plugs will keep your lawn looking good and beds neat. I hope you have enjoyed this week’s tips, and as I find more, I will share them with you. Good Luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here!

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