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Southern Gardening - Potpourri for May

The old adage, "April showers bring May flowers" will hopefully hold true for May 2023. And with these showers come many weeds. Before getting down to the business of actually planting, preparing the beds is a must. And this includes weeding, adding any soil or organic material, and applying fertilizer.

Over the years, many newer gardeners have asked how much water do flowers and shrubs require. Of course, some plants need more water than others. As a rule of thumb, a woody stemmed flower requires less water than a herbaceous plant.

Watering requirements also depend on the time of the year. Naturally plants take less water in the dead of winter than in the middle of July. For example, the common marigold can thrive in constantly wet soil which would rot impatiens. Let me put it this way, there are always exceptions to the rule. When purchasing unfamiliar flowers and plants, the plant label is a good guide for watering requirements. Below are some general guidelines which have helped me over the years.

General Watering information:

1. Water flowers and shrubs before noon, so that they dry out, as opposed to later in the day this time of the year. This timing is essential to allow the moisture on the leaves and the top layer of soil to dry out. If the watering takes place in the late afternoon and/or evening, the soil will be warm and together with the wet foliage, it creates a magnet for mold, fungus and pesky insects. And if the soil has been mulched to conserve water, then watering before noon can be critical for the health of the plants. Watering before noon allows the maximum amount of water to reach the roots before the water evaporates.

2. Many people believe that they have adequately watered their plants by sprinkling the ground or pot with a hand held hose. Much of the time, although the ground looks wet, only the surface of the dirt is wet and not the roots. The best rule of thumb is to poke an index finger into the ground to the depth of the first knuckle. If the soil feels watered, the watering is complete.

3. The above caveats are good for the pot garden.

4. Although overwatering plants is rare, it can also be a problem. Most flowers and shrubs do not like what is called "wet feet", which means that the roots are sitting in water. Poor drainage rots the roots, leading to death of the plant. In pot gardens, the cause usually can be attributed to the drainage hole being stopped up with the pot collecting water.

5, To prevent poor drainage in flower pots, no matter the size, add gravel or broken pottery over the bottom hole. This prevents caking of the soil which acts like a plug in a bathtub drain. If the soil in the garden does not drain, the first thing to notice is yellowing of the leaves which alerts one to the poor drainage issue. Also, when lifting the plant, the plant roots may have an odor attributed to what has become sour soil. So the remedy would be to take all plants out of the ground, and raise the beds between 4-6 inches. Of course those plants with the rotten roots should be discarded.

PLANT OF THE MONTH--CLEMATIS

Clematis is a member of the Buttercup family and includes climbing species and shrubby forms. Most are familiar with the woody stemmed vines, which produce showy bright flowers in the spring. I have had clematis vines for years which bloom off the dead wood. Spectacular saucer sized flowers adorn the vines. They need moist humus rich soil and at least 4 hours of sun per day. Some say that if you put their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun, they will thrive.

 

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