July 2007
How's Your Garden?
  Tropical hibiscus love the sun.

Happy Hibiscus

To keep a potted tropical hibiscus happily in bloom all summer, it needs lots of sun. You’ve seen these plants in the ground in sunny Florida where the light is intense all summer. Bright light for eight hours a day is what they need to keep all those flowers coming. Also be sure to fertilize with a liquid food every week or two. Assuming that your plant is potted in a good quality soil and has good drainage, this should be all it needs to bloom beautifully all summer. Watch for aphids on the flower buds in the fall, too.

Rusty Fig Tree? Uh, Oh.

If your beautiful fig tree turns brown and drops leaves about this time of year, chances are that it suffers from rust, a fungus disease (Physopella fici) that can build up in the soil. Although rust may not kill the tree at once, continued leaf drop hurts your harvest and can weaken the tree so that something else, like an early hard freeze, will kill it.

At first, fig rust shows up a small, yellow-orange spots on the leaves, often in June. Overall, the tree has a "rusty" look and leaves begin falling off. To prevent this problem next year, collect leaves on the ground and trash them (not in the compost bin). Then spray the tree with neutral copper being sure to cover the underside of the leaves because this is where the spores begin. The ideal time to do this is before the rust appears, actually as soon as the leaves reach full size in the spring.

Anytime you are dealing with a fungus it is better to "prevent" before it appears than trying to "cure" afterwards. Obviously your first spray is much overdue, but mark your calendar for next spring. Then you would spray again 3 or 4 weeks later. By this time the disease is established, but you can still clean up the fallen leaves and spray to help prevent its spread and minimize the problem for next year.

Pot scrubbers hold sugar syrup.  
Pot Scrubbers for Butterfly Lovers

If the drought has shriveled your flowers, you can still give butterflies a sip with a homemade source of nectar. You may have seen this set up in butterfly houses such as the ones at the Huntsville Botanical Garden and Callaway Gardens. The idea is to provide sweet nectar and a place for butterflies to perch while they feed.

Start with a shallow platform feeder designed for bird seed, or mount your own shallow dish on a post 2 to 4 feet high. Make a "nectar" of dilute sugar solution by dissolving sugar in boiling water at the rate of 1 cup of sugar to 4 to 6 cups of water. Place two or three new, clean, plastic pot scrubbers in the dish and pour the nectar into the dish until the scrubbers are about half covered with solution. You may need to smear Vaseline or tack-trap a few inches up the base of the post to keep out ants. Change the solution every few days to keep it fresh and watch those parched butterflies find your garden.

Water Prized Plants with a Trickle

If the lack of rain threatens to kill your clematis, a newly planted azalea or any other prized drought-sensitive plant, try a little trickle of water at their base. Without turning on sprinklers to water everything, you can set your hose as the base of prized plants and let it deliver a drop at a time for several hours. Doing this just once every week or two may be just enough to save the plants without wasting water.

As for the lawn, don’t mow. Cutting just opens it up to more stress from the sun. Many municipalities have restrictions on watering, so be sure that you are familiar with those first. This is also a good time to look around and see what just doesn’t seem to mind the prolonged dry period and make note for the next time you are in the market for landscape plants.

  Tomato fruitworm damage.
Tomato Fruitworms Hide While They Eat

Ever wonder who has drilled holes in your tomatoes? Well, it’s probably your old enemy the corn earworm, only he’s called the tomato fruitworm in tomatoes, and he can’t eat just one. The caterpillar tunnels into green or ripe tomatoes, gets his fill and moves on to another. Tomato fruitworm damage is worst after corn silks dry because the adult corn earworm moth then prefers to lay eggs on tomatoes.

Once a caterpillar is inside the fruit there isn’t much you can do. If they’ve been a problem in the past, spray your plants with Neem or other approved insecticides to kill the young caterpillars as they hatch before they enter the fruit or as they come out and move to another.

Vacation Plants

Move your potted plants to a cool shady place such as an attached or basement garage if you have no plans for watering them while you are on vacation. Water well before leaving and place a saucer under each pot to catch the excess for later. Taking potted plants, even flowers and vegetables in pots, out of the heat and into a cooler place will help them survive on their own while you are gone. When you return, ease them into the outdoors again by putting them in partial shade for a few days.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.