Hernando County gardeners, the green will return

Plumbagos are perfect for my skills as a gardener — foolproof.

I plant them to fill up empty spaces where grass wouldn't grow, to control erosion, to add color, because no matter how little care, water or fertilizer I give them — generally none — they're always loaded with sky-blue blossoms.

Well, they may be foolproof but they aren't frost-proof. And after all those brutal January freezes, my once expanding, thriving, green-and-blue beds are dark, grim gray.

Also, my banana trees are toast, or at least that exact shade of light brown. And the volunteer avocado tree I had thought might just make it if we got a few mild winters — well, it didn't.

I am not alone. In fact, I suspect that in our polarized land, this maybe the closest thing we can find to a universal feeling, one uniting fans of the Colts and the Saints, of hip-hop and country, of Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck: The sight of our yards right now makes us sick.

So, to satisfy our hunger for what's fresh, green and sprouting, the timing of the county's vegetable gardening workshop on Friday morning was perfect.

Officially part of the Utility Department's water awareness series, which covers a different topic on the first Friday of every month, the presentation was more of a primer on environmentally responsible gardening in Florida.

This is barely recognizable from the hobby practiced up north, said Jim Moll, Hernando's urban horticulture extension agent.

For example, if you want to grow tomatoes from seed, it's already too late. They needed to planted right after the first of the year. And to beat the June deadline, when the Florida heat starts to wilt most vegetable-producing plants, everything has to be in the garden before the danger of frost has past. That means middle to late February.

Also, Florida soil is so poor that enrichment is a must, and when it comes to adding manure from a horse or any other vegetarian creature, Moll said, "the sky's the limit." (Though I suggest you check with your spouse.)

Here are some other hints:

Planting marigolds to ward off nematodes is worthless, Moll said, unless you buy the old-fashioned "stinky'' kind, plant them in a solid block, mow them, and then cultivate your crops in what's left of their roots.

Squash blossoms are similar to humans in that "if there's not a boy around, the girl flower will not get pregnant," Moll said. He suggested surrounding the garden with lots of "bright, gaudy flowers" to attract pollinating insects.

Despite the authoritative claim from my oldest son, the expert on everything scientific, you can indeed compost all that ruined citrus fruit, Moll said.

And this is when I slapped my forehead, thinking of all the hours I've wasted tending tomatoes that turned to mush. It's not good enough to rotate by species, you have to rotate by family. Because, for example, tomatoes and peppers (and potatoes and eggplant for that matter) are all varieties of nightshade, they all harbor the same kind of pests. It's futile, then, to plant them in ground where their cousins grew the previous year.

The need for new garden beds got me thinking about digging up my plumbagos. Don't, Moll told me. Most freeze-damaged plants, especially well-established ones, will grow up from their roots.

Except avocados. Those really are toast.

Hernando County gardeners, the green will return 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 1:14pm]

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