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Annuals brighten winter gardens

In between goblins, ghosts and turkey time, it's time to take a serious look at winter gardens.

The planting of annuals lends a splash of color to a drab winter landscape, porch, deck or patio. Annuals that can be planted now are calendula, carnations, digitalis, pansy, petunias, shasta daisy and snapdragons. For information on the planting and care of annuals, send a self-addressed, stamped (32-cent) envelope to "Annuals," 12175 125th St. N, Largo, FL 33774-3695.

GREEN GRASS: Keeping your yard green all winter can be accomplished by over-seeding with rye grass. To prepare the lawn for over-seeding, the grass should be raked to remove as much debris as possible. Next, mow the lawn very close, catching all clippings or raking up after mowing. The next step is seeding. Broadcast 5 to 15 pounds of fresh, weed-free rye grass seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn. For best coverage, use a mechanical seeder and sow half the seed as you walk in one direction, and the remaining seed as you walk at right angles to the first. After seeding, rake the ground lightly to make sure the seed gets through the grass and is in contact with the soil.

Water freshly seeded lawns lightly and carefully once or twice a day until the seeds have germinated. Once the plants are well-established, water as needed. Check with Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) about watering times. The phone number is (800) 423-1476.

WEED CHECK: Many annual weeds grow only during the cooler months in Florida and usually germinate from seed when night temperatures drop below 70 degrees. In order to prevent annual weed growth, a pre-emergent herbicide (a weed killer that prevents weed seeds from growing) must be applied before the weeds emerge through the soil. Early November is a good time to apply a pre-emergent. You can obtain an herbicide separately or in combination with a fertilizer. If you fertilized your lawn in October, it is best to apply the herbicide only. Be sure the herbicide you purchase is safe to apply to your lawn.

SICK LAWN? We are often asked to diagnose what is wrong with a lawn. When you bring a sample of grass to be checked, please be sure that it is approximately an 8-inch square that consists of half-green and half-damaged grass, along with the entire root system.

NO TOMATOES? We receive many inquiries as to why tomatoes fail to set fruit even though they bloom heavily. The following are reasons for blossom drop:

1. Temperatures below 55 degrees for part of the night.

2. Temperatures above 75 degrees during the night.

3. Erratic weather, abnormally cold, wet, dry or hot can cause blossoms to drop prematurely.

4. It takes 50 hours for the pollen to germinate and the tube to grow down the pistil to the ovary. Night temperatures below 55 degrees slow the germination and tube growth, which can result in blossom drop before fertilizing occurs.

5. Pollen is shed most abundantly on bright, sunny days between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. To increase pollination, shake or vibrate the entire plant, giving close attention to individual flower clusters. This should be done around midday when it is warm and the humidity is low.

The fruit on your tomato and squash plants may develop rotted areas at the blossom end. The problem is often caused by a calcium deficiency and can be corrected by the use of calcium chloride. (Irregular watering can also cause blossom end rot).

WINTER GARDEN: It is not too late to start a winter garden. There are many vegetables to grow through the next few months. Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustards, onions, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips will keep you in produce all winter.

Thin root crops such as beets, carrots, turnips and radishes when overcrowded. Unless these vegetables have room to spread, they will become hard and pithy. Radishes and carrots should be about 3 inches apart and turnips and beets 4 to 6 inches apart.

CHOMPING PESTS: Many caterpillars enjoy feeding on the leaves of your fall vegetables. Cabbage loopers, tomato hornworms and pickleworms can be controlled by applying Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) formulations, such as Dipel or thuricide.

CARPENTER ANTS: Homeowners may find that their walls or crawl space above the ceiling are favorite nesting areas for Florida carpenter ants. These ants are large reddish-brown insects about \- to {-inch long. They usually nest outdoors in stumps and logs where the wood contacts the soil and moisture is plentiful, but sometimes carpenter ants enter homes in search of food, water or nesting sites.

They prefer to nest in wood that has been damaged by termites or decay. These ants do not eat wood but excavate galleries in wood to rear their young. They feed on household food scraps and honeydew from sucking insects. Carpenter ants do not damage sound wood. They eject the wood in the form of a coarse sawdust. Carpenter ant galleries are kept smooth and clean and have a sandpapered appearance. They can also nest under insulation, behind the refrigerator, in boxes stored in closets or cabinets and many other places.

The key to eliminating ants is locating and destroying the nest. Indoor sprays of diazinon or Dursban can be used for spot treatment only. A 2-percent diazinon dust can be placed in areas inaccessible to children and pets. Be sure the pesticide is labeled for indoor use.

Two simple ant-bait solutions:

Bait No. 1:

1 tablespoon 5-percent boric acid solution

4 tablespoons water

{ tablespoon (level) sugar

Mix all ingredients together. Pour the fluid mixture into a small plastic container whose cover has a hole in the top.

Place cotton or other wicking material through the hole to make a wick. Put the cover over the container and place on shelves, window sills or other areas where ants congregate.

Refill as necessary.

Bait No. 2:

1 tablespoon 100 percent boric acid (powdered)

7 tablespoons sugar

1 quart water

Shake well until dissolved. Place in a wick-type dispenser or in small jar lids.

(Note: For small amounts, use: { teaspoon boric acid, 3{ teaspoons sugar and 5{ ounces water.)

This bait is effective for controlling carpenter ants. Roaches that happen to consume the bait also will be killed.

TERMITES: Although peak swarming of termites occurs from January through May in Florida, some swarms may be seen in November. The appearance of winged termites in the home is an indication of possible infestation; however, they may come in from outside. Termite wings break off shortly after they swarm and since they are attracted to light at this stage, their discarded wings are often found on window sills.

Termites are vital to the decomposition and recycling of plant cellulose. However, they also infest buildings, fence posts, furniture and living trees. Typically, a termite infestation is not detected until damage is extensive. Signs of infestation are adult termites swarming at windows, wings near windows, mud tubes of subterranean termites or small pellets left by the drywood termites. Roots as well as above-ground parts of trees are susceptible to termite infestation. When termites are suspected, contact a professional to inspect your property. Replacing infected wood, treating the soil or tenting the home may be required.

CITRUS TREATMENT: There is still time to spray your citrus trees for the fall. Use malathion for aphids, whitefly and spider mites. Citrus leaves that are yellowing around the edge and distorted may be lacking a trace element.

Apply the minor elements to your citrus trees, either as a foliage spray or to the soil. To avoid burning the plants, use only the amount stated on the product label. Minor elements will correct yellowing caused by deficiencies of iron, magnesium and manganese, and will also supply copper, zinc, boron and other needed elements.

Overgrown vines such as wisteria, ivy, flame, coral, honeysuckle and Confederate jasmine can be pruned now. Cut off excess, tangled growth. Prune back one-third to one-half and remove rooted suckers that are growing in undesirable areas.

Growing plants in a shady landscape is often a problem for homeowners because they fail to select the proper plant material. Many beautiful plants can adapt to partial or deep shade. Ardisia crispa or the Christmas Berry is an evergreen shrub that has small white flowers in the spring and produces brightly colored red berries through the winter. This plant ordinarily grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet and is excellent as a container plant as well as being shade-tolerant. The dwarf variety, Ardisia japonica, is a low-growing plant that is suitable for ground cover. Cyrtomium falcatum or holly fern is an excellent plant for moist, shaded areas. This evergreen will withstand extreme temperatures. It may be used as a ground cover or in a combination with other plants to give a tropical effect. Other plants to use in the shade are impatiens, caladiums, liriope, mondo grass, Boston fern, ajuga, dwarf holly, pittosporum, crossandra and fatsia.

_ Compiled by JOAN BRADSHAW and OPAL SCHALLMO of the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service. If you have questions, call them at 582-2100.

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