As soon as Christmas is put away I begin thinking about my garden. There really isn’t much that can be done until the weather is nice enough to be outside and the danger of frost is over. To content myself and assuage that urge to get out there with my pruning shears when it is too early; I concentrate on re-potting my houseplants and spend some time conditioning my garden tools.
To re-pot house plants, you will need a variety of soils. Most garden centers have soils for specific plants and it is important to use the right mixture to give them the best chance of success. Orchids are my first concern. We receive these beautiful flowers often as gifts. They bloom for a few months and then begin to decline. Orchids need to be re-potted after they bloom because most of them are packed in peat moss for shipping. The peat moss will keep the roots damp in the shipping process but will eventually rot the roots. After they drop their flowers change them to an orchid bark medium. Carefully remove the plant from the pot, pull away the peat moss from the roots, trim any damaged roots with scissors cleaned with alcohol. Place the orchid bark in a clean pot and carefully put the plant into the pot adding bark as needed. These plants are used to growing on trees and will need air circulation around their roots. They will do best in an east window. A room with high humidity is good or place the pot in a dish of rocks that you keep wet to increase the humidity. Most orchid pots have a solid bottom so the water cannot get to the plant. Water sparingly once a week.
Succulents are a popular house plant. Cactus soil will work well for them. Most succulents have shallow roots and do well in a soil that does not hold water. I like to put a little charcoal into the bottom of the container. Small charcoal can be purchased in the aquarium department. When you remove the succulent from its old pot, carefully remove any damaged roots and the old soil, place the plant in it’s new clean pot replacing the soil. It is handy to use a plastic fork to lightly pack the soil around the roots. I like to use small decorative rocks on top of the soil to hold things in place.
Common house plants can be repotted in a quality potting soil. It will probably be bound in the pot. Run some water into it to loosen the plant. You will need to hold the plant with one hand while gently knocking the pot against a solid wood surface. The plant may come out in a solid soil and root mass the shape of the pot. If it is not too bad you may be able to run water through it and untangle, trim the unhealthy roots and repot into a new or cleaned pot. Most likely the roots will need a little surgery. In the case of a solid mass, cut away 1/3 of the bottom mass, make 3 or 4 vertical cuts up the side and cut into the circular growth. Untangle with your fingers and pot with new soil. Water and watch it grow. Your plant will be able to absorb nutrients much more efficiently.
To prepare your garden tools for spring begin by cleaning them with a brush and warm soapy water. You can clean and sharpen with fine steel wool. A whetstone or carbide sharpener is even better. Residue can be removed with mineral spirits. Once they are clean and sharp, touch the moving parts with 3 in one oil. A good tip I read about is to have a bucket of sand moistened with boiled linseed oil to dip your tools in after working in the garden. In our climate moisture is the enemy. Hang your tools. Leaving them leaning against the wall even on cement floor will draw moisture.
Remember February 14th is the day designated to prune your roses.
- Kathy Gilmore
Master Gardener Volunteers are available to help you find answers to all your basic questions.
Meadows Place has been invaded by a small but very destructive little critter called the sod webworm. The moth or adult form of these webworms can be seen in the early evening fluttering over the grass. Damage is done primarily in the hot months of July and August by the slender caterpillars which reach about 1 inch in length. They feed on your grass primarily at night. If you have damage to your lawn and have determined it is not chinch bugs it is probably sod webworms.
They live in the thatch just above the soil, where they spin a light webbing and feed on the undersides of grass leaves. The damage will first appear as small irregular brown spots in the grass. The damage can spread rapidly and will quickly destroy large portions of your lawn. It is most prevalent in areas that receive plenty of direct sunlight. Heavily shaded areas are seldom affected. Damage will show up in September and October after the hot and dry months of July and August.
How can you determine if your yard is infested? You may notice the adult moth zig zagging over the turf at dusk. You can examine the thatch layer and the top one inch of soil for larvae, silken tubes and webbing.
To confirm mix ¼ cup of household detergent with two gallons of water. Mark off two separate areas, one square yard each. Apply one gallon to each of the areas. The solution will irritate the caterpillars, causing them to move to the surface within 5-10 minutes. Fifteen or more larvae per square yard in a healthy turf would justify treatment.
There are several organic methods to treat these pests.
1. For light or moderate infestations, combine 2 tablespoons liquid soap into1 gallon tap water. Mark one square yard and sprinkle the mixture to draw the caterpillars to the surface. Then rake and destroy.
2. For a more extensive infestation, Spinosad, a biological agent derived from fermentation, is effective. Mix 2 oz. to 1 gallon. Three gallons will treat 1,000 sq. ft. Refrain from heavy watering and mowing for 12 to 24 hours.
If insecticides are used, please take every precaution and follow the label directions explicitly. Insecticides can be applied in either spray or granular form. The turf should be mowed and clippings removed to enhance insecticide effectiveness. Thoroughly water lawn ½ - ¾ inch prior to application. This will move the webworms closer to the surface. Apply in the late afternoon.
If the damage is from the tropical webworms, a liquid spray applied to the leaves is suggested. Spray solutions can be applied with a garden hose sprayer. Apply at least 15 to 25 gallons of insecticide-water solution to 1,000 square feet of grass. Use insecticides containing acephaqte (Orthene), bendiocarb (Dycarb or Turcam), carbaryl (Sevin), or the microbial insecticides Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. Kurstake (B.t.k.) and ssp. Aizawai (B.t.a.) * The microbial insecticides are specific for caterpillars thus do not harm non-target anthropods or animals Consult the directions given on the container label to determine the approved rate of insecticide application.*
*The insecticide application recommendations are taken from Texas Cooperative Extension which is part of the Texas A & M University System.
Kathy Gilmore is a Master Gardener for Fort Bend County and maintains the "Garden" page on this website, providing bi-monthly gardening tips. She and her husband, Dan, are longtime residents of Meadows Place.