Yard work could fill spare time
By Sid Mullis| Special Columnist
Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to all of you. Many of you are off from now until next year. If you are like me, that means you can get caught up on yard work.

The only thing that can stop us is the weather, which, unfortunately, has not been in our favor very often in December.

Here are some suggestions for chores for your to-do list -- if you can get outside:

- If you haven't limed your lawn or garden and you think it needs it, go ahead and put some out so it will have time to react in the soil by spring.

In most situations, you probably need to lime if it has been three or more years since you did it last. Sandier soils need lime more often than clay. Lime not only raises the pH of the soil to a desirable level, it provides calcium and magnesium, two important elements for plant growth.

The only way to know how much lime you need is to have a soil test done. You don't want the pH to get too high (over 6.5) because this can increase the chances of Take-all patch fungus infestation.

Always buy a high quality lime since it will react quicker in the soil. Every bag has a screen analysis and you want a minimum of 70 percent passing through a 100-mesh screen. I would also recommend pellet lime, because it is so much easier to apply.

- Remove faded annual flowers such as marigolds, salvia, zinnias, vinca, begonias and others. If you have the time, spade the beds and add some organic matter and lime.

- Perennial flowers such as chrysanthemums, Shasta and Gerber daisies and others also need care. Cut the stems back near ground level and mulch.

- This would be a good time to move crowded shrubs to a roomier location. Don't let the plant stay out of the ground too long, and keep the root ball moist.

- Crape myrtles are tough plants that can be cut whenever you have the time between now and next spring before new growth begins.

You don't have to cut crape myrtles, though: They are better left alone to develop a natural shape. Sometimes just pruning up lower limbs is all they need.

Cutting crape myrtles back to knobs causes them to look unnatural and makes them put on a strong flush of new growth that is susceptible to breaking off once they have leaves and blooms on them.

- Between now and late winter is a good time to cut lantana back. Various publications recommend that you to wait just prior to the new growth coming out. This will increase their cold hardiness. But if you are like me, you don't want to look at all that dead foliage all winter.

- If you have tree limbs rubbing against your house or the roof, or that hang too low in the yard or are dead, cut them.

Don't leave stubs after you prune, but don't flush cut, either. Make cuts just to the outside of the swollen branch collar. If you're cutting a limb back just part of the way, it's always better to cut where it joins another limb. You do not need to use pruning paints or tar on the cuts.

- From around Thanksgiving through the first of the year, you may see many yellow leaves on your azaleas. Most of this is natural, as all evergreens lose older leaves. These older leaves run out of nitrogen because the azaleas slowly pull nitrogen from the older leaves to the newer foliage. Nutrient flow slows, resulting in yellow, bronzing or complete leaf fall.

The best way to prevent this from happening more than normal is to fertilize azaleas in August or early September.

SID MULLIS IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA EXTENSION SERVICE OFFICE FOR RICHMOND COUNTY. CONTACT HIM AT (706) 821-2349 OR SMULLIS@UGA.EDU.

From the Friday, December 25, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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