Magnolias might look bad, but don’t remove leaves

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 24, 2009

This week’s column is the first of a two-part series of tips and tidbits for landscape and garden management. I have to credit our Extension horticulture agent, Donna Beliech, for providing most of the facts, which follow. Let’s start with a common observation concerning Southern magnolias. This is the time of year when they begin to look bad, but there is no need to worry. The old leaves start to lose their dark green color and fall off. This tree is unusual because the new leaves come out from the exact same spot as the old leaves. The new leaf pushes the old leaf off. Don’t be tempted to help the tree out by removing the yellowing leaves. Let them fall naturally and rake them up weekly.

Now is the time to prune the branches of spring flowering shrubs. Try not to prune at the same spot on a plant every year. Stagger your cuts if possible, but try not to destroy the natural form of the plant. Fertilize shrubs with slow release fertilizers. Apply a specialty fertilizer with iron to acid-loving evergreens such as azalea, camellia, gardenia and banana shrub. After shrubs have reached the desired size, be stingy with the fertilizer. One application annually should be sufficient.

The winter annual weeds have started to decline and summer annual weeds are starting to take their customary space in the yard. Our warm-season turf grasses have just finished going through the “spring transition” from dormancy to active growth. Lawns with severe thatch will need some attention. You can either rake up all the old leaf blades embedded in the runners and bag them or rent a de-

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thatcher from any equipment rental facility. Heavy thatch traps moisture and promotes disease such as brown patch.

A practice often overlooked is aerification. This is when small soil plugs are removed from your yard. Often lawns get compacted due to foot traffic, heavy equipment or settling. Aerification allows air and water to reach turf roots easily. Once again, you can either pay for this service or rent the equipment. To check for compaction, stick a small bladed knife into the soil. Use only your thumb to push the blade down. If the blade doesn’t go very far (1/2 — 1 inch) or is very hard to push, then your soil is compacted.

Tomato, peppers, squash and melons are beginning to bloom. If you lost some of your fruit to blossom end rot last year, then add lime to the soil now. Liming will make calcium, which is the lacking nutrient, available to the plant. The rot also occurs when the soil moisture fluctuates too much.

Use stakes or wire cages to support tomato plants, so none of the fruit touches the ground. Also add a layer of organic mulch such as pine needles or partially decomposed leaves. The mulch will help prevent losses due to fruit rot diseases as well as keep the plant roots cool and conserve moisture. Start spraying with a foliar fungicide on a weekly basis to prevent the development of blight and leaf spot.

John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at