‘Groundwork’ for June 2, 2013

Summer is the time when people commonly take their longest vacations. If you’re away from home for more than a few days, however, you could return to find substantial damage to plants if they’re left unattended. This problem is especially true for plants growing in containers — both indoors and outside.

The ideal solution is to ask a friend who is knowledgeable about plants to check on your plants regularly and water them when necessary. Be sure to give written instructions on the needs of each plant, since your friend may not be as familiar with your plants as you are.

If indoor plants are going to be on their own, move them away from sunny, bright windows, so they use water less rapidly. Right before leaving on your trip, thoroughly water all of your indoor plants. Plants in small pots tend to dry out the fastest.

If you will be gone for more than a few days, enclose these plants (pot and all) in clear plastic bags to retain moisture and prevent drying out. Plants in plastic bags should receive bright light but no direct sun that could cause excessive heat buildup inside the plastic.

Also, before leaving, group all your outdoor container plants together in a shady location near the northern side of a building or under the protective cover of a large shade tree or covered patio, and water them thoroughly.

If you’ll be gone for more than a few days, inexpensive irrigation timers — available at local nurseries and hardware stores — can work very well when hooked up to an irrigation system.

It’s probably easier to use a sprinkler to water a grouping of your container plants, but if you want to be more sophisticated, drip systems also are available.

Water your home grounds very well prior to leaving, especially if there has been little rainfall.

A thorough, slow soaking will provide a lasting supply of moisture. Make sure you mulch all flower beds, vegetable gardens, shrub plantings and newly planted trees, too.

Flower beds and vegetable gardens are particularly vulnerable to drought while you are away. To water automatically, place either soaker hoses or sprinklers to cover various beds and areas of your landscape.

Connect them to hoses attached to a timer at each faucet you use for irrigation. Set the irrigation timers to come on twice a week and stay on long enough to thoroughly soak an area.

Q&A

Is it too late to prune azaleas?

Azaleas should be pruned immediately after flowering in spring. They begin developing next year’s flower buds in mid-summer so any pruning after that will reduce the number of flower buds.

Why do cracks develop on my tomatoes? I can harvest most but some rot on the plant.

Cracks usually occur after heavy rains or when irrigation follows a dry spell. Taking the water up greedily, the tissue inside the fruit expands faster than the skin.

Cracking depends on the variety and occurs most frequently as summer progresses when the temperature is above 90 degrees. Tomatoes with cracks are more apt to rot on the vine. To help prevent cracking, keep plants mulched and water plants at regular intervals.

I have a large-leaved coleus and the leaves wilt during midday heat. I water and mulch but to no avail. What can I do?

Plants are like people — they often wilt during the heat of the day. But it’s usually a temporary wilt that happens when leaves lose water faster than the roots can replace it. If the plant doesn’t recover by the next morning, it’s time to water. Wilting is aggravated by breezy conditions.

I have a live oak tree with a bed of ground cover underneath it. Throughout the bed little oak trees keep coming up and I want to know how to get rid of this unwanted growth.

In the preparation of the flower bed, tilling injured the exposed roots resulting in root sprouting. There is no control option. Use a string trimmer to cut the sprouts even with the top of the ground cover as needed.

Is there a grass that I can plant to withstand the everyday traffic of children in my backyard?

The only lawngrass that would be tolerant to abusive traffic is Bermuda grass. In fact, I just seeded part of my daughter’s yard with common Bermuda grass seed so her boys will have a clean and safe yard to play in.

A full sun exposure is required for Bermuda grass to grow dense and healthy. When sowing seed, water daily to maintain a moist soil for three weeks. Avoid all traffic during this time and well after plants begin to spread for best results.

I’ve tried everything to make my centipede grass grow but my lawn still has large thin areas. What do you recommend?

The best treatment would be to use a spring-loaded core aerifier followed with sand-top dressing. Apply the fertilizer recommended from soil sample results and water regularly to push growth.

Will the chemicals from treated lumber harm my vegetable garden?

Treated lumber will not harm your vegetables. But, do not use sawdust, burn the wood or use wood ash.

Got a gardening question? Write to Bob Souvestre, horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter, at Burden Center, 4560 Essen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or email to bsouvestre@agcenter.lsu.edu, or call Master Gardeners at (225) 763-3990.