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Pruning for renewed life in azaleas

Southwest Georgia Master Gardener Jere Brands returned to Albany after many years of living and gardening in Iowa.

Southwest Georgia Master Gardener Jere Brands returned to Albany after many years of living and gardening in Iowa.

Three years ago I moved from Northeast Iowa back to Albany. I had lived and gardened in Iowa for 40 years, and I was comfortable with the black dirt and Midwest seasons and plants. Because I knew nothing about horticulture in Southwest Georgia, I enrolled in the Master Gardener course before I had even unpacked.

The course gave me an introduction to gardening in this part of the world and access to many sources of good information. Through my 2010 classmates and other members of the SOWEGA Master Gardeners, I have great contacts with wonderful people who have a lot of experience and knowledge.

I would recommend the Master Gardener course to any newcomer to this area and to any resident who wants good, reliable information. Master Gardener Extension volunteers are graduates of the course. We provide required volunteer hours assisting in the Extension office or in field visits and gardening events. We are a diverse group, and we also benefit greatly from our friendships with each other, friendships which develop from our working together.

SOWEGA Master Gardener Extension volunteers have several local projects, including a demonstration garden of native plants at the education building at Chehaw and the newly dedicated Butterfly Garden at Radium Springs Gardens. The Butterfly Garden is a project in partnership with Dougherty County and Albany Technical College. Both of these projects have been funded in part by grants from the Georgia Master Gardeners Association, a private organization which is not part of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, contact the Dougherty County Cooperative Extension Office at (229) 436-7216 to put your name on the list for the next scheduled course. You will find your life enriched.

RENEWAL PRUNING OF AZALEAS

I think we have hundreds of azaleas in our yard in Albany. It would be hard to count them, as they were planted decades ago, and they have spread, I am sure. Since azaleas are a Southern shrub, I knew nothing about azaleas when we moved here.

From the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension I learned that certain types of azaleas can grow so vigorously that they overgrow their planting site. This has happened in my yard. We will need to prune severely (renewal pruning) to bring the plants within bounds. Renewal pruning means cutting the plants back to 6 to 12 inches above ground level four to six weeks before spring.

Usually pruning time is determined so as not to interfere with blooming. Thus azaleas are normally pruned after flowering but before July.

If azalea plants are overgrown and you need to prune severely, however, do not wait until after the blooms. Renewal pruning should be done before the plant flowers, because the flowering process robs the plan of valuable food needed to boost its new growth.

So it is time to do that renewal pruning now. I can see the buds on the azaleas. After spring growth begins, I will prune the tips again when the new growth is 6 to 12 inches long. This will encourage branching, and I will end up with a more compact shrub.

RAIN BARRELS ARE BACK IN STYLE

For weeks it doesn’t rain around here, and then it pours. Now that I have two rain barrels, the drought between the downpours doesn’t concern me as much. I can give my plants that rain water they love by filling my watering can at the rain barrel spout.

You can buy rain barrels now at many garden centers. Most are designed to collect water from downspouts on buildings.

Since we are do-it-yourselfers, our rain barrels were fashioned from (clean!) used 55-gallon barrels, window screening, some plumbing supplies, and purchased faucets. We used the window screening on top of the barrels because we have no gutters or downspouts.

Our barrels sit on cement blocks or bricks. Rain barrels should be raised, since gravity is the only water pressure you will get. Be sure that your barrel sits securely and is not in danger of tipping. Fifty-five gallons of water weighs approximately 460 pounds.

Britt West, Barrow County Extension Agent, has basic, common-sense instructions for rain barrel installation available through the UGA Extension web site: http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/barrow/documents/rainbarr.pdf

West points out that rainwater is better for plants since it does not contain the chlorine and fluoride which is added to city water. Rain barrels divert water which might collect around the foundation of your home. Collecting rain water also reduces the amount of water running into storm sewers, too often carrying with it debris from the streets.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding in your rain barrel, be sure to use a fine screen on the top. Try to empty the barrel about every 10 days.

With very heavy rains, my rain barrel overflows. I could divert the water away from the house by attaching a long hose and opening the spigot. According to West, 600 gallons of water can result from a one-inch rainfall pouring off a residential roof.

Both of my rain barrels have been painted in fun, joint projects with friends. One has a free-form look reminiscent of fireworks. One is a conscious homage to a Swiss/German painter, Paul Klee. I am looking forward to at least two more rain barrels. We need them. And the fun in decorating is an added pleasure.

VEGETABLE GARDENING TASKS

February is technically a winter month, but it is not too early for the vegetable gardener to get busy. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has some recommendations for this month:

Make early plantings of your choice from the following: carrots, collards, lettuce, mustard, English peas, Irish potatoes, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Winter and early spring plantings like these benefit from a raised bed for better drainage and earlier soil warm-up.

If you start summer garden plants from seeds, it is time to plant seed boxes. Peppers and eggplants will take eight weeks to grow from seed to transplant size, while tomatoes will take six weeks. Transplant the seedlings to individual containers when they form their third set of leaves.

Whether you work with flowers of vegetables, I hope these tips help you in your gardening endeavors. For more information you may contact your local Cooperative Extension office by calling 1(800) ASKUGA1 or in Dougherty County you can contact James Morgan at (229) 436-7216 or morganjl@uga.edu.

Jere Brands is a UGA Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Extension volunteer and a member of the SOWEGA Master Gardeners.