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by Tom MacCubbin
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Q. Maria asks: My areca palm is looking bad. The leaf tips are turning brown and the entire plant is quite yellow. What should I do?

A. Areca palms are always a lighter green color than most of their relatives. Where they are a little too yellow, try feeding with a complete fertilizer. Sometimes the yellowing is due to a lack of potassium or magnesium. Where needed these nutrients can be applied separately. The browning leaves may also indicate a lack of water or too little light. Keep the soil moist and give the areca a bright area to produce the best growth. During the cooler months the plants need a location with temperatures above 50 degrees to prevent further yellowing and decline of the foliage.

Q. Sid inquires: We moved into a house with a St. Augustine lawn. What care should it receive for the winter?

A. Relax for the winter months. St. Augustine lawns need little more than watering once or twice a week. The grass makes some growth during the warmer days so expect to do a little mowing every week or two.
If the lawn turns slightly yellow during the cooler months a light feeding could be applied.  Use a `winterizer' type product or a 16-4-8 fertilizer at half the normal rate. Where needed a weed control treatment could also be applied but most weeds are mowed away.

Q. Larry writes: About a year ago we planted several citrus trees in our landscape from large containers. This year all produced fruits but the oranges are pithy. What caused the poor quality?

A. Even though you added larger trees to the landscape they are still rather young. The pithy, dry texture is typical for an immature tree. Give the trees normal care of weekly waterings and four light feedings a year with a citrus fertilizer and production should improve with age.

Q. Mike asks: Do you have any suggestions for what to use as a hedge in a shady area that receives little or no sun?

A. Give the anise shrub a try. The plant is native to Florida and can grow to over 12 feet tall in shady locations. You can keep it trimmed to the 6 to 8 foot range. The leaves are leathery and about 6 inches long. If broken they have the herbal anise smell but it's not an edible plant.

Q. Melanie asks: My periwinkles have grown tall and lanky. Can they be pruned back without damaging?

A.  Periwinkles are long-lived annuals that can give a colorful display for several seasons. They can be cut back just a little. Leave some green foliage on the main shoots. Removing all the leaves may cause the plants to quickly decline.

Q. Alex writes: I have a problem with snails eating my impatiens and peace lilies. I have tried the bait but it only works for a few days. What else can I do?

A. First check to make sure caterpillars are not also feeding on the foliage. They produce holes in the leaves just like snails. Where needed the insecticides Dipel, diazinon, Sevin or Thuricide could be applied following label instructions.

Help control snail infestations by removing the hiding places. Snails like the moist areas and hide under pots and fallen leaves during the day.

Some natural deterrents to try include scattering diatomaceous earth, fertilizer or ashes near the plants. Also try coaxing snails and slugs to citrus rinds placed open side down on the soil overnight and collecting the critters in the morning.

Should some of the natural ways fail to help, the surest control is still a commercial bait available from garden centers. Apply the bait in the late afternoon and avoid watering the area for a day or two. Place bait in the shady areas and under pots where the snail and slugs are sure to hide.

Q. Manuel asks: Over the last few years my St. Augustine lawn has become infested with crabgrass. There are at least a dozen patches now. What is the best control?

A. Home gardeners only have one control for crabgrass during the fall months. Dig it out or spot kill the affected areas and then resod. Form squares or rectangular areas out of the infested patches to make them easier to fill with new grass.

During late winter plan to apply a crabgrass preventer. Several herbicides including atrazine, Balan and Team are marketed at garden centers to prevent the seeds from germinating. To be successful all live crabgrass including the small sprigs must be removed. Reapply the herbicide at least one more time following label instructions during spring to continue the control.

Q. Janet writes: I purchased several plants called mussaendas from a local garden center. How tall will they grow and what case is needed?

A. Mussaenda plants resemble poinsettias producing large white, pink or red bracts atop the green foliage. Unlike poinsettias they produce the colorful displays during the warmer months of late spring through early fall.

Plants can be grown in the full sun to lightly shaded locations. They prefer a moist soil that has been enriched with organic matter. Most winters the plants are damaged by frosts and freezing weather but grow back from buds near the ground if protected by a mulch. Keep the soil moist and feed every 6 to 8 weeks with a garden fertilizer to enjoy the warm season color.

Q. Cynthia asks: I have a bahia lawn with a few bare spots. What type of seed should I use to give a lush green lawn?

A. Restart the turf in the bare areas with Argentine bahia seed. This selection produces the deepest green color and fewest seed heads during the summer. But hurry, time is running out for the seeding of a bahia lawn. The best results with bahia seed is obtained March through September. The cooler days which should be arriving shortly slows the rate of growth of the grass and may prevent seed germination. Where you only have a few bare areas it's probably best to fill in with sod to ensure a well established lawn for fall.

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