It’s early spring which means time to pull the mower out of the garage and turn that engine over for the first time in months. As with most years, this task may be easier said than done. You fill the tank, check the oil, then pull that string hoping to hear that engine hum to life. Instead with a disappointing spurt, it putters back to sleep. Discouraged, you bounce between the carburetor and spark plug just knowing there is a simple solution. Finally, everything gets cleaned then reassembled, you pull that cord but this time the mower springs to life. As you stand there feeling the cold air on your skin you survey the lawn and think about how little you’re up for this effort today. Why not take another month off of this lawncare duty by partaking in your Panhandle horticulture agents’ “No-Mow March” initiative. Doing so can not only save you the early season frustration outlined above but may help you hold on to a little bit of your hard-earned dollars.
The Underlying Cost
It’s time we talk about the price of cutting your grass. A universal expense should you push your mower or ride on top is gasoline. Have you ever taken a minute to determine how much it costs to mow your lawn across the course of a season? For our purposes here, we’ll consider a single season to be March through September. Assuming you mow weekly as you should, that accounts for 28 sessions. On average, assuming your grass is dry, a walk behind mower will burn through about a liter or roughly a quarter gallon per acre of mowed lawn. With gas prices in Florida running at $3.45 per gallon according to AAA, that will cost $24.15 to cut your lawn across a single mowing season. Riding mowers exacerbate this even more burning through half to three quarters of a gallon per acre mowed. To be fair, they have a bigger job being as they must propel their own weight and that of the operator. In this instance, the cost of gas can run you anywhere between $48.30 and $72.45 in a season. All of this assumes that your mower is running efficiently. Why not cut yourself and your wallet a break and avoid mowing at all early in the season. Sit back and relax for a while longer this year and skip mowing in March and save yourself a little time and money. Your neighbors may complain. Tell them you’re helping both your back and the bees.
Early spring begins with emerging pollinator species. They spent the winter months holed up in their nests bunkered against the cold weather. Around March they stick their heads out and begin looking for nearby nectar sources. A good place to start is with the flowers which have popped up in your yard over winter. We see them as weeds, but to these titans of pollination they might just be the key to life.
Information on “No-Mow March” may be found by heading over to our information page located here. Information on pollinators may be found on these Ask IFAS documents or by contacting your local extension agent for this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
The oncoming of spring is heralded by several events. Wildflowers bloom, temperature rises, and insects awaken from their wintry slumber. The latter of these is the impetus for this article. I’m sure you have heard the buzzing of the bees already, but there is more to come. Florida is host to 315 species of native bees in addition to honey bees (Apis mellifera) which are a non-native species. Native bees in Florida are separated into six families, fulfilling several niches within our landscape. This article is only focused on a few of these.
The Sweat Bees
The sweat bees fall into the family Halictidae. These vary greatly in appearance and size with the majority being very small. Often metallic black, but may also be seen in shades of green, blue, or purple they are hard to miss in your landscape. Most sweat bees are ground nesting though some can be found above. Wildflowers, stone fruits, and sunflowers are the primary nectar sources for these bees particularly in early spring.
Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are in the family Apidae. Ground dwelling, the queen overwinters in the soil emerging in early spring to feast on wildflower nectar. Often mistaken as carpenter bees (Xylocopta spp.), they are distinguishable by the hairs covering their bodies which are lacking in carpenter bees. They are one of two bee species seen carrying pollen sacks, honey bees being the other. All but one of the five species in this genera may be found in the Panhandle where they are important pollinators for many native and ornamental plants.
One of our more unique species, Mason bees of family Megachilidae live above ground lining their nests with mud. Solitary by nature, these are prominent pollinators of fruit trees and blueberries. A variety of color makes them difficult to even identify as a bee. They often come in dark blue, black, or white striped. Much like honeybees, some species of mason bees are purchased from online sources specifically for orchards.
Carpenter bees are the final subject covered here and are split into two subfamilies. Large carpenter bees (Xylocopta spp.) chew their nests into solid wood. That the wood is sometimes fence posts, water tanks or your home means that this insect may be an economic pest. These are large and as mentioned above often mistaken for bumble bees. Small carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.) are differentiated mainly by size as they are much smaller than the large carpenter bee. They may be a variety of colors as well and nest by hollowing out the pith of broken or burnt plant stems. As they make their nests in already broken plant tissue, they are not considered of economic importance.
Native bees are an important part of pollination in the Florida Panhandle. It is worthwhile to get to know which species are active in your landscape. Provide habitat and nectar to them, and they will help your plant life bloom. For more information on creating habitat for native pollinators, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
Pruning is a much needed yet often misunderstood practice. This is perfectly understandable as most people look at a tree and wonder which branches need to be cut, why they need to be cut, and what time of year is appropriate to do so. Confusion is understandable, but a better grasp on a few key concepts will clear everything up.
Before you begin to look into anything else, it is important to understand the structure of a tree. For the purposes of pruning, we’ll focus on roots, and stems. The roots of a tree anchor it to the ground providing water and nutrition to the main stems of the tree. Roots and stems in any plant are a delicate balance. Cutting stem tissue will affect roots so don’t remove too much in a single session. A good rule of thumb is to not take more than 1/3 of the stem tissue present. The next concept is the natural shape of the tree you want to trim. Most have one dominant leader with supporting branches forming the canopy. In these cases, remove competing leaders to keep the canopy full and well-shaped. Other trees such as crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) are multi-stemmed with 2-3 codominant leaders. Prune away any challengers to your main leaders while keeping the “vase” shape for which these trees are known. With this in mind, it’s time to decide which stems to remove.
What to Cut
Safety and tree health are the focus as a homeowner decides which stems need pruning. When a branch is to be removed, make your cut It is important to keep the branch collar in mind when making your cuts. This collar is denoted as a ring of tissue at the connection of branch and trunk. Cut as closely as possible without disrupting this tissue. Any dead, diseased, and damaged branches are the first needing cut. They take resources from the healthy branches and are unsightly. Next, look for any crossing limbs. These scrape against one another as the wind blows and risk destroying bark tissue making the tree susceptible to disease. Focus next on structural issues or tree shape. Remove challenges to the leaders as outlined in the previous paragraph. Safety concerns will be your next focus. Look for bark inclusions which are weak connections indicated with a “V” shaped fork between limbs which may fail in high wind. If found, consult a certified arborist as pruning may not be your only option. Finally, eliminate lower limbs impeding walkways and any drooping from their own weight. This is also when species specific pruning is prudent to promote flowering or fruiting.
When to Cut
Now that we know what to prune, when is it prudent to do so? This cycle will vary based on quality of stock from the nursery, age of the tree, growth rate, and how prone they are to decay. In Florida, this is on average every three years. Keep in mind the “May rule” when considering what time of year to prune. Any plant blooming prior to May should be pruned once flowering has ceased, but no later than July. Any plant blooming after May should be pruned around February or March at the latest.
Pruning is an important practice for keeping your trees healthy and ensuring safety. With some knowledge you’ll find it is not the mystery you may have thought it to be. For more information on pruning, please see these IFAS documents, or contact local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a plant synonymous with the holiday season. Growing in deciduous forests along the Pacific coasts of southern Mexico it becomes a woody shrub reaching 10-15 feet tall. In 1825 the ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett was taken by the red blooms and brought it home to the United States. He propagated and gifted the plant to friends and a few public gardens. Before long the nursery industry took notice and the plant was on its way to becoming the potted plants we see in stores. Today, an extensive breeding program has created a multitude of colors and leaf patterns available to consumers for the holiday season.
Poinsettia is a member of Euphorbiaceae commonly referred to as the Spurge family. The primary feature of this family is a milky sap or latex produced in the stem tissue. Some may be allergic to the latex, but to most it is at worst a mild irritant. This irritation conjoins a reputation of toxicity which may give some pause toward purchasing one. While a very mild toxicity does exist, you would need to consume very large amounts of the leaves to experience negative effects. That said, it is always best to dissuade consumption by pets and children with this and any other house plants. The flowers of this plant are somewhat unremarkable and appear in the middle of several red leaf structures. These leaves are actually bracts and are protective structures for the flower. As a tropical plant, frosts and freezes have a detrimental consequence for this plant, but in areas where there is little or no risk of cold it may be used in your landscape after the holidays. In these scenarios, it will grow much as in its native habitat into a shrub.
When kept inside, keep the temperature around 65F at night and 80F during the day. They need full sun and water only when the soil is dry. It is good practice to remove any water left in pot saucers as this plant performs poorly with wet feet. All-purpose fertilizers should used except while this plant is in bloom. When blooming the plant does not require fertilization. Placed outdoors in a protect area once freeze risk has passed. Keep in mind that the bracts are photosensitive. Around October, theses plants will need 14 hours of complete darkness daily to turn their customary red by Christmas. Keep them covered and completely blacked out as even porch lights will delay color change.
Poinsettias are a beautiful plant and certainly worth your efforts this holiday season. With some knowledge and a little effort, you may extend their life in our environment through much of the year. For more information on poinsettias, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
Freeze warning is a terrifying phrase for gardeners. Cold damages your plants and may even kill them outright. Understanding how plants freeze will help you create mitigating strategies for their preservation. Informing yourself as to how freeze damages plant tissues will allow you to fortify your garden.
How do Plants lose Heat
Cold exposure happens in a couple of ways. Radiant heat loss occurs when one surface emits waves of heat into a colder surrounding environment. The surfaces of leaves and stems are not immune to this type of temperature transfer, nor is the soil in your garden beds. Frost may or may not form depending on moisture levels in the air, but cold damage will still be the result. The other main source of heat loss in gardens is through Advective freezes. These occur when cold air from the north moves south en masse resulting in colder temperatures and often increased winds. Mitigating this is a little tougher than radiant losses but not impossible
As with all things, planning is at the forefront. When designing your garden, cold hardiness should be considered. Certain plants naturally handle cold weather better than others. Utilizing native plants and those specified for your USDA hardiness zone will keep gardens alive in winter months. These tend to be acclimated for colder temperatures. Once the proper plants are selected and planted, ensure they are properly treated. Keeping your plants as healthy as possible is also critical in cold tolerance. Mulches and watering prior to a freeze event will reduce risk from radiant heat loss. The water absorbs warmth through the day and holds onto it more efficiently than dry soil would. Addition of a frost blanket will further reduce heat lost and ultimately the damage to your plants. A slightly more in-depth protection method comes from establishing microclimates in your yard. Use taller trees and windbreaks. Taller trees create a canopy that blocks heat loss to the atmosphere. Windbreaks keep the colder air away from your gardens and again prevent heat loss. None of these methods are fool proof but will help keep your gardens alive through the colder months. You may still experience damage from freezes. If this does happen, make sure your plants are watered to thaw any roots ensuring they function properly. Inspect stems by scraping a little tissue. Prune away any that shows black or brown tissue while keeping any which still looks green.
Freezes can be devastating to your gardens. A little knowledge can go a long way toward mitigating loss. For more information on cold protection, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.