What to Do in the Garden in March and April

What to Do in the Garden in March and April

Variegated shell ginger is a good choice for adding color to shaded areas of the landscape. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Variegated shell ginger is a good choice for adding color to shaded areas of the landscape. Photo by David W. Marshall.

 

 

What to Do in the Garden in March and April

Written by David W. Marshall, UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Agent Emeritus

Except for a couple of freezes, it has been a relatively mild winter. But those freezes were cold enough and long enough to kill many tropical plants almost to the ground. Will we have more freezes? It’s possible, though after we reach mid-March, the probability drops significantly.

Some plants, such as this firebush, had stems killed back to the ground by the cold and will re-sprout from the root system. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Some plants, such as this firebush, had stems killed back to the ground by the cold and will re-sprout from the root system. Photo by David W. Marshall.

So, when can you start cleaning up all the cold damaged plants? You probably have the urge to do it as soon as possible, as the brown foliage and stems are a little depressing. Many of us have lots of cold-damaged plants and we want to get the cleanup finished. First, though, examine the plants to determine the extent of the cold damage. Scrape the bark with your fingernail or use a pocketknife to see if the tissue beneath is still green or if it has turned brown due to cold damage. In many cases, you will find that the stems have been killed back to within a foot of the ground. On other plants, you may find that some of the stems still appear green higher up and you may not have to cut them back quite as far. If that’s the case, you may wish to wait until mid-March to cut these plants back. In case we have another hard freeze, the damaged growth may offer a little insulation to the undamaged parts of the plant. With most plants there’s no real need to cut them back until the new growth starts popping out, probably in late March.

The stems of butterfly gingers can be completely removed now. Many of these will just pop off when pulled lightly. Others may have to be cut, but it won’t hurt them. Variegated shell gingers, in many cases, will still have some undamaged growth mixed in below the brown leaves. You won’t kill a well-established shell ginger by cutting it back now, but because of the insulating effect of the brown leaves, it’s probably best to wait until mid-March to cut them back.

Azaleas and camellias, typical of a North Florida spring, were blooming by late February this year. If you don’t have some of these in your yard, now is a good time to plant. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Azaleas and camellias, typical of a North Florida spring, were blooming by late February this year. If you don’t have some of these in your yard, now is a good time to plant. Photo by David W. Marshall.

You may have other shrubs that you wish to prune now also. Wait to prune spring bloomers like loropetalum and azalea until after they finish flowering. Some overgrown shrubs may need to be cut back hard to rejuvenate them, and if you do it now, they will have longer to recover. Before crepe myrtles start putting out new leaves, work on the shape of the tree. Remove poorly placed rubbing and crossover branches by cutting all the way back to the trunk or branch from where they grow. Don’t, however, top the tree unless you are purposely trying to pollard the tree and completely understand how to do it correctly. Otherwise, you will likely end up with a mess.

In mid-March, be prepared to plant warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, snap beans, pole beans, lima beans, sweet corn, southern peas, squash, and watermelons. So, make sure you have the garden tilled before then. If you wait until April or May to plant, your harvest will be later and the insect and diseases will get much of the crop. Warm-season herbs can be added after mid-March.

Don’t be overly anxious to fertilize your lawn, especially if you have centipede grass. Wait until at least mid-March. Make sure the lawn has been fully green for three weeks before fertilizing. If this pushes you into April, fine. It’s better to fertilize too late than too early. Centipede lawns that are fertilized too early often have spring yellowing problems. St. Augustine grass is more forgiving, but don’t fertilize it either until at least mid-March. Use 6.7 pounds of 15-0-15 fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn area. If the fertilizer doesn’t contain at least a third of its nitrogen in a slow-release form, though, cut the application rate in half.

Most of the weeds in the lawn now are winter annuals that will die out as the weather gets hotter. Just keep your lawn mowed regularly until they do. If you usually still have problems with weeds in the summer, though, you could use a pre-emergent herbicide to reduce the emergence of the summer weeds.

To keep fire ants out of your yard, broadcast a bait formulated product over the entire yard, according to the label directions. Plan to treat again in fall. You can quickly apply the bait using a small hand spreader available from your garden center.

Now, before it gets hotter, add some colorful camellias to your landscape. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Now, before it gets hotter, add some colorful camellias to your landscape. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Now, before it gets hotter, add some colorful azaleas, camellias, roses, and loropetalum shrubs to your landscape. Also consider fragrant plants such as tea olives, banana shrubs, and sweet viburnum. The sooner you plant these in the spring, the quicker they will get established and grow.

Lavender trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), coral honeysuckle, and Confederate jasmine are vines that flower during this period of the year. Now is a good time to plant them also.

Don’t forget groundcovers such as liriope, Lomandra, Mondo grass, Dianella (New Zealand flax), African iris, or any of a variety of ferns. Groundcovers planted now will have a full growing season to get established. Groundcovers are often a good choice for plantings in front of the house where you don’t want tall shrubs.

Add some long-blooming seasonal color to your yard this spring. Once we reach mid-March the nurseries will be loaded with many possibilities. Petunias will give you a lot of color in sunny areas for about three months. After the summer rains start in June they normally decline. Pentas will hold up on through the summer and into fall. They prefer full sun but will take a little filtered sunlight too. Sunpatiens® will work in sun or shade and should hold up through the summer. Melampodium will give continuous yellow blooms in sunny areas through summer and into fall. Torenias, especially the trailing or vining types, are excellent for providing low-growing color in areas that receive morning sun but not so much harsh afternoon sun. But there are many other options, too, so visit a full-service nursery with knowledgeable employees that can guide you.

Pentas can be planted in mid to late March and will give color until late fall. Plant in full sun to light shade. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Pentas can be planted in mid to late March and will give color until late fall. Plant in full sun to light shade. Photo by David W. Marshall.

Also, later in the month, start planting perennials such as firebush, angel’s trumpet, cigar flower, and Turk’s cap so you will have color later in the season that will last into fall. These perennials will return each year, even if the tops get frozen back.

There’s no need to fertilize mature trees and shrubs that are growing well. But young plants which you’re trying to encourage to grow will benefit from an application of fertilizer now. The same 15-0-15 that you used for the lawn can be used on trees and shrubs, provided it’s not a weed-and-feed product with an herbicide. The exception would be with palms, especially if you’ve noticed that your palms haven’t been looking that healthy. Use an 8-2-12 or similar palm fertilizer that has four percent magnesium and micronutrients also. If you have a lot of palms in the lawn, just use this palm fertilizer on your whole lawn.

If you didn’t get around to fertilizing fruit plants in February, do it now. After mid-March is also a good time to plant new citrus trees such as satsuma, orange, or grapefruit. You have a full growing season ahead!

Anything that you plant now will need regular watering. That’s what they were receiving in the nursery. Remember that for several months, at least, all the roots will still be in the root ball that was in the pot, even after you put the plant in the ground. So, soak this root ball at least every other day. Don’t rely on a sprinkler system that only comes on once or twice a week. That’s not enough water for the limited root systems of new plants.

Written by David W. Marshall, an Extension Agent Emeritus with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.

 

 

Plant Preparation for Changing Seasons!

Plant Preparation for Changing Seasons!

As October gets by us and November quickly approaches, I would like to include the preparation on What to Plant? And What to Do? Some great annual plant choices are digitalis (foxglove), petunias, and Shasta daisy. There are many daffodil bulb varieties for North Florida including the following: Carlton, Fortune, Silver Charms, Thalia, and Sweetness. We will be getting into more of the cooler days, so this is a good time to start bulb onions and salad crops such as arugula, lettuce, and spinach. Dill, fennel, oregano, and sage are all herbs that can be planted throughout the fall months.

Start preparing now so your fall garden will be full of dark leafy greens, multi-colored lettuces, and root vegetables of all shapes and sizes. Photo by Molly Jameson.

In lawns there are a few key things that can be done in October. It is possible to control winter weeds before they appear. This is the time to use preemergent herbicides when nighttime temperatures are between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit for four to five days in a row. If a green lawn is desired, you can overseed with annual ryegrass when the daytime temperatures are in the low 70s. Remember, the lawn will still need to be watered and mowed to maintain a healthy ryegrass. Watch for fungus like brown patch and large patch disease. This can become active when the soil temperature is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hollies also attract bees to the landscape.
Credit: Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

And last but not least as you prepare for winter around the corner you can plant evergreen hollies that will make it through the cold and provide a splash of color with red berries. Gather pine needles that are dropping and use as a natural mulch, and this is the last month that strawberry plants can be established in a bed or a large container.

What Can Be Done To Prevent Tree Dieback?

What Can Be Done To Prevent Tree Dieback?

Tree dieback is a complex syndrome and slow developing. Dieback is essentially a process in which trees lose leaves and limbs. This usually occurs as a result of severe stress to the tree’s bark or root system, but could be a result of a declining life cycle.

It’s important to note that there is a significant balance between a tree’s root system and the number of leaves and limbs it can support.  For example, if a tree loses part of its root system, possibly due to disease or lawn equipment damage, the tree will forfeit a portion of its leaves. Dieback doesn’t happen overnight, though. It’s a slow process, with larger trees taking much longer time for signs of stress to emerge.  However, a large tree root system is very sensitive to damage, whereas a small tree will adapt quickly and is much more resilient to damage.  So, what can be done to prevent dieback in trees?

First and foremost, trees, like all living things, have a natural life cycle.  Regardless of how you care for your trees, dieback will occur. The most important management measure in extending the life of a tree is to protect the root system and bark.

With each passing year, a tree grows new bark in the rejuvenation process.  The bark replacement process inevitably becomes more difficult as the tree gets older and in turn the tree is more and more susceptible to dieback. If the bark becomes damaged, especially later in the tree’s life cycle, then fungi and insects have a much greater chance to cause serious harm. Treating bark damage with a wound dressing to prevent decay is the recommended procedure.

Lichens come in many forms and are commonly blamed for the decline and death of trees and shrubs, however they do not cause harm. Credit. Sydney Park Brown and Joseph Sewards, UF/IFAS.

A common misconception is that epiphytes, such as lichens and Spanish moss, are tree diseases. Epiphytes are known as “air plants” and thrive in the Panhandle. They survive on moisture and nutrients in the atmosphere and are harmless to trees. However, a tree that becomes inundated with epiphytes may be an indicator of excessive soil moisture, which may lead to root rot.

Lawn weed killers can have detrimental effects to trees, even if the application seems to be from a safe distance.  When using a weed killer near a tree’s root system, confirm on the label that the product is designed to kill green growth only. It can’t be overstated that excessively fertilizing an old tree will greatly accelerate the decline of the tree. Some may think this will stimulate a tree and extend its life, but instead it will do the opposite. Young trees can tolerate fertilizer applications, as they need crown growth. Older trees will simply become top heavy, and structural damage will likely occur.

Don’t forget, trees need space too.  A mature tree forced to occupy a small space will simply not adapt. Be sure to have adequate spacing when planting younger trees and shrubs in the vicinity of older trees. Also, keep your trees pruned away from touching structures and utilities.

Tree dieback is a complex issue to manage. By following these measures, you can help extend the life of your trees and continue to have a picturesque landscape.

For more information on tree dieback, contact your local county extension office.

Please visit Florida Friendly Landscaping, http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/, for more information on maintaining your landscape.

For more general  information on lichens, please see UF/IFAS EDIS document “Spanish Moss, Ball Moss and Lichens-Harmless Epiphytes” by Joe Sewards and Dr. Sydney Park Brown: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP48500.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Carrots need enough space so as not to compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Yes, that’s right! We made it through the hottest part of the year and we are looking ahead to fall just around the corner!  I am excited to be discussing September and what we can do to prepare for fall in the garden.  As the nighttime temperatures start to cool down, we are given many more options.

For annual color plantings in September, try Ageratum, Celosia, Zinnias, and Wax Begonia to add fall color to your landscape.  Bulbs will also add color, texture, and pattern to a bed.   If you have some extra space, a variety of elephant ears could really accent a bed or you could always go with the classic calla, narcissus or zephyr lily.  Popular vegetables to plant in North Florida in September are broccoli, carrot, cabbage, and collards. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida This is also the time of year to establish strawberry plants.  Some great herbs to get started are Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.

Strawberries growing on "plastic" to protect them from water splashed fungal spores found in soil. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

There are many things that can be done in your lawn during September.  Monitoring your lawn for its health and potential insect pests is important this time of year.  Common insects to scout for are fall armyworms, chinch bugs, mole crickets, and sod webworms.  The last fertilizer application should be done by the middle to end of September.  Make sure you choose a fertilizer with little to no phosphorus unless a soil test shows differently.  To maintain a healthy lawn, avoid weed and feed products and only apply herbicides in areas with high infestations of weeds. Weed and feed products are not recommended because the timing of when to fertilize and the timing of the weed killer is not always the same. The best management practice is to use a separate treatment for weeds and when possible spot treat weeds.

If you already have bulbs in your landscape from previous growing seasons, this is the time to divide and replant those that are big.  You can also add organic matter to new planting areas. Continue working on your vegetable plants and prepare them for either transplants for a fast start, or plants seeds for more variety.  Throughout your landscape, it is important that plants are getting the right amount of water as we go in and out of wet and dry weather this time of year.

October will be here before we know it in just a couple of weeks. Look out for the next article to come.  We will be getting into the cooler nights and more options for planting vegetables and herbs!

Creating Space for Wildlife

Creating Space for Wildlife

Bald eagles and other large birds of prey have made a comeback in Florida.

Florida has all the elements of a wild animal’s paradise. The state has abundant rain and water sources, lush vegetation, plenty of food, and tons of nesting and hiding places. In our state and national parks, conservation easements, open waters, and acres of ranch land, large populations of animals can thrive. Particularly in areas with fewer people, healthy populations of even large animals like black bears, alligators, and panthers can maintain substantial territories. However, human migration into and throughout Florida is increasing at as steady a rate as ever. Retirees have long fled their cold northern winters to move part or full time to Florida. Now, the ability for many working people to telecommute from anywhere has made it attractive for younger families from all over the country to join us.

A black bear helps himself to a drink from the swimming pool of a Florida home. Photo provided by Patty Underwood/FWC

With more people comes the need for more housing. Some are content with high rise condos that leave a smaller footprint, but these are often located right on the water and can displace coastal wildlife and vegetation. For the thousands of families moving in weekly, more subdivisions, roads, stores, and schools are necessary. Inevitably, these lead to human-wildlife interactions that may or may not be positive experiences. In fast-growing south Santa Rosa County, I see almost daily reports of large black bears in backyards and trash cans. For smaller mammals, the threat of being hit by a car is unfortunately very common. For nearly every call we get about an exciting manatee sighting, we get word of a nerve-wracking interaction with a snake.  As civilization moves closer to forested, once-wild areas, wildlife can be squeezed out, left without the protection of natural cover and drawn to human food and habitat.

A lush backyard landscape surrounds a recognition sign from the National Wildlife Federation. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

There are plenty of ways we can co-exist, though. A Florida-friendly yard is a wildlife-friendly yard, and those who go the extra mile can even be recognized by the National Wildlife Federation for their efforts. There are several steps one needs to take to become wildlife-friendly. The most important include providing food, water, and cover, so the animals’ basic needs are met. Actions like removing invasive species, keeping pets supervised when outdoors, and adding layers of vegetation are also excellent ways to attract and protect native creatures.

While small and medium sized animals can find shelter in a single yard, it takes neighborhood cooperation to be a haven for something larger, like deer, bears, birds of prey, or large tortoises. Some neighborhoods are designated from the beginning to include conservation easements that serve as amenities to the neighborhood. They include trails, shady waterfront areas, and plenty of space for wildlife. It is important when moving into one of these neighborhoods that each homebuyer understands and respects the purpose behind conservation areas. Residents of older, existing neighborhoods can also work together to designate common areas and stretches of adjoining yards as wildlife-friendly corridors, allowing more animals to use the space safely.

A gopher tortoise burrow is noted by a sign in a local city park. The tortoise is co-existing peacefully with its neighbors! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In my own neighborhood in the city limits, a gopher tortoise has moved in and become a neighborhood mascot of sorts! When alerted to the presence of its burrow, the city brought in a sign explaining the animal’s protected status and crucial role in the environment. Floridians share their citizenship with thousands of other species. These breathtaking birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and insects are integral to the health of our land and water. By taking steps to look out for their well-being, we are also providing for our own.