February can be a confusing month for North Florida gardeners. Winter isn’t over. So, don’t let spring fever cause you to make some gardening mistakes. Let’s take a look at some dos and don’ts of February gardening.
Despite colder temperatures that we can experience this month, it’s still okay to plant trees and shrubs from containers. The roots are better protected in the ground and will quickly grow outward to establish as compared to being exposed to cold temperatures above ground, confined in a container. But be cautious about planting cold sensitive tropical plants too soon while freezing weather is likely. Bare-root trees and shrubs should be in the ground promptly. This includes bare-root nut and fruit trees, pine and hardwood tree seedlings and bare-root roses. Dormant season planting allows time for establishment before hot weather arrives.
February is a good time to transplant or move trees and shrubs that are in the wrong place. Consider moving plants that require pruning to force them to “fit” into small or confined spaces. Move them to an appropriate location where they can grow to full size. Then you can plant something new and appropriately sized for replacement. Of course, they need to be reasonable in size to move.
Bush rose plant correctly pruned. Photo credit: Matt Orwat
Late February is a good time to prune overgrown shrubs such as ligustrum and holly. These plants usually respond well to severe pruning, if necessary. But remember, they will eventually regrow to their larger size. Prune to shape and thin broadleaf evergreens and deciduous flowering trees such as oleander, crape myrtle and vitex. Avoid severely pruning narrow leaf evergreens such as junipers because they have few buds on old wood from which to form new growth. Mid-February is a good time to prune bush roses, removing dead or weak canes. Leave several healthy canes and cut these back to about eighteen inches. Delay doing much pruning on early spring flowering shrubs such as azalea until shortly after they flower. Pruning these plants now will remove present flower buds before they can open. Prune deciduous fruit trees such as peach, plum and apple. Now is also the time to prune ornamental grasses such as muhly grass.
If your lawn has a history of problems with summer annual weeds such as crabgrass, apply a preemergence herbicide. This should be done February 15 to March 1 when day temperatures reach 65° to 70°F for 4 or 5 consecutive days. A second application may be needed eight weeks later. Many people fertilize their lawns too early. Wait until mid-April to fertilize to prevent lawn injury and for the most efficient use of the fertilizer.
Violas. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension
It is freezing cold this week and hard to believe that we are already talking about “What to Plant” and “What to Do” to get started early. In North Florida there are cool-season annuals that can be planted now. The list includes pansies, violas, petunias, and snapdragons. As we are coming to the end of January it is time to plant crinum, agapanthus and gloriosa lily bulbs. Make sure to mulch these areas after planting to protect them from the cold temperatures. This is also the month to plant camellias, which these come in many colors and forms that your local nurseries will carry this time of year. If you haven’t planted all your cool season crops there is still time to do that now such as broccoli, kale, carrots, and lettuce. Irish potatoes can be planted now as well.
Now you might be asking “What can I do?”. January is a great time to prune non-spring flowering shrubs and trees to improve their form. This is a good time to plant deciduous fruit trees, this will give their roots time to develop before the warmer spring temperatures. Since existing trees are dormant, it is a good time to prune and fertilize them. When the temperatures are near freezing many of the tender plants will need to be covered to minimize damage. It’s a good time to plant a tree. Hurricane-resistant trees include live oaks, bald cypress, cabbage palms, and southern magnolias. It’s time to remove those dead spent seed pods on your crape myrtles and removing any crossing branches and twiggy growth will improve the appearance and the form of the plant.
Potatoes planted in mid-February were ready to harvest in mid-May in Bay County. Photo: Vicki Evans, UF/IFAS Master Gardener of the plant.
As we go into February it will soon be time to apply a preemergence weed killer to your lawns to prevent warm-season weeds. Temperatures must rise to 65°F for 4 to 5 consecutive days before you do a preemergence application and make sure you are not using a weed and feed fertilizer. Citrus and other fruit trees can be fertilized at this time. The amount and frequency will depend on the age and type of fruit tree you are growing. Avoid pruning Citrus until spring to avoid any injury since cold temperatures are still possible. It is time to prune those roses this month to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form. After the pruning is complete you can fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch. They should begin blooming within 8 to 9 weeks after being pruned.
Dianthus, pansies, violas, and dusty millers are annuals that can take a chill and should be planted in February. You can continue to plant crinum and agapanthus this month and add on amaryllis and rain lily bulbs as well. If it has been dry make sure to provide plenty of water for the bulbs to establish and continue to protect them from the cold by adding mulch. Trees and shrubs will begin to bloom this month including red maples and star magnolias. Continue planting potatoes throughout the month and towards the end of February warm-season crops like tomatoes and pepper can be planted but be prepared to protect them from any late frosts.
Need tips on planting and caring for trees? The primary focus in care of your newly planted tree is root development. It takes several months for roots to establish and newly planted trees and shrubs do not have a very strong root system. Start by digging the hole in a popcorn bowl shape. Once planted, backfill around the root system, but be careful not to compact the soil as this will hinder root growth. Be sure to keep the topmost area of the root ball exposed, about one to two inches. A layer of mulch will be applied here.
Frequent watering is much needed, especially if you are planting in the summer. Water thoroughly, so that water percolates below the root system. Shallow watering promotes surface root growth, which will make the plant more susceptible to stress during a drought. Concentrate some of the water in a diameter pattern a few feet from the trunk. This will cause the root system to grow towards the water, and thus better establish the root system and anchor the tree.
Figure: A Traditional Staking Option. Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS Extension.
Mulch is important in the conservation of soil moisture. Pine needles, bark, wood chips, and other organic materials make a great mulch. A three inch layer of mulch will usually suffice. It’s important to keep the mulch a few inches from the trunk as mulching too close to the tree trunk can cause rot.
You should always prune the bare roots of trees during planting. These exposed roots in containers can be damaged in shipping and removing some of the roots will help trigger growth. Pruning some of the top foliage can also reduce the amount of water needed for the plant to establish, as well. Trees and shrubs grown and shipped in burlap or containers usually need very little pruning.
Newly planted trees often have a difficult time establishing if the root system cannot be held in place. Strong winds and rain can cause the plant to tip over. Avoid this by staking the plant for temporary support. A good rule of thumb to determine staking need is if the trunk diameter measures three inches or less, it probably needs some support! Tie the stake to the plant every six inches from the top. However, only tie the trunk at one spot. Don’t tie too tightly so that the tree has no flexibility. This will stunt the growth of the tree.
Following these tips will help ensure your tree becomes well established in your landscape. For more information please contact your local county extension office.
Information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Planting and Establishing Trees” by Edward F. Gilman and Laura Sadowiski: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf%5CEP%5CEP31400.pdf
Supporting information also provided by UF/IFAS Extension Forestry Specialist Dr. Patrick Minogue, of the North Florida Research Education Center in Quincy, Florida.
Crape myrtles are all around good tree selections for the landscape. When left in their more natural form with just a little selective pruning, crape myrtles can provide shade during our hot summer days. Learn the many qualities of the crape myrtle with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Article written by Dr. Gary Knox, North Florida Research & Extension Center – Quincy, FL.
‘Gumpo Pink’ flowers are 3 inches in diameter and are pink with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches on petals.
In the times before re-blooming azaleas like Encore®, Bloom-A-Thon® and others, Satsuki azaleas were valued for late flowering that extended the azalea “bloom season”. Even with modern re-blooming azaleas, Satsuki azaleas still are appreciated as refined evergreen shrubs for the sophisticated garden or discerning plant collector.
“Satsuki” means “Fifth Month” in Japanese, corresponding to their flowering time in much of Japan. These azaleas were developed hundreds of years ago from their native Rhododendron indicum and R. eriocarpum. The Japanese selected cultivars more for their form and foliage than for flowering. These beloved plants were used in gardens as sheared boxwood-like hedges or pruned into rounded mounds that might resemble rocks or boulders in classical Japanese gardens. Their size and form also made them well adapted for training as bonsai. Most of the Satsuki azaleas in America were introduced in the 1930s by USDA.
Satsuki azaleas are small evergreen shrubs that flower in April and May in north Florida, long after most older type azaleas have finished. Satsuki azaleas also are known for producing large, mostly single flowers up to 5 inches in diameter in colors of white, pink, red, reddish orange and purple. Often the flowers will include stripes, edging, blotches, spots or flecks of contrasting colors (Sometimes all on the same plant!) with more than 20 different color patterns recorded.
Satsuki azaleas have an elegant subtle charm, quite unlike the flashy, over-the-top, heavy blooming all-at-once Southern Indica azaleas like ‘Formosa’ and ‘George L. Taber’. Typically, Satsuki azaleas display a few large blooms at a time, allowing one to better appreciate their size and color patterns as contrasted against their fine-textured, dark green leaves. To make up for a less boisterous display, Satsuki azaleas flower over a longer timeframe, averaging about 8 weeks, with some flowering an amazing 14 weeks. In another contrast, most Satsuki azaleas grow smaller in size, in my experience reaching about 3 feet tall and wide in a five-year timeframe. The rounded to lance-shaped leaves of Satsuki azaleas also are demure, ranging in length from just ½ inch to no more than 2 inches.
Satsuki azaleas enjoy the same conditions as most other azaleas: light shade and moist, rich, well-drained soil. Mulch regularly to maintain organic matter and help hold moisture. Fertilize lightly and keep the roots evenly moist. Minimal to no pruning is required. Satsuki azaleas also are well adapted to container culture. Their small size and fine textured leaves make these a favorite for bonsai enthusiasts since their small leaves, branching habit and mounded form naturally make them look like miniature mature “trees”.
Sources and Cultivars
Look for Satsuki azaleas in spring at garden centers or year-round at online nurseries. There are hundreds of cultivars but some popular types to look for include:
Gumpo Pink – 3-in. diameter light pink flowers with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches
Gumpo White – 3-in. diameter white flowers with occasional pink flakes and light green blotches
Gyokushin – 3-in. diameter flowers are predominantly white but with light to dark pink dots and blotches
Higasa – flowers are 4 to 5 inches in diameter and are purplish pink with purple blotches
Shugetsu – also called ‘Autumn Moon’, 3-in. diameter flowers are white with a broad, bright purplish-red border
Tama No Hada – flowers are 4 to 5 inches in diameter and are white to pink with deep pink stripes; usually flowers in fall as well as spring
Wakaebisu – 2.5-in. diameter flowers are “double” (hose-in-hose) and are salmon pink with deep pink dots and blotches; this also flowers in fall as well as spring
Chappell, M. G.M. Weaver, B. Jernigan, and M. McCorkle. 2018. Container trial of 150 azalea (Rhododendron spp.) cultivars to assess insect tolerance and bloom characteristics in a production environment. HortScience 53(9-S): S465.
‘Gumpo Pink’ flowers are 3 inches in diameter and are pink with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches on petals.
‘Gyokushin’ flowers are white with occasional pink flecks and light green blotches.
‘Shugetsu’ has 3-inch flowers that have bright purplish-red border on edges of petals.
Galle, Fred C. Azaleas. 1985. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. 486 pp.
Flax lily is a popular perennial that adds interest to garden borders or when planted in mass. Plants can be affected by cold temperatures so a little maintenance as temperatures warm is often necessary. UF IFAS Escambia County Extension shares late winter care of flax lily In the Garden.