Gardening: Another spring

Gardening

By Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

The seasons roll around, and before we know it the robins will have passed through and our overwintering birds will have left for their more northerly nesting grounds. Depending on temperatures, lawns will soon be greening up, we will be planting our summer vegetables and perhaps seeking new shrubs and perennials to fill in gaps that winter may have left behind.

Don’t be tempted to use a “weed and feed” product on your lawn; instead, apply a fertilizer once your grass is showing signs of new growth. Look for a product such as 15-0-15 with micronutrients and a minimum of 30 percent slow release nitrogen. Keep weeds in check by hand pulling or spot-treating them with the appropriate post-emergent herbicide (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep141). Unless you have weeds in most of your lawn, to treat it all is an unnecessary use of chemicals. This article gives an overview of the best turf management practices for the homeowner, and includes details on how much and when to fertilize: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep236. Following Florida-Friendly practices, applying the minimal recommended amount of fertilizer and watering appropriately can save you money and result in a lawn that is more resistant to insects and disease — since insects thrive on new, juicy growth and over-watering promotes disease.

With the record heat of 2016 and current unseasonably warm temperatures, I can’t help but wonder if USDA climate zones may be redefined yet again. In 2015/2016, my birdbath froze just twice and as of early February, we’ve had just one minor freeze. When I first moved here over two decades ago, we were inside zone 8b and winter temperatures reflected that. Since then, the USDA revised the map, placing us in zone 9. See the USDA map, https://www.arborday.org/media/mapchanges.cfm, and watch an animation of the country-wide changes from 1990 to 2006.

The Extension Service is constantly striving to keep the information it provides to the public up to date. The University of Florida has numerous research scientists who publish new material and older publications are reviewed and revised regularly to keep abreast of developments in horticulture, agriculture and other consumer issues. Recently I read of Professor Deng’s work on Lantana camara. (http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/lantana-cultivar-release/). There will be two new cultivars coming onto the market, hopefully in the not too distant future. They are nicely formed plants, suitable for containers or in ground, with beautiful flowers that are sterile — unlike the species, which can spread with abandon. I asked Professor Deng if this would mean the flowers would be less attractive to pollinators and apparently, while there is less pollen production, the flowers produce nectar and will still attract butterflies.

Some of my more rambunctious wildflowers have spread their seed, so I shall carefully pot up some of the tiny seedlings until they are large enough to be planted out. Growing from seed is not always straightforward. What always surprises me is the various lengths of time they take to germinate. I unearthed what I thought were older wild hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) seeds and since they are large I decided to test their viability by placing them on moist kitchen paper in a small plastic bag. They surprised me by springing to life in just three to four days, whereas some fresher many-flowered beard tongue (Penstemon multiflorus) seeds, sown in expanding peat pots, took several weeks to sprout.

Once new spring growth is underway, you may wonder if it’s a good time to take cuttings of some of your woody plants. Some shrubs root well from fresher growth and others might work better using older material, but without guidance I don’t always recall — so my go-to reference for propagating shrubs is “Propagation techniques for the Florida gardener” (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg108). And remember, some herbaceous plants root well just being in water.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.