By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale
There has been much discussion — both here and worldwide — about the effects of neonicotinoid chemicals (neonics) on bees and their colonies, and now more studies have shown that these effects are wide-ranging and very damaging. According to the European Food Safety Authority (https://tinyurl.com/yao3ynk6), not only are honey bees being harmed, but native bees are suffering too, which is problematic as they also play an important role in crop production. (There have been proposals in Europe for a total field ban of the three most damaging neonics: clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam, which are already subject to restrictions.) Because they are persistent in soil for some years, neonics can be taken up by other plants well after the initially treated crop was harvested, and their effects on bees is therefore not limited to a one-time application.
Homeowners have a perfect role here, and that would be to avoid using pesticides that contain neonics. Reading the label is of paramount importance with any chemical, and you will find that many of the products available for home use do indeed include neonics. The Xerces Society has a useful table of the chemical names of neonics, and some of the products that contain them: https://tinyurl.com/y87c38sl. Apart from bees, any pollinator species that works the pollen or nectar of flowers is potentially at risk, and unfortunately that includes our beloved butterflies (https://tinyurl.com/ybvzjgow).
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping program advocates the use of Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, when dealing with pests. With spring moving on apace and our landscapes coming to life, it’s well worth looking again at the nine principles governing the program: Right Plant, Right Place; Water Efficiently; Fertilize Appropriately; Mulch; Attract Wildlife; Manage Yard Pests Responsibly; Recycle Yard Waste; Reduce Stormwater Runoff; and Protect the Waterfront: https://tinyurl.com/ksuclf. Each heading in the article is a link to more detailed information on how to achieve a Florida-Friendly yard and an explanation of why it’s important to do so.
By early to mid-April lawns will have started to green up and at this stage it’s time to fertilize. The Florida-Friendly website has detailed information about the types of fertilizer and recommended application rates for specific grasses, and is well worth reading before going to the store. Slow release fertilizers are the way to go; they contain some nitrogen that will be available immediately and the remainder is released gradually, allowing your grass to make the best use of the entire product. Without that slow release component, most of the nitrogen would be released during the first big rain, and be lost in run-off, to the detriment of our waterways and your pocketbook. For more detailed advice, check out https://tinyurl.com/ycjarjhf.
If you have weed problems avoid “weed and feed” products as the best application times for herbicides and fertilizers don’t usually coincide (https://tinyurl.com/y8adxd92). Although weed and feed products are covered here http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep141, it is simpler to apply the fertilizer and herbicide separately to be sure that your application rates are correct for each. And if the weed problem is not across the whole lawn, then a combined product is even less economical.
As we move into spring, remember that it’s usually one of the drier times of year. Vegetable crops need enough irrigation to keep producing well, and newly installed landscape plants can’t be ignored if they are to become well established. Trees in particular, if they were planted in recent months, will still need supplemental watering: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep113.
It astonishes me how quickly our deciduous trees unfurl their spring show. Just driving around town the difference in appearance from day to day is really striking. Each species has its own timetable, with red maples coming to life particularly early, but it seems that individual trees within a species green up to their own schedule. There are three huge hickory trees in my street, and each begins putting on its spring show at a slightly different time. And at the other end of the year, they drop their leaves independently. Cultural practices must play a role, but genetics also factor in, which leads me to believe that if we enjoy propagating our own plants, we should aim to grow them from seed as far as possible, and not just root our plants from cuttings. That way we keep the genetic diversity of a species, since each seed is truly unique. (Hybrid seeds are the exception, being produced for guaranteed uniform plants.) This is a great resource about both types of propagation for those of you who are interested: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg108.
For those timely tips, the current issue of A New Leaf is available at https://tinyurl.com/y9yfxd89. Happy spring.