By Lesley Arrandale

Coming from more northerly climes, I’m still hardwired to feel that spring is the perfect time to plant, even after more than 20 years in Florida. But as Floridians know, we are heading into a traditionally drier season and the easiest time to establish trees and woody plants is behind us. However, with extra care, containerized plants can be established here almost year round; just be prepared to ensure they don’t suffer from lack of water.

Nurseries and big box stores are busy, displaying for our delight all manner of perennials and annuals, which happily need less care after transplanting than woody plants. As always, check that a plant will thrive where you hope to put it. Many plants designated as Florida-Friendly do well in our area, but all will have their own requirements for moisture and light, as do native plants. Remember: right plant, right place.

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Install your plant(s) on a cloudy day or late in the afternoon when the sun is low. If roots are circling in the pot, shave off the entire edge of the root ball on all sides, including the base. Dig a hole wider than the root ball and slightly less deep. Water the hole, allow to drain and position the plant. Fill the hole around the plant with soil, firming gently as you go, taking care not to bury the plant deeper than it was in its pot, and water again.

If it sits slightly higher than the surrounding soil (by 10 percent ), that is perfect. Lightly top-dress with compost or spread a little slow-release fertilizer just outside of the root ball. Mulch carefully, avoiding the roots, making a small rim of mulch around the edge of the root ball to channel water into the roots. If you have sandy well-draining soil, you could amend the bed – not the hole – before planting with a couple of inches of good compost, dug into the top six to eight inches.

Are you considering installing a drip irrigation system for your summer crops? One Master Gardener’s experience of setting up his system could be useful: Having just installed irrigation in my own raised beds, I’ve yet to determine if my watering schedule is exactly what’s needed, but I’m already delighted to have eliminated dragging a hose around!

Grafted vegetable plants are a fairly new development. By selecting rootstock for vigor and for resistance to soil-borne diseases and nematodes, the productive part of the vegetable is chosen for desirable traits like flavor, texture and size. In looking for sources, “Totally Tomatoes” offers several tomato plants and one variety each of sweet pepper and eggplant.

“Johnny’s Selected Seed” has collections of 34 grafted tomatoes — presumably for farmers — but no single plants. Other sites had information about the desirability of grafted veg, but no plants for sale. Some Duval County Master Gardeners are being trained in grafting techniques and will be trialing two grafted tomatoes and two regular plants in their own gardens. Watch this space.

Make sure to read the March/April edition of A New Leaf: There is a Spring Gardening Workshop on April 5 and on April 2, there will be Plant Clinics at several nurseries around town. Happy gardening.

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.

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