A month-by-month guide to Florida-friendly landscapes
Published: Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 4:59 p.m.
Just because Florida is the Sunshine State doesn't mean a perfect garden happens overnight. The next few months are critical if you want to spruce up your landscape after the recent winter chill.
“People have been told you can just stick it in the earth and it will grow,” said Anne Lambrecht, a Marion County Master Gardener. “It does grow faster than, say, in New York, but there are rules to follow, and the more education you get is going to make you more Florida-friendly.”
Here is a month-by-month guide to getting the garden of your dreams this year.
Start protecting your plants from that winter wind - there still might be more cold in the forecast; the average date of the last freeze is mid-February - by sprinkling them with water. In addition to covering tender plants during a hard freeze, Lambrecht recommends including a small light source - Christmas lights work well - to add a little extra heat near your plants.
“It's important to protect them so you can see them in the spring,” said Wendy Wilber, Alachua County extension horticulturist.
If you lost some of your plants to the frost, there are a few cold-hardy natives you can replant in their place.
Bedding plants - including carnations, pansies, petunias and snapdragons - are best planted in January to add that spark of color to an otherwise gloomy garden.
Turn your focus from bedding plants to azaleas to add some spectacular flowers to your outdoor garden. Because azaleas don't follow a typical growing pattern, they're best suited for less formal landscapes, such as under trees in loose arrangements. Because azaleas grow best in acidic soil, which isn't common in our area, Lambrecht recommends using supplements such as oak leaves and fertilizer to raise the acid level in the soil.
As for your lawn, now is the time to apply a pre-emergent weed killer to prevent any warm-weather weeds from germinating. Other than that, there's little you can do to combat browning.
“We're kind of just stuck right now,” Wilber said. “We're still watering about once every 10 to 14 days, so even though it looks like it's dead, the roots are alive.”
Start pruning your azaleas once they have fully bloomed - a rule of thumb for all flowers. Be sure to clean up only the rough spots in azaleas, though, as next year's growth comes from the plant's new flowers.
Once frost becomes a thing of the past, use a complete fertilizer - one that contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous - to start prepping your lawn for the spring. While this season was particularly dreadful, with below-40 temperatures for weeks at a time, things will regrow; it just might take a little longer than expected.
March also is the time to start mowing your lawn more as things begin to bounce back from winter weather.
Prevention is the best thing you can do to grow a healthy garden. Wilber recommends not overmanaging your landscape this month, because the pests will come in and feed off its luxury.
“You want the root system to be established,” Lambrecht said. “In order to do that, do not overwater.”
A healthy lawn is less likely to be insect-prone and recovers faster if infested, so be sure to mow your grass at the optimal height - never remove more than one-fourth to one-third of the grass - and keep fertilizer to a minimum. Wilber also suggests scouting for pests in your garden at least once a week so you can clearly identify the problem at the very beginning.
To prevent any weeds that are popping up, Lambrecht recommends hand-pulling them; using weed-and-seed can kill the other things in your garden.
May can be a pest - literally - for gardens as insects emerge thanks to consistently warm weather, so disease and pest management is your top priority for your lawn this month.
Before dousing your lawn in pesticide, be sure to confirm it's actually insect damage that's causing problems. If it is a pest insect, Wilber encourages you to try the least toxic method first, because pesticide could hurt the wildlife around your garden.
“Only when necessary would you breakout the big guns,” Wilber said. “It's not just this one insect on this one plant.”
Summer has officially arrived come June, and it hits hardest in Florida.
“In particularly hot weather, you shouldn't freak out when you get a dry spot,” Lambrecht said. “Water deeply, and give the plant a whole bunch of water less often - a couple times a week.”
With few bedding plants being able to withstand the hot, humid summers in Florida, focus more on removing the old blossoms, cutting out and fertilizing these annuals to keep the blooming coming well into the fall.
Fall and winter
Once the weather cools down, that vibrant green color of your lawn will start to fade. But, all isn't lost. You can provide a soft cover layer of seeds with ryegrass. But remember: A year-long green lawn also comes with year-long maintenance, fertilizing and mowing.
For adding that big burst of color into your lawn during the late fall, camellias are your best bet. These are best planted in groups to serve as backgrounds, accents or screens to make that one section pop.
Before winter fully arrives, start prepping your plants to minimize the damage from Jack Frost. Choose a site with good air drainage to prevent colder air from settling around the roots, and put up any barriers or fences that will help shelter your budding blossoms from the wind.
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