Prepare for the colder months
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 11:19 a.m.
Shortly after Christmas Day, as I drove past my front lawn, it occurred to me how odd it is to see the grass appear vibrant green at this time of year. The unseasonable warmth late into December has promoted continued growth of turfgrass and landscape plants well into the normal dormancy period. In visiting several commercial nurseries in late December, producers spoke often with concern about what a sudden and severe drop in temperature might do to several varieties of plants in their nurseries. Plants that are pushing a lot of water up into the cambium because temperatures are favorable for growth face severe challenges when the bottom falls out of the thermometer.
While there is nothing we can do about cold that may come, there are some prudent steps homeowners might take to protect landscape plants from cold weather.
First a couple of things not to do:
■ Don't apply fertilizer this time of year, and hold off on fertilizer applications to any plants until after March 15. Next, reduce application of water to established landscapes. Plants should be dormant and steps should be taken to discourage any flush of new growth. Applying an inch of water once every 14 days should be sufficient for the season. If we receive rain, it may be prudent to go even longer between waterings. Finally, with the exception of grapes, no pruning should be done in January. As we move into February, pruning should occur for crape myrtles, peaches and plums; for all other landscape plants, March 15 remains the magic date to initiate pruning.
■ Next, anticipate cold and plan for it. Determine if you have delicate landscape plants you need to protect, and obtain blankets or frost-protective cloth for these. Don't wait until cold weather is forecast only to find the store is sold out of frost cloth. You may need to build a makeshift framework for some plants; in other cases it may be prudent to run an electric cord and hang a lightbulb. I have found plastic trouble lights — those used by mechanics for car repairs — are inexpensive and safe from a fire standpoint. The few extra degrees a lightbulb under a covered plant generates is often the difference between a live plant and re-planting come spring. If you have potted plants, determine if you will move these under the patio or into the garage, and make room for them now.
■ January is the season to prune grapes and, if vines are to remain productive, a rigorous approach to pruning is required. Generally, the recommendation is to allow two to four node spurs spaced about every 6 inches of cardon. Remember that the further the spur gets from the cardon, the lower the productivity, so spur renewal is recommended every three to six years. Spur thinning can be accomplished by removing entire spurs or part of them. The first few years I performed this severe pruning on my own vines, I wondered if they would recover, but they have produced heavily each year, and it is obvious pruning agrees with them. After five to 10 years, it is not uncommon for cordons to lose vigor and die from disease or winter injury. Simply select another young shoot to train along the wire, and it will become the cordon the following year.
Last summer, I was visiting a nurseryman who happened to be a grape hobbyist. He had several grape varieties including "triumph," an early variety with excellent flavor. What was especially intriguing was the gold color of the grape skin, along with the large size of the fruit. These were ready a couple of weeks before the more traditional varieties, and may extend the season for grape lovers. The University of Florida has an excellent publication on grape production: " The Muscadine Grape, number HS763," which may be viewed at the UF website, edis.ifas.ufl.edu, or call your local Extension office to obtain a copy.
The old Boy Scout motto, "Be prepared," seems to have many applications in life and anticipating cold weather — and getting ready for it — is certainly among them. The landscape — whether edible, aesthetic or a combination of the two, requires preparation of some nature in all seasons.
David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at email@example.com.