Springtime means landscape renewal

Published: Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 2:18 p.m.

"When is your spring plant show?" The question is a common one I receive this time of year, when the post-winter sun appears and residents observe winter's effects on their backyards. Spring is the time to spruce up the landscape in preparation for summer, and two shows in the Ocala and Gainesville area offer opportunities to buy plants directly from the producer. The first of these is the Marion County Master Gardener Spring Festival, March 8 and 9, at the Marion County Extension Service, 2232 NE Jacksonville Road in Ocala.

Adult admission is $1, and in addition to plant sales, the show features a Kids Gardening Zone as well as gardening seminars.

The second show is March 22 and 23 at the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, 4700 SW 58th Drive in Gainesville. Adult admission is $8, and in addition to plant sales, the show features music and a plant auction on Saturday. These local garden shows offer a chance to shop, ask questions, pick up new ideas and talk with experts about how plants perform in various soils and micro climates.

Spring's agreeable temperatures offer an excellent time to evaluate existing plant materials, install new plants, add mulch, adjust irrigation and perform other duties necessary for landscapes to excel in the coming spring and summer weather. March 15 is generally considered the last date for this area to have damaging frost. While it is possible to have frost after this date, the duration is rarely sufficient to damage new plant growth. Wait until after March 15 to prune or fertilize woody ornamentals, actions which cause tender new growth that is susceptible to cold damage.

A great deal of information — and misinformation — exists concerning fertilizer. In most cases, once ornamental plants are established, fertilizer is not needed. If plants are performing poorly, prior to applying fertilizer, obtain a soil test to determine what should be applied, if anything at all. Soil test kits are available at local Extension Offices, and are pre-addressed for submission to the University of Florida Extension Soil Testing lab, where for $7 a sample, residents may obtain specific information for their landscape. Samples should be taken to a depth of six inches, at several locations in the landscape bed and mixed together, then laid out to dry for a couple of days prior to submission to the lab. About one-half cup of soil is needed for testing. The respective Extension Office receives a copy of your test results, so if there are questions on the report, call the office for discussion.

Pruning is another question that arises during spring. Pruning should be done with a purpose in mind — to improve plant health, control growth or influence fruiting, flowering or appearance. If succulent perennials have been damaged by cold weather, prune plants back to the green portion of the stem. For blooming plants, i.e. azaleas, wait until after the plant flowers, then prune within a couple of weeks, as next year's bloom sets soon after flowering. Woody shrubs should be examined for dead wood or crossing branches, and these should be removed. Mulch is recommended as one of the nine points of Florida-friendly landscaping. Mulch enhances soil properties, inhibits weed growth and helps retain soil moisture. In landscape beds and under large trees, mulch helps protect trunks and roots from mower and string trimmer damage and offers an answer for shade areas, where turf often does not perform well. There are a variety of mulch materials available. If the site had mulch previously, it is a good idea to rake across the old mulch as this can become matted over time, which inhibits water and air from getting to plant roots. Keep mulch three or four inches away from the trunks of plants and trees. If you will be mulching a large area, consider purchasing mulch in bulk quantities rather than in bags. Sometimes, neighbors can get together and share the cost of a load of mulch which leads to bulk purchase savings and not having to deal with empty bags. Mulch purchased in bulk quantities is sold by the cubic yard, with one cubic yard containing 27 cubic feet.

Spring calendars fill quickly, and the warm days of summer will soon be upon us. Be sure to budget time in your spring weekends to attend to landscape needs before the steamy days of summer arrive.

David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at

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