Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
April 1999 - Dry Conditions Test Gardeners Mettle
As most of us have learned the hard way - gardening is a little different in Florida. In most of the rest of the country the saying goes "April showers bring May flowers." Here we pray that April flowers will bring May showers. Wild flowers are coming into full glory now along roadside swales and open fields. Bunches of the dainty white flowered daisy fleabane can be seen dotting grassy areas along with black-eyed Susan's and the bright yellow tickseed Coreopsis - our state flower. The minute lavender flowered bay lobelia is so numerous in many areas that a purple haze appears to be hovering over the grass. In swampy areas, the majestic native blue flag iris is in full bloom, while on other normally wet sites the carnivorous horned bladderwort has created a golden carpet over large areas. In other places, the lissome rose rush in exquisite shades of purple-pink rises gracefully above the spiky clumps of the white button-like flowers of pipewort. Mild conditions make this a great time to take a walk afield and view the magnificent diversity of wild flowers now in bloom.
April is normally one of the driest months locally. Warmer temperatures combined with clear skies and breezy conditions conspire to greatly increase evapo-transpiration rates and irrigation requirements in the landscape. This year's La Nina influenced weather pattern has created particularly dry conditions in contrast to last years record rainfall. Much of our area has been positively arid for the past few months. Many locales have seen less than two inches of precipitation since January with a result that water tables have dropped significantly and soil moisture levels are extremely low. Under the prevailing conditions, attention to proper irrigation practices is essential to maintain yards and gardens in good condition. Lawns can easily use up to a 1/4 inch of water per day in this weather
Our sandy soils have very little water holding capacity and plants grown in full sunlight will need water every three to five days and even more frequently in some instances. Many gardeners make the mistake of frequent light sprinkling when watering. This practice does little to satisfy the water requirements of thirsty plants growing under hot dry conditions. It wastes water and accomplishes little more than settle the dust. Plants watered this way often develop shallow root systems which increases their susceptibility to drought. Frequent light irrigation will also encourage the proliferation of undesirable weeds such as dollar weed in turf.
The best way to water is to apply three quarters of an inch to one inch of water per application every few days depending on conditions. This is normally adequate to wet the root zone on most soils. Too much water is wasteful as it will move below the root zone and be lost to all but the most deep rooted trees and shrubs. With over head sprinklers the best way to determine when three quarters of an inch of water has been delivered is to place several shallow containers randomly under the sprinkler pattern and run the water until three fourths of an inch has accumulated. Many people are surprised by the amount of time it takes to apply this amount of water. Note that dry soil may take several hours to wet the root zone adequately and new planting may need daily watering for establishment.
Some tips for increasing water use efficiency around the home include: using drought tolerant plants in areas not under irrigation, grouping plants with similar moisture requirements, checking weather forecasts to avoid irrigating when rain is predicted, and use of mulches to conserve water. Water early in the day, since losses to evaporation will be higher with late morning to mid afternoon watering. Watering late in the evening and night should be avoided as plants will remain wet for long periods of time encouraging disease development. Many landscape plants will indicate there need for irrigation by wilting while other may show no symptoms of drought until they have been severely injured by moisture stress.
April is a good time to root cuttings of a number of woody ornamentals including crotons, hibiscus, ixora and other. Be sure to maintain a moist environment for best results. Many cool season flowering annuals will have begun to fade, replace these with warm season varieties. Overcrowded perennials can be divided easily in April.
It is tempting to forgo mowing as many lawn grasses are still growing slowly and have little need of trimming. However, many winter annual weeds in turf, such as poor-man's pepper and others are now flowering. Be sure and mow these down before they set seed which will cause weed problems next fall.
Only warm season flowers and vegetables should be planted now. Vegetables that can be planted in April include: cantaloupe, cherry tomato, cow peas, cucumber, eggplant, lima bean, okra, pepper, snap bean, squash sweet potato and many ethnic specialties such as calabaza, cassava, dasheen, malanga, and roselle.
Good choices of flowers include; ageratum, begonia, blue daze, celosia, coleus, cosmos, gerbera, marigold, pentas, portulaca, salvias, torenia, and zinnia. Asiatic lilies, agapanthus, amaryllis, blood lily, caladium, canna, crinum, dahlia, gladioli and rain lily are some of the bulbs to consider. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - GMcAvoy@ifas.ufl.edu or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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