Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

December 2000 - A Challenging Month for Gardeners

December is a challenging month for gardeners.  It is typically our coolest month. Weather conditions can change rapidly from moderate to downright cold as fronts dip down across the peninsula.   Citrus is moving into peak season and the bright golden fruit on dark green trees helps imparts a special Florida style cheer to the festive season.  Tangerines, tangelos and early oranges are all in season now. Cool weather will help bring out the color in citrus.  Store ripened fruit on the tree.  Flavor will not improve once it is picked.

Winter sets in this month and frost or freeze is possible. Be aware that forecasts can vary greatly from the coast to the inland locations. Most of Hendry County lies between USDA climactic zones 9 and 10.  In general, areas in the northern and eastern part of the county tend to be cooler than southern and western parts of the county.  Beyond this general rule there may be quite a variation micro climates within a relatively small area. You might even note temperature differences between spots in your yard.  You can take advantage of these small variations in micro climate when planting specimens that might be borderline for your area.

One of the most fool proof methods of frost protection is to choose the plant species that are suited to your climatic zone. Natives such as wax myrtle, dahoon holly or red maple tend to be generally well suited to the extremes of weather found locally.  If a freeze threatens, cover tender plants with a sheet, box or blanket.  Do not use clear plastic. Water heavily just before a freeze is expected and pull mulch away from the plants. The warm soil will release heat and raise the temperature around plants and could save them.

This is a good month to plant roses, or transplant anything hardy. If you are interested in roses be sure to obtain quality plants grafted on resistant Fortuniana rootstocks. Any woody plant can be installed now if you have an adequate water supply to irrigate until the wet season begins in June. When transplanting trees and shrubs: water the plant first and then prepare a hole just a bit deeper than the root ball and 2 to three times as wide. Tamp the soil firmly around the plant and water in thoroughly to eliminate any air pockets.

This has been an unusually dry fall.  Most areas have had little or no rain since early October.  Most annuals flowers and vegetables require a good watering about twice a week if there is no rain. Be sure to monitor all plantings for signs of drought stress.  This may manifest itself as wilting, leaf drop and or die back of smaller limbs and branches.   Although mature trees and shrubs can usually tolerate dry conditions to some extent, the past few years have been rather stressful on all plants and we have seen some large trees and shrubs succumb to the prolonged drought.  Careful observation and early intervention in the form of judicious watering may prevent the loss of some of your valuable specimens.

New growth has slowed down or is hardened off and some pests may go dormant.  Keep alert for spider mites and thrips, which can do a lot of damage to crotons, copperleaf and other trees and shrubs.   These sucking insects attack the leaves, causing a stippling pattern and a brown spot in the center of the leaves. Watch for aphids and leafminers in vegetables.  Heavy dews and foggy morning are conducive to the development of fungal diseases on vegetables and tender annuals, use a labeled fungicide to prevent diseases from damaging your garden.

Although vegetables and annual flowers should be fertilized regularly to maintain vigor, do not fertilize perennial plants such as trees and shrubs at this time.  It may stimulate tender new growth that will be easily damaged by cold weather.  For the same reason, you should delay any pruning other than the removal of dead or diseased branches until next year.

The planting calendar is wide open.  Vegetables that can be planted this month include cool season favorites such as  beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, endive, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips.  December is the best time to plant vegetables that need really cool weather such as Brussels's sprouts, peas and onions.  Warm season plants may also be planted for spring harvest.  These include beans, peppers, squash, sweet corn, and tomatoes.  Be prepared to cover these should a passing cold front send temperatures plummeting.

Annual  flowers that can be planted now include alyssum, begonia, calendula, dianthus, dusty miller, geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, pansy, petunia, phlox, rudbeckia, salvia, snapdragons, stocks, sweet peas, and verbenas.  Bulbs to plant consist of African iris, amaryllis, anenome, crinum, day lilies, rain lilies, society garlic, spider lilies, and rain lilies.  For northerners, who miss tulips, daffodils and other bulbs in the spring, refrigerated daffodils, Dutch iris, hyacinths and tulips can be planted now.  Be forewarned, however, that these will only flower one time unless they are re-dug and refrigerated again next fall as local temperatures are not adequate to initiate the flowering process.

Good luck and good gardening and best wishes for the holiday season.

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 - 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.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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