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 1997 - One of the Most Pleasurable Months

December is one of the most pleasurable time to work outside in the garden.  The weather is generally cool and mild and many insects, such as mosquitos are starting to wane in numbers.  Rainfall is generally light this month, but the last two months vividly illustrate the rainfall roller-coaster that we have to contend with here in South Florida.  October was extremely dry with barely an inch of rain while in November we received from 8 -12 inches or more depending on where you live.

Forecasters are predicting that the La Nina weather patterns will bring warmer dry conditions than normal to south Florida.  They also add that dry atmospheric conditions could yield a high likelihood of  frosts occurring this season, since dry air and clear night skies can result in more heat radiating off into the atmosphere at night.   What will December bring?  Your guess is as good as mine - just follow the Boy Scout motto and "Be Prepared".

Plant growth is slowing now in response to cooler temperatures and shorter days. Avoid fertilizing or pruning perennial trees, shrubs and vines at this time.  This could stimulate new tender growth that may be injured in the event of frost.  Lawn grasses are also growing much more slowly and only need to be mowed every few weeks to control weed growth. As the days get cooler and plants grow slower, be sure to cut back on irrigation to avoid over watering and possibly stimulating disease problems.  Be sure to rake accumulations of fallen leaves off grass to avoid possible damage to the turf.

You may want to consider over seeding bare patches in lawns resulting from disease or insects with ryegrass to provide a better appearance.  Five to ten pounds of ryegrass per thousand square feet will help green up lawns nicely until spring.  Remember that the ryegrass will have to be mowed regularly.

Some of the more colorful landscapes plants now in bloom include orchid tree, silk cotton, bougainvillea and poinsettia.  Citrus season is in full swing.  As nights become cooler, fruits will become sweeter and have better color.  Most citrus can be stored on the tree until needed extending the season for the homeowner.  There are limits, however and fruit stored too long in this manner may become dry and pithy.  There are other causes for dry pithy fruit or fruit with partially dry sections.  These can include improper nutrition - regular fertilization with a good complete citrus fertilizer at the recommended times may help to alleviate this problem.  If you do store citrus on your trees beware that this practice may attract rats, which will feed on the fruit.  Poison baits can be used to control these pests.

Those who started a  vegetable garden in September should be beginning to the fruits of their labor.  It is still not too late too plant however.  Vegetables that can be planted now include beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, peppers, radishes, tomatoes and turnips.  Instead of standard garden peas, try snow peas or edible podded peas for a novel change.  They grow well now and eliminate the labor of shelling associated with regular peas as the entire pod can be consumed like string beans.  Snow peas are best grown on strings or a trellis of some sort.  A fence works nicely.

To keep vegetables and annual flowers in top production, remember to fertilize monthly.  Use a fertilizer like 15-0-15 at the rate of ½ to 1 ounce per 10 feet of row or a complete fertilizer like  6-6-6 at the rate of 1-2 lbs per 100 square foot of bed.  Controlled release fertilizers like osmocote or nutricote applied at planting will also give good results.

Other garden chores for December include: preparation of a cold protection strategy for tender plants in case of frosts, planting new trees or shrubs - many trees such as oaks are best transplanted at this time when they are dormant, and dividing overgrown perennials.  Sow papaya seed for spring plantings.

Annual  flowers that can be planted now include alyssum, balsam, begonia, calendula, dianthus, dusty miller, geraniums, impatiens, hollyhocks, lobelia, pansy, petunia, phlox, rudbeckia, salvia, snapdragons, stocks, sweet peas, and verbenas can also be planted now.  Bulbs to be planted consist of African iris, amaryllis, anenome, crinum, day lilies, rain lilies, society garlic, spider lilies, and rain lilies.  For northern transplants, 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 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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