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

January 1998 - Set the Stage for the New Year

Although January is perhaps our coldest month, it is the first month of "spring" in our area.  The changes are subtle to be sure, but look around and you will see the reddish new leaves on the red maples, cypress and willow buds swelling with new growth and the live oaks beginning to show their yellowish flowers. January is one of the most important times of the year for the local gardener.  Things which are done this month set the stage for flower and fruit production for the next twelve months.

Fruit trees and shrubs should be fertilized this month to prepare them for the resumption of growth.  The type and amount of fertilizer to apply will vary with the variety of plant, the age of the plant, and soil fertility.  It is wise to obtain a soil test every couple of years if possible.  Soil testing and specific fertilizer recommendations can be obtained by contacting the Hendry County Extension Office.  In general, local soils are poor in nutrients and must be supplemented regularly for good plant growth.  Our heavy summer rains and porous sandy soils are responsible for the rapid loss of applied fertilizers, requiring that they be reapplied regularly. Local soils, also tend to have a relatively high pH (7.5 or above) which interferes with the availability of certain fertilizer minerals.

Plants need thirteen different nutritional minerals for optimum growth.  In addition to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, local soils also tend to be deficient in a number of trace elements including magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and boron.  Citrus and palm trees in particular are sensitive to trace element deficiencies.  Most garden shops sell specially formulated citrus or palm fertilizer which contains these minerals.  Citrus fertilizer can also be applied to most other types of fruit trees and shrubs.

January is cool and dry.  Be prepared to provide frost protection for sensitive plants should the temperature plummet with the arrival of the regular cold fronts that occur this month. Several techniques may be employed to protect plants from below freezing weather.  Covering sensitive plants will help prevent frost injury.  Covers should be put on the evening before an expected frost.  Avoid plastic and metal for covering plants as these are good conductors of cold.   Locating cold tender plants in the shelter of trees and buildings may protect them from the effects of a cold snap.  Plants in wet soil are less susceptible to frost damage than plants growing in dry soil.  Irrigate thoroughly a day or two before an expected cold front if possible.  Mulched plants are more susceptible to freezing than unmulched plants.  Bare soil will absorb heat during the day and release it at night warming plants.  Proper use of sprinklers may prevent frost damage during severe cold fronts.  Sprinklers must be turned on before frost occurs and left running until the temperature rises above freezing.  Ice will form holding the temperature at thirty two degrees.  Monitor local weather forecasts and be prepared.

Should frost or freezing temperatures occur be cautious in your clean up efforts. Sensitive annuals and perennials such as bananas which have been reduced to a brown or black mass can be removed to the compost heap immediately.  Woody plants should be left alone for several weeks until the full extent of the damage is apparent.  Once new growth resumes prune back the dead material to living tissue and treat all wounds with a fungicide.

Lawns and gardens will require careful attention to irrigation to maintain them in good condition.  In general, a minimum of one inch of water per week is necessary for good plant growth.  Insects and diseases remain active despite the cool weather, practice integrated pest management.

January is the time to plan and plant the spring flower and vegetable garden.  Prepare beds and get seeds or plants in the ground before the end of the month.  Vegetables that can be planted this month include beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, eggplants, peas, kale, lettuce, mustard, onion sets, parsley, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squash, sweet corn, Swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips and watermelons.  A wide variety of flowers including asters, baby's breath, bachelor buttons, balsam, calendulas, carnations, cosmos, cockscomb, daisies, forget-me-nots, gaillardia, impatiens, larkspur, lobelias, lupines, marigolds, morning glories, nasturtiums, pansies, periwinkles, petunias, phlox, pinks, poppies, portulacas, salvia, statice, stocks, strawflower, sweet peas, sweet William, and verbena.  Bulbs to plant this month include amaryllis, caladiums, callas, cannas, dahlias, gladiolus, iris, lilies, narcissus and zephyranthes.

January is a good time to start papaya seeds.  By planting now, you will have six to eight inch transplants ready for planting out at in March, when warmer weather comes around.  Papaya plants set in the ground at this time and provided with generous fertilization and water will produce a large six to seven foot tree bearing fruit by fall.  Good luck and happy 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 - 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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