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 1999 - A Return to Seasonably Cool Conditions

January ushered in the new Year with a return to seasonably cool winter temperatures.  This followed an unseasonably warm ending to 1998, during which most of us wondered if we would ever get to turn off our air conditioners,  which toiled incessantly from Thanksgiving through New Years Day.  Indeed the cool down, while welcome,  was a bit more than most gardeners would have hoped for with a light frost dusting most of the area on January 5th.  Fortunately temperatures barely dipped below freezing for a short period and caused minimal damage to most plantings.

While not a common phenomena, this was a reminder that frost can and does strike our area from time to time.  This reality should influence local landscape design and plant selection.  While many of gardeners delight in planting tender tropicals, these should be set amongst hardier cold tolerant plants so that an unexpected frost will not devastate the landscape.  Frost is rarely strikes uniformly and can be used by astute gardeners to identify micro climates in the landscape which may vary by a few degrees warmer or cooler.

A number of 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 frost than un-mulched 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 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.

In general, fertilizing and pruning should be avoided until the threat of frost has past.  Both practices encourage the production of tender new growth which is more susceptible to damage in the event that temperatures plunge below freezing.   The exception to this rule are vegetables and annuals which should be fertilized regularly to keep them productive.  Another consideration that many gardeners overlook is the fact that the cold fronts that regularly pass through our area are generally accompanied by a mass of relatively dry air and winds that can rapidly desiccate plants even though temperatures do not dip low enough to cause injury.  Plants can dry out rapidly and should be monitored closely.  This is especially true of annual flowers, vegetables and container plantings which may require additional hand watering.

Bougainvilleas and orchid trees are in full bloom this month and brighten up the landscape with their bright colors.  Azaleas are also in bloom and should be more widely considered  for shady sites.  Be sure to use care when purchasing azaleas to obtain varieties that are adapted to south Florida conditions.  Cultivars developed for more northern conditions will not receive adequate chilling to induce flowering in most seasons.  This will result in scanty sporadic flowering and disappointment.

With many of the northern based seed companies beginning to mail out catalogs for spring plantings - it is tempting to sift through the fanciful and tempting  glossy photos and part with some hard earned cash for a new perennial or vegetable or some other colorful addition to the garden.  While most gardeners are savvy enough to check the climatic zones and certify that a selection is indicated for planting in zones 9-10, this is often not enough and has lead to a lot of disappointment as a number of other factors, such as humidity and soil type in addition to temperature zone must be considered.  If you are uncertain - check with your local garden shop, an experienced local gardener or feel free to contact the Hendry County Extension Office for assistance in making your choice.

Most annual flowers and vegetables can be planted this month.  Fall crops are in decline and should be renewed with fresh plantings.  Vegetables that can be planted this month include beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, eggplants, peas, kale, lettuce, mustard, onion sets, parsley, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, squash, sweet corn, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and turnips.  Hold off with cantaloupe, cucumber and watermelon until month's end for best results.  A wide variety of flowers including alyssum, baby's breath, bachelor buttons, balsam, calendulas, carnations, cosmos, cockscomb, daisies, forget-me-nots, gaillardia, impatiens, larkspur, lobelia, 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, blood lilies, caladiums, crinum, iris, spider lilies, and zephyranthes.

Good luck and good gardening and wishing you all a happy and productive New Year.

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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