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

June 1999 - The Rainy Season Brings Pluses and Minuses

What a difference a few weeks and a little rain can make!  In contrast to the sere brown vistas and the wild fires that have been common place over the past few months, June has been accompanied by a revival of multiple shades of green in our fields and forests, thanks to the return of our typical summer rainfall pattern.  In open fields and along unkempt road shoulders, an abundance of wild flowers have sprung up as if to celebrate the coming of the rainy season.

Several notable wild flowers that can be seen this month include: the frost flowered Neottia or leafless beaked orchid.  This native terrestrial orchid, which generally goes unnoticed for most of the year, produces striking leafless spikes of bright red orange blossoms up to 3 feet tall.  While not common, this unusual ground dwelling orchid can be seen in a number of locations throughout the area at this time.  A little harder to find is the Atamasco lily or rain lily.  The rain lily produces delicate pinkish white flowers that are somewhat reminiscent of crocus in size and shape.  This rather rare species is listed as threatened species in Florida and should never be taken from the wild.  Fortunately, there are a number of cultivated species of rain lily (Zephyranthes) available to gardeners which make wonderful additions to the landscape.  The lovely marsh mallow, a native hibiscus with showy pink blossoms can be seen in many roadside wetland areas as can a number of other lilies including the white flowered alligator lily, spider lily (Hymenocallis spp.) and string or swamp lily (Crinum americanum).  In the pine woods,  the lovely pinkish white tarflower is in full glory.

This is great time of year for the avid gardener.  The fecund blend of warmth, rain and sunshine that the summer months bring to south Florida results sub-tropical conditions that supports explosive growth in many species that is truly remarkable.   Unfortunately, our rainy season has a few disadvantages, in addition to grass that doesn't know when to quit and sometimes seems to require daily mowing, are the high winds and lightning that may accompany summer thunder storms.  This is a good time to survey your landscape and remove any weak or dead branches that may come crashing down in a violent downpour.  This is also the time of year when a number of trees are lost due to lightning.

Lightning injuries to trees are extremely variable and appear to be governed by the voltage of the charge, the moisture content of the part struck and the species of tree involved.  "Hot bolts" with temperatures over 25,000 degrees Fahrenheit will make an entire tree burst into flames, while "cold" lightning can make them literally explode as it strikes at 20,000 miles per second.  The woody parts of the tree may be completely shattered, then may burn.  A thin strip of bark parallel to the wood fibers down the entire length of the trunk may be burned or stripped off, the internal tissue may be severely burned without external evidence, or part or all of the roots may be killed.  The upper trunk and branches of evergreens may be killed outright, while the lower portions remain unaffected. In crowded groves, trees close to the one directly hit may also die. In many cases, grass and other vegetation growing near the stricken trunk will be killed.  On some occasions, either type may fail to cause apparent damage, but months later the tree dies from burned roots and internal damage.

If you were unable to fertilize last month due to dry conditions, June is an excellent time to fertilize lawns, trees, shrubs and citrus to provide nutritional support for growth stimulated by summer rains.   It is always best to fertilize on the basis of soil test results.  If this is not possible, a complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 will give good results for most plants.  For lawns and other plantings such as citrus and palms, specially formulated complete fertilizer blends are available at most garden shops and are a good bet for general fertilizer applications.

Our sandy soils contain very little nutrition for plants and the whole idea of fertilization is to supply nutrients to your plants as needed.  Since plants growing under our sub-tropical conditions tend to exhibit several growth flushes a year, fertilizer applications are best timed to coincide with this growth spurts.  Hence the general recommendation for three applications per year - February/March, May/June, and September/October.  Be sure to feed annual flowers and vegetables lightly every few weeks for best performance.

The onset of warm wet summer weather is an ideal time for planting new trees and shrubs or repairing or replacing damaged turf areas.  June is an ideal time for rooting cuttings of shrubs and foliage plants.  Wet weather will also stimulate weed growth.  Spot treat or pull weeds in lawns and beds before they get out of hand.

Several lawn insects including chinch bugs and mole crickets are active now and may warrant treatment.  Leafminers are active on new growth in citrus.  Control is difficult although treatment with citrus or light oil sprays may help reduce the level of damage.  Summer rains also bring an increase in a number of plant diseases.  Copper fungicides applied to citrus will help reduce the incidence of alternaria and greasy spot.  Black spot on roses should be treated with a fungicide, repeated attacks on foliage can decimate roses if left unchecked.  If you plan to put in a vegetable garden in the fall and had problems with nematodes last season, this is the right time to solarize your garden plot to kill off nematodes.  Till the garden thoroughly and cover the moist soil tightly with clear plastic sheets for 6 - 8 weeks.  Soil temperatures under the plastic will reach 150 degrees which will help bake out nematodes as well as many weeds and soil borne diseases.

Contact the Hendry County Extension Office for more gardening tips and a listing of flowers and vegetables that can be planted at this time.   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 - 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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