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

March 2000 - Transition Time

Following a rather cool start to the year, which saw a couple of light frosts and below average temperatures prevailing for much of January and February, the inevitable return to warmer weather has occurred. While the weather is delightful, the temperature has begun to creep up and by month's end the mercury will regularly reach into the 80's during the days, with the high 60's to 70's the norm at night.

In SW Florida, March is definitely one of the transition months in the garden calendar.  This month marks the beginning of warmer drier weather than has prevailed for the past few months.  Higher temperatures will begin to restrict the types of flowering annuals and vegetables which can be planted  now to warm season varieties which will be able to withstand higher temperatures.  Vegetables that can be planted now include beans, black-eyed peas, cantaloupes, chayote, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, pepper, squash, tomato and watermelon and few heat tolerant cool season vegetables such as collard, mustard, and turnips for tops. Sweet potatoes can be sprouted now and will provide transplants in 4 - 6 weeks.

Winter flowering annuals have also passed their prime and will begin to decline in the face of warmer temperatures.  These should be replaced with warm season varieties to ensure color in the coming months.  Good choices for flowering annuals include ageratum, alyssum, begonia, celosia, cleome, cosmos, four o' clocks, geranium, impatiens, marigold, morning glory, salvia, torenia, verbena, vinca, and zinnia.

Bulbs which can be planted this month consist of amaryllis, blood lily, caladium, canna, crinum, dahlia, day lily, eucharis lily, gladiolus, gloriosa lily and rain lily.

In addition to planting spring flower beds and vegetables,  gardeners are well advised to take advantage of the mild weather to complete a number of gardening chores.   Fertilization of citrus, lawns, trees and shrubs should be accomplished by the early part of this month if this was not done in February.  Use a complete fertilizer at the recommended rate.  With the renewal of
active growth encouraged by warmer temperature and longer days, it is important to ensure that plants have adequate nutrition to support new growth.  Remember to side dress  flower beds and vegetable gardens every couple of weeks to maintain peak production.

March can be very windy and dry, making more frequent irrigation a necessity to keep lawns and gardens in good condition.  The combination of warmer weather and constant breezes from the south can dry out plantings quickly.  Irrigation amounts and intervals that were adequate the past few months may have to be increased this month.

This is a good time to mulch or renew mulch around plantings to prepare them for the upcoming dry period.  Mulching is an extremely important gardening practice.  In addition conserving soil moisture by preventing the loss of water from the soil by evaporation, mulching has a number of valuable benefits in the landscape.  Mulches help suppress weeds when applied thickly enough, reducing the effort needed to maintain plantings.  The organic materials used as mulches will breakdown over time improving soil structure and tilth and may add certain nutrients to the soil as they decompose.  Mulches prevent soil crusting allowing improved water infiltration and also help prevent erosion by covering exposed soil.  Soil temperatures remain cooler under mulch benefiting plants during hot weather.  Lastly, mulches add beauty to the landscape by providing a cover of uniform color and interesting texture

Mulch can be used under beds of shrubs, trees, annuals, perennials and ground covers.  In addition, to being useful around plants mulches are a good choice to provide cover to trails, walks, play areas and natural areas.  Mulch may also be used to advantage in problem areas, such as deep shade or droughty sites where plants are difficult to impossible to maintain.

Early March is still a good time to apply herbicides to control broadleaf weeds and prevent crabgrass and other annual grasses in turf.  Perennials can be easily divided and replanted now.  Papayas, started in the fall, can safely be planted out now and should be watered and fertilized regularly to ensure rapid growth and fall fruit production.

Warmer weather will increase pest pressure so be sure to inspect your plants regularly so that you can catch minor problems before they become major headaches.  Mole crickets and over wintering chinch bugs may be active at this time. Feel free to contact the Hendry County Extension Office for pest and disease control recommendations.  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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