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

May 1999 - The Rainy Season is Coming

Most gardeners are turning their eyes toward the heavens on a daily basis as we enter the month of May, hoping that the traces of white fluffy clouds that have started to build in the afternoons will signal the beginning of the rainy season and spell the end of the terrible drought that has held the region it is arid grip since the beginning of the year.  While forecasters are suggesting that we may get an early rainy season due to certain factors including high Gulf water temperatures.  This is by no means a certainty and we may still face another 4 - 6 weeks of hot dry weather.

The fantastic contrast experienced between last year's record rainfall and this year's record drought merely underscores the climactic reality that gardeners must learn to cope with in south Florida on a regular basis. Luckily most years are not as extreme as the past two but basically our weather oscillates between an arid near desert for 6 or more months of the year and a steamy subtropical rain forest for the balance of the time.  In fact, nearly all of the major deserts through out the world are found at the same latitude as Florida and it is only due to the moderating effect of the surrounding bodies of water, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic ocean that we do not find ourselves in a more arid setting similar to Baja California.   This diverse set of conditions makes it quite difficult for a gardener to select plants that can thrive under such extremes.

Fortunately, nature has assisted us in this regard and through the process of natural selection has over the millennia produced the native flora that defines the magnificent diversity of local ecosystems from oak hammock through pine flat woods and cypress strands.  Many of the native trees, shrubs and ground covers provide wonderful specimens that can easily incorporated into well planned landscape designs.  Natives have many advantages and can provide a hardy resilient low maintenance back drop for some of the more showy exotic ornamentals that we might want to include in the landscape.  Greater awareness of the versatility and benefits of native plants has resulted in  greater availability and a good selection of natives can be found at many local nurseries and garden shops

The jacaranda (Jacaranda acutifolia) with it's dazzling display of azure blue flowers is in full bloom this month.  Unquestionably one of our loveliest flowering trees, it's delicate blossoms appear to have been painted with the same shade of blue the Creator used to color the evening sky.  Two widely planted flowering bulbs, the amaryllis with it's bell shaped red or white blossoms and the rankly exotic looking crinum lily are currently in bloom leading the way for a succession of locally adapted flowering perennial bulbs.

Longer days and warmer soil and air temperatures combine to spell a quickening of the pace of life this month - add rainfall to this explosive mix and conditions will become right for rampant plant growth.  May is good time to plant most of those trees and shrubs that you are considering adding to the garden this year.  Warm soil temperatures will help ensure rapid root growth and establishment.  Be sure to irrigate new plantings carefully until rainfall patterns resume as May can be quite hot and dry.  Summer rains will ensure rapid establishment in the landscape.  The beginning of the rainy season is also an ideal time to seed Bahia or sod or plug St. Augustine on new lawns or bare spots in established turf.

May/June is an ideal time to fertilize a wide variety of landscape plantings.  Lawns, citrus, trees and shrubs will all benefit from a second application of fertilizer at this time.  Timely fertilization will provide your plants with the nutrition required to sustain flushes of new growth stimulated by favorable conditions.  Be aware that unless you are able to irrigate-in applied fertilizer you may do more harm than good and should wait for regular rainfall to apply your fertilizer.  If you haven't done so cool season annuals should be retired and replaced with warm season flowers to ensure color throughout the summer months.  Fertilize flowers beds lightly every 3-4 weeks for top performance.

Mole crickets and chinch bugs are becoming active in lawns.  Baits applied to turf areas on warm evenings will help prevent mole crickets from becoming a problem later in the season.  Aphids and leafminers are active on citrus.  Citrus leafminers will disfigure leaves but in most instances the damage is cosmetic and no control is necessary.  Soaps and oils will control aphids and many other pests on citrus and area good bet for the homeowner.

Warm season vegetables that can be planted in May include: black-eyed peas, calabaza, cherry tomato, dasheen, lima beans, New Zealand spinach. Okra, summer squash. Sweet potatoes, yams and yard long beans.

Flowers that can withstand summer temperatures are begonias, blue daze, celosia, coleus, four o'clocks, gaillardia, marigolds, morning glories, moon flower, New Guinea impatiens, periwinkle, portulaca, salvia, torenia, and zinnias.

Bulbs to plant in May include: achimenes, blood lilies, cannas, crinums, day lilies, gladiolus, gloriosa lilies, spider lilies and rain lilies.

Lastly, make sure that your mower has been serviced and the blades sharpened and sit back and get ready for that annual occurrence - lawn mowing season.  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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