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

April 1998 - Will April Flowers Bring May Showers?

The warming trend that began in March will intensify in April.  While northern gardeners look to April showers to bring May flowers and busily prepare themselves to put in a variety of annual vegetable and flowers, newcomers would be wise to dispel any notion of abandoned planting this month.  As the month progresses, temperatures will advance steadily toward the ninety degree mark, where they will spend the next five or six months.  The seasoned local gardener will scrutinize his or her domain for any previously neglected chores that might best be tackled before the really oppressive heat of summer sets in and prevents all but the most intrepid from attempting any massive outside projects.

April is a good month to check out your mower and other gas powered lawn equipment and prepare them for the long season ahead.  Change oil and filters, sharpen blades, and get them ready to roll.  Your lawn will really start to respond to the longer days, warmer temperatures, and any fertilizer that you may have applied earlier this year.  These factors combined with the much higher than average winter rainfall and good soil moisture levels, promise to make 1998 a banner lawn cutting year!

While April is normally a dry month, who knows what this April will bring?  El Nino has bought record rainfalls throughout our traditionally dry winter season.  This phenomenon has underscored one of the realities of south Florida gardening - too much or too little water and rarely ever just enough.  Successful gardening in our area requires good water control.   In natural plant communities, small changes in elevation of a few inches or feet will greatly influence plant communities and entire ecosystems.  The same is true in your landscape.  Changes in elevation of just a few inches may mean the difference between a wet spot and a droughty site.  The extraordinary rainfall has provided a good opportunity to study drainage patterns and identify potentially wet spots in our yards.  This knowledge can be put to practical use in planning and siting future plantings in the landscape.

The use of raised beds for flowers and vegetables and mounds for planting trees and shrubs are an important water management technique that can make a big difference to plant growth and survival in a wet season like we have been experiencing this year.  Beware that tender plants, which have grown used to the wet cloudy conditions, may wilt if they suddenly experience hot dry weather and bright sunshine.  This is the result of heat stress and the plant roots' inability to provide adequate water to the stem and leaves. It may seem like they need water, but this is actually the last thing that they need.   The plants will wilt but will revive in the evening and will pick up in a few days.

April is a good month to spend a little time in planning the landscape.  Take time to think about that fruit or shade tree(s) or shrubs that you've been considering buying.  How big will it grow?  What type of soil does it prefer?  Does it like a well drained site or plenty of moisture?   How will it look in relationship to existing plants?  Sketch out your existing landscape plan and experiment on paper with the placement of new trees or bushes to see how they will fit in.  A little time spent planning and dreaming now will pay off in a functional, pleasing landscape.  Make plans now and carry them out in the summer when rains will help ensure success.

April is a good time to finish cleanup chores around the garden.  Build a compost pile to recycle twigs, branches and other garden trash.  Cool season flowers and vegetables that have ceased production should be removed and composted to avoid providing a haven for insects and diseases.  Renew beds for planting warm season flowers and vegetables.  Replenish mulch around trees and shrubs if you haven't done so already.  April is a good month to propagate cuttings and air layers from prized plants that you might wish to increase.  Bananas can be propagated from suckers (off shoots) easily now.  Perennial bulbs and flowers can be divided this month with good results.  Be ready to irrigate if the rains should stop, as 10 -14 days without rain can result in your plants suffering from moisture stress.

Warm season vegetables that can be planted this month include: calabaza pumpkin, cantaloupe, cassava, cherry tomato, collards, cow peas, eggplant, lima bean, malanga, New Zealand spinach, okra, pepper, roselle, snap beans, squash, sweet potato, and yard-long beans.

Flowers that do well in hot weather include: ageratum, balsam, begonia, blue daze, celosia, cockscomb, coleus, cosmos, gaillardia, marigold, morning glory, pentas, portulaca, salvia, and zinnia.

Bulbs to plant in April are Asiatic lilies, achimenes, agapanthus, amaryllis, begonias, blood lily, caladium, canna, crinum, dahlia, gladioli, gloriosa lily, and rain lily

Roses will require weekly treatments with fungicide to control black spot. In general, insect and disease pressure will increase with the return of warmer weather so be sure to monitor your plantings on a weekly basis and practice an integrated pest management program. 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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