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

December 1998 - Poinsettias and Christmas Cactus

December is a beautiful month.  The weather is cool and dry and most gardeners should be cashing in on bountiful harvests resulting from the efforts of previous months.  Christmas palms (Veitchia merrillii) are displaying their cherry red fruits.  Poinsettias and Christmas cactuses will bloom this month if they were handled correctly in September and October and restricted to a short day regime.  Bedding plants established earlier in the season should be in full bloom.

Rainfall in December is typically low averaging 2 inches or less, restricted to brief showers preceding cold fronts.  Since December is such dry month, regular irrigation is necessary to maintain lawn and garden in good shape.  Water periodically as needed. Do not water daily.  Daily light sprinkling which dampens the soil to an inch or less, is about the worst way of applying water to your lawn and garden.  Irrigation should thoroughly soak the soil to a depth of 6-12 inches.  This will require one half to an inch of water.  This can be measured by placing a container under the sprinklers.  The required frequency of irrigation will vary by season and location and may range between twice a week and every two to three weeks.  Learn to observe your plants.  They will let you know when they are thirsty.  Avoid watering late in the day as it can promote the development of fungal diseases.

On high maintenance lawns, a final fertilizer application of a nitrogen fertilizer at the rate of one pound of nitrogen per 1000 sg. ft may be made in December.  Such fertilizers include ammonium  nitrate (33%N) and ammonium sulfate (20%N).  Remember to divide the number of pounds of nitrogen desired by the percentage of nitrogen in a material to obtain the pounds of fertilizer required.

Temperatures in December generally range in the mid 70's to low 80's in the day and drop into the fifties and sixties at night.  Cold fronts pass through the area regularly and can send temperatures plummeting.  Frosts can occur and gardeners would be wise to take precautions to protect tender plants. Several 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 freezing than unmulched 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.

Although the cool weather slows most insects down, they are still around and compete with the gardener for flowers and vegetables.  Certain pests such as mites and thrips may become more severe in dry times.  Scout for insects twice weekly and take control measures as necessary.  Continue to take precautions against diseases as they generally cannot be cured once a plant is affected.

Continue planting cool season vegetables this month.  Beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, leeks, mustard, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, sweet corn, Swiss chard, and turnips may all be planted this month.  Tomato and pepper seedlings may be started this month for planting around the end of January.  Grow these warm season transplants inside or under protection.

Many flowers including asters, babies' breath, bachelor buttons, calendulas, candytuft, carnations, cosmos, cockscomb, daisies, dianthus, forget-me-nots, gaillardia, impatiens, lobelias, marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, periwinkles, petunias, phlox, poppies, portulacas, salvia, scabiosa, snapdragons, statice, stock, sweet peas, sweet william, and verbenas may also be planted this month.  Remember small continued plantings will help assure a long continuous harvest of flowers and vegetables.  Good luck and happy 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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