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

February 1998 - A Month To Savor

February is a month to savor.  The skies are generally clear and bright blue with fluffy white clouds.  The sun is comfortably warm and the nights are cool and delightful.  It is no wonder that February is the height of the tourist season in our area.  This month should be enjoyed, since much warmer weather is just around the corner.

By the end of February, warmer weather will have returned to southwest Florida.  Although the changes are gradual, they are noticed by plants and birds alike.  Sometime in February, we will begin to see the return of migrating birds on their way back north.  This is most dramatically evidenced by the return of the robins in their multitudes.  One day you look around and there are suddenly robins everywhere, flying from one stand of Brazilian pepper to another.  Plants too, will have noticed the changing season, warm season crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes and watermelons which were growing rather slowly at the beginning of February, will take off by the end of the month.

February is a good month for spring clean up in the garden.  It is still cool enough to tackle some strenuous work without the risk of heat prostration.  Leaves and trash which has accumulated under shrubs and in out of the way areas should be raked up and added to the compost heap.  By the middle to end of February, the danger of frost should be largely past.  Any plantings that have been damaged by cold weather, should be pruned back to live green wood.  Major pruning should be done early in the month before vigorous growth resumes. Be sure to treat all pruning cuts with a fungicide to prevent the entrance of diseases into wounded tissues.  Refresh mulched beds with new mulch to prepare for hotter dryer weather ahead.  February is good time to divide perennials.  Flower beds should be renewed and made ready for spring flowers. This will give the plants a chance to get established before the really hot dry weather comes on.  February is also the last month for planting a wide range of vegetables, so if you've been thinking about a garden or a spring crop; now is the time to stop thinking and get moving.

If you haven't gotten around to fertilizing your trees and bushes in January, February is the time to provide the nutrition necessary for the resumption of growth that will accompany warmer weather.  Citrus should also be fertilized this month to prepare the trees for flowering and fruit set. It is best to have your soil tested to determine the best fertilizer recommendation for your particular location.  This can be arranged by contacting the Hendry County Extension Office.  In the absence of a soil test, one half to one pound of a complete fertilizer, such as 6-6-6 per inch of trunk diameter should be applied to trees.  Measure the diameter of the trunk at 4 - 5 feet above the ground to calculate the approximate amount of fertilizer to use.  For citrus, one pound of fertilizer per year of age of the tree up to eight pounds per application is recommended.  Since citrus often suffers from micro nutrient deficiencies, a "citrus" fertilizer should be used.  This is a complete fertilizer such as 6-6-6 which has been fortified with micro nutrients.  Citrus fertilizer can also be used for most broadleaf trees and bushes.  Palms require a somewhat different fertilizer mixture.  Special "palm tree" formulations are available for use on palm trees.  Fertilizer should be applied evenly under the tree or bush between the trunk and the outer extent of the canopy for best results.  This fertilization should be the first of three applications for the year.  Subsequent applications should be made in May-June and October-November.

Lawns should also receive their first application of complete fertilizer for the year in February.  For average conditions, an application of complete fertilizer equivalent to one pound of nitrogen per 1000 sg. ft. is recommended, for example approximately six pounds of 16-4-8 per 1000 sq. ft.  The recommended lawn fertilizer program consists of a second application of complete fertilizer in September-October and two to three applications of nitrogen spaced throughout the year depending on the type of grass and level of maintenance.  Remember that February is a dry month, adequate irrigation will be necessary to keep the lawn and garden in top form.

February is the optimal time to plant caladiums for spring color.  Caladiums will do best under shaded conditions under trees.  Mix compost or rotted manure into the planting holes to get maximum development from your caladiums.  A monthly fertilization of one tablespoon of complete fertilizer will help maintain good growth and color.  Caladiums prefer moist condition and will respond well to mulching and frequent irrigation.  Christmas poinsettias which have faded can be planted outdoors in February.  Be sure to select a protected location where the plants will not receive any artificial light at night or they will fail to bloom next season.  Like caladiums, poinsettias will do best when provided with a soil enriched with organic material and kept moist and well fertilized.

February is the last big planting month for vegetables and flowering annuals in our area.  Be sure to use transplants as seeded plants will be hampered by hot weather before reaching maturity.  February is a good time for planting watermelons.  Other vegetables that can be planted this month include beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, collards, cucumbers, eggplants, leaf lettuce, mustard, peppers, squash, Swiss chard, and tomatoes.  Flowering annuals that can be planted this month include baby's breath, bachelor buttons, balsam, calendulas, carnations, cosmos, cockscomb, daisies, forget-me-nots, gaillardia, hollyhocks, impatiens, lobelias,  marigolds, morning glories, nasturtiums, pansies, periwinkles, petunias, phlox, pinks, poppies, portulacas, salvia, statice, stocks, strawflower, sweet peas, sweet William, and verbena.  Bulbs to plant this month include amaryllis, blood lily, caladiums, crinum daylilies gladiolus, iris, and zephryanthes.

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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