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 2001 - The Sweet Smell of Orange Blossoms

By the time March arrives in south Florida, the pendulum of the seasons has shifted decidedly back toward warmer times.  The March air is redolent with the sweet smell of citrus blossoms and the parade of flowers that originally prompted the Spanish explorers to give the state it's name - Florida is well under way.  The waxy white blossoms of the pawpaw light fields and pastures like ghostly lanterns on foggy morning.  In wet areas, the fleeting royal purple blooms of iris are coming into full glory, while scattered here and there in disturbed areas the bright yellow faces of our state flower - the tickseed coreopsis can be seen dotting the landscape.

Nature tells time in a myriad of ways.  Both temperature and day length are important measures to plants and animals alike.  A number of our migrant feathered friends rely on temperature to judge their return to our area.  The Chuck Will's Widow, whose plaintive calls can be heard echoing through the night will not be heard before night temperatures return regularly top the mid 50's.  Many plants on the other hand use photo period or the relative length of day and night to adjust their internal clocks.

While it is no secret that the area is in the grip of a severe drought, the combination of warmer weather and constant breezes from the south will certainly aggravate dry conditions. Gardeners should be aware that plantings that exhibited no signs of stress the past few months may now find it difficult to cope the next few months.  Judicious irrigation within the restrictions now in place will be necessary to keep lawns and gardens in good condition.

The use of soaker hoses as opposed to sprinklers, irrigating in the early morning hours, and watering only those plants most in need are all techniques that will help conserve water and see your landscape through this dry time.

Mulching is an extremely important technique that will help conserve soil moisture by preventing the loss of water from the soil by evaporation.  In addition to water conservation, mulching has a number of valuable benefits in the landscape and adds beauty to the landscape by providing a cover of uniform color and interesting texture

For gardeners, March marks a transition between our cool season and warmer weather which is just around the corner.  The variety of flowering annuals and vegetables which can be planted  now is largely restricted to warm season varieties which will be able to withstand higher temperatures.

Vegetables that can be planted now include beans, black-eyed peas, cantaloupes, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, pepper, squash, tomato and watermelon and few heat tolerant cool season vegetables such as collard, mustard, and turnips for tops.

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.

Fertilization of citrus, lawns, trees and shrubs should be accomplished by the early part of this month if this was not done in February.  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.  If you are unable to irrigate, you should forego spring fertilization.

It is now safe to pruning of trees and shrubs that were damaged during the freezes experienced this winter.  Once affected plants have started to re-sprout prune back to living green tissue.  This will help ensure rapid healing and clean wound closure. Failure to prune back to live wood can leave a channel for the entry of pathogens.

Be sure to rake the falling leaves off lawns as a heavy accumulation may encourage disease and injure your sod. Leaves can be composted or used as mulch under trees and shrubs.  Early March is a good time to apply herbicides to control broadleaf weeds in turf.  Be sure to check the label and use a product appropriate to the type of turf grass that you have. Herbicides intended for St Augustine lawns can harm bahia grass and vice versa..

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.  This season dry weather is likely to increase problems with mites. 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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