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 1998 - Dry and Windy

While March is considered to be the beginning of spring in much of the United States, it is the end of spring locally.  While the weather is still delightful, the temperature has begun to creep up and the mercury regularly reaches into the 80's during the days, with the high 60's to 70's the norm at night.  While it is still possible to plant certain flowers and vegetables this month, the opportunity to plant a wide range of things has passed.  High temperatures will return shortly limiting plantings to heat tolerant crops.

March can be very windy and dry, making more frequent irrigation a necessity to keep lawns and gardens in good condition.  The combination of warmer weather and constant breezes from the south can dry out plantings quickly.  Irrigation amounts and intervals that were adequate the past few months may have to be increased this month.

March is a good month to mulch or renew mulch around plantings to prepare them for the upcoming dry period.  Mulching is an extremely important gardening practice.  In addition conserving soil moisture by preventing the loss of water from the soil by evaporation, mulching has a number of valuable benefits in the landscape.  Mulches help suppress weeds when applied thickly enough, reducing the effort needed to maintain plantings.  The organic materials used as mulches will breakdown over time improving soil structure and tilth and may add certain nutrients to the soil as they decompose.  Mulches prevent soil crusting allowing improved water infiltration and also help prevent erosion by covering exposed soil.  Soil temperatures remain cooler under mulch benefiting plants during hot weather.  Lastly, mulches add beauty to the landscape by providing a cover of uniform color and interesting texture

Mulch can be used under beds of shrubs, trees, annuals, perennials and ground covers.  In addition, to being useful around plants mulches are a good choice to provide cover to trails, walks, play areas and natural areas.  Mulch may also be used to advantage in problem areas, such as deep shade or droughty sites where plants are difficult to impossible to maintain.

A wide range of organic and inorganic materials can be used as mulch.  Organic mulches are more environmentally friendly and add a natural look to the garden.  Commercial  products like cypress mulch, pine bark  and others have the advantage of being readily available and convenient.  Pine needles, grass clippings, leaves and yard trash may also be employed as mulch.  Use of home grown materials recycle nutrients back into the landscape and reduce the amount of solid waste that the homeowner needs to dispose.  If appearance is a concern, yard trash may be used as a base covered with a thin layer of a commercial product.

If you had not planted out your Christmas poinsettias in February, March is still a good time to do so.  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.  Poinsettias will do best when provided with a soil enriched with organic material and kept moist and well fertilized.  Poinsettias should also be pruned back this month.  The amount to prune will depend on the size and vigor of the plant.  Prune the outer branches back six to eight inches. One to two tablespoons of complete fertilizer should be applied to each plant at this time to promote growth.  As the plants grow, they should be pinched back each time the plant has produced 6-8 inches of new growth.  The clippings from clean healthy plants can be rooted to increase your stock of plants.  Poinsettias are easy to root in coarse sand or potting soil mixed with a generous portion of coarse sand.  Be sure to obtain cuttings from disease free plants and insert them in a upright position.  Roots will appear in a few weeks.  The cutting can then be repotted or transplanted into the landscape.

Many other plants such as hibiscus, crotons, ixora, schefflera and others can be propagated by cuttings this month.  Use of a rooting compound may increase the rate of success with woody cuttings.

Only warm season vegetables, such as cantaloupe, cow peas, okra, peanuts, pole beans, pumpkins, New Zealand spinach, and watermelon and certain heat tolerant cool season crops, such as collard, mustard, and turnips for tops should be plants this month.  The range of flowers that can be planted in March is also greatly reduced.  Cosmos, cockscomb, gaillardia, marigold, petunias, portulaca, salvia, and zinnias are all good choices for March planted flower beds.   Bulbs such as amaryllis, tuberous begonia, caladium, gladioli, gloxinias, lilies, and zephryanthes may also be planted now.

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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