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 1999 - Spring in Full Glory

March is a great month in south Florida.  Beautiful blue skies and mild temperatures conspire to remind us of what a wonderful corner of the globe we inhabit.  Spring is in it's full glory now and had best be enjoyed as it will quickly fade and give way to warmer weather.  The golden sunshine faces of our state flower - the tickseed coreopsis - nod gently to warming sun in uncut pastures and open places.  Soft green new foliage is bursting out on cypress and the brilliant blue flag iris adorn wetter hammocks.  Along fence rows, the coral bean displays it's crimson blooms  even before it's foliage emerges.  Recently returned warblers in bright spring plumage search the branches of oaks and other trees in search of nourishment, while swallows can be seen patrolling overhead.  Listen carefully at dusk and you will hear the plaintive cry of the chuck-will's widow.

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 should  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.

In addition to planting spring flower beds and vegetables,  gardeners are well advised to take advantage of the mild weather to complete a number of gardening chores.   Fertilization of citrus, lawns, trees and shrubs should be accomplished by the early part of this month if this was not done in February.  Use a complete fertilizer at the recommended rate.  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.  Remember to sidedress  flower beds and vegetable gardens every couple of weeks to maintain peak production.

Complete pruning of trees and shrubs.  This may merely consist of the removal of dead or diseased limbs or can entail a more complete shaping or renovation of badly overgrown specimens.  Avoid hat-racking or one size fits all bowl cuts, judicious use of thinning cuts back to a main stem or trunk will result in a more natural look and a healthier plant.  Remember that pruning is no substitute for proper plant selection.  Consider the mature size and shape of a potential addition to your landscape to avoid a constant pruning battle to maintain a tree or shrub in a place where it should never have been planted in the first place.

Live oaks are actively shedding old leaves at this time and will soon produce a new spring growth flush.  This natural process often results in a sickly looking tree that may cause homeowners a few anxious days or weeks wondering if their prize oak is diseased.  Many evergreen trees including pines undergo a brief period when they shed last years foliage, while producing new growth, which often results in a unhealthy look for a week or two.  Be sure to rake the falling leaves off lawns as a heavy accumulation may encourage disease and injure your sod.  Tent caterpillars build unsightly webs and often accompany warmer spring weather,  if left unchecked can defoliate trees and shrubs.  These can be easily controlled with any of the environmentally friendly Bt sprays.  The secret to good control is to treat these pests early before they have become well established.

The warm weather and breezy conditions which normally occur in March will necessitate an increase in irrigation amount and frequency to maintain lawns and plantings in good shape.  Be sure to check and adjust automatic irrigation systems as required.  Renewal or addition of mulch around trees and shrubs and on beds will help conserve moisture.

Early March is still a good time to apply herbicides to control broadleaf weeds in turf.  Check lawns for over wintering chinch bugs and mole crickets.  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.

Check plantings weekly for pests.  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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