March is a month when gardeners or their yard men sort of go wild. With pruners in hand the hacking, whacking and what many call trimming is sure to begin. A trip through most neighborhood finds the first disaster of the season - the rocket cut palms. You know, the ones with just a frond or two left at the top. How could we ever believe what's left is good for the palm? Maybe we have forgotten the leaves manufacture food palms and all plants need for growth and to stay healthy.
Rocket cuts may be in, but they are not helping the palms which are having numerous other problems. Many pests and diseases are looking for the weak palms in the neighborhoods. Guess which ones they are going to pick first? Yes it is likely to be the ones that cannot feed themselves or are weakened by the pruning cuts. And remember the fertilizer we give plants does not really feed them. The plants use the nutrients to manufacture food with the help of sunlight absorbed by the leaves.
A good way to prune palms is by visualizing a clock. You want the fronds to fill the space from 9 to 3. Actually the more healthy leaves you allow the better. And University of Florida Researchers find leaving some yellowing fronds may help too. The palm can move nutrients from the old leaves to the new ones higher up. It is best to only remove the brown leaves and that's it. No more rocket cuts please.
Many shrubs are suffering from bad pruning decisions too. Often they are cut back to the same shape and height year after year. It is sort creates a lollipop and gumdrop look. Professionals call this 'table topping' when it comes to hedges. The pruning forms a surface of twiggy growths. The plant does not get an opportunity to keep new productive leaves and old twiggy portions decline allowing fungal organisms to enter. Gradually over years the plants decline.
When pruning shrubs try this instead. Allow some new growth each year. If you must shear the planting do not remove all the new growth. Leaves a few inches after each pruning. And yes, after time you must do some renewal pruning to cut the shrubs way back but they can handle this because after years of good pruning they are healthy.
Another way to prune shrubs is to selectively remove limb or branch portions. Use hand pruners to cut back to buds, branch angles or trunks. Some stems might even be cut back to the ground. By selectively removing shrub or tree portions you can reduce height and width without affecting their natural look that much.
- Most lawns show little winter damage, have stared to grow and are ready for spring care.
- Rake out the brown blades as needed or wait until spring growth regreens the lawn.
- St. Augustine, bahia and bermuda lawns are ready for spring feedings.
- Delay feedings of centipede and zoysia lawns until April when they begin growth.
- Weed and feeds can be substituted for normal feedings; apply when the grass is growing.
- Weed control only products for your lawn type can be used if only fertilizer was applied.
- Crabgrass has started growth; use of a preemergence for control may be of little value.
- Hurry to remove patches of brown weeds or surviving crabgrass and resod these areas.
- Have persistent weeds identified to determine the best control.
- Mow lawns at their normal height; there is no need to change blade height for spring.
- Due to the warm winter, chinch bugs may get an early start; apply an insecticide as needed.
- Fire ants are active; use an insecticide to treat the entire lawn following label instructions.
- It's seeding time for bahia and centipede lawns.
- New watering rules begin March 13 with the arrival of daylight-saving time in most areas.
In the landscape
- A mild winter means plants are starting growth early; begin your spring gardening soon.
- Complete needed pruning: trim or remove unwanted limbs before growth begins.
- Trim declining fronds and old flower stems from palms but leave the green.
- Do wait to prune spring flowering shrubs until the blossoms fade.
- Prune camellias and azaleas as soon as flowering is over.
- Give climbing roses a light trimming to remove out of bounds portions after spring bloom.
- Prepare flower beds for new plantings; add lots of organic matter to sandy soils.
- Both warm and cool season flowers can be planted but it is too late for pansies.
- Check the bulb displays; many are Florida favorites that make great landscape additions.
- Add trees, palms, shrubs and vines to the landscape.
- Water new plantings frequently until they grow roots into the surrounding soils.
- A warm winter has kept the weeds growing; control now before they become too plentiful.
- Renew mulch layers and consider use of a preemergence herbicide to prevent weeds.
- Trim poinsettias to within 12- to 18-inches of the soil and begin feedings.
- Apply a spring slow release fertilizer feeding to palms, shrubs and perennials.
- Established shade and flowering trees normally do not need special feedings.
- Warm winter weather kept the insects active; check regularly for pests.
- Divide and replant perennials.
- Trim and divide ornamental grasses before they begin spring growth.
- Divide outdoor orchids and begin every other week feedings with a fertilizer solution
- Feed container gardens with a slow release fertilizer following label instructions.
Vegetable and fruit care
- Gardeners who don't mind a little risk plant tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, March 1.
- Still, winter is not over until mid months so keep covers handy for cold protection.
- The mild winter let some warm season crop survive; these may grow your next spring crops.
- Devote most of your garden to new warm season crops.
- Rework old gardens by tilling in lots of organic matter with sandy soils.
- Beat nematodes by removing some of the soil in infested sites and add fresh potting soil.
- Plant short rows of seeded crops every few weeks to extend the harvest season.
- Use bush forming crops instead of vining types in crowded gardens.
- Herbs flourish during the warmish weather; almost all do well now.
- Spring is a good time to add fruiting trees and shrubs; make sure they are local varieties.
- Have your soil tested for blueberry plantings; they need a very acid soil.
- Complete all deciduous fruit tree pruning and learn how to thin the peach crop.
- Learn the type of grapes you are growing to obtain proper pruning and care information.
- Pineapples start flowering this month; maintain a good care program.
- Feed all fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines at this time.
- Citrus needs special care: provide a spring feeding and a minor nutrient spray to new growth.
- Control Asian psyllids; apply an insecticide labeled for citrus at each flush of growth.
- Add a mulch to all but citrus plantings.
- Fertilize vegetables lightly every 2 to 3 weeks or use a slow release fertilizer.
- Train vining vegetables to a trellis to save space.
- Sprout sweet potatoes to produce transplants.
Foliage & indoor plants chores:
- Some outdoor foliage plants may have been affected by cold; trim and increase care.
- When the weather warms begin reviving foliage plants by moving them outside.
- Gift plants of orchids and bromeliads would love a spot outdoors under a tree.
- Trim Christmas and holiday cactus then begin more frequent waterings and feedings.
- Repot plants filling their containers with roots.
- Consider a systemic insecticide labeled for soil application to treat severe pest problems.
March 2020 Plantings:
Flowers: African daisy, ageratum, alyssum, bacopa, balsam, begonia, black-eyed Susan, blue daze, bush-daisy, celosia, cleome, coreopsis, cosmos, dahlia, dahlberg daisy, diascia, dusty miller, four o'clock, gaillardia, geranium, goldenrod, impatiens, Joseph's coat, licorice plant, marigold, melampodium, million bells, moon vine, morning glory, nierembergia, salvia, strawflower, torenia, verbena, vinca and zinnia.
Vegetables: Bean, calabaza, cantaloupe, cassava, chayote, corn, cucumbers, dasheen, eggplant, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, luffa, malanga, New Zealand spinach, okra, pepper, pumpkin, southern peas, squash, tamarillo, tomato, and watermelon.
Herbs: Anise, basil, bay laurel, borage, cardamon, chervil, chives, coriander, costmary, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon balm, sweet marjoram, Mexican tarragon, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme and watercress.
Bulbs: Achimenes, African iris, African-lily, amaryllis, blood lily, bulbine, caladium, canna, crinum, crocosmia, dahlia, daylily, eucharis lily, gingers, gladiolus, gloriosa lily, Louisiana iris, rain lily, tuberose and walking iris.