Even though we had a freeze last night (March 26th), I declare that SPRING HAS SPRUNG! Being a practicing horticulturist, I would like to offer a few tips for your landscape....including some things that you might not know:
- FERTILIZATION – Now is a real good time to fertilize most of your plant materials, including lawn, shrubs, groundcovers and trees. Don’t worry about having to deep-root fertilize your trees. A good program of topical applications of nitrogen-bearing fertilizer does just as good a job of fertilizing your trees as the deep root feeding method; which incidentally is much more expensive. Research has shown that nitrogen is the main element needed for healthy, sustained growth, so just purchase a product that is high in nitrogen, such as a 25-5-5 analysis; or something similar. The first number in the analysis is the percentage of nitrogen in the bag; the second the percentage of phosphorus and the third is the percentage of potash. Follow the label recommendations, as several light applications are better than one heavy one. Let me give you an example----a 50 pound bag that is 25 percent nitrogen, contains 12.5 pounds of this element, and a good application rate would be 1.5 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn/beds. A typical home landscape is approximately 4,000 square feet, so a 50 pound bag would provide approximately two complete applications. The best spreader is a cyclone (rotary) unit, not a drop spreader that tends to produce skips in the application pattern. If possible, apply half your fertilizer in one direction, and the other half at a 90 degree angle to the first. This ensures against those dreaded skips that really show up later!
- WATERING – I know that many of you are under some stage of watering restrictions, so PLAN your watering schedule. Planning involves watering as deeply as possible when your municipality allows. The secret to watering is to water as deeply as possible, as seldom as possible. This encourages a deep root system, which in turn produces plants that require less water. I have large trees in my home landscape and during the summer heat, they each may be pulling as much as 500-600 gallons of water out of the soil each day, so the grass and beds under my trees require supplemental hand watering. Most cities will allow unlimited hand watering. So remember, your plan should include figuring out which plants require more water, and those that require less.
- PRUNING – If you are going to give your Liriope (monkey grass) a haircut, or trim your Asian Jasmine or other groundcovers, don’t wait too much longer. DON’T prune spring-flowering shrubs, such as Azaleas---wait until after the bloom period is finished. Remember, don’t perform “Crape Murder” by cutting your Crape myrtles back hard. All this does is destroy their natural form, and force the plant to work hard to reestablish vegetative growth, rather than using it’s energy to produce the flowers. Just remove old seed pods and maybe thin the canopy lightly to improve air circulation (which helps reduce the incidence of the fungal disease, powdery mildew). A good rule of thumb to follow when pruning Crape myrtles, is to never remove a stem/branch larger than the diameter of a pencil.
- WEED CONTROL – Right now, the primary weed that you are probably battling, is the broadleaf variety. The broadleaf is one of the easiest to eradicate, as there are a number of good products on the market. I advise you to use a pump-up type sprayer, rather than a hose-end unit, as it does a poor job of metering the herbicide that you are applying. Most of the broadleaf weeds have a waxy leaf covering, so it is important to use a spreader-sticker to get the chemical to adhere to the leaf. a capful of dishwashing soap, per gallon of mixture, will do the job. Follow the label recommendations, as more is not better! Make sure to apply your herbicide when there is little or no wind....you don’t want to kill your neighbor’s plants!
- ANNUAL COLOR – I love this time of year, when we have such a large selection of flowers to plant – Petunias, Impatiens, Geraniums, and many other species. Remember, the best way to ensure success for your annuals, is to properly prepare the soil by incorporating enough organic matter to produce a light, well-drained medium. Don’t over-water and use a good water-soluble fertilizer every 3-4 weeks. Some plants, such as the tropical Hibiscus are heavy feeders and require more frequent fertilization.
- PLANTING – The ideal time to plant most trees and shrubs is from October through February, but it’s not too late! As with the flowers, do a good job of preparing the soil, and mulch the root ball of your new plants (to conserve water, retard weeds and reduce soil temperatures during the summer). I prefer the fine-shredded hardwood mulch.
Enjoy your landscape! Remember, all those plants are good for us – they take all the carbon dioxide we generate and convert it into the oxygen we breathe!