What to do this week –
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening“
October brings us an important time of the year with specific tasks we must perform to keep our landscapes healthy. Fertilization of our lawns and ornamental plants need to be completed now to give them the nutrients they need to grow and protect them through the fall and winter months. You also need to begin making your final selections of plants to grow in your garden. I have a few suggestions for you to consider. Let’s get started.
Let me start out by saying how happy I am that the fertilizer restrictions we have been adhering to since June 1st has ended. Those of you, whom have been waiting to fertilize your lawns and non-fruiting ornamental plants, can finally apply the nutrients your plants have been desperately seeking. The addition of nitrogen and potassium is so important to plant health and growth that I encourage everyone to please start feeding your lawns and plants now.
The blackout period of fertilization runs from June 1st through September 30th each year. During this time frame, no fertilizer may be purchased or applied by homeowners or professional applicators. Although these restrictions are meant to improve the water quality of our lakes and rivers, failure to apply necessary nutrients regularly, can cause our landscapes serious damage. I have seen many landscape trees, plants, and lawns showing severe nutritional deficiencies from the lack of proper fertilization. Let me give you a few tips to ensure you purchase and apply the right products for your landscape.
Whether you are purchasing fertilizer for your lawns or ornamental plants, there is one thing you must make sure you are getting in the bag you purchase. Minor-elements are almost as important as the major elements we apply to our landscapes. The list of minor-elements, which should be included in the fertilizer you purchase, are Manganese, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Sulfur, Zinc, and Boron. Even though these elements represent only a small proportion of the total makeup of the fertilizer, micro-nutrients are essential to proper plant growth. Fertilizers containing these elements will cost more than those without them. Although you will have to pay more for fertilizers containing these elements, the results in proper nutrition for your lawn and landscape plants, will pay you dividends in the long run.
Because you will have to fertilize both your lawn and your plants, you will need to purchase separate products for each application. Those of you, looking for a lawn fertilizer should try to find products with a 14-0-10 analysis. Your ornamental plants and especially those plants that bloom will require an 8-10-10 fertilizer. If the retail store you visit does not have the exact numbers on the bags of fertilizer I have mentioned here, try to get as close to the numbers I have provided. Please make sure that whichever product you end up with from the garden center, contains the micro- elements I listed above. Read the label for application instructions to ensure sure you provide the proper amount of fertilizer on both your lawns and plants.
A quick rule of thumb for applying fertilizer is to make sure you know how big your lawn is. For every one thousand square feet of lawn, you will have to apply a minimum of seven pounds of fertilizer. So if you have a five thousand square foot lawn, then you will need to purchase at least a forty- pound bag of fertilizer. When feeding your ornamental plant beds just “square off” the area and multiply the length by the width. Add up all the beds around the home and apply three pounds of fertilizer for each one hundred square feet. An average-sized home with minimum planting beds will have about eight-hundred square feet of bed space. In this example, you will need to purchase at least twenty-five pounds of fertilizer. Now we need to move into the garden.
Most of your gardens should be planted now. However, there are a couple of plants you should be thinking about growing. Strawberries are a treat for every gardener, and since Florida is the winter strawberry capital of the world, you should definitely try a few in your garden. The varieties I like to grow include Sweet Charlie and Festival. When you go to the garden center to purchase your strawberry starts, you will find that they sell them either bare-root or by plugs. Plugs are much easier to work with, and they establish themselves a lot quicker. Bare-root plants require much more water and misting to keep the plants from drying out.
One strawberry plant can produce up to two pints of fresh berries for the table, but you need to know how to plant them in order to produce a good harvest. If you are planting them in the ground, then you should grow your berries on raised mounds. Commercial growers plant their strawberries on elevated beds that are about nine inches in height, twelve inches wide, and twelve inches between plants. This is the recommended way for homeowners to plant them too. Berries should be planted near the edge of the mound and on both sides. Raised mounds allow for proper drainage and easy handling of the ripening fruit. Ten to fifteen plants should be adequate for most gardens.
When setting your plants on the mounds, make sure you do not cover the crown of the plant. The crown of the plant is just above the roots so be careful when planting them. When properly placed on the mound, you will increase your production. If you do not have a raised bed, you can use specially designed strawberry pots that have several planting holes molded into the sides of the pot. Fertilize your plants regularly and make sure they are kept moist, but not wet. With proper care, you will be enjoying fresh strawberries daily.
Another group of plants you may consider planting are onions. Onions are available now and are sold as sets, multipliers, and transplants. The one I would like to talk to you about today is my favorite, the Vandalia Onions. Some garden centers offer these as transplants you can sow directly into the garden. Transplants are sold individually or in a bunch. Shell’s Feed and Garden Center on Nebraska Ave, in Tampa, carry these right now. These transplants look like tiny bulbs, and some will have green stalks already growing on them. Planting them in the garden is easy.
All you need to do is to build a slightly raised bed on the side of your existing garden. Each transplant should be placed approximately four to six inches apart, which will allow the bulb to mature. Two rows about eighteen inches apart and five feet long will give you all the onions you can use for the season with enough to share with friends and neighbors. Onions like to be fertilized monthly with a sulfur coated fertilizer having an analysis of 8-10-10. Additional spraying of a liquid fertilizer such as Peters or Miracle Grow mixed at one-half strength every two weeks will also help develop large bulbs. Onions will take about four months to mature.
You will know when the plants are ready for harvest when the tops fall over. At this point, you can gently dig them up and store them in a cool dry place for at least a week before you remove the tops. Cut the top foliage close to the bulb and store in a burlap sack if possible. Do not let onions set at room temperature for extended periods of time or they will begin to sprout. Enjoy your onions and try different cultivars each year as you may find something different which you really like.
Please do not forget to fertilize your lawn and plants with the specific nutrient analysis I have pointed out above. We only have a short window of time to replenish these nutrients before the black-out period resumes. Continue to monitor your landscape for insects and diseases and treat where necessary. Try out your luck growing strawberries and onions, they are both easy to grow and can add color and texture to the garden. Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here.