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What to do this week –
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening“
With so many things going on in the garden this month, I feel compelled to go over three specific items you need to be working on in the garden. These items are – checking on and maintaining your seedling vegetables, feeding your lawns and ornamental plants, and pruning back your roses and crepe myrtles. I know this will take a little time, but if your follow my easy instructions, I will help you to have a great garden and landscape this year. Let’s get started.
All of my vegetables have sprouted and are growing great. Most of my tomatoes are about four inches tall, and my peppers are already putting on their third set of leaves. My pole beans, cantaloupes, and squash are starting to run out of their containers. If the plants you have started in your garden are looking anything like my plants, then there are a few things you will need to do to ensure their continued growth. Thinning out your plants now when they are small, will give you healthier transplants for your garden.
Most of us grow many more plants than we would normally use in the garden. Sometimes, even when we are careful, several seeds will drop into each planting cell. Having more than one seed germinate is common, especially when planting extremely small seeds like some herbs and onions, but this happens even when larger seeds are used. Don’t panic, thin the crop. Remove all underdeveloped sprouts and favor the tallest and healthiest. Try not to disturb the soil as you thin out your seedlings. Watering afterwards will help alleviate any stress on the seedlings left and help to level the soil after thinning. Hint: Do not discard the thinned plants. Keep them growing in other containers to use elsewhere in the garden or to exchange with friends for different plants.
Do not forget to monitor the size of the container as it relates to the root system of your starter plants. I normally start my plants in small containers and then transplant them into larger containers as their root systems expand. Do not over pot your seedlings. I usually start my plants in one-inch containers, then four-inch containers, and eventually finishing them off in one-gallon containers. The time it takes for each transplant size relates to the type of plant you are growing, but most of the vegetables I grow take three weeks in their starter pot, two weeks in their step up pot and two to three weeks in their final one gallon pot. The larger the plant is and the fuller the root system is at planting time, then the faster your vegetables will set fruit in the garden. Fertilization is the key here!
Spray your young transplants every ten to twelve days with a liquid fertilizer like Peters or Miracle Grow mixed at one-half strength. Spray the entire plant and let the leaves soak up the fertilizer. You will be amazed at the difference these routine sprayings will have on the size and production of your new garden. Regular granular fertilizers should always be used in the garden but these types of fertilizers are slow-released, liquid fertilizers jump-start your seedlings giving you a bigger and healthier plant. Continue this spraying even after you have planted your vegetables in the garden. If you have any left-over spray mix, then you should spray any flowering plants you have in the garden and watch your plants respond. I will give you more information on maintaining your vegetable garden in my next article.
The lawns and ornamental plants you have around your home are starting to come out of their dormancy. During the winter months, lawns and plants slow down or appear to stop all growth. However, the roots of your plants will continue to take up nutrients and store these elements until the plants can utilize them in the spring. Winter fertilizers contain high amounts of potassium (the last number on a bag of fertilizer) to help the roots grow and fight off diseases. Spring fertilizers contain higher amounts of nitrogen (the first number on a bag of fertilizer) to promote leaf growth. Lawns need to be fertilized at the beginning of March with a fifty percent slow released fertilizer and an analysis of 14-0-10. In order to determine how much fertilizer your lawn needs will involve a little math.
Most southern lawns require four to six pounds of nitrogen per year. In order to figure out how much fertilizer your lawn requires, you will need to know the square footage of your lawn and the analysis of the product you will be using. If you are using a 14-0-10 fertilizer, then you will need to take the first number, which represents nitrogen, and divide that number into one hundred. One hundred divided by fourteen equal 7.14. This means that you will need to apply 7.14 pounds of this fertilizer for every one thousand square feet. This rate will give you one pound of nitrogen per one thousand square feet. If you have a lawn that is four-thousand square feet, then you will need to apply twenty-eight and a half pounds. However, you need to do this four to six times per year to get the recommended amount of fertilizer stated above.
Lawn fertilizers should be applied with a cyclone spreader. Walk in straight lines as you fertilize and try to overlap the previous pass by fifty percent. By overlapping each pass, you will be able to eliminate streaking of the lawn. Sweep excess product off all walkways to keep fertilizers from running off the targeted areas. If you live on a canal or near a water source, then keep at least ten feet away from the water source to stop the runoff of the fertilizer into our water. Ornamental plants and shrubs require a different fertilizer.
Flowering or fruiting plants require fertilizers that contain phosphorous, the middle number on a bag of fertilizer. For these types of plants I recommend an 8-10-10 fertilizer. Apply one-half pound of fertilizer around the drip-line of these plants for each one-inch of trunk diameter. A four inch fruiting tree will require two pounds of fertilizer. For all other non-fruiting or non-flowering shrubs, you can purchase an 8-0-10 fertilizer. Apply three to four pounds of this fertilizer for every one hundred square feet of bed space. Do not apply fertilizers around the stems of your plants as the feeder roots that need the nutrients extend beyond the drip line. Water all areas after applying fertilizers. This is also the time to start pruning our plants.
Roses need pruning to develop quality stems and reduce disease. Any discolored or dead stems should be removed. All remaining one-year old wood should be pruned by one third just above a dormant bud. Lateral branches should be cut back to six or seven inches with only two or three per branch. Remember, cutting too much from your plant will make your plant thin and weak. Some people like to cut back some stems hard and others lightly to encourage a longer bloom time. This is up to you. Always remove suckers which originate below the graft or on the roots. Bush roses can be cut back by at least one-third and thinned out to reduce disease. Spray all parts of the plant with a fungicide after pruning.
Crepe Myrtles should be pruned, not butchered. Remove all branches smaller than the thickness of your thumb. Limit your trees to just three or four main stems. Any new branches forming at the base of the plant should be removed. All pruning cuts should be made with sharp pruning shears, and your cuts should be made to eliminate any inward pointing, dead, or diseased growth. Next, you need to remove any stems, which rub against each other or look weak. Always prune into wood that looks healthy. Lightly fertilize after pruning.
Continue to monitor your seedling vegetables. Thin out crowded pots to allow for strong growth. Spray your seedlings with fertilizer to keep them vigorously growing. Lawns and ornamental plants need nitrogen fertilizer now to help them grow. Pay close attention to the amounts you need to apply. Prune your roses and crepe myrtles to encourage new growth. Have fun in the garden and remember, without plants, we would not be here!