Spring garden primer – Ocala
One note: The area isn’t past its final cold snap. The average last killing freeze is March 10, after which it’s considered safe to plant.
Another note: The University of Florida Extension Soil Testing Lab is offering free soil testing at its third annual and newly renamed Lawn and Garden Fest on March 29. It’s a good way to know with certainty what your yard needs. More on that later.
Depending on the micro climate in a particular yard, the growth of the lawn slowed down or stopped altogether for the winter. As the days get longer and the temperatures increase, the lawn will start to grow. It may seem obvious, but a good first step is to check that your mower is in good condition. Blades should be sharpened at least once a year to ensure a clean cut.
TIP: Mowing heights for different types of grass: St. Augustine — 3¼ to 4 inches; Bahia — 3 to 4 inches; Zoysia — 2 to 2½ inches
TIP: In general, depending on the amount of shade and soil type, irrigate once a week during the spring and once or twice a week during the summer. The amount of water needed does not vary: ½ to ¾ inch of water.
TIP: If you maintain your own lawn, fertilization should take place after April 1, when the likelihood of a late frost has passed and new growth has started. During the winter, warm-season grasses lose a portion of their root system, reducing their ability to take up fertilizer. Fertilizing too early increases the risk of leaching nutrients into the groundwater supply and causing water pollution.
TIP: Read directions carefully, and look for the correct ratio of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium for your grass.
One of the first things the nurse does during a doctor’s visit is take a person’s blood pressure. It gives an index of what else is going on in the body.
That’s what a soil test does for a yard.
“Anyone who wants to manage a yard has to have information about the soil,” said Rao Mylavarapu, director of the IFAS Extension Soil Testing Laboratory and a professor in soil and water science at UF.
The primary test is to find out the soil’s pH, which shows how acidic or alkaline the soil is. The availability of nutrients is directly dependent on the soil’s pH.
Azaleas like an acid soil — a low pH. St. Augustine grass likes a neutral soil.
“If you know your pH, and you know what kind of plants you want to grow, your job is to manage the pH so the plants are in their comfort zone,” Mylavarapu said.
UF Lawn and Garden Fest
Bring about 1 pint of soil from the top 6 inches of ground in your yard to the UF Extension Soil Testing Laboratory (intersection of Hull Road and Mowry Road) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 29 for a free soil test. (One sample per person.)
UF experts will be on hand to talk about edible landscaping, citrus diseases, plant nutrition, turf grass varieties, common garden pests, soil fertility and fertilizers, organic and traditional vegetable production, the Master Gardeners program and Florida-Friendly Landscaping with its sustainable approaches to lawn and garden care.
Refreshments will be served, and drawings for prizes will be held throughout the event.
Walk through your yard and look for problem areas, like crabgrass. Once you know what the problem is, use the least toxic method to address it, like hand-pulling weeds instead of using a herbicide.
If you think you have a pest problem, you may need to hire a pest-control company, as some of the products available to homeowners are insufficient.
Experts at the Lawn and Garden Fest will be on hand to diagnose diseases in live plants and identify live or dead insect specimens.
For the procrastinators, if you haven’t yet pruned your crepe myrtles or roses, you can still do it now. It’s also safe to prune most evergreen shrubs — if they’re not pushing. Otherwise, prune freeze-damaged plants after new growth appears.
Only prune azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas after flowering but before the buds set for next year. Shrubs that are getting ready to bloom will flower on old wood, so if you prune, you’re cutting it off.
Cut back ornamental grasses and liriope, if needed. If they’ve received a lot of cold damage, now is a good time to dig and divide ornamental grasses, especially in borders or in areas where you don’t want them to grow. (Give them to neighbors.)
What to plant
The average last killing freeze is March 10, so it is considered safe to plant after this date.
Plant warm-season vegetables and herbs, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, squash, basil and dill.
Plant warm-season flowers, including red tubular nectar flowers for the butterflies and pollinators. It’s also a good time to clean and fill hummingbird feeders and place in the garden.
UF/IFAS has information on all of these subjects for gardeners at www.solutionsforyourlife.com and fyn.ifas.ufl.edu.
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