LATE SPRING IN A ZONE 10 GARDEN: Moving into Florida’s “Wet Season”, 2010

To everything there is a season. And now is the season of renewal-Spring. This year it is particularly welcomed because we had a REAL winter! So now you will notice your garden coming alive, and you will find yourself with a few hours of evening daylight to enjoy garden even more. You will have noticed some flushing green growth, and maybe a couple of changes in your plants that have you a bit bothered. I will reiterate the Pinder’s mantra: a plant is a living organism, responding to an ever-changing environment. And as this big blue marble rolls through the seasons and around the sun, you must pay attention to the effects the shifting daylight, wind and precipitation have on your garden. As you become better at observing the effects of these shifts you will begin to anticipate the next cycle of changes, nipping problems in the bud!

Every day at least one person tells me how they are noticing buds of new growth on their plants.  Ixora, crotons and other plants that dropped their leaves during our cold winter are starting to flush.  This new growth is incited by the rising mercury-both daytime and night time temperatures are rising.  What influence should that have on your garden activity? Well, verify by scratch test where the plant has viable tissue and what may be dead. Prune any dead branches (these will be brown below a scratched off surface, while viable tissue will be green) as well as any branches you just don’t want.  Take this opportunity to scale back size, and shape the plant to your liking. Keep in mind that you are at the beginning of the active growing season, so be assertive in your pruning-there is time to make up for mistakes of excess in cutting back. Once you prune, understand that this too will encourage new growth.

Young growth demands certain resources, and so you may start to notice some changes as a result of this demand. New growth requires proper nutrition to provide the building blocks for that growth.  If there is inadequate supplies of the necessary elements in the environment , the plant will respond by shifting nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium from older leaves to the new growth. As a result, you may notice some yellowing of older growth.  Now is a good time to feed.  Select a fertilizer formulated for the specific needs of the plant.  As you know, I am also a big fan of SUPERthrive, a supplement of vitamins and hormones that support your plants’ immune system, which, as in people, is important to maintain health in times of environmental stress.

In addition to nutritional support, new growth also increases a plant’s water needs.  Keep in mind that plants lose water through tiny holes on their leaves. More leaves means more holes which means more water lost.  This alone would result in an increase in the water needed, but I also want you to consider some of the environmental changes that occur in spring. First, there is less precipitation of all types, rain and dew gradually diminish through March and April. Dew is the result of cool nights and warm days. As night-time temperatures rise, there is less dew formed. Don’t underestimate how much help you get from dewy deposits in early spring. This decreasing dew and rainfall is compounded by the increase in water loss fueled by higher and dryer winds.  Wind across the leaves evaporates the water right off the flesh of the plant in a process known as “evapotranspiration” . So these environmental changes resulting in decreased precipitation and increased evapotranspiration , coupled with an increasing water demand of the growing plant can result in the plant reaching a point of desiccation (drying out) that seems to appear overnight! You may see a sudden leaf drop or leaf yellowing, or browning out. Another common symptom of these conditions is flower and fruit drop on citrus and other fruit trees.

The last observation I will ask you to make in your garden is for the presence of pests and disease. Many insects that feed by chewing, or piercing plants’ flesh prefer new green growth and can detect the presence of your tender young leaves unfolding and will thus be drawn to your garden. It becomes important for you to step up your scouting efforts. Scouting is the systematic assessment of plants for the presence of pests. Check the underside of leaves and crevices of nodes for signs of pests like mealy bugs, aphids or white flies. Caterpillars will be more active now as well, so be sure to have plenty of larval food available to encourage butterflies. Should you find such pests gnawing at your vegetable garden, then an application of the beneficial microbe Bacillus thurgensis  (Bt) will put a stop to that.

Diseases such as fungal or bacterial infections love the increasing humidity and decreased air movement for providing the warm moist environments they thrive in. Keep debris to a minimum and an eye out for moist brown patches or spots on plant foliage. Keep splashing at a minimum, as bouncing water drops will carry disease to healthy plants.  Being careful not to contaminate tools by cutting into infected tissue, you should remove diseased foliage, bag and dispose of it.   Also, do what you can to improve air circulation around affected plants. If these cultural measures don’t work, then we recommend Serenade, a suspension of the beneficial microbe Bacillus subtilus, as the least toxic solution.  These practices will be the basis of your garden care as you move through our Florida “Wet Season”.