any discussion of trees that flower during spring in west-central Florida must include the jacaranda, Jacaranda mimosifolia. This is the tree many people simply describe as "that purple tree," which so dramatically colors the spring landscape.
This native of Brazil and Argentina can grow to 45 feet. Its fernlike leaves drop during the winter, and usually the trees are leafless while they bloom, typically in April. The tree may flower in summer but not as profusely as in spring.
If you're thinking of adding one to your landscape, be aware that jacarandas tend to be very brittle and may break in hurricane winds.
Another common flowering tree here is the weeping bottlebrush, Callistemon viminalis. It produces bright red flowers that look like — well, brushes used to clean bottles. The leaves are narrow and like willows. Its relatively small mature height of only 25 feet has been partly responsible for its popularity in landscapes.
The Sweet Acacia, Acacia farnesiana, has fernlike foliage and small, yellow puffball blooms that are very fragrant. It is about 25 feet tall at maturity and is very drought-tolerant.
For the gardener who misses some of the spring-flowering trees and shrubs of northern areas, the Chickasaw plum, Prunus angustifolia, is worth considering. It produces a great profusion of tiny white flowers in late winter to early spring. It typically reaches a height of no more than 15 feet so it's a good choice for small yards. However, it creates suckers vigorously, forming shrubby colonies. It bears small, acidic plums that can be used to make jelly. Flatwoods plum, Prunus umbellate, does not have the same suckering tendency.
We seldom think of the red maple (Acer rubrum) when we talk about flowering trees, but it is one of the more colorful natives. It does produce flowers, but much of the color comes from the pink to reddish winged seeds, or samaras, which are as colorful as any flower.
The downside of the red maple's vivid display is that the seeds soon drop to the ground, where they usually sprout in large numbers, requiring some hand-pulling unless you want to live in a maple forest.
Red maple does best in soil that remains moist most of the time. It is well suited to areas that may temporarily flood. Its deciduous leaves usually change to shades of red, yellow or orange before dropping in late fall or early winter.
Christmas poinsettias can be removed from their containers and planted outdoors as soon as any danger of frost has passed. Dig your planting hole 12 inches wider than the root ball. Your poinsettia should fit into the hole at the same depth it occupied in the container. Place the plant in the hole, and fill around the ball with soil. Water every other day the first week, then once or twice a week thereafter, or as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Poinsettias have a tendency to develop root rot when they get too wet or when they grow in poorly drained soils.
After the flowering period, Christmas cactus will produce new growth, on which next Christmas' flowers form. To produce healthy flower-bearing tissue, add a balanced, slow-release fertilizer every other month and begin regular watering when the soil is completely dry.
Once poinsettias, azaleas and camellias finish flowering, they should be pruned. Pruning encourages new growth and produces a compact, bushier plant.
There is still time to prune dead growth and crossing limbs on crape myrtles, but try not to remove the new sprouts, since that is where flowers will form. Pruning is not necessary for crape myrtles to flower. Prune lightly to maintain a natural form.
Heavy pruning of hibiscus is best done in the early spring (no later than this month). New growth should produce flowers in five to six weeks. Light maintenance pruning may be done any time of year to keep plants at desired heights.
Pinch a mum, please
Chrysanthemums make nice bedding plants, but they become leggy if not properly pruned. Small-flowered varieties should be pinched when they are 6 to 8 inches high. Otherwise they'll develop tall, weak stems that produce only a few flowers. After you pinch, new branches will develop along the stem. Pinch all shoots every two weeks until June 10 for early varieties and July 1 for later varieties. Flowers will not form if you continue to pinch after then.
Select your caladium tubers as soon as they are available at the garden centers. Plant them in shade or partial sun. Some newer varieties with straplike leaves can handle full-sun locations. Space tubers 12 to 18 inches apart in a bed with plenty of organic material. Cover the tops with about 2 inches of soil. Firm the soil around tubers to prevent air pockets between the tuber and the soil.
Caladiums grow best in a moist, well-drained soil. Initially fertilize with 1 tablespoon of a fertilizer such as 12-4-8 or 6-6-6 around each plant, then fertilize monthly during the growing season.
Caladiums may also be grown in containers indoors. Some cultivars that tolerate these conditions are Lord Derby, Fire Chief, Red Flash, Whorton, Porcile Anglais, Sea Gull, Beauty and Aaron.
Compiled by Pam Brown and Carol Suggs of the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. Questions? Call them at (727) 582-2100.