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Timely Tendings

Is your lawn drinking too much?

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN   |   Times photo illustration (2007)

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times photo illustration (2007)

Water restrictions remain in effect over the Tampa Bay region. Check with your county or city for the specific regulations in your area and adjust your sprinkler system's timer so you are in compliance. You can find your local restrictions at tampabaywater.org.

The University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication, "Tips for Maintaining Landscapes During Drought," is available online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP091, or call your county extension office for a copy.

Watering is important for good lawn maintenance, along with proper mowing and pest control. Your sprinkling system should be calibrated to deliver ¾ inch of water each time you water. (The publication "How to Calibrate Your Sprinkler System" is available at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LH026, or call your UF/IFAS County Extension office.)

Mow grass often enough that no more than a third of the leaf surface is removed. A sharp-bladed mower is a necessity to ensure a clean cut and avoid blade damage by tearing the grass tips.

An insect invitation

A recent study at the University of Florida suggests that repeatedly using large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer on St. Augustine grass can ignite a population explosion of Southern chinch bugs. Chinch bugs are the No. 1 insect pest of St. Augustine grass, the state's most popular turf grass.

"Everything in moderation," said Eileen Buss, an associate professor of entomology with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "When we try to overly manage a natural system, we get the balance out of whack." In the study, Southern chinch bugs produced the most eggs on St. Augustine grass fertilized with the equivalent of 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per month.

UF turf grass experts advise homeowners to use no more than 1 pound of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn, a recommendation found in the document "St. Augustine Grass for Florida Lawns," available at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LH010.

As the temperatures rise outside, check your lawn grasses for chinch bugs. If large infestations are found (20 to 25 per square foot), treat with an insecticide containing Bifenthrin, Cyfluthrin, Lambda-cyhalothrin, Permethrin or neem oil.

Colorfast landscapes

May is a great time to think about adding color to your landscape that can stand our summer heat and humidity. Some good annuals for summer include angelonia, narrow-leaf zinnia, vinca, ornamental peppers, torenia and gaillardia.

Herbaceous perennials provide color in your landscape every season. Once established, these plants require less maintenance than annuals. Some colorful perennials that can stand both the heat and sun are beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), cigar flower (Cuphea micropetala), flax lily (Dianella tasmanica 'Variegata'), gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), salvias, sages (Salvia species) and pentas (Pentas lanceolata).

Some perennials that like a little shade along with sun during the day are daylily (Hemerocallis species), African bush daisy (Euryops pectinatus), African Iris (Dietes species), jacobinia (Justicia carnea), lily of the Nile (Agapanthus species), and wishbone flower (Torenia hybrids).

Pinch for fuller mums

Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum spp.) also do well in our summer heat, but they can become leggy if not properly pruned. Small-flowered varieties should be pinched when they are 6 to 8 inches high. Unless the growing tips are pinched, plants may develop tall, weak stems that produce few flowers.

After you pinch, new branches will develop along the stems. Pinch all shoots every two weeks until June 10 for early varieties and July for later varieties. Flowers will not form if you continue to pinch any later than this.

Monitor the veggies

Vegetable gardening should be in full swing this month. Remember to watch for insects and diseases, and be prepared to treat at the first sign of invasion. Vegetables are annual plants and use a lot of fertilizer while growing. Side-dress every five to six weeks and keep plants well watered.

There is still time to plant pole beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, cantaloupes, okra, sweet potatoes and summer spinach.

Compiled by Pam Brown and Carol Suggs of the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. Questions? Call them at (727) 582-2100.

. fast facts

Mark your calendar

• 9-10 a.m. today: Migratory Bird and Nature Tour, Florida Botanical Gardens Palm Pavilion, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Free; registration required. Call (727) 582-2673. Learn to identify birds by sight, sound and behavior. Adults and families welcome. No pets. Wear closed-toe shoes. Binoculars and identification books recommended but not necessary.

• 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday: Pinellas Living Green Expo, Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., Clearwater. Free. Information: pinellasgreenlivingexpo.org.

Extension educators will teach two classes at this event:

10 a.m. today and 11 a.m. Sunday: harvesting water from your roof with a recycled plastic barrel.

11 a.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday: creating compost from recycled yard waste.

Information: pinellaslivinggreenexpo.org

• 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 10: Master Gardener Plant Sale, Pinellas County Extension and Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Information: (727) 582-2599. Early admission starts at 8 a.m. for Florida Botanical Garden members, county extension staff and master gardeners.

• 1-2:30 p.m. May 11 and May 25: Discovery Tour of the Florida Botanical Gardens. Location: UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Welcome Center, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Free; registration required. Call (727) 582-2581. General guided tour of the gardens: native plants and exotics suitable for the Florida-friendly landscape. For all ages and abilities. No pets.

• 10:30 a.m.-noon May 17: Compost Happens Workshop, Dunedin Community Center, 1920 Pinehurst Road, Dunedin. Free; registration required. Call (727) 298-3215, ext. 24. Learn to create compost to use in your garden and landscape. Pinellas County residents attending will receive a free 17.6-cubic-foot plastic compost bin after completing a short survey.

• 10 a.m.-noon May 31: Compost Happens Workshop, Pinellas County Extension, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Free; registration required. Call (727) 582-2673. Learn to create compost to use in your garden and landscape. Pinellas County residents attending will receive a free 17.6-cubic-foot plastic compost bin after completing a short survey.

They're ba-acck!

It's love bug season again. We can offer only our sympathy, especially to those traveling on highways during daylight hours. • Love bugs — Plecia nearctica — are black-and-orange flies that are typically seen mating in midair in early spring and late summer. They travel in swarms, so cars driving through these clouds of lovesick insects are spattered with their smashed body parts. • Scientists theorize that love bugs are attracted to highways because they think exhaust fumes smell like decaying organic matter, in which they like to lay their eggs. • If you end up with a car grille full of smashed love bugs, take time to hose them down and scrape them off. (A strong detergent solution can help.) They may etch your car's paint if they're allowed to remain.

Is your lawn drinking too much? 05/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 4:32am]

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