Poet T. S. Eliot famously wrote, "April is the cruellest month." He was British and was probably alluding to April's mercurial weather patterns in northern climes. Generally, April is beautiful here. But this particular April could be cruel even for us since it's historically our driest month and our yards are yearning for a good drench. • Our two previous Garden sections have dealt with caring for your plants and turf during a drought and you will probably need to continue applying those tips during the weeks to come. And also to continue heeding water restrictions. You can find that information by going to links.tampabay.com. • Still even in drought, nature is ever-active and needs attention. Insects, for example, reappear in droves. And they're hungry. • Winter annuals still look pretty good and you can prolong their life with deadheading and careful watering. But their time is limited. • It's time to look toward summer.
Turf: Down but not out
If you were smart enough to put in Bahia grass, know that even if it's a bit brown, it won't die. Bahia is one of the better drought-tolerant grasses for this area and can survive our driest month easily. It can be started from seed or sod but you should probably wait until the rainy season to plant or rejuvenate this type of lawn. Seeding can be done until about mid September.
Keep a watchful eye out for chinch bugs in St. Augustine grass. Straw-colored grass along sidewalks, driveways or the street is usually the first sign of this pest. A University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication on chinch bug management in St. Augustine grass states that rapid growth resulting from frequent applications of water soluble nitrogen fertilizers may increase southern chinch bug survival, development time and the number of eggs that the insects can lay. Responsible use of slow-release nitrogen fertilizers may help reduce pest population build-up (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LH036).
Chinch bugs can kill large areas of St. Augustine lawns if allowed to feed freely. Chemical treatments of Lambda Cyhalothrin (1), Permethrin (1), Cyfluthrin (1), Imidacloprid (2) and Neem oil (3) may be effective if applied correctly according to label directions. If you need to treat the area again, be sure to use a product from a different chemical class to help avoid developing resistance to the pesticide. Products with the same number (1, 2 or 3) listed above are in the same chemical class. Be sure the product you use is labeled for chinch bugs and follow the label carefully.
Trees: No problem
Oak leaf blister is a disease we see nearly every spring. It develops during cool, wet weather, becoming epidemic at times and infecting almost every leaf on the tree. While the blisters may be unsightly and cause excessive leaf fall, this disease seldom causes permanent damage.
Magnolia trees are called broad-leaf evergreens but they do shed their old leaves during spring. These old leaves turn pale green or yellow and drop. Trees do not become entirely bare. Occasionally a magnesium or iron deficiency will cause yellow leaves but they have a distinctive pattern that can be identified easily.
You're not the only one eating your veggies
Check vegetable plants each day for signs of insects and continue to treat them for disease control. Daily monitoring of the garden will help you spot potential problems before they get out of hand. Hand removal of pests such as caterpillars and snails will help cut down on the use of pesticides. There are biological products such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and insecticidal or organic disease control products available at local garden centers.
Sweet potato plants not only make a delicious edible vegetable but also can act as an attractive ground cover. Sweet potatoes are a long-season crop so they need to be fertilized during the growing period. Use an 8-8-8 or similar fertilizer every five or six weeks during the summer growing season.
No love lost here
Despite their name, love bugs are among the most unloved insects to descend on Florida in late spring. They would be better named lust bugs since their only purpose is to mate and multiply. They swarm beginning this month through May. We probably don't need to tell you about the effects on your car when you run into a group on the highway. And they are mostly unavoidable during the day since they love warmth. We have no advice except to suggest road trips at night or early morning while love bugs sleep. At least, lovers to the end, they don't sting or bite.
Flowers: new openings and closings
Azaleas should be pruned when they finish blooming. Even the small dwarf varieties benefit from pruning, which stimulates new growth, eliminates leggy growth and produces a bushier plant. They're generally fertilized four times a year: February, May, August and November. Use a fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.
Start spring and summer annuals from seed now in a fresh, sterile, potting mixture. Give them four weeks or so before planting in your garden. Rejuvenate the bed by raking out all leftover plant material and adding new organic matter. You can also incorporate a slow-release fertilizer at this time.
Fertilize your amaryllis plants with a lower-nitrogen fertilizer such as 8-2-10 or other similar mixtures. Apply 1 pound per 100 square feet of bed. Amaryllis need to grow all spring and summer in order to form flowers for next year.
Roses are growing and flourishing after their winter haircut. New leaves often mean powdery mildew and black spot. Fungicides are necessary to keep most roses in good shape. Weekly applications of Dithane-M45, Funginex, Basic Copper or other labeled fungicides will help with disease control. The Cornell formula is a less toxic method of control. Add 1 tablespoon each of baking soda and oil (either a light horticultural oil or regular vegetable oil) to 1 gallon of water. If you use vegetable oil, add a bit of insecticidal soap (the amount recommended for mixing with 1 gallon of water). Shake well before and during application with a sprayer. Spray both sides of the leaves thoroughly every five to seven days.
Hibiscus plants should be flourishing with new growth by now, recovering from cold temperatures. You still can prune them.
For leafy color and texture, plant caladium tubers 2 inches deep in loose, well-drained soil in shade or partial sun. Several strap-leaf varieties have been introduced that perform well in full sun.
Carol Suggs is with the Pinellas County Extension Center/ Florida Botanical Gardens. Pam Brown, longtime Extension expert, recently retired. For additional lawn and garden information, visit the UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Web site at pinellas countyextension.org or call (727) 582-2100.