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The wait is over: It's time to prune

Taking shape

If you resisted the urge after several cold snaps, good for you. New leaves on your woody plants are or soon will be sprouting; prune back to this point taking care to maintain the natural shape of the plant. Some of your more cold-sensitive plants will need to be pruned back to the ground. It will take them a bit longer to recover, but be patient.

Don't throw out the Christmas plants

We have heard from many readers that your poinsettias had a banner season, only recently looking spent. Prune them back, remove them from their containers and plant outdoors now. Choose a sunny spot that isn't exposed to ambient light at night and dig the hole 12 inches wider than the root ball. Place the plant in the hole at the same depth as in the container and fill around the ball with soil. Water every other day the first week, then once or twice a week or as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Poinsettias have a tendency to get root rot when too wet or when growing in poorly drained soils.

After the flowering period, Christmas cactus will produce new growth. Next year's flowers are formed on this new growth. 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.


Continue spraying roses weekly for black spot. If the leaves take on a dusty appearance or show signs of yellowing without black or brown spotting, check for spider mites. Mites are a common problem on roses in the dry spring months. Several products, including insecticidal soaps and oils, can be used to control them.

Fertilize annuals, bahia grass (if not fertilized in February), bananas, bromeliads, bulbs, cacti, crape myrtles, figs, hibiscus, hollies, ligustrum, papayas and vegetables.

If you are using a weed and feed lawn fertilizer, use care since herbicides can damage the lawn if the temperatures are above 85 degrees. Also, be sure the type of your grass is listed on the label and keep the product away from the roots of shrubs and trees when it is applied.

Heavy infestations of whitefly can suddenly appear on citrus leaves. Check the underside of leaves for the pupae that look like small clear ovals. Spray with a paraffin-based horticultural oil or Malathion, being sure to get under the leaves. Don't spray if trees are in bloom.

Always remove suckers below the bud or graft union on citrus, avocados, mangos or any other grafted plant. These shoots will grow fast and rob needed strength from the upper portion of the plant and will not produce the desired flowers or fruit.

Good eats

Your vegetables should be bountiful about now. Watch for insects and diseases and treat at first sign of invasion. Vegetables are annual plants that require a lot of fertilizer while growing. Keep side-dressing every five to six weeks. You can still plant pole beans, lima bean, cantaloupes, collards, okra, sweet potatoes and summer squash.

Out with the old

Once azaleas and camellias finish flowering, they should be pruned to encourage new growth and a more compact, bushier plant.

You still can prune out dead growth and crossing limbs on crape myrtles but try not to remove the new sprouts since the flowers will be forming on this year's new growth. Pruning is not necessary for crape myrtles to flower. Prune lightly to maintain a natural form.

Do heavy pruning of hibiscus now. New growth should produce flowers in five to six weeks. And light pruning keeps plants at desired heights.

If you planted fall chrysanthemums, they'll be putting out new growth soon. They can get leggy if not properly pruned. Small flowered varieties should have the ends of new growth pinched back once they reach 6 to 8 inches or plants may 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. Fall flowers won't form if you continue to pinch later than this.

Consult the University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication, Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs, at for detailed pruning information.

Pam Brown and Carol Suggs of the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens can be reached at (727) 582-2100. For additional landscape and garden information, visit the Solutions for Your Life Web site online at

The wait is over: It's time to prune 03/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 3:30am]
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