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A primer on pampering Florida plants

Question: We are new to Florida and aren't familiar with the plants. Can you give advice on when to fertilize and prune azaleas, nandina, red-tip, heather, ligustrum, pampas grass, blue Pacific juniper, Indian hawthorn, holly, crape myrtle, laurel oak, cherry laurel and camphor? _ "Hideaway in Hernando," Spring Hill

Answer: It sounds as if the first thing you need to do is contact your county extension service and request its fact sheets on landscape care, fertilizing and pruning. Most of the information is free, and the sheets are excellent guides to Florida gardening.

A good fertilizing schedule here is about three times a year: February/March (for spring-flowering plants; wait until after they bloom), June and September/October. Use a complete (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) slow-release fertilizer with minor or trace elements. Acid-forming fertilizers are best for plants such as azaleas that require low pH soils.

Here's a general pruning guide:

Azalea _ Prune after flowering as needed, then lightly thereafter. Prune only leggy growth after August.

Nandina _ Doesn't need pruning. Remove tallest (oldest) stems at ground level to shorten the plant.

Red-tip/Red top (Photinia) _ Prune before new growth emerges, usually February.

Heather _ Prune in late winter (late February). Trim as needed during the year.

Ligustrum _ Prune as needed during the year.

Pampas grass _ Remove dead growth, if needed, in late February. Leaf edges are sharp, so wear a long-sleeved shirt and gloves to avoid getting cut.

"Blue Pacific" juniper _ Trim, cutting back to a side shoot, in late winter, if needed.

Indian Hawthorn _ Trim after flowering, if needed.

Ilex (holly) _ Trim as needed.

Crape myrtle _ Prune in January, while plant is dormant.

Laurel oak, cherry laurel and camphor _ Prune to thin any time. Winter is best.

Lemon or lime

Question: The home we bought years ago has a tree we thought was a lemon because it has thorns. This year it set fruit. They look and come apart like a tangerine, yet are extremely sour. Do we have a tangerine tree? What can we do to correct the problem? _ Claire Gregory, Port Richey

Answer: Do you like limes? Although I can't be absolutely certain without a fruit, from your description and the leaf enclosed in your letter I suspect you have a rangpur lime. It isn't a true lime; it's usually used as citrus rootstock or grown as an ornamental. The tree may have been a lemon or similar citrus variety budded on this rootstock and, for some reason, the variety died and the rootstock took over. You could bud a citrus variety on the tree, but at this point I suggest you start over with a new lemon tree if the fruit is too sour to use.

Joe Freeman is chief horticulturist at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. He was Polk County's agricultural extension agent for 15 years and has a master's degree in horticulture science. You can send questions to him at P.O. Box 1, Cypress Gardens, FL 33884. His column appears monthly.

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