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TIMELY TENDING: JANUARY

New Year's resolutions are easy to make and easy to break. One resolution worth keeping is to spend time outdoors. Winter and spring are the best time to do extensive landscape renovations. Deciduous shade and fruit trees can be pruned; winter and spring annuals can be planted for a show of color; and hardy plants make great additions to the landscape.

Though winter is a dormant period for most hardy plants, they need to be handled properly to ensure healthy growth in the spring. Many trees and shrubs die before they get a chance to leaf out because of improper planting. Until new roots have formed and the plants are anchored firmly in the ground, it may be necessary to use stakes for support. Even if the plant does not fall over, the constant shifting of the root system keeps the plant under stress.

Watch your watering

Avoid extremes when watering new plants. Too little water may cause tender roots to dry up and die, and too much water encourages rot.

For the first week, new plants should be watered only when the soil surface is dry, which will be every second or third day. Water twice a week the second week; then weekly watering should be sufficient until new growth begins in spring.

The amount of water a plant needs is the amount the soil can absorb. Stop watering when water is no longer seeping into the soil rapidly. Newly planted shrubs and trees should not require fertilization for six weeks. Give them time to get settled and ready for growth.

Let there be light

Houseplants must have light to survive. Some plants can exist on low light, but most need a fair amount of bright light.

In general, foliage plants require less light than flowering plants. Plants not receiving sufficient light may become tall and weak-looking with pale leaves that drop; flowers may fail to form.

Don't wait too long to move your plant to a place that has sufficient light or it may never recover. On the other hand, don't think that placing your plants in direct sun will help them recover quickly. Your plant may end up with sunburned leaves.

Citrus spray schedule

January is an important month for spraying citrus trees. Citrus scab, rust mites and nutritional deficiencies are problems that need correcting before they cause extensive damage.

Neutral copper for scab, Malathion for scales, whiteflies and mites, and minor elements can be combined and sprayed at the same time. Follow label directions for the correct usage. If you prefer a less toxic approach for scale, whiteflies and mites, use horticultural oil after the copper and minor element spray.

Watch for anthracnose on mango blooms this month. This disease appears as small, black, sunken areas on the flower spike. If left unchecked, it can kill the flowers, which prevents fruit development. Begin treatment with copper fungicide when the bloom spikes first appear and continue spraying at weekly intervals until the fruit is fully formed, then spray monthly until June or July.

Get a jump on veggies

Thinking about planting winter vegetables? You can do several things now to ensure a successful crop. First, have your soil's pH tested and make any necessary adjustments. The Extension Office will test your soil for $5 a sample (some garden centers conduct the test free for customers).

The pH range for growing vegetables in sandy soil is from 5.8 to 6.5. The pH refers to the acidity or alkalinity (sourness or sweetness) of the soil, which is an important factor in growing quality vegetables.

Here are some cool season crops that can be planted from seed or starter plants: beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, parsley, peas, radishes, spinach, collards, cauliflower, mustard and turnips.

Jicama (hee-kah-mah) is a watery root vegetable that looks like a turnip with brown skin. It is occasionally grown in home gardens and can be started from seeds. It has a mild flavor and a crunchy texture similar to water chestnuts. Jicama is ideal for salads as well as in cooked dishes where crispness is desired.

Creatures of the night

Night dampness brings out snails and slugs. Spread bait near tender plants, especially seedlings, and in moist, shady spots where creatures hide during the day. Read the label for instructions before using bait around vegetables and pets.

An alternative to baits is diatomaceous earth. This powder contains tiny sharp projectiles that will puncture the snails and slugs. Sprinkle lightly around plants. This will not harm beneficial insects or pets.

Frost warnings

Applying water before a frost or freeze is helpful to plants, but make sure your sprinkler system is NOT on an automatic setting during freezing weather. A lot of damage can be done to landscape plants when sprinklers come on in the early morning and ice forms on plants. The buildup of ice can cause limbs and plants to split or break.

Healthy plants can withstand cold temperatures, but they must be watered when they are dry; be sure to mulch tender plants because this may prevent the stem and roots from dying.

If there is a frost, plants should be covered with sheets, blankets, newspapers, cardboard boxes or other suitable materials. This covering should not be left on more than two or three days. Hose the leaves of tender plants with water after the temperature rises above freezing, but before the sun hits the foliage.

If there is a freeze, there is not much that can be done to protect tropical plants in the landscape. Covering only protects against frost.

Potted plants can be moved indoors to a garage or shed for temporary protection. After potted plants are put back in their place, check the soil for dryness. The foliage could be transpiring (losing water vapor) on a sunny day after a freeze causing the soil in the container to become dry. Water as needed.

Temper your pruning

Even though you may be tempted to prune damaged or wilted plants, severe pruning should be delayed until new growth appears in the spring. In our area pruning encourages new growth, especially if there is a week of warm weather. This new growth is tender and subject to damage from subsequent frosts or freezes.

When it is time to prune, cold injured wood can be identified by scraping a small section of bark and examining the cambium layer. Dead wood will have a brown or black discoloration while healthy wood will be green. Prune damaged branches back to a green area.

Herbaceous plants that rot after a freeze can be cut back to try to save the root system. For more information on pruning, send a long, self-addressed, stamped (37-cent stamp) envelope to Pruning Ornamental Trees & Shrubs, 12175 125th St. N, Largo, FL 33774-3695.

Try your hand with bulbs

This is a great time for planting bulbs. Some bulb and bulb-type plants for this area are agapanthus, alstroemeria, amaryllis, caladiums, crinum lily, gloriosa lily and zephyr lily. Be sure to work in a generous amount (25 pounds per 100 square feet) of organic matter such as compost, cow manure, sphagnum peat or other types of peat moss. When possible, plant the bulbs in large masses for the best color display.

Give roses a clip

In Central and North Florida, roses should be pruned once each year in January or February. Remove some healthy growth and all of the dead, injured, diseased or unsightly branches. Leave at least half the length of each main cane that is 1 to 3 years old. The rose bush should bloom again in eight to nine weeks.

Pruning should be made just above an outward facing dormant bud, and cut surfaces larger than a lead pencil should be covered with white glue. When removing an entire branch, make a smooth cut at the trunk and paint with glue. Be sure to clean up clippings from around your plants after pruning to help prevent the spread of disease. Apply a layer of fresh mulch.

Native thoughts

Florida has a wealth of native trees that are suitable for use in the average rural or urban home landscape. Native plants desirable for home use range from the spectacular Southern magnolia to the yaupon holly.

Native plants are adapted to climate and soil conditions of a given area and usually have fewer pest problems.

Remember that Florida's native wild plants are protected under the Plant Protection Law. Under this law, both preservation and propagation are encouraged. It is against the law to destroy, injure, harvest, collect, pick or remove any plants covered by the law without prior written permission from the landowner or legal occupant of the land. Another Florida law specifically protects sea oats and sea grapes. It is against the law to dig up or remove these plants whose growth helps prevent beach erosion.

Celebrating Spanish moss

Although often accused of being a parasite, Spanish moss is an epiphyte, which means it receives water and nutrients from the air, dust and rain. The only obvious threat it poses to trees is by preventing air circulation through foliage and by limb breakage because of its weight when wet. Even so, it will not kill a tree.

Spanish moss is one of the native tillandsia and a member of the bromeliad family. It's often seen swaying from the same trees where its cousin, the wild, red-flowering tillandsia, grows and is admired.

Short takes

+ Remove faded camellia flowers from your plants. Rake up any blossoms that may have fallen to the ground; this helps prevent petal blight, which can become a serious problem.

+ Seeds from papaya can be started indoors this month. Clean the pulp off each seed and plant about one-quarter inch deep in a container of potting soil. Fresh seeds usually germinate in 10 to 15 days but some may take longer. Under ideal growing conditions, fruit should be produced in eight to 10 months. Seedlings planted in early March should produce edible fruit by November.

+ What zone is Pinellas County? This is a question often asked by homeowners, especially during winter months when they are keeping track of temperatures. When selecting plant material, our zones are 9 and 10.

+ With proper care, a poinsettia can remain colorful and attractive throughout the winter. Keep your plant in a well-lighted location but out of drafts. Water to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Don't let your plant sit in water. Once the colorful bracts fade and drop, the plant can be cut back and moved outdoors.

Compiled by Pamela Brown and Nancy R. Volmar of the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. If you have questions, call them at (727) 582-2100.

THIS MONTH'S CHECKLIST

Citrus

January is an important month for spraying citrus trees.

Frost

Make sure your sprinkler system is not on an automatic setting during freezing weather.

Watering

Avoid extremes when watering new plants.

Vegetables

Have your soil's pH tested before planting winter vegetables.

Night creatures

Night dampness brings out snails and slugs. Spread bait near tender plants.

Light

Houseplants must have sufficient light to survive.

Temper pruning

Severe pruning should be delayed until new growth appears in the spring.

Bulbs

This is the perfect time to plant bulbs.

Roses

Roses should be pruned once each year in January or February.

Native plants

Plant native plants they have adapted to the climate and soil and usually have fewer pests.

January 21

It's Arbor Day. Plant a tree.

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