Timely Tendings: Spring vegetable garden preparations, perennial care

Published Feb. 5, 2014

It's time to prepare your spring vegetable garden

Warm season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, and beans can be planted after the middle of February. You will want to spade up your garden area and incorporate organic matter. Add about 25 pounds of some type of organic material per 100 square feet of garden. Composted cow manure, compost, peat moss, or any combination of materials are great organic amendments. Some nurseries have starter plants for tender crops now. Vegetable Gardening in Florida by James Stephens is a great reference book for growing vegetables and the UF/IFAS Extension publication, Florida Gardening Guide is available on the web at .

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Blossom-end rot can be a serious problem in the vegetable garden. The bottom ends of tomatoes, peppers or squash turn soft and dark. It is important for the soil to contain adequate calcium and for irrigation to be consistent. Correct this deficiency by using lime in the garden or treating existing plants with calcium chloride. Also, be sure to water your garden regularly so the plants do not wilt during this dry time of the year.

Caring for perennials

Now is the time to divide crowded perennial plants such as cannas, gerberas, daylilies and Stokesia. Division involves cutting large clumps into smaller sections, making sure that each smaller clump has an adequate supply of stems, leaves, roots and buds to survive transplanting. Ferns, orchids, daylilies, bulbous plants and liriope are commonly propagated by division. Some plants can be pulled apart, but many must be cut. Transplant the separated clumps at the same depth they were growing originally. Do not divide plants when they are flowering, but any other time during the growing season is suitable as long as adequate care is provided after planting.

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Prune camellias after flowering. Cut branches just above the point where last year's growth ends. Remove most of the new growth to control the plant's size. Rake up any fallen blooms and leaves and put down a fresh layer of mulch to help avoid petal blight next year. As new growth begins, look for aphids which cause the new leaves to be curled and distorted. Spray with a light horticultural oil for control, if necessary. Oil should also control scale insects that may be found living on the backs of leaves. You will need to spray two to three times seven to 10 days apart.

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Hibiscus should be pruned at the end of this month or early March. Hibiscus can be pruned throughout the summer to keep it from becoming leggy, however you will sacrifice a certain amount of blooms whenever you prune.

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Azaleas will always perform better if they are planted in partial shade. They tend to become infested with lace bugs when grown in full sun. Purchase azalea plants while they are blooming. The planting hole for containerized or balled and burlapped azalea plants should be 12 inches wider than the root mass but not quite as deep as the root ball or soil surface in the container. Fill the hole so that the azaleas are planted slightly above the depth they were in the container or nursery. Organic mulch applied to a depth of 2 to 3 inches will conserve water and reduce weed problems. Be sure to keep mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the base of the plant. November to February is the best season for transplanting; however, containerized azaleas may be transplanted any time if proper care is provided. Plants should be spaced according to mature size of the cultivar but generally 3 to 5 feet apart.

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Roses should be pruned this month, if not done in January, to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form. For this major yearly pruning you should shorten the main canes and lateral branches to an outward facing bud, and then remove small twigs and canes that are dead, diseased, injured, or spindly. Your objective is to regulate height and improve air circulation and light distribution within the plant. This will help with disease control. Leave about half the length of each main cane that is 1 to 3 years old. Remove any dead leaves and debris around the plant to reduce fungal spores and add a new layer of mulch. Fertilize with a slow release fertilizer formulated for roses. You should see new flowers in about eight to nine weeks.

Compiled by Theresa Badurek, urban horticulture extension agent, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Service. For additional landscape and garden information, visit For regular tips and information about what's growing in Pinellas, go to