This week has been an absolutely beautiful time to work in the yard and enjoy our winter flowering shrubs. Now is the perfect time to enjoy the profusion of flowers. If their splendor convinces you to add a few bushes to your own yard, this is the perfect time.
Azaleas are naturally an under-story plant, which means they perform better under large trees where they receive dappled sunlight. You will see them planted in full sun, but this really increases the necessary water and usually shortens the bloom time.
Local nurseries are loading up with blooming azaleas, which makes choosing the flower type and color easy. Try to find plants with more buds than blooms so you can still enjoy the flowers once the shrub is planted in your yard.
Fertile, well-drained soil is best for azaleas. They like their soil on the acidic side with lots of organic matter. Mixing in a little peat is helpful. Throw a little granular fertilizer in the bottom of the planting hole to give them a great start. Water well and keep the plants moist until established. If we have dry conditions, make sure you add water throughout the year. Azaleas are not drought tolerant.
Immediately after blooming is the best time to prune your azaleas, whether newly planted or established. It's best not to trim off more than one-third of the plant at any one time. If you wait much past June to do your pruning, you chance removing next year's blossoms, since the buds already will have formed.
After pruning I give my azaleas a couple of fertilizations using a balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10. Two treatments, three or four weeks apart, will encourage healthy foliage growth. Late winter, when the buds start to swell, I give them a dose of blossom booster fertilizer.
Other plants currently in bloom in my yard include Indian Hawthorne, lace leaf lavender, indigo spires, golden dew drop, blue angels, Mexican sage, portulaca and a wild, unnamed rose. The begonias, petunias and pansies are doing great and add a profusion of color to the front yard. They should be around through April.
The wildflower seeds I threw around in one of the back beds have sprouted and look healthy. There are always a few surprises and it's enjoyable to see what develops. Keep the soil moist to encourage growth.
My blueberry bushes and peach trees also are blooming. Although their blooms are fairly inconspicuous and don't add much color to the garden, it's always exciting to see them because they precede the wonderful fruit. I'll be taking a more active role this year in trying to keep the squirrels away. I purchased a number of inflatable beach balls from the dollar store and will hang them in the branches. The balls must be moved every week or so to continue scaring the squirrels.
This is the time of year to add color spots in the garden. I replanted the hanging baskets with portulaca, begonia, petunias and strawberries. The strawberry plant won't produce many berries, but the plants looked so healthy and it's always fun to pick a few berries when working in the yard. Placed in hanging baskets, the pests are no problem and the berries remain clean.
If you haven't completed pruning your evergreen shrubs, now is the time. Hopefully, your plants are in the appropriate sites in your yard so a minimum of pruning is needed. You should be doing a little shaping and getting rid of damaged branches. After you prune, add a light dressing of fertilizer and check for insects. Usually washing the plants off with soapy water will take care of the winter grime and the few insect problems this time of the year.
Clean up any debris left over from the winter winds. This debris often gives unwanted pests hiding places. Hopefully our cold weather killed some of the pests, so let's not welcome them back into our yards.
If you don't have fallen leaves of your own, now is a good time to gather some from neighbors. The last windy, rainy day we had helped accumulate the downed leaves in the gutter. I simply had to scoop them up and place them in my wheelbarrow. I try to mulch each planting area in the back yard with leaves once or twice a year. Then, as I have time, I rake the areas to incorporate the leaves into the soil.
It cuts down on the mulch I buy and improves the soil. I also spread any compost I have at this time. Your neighbors may think you're crazy, but they appreciate not having to pick up the leaves themselves.
There's plenty of gardening chores to do now and the pleasant weather makes it that much easier. Stay busy the next couple of weeks adding color that you will enjoy into the summer.
- Mary Collister of Valrico writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. Mail questions to: Mary Collister, Brandon Times, 426 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511.