Gardening maintenance heats up during summer

By MARY COLLISTER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 9, 2007

More hot, humid weather, but what can we expect in the middle of a Florida summer? If you are a serious gardener, you have learned to deal with it. If you are a "fair weather" gardener, you may have escaped to the cooler indoors.

Everything in the yard is growing at warp speed, and it is hard to keep up with mowing the lawn, deadheading flowers, trimming evergreens, weeding and so on. I don't walk around my yard without hand pruners. This allows me to snip any out-of-control limbs I might see. Each week I walk around with my anvil pruners to cut bigger branches.

Sometimes I get a little out of control pruning, but I'm always amazed at how quickly it grows back. The growth is so fast this time of year, it is almost impossible to cut off too much.

I noticed a few small spots in the turf that appear to be have been damaged by chinch bugs. I treated those areas and will watch closely to ensure the problem does not spread. The little bugs spread their wrath very quickly and can decimate a lawn if we aren't watching closely.

Of course, chinch bugs are not the only lawn problem encountered this time of year. There are other insects, diseases and weeds. To properly treat the problem, you have to correctly identify the pest or disease. If you have questions, call your Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Office at (727) 582-2110. Folks there will help you identify the problem and will be able to suggest remedies.

Of course, it's not all bad news. Many of our annuals and perennials are blooming, so your yard may be very colorful now. Some flowering plants may need a little care to keep them looking their best. Start with deadheading (pinch off wilted flowers). Then remove all yellow foliage and apply fertilizer. They should have plenty of water with the rains we're experiencing. Turn over the mulch around them or add a new layer.

If you have lost some of your annuals, you may want to tuck a few more in the bare spots. The garden centers have a wide variety of flowering plants now, so you should have no trouble finding what you want.

If some of those broad-leaf evergreen shrubs, which tend to be the background of your garden, are looking a little worn, now is the time to renovate them. Azalea, ligustrum, pittosporum, boxwood, euonymus, holly and such can be pruned severely now. If you heavily prune a flowering evergreen, such as azalea, you will probably be sacrificing next season's blooms.

After pruning, make sure the plants are watered and fertilized well. You will probably notice new growth within a week. If you have some that can't be saved, replace them. Rain will help get the plants established.

It's also a good time to plant trees. Research the type of tree and the location to avoid aggravation later on. Make sure the location is not too close to your house, driveway or sidewalk.

Tips for adding trees to your landscape

- Select a site that is adequate for the tree when it is full grown. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root ball (container), and no deeper than the height of the root ball. The soil that you dig out of the hole is what you use to backfill around the root ball. There are two philosophies about amending the soil when you plant a tree, but most experts now recommend that no soil amendments are used; therefore, no compost, peat moss, or shredded pine bark should be added to the backfill.

- Before placing the tree in the hole, check to see that the hole has been dug to the proper depth and no more. The majority of the roots on the newly planted tree will develop in the top 12 inches of soil. If the tree is planted too deeply, new roots will have difficulty developing because of a lack of oxygen. It is better to plant the tree a little high than to plant it too deeply. This planting level will allow for some settling. To avoid damage when setting the tree in the hole, always lift the tree by the root ball and never by the trunk.

- Before you begin backfilling, view the tree from several directions to confirm that the tree is straight. Once you begin backfilling, it is difficult to reposition the tree. Fill the hole about one-third full and gently, but firmly, pack the soil around the base of the root ball. Then, if the root ball is wrapped, cut and remove any fabric, plastic, string or wire to promote growth. Be careful not to damage the trunk or roots.

- Fill the remainder of the hole, firmly packing soil to eliminate air pockets that may cause roots to dry out. To avoid this problem, add soil a few inches at a time and settle with water. Continue until hole is filled and tree is firmly planted. Hold off on fertilizing for a few months.

- After planting the tree, build a 4-inch-tall berm around the edge of the hole. Fill the berm with mulch (i.e. shredded bark, compost). Keep mulch a few inches away from the trunk. The mulch and berm make it easier to water the tree.

- For most trees, staking is not recommended; however, if the tree trunk is not sturdy enough, use two to three stakes to give the trunk support for the first year only. Use a flexible tie material that does not cut into the bark.

- Right after planting, water the tree in by filling the bermed basin with water. This will settle the existing soil around the root ball. For the first three or four weeks, water the tree often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Water once a week if needed after that. The goal is to wean the tree slowly off supplemental irrigation.