April 25, 2012

Spring is Gone- Now What ?
Cassia bakeriana
A Spring beauty for the subtropics
Springtime in Miami is an unpredictable event, often measured in days, not weeks. Currently, we are enjoying some fabulous weather, and after a particularly warm winter we are observing a record number of plants flowering and setting seed. Wildlife responds to this flush of flowers and growth, and the whole landscape seems to come alive in just a few weeks' time with birds and butterflies feasting on flowers and pollen. 

Unfortunately, we have not had much rain to support this increased growth.  Some plants are also showing signs of iron and magnesium deficiency from this lack of rain, and likely some fertilizer problems, too. We have heard that gardeners should "prepare gardens for winter", but we don't hear much about "preparing gardens for summer". Are there special tactics to employ to prepare subtropical gardens for summer ? Most resoundingly, I say yes !

In the most basic ideology of gardening, if the plant is growing it will need some level of fertility. To prepare for the increased growth of summer, we should fertilize and mulch our gardens now. Many fertilizers take a week or two to release their components into the soil. Getting a head start on the burst of flowers ( ideally we should fertilize in March) can make a plant look and flower better than waiting for the rainy season.

Especially in poor-soil areas, iron deficiency is chronic, and best handled preventatively, rather than after the plant is stressed. Water-soluble or granular products work well, and should be applied monthly or bi-monthly throughout the growing season, especially on needy plants like Ixora, Hibiscus, Gardenia, and many palm species. The University of Arizona has an excellent diagnostic guide, seen at:  

Iron chlorosis / deficiency

Using slow-release fertilizers, occasional iron and magnesium supplements and regular applications of mulch in landscaped areas can greatly enhance plant growth in warmer weather, and reduce plant problems when the plants slow down for short days / cooler weather / less rain. The main ideas are to keep plants and landscapes well fertilized, prevent plants from getting "hungry" before it's too late to correct the problems, and use mulch to reduce water stress during seasonal dry periods. In so many cases, plant nutrition problems can be prevented so much easier than trying to correct the problem after it happened. Now is the time to prepare for Summer, both you and your plants. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens