Plan ahead for pest-free planting

It’s time for winter annual beds to be planted. The hot weather has continued into October and the stress can affect the way your flowers establish themselves and begin to grow. Perhaps it’s best to be patient about planting your impatiens this year. When flowers are stressed, especially early in life, they are not as hardy for the rest of the season.

Prepare gardens for planting by tilling or turning the soil six inches deep and then incorporating two to three inches of organic matter, such as cow manure and peat, into the planting beds. This will increase the nutrient and water holding capacity of our sandy soil. Thoroughly mix the organic material into the soil.

The beds should be fertilized prior to or at planting time. Fertilizers can be incorporated uniformly throughout the soil before planting and applied on the soil surface of established plant beds. Controlled release fertilizers, such as Osmocote, are ideal for Florida’s sandy soil. They don’t require application as frequently as rapid release fertilizers – every two to five months, compared to monthly.

Treat the soil with a fungicide to help control soil-borne fungi and a nematocide, if needed, for control of nematodes, which can reach damaging levels where susceptible annuals are grown repeatedly. Finally, absorbent granules like Terrasorb or Soil Moist retain and slowly release water to give your plants an extra lift through the dry season. Incorporate your fertilizer and water granules throughout the soil before planting or into each planting hole as you plant.

When planting, loosen the root ball of the plant gently, without breaking the soil ball. Plants will recover rapidly and become established more quickly if their roots are spread out to grow, rather than in a tight root ball. Water immediately after planting, and then water daily until the plants have become established, usually within a week. Mulching materials should not come in contact with plant stems. The high moisture environment created by mulch increases the chance of stem rot, which can result in plant death. Mulch will also give snails and cutworms a place to live, so if you must mulch your flower beds, do so sparingly.

The best method of reducing insect or disease problems is to keep the plants growing vigorously and free from stress. Cultural practices that should help to reduce insect and disease problems are as follow: (1) select a planting site which provides desirable growing conditions for a particular annual; (2) avoid planting in corners, where light intensity and air circulation are minimal; (3) keep plants growing vigorously by following a regular fertilization and irrigation schedule; (4) avoid frequent wilting, as water stressed plants are more susceptible to infestation by thrips and red spider mites; (5) remove spent flowers from plants such as snapdragon and geranium, which do not naturally fall from the plants; (6) prevent pathogenic fungal spores from germinating by keeping water off plants as much as possible and providing good air circulation by allowing ample space between plants at planting and (7) remove weeds from flower beds, because they frequently host insects and disease organisms.

You should monitor your annuals frequently for insects and diseases. Infestations detected in the early stages can be controlled before the entire bed is infested. An insect infestation on a few plants can be controlled by picking insects off by hand or, in the case of disease, by removing infected leaves. For severe infestations, chemical control will be needed. A good preventative measure is to broadcast snail bait throughout the beds when planting. Thuricide or Sevin will help to control cutworms. Small holes in the flowers and leaves are signs of snails and plants with stems cut off at the soil line will indicate cutworms. Cutworm damage will often look like someone has walked through your garden, stepping on the flowers and flattening them.

Some annuals recommended for planting in October and November and their light requirements are as follows:

Alyssum Full sun

Asters Full sun

Begonia Prefers a.m. or p.m. sun, no direct sun

Carnation Full sun

Cosmos Full sun

Dahlia Prefers full sun, a.m. or p.m. sun okay

Dianthus Full sun

Dusty Miller Prefers full sun, a.m. or p.m. sun okay

Geranium Prefers full sun, a.m. or p.m. sun okay

Impatiens Prefers AM or PM sun, no direct sun

Lobelia Prefers full sun, a.m. or p.m. sun okay

Pansy Full sun

Petunia Prefers full sun, a.m. or p.m. sun okay

Snapdragon Full sun

Nothing can brighten your gardens like a few well placed colorful annuals. A few hours of proper preparation will give you a lot of enjoyment all winter.

Eileen Ward and her husband Peter own and operate Greensward of Marco Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company. Besides completing horticultural courses from the University of Florida, she has a commercial maintenance spray license and is a registered dealer in agricultural products in Florida.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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