Toward the end of February temperatures will begin to warm a little. However, as we just saw, temperatures in the 30s and 40s are still quite common. The little rainfall we get in February will come off the Gulf of Mexico with accompanying winds or from the north as cold fronts.
It is a good idea to wait until February has passed, along with the cold weather, to fertilize or heavily prune shrubs and trees. You don’t want to encourage tender new growth which would be susceptible to damage from the cold. An exception is citrus which should be fertilized in January or early February at the latest. If citrus is already blooming wait until the fruit has set to fertilize. The nitrogen in the fertilizer can cause the blossoms to drop resulting in a reduced crop of fruit.
Normally you need to be careful of using lawn weed killers now as lawn grasses can be dormant due to cold winter temperatures and the grass should be growing vigorously for the best results. While we just had a cold spell, it has been an unusually warm winter and lawns have been active enough for effective weed control.
Chinch bugs have also been active due to the warm weather so watch for them. While mole crickets prefer bahia grass, I have seen them more frequently in St. Augustine lawns. Watch for small hills of sand in your lawn which look like ant hills. These may indicate mole crickets. The soil under your lawn may feel soft and give way with your footsteps. This is their tunnels collapsing as you walk on them.
Mites may be active due to the hot, dry weather we had earlier this month. Mite infestations appear as yellow or grey stippled patterns on leaves. The undersides of infested leaves will have fine silk webbing across them. Heavy infestations turn leaves totally yellow, grey or brownish and eventually they fall off.
Watch for scale and aphids if growth activity begins on your shrubs and trees. Aphids will appear in large numbers on the tender new stems and buds of plants. Their feeding often causes leaves to curl and distorts plant growth. Ants may be present as they feed on the sticky honeydew excreted by the aphids. This honeydew also serves as media for the fungus growth known as “sooty mold.”
Aphid populations can be reduced by directing a strong stream of water from a garden hose on the infested plant. Spraying with a mild soap solution of one tablespoon of dish soap per gallon of water will help. And don’t forget the lady beetle, who is a voracious aphid and mite eater. If lady beetles are present give them a chance to control the pests before you spray strong insecticides. Chances are they will get the problem under control.
By now everyone knows about the whitefly problem on Marco and in surrounding cities. The above sooty mold and home remedies also apply to the whitefly. I read with great interest a few weeks ago about the care taker of the Marriott’s grounds and his use of beneficial insects. I used to buy and release lady bugs in the 80’s and 90s with great success. I should have thought of that! I will do a column at the end of March about the process of buying and releasing beneficial insects and the need to stop the constant spraying of shrubs when there are no pests present. The practice is killing all our beneficial insects and allowing the pests to reign supreme. My supplier is in the north and cannot ship until April due to the cold weather. Stay tuned.
There are two ornamental shrubs common in our Marco Island yards that have edible fruit which will be ripening in February. They are the Surinam cherry and Carissa (natal plum). Try them! You’ll be surprised at how tasty they are when perfectly ripe. Both will be a deep red when they are ready to eat.
February will be the last slow month for yard chores. Enjoy the rest and get ready for all the things you will need to do in March to prepare for the summer growing season.
Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.