Gardening: Tips for the challenges of January

Eileen Ward
Columnist

January is here and we will still experience cold temperatures since it is the second coolest month of the year. The average temperatures are in the 65-degree range with highs in the 70s or low 80s and lows in the 40s or 50s.

Frost is always a possibility and has in fact been a reality in the past on Marco Island. This frost can do a lot of damage to our lawns, flowers and more tropical plants. Especially those plants that have been cut back too late in the year and now have tender new growth.

What to do? Don’t run a lawn mower over the lawn as this can damage the blades even more. Only mow as needed every ten to fourteen days and maybe less after an event like this. And resist the urge to cut away the dead and damaged branches on your plants. Wait until spring to do this as there may be more cold on the way which will do even more damage if you once again have new buds or tender growth on the terminal ends of your branches.

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Be careful not to over water your landscapes. There will be a lot of brown in our landscapes as a result of the cold. Your plants, trees and palms will have many yellow and brown leaves and these will begin to shed. Remember this is cold damage and not from a lack of water. These damaged plants will go into a dormancy and the trans-evaporation rates will be very low. The water in the soil will stay there much longer and this constant presence of moisture can cause disease. Keep your sprinklers at once a week or less until the hot, dry weather of spring arrives in April or May.

Many flowers and vegetables will be damaged by frost but fortunately you can still plant some new ones in the month of January. If the damage to your flowers is minor you might be able to prune the tips for a new flush of flowers rather than replanting the beds completely. If the flowers and vegetables are wilted to the ground it is probably best to remove them and start again.

Hornworms are common pests found on a variety of different plants.

Hibiscus plants tend to bloom profusely after a good cold spell. This may have been a little too cold for this tropical plant and only time will tell. Azaleas will also begin blooming in January. Plant azaleas so they get some sun but are not in the full sun. It is too strong for them here in south Florida. It is also a good month to plant rose bushes. Remember to look for roses grafted onto Dr. Huey or Fortuiana root stock. This under stock is nematode resistant and roses grafted on it can live as long as fifty or sixty years. Roses will also give some nice blooms with the cold weather.

January is one of the months to fertilize citrus. Be sure to fertilizer citrus before they begin to bloom in the spring. A lot of the citrus in our yards on Marco Island are slowly declining and dying because of damage done by the hurricanes of past years. Fertilize mangos when they begin to bloom whether it is in December, January or February. If you have had problems with diseased mango fruit or blooms spray the blooming tree weekly with copper, alternating with another fungicide to prevent copper toxicity, for disease free blooms and fruit.

Watch for spider mites especially on true evergreens like arborvitae, juniper and Italian cypress. Treat with a miticide for control.

Many people with poinsettias cannot bring themselves to throw away these plants after the holidays. These can be planted as an ornamental in south Florida but they can be a very large plant so care must be taken when deciding on a location. It should be a place free of light at night to help with the flowering for next season. They are not without their problems. Hornworms may be eating your poinsettia plants this month. They can grow to be many inches long and can be hard to see. These worms can defoliate a plant in a day. Also look for the eggs which are perfectly round and light green in color. They can be found on the top and bottom of leaves and bracts. The eggs are the size of tiny BBs. If the poinsettia’s leaves are yellow and stems are split and oozing, remove and discard the entire plant as it is diseased.

As we begin a new year, we should all try to be better stewards of our land. Use good horticultural practices which will help you use less fertilizer and pesticides and most importantly water. Learn to identify invasive exotic plants which damage our natural areas. Don’t plant them in your landscapes and if they have volunteered on your land, remove them from your yards or vacant lots so they cannot spread to the precious few natural areas left on and around Marco Island. Plant some native plants and embrace the wildlife that surrounds us by giving them a place in your yard. Marco Island is truly a special paradise we are all fortunate to share with Mother Nature. Let us not forget that it why we all love it so much. I wish you and our island all a healthy and prosperous New Year.

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Peter and Eileen Ward have sold Greensward of Marco after 40 years in the lawn and landscape business on Marco Island. You can reach Eileen with comments or questions on her columns via email at Gswdmarco@comcast.net or call 239-269-0192.