Garden and Soil Preparations For The Spring

By Les Harrison

The month of February 2018 has seen a warming trend, at least when compared to January 2018. Still, it is winter in north Florida and only the hardiest of vegetables are growing as the thermometer edges towards the freezing mark at least one night a week.

Even so, the days are getting marginally longer and spring is on the horizon. For the gardener who is anxious about getting a head start on the growing season, this is a period where self-discipline and restraint that must be used to produce the most effective and efficient outcome.

The monotony of cutting kale leaves and watching the slow progress of onions is only relieved by thumbing through the unending stream of newly arrived seed catalogs which appear daily with the mail. The bright, and usually optimistic, images of fruit and vegetables stir dormant desires for warm, sunny days and fresh grown produce.

Kale planted during December handles the frost of February with no problems and still has time to produce a usable crop. While still too early to plant warm season crops, it is time to get prepared for the spring soon to come.
Photo by Les Harrison

Luckily, there are a number of productive pursuits which will fill the hours until the balmy weather returns. First among these chores is to submit a soil sample for analysis.

The analysis report will tell the gardener how much phosphate and potash is in their soil and will make a nitrogen recommendation based on the crop to be produced. Additionally, the soil’s pH will be described.

The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the garden’s soil and a key component for success or failure during the growing season. Most fruit and vegetable have specific pH ranges where they perform best, or not at all.

As a general rule, the soils in the southern part of the county near the coast are alkaline and those on the north end near Leon County tend to be acidic.  Awareness of the pH gives the gardener the opportunity to take actions which can produce the best possible outcome.

Another February activity is to plant potatoes now. Start with healthy seed pieces purchased from a local supplier where they can be examined for quality and cleanliness.

Avoid using potatoes from the supermarket as they may carry an unintended pathogen or have been treated with a sprout inhibitor. Also, seed potatoes are less expensive to purchase.

Potatoes prefer a loose, well-drained slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5 to 6 being ideal for growing. However, potatoes do not grow well in flooded conditions or spots which stay saturated and promote rot of the tubers.

High levels of organic matter contribute to the essential nutrients needed for successful growing and help retain the needed moisture.  The organic material can be compost or tilled under plants such as clover which decompose quickly in the hot humid weather soon to come.

Another task which can be handled in February is to fertilize Citrus and other fruit trees now, if not done in late January. Frequency and amount of fertilization depend on the age and species of the tree.

For citrus trees during their first year in the ground, apply fertilizer about every six weeks from February through October. After the tree has become established, the goal will be to replace nutrients removed with the fruit and to provide enough nutrients to sustain continued tree growth.

Accomplish all of the above and March 2018 will be here, and hopefully so will the spring weather.

To learn more about gardening in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website at http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/wakulla or call 850-926-3931.

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