by Les Harrison
At last it looks like the winter of 2018 has finished, at least in north Florida. The storm systems which are still heaping snow and ice on the northern tier states are producing April showers locally.
Those April showers will produce May flowers, both wild and domestic, if homeowners and landscapers complete the necessary preparation tasks to assure the best chances for success. That rain will also produce a bountiful vegetable garden, healthy shrubs and a generous fruit crop for those who are ready.
Tip #1 – Installation of Annuals
On the top of the list for the managed landscapes of panhandle Florida are the installation of annuals and bedding plants. The moderate temperatures make the hand labor much less a chore, but the mosquitoes are already out looking for their first meal.
Annuals offer an almost infinite variety of color, texture and plant forms which can be used to brighten landscape beds and add a splash of color to a porch, deck, or patio if placed in containers. A few also make good cut flower selections to enhance interior environments.
In Florida’s north end, most annuals flourish for one season, but not a year. Warm season annuals can be damaged by frosts or freezes so they should be planted after the potential for frost has past, but with enough time to reach their peak maturity.
Tip #2 – Addition of Bulbs and Vegetables
April is also an ideal time to plant many bulbs in the home garden. Some like caladiums can be planted all year round, but run the risk of damage if they sprout early and are not protected from a late frost.
Warm season vegetable planting is a priority activity for April. Depending on how the remainder of spring goes, transplants may offer the best possibility for success.
This is especially true for tomatoes. Almost all locally available cultivars will not set fruit during the heat of summer.
Other warm season vegetables, such as sweet corn, okra and cow peas, can be planted now from seed as they are much more tolerant of the impending higher summer temperatures. Unfortunately, later plantings are more likely to be afflicted with excessive insect pressure.
If planting vegetables which grow on vines, such as cucumbers or running beans, consider placing a trellis in the growing bed. The structure will provide steady support for the vegetables and keep them off the soil where decay can reduce yield.
Tip #3 – Location, Location, Location
If new to vegetable gardening or an old hand, the gardens location is very important for several reasons. Any of these can drastically affect the outcome.
Site selection can influence the amount of sun exposure, a critical component to success. An absolute minimum of six hours of sunlight is required for most vegetables.
Another consideration for the site is water availability. A few weeks without rain will wither any hope of a productive garden, if supplemental irrigation is not available.
Lastly, the type of soil in the growing area should be suitable for vegetable production. Organically rich and well-drained soil which is slightly acidic makes for a good plot.
Tip # 4 – Monitor For Destructive Pests
One more tip for the spring gardener, whether ornamentals or vegetables, is to monitor for insect pests. While there are many beneficial insects in native to Florida, there also those which can quickly damage or destroy the home gardener’s effort.
To learn more about early spring gardening, contact the local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Click here for contact information.