Thursday, April 4, 2013

Timely Gardening Tips for April

Here's an April article I wrote for the Marion Gardener last year:

Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County
David Y. Goodman
UF/IFAS Marion County Master Gardener

Back when I lived in Tennessee, I loved the spring. Things were coming alive. We had plenty of rain and amazing, amazing green everywhere. Here, things are coming alive… then dying of thirst as the brutal sun bakes our sand into desert and desiccates their newly awakened roots.

Well – perhaps it’s not quite that bad – but last year I did spend an inordinate amount of time dragging my hose from new fruit tree to fruit tree and from garden bed to garden bed. As soon as I finished watering everything, it was time to start again. On the up side, there were no more frosts! Hurray for frost-free growing! And, unlike Tennessee and other Northerly climes, we’re not subject to long, cold, drizzly brown winters.

Keep an eye on your grass throughout April. Hopefully you fed it in March, but if not, it’s not too late. Adequate fertilization will help reduce drought stress. Also, make sure you give the lawn a good soak every week this month if the skies don’t do it for you. Your young trees and shrubs will also need extra attention. Make sure to chop back the grass around your young trees in a 3-4’ ring. If you don’t, the competition for water will greatly inhibit your tree’s growth. Grass is remarkably stingy with letting nutrients and moisture through to the tree roots beneath.

And speaking of trees, have you ever seen a tree called “Hercules’ club?” Also known as Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, this strange creation looks like an invention of Dr. Seuss. A Florida native, Hercules’ club can be found growing at the edges of woods in half-shade. Its trunk is covered with strangely spaced thorns and most of the greenery appears in a big puff like the feathers at the end of a feather duster. A little-known fact is that this bizarre looking far-off relative of the orange also has bark that can be used as a topical anesthetic similar to Novocain. You may need an anesthetic, too, if you run into its thorns. I’m going to plant a few beneath my oaks this year just because I like things that look weirder than I do.

Along with the warmth, the bugs are back.  Keep your eyes open and provide habitat for predators. Planned “wilderness” patches, stick and rock piles, dense foliage and water features are all great places for bug-eating good guys to live.

April is blueberry season. If you don’t have any of your own, be sure to look around for a local U-Pick establishment or hit the farmer’s market. You’ll be surprised at the good price you can get when you buy in quantity, and by buying locally you’re supporting other Florida farmers and gardeners.

Enjoy the warm weather – and plant away!

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