Here in Southwest Florida our growing season is 12-months-a-year. However, our climate conditions do indeed change during the winter months and there are some landscaping activities you should plan to do in the winter as opposed to the rest of the year. At Peer Landscaping we love creating gorgeous garden beds and tropical oases for our clients. But we are well aware that once that original planting is complete, most of our clients take care of their own maintenance. So this month we are giving you some tips on how best to care for your landscape during the winter months.
The fact that we have a 12-month growing season is quite wonderful, but it does have some drawbacks. Plants grow all year long, but so do weeds and insects and fungus. Those of you who come from Northern climates have a respite from those pests during the winter, which means they die back and then regrow in the spring. But we have no such respite in Southwest Florida, all those nuisance insects and plants remain actively reproducing and growing, and that is a challenge. We live in a sub-tropic jungle basically.
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, winter is the most important time to fight back against these pests. Because winter is our dry season, it is the best time to use weed killer, fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers (not that we want you to use a lot of chemicals, in fact, we urge you to use organic forms of these things whenever possible.) The reason for this is that during the spring and summer (a time when much of the rest of the states are fertilizing and killing off weeds and pests) we get so much rain here that those chemicals can get quickly washed away into our sewer systems and waterways if it is not applied properly. Remember the terrible algae issues we had a couple of years ago? Fertilizers feed not just your plants, but also the algae in our canals, rivers and ocean. So forgo using Nitrogen and Phosphorus based fertilizers during your counties’ blackout dates. It is a nutrient ban for the black out months, it is not an overall fertilizer ban. There are MANY OTHER macro and micro nutrients that your landscape needs. Add your organic matter and controlled-release fertilizer to your planting beds now, when they can release slowly into the soil over time.
Address Irrigation Issues
Now is the time for you to address irrigation issues as well. Because it’s the dry season, you want to be sure your irrigation system is working properly, and it’s easier to do that now as well. Make sure your rain sensor is working properly so you don’t overwater your lawn. Sometimes during the dry season people get overzealous about watering their lawn, but in reality, you don’t want to do that. Grass that is overwatered ends up with root rot, which is why you have those brown spots in the lawn. The other problem it causes is shallow root systems, which is not healthy for your lawn. You want nice deep roots and you also want to give them a chance to dry out between watering.
Having said that, it’s important that you water your plants, especially newly planted ones on a regular basis since we don’t get as much rain this time of year. Even those plants and bushes that look dormant now need their roots watered, since those will continue to grow.
Prune and Deadhead Now
Winter is an important time to go through your garden and deadhead or remove old blooms from your flowering plants. When dead leaves and flowers are left on a plant, the plant continues to send energy to that area in an attempt to heal it. This keeps it from growing more flowers! To add more color to your yard, stay on top of deadheading dead blooms. Generally, perennials flower less often during our cooler winter months. So if you are missing beautiful blooms right now, and you are looking to add some color, now is the time to plant some winter annuals like pansies, snapdragons, petunias, sweet alyssum and violas.
Along with deadheading, now is the best time of year for pruning and maintaining trees and bushes. Selectively remove branches and leaves to provide a clearing for other plants to get more sun, reduce the risk of breakage or reduce size. Plants of all kinds really grow fast here, so keeping them at a manageable size is important. Plus pruning allows you to shape the trees and bushes to best fit your landscaping look.
Care During Cold Winter Nights
It was pretty cold a couple of weeks ago, and judging by the rest of the country, it may get cold here again. At night cover newly planted plants, and some temperature sensitive plants such citrus trees with a light cloth, like breathable old sheets or burlap to keep these tender plants from getting too cold. Stay away from plastic or trash bags, moisture can get trapped overnight and when the sun comes up, it will cook and burn the plants to death. We rarely get close to a frost here, but because the temperature difference between the nighttime and the daytime can be so drastic, it’s best to take extra care.
Looking to keep your plants warmer at night, then now is the time to put down new mulch as well. Mulch is very important here in Florida because it moderates soil temperatures keeping roots warm in the winter and cooler in the summer. In our dry months it’s also really important because it helps sustain soil moisture, reducing the need to water. Mulch helps reduce soil erosion and inhibits weeds as well. Look to use a locally-sourced mulch, since it’s also adding nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.