Landscaping Tips

Expert landscaping tips from renowned local Horticulturist, Tom MacCubbin.


Spring’s Moving In

Only a few days of winter were really cold but it was enough to damage Central Florida plantings. By now you have noticed the duranta, crotons, hibiscus and Mexican firebush did not like the cold and may have suffered major injury. Most of us have performed needed pruning and await new growth.

Will the cold damaged plants survive? Most will, but for some it may be back from the ground, You have to decide if you want to wait for the new shoots to regrow the plants you remember or add new ones.


A walk through your entire yard may find problems to correct or chores that need to be done. Gardens have entered the warm season so it’s time to plant the flowers that won’t mind the heat. Some favorites include ageratum, begonias, blue daze, bush daisy, coleus, impatiens, lantana, marigolds, pentas, periwinkle and zinnias.

Attractive flower beds and planters start with good soil. Improve sandy sites with peat moss, compost and manure. If you are filling containers, use a quality potting soil. Make sure all have good drainage. Now here is a secret. After planting, add a slow release fertilizer to the surface of the soil in beds and containers. Read the label and make repeat applications as needed.

Vegetables for the garden include bush squash, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, snap beans and sweet potatoes. Many of the vegetables we like to grow and eat can be grown in containers set throughout the yard or on the patio. Wouldn’t it be nice to pick tomatoes fresh from your landscape?

One plant you have in the home can go outdoors is the orchid received as a gift or one special purchase for yourself. There are many types but all can be hung under a tree or set on a stand in the shade of a patio. Now is the time to make sure they have adequate water and begin every other week feedings. Also add other foliage plants that have been living indoors like bromeliads, ornamental figs and peace lilies to the patio or under tree settings. These exotics help create the tropical look in Florida landscapes.

One area of concern to many is the lawn. Local turf had a hard winter and may still be recovering. Now is a great time to add new sod and plugs. We all know how wet it can be in our landscapes but during spring we control the water to keep the lawn just moist enough to sink its roots into the ground. Adding new turf during the rainy season ahead can be tricky especially in the shady sites where it often stays too moist.


If you did not feed your lawn, it may be looking a little yellow. A fertilizer with nitrogen and potassium is normally applied for the first feeding of the year. Select a quality lawn fertilizer at most garden centers. If you did fertilize, but the lawn still has a yellow look, it may be needing an iron only or more complete minor nutrient application to regreen. Also, have your soil acidity checked to make sure you are using the nutrients applied efficiently. One more thing – stay alert to potential chinch bug damage in St. Augustine lawns and treat if needed.

Now stop at the shrubs and trees along the way. There may still be some pruning to do here. The harsh winter caused lots of immediate die back but some decline is certain to linger into the gardening year. It is not abnormal to find limbs dead or declining here and there. Just prune them out back into healthy growth. Palms may need even longer to recover so give then adequate time to send out new shoots.

It is also azalea pruning time. Overgrown and older azalea plantings need rejuvenation pruning every few years. Start by taking out the dead and declining portions – then remove some of the oldest trunks to the ground. Follow up by reducing the height and width of the plants. Healthy azaleas can withstand heavy pruning and rebound with lots of new vigorous growths to flower next year.

Feeding trees and shrubs is an option at this time of the year. The general rule is if the plants are making good green growth you may not have to fertilize at all. It is not something we have to do on a regular schedule for most of the ornamental plantings. But, if you want to stimulate growth or the trees and shrubs are not as green as you might like, a feeding with any general landscape fertilizer would be fine. Here is a tip – select a slow release product. It makes the best use of your gardening dollars and is environmentally friendly too.


Most of us, like wet weather that moistens the soil and promotes plant growth. But we don’t need daily downpours that flood our landscapes and encourage rot organisms. May, has been unusually wet this year and we all know the rainy season is a head. Keeping an attractive landscape may be a bit of a challenge. Preparing for more wet weather means selecting plants that also won’t mind the heat and humidity. One favorite is the caladium that likes to grow in the most soil. The bed pictured has been planted for three years and grows back from dormant tubers each spring. This year with the rains and a little fertilizer the plants are extremely attractive. These plants are in full sun but with adequate water they are flourishing. Your plantings might also like the shade or filtered sun location.


Picking plants for the summer flower beds and container gardens can be tricky but more good selections might be angelonia, begonias, coleus, melampodium, pentas, salvia and torenia. Transplants of all of these should be available at your local garden center. You might try an independent garden center for an extensive selection.

Lawn care is put on hold in Orange County Florida. Mowing must continue but you need special training to apply fertilizer to lawns June through September. Residents can take online training through Orange County to become certified each year to fertilize their lawns during the summer. Mowing is something we all can do and regularly. The rule is, remove no more than one-third of the leaf blade at a time. This means mowing most St. Augustine lawns when the grass grows five to six inches tall. Here is another suggestion – Mow in a different direction each time to prevent ruts in lawn. And keep a sharp mower blade.

Summer is a good time to plant new trees and shrubs. The rains help with the watering and the plantings can make good growth. Under the fertilizer rule for Orange County no fertilizer can be applied to the new or established plantings without the online training and certification. But you can do trimming to remove out of bound shoots and maintain at straight single trunk on most trees. Training when the tree is young helps prevent storm damage in the future.

Residents in need of new shrub plantings might want to select from my list of the most durable compiled after the winter freeze. If you need almost year-round color think about Drift roses. There are several varieties that flourish in the full sun locations. They have few pests and need mainly water and fertilizer.

Durable shrubs with some color include dwarf camellias, bottlebrush Little John, dwarf powderpuff, schefflera Trinette, and loropetalum Plum. Other mainly green shrubs or perennials include burfordii holly, coontie, dwarf yaupon holly, Indian hawthorn, liriope and lomandra Breeze. Not all are easy to find but the hunt is worth it.

Many have received gift plants or bought a holiday plant of their own. One that always captures our attention is the hydrangea. Did you know they are sometimes called mop heads due to the large flower clusters? They are not easy to grow on but they can be repeat performers if you find them a sun morning and afternoon of shade. They also do well in a full day of filtered sun. Keep them moist and apply a slow release fertilizer in March, May and early October.

Some other keepers from holiday selections include the poinsettia, Easter lily and orchids. Set poinsettias and Easter lilies in containers or plant them in the ground. Keep moist when growing and fertilize both in March and May. Poinsettias will need several other feeding during the warmer months. After blooms fade, orchids can be hung in trees or set on a shady patio. Keep moist and fertilize every other week with a liquid product during the warmer months. A slow release fertilizer can be substituted as instructed on the label.

Lastly, summer is the wet time of the year. Spot the low areas in the yard and provide drainage or created raised planting sites. You can also use containers plantings to keep roots reasonably dry during the frequent rains. And do expect some leaf spots on shrubs and flowering plants. Sometimes a fungicide may be needed to get the plants through the summer.

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