Landscaping Tips

Expert landscaping tips from renowned local Horticulturist, Tom MacCubbin

Spring and heading into Summer in Orlando - Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. Hopefully the rainy season will soon arrive but it’s not unusual for the afternoon downpours to wait until mid June to get started. We did not begin the new year very well as many areas had downpours but then periods of no rain at all. Now is a time for all of us to think about water conservation.

Gardeners need to consider ways they can conserve water. The use of rain barrels is increasing as is fitting irrigation systems with micro-sprinklers. And don’t forget to adjust the irrigation clocks or maybe turn them off as the rainy season returns.

If there is one group of flowers gardeners often avoid it has to be the bulbs. I see shoppers regularly pass by the bulb displays. After all there is only a picture on the package with an air-dried bulb inside, but we want a plant with flowers or foliage - We want it today. Bulbs are worth starting from the packets or sharing with friends from the landscape. One I really like for the summer is the achimenes. You may have to look this one up on the Internet to find a picture and source but they are great in hanging baskets and as a ground cover. The flowers come in pink, blue, yellow and white. They die back for fall and winter and by late spring are growing again.

Spring Landscaping

Gardeners who want the summer color can plant caladiums. It’s a favorite that sprouts in the spring and continues great leaf color until late summer. They grow in the sun and shade but like the filtered sun best. If you grow them in sun, they need lots of water. Many keep their caladiums in containers to move about when they are most colorful.

One of the work horses of the landscape has to be the African iris. It withstands the summer heat and rains plus the drier times too. Another good durable bulb is really a group known as the crinums. These can be medium in size to huge plants and the flowers may be pink, white, maroon or even yellow. A few more of my favorites for planting include the blackberry lily, bulbine, cannas, eucharis lily and rain lilies. Some may be hard to find but they are worth the search.

Lawns have been looking good thanks to some rain and your irrigation. Hopefully the summer storms start soon. But don’t forget the turf can dry out quickly during a series of hot days. We all talk about drought tolerant grass but the truth is, if he turf does not get the water it needs, all are going to shrivel and turn brown. The ones we note as drought tolerant simply have a better ability to revive when the rains return or you turn on the irrigation. If you want a green lawn, most turf types are going

Spring Landscaping

to need water about twice a week either from significant rains or irrigation during the really hot summer weather. If the turf it looking a little yellow, you might try an iron only application or a half rate fertilizer feeding. Do note Orange County now has a fertilizer rule that prohibits feedings during the summer months. This applies to residential and commercial residents. The last permitted fertilizer application is the end of May. Permitted fertilizing does not begin again until October.

Summer lawn pests include chinch bugs in St. Augustine and sod webworms in all grass types. If the lawn is turning yellow and dying out in patches, better search for chinch bugs. If the grass appears to be eaten away, it’s likely sod webworms. Sprays for these pests are available at your local garden center -- there are some natural sprays for webworms. We can expect weeds too. These are best dug out or spot killed. Summer is normally not the time to make massive herbicide applications to lawns. Hurricane season is upon us and we have the potential for a number of storms. Now is the time to check your trees. Look for hollow areas in the trunks, dark sap running down the sides, limbs too near buildings and any dead tree portions. All are symptoms your trees could have a problem or cause damage during storms. Now here is a real tip. Get a professional to do the work. They know the best way to be safe when moving between the limbs.

Lastly enjoy some of the great foliage plants Florida has to offer. We like to cluster spathiphyllum, aglaonema, dracaena, anthurium, aluminum plants and philodendrons out in the landscape and on our patios. They give the tropical look under trees and along walkways too. There is no better way to enjoy a Florida landscape during the summer than with plenty of big leaf foliage.

Summertime and the living is easy but gardeners grow weary. Hot and humid conditions make it difficult to even go outdoors but the landscape needs out attention. Perhaps the secret to summer gardening is working during the bit cooler hours of morning and very late afternoon. One secret to summer gardening is picking plants that make it through the hot months with minimal care. My go to plants for summer are coleus and pentas. Both are relatively inexpensive and produce lots of color well into fall.

Summer Landscaping

Coleus come in many colors - it’s the coat of many colors. One trick to good coleus is finding varieties for the sunny sites. All grow well in shade, but some suffer in the sun. Then, keep them moist and trimmed to maintain compact plants. Pentas are free bloomers that bring in the butterflies and hummingbirds. Red is a favorite but there are many colors. They need the sun for best growth but keep them moist. Both of these plants do well with a light mulch over their root systems. A favorite mulch for all bedding plants is pine bark fines. You may have to look a bit for this one but it is usually available from landscape suppliers.

One plant making a come back for summer color is the impatiens. Several types are available and resistant to a major disease of the past. All do well in the shade to filtered sun. More color for summer gardens and planters can be found in the bush daisy, lantana, firespike, angelonia, begonias, Joseph’s coat, salvia, torenia and classic zinnias. All can grow into the fall and some are perennials which give a repeat performance another year.

Lawn care time is here: Now don’t get too alarmed if you see moths flitting through the landscape. Yes, they are probably the moths from sod webworms, but they are not causing harm in this stage. Wait until you see feeding as chewing of the grass blades to act and apply a control. Your garden center has several natural controls that can be applied for these pests following label instructions.

Summer Landscaping

Chinch bugs are another pest in St. Augustine lawns. When the lawn starts to turn yellow to brown in patches, hunt for these tiny insects near the ground. A control is definitely needed here as chinch bugs can destroy your lawn. If you notice ruts in your lawn think about how you are mowing. Gardeners and maintenance companies that take the same routes are going to leave paths behind. Try mowing in different patterns to keep attractive turf.

Orange and many surrounding counties have a moratorium on fertilizing during the summer. This means from June through September no fertilizer can be applied to lawns and ornamentals. If you forgot to fertilize your plantings by the end of May, you have to wait until October to provide the next feedings. We all have to learn the lesson that if we want plants to look their best during the summer, we have to apply a slow release landscape fertilizer by the end of May each year.

Summer is a good time to move indoor foliage plants outdoors to a porch or patio. You can even mix them in with existing ornamentals. Many are using peace lilies, bromeliads, crotons, ficus, dracaena and others as landscape plants for the tropical look. If you only want them for containers, check for good drainage in the pots. If root systems are crowded or in a tight ball a new container may be needed. Also check these plants for pests and wash them off with soapy water. Summer rains can help wash your plants clean and shine the leaves. When late fall arrives, many summer foliage plants can be moved back into the home.

Summer Landscaping

Have you noticed most plants have made lots of growth? Mid to late summer is the time to do some needed grooming. Limbs may be out of bounds hanging over walkways and drives. Shrubs may be encroaching each other or blocking sprinklers. Use the hand pruners to trim these back to a branch angle or to a bud along the stems. Pruning time is over for azaleas, camellias and gardenias forming buds for their next flowers. A little grooming is fine to remove errant shoots but not major pruning. Do complete pruning of bougainvillea, hydrangeas chrysanthemums and poinsettias by the end of August so they can mature their stems and produce seasonal blooms. Grooming is important to keeping landscapes attractive. Blueberries and blackberries need their annual pruning too. And don’t forget the hedges - maintain that pyramidal look to keep the foliage to the ground.

Now here is something fun to do. Visit your local garden center to check for good buys. Many growers start to reduce their inventory of tropical plants for the landscape. Plants to look for include crotons, peacock gingers, begonias, hibiscus, and heliconia’s. Enjoy them for a few more warm months and then be ready to give them winter protection.

One question gardeners often ask is how long a tree or shrub should last in Central Florida landscapes. Is it ten, twenty, thirty years or more? Actually we help determine the life span of all plants in the landscape. Under urban conditions many trees only last twenty to thirty years. Confined spaces with limited root room, trenching to install utilities and inconsistent care can quickly cause trees to decline.

Shrubs typically last about twenty years due to continual pruning that limits limbs and foliage. We often see shrubs with what landscape maintenance companies call a tabletop. This means the shrub is pruned back to the same size and shape continually producing a layer of congested twigs. These plants do not grow naturally to their normal age.

Fall Landscaping

Still we want shrubs that can last a long time. We want the most durable and often the most colorful. So what is available? One shrub that continually gets our attention is the dwarf schefflera of the variety Trinette with yellow and green foliage growing to about three feet tall and wide. It is an amazing plant surviving in sun and shade. It tolerates tree roots and resists pests. Severe cold can damage the plants but they come back.

Many gardeners want the boxwood look but the plants are not good Florida survivors. Their main problem is nematodes that affect their root and stem diseases. But, if you like this look, the dwarf yaupon holly is for you. This native grows in sun to filtered sun, competes well with roots and has few pest problems. It is a boxwood look alike with a better green color. Use is as a foundation plant, in shrub beds and as a small hedge.

Durable shrub type plantings also include burfordii holly, coontie, dwarf powderpuff, Indian hawthorn, lomandra Breeze and loropetalum Plum. Several of these are seen in Central Florida landscapes and common grounds. Surely you have noticed their shorter life span. It all has to do with plant care. A good example is the Indian hawthorn that if continually pruned lasts about twenty years but if just trimmed lightly and has adequate water and fertilizer the life is indefinite.

Fall Landscaping

What about some tough durable summer color? High on my priority list is pentas and coleus. These take the summer rains, heat and humidity. If it does not rain, they do need extra water but when the almost daily rains occur you can seemingly forget them and they are beautiful. Some other summer carefree color comes from blue daze, bush daisy, coleus, false heather, Joseph’s coat, melampodium, sunflowers and torenia. Like most landscape plants they need water during the dry times and use of a slow release fertilizer found at garden centers every two three months.

Now what about lawns? St. Augustine is still our best turf. We hear about many other turf types but this is the one Florida residents know most about as to needs and care. Lawn care companies are most familiar with this turf type. It needs fertilizer about three times a year and water during the dry times. I feel it is relatively drought tolerant but can succumb to long periods without water. Just water as permitted which is twice a week and St. Augustine should survive until the next rain.

Many ask about fertilizing during the summer. Orange County is one area of Central Florida that does not allow feeding of turf and landscape plants during the summer unless you have a special permit. If you are interested in obtaining the permit, take the online Orange County Fertilizer Application Education Course for Citizens.

Summer feeding can be important and help build strong turf with roots that prevent run off and pollution. Use a slow release fertilizer with zero in the middle number of the analysis as most lawns do not need extra phosphorus. Also phosphorus is banned in fertilizers unless a soil test determines you have special need. Shrubs grow stronger too and keep their green color.

Winds, rain, heat and humidity are all part of summer. Selecting tough durable plants and keeping them healthy is the best way to maintain an attractive Central Florida landscape.

This may be a critical time for many of our Central Florida landscape plantings. You may notice caladiums, some gingers and achimenes have started to decline. Plus a few trees and shrubs are showing a little autumn color. This is all due to shorter days and cooler temperatures that may also be affecting plants in less obvious ways.

Short days start the initiation of blooms on poinsettias, Christmas cactus and kalanchoes. Make sure these plants do not have nighttime light after October if you want them in bloom for the holidays. Christmas cactus and their relatives, often called holiday cactus, need less water and no feedings at this time.

Many plants are not affected by day length but like the cooler weather. When a little chill is in the nightly air, it is the time to plant ageratum, calendula, dianthus, dusty miller, geraniums, petunias, snapdragons and zinnias in flower gardens and containers. Resist the temptation to plant violas including pansies and Johnny-jump-ups until the really cool weather arrives.

Winter Landscaping

One shrub we and all enjoy with fall through winter color is the camellia. Actually there are a number of different types of camellias with flowers of white, pink, red and blends. Now is the time to pick the color you would like and add one or more of these shrubs to your landscape. They are great shrubs for the filtered sun. Some are low growing and other form hedge size plants. Just keep them moist after planting so they become well established.

Herb lovers are celebrating the return of the cooler weather. Many growers take a break during the summer then restart their plantings during fall that continue through spring. If you have plants from summer, give them a grooming and feeding. Then start adding anise, basil borage, chives coriander, dill, fennel, nasturtiums, oregano, sage thyme and more to your plantings. Many gardeners like to grow herbs in containers where they can be moved about due to changes in the weather. Start monthly feedings, keep the plants moist and use your herbs to keep them growing.

Fall is a season for lawn care. Many have been without fertilizer since late spring and have that yellow look. Select a turf fertilizer that slowly feeds your lawn during the fall and early winter months. With lawns it is important to complete the lawn feeding in October to reduce late fall disease activity. Also, consider a mid November fungicide application to reduce brown patch, also called large patch, affecting turf. Lawn caterpillars can continue to feed in all turf types and chinch bugs may still affect St. Augustine lawns.

Fall is a good time to sod or use plugs to start new lawns or patch the bare areas. At this time of the year you can usually control the water to help reduce rot problems especially in the shady areas. If you have areas that no longer support good grass, consider a shade tolerant ornamental ground cover, perennial planting or collection of shrubs. Mulches and pavers may also be used in these low light areas.

Winter Landscaping

Use the cooler months as a time to reevaluate your landscape and decide where new plantings are needed. Trees, shrubs and ground cover take root and begin some growth so they can be ready for spring. Do remember not to dig a hole deeper than the root balls but you can make the hole as wide as you want. In fact an inch or two of the top of the root balls can be above the top of the soil. Just mound mulch up to the edge of the root balls. And don’t forget these plants still need lots of water to establish.

Many fruit trees have completed their harvest and can be left to go dormant or become less active. Pruning and feeding time is over for most as encouraging growth could make them susceptible to cold or early flowering. Citrus trees should get their last feeding of the year in using a citrus fertilizer at the label rate. Scatter the granules under the spread the trees and out past their drip line.

Shrub plantings and palms are ready for their final feeding of the year too. Use any general landscape fertilizer for shrubs but obtain a specific product for palms. The University of Florida recommends an 8-0-12-4Mg fertilizer for palms and suggests it can be used for all ornamental landscape plantings. Early fall is also the time to complete pruning and grooming of landscape trees, shrubs and perennials. Exceptions are azaleas, camellias, bougainvillea, gardenias and poinsettias for which pruning time is over.

Start planning your cold protection strategy. Prepare foliage plants to be moved indoors, repot any that need a larger container and control insect pests. Assemble needed plant covers and prepare for a possible late November frost.

Fall is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. Visit a botanical garden to get some fresh ideas and put them to work in your Central Florida landscape.

Fertilize Responsibly

From June 1 to September 30 the following apply:

  • Check the Weather - No fertilizer within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain
  • Read the Label - Choose zero nitrogen (N) and zero phosphorous (P)
  • Protect Stormwater Inlets - Collect grass clippings and leaves for yard waste pick-uo or for use as mulch

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