This month, let’s look at several topics. To most of us, the effects of this winter are not a total shock because we are aware of the unpredictable weather here in Louisiana. I’m constantly getting calls, now, from gardeners who are asking questions such as: will my gingers come back? Or, how do I determine if my angel trumpets survive? Or, how do I determine how much of my citrus trees should be pruned? The first point I’d like to make is that we are not the ones that will determine the extent of damage that occurred on landscape plants. That is going to be determined by the overall health and vigor of the plants, the plant’s (or plant group’s) degree of cold hardiness, whether or not the plants were in an exposed or protected area, and finally, how low the temperatures dropped below freezing, and how many hours temperatures remained there..
When selecting plants for our southern landscapes, gardeners should become familiar with the terms tender and hardy. Hardy plants are those that can reliably survive winter temperatures in the area where you garden with little or no protection. A plant is considered tender when it will not reliably survived winter temperatures in the area where you garden without extensive protection. Also there are various degrees of cold hardiness and cold tenderness that exist among both (hardy and tender) groups of plants. In this day and age, gardeners should be aware of the potential for damage from freezing temperatures when choosing plants for our southern gardens.
Another misunderstood term used in discussing cold temperatures during winter months is wind chill. For the record, plants don’t feel wind chill like we do; rather, plants are affected by the actual temperatures.
Upon the advice of Dan Gill and Dr. Allen Owings, both horticulturists with the LSU AgCenter, I’m telling all gardeners with the questions that I mentioned above, to be patient. Wait on Mother Nature to determine the extent of damage and the amount of pruning necessary on woody tropical plants, such as hibiscus, angel trumpet, schefflera, and whether or not herbaceous tropical plants such as cannas, elephant ears, philodendrons or gingers will sprout or put out new growth. For woody tropical plants, try scratching the bark; if the tissue is green underneath it still alive. If the tissue is tan or brown, the branch is probably dead. Start at the top and work your way down to see how far down the plant was killed. If no leaves or new growth is produced on plants or parts of plants this month, then that plant or a portion of that plant can be pruned or removed. The key is to be patient and allow the growing season to unfold before making a final determination.
Palms and their freeze injuries have also prompted many questions. We should wait until mid-to-late summer before assessing cold damage because palms will not begin to actively grow until soil temperatures rise. That is when the soil is warm and encourages the roots of palms to grow vigorously. For this reason the recommended transplanting period for palms is from late April or early May through the month of August, instead of fall and winter like other shrubs and trees.
The bottom line is that this is going to be a recovery year for a lot of tropical plants in our gardens. We must do whatever we possibly can to minimize stress on these plants. We want all the energy of the plant to be directed toward recovery, instead of battling drought or pest problems.
I’ve looked at approximately 12 lawns and had ten or more conversations with homeowners primarily concerned about their lawns being slow to green up. I pointed out to them that we have to remember that all warm season lawn grasses such as St Augustine, Centipede, Zoysia, Carpet, Bermuda require warm soil temperatures for root activity. According to Dr. Ron Strahan of the LSU AgCenter, root activity gets started when the soil temperature gets in the 60’s then progressively increases as the soil temperature rises. That is the primary reason why the recommendation for the first application of fertilizer is the 1st or 2nd week in April. In March and before daytime temperatures rises above 85 degrees, homeowners should be focusing on weed control. In early March while the soil is still cool, only very limited amounts of fertilizer will be absorbed by the roots of warm season lawn grasses. Controlling those winter weeds does a couple of things: first, it reduces the competition for water and nutrients with the lawn grass; second, it controls the weeds before they mature and drop seeds in the soil that will eventually germinate. We want to apply herbicides to control the majority of weeds before daytime temperatures surpass 85 degrees. Once temperatures rise above 85 degrees, temporary yellowing of lawn grasses can be expected with herbicide applications.
To control many of the winter broadleaf annual weeds that we currently see in lawns, there are two herbicides that are recommend at the rate of 2 ounces per gallon of water. One is Ortho Weed B Gon and the other is Fertilome Weed Freezone. Both contain the same 4 herbicides to control weeds. That is why both of these herbicides are referred to as 4-way blends for use by homeowners. Spray once; then in 10 – 14 days evaluate weeds and make another application if necessary. Either one of these herbicides will give homeowners what they need to control broadleaf weeds in warm season lawn grasses.
All lawn grasses will benefit from fertilizer applications which will provide nutrients needed for optimum performance. Some homeowners are choosing to not apply synthetic fertilizers. Instead, they are opting to leave grass clippings on the soil surface or mulching grass clippings, which return nutrients to the lawn. Other options include the application of natural or organic type lawn fertilizers. If you choose, synthetic slow-release fertilizers, those by Scott’s, Anderson’s, and Florikan are quality fertilizers that can be found locally. Water-soluble synthetic fertilizers such as 8 – 8 – 8 or 13 – 13 – 13 are also options.
Apply the fertilizer while the grass is dry, followed by rainfall or applying a sprinkler system for 15 minutes to wash the fertilizer from the lawn grass into the soil.
Finally, the best weed control is a healthy, thick, vigorous growing lawn that will keep out weeds. Mowing height makes a big contribution toward the health and performance of a lawn, with proper mowing height reducing stress on lawn grasses, especially when it is hot, dry or growing in the shade.
The following mowing heights are recommended for various warm season lawn grasses, St Augustine 3 – 3 ½ inches, Centipede 1 ½ - 2 inches, Common Bermuda 1 – 1 ½ inches, Hybrid Bermuda ¾ -1 inch and Zoysia 1 – 1 ½ inches.
Happy Gardening and Bring on Spring!