March & April Gardening

March & April Gardening

Spring is here and we couldn’t be more excited! There are a few housekeeping things we can do to have your garden popping with color!

Except for a couple of freezes, it has been a relatively mild winter. But those freezes were cold enough and long enough to kill many tropical plants almost to the ground. Will we have more freezes? It’s possible, though after we reach mid-March, the probability drops significantly.

You might have the urge to clean up damaged plants as soon as possible; brown foliage and stems can be depressing. First though, examine the plants to determine the extent of cold damage.

Scrape the bark with your fingernail or use a pocket knife to see if the tissue beneath is still green or if it has turned brown due to cold damage. In many cases, you will find that the stems have been killed back to within a foot of the ground. On other plants, you may find that some of the stems still appear green higher up and you may not have to cut them back quite as far. If that’s the case, you may wish to wait until mid-March to cut these plants back. In case we have another hard freeze, the damaged growth may offer a little insulation to the undamaged parts of the plant. With most plants, there’s no real need to cut them back until the new growth starts popping out – probably late March.


 Butterfly ginger stems can be completely removed now. Many willt pop off when pulled lightly. Others may have to be cut, but it won’t hurt them. Variegated shell gingers, may still have undamaged growth mixed in below the brown leaves. You won’t kill a well-established shell ginger by cutting it back now, but because of the insulating effect of the brown leaves, it’s probably best to wait until mid-March to cut back them back.

Loropetulum, Azaleas, Crepe Myrtle
Wait to prune spring bloomers like loropetalum and azalea until after they finish flowering. Some overgrown shrubs may need to be cut back hard to rejuvenate them. If you do it now, they will have longer to recover. Before crepe myrtles start putting out new leaves is a good time to work on the shape of the tree. Remove poorly placed rubbing and crossover branches by cutting all the way back to the trunk or branch from where they grow. Don’t however, top the tree unless you are purposely trying to pollard the tree and completely understand how to do it correctly. Otherwise, you will likely end up with a mess.

In March, be prepared to plant warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes (in stock now), snap beans, pole beans, lima beans, sweet corn, southern peas, squash, and watermelons. Make sure you have the garden tilled before then. If you wait until April to plant, your harvest will be later and your veggies will require a bit more maintenance. Warm-season herbs can be added after early March.

Don’t be overly eager to fertilize your lawn, especially if you have centipede grass. Wait until at least mid-March. Make sure the lawn has been fully green for three weeks before fertilizing. If this pushes you into April, fine. It’s better to fertilize too late than too early. Centipede lawns that are fertilized too early often have spring yellowing problems. St. Augustine grass is more forgiving, but don’t fertilize it either until at least mid-March. Use 6.7 pounds of 15-0-15 fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn area. If the fertilizer doesn’t contain a least a third of its nitrogen in a slow-release form, though, cut the application rate in half. You can always come in to chat with us about this (or any other gardening-related topics).

Most of the weeds in the lawn now are winter annuals that will die out as the weather gets hotter.

Just keep your lawn mowed regularly until they do.

To keep fire ants out of your yard, broadcast fire ant bait over the entire yard, according to the label directions. Plan to treat again in the Fall. You can quickly apply using a small hand spreader.

New Additions
Before it gets hotter, add some colorful azaleas, camellias, roses, and loropetalum shrubs to your landscape. Also consider fragrant plants such as tea olives, banana shrubs, and sweet viburnum. The sooner you plant these in the spring, the quicker they will get established and grow.

Lavender trumpet vine (Clytostoma callistegioides), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), coral honeysuckle, and Confederate jasmine are vines that flower during this period of the year. Now is an excellent time to plant them.

Don’t forget groundcovers such as liriope, Lomandra, Mondo grass, Dianella (New Zealand flax), African iris, or any of a variety of ferns. Groundcovers planted now will have a full growing season to get established. Groundcovers are often a good choice for plantings in front of the house where you don’t want tall shrubs.

Add long-blooming seasonal color to your yard this spring. We are officially loaded with possibilities. Petunias will give you a lot of color in sunny areas for about three months. After the summer rains start in June they normally decline. Pentas will hold up through the Summer and into Fall. They prefer full sun but will take a little filtered sunlight. Sunpatiens® will work in sun or shade and should hold up through the summer. Melampodium will give continuous yellow blooms in sunny areas through summer and into fall. Torenias, especially the trailing or vining types, are excellent for providing low-growing color in areas that receive morning sun but not so much harsh afternoon sun. View our Spring Shopping Guide HERE or you can come to chat with our knowledgeable employees that can guide you.

Later in March, start planting perennials such as firebush, angel’s trumpet, cigar flower, and Turk’s cap so you will have color later in the season that will last into fall. These perennials will return each year, even if the tops get frozen back.

There’s no need to fertilize mature trees and shrubs that are growing well. But young plants which you’re trying to encourage to grow will benefit from an application of fertilizer now.  Several lawn foods and all purpose fertilizers are appropriate provides that do not contain herbicide. Pay special attention to palms, particulary if you’ve noticed that your palms haven’t been looking that healthy. Use an 8-2-12 or similar palm fertilizer that has 4% magnesium and micronutrients. If you have a lot of palms in the lawn, just use this palm fertilizer on your whole lawn.

If you didn’t get around to fertilizing fruit plants in February, do it now.  After mid-March is also a good time to plant new citrus trees such as satsuma, orange, or grapefruit. You have a full growing season ahead!

Anything that you plant now will need regular watering. That’s what they’ve been getting here at the nursery. Remember that for several months, at least. All the roots will still be in the root ball that was in the pot, even after you put the plant in the ground. Soak this root ball at least every other day. Don’t rely on a sprinkler system that only comes on once or twice a week. That’s not enough water for the limited root systems of new plants.

Come by and see us for all things spring!

*This article was written by David W. Marshall, University of Florida Extension Agent Emeritus and Landscape Consultant with Tallahassee Nurseries