Tips from the Toolshed: A Gardener’s M.O.

And Now, the Cycle Begins Again

Spring is a time in the garden for running about trying to get everything done, and I mean everything. After a few wintry spells below 30 degrees, suddenly, all your plants are growing at once—and here come the weeds! Not that we didn’t have weeds during the winter months, but now they’re really coming into their own. Dead foliage from freezes and frosts needs to be cut back, but there also may be new green coming at the base of those burnt sticks and limbs, so be careful with those clippers. Our winter weeds are, thankfully, starting to show signs of failing. Hopefully, over the winter you kept them from going to seed. You’ll most likely see them again next winter, but if you managed to curb their seeding, they won’t (or shouldn’t) be as prolific. That’s the theory anyway.

It’s time to get the mower into weekly operation again, so do your maintenance on your beast of choice. You should sharpen the blades or replace them. Change the oil, and replace the air filter and spark plug. After the first two or three cuts, you can fertilize or weed and feed your grass, but be sure not to apply either until the grass is awake and growing. Milorganite is a great source of nitrogen, iron and the biosolids that plants love. Hey, let’s face it, plants like disgusting food, and Milorganite certainly delivers. It’s from Milwaukee and it’s recycled waste in dried pellet form. A good weed and feed contains Atrazine, which will slay any weeds fairly quickly—at least most weeds that we encounter in Florida. Some weeds you may still need to pull by hand even after treatment.

If you use granular or chemical weed killers for lawns, be sure you’re obeying local ordinances. In Alachua County, Florida, our landscape fertilizer regulations prohibit using landscape fertilizers containing nitrogen from July through February.

Be on the lookout for dry spells as we head for the summer and enter the rainy season. Last May, we entered a dry period before our “summer monsoon” season. On campus, we have an interesting problem in May. We rely largely on reclaimed water for our irrigation. We have city water access for our buildings and pools, of course, but our 16 zones of garden irrigation are supplied by the reclamation plant just down Gale Lemerand Drive. So, when the students leave for their summer break, no one is producing water for the reclamation plant. As a result, Wilmot Gardens has no irrigation water for about a week! It’s an interesting problem for a public garden to handle. We have about 500 feet of garden hose to remedy this situation.

The pollen is already starting to coat our car hoods a light green, so that means there will be one more large leaf fall from the oak trees. As pollen pods appear underfoot, the oaks that still have their previous years’ leaves will drop those leaves and push out the new green. This is when it’s important to blow or rake off all those millions of leaves from your grass. Right now, as your lawn comes awake again, it needs as much sun on it as possible. So be diligent and remove the leaves. Use fallen leaves to supplement your planting beds with some free and natural mulch. All of the nutrients still trapped in the leaves will be recycled to your soil if you mulch with them.

Our camellias have bloomed nicely this year, and once they’re finished we give them a round of camellia fertilizer. You can see the pointy new growth nodes on your camellias now and some might, in fact, be opening already. As they do, you should be aware of the possibility of a Japanese/Metallic Beetle attack. Adult beetles insert their eggs into the new growth nodes, so as the nodes open, their babies begin to feast on your new growth! If there are holes all through your new growth, you have the problem that I spray for each and every April. You can use a systemic insecticide like Safari on your camellias to prevent this problem. If you do the baby beetles may bite a leaf, but they should die thereafter.

I’d like to give a huge thank-you to all of our volunteers. A year is our volunteer cycle at Wilmot instead of each semester. We normally have a new group of volunteers join us in the fall and remain until the end of spring semester. We have had some really hard-working groups and individuals working with us this year. Thank you! Now, who wants to stay and volunteer with us through the summer?

Steve Pritchett
Garden Supervisor, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine