Last Tuesday was Groundhog's Day and on Facebook I saw Punxsutawney Phil, a supposedly groundhog prognosticator, with a sign saying, "Dammit, Jim, I'm just a rodent, not a meteorologist!" I suppose he's saying this to Jim Cantore, the Weather Channel's top meteorologist. In the same vein, I saw a picture from the Tampa Bay news and weather of a curved palm on a sunny beach casting a shadow on the sand. It said, "The Palm Tree saw it's shadow, predicting six more weeks of Florida." Well, probably many more, but you get the point. We by-pass any snow crisis.
It has been known to freeze here, even snowed one year. This happens mid-January and in all of February. After February, our freeze concerns are gone. I found the top advice this year for the February and March garden almanac is in the best gardening magazine for Florida called, Florida Gardening magazine.
Stephen Brown, our local Lee County Extension agent, writes a column for South Florida's gardening concerns. He has a very good article for February/ March. The question is-to fertilize now, or not to fertilize. A good question because of the variables.
We've always been told not to fertilize after October until March, because it causes new growth that can be frostbit and cause dieback. Many times we have not had to worry about this, but occasionally, Mother Nature throws a freeze into the mix about this time. Stephen claims this is true for healthy looking, cold sensitive plants, "However, chlorotic (pale-looking) cold sensitive plants will benefit from the right fertilizer whenever it is applied. Healthier plants will recover from frost or drought faster than weak plants."
I have found that the drying winds cause more damage than the freeze, so watering at the right time is essential. Plants cannot readily take up water or fertilizer when the soil temperatures are below 70 degrees. More plants die from the drying winds than freeze. But, since plants do not utilize much water in cool weather, rot sets in. Water early in the morning so that it dries off the leaves before sunset.
Stephen continues to tell us, "The most important turf fertilization is done in February. Use a complete fertilizer, such as 16-4-8; 'complete' means it contains a wide range of elements including magnesium, sulfur and iron. Citrus trees can benefit from fertilization now. They don't need as much nitrogen as the lawn. A 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 will work, or something labeled for Citrus."
As the cold leaves us, the insects start coming back. Keep a vigilant eye open for these critters. At the Trafalgar gardens we are spraying Bio-wash and treating with Dipel or (B.T.) Bacillus Thuriengensis. They get rid of the caterpillars and aphids. For smaller gardens, where you can monitor plants more closely, remember to hose up under the leaves with soapy water and oil.
By mid-February, you can start cleaning up the dead plants and preparing for the dry spring season. Be sure your irrigation system is functioning properly. Soon, April will bring watering restrictions. It is normally a very dry month.
After reading last week's column, I thought I might need to print a mea culpa. I had never heard of a Dater plant (facetiously, a plant that dates a lot?). I guess my research tool hasn't either. It should have said Datura. So - there was a fumbley-bumbley typographical error.
I didn't want to say too much about this beautiful and scented plant, because teenagers have tried to use it as a hallucinogenic and end up in hospitals, sometimes fatally.
It is in many people's front yard, with its up to 15 inches long upside down trumpet-shaped, dangling, ruffled flared blossoms.
Angel trumpets are in the closely related species of Daturas and Brugmansias. Daturas are herbaceous plants with upright blossoms that prefer sunny spots, warm weather and moist nutrient rich soil; whereas Brugmansias are woody-stemmed shrubs with droopy blossoms that can take partial to full sunlight.
Highly fragrant, the blossoms stay closed during the day and start opening at night and staying open until dawn, making them useful for "Moonlight Gardens" or "Night Gardens." Often, they are also called Moonflowers. Vespertine plants bloom at sunset or cloudy days to welcome night flying moths
In colors of white, pink/peach, yellow, angel trumpets make great attention attractors, and I have always called the purple ones, devil's trumpets. The devil's trumpet blossoms face upward, not down, so they are true Daturas. Devils trumpets can be other colors, they even have double blooms. With such a delightful fragrance, they attract hummingbirds, butterflies and the less desirable ants.
There are nine species in this Solanaceae family. Brugmansia were listed with Datura until 1973, when they were divided as to classification. Closely related to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, all are related to the Solanaceae nightshade family, but those are the healthy side of the family. Growing best in zones 9-11, the flowers begin blooming in late spring, continuing into late fall or early winter. The seed is a 2-inch ball covered in sharp prickly spines
These plants need protection in a freeze. The roots are hardy and growth will reappear in the spring. They also do well in containers that can be brought inside - just keep out of reach of children and pets.
Angel's trumpet plants contain toxic plant chemicals hyoscyamine, atropine and scopolamine. Also known as jimson weed, the leaves, seeds and blossoms, all parts are toxic if eaten. Keep them out of your diet.
Good, bad or indifferent, all trees and plants supply oxygen and take up the carbon dioxide, giving us a life saving bonus. Thank one today.
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.