Spring-blooming plants need specific kinds of care

March 27, 2013 

We are planning a Flashlight Easter Egg Hunt at Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins. The children hunt the eggs at night with a flashlight. (Bring your children Friday at 6:30 p.m.) Our pastor told the children to bring a flashlight and a basket for the eggs. Since he said that, several of the men told the pastor we were coming to the hunt with extra-large handheld spotlights. These look like car headlights that you hold in your hand. The insinuation is that we are looking to find some eggs.

I even took my hunting cap to church. It has a flashlight built into the bill of the cap. This way I can see in the dark and still have my hands free. This sounds like the perfect “egg-hunting” hat to me. However, the children quickly informed me that I could not hunt for eggs. I was too old, and the hunt was for the children only. One child told me frankly that my job was to put out the eggs for them to find.

Sometimes, we do forget what our job is -- especially in spring when there is so much beauty and activity. Here is a reminder of garden tasks for spring-blooming plants.

• Spring-blooming plants are best pruned immediately after bloom. Pruning earlier would remove flowers. Prune spring bloomers until mid-July and then stop. Spring blooming plants begin producing flower buds for next year’s bloom as early as mid-July. Late pruning removes these flower buds.

• Wait until after bloom to fertilize. The ground is not really warm enough yet for roots to properly function. Early fertilization can also make plants more susceptible to late freezes. Fertilize beginning in late April. If you want the plant to grow larger, you can fertilize again in June. Shrubs and trees really do not require much fertilizer. See this publication for information on how much to use: http://tinyurl.com/ay9xzcl. Fertilizer can be placed over most mulches and watered in.

• Pansies and snapdragons begin to slow growth as temperatures get hotter, but for now they should look good. A little care will improve and lengthen the flower show. Pinch off old flowers and seed heads to encourage new flowers. Remove weeds you see, and thicken mulch if needed. Fertilize again with a liquid fertilizer. Plan now to replace cool season flowers like these beginning in mid-April.

• Bring some of the spring inside by cutting off branches of blooming plants and placing them in water. Even plants that have not bloomed yet may bloom inside. Cut branches, crush the cut ends slightly and place them immediately in water. Replacing the water regularly will improve your chance of success.

• Some blooming plants have pests that attack them, even when they are blooming. Although this may not be the best time to control the pests, you can look your plants over now to plan for pest control later.

• Azalea lacebugs attack the leaves making them look speckled or silvery on top. Underneath the leaf, you can find their brown tarry droppings. To see if the lacebugs are active, tap the branch over a white piece of paper. The lacebugs should fall onto the paper. Young lace bugs are dark and somewhat spiny. Mature lace bugs have lacy wings held flat over their back.

After bloom you can spray affected azaleas with liquid acephate or imidacloprid. You can also use imidacloprid as a soil drench right now for these pests. A drench is probably the best way to control them long term, but control may take several weeks. The advantage of a drench is that control may last the entire growing season. Follow all label directions when using pesticides.

• Bees are another reason to avoid spraying insecticides now. After bloom, bees should be gone and less at risk to be killed. Bees pollinate much of our food. We need a healthy bee population.

Communities often plan festivals around the bloom of certain plants -- like the Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon and the Dogwood Festival in Perry (April 13-14). If you want to see a list of the flower festivals across Georgia, visit http://tinyurl.com/acnsmx8.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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