Wow! Did my garden get whacked by this cold weather. What should I do now with these withered babies? Should I put them out of their misery or wait and see what happens? 

 

As Duval County horticultural agent Terry Del Valle noted in this space last week, different approaches are needed. First, check your plants for water needs. If they appear dried out or were subjected to high winds during the freeze (most of them were) then by all means water them. As for your “withered babies” there are two approaches, depending on the plant.

If the plant has a rhizome root system, you can cut it back to the ground. A rhizome is a fleshy underground stem that grows under the surface of the soil and sends up stems, leaves and blossoms when the time is right. In other words, they will come back every year. Such plants include ginger, many irises, cannas and bamboo. It is best to wait until spring for most other plants that have been damaged by the cold winter. Then you can tell where to prune when you see new growth. Anything above that new growth can be pruned if it is damaged. That includes plants such as hibiscus and azalea, and shrubs such as plumbago and allamanda.

I have a beautiful, mature navel orange tree which has been producing for years. Suddenly it has branches growing vertically, instead of spreading like the rest of the tree. Does this bode trouble for my navel?

Probably not, however you need to do a bit of sleuthing to see where these vertical branches are originating. Citrus trees commonly produce vigorous, vertical shoots known as water sprouts or suckers. These water sprouts will eventually bear fruit, but it is a very slow process and interferes with productive limbs in the interim. Therefore, the water sprouts should be pruned flush with the trunk or originating branch. See edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs132.

Now for the sleuthing part. Look at the base of your tree where it meets the root stock, usually about 6 inches above the soil line. If your suckers are coming from below that graft, they are useless to the tree and in fact are using some nutrients needed by the productive part of the tree. They should be pruned immediately. It the vertical shoots are sprouting from the part of the tree above the graft, they are indeed water sprouts and should be pruned for the heath and beauty of the tree.

I want to make my garden an attractive place for bees and butterflies this year. What are things I can do to increase the buzz & flutter level in my garden?

Let’s start with the buzz! Bees seek flower blossoms for nectar to take back to the hive. In the process, they pollinate by carrying pollen from flower to flower around your garden. Both bees and butterflies prefer flowers that are open, flat, cupped or tubular so they can get to the nectar more easily than from pompom type flowers. Examples are coneflowers, daisies, sunflowers, Queen Anne’s lace, angel trumpet and hibiscus.

We must make an important point when you are trying to attract butterflies and bees. A pesticide-free garden would be wonderful, but not always possible. That is why reading the label on a pesticide is so important. There are products that will target a specific pest. A broad spectrum pesticide may kill not just the bad guys you are after, but beneficial insects as well. It is important to be cautious. Spot treat the plant with the problem or use a product for a specific pest, without spreading the pesticide around the garden.

Limiting your use of pesticides will encourage beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, which eat tons of aphids. Another key point when using pesticides is to spray at dusk when the bees are not active. This will help protect bees when using a contact pesticide.

Now let’s look at attracting butterflies. A great publication on the subject is “Butterfly Gardening in Florida,” //edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw057. Butterflies are attracted to a large variety of flowers, because they seek nectar as a food source. The butterfly larvae (caterpillars) however are attracted to specific plants called host plants which they use for food, shelter, camouflage and reproduction. You do not need host plants to attract butterflies, but adult butterflies tend to stay close to their particular host plants.

“Butterfly Gardening in Florida” will tell you which host plants attract which butterflies. Do not be overwhelmed though. A butterfly garden can be a small part of your yard or it can be your entire yard. The size and scope of the project is entirely up to you.

Karl Zedell Sr. is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and ask for a Master Gardener.