Jean Field, Extension Horticulture Specialist, Pinellas County Extension
April Showers don’t bring May flowers in Pinellas County. In fact, our April showers are more like sprinkles. March through May is our dry spring season when the heat turns up and the rainfall becomes scarce. It is during this critical time when newly-planted or stressed plants wilt severely or die. A few precautions will help our landscapes survive until the rains of summer grace our doorsteps.
When lawns show signs of wilt (leaf blades fold in half, color changes, foot prints remain), ½ to ¾ inch of water should be applied. Since most roots are in the top 4-6 inches of soil, ½ to ¾ inch of water will wet that area and below to encourage deeper rooting. Applying more than that amount of water is wasteful.
Many established, drought-tolerant landscape trees and shrubs require little or no irrigation, provided roots are not obstructed by compacted soil, foundations, or other obstacles in the soil. If roots are confined then watering may be required during extended drought. If watering is needed, apply 1 inch of water.
Plants most vulnerable to death or severe wilting are shrubs and trees planted within the last 6-12 months. Learn more about the water needs of newly-planted shrubs here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep391 and trees here: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep112.
There are many things we can do, and should avoid doing, during this dry season to help conserve water and keep our plants alive.
• Avoid fertilizing plants during drought stress.Snowbird residents can reduce plant loss through the summer by doing the following:
• Install plants in fall, winter or after the summer rains arrive.
• Mulch plants (except Citrus) with 2-3” of organic mulch, as this helps retain water in the soil. Pull mulch back from trunks to prevent stem rot disease.
• Adjust sprinklers to water deeply and infrequently by applying ½ - ¾ inches of water when grass shows signs of wilt.
• Avoid overhead irrigation of shrubs and flower beds, if possible. Hand-water or use soaker hoses or low-volume irrigation heads like bubblers and emitters. For more details, see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG02600.pdf.
• Hire a gardener or ask a reliable neighbor to check on newer plants and water them deeply.The month of May is harsh on our landscapes. With some preparation and good gardening sense, our plants will endure until the summer rains arrive in June.
• Install new plants or lawngrass in the fall when you first arrive.
• Apply granular slow release fertilizers in late February or early March.
• Avoid the tendency to fertilize just before heading north for the summer.
• Select drought-tolerant lawn, shrubs, ground covers and trees for your landscape.
• Replenish mulch each winter.
For more information, check out this IFAS website: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/giam/potpourri/weather/drought_prep.html