Get ready for some early spring gardening chores


As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, you might be feeling a little Irish. Or maybe you know you’ll feel a little Irish when the time comes, when you finally believe spring might be here to stay. A nice gift, or a pretty decoration for a party, is a plant that is associated with good fortune, the four-leaf clover. It’s in the Oxalis family, which might be a bit scary for those of us who’ve had to deal with the most pest wood sorrels.

The variety of decorative oxalis is amazing. While most are a pretty pink or lavender, there are some stunning wood sorrels like the bright purple leaf sorrel, yellow flower sorrel and wood sorrel with purplish markings on the leaves that form an iron cross.

As long as they are planted with good drainage, they are a fairly problem-free plant. Plant them in good soil, in a partially shaded site, about 1-2 inches deep. For your landscaping, know that they disappear underground when the summer heat beats down on us and reappear in the fall or winter. They appreciate fertilizer when growing but should be left alone when sleeping.

There are many kinds of aloe.  Some of the tropical species grow massively, but they won't survive well here.  But several aloes, such as the soapy aloe with flowers pictured here, are very hardy.

Oxalis is also suitable for container growing, which is why they make great gifts. Because it likes to dry out a bit, it does very well as a houseplant, although I’ve had one outdoors for 20 years, a gift from a fellow gardener, so outdoors it’s c ‘is good. A potted wood sorrel makes a great gift. Especially if you want to give the Irish a chance! To find it online, search for “purple-leaved oxalis” or “iron-crossed oxalis.” I think you will enjoy the beautiful variety of plants.

Aloe is one of the hardiest perennials in the landscape. I thought of them especially because it’s time for the hummingbirds to come back and one of the flowers that attract them is the aloe.

There are many kinds of aloe. They are succulents. Some of the tropical species grow massively, but they won’t survive well here. But many aloes are very hardy, and with our strange weather this winter, my soap aloes bloomed intermittently throughout the winter.

Aloes look quite prehistoric in that they are thick-leaved and strongly spiny – the “teeth” are sharp and will tear the skin. They bloom sporadically throughout the year, and the flowers are usually buzzing with bumblebees, bees, and hummingbirds. I saw them queuing for a ride, so apparently the aloe produces abundant, good quality nectar and pollen.

This winter our roses really did not remain dormant. This is not ideal for them as a period of rest helps prepare them for the long, stressful growing and flowering season. Even if they aren’t dormant, we’re still going to have to do some pruning to prepare for the full growing season.

Annual pruning worries some gardeners, but it’s not necessary. Your first goal is to remove any branches that are crossing or dead. It is important to cut off any dieback (dead, brown branches, extending from the tip). Sterilize your cookie cutters after each cut by dipping them in a solution of bleach (10%) or isopropol alcohol. Otherwise, you risk moving the disease to the next branch. Cut several inches below where the disease is apparent.

Due to the humid weather we had all last summer and fall, fungal diseases made a big splash. It will be important when pruning to be scrupulously hygienic. Every leaf and twig needs to go into your trash container to be taken away. You don’t want to leave disease spores on the surface of the soil. Remove any leaves that have fungal spots.

I have not distinguished between heirloom, hybrid, climbing, shrub, and tea roses for the purposes of this article. In general, old roses, shrubs and climbers need fairly light pruning compared to others. It is important to know the type of your rose and check online what it needs. You can actually shorten the life of your rose by trimming it too much. Remember that anything you prune needs to regrow early in the season before it can settle into a normal bloom season.

When you’re done, step back and look at your plant. Does the rose bush seem to let air through easily, allowing the leaves to dry out well? Are all dead and damaged parts removed? If so, it’s time to apply fresh mulch, fertilize, and look forward to a great spring season.

Becky Wern is a volunteer 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 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and ask for a volunteer master gardener.


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