If we think back to this time last year, we were waking up on Easter Sunday to the temperatures in the mid-20s. Many of our plants were devastated by this sudden change. We were seeing the effects of this cold weather into the summer.
The forecast for this Easter Sunday is for lows in the mid-to-upper 30s. This should not cause any damage to our plants this year. However, if tomatoes and other warm-season vegetables have been planted, they will need to be covered.
LAST YEAR, ALONG with the freeze at Easter, we had a prolonged drought during the summer and fall. Many of the problems associated with the drought are beginning to show up now.
One of the problems that I am seeing and getting phone calls on is the lack of flowers on our spring flowering plants.
I know in my yard, my forsythia had very few blooms on it compared to previous years, and some of the azaleas do not have flower buds on them. The flower buds were lost when the plant did not have enough water. The plant will send the water to the part of the plant that is critical for the plant to survive. The flowers for most shrubs are not critical for survival of the plant, so the plant will abort the flower buds.
It is very easy to check and see if flower buds are still viable.
Look at the end of the shoots. If the buds are swelling and green, they are still good. If they are brown and small, they are not viable.
Another problem that I am seeing on shrubs and trees is individual limbs that have few leaves or they are dead. Plants will shed limbs that are not supporting themselves. Also, during times of drought or cold weather, the bark will split on limbs and trunks. When this happens there are diseases that will get into the plants and cause individual limbs or the whole plant to die. One example of this problem is Leyland cypress trees that have brown limbs on them. They were infected either with Bot canker or Seiridium canker.
THERE ARE A number of practices this spring that will help plants overcome the freeze damage or drought damage from last year.
The first is to prune any dead wood out of the plants. Dead wood from last year can harbor disease organisms that can infect the plant this year. If the plant is deciduous, wait until the leaves emerge before pruning. After the leaves come on the plant, it will be easier to determine which part or parts of the plant need to be pruned.
Also, spring-flowering plants such as azaleas and forsythia should not be pruned until after they flower. If there are no flower buds on them, they can be pruned now.
Pruning should be finished on spring flowering shrubs by early June. These plants will set next year's flower buds in late summer and early fall.
NEXT, FERTILIZE the plants properly. Plants that have proper nutrient levels will recover faster than unfertilized plants. The best way to determine what fertilizer to use is to have a soil sample run on your plant beds. The soil sample will determine what analysis of fertilizer is needed and when it should be applied. Without a soil sample, 16-4-8 fertilizer at one tablespoon per foot of plant height can be used starting in April. The plants should then be fertilized a total of three times, six to eight weeks apart.
THE LAST ITEM needed to ensure plants are healthy is to properly water them. The frequency of watering is based on the plants' water needs.
Azaleas need an inch of water per week for them to do their best. Other shrubs are more drought tolerant and they don't have to be watered as often.
Some shrubs, such as Indian hawthorn, only need watering every two to three weeks once they are established. Disease problems can be reduced on these shrubs by reducing the amount of water they get. A good layer of mulch will help conserve water and maintain a constant moisture level around plants.
Pruning, fertilizing and watering plants properly can help them overcome last year's freeze and drought.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.