Central Mississippi Garden Calendar
The spring blooming bulbs will show their full color in mid to late March. Seventy-five percent of the spring performing bulbs planted in Mississippi are: daffodils, hyacinth and iris. If you have trouble getting your flowering bulbs to come back year after year, then here are a few suggestions that should increase your success. First, check the amount of sunlight. The planting site must get at least six hours of morning, afternoon or constant dappled light after the surrounding trees have leafed out. The bulbs must have light for their leaves so they can replenish the energy and nutrients needed to bloom next spring. Secondly, the bulbs need water while growing, but absolutely must have good drainage throughout the year. Sandy-loam is the ideal soil for bulbs. Since most of us have to deal with more clayey type soil, the best planting method may be to build up your flowerbeds on top of the clay. Till in several inches of decomposed organic matter. Plant the bulbs shallowly and then top with several more inches of topsoil then mulch. The bulbs will grow up through the topsoil and develop healthy roots in the good organic material. The third trick to getting loads of blooms is to fertilize every fall/winter. Use a complete N-P-K fertilizer such as 10-10-20 bulb booster. If you have waited too late to apply the granular fertilizer, then use a water-soluble type that can reach the roots quickly. Do not tie, twist, bend down, braid or pin the foliage after blooming. The foliage needs time to regain energy for the bulb. If your foliage looks ragged then it may be a lack of one of the key elements: sunlight, water or nutrients. You can cut the foliage or cover it with mulch when the leaves turn yellow. It's time to divide when the flowers get small and few in numbers.
In order to create graceful drifts, try planting just a few different kinds of one type of bulb in large "S" or "C" shaped beds. For indoor vase arrangements, cut the flowers when they are still in bud form or slightly opened.
Fruiting Shrubs and Trees
Fire blight bacterium on apple, crabapple and pear trees (also ornamental types) will start to show up after the blooms drop off. It starts with a blackening of the new leaves and then progresses down the branch. An antibiotic (streptomycin, agri-mycin) found at any garden center, nursery or county co-op must be sprayed when the fruit tree is blooming to help stop the blight. The bacteria over winters in blight wounds from last year that were left on the tree. The wounds contain bacterium spores and ooze a sugary gel that attracts bees and wasps. These insects are also attracted to the fruit tree blooms and spread the blight spores to the tips of the soft new growing tips. Spraying the entire tree with the antibiotic four times during the bloom period will keep it from spreading throughout the tree.
As peach, plum, apple and pear tree buds begin to swell, the temperature required to damage the flower bloom changes from below 5º F to 25º F. Be prepared to cover your fruit trees with a tarp, blanket or spread if the temperature drops below freezing.
Continue planting bare-root trees, shrubs and vines such as apple, grape, blackberry and strawberries. Shy away from buying deciduous plants that have already started to leaf out. Be sure to keep new plantings well watered.
Ground Covers and Lawns
When forsythia (yellow bells) and bridal wreath spirea are in full bloom then it's time to put out a pre-emergence herbicide to control summer weeds. This is your last chance to keep annual weeds from germinating and making an unsightly mess in your manicured lawn. Our warm-seasoned turf grasses will begin to green-up in late March. Do not fertilizer yet, save that chore for April and May. Stimulate new growth by removing dead grass or leaves that have accumulated on your lawn. If you are raking up loads of dead grass blades then you probably have a diseased lawn. Be prepared to apply a granular and / or liquid fungicide the moment you start to see new blade growth. An application of granular lime at 40 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft. will also help. The problem will not disappear if you continue to ignore it. If you do not see at least one sprig of turf grass every foot then plan on resodding the area in April.
Revitalize evergreen groundcovers by cutting them back. New spring growth will quickly cover up any bare spots if you get too carried away. Hedge shears are the best tool to use for pruning vines used as ground covers (English ivy, periwinkle, confederate jasmine and honeysuckle). Use hand pruners on the more woody-type ground covers (cotoneaster, dwarf nandina and juniper). Set the lawn mower on its highest setting and mow off the tops of ajuga, liriope and mondo grass. Take the extra time to rake up the cut leaf blades (or bag them with the mower) and remove from the area. This will help prevent re-infection of the new growth by any leaf spot disease.
Shrubs and Trees
Early flowering shrubs should be pruned after they bloom. The most popular shrub surrounding our homes is the evergreen azalea. This shrub is not native but has adapted well to Central Mississippi. Azaleas come in a wide variety of flower colors, sizes and shapes. The bloom times also vary so plant early, mid and late spring bloomers then tuck in a few fall performers (Encore Series). Try to stick with two color combinations when grouping plants. Do not scatter azalea shrubs throughout the yard (plant in mass blocks of color). Buy new plants when they are blooming if you need to match or compliment a house color.
The easiest way to kill your new plant purchase is to plant it in clay soil. Azaleas like acid soil (pH 5 - 6) that is well drained but loaded with organic matter. Till in organic matter (aged leaf mold, compost) and sandy topsoil with the clay. Dig a shallow planting hole. Leave the top 2 inches of the root ball out of the soil and cover them with mulch. The mulch will help drain away any excessive moisture. Most azaleas really need very little pruning except to remove dead or injured wood. The exception is when that plant grows out over a walkway or needs to be contained for some reason. Prune azaleas before July or you will lose flowers next year.
Give them a boost of fertilizer after they have finished blooming. Water the plant before and after you apply fertilizer. This will stop any burn and get the fertilizer to the roots quickly. Be on the look out for petal blight disease on the azalea flowers. Petals will appear dotted or flecked, and collapse as if scalded when the blossoms are infected. Spraying a fungicide on the blooms will stop any re-infection of the disease and keep unopened blossoms healthy.
Vegetables and Herbs
March is the time to start all spring garden plants. Plant tomato, pepper, cucumber, cantaloupe and eggplant seed in individual cells or cups. Keep them moist (not wet) and warm until the seeds germinate. After the plants are visible, keep them in as much light as possible. The end of March signals warmer soil temperatures and the end of winter. Cool soil does not promote root development; so don't be in too much of a hurry to set out your precious warm season crops. The first week in April is a much better time for setting out these vegetable transplants.
Donna Hamlin Beliech is the writer of Central Mississippi Garden Calendar monthly. She's a self described "dirty-handed gardener" and avid seed saver. She lives in Brandon and is the Area Extension Horticulturist for six counties in Central Mississippi.