I hope everyone had a good holiday season.
As we move into the new year, there are several garden chores that we can perform that will make for better cool season vegetables and provide for healthier, more vigorous shade trees and lawns next spring.
Plants need proper preparatory care and nutritional care to be productive. The growth that a shade tree makes in the spring is largely dependent on the nutrients that it has stored in its tissues. It must replenish these nutrients and draw on additional nutrients from the soil throughout the growing season. Just as a tomato plant or an azalea benefits from adequate soil fertility, a shade tree also needs these nutrients, but in greater quantities. With adequate fertility the tree will produce more sprout growth, more leaves and larger leaves.
January through February is the ideal time to fertilize healthy trees. These trees are now dormant - so is the grass that grows under them. Fertilizer that is applied at this time will not be “robbed” by the grass. Applying fertilizer now will allow time for the nutrients to become part of the soil solution or bond to the soil particles before the tree begins to draw on them by root activity.
Fertilizer should be placed in numerous small holes in the ground. Punch these holes approximately 6-8 inches deep. The soil is usually moist at this time of year, making the job easier. Begin these holes about half way between the trunk and canopy edge or drip line of the limbs. Place these holes every 2-3 feet apart in a circular pattern around the tree. Continue making these circular patterns outward until the last circle is about 6-8 feet beyond the drip line.
Healthy, mature trees should be fertilized once every three years. Young trees or older, damaged trees may be fertilized every year. Fertilize evergreen trees, such as live oaks and southern magnolias, at a rate of 18-24 pounds of 13-13-13 per 1,000 square feet of root area. Other hardwood lawn trees should be fertilized at a rate of 24-40 pounds of 13-13-13 per 1,000 square feet of root area.
Trees that were transplanted last fall might experience root burn if fertilized with granular fertilizer at this time. It is safe to postpone their fertilization until they have been transplanted for a one year period of time. If you feel that fertilizer is warranted for these trees, use a soluble fertilizer mixed with water and applied to the root zone next spring or a coated, slow-release fertilizer broadcast on the soil surface in the root zone.
To state it simply, don’t do it now. It is too early. Wait until the summer grass has come out of dormancy. In the case of St. Augustine, that will be in April. To fertilize lawn grass now will only promote winter weed and “sticker weed” growth. These weeds will compete with the lawn grass and delay its emergence next spring. One exception to this is if you have planted ornamental ryegrass in your lawn. But even ryegrass doesn’t respond very well to fertilizer in January. The days are just too short and the soil too cool for optimum growth. If your ryegrass lawn needs fertilizer, you would probably see better response if you waited until February to top dress it.
Irish potatoes do very well when planted in late January. Begin the process now by hipping-up rows and applying fertilizer. Potatoes are heavy fertilizer feeders. Apply 7-8 pounds of 13-13-13 per 100 feet of row and cover with soil. Do this 10-14 days before planting. Cut seed potatoes into chunks about the size of a hen’s egg or use whole, small potatoes of the same size. Be sure that there is at least one “eye” or sprout per seed piece. Place the cut side against the soil surface and the sprout side up. Place seed pieces about a foot apart and cover with soil. Cover with two inches of hay or straw for mulch. It may take a while for the sprouts to emerge from the soil and mulch covering. Remember, the soil is cold. Be patient. As long as the soil doesn’t freeze, new sprouts will emerge even if the first sprouts get “bitten back” by frost. Side dress with one pound of 34-0-0 per 100 feet of row when the plants reach eight inches in height.
The red skin varieties recommended for Louisiana are Red LaSoda, LaRouge, Fontenot and Norland. White skin varieties include LaChipper, LaBelle, Norchip, Atlantic, Kennebec, and Sebago. Most red or white skin potatoes will grow well if the seed pieces are of sound quality.