Winter, such as it is in Florida, can last for several months. In West Central Florida, however, we are very fortunate, compared with other areas in the country. Now is a great time to get outside and garden. It may be chilly in the morning, but the afternoons are wonderful.

The Central Florida Gardening Calendar is a great resource that will help you make timely landscape maintenance decisions. Access this publication at ‘Ask IFAS’ followed by the title.

Gardening green tips for the next few months include:

Plant vegetables: In January, plant peppers and potatoes; in February, plant beans, corn, cantaloupes and tomatoes; and in March, same as February, plus cucumbers, okra, sweet potatoes and watermelons.

Mulch: Cool weather is always a great time to add mulch to your landscape beds if it is less than 3 inches deep. Mulch regulates soil temperature, adds organic value, inhibits weeds and retains soil moisture. Pine bark, pine straw/needles, eucalyptus, melaleuca and leaves are good options.

Manage Weeds: Using mulch (2-3 inches deep after it settles) helps. If you choose to fight the weed war, you can cover weeds with newspapers to smother them and/or point, aim and squeeze with an environmentally friendly weed killer spray.

Prune: Check the ‘Calendar’ for what plants can be pruned and when. Prune to train plants to grow in a certain direction, improve health by removing diseased stems, increase flowering and get more abundant foliage.

Pests—Biting, Sucking and Chewing: Yes, we have pests: aphids, caterpillars, slugs, snails, scale and spider mites. Less than 1 percent of all bugs are ‘bad bugs.’ The first step is to properly identify the bug to be sure it is a pest versus a beneficial bug. If you must, use the least toxic product. Spot treat plants as needed, not the entire landscape.

Inefficient Irrigation: If you have an in-ground irrigation system, do you have broken heads, plants or other materials blocking the spray pattern, and/or a rain shutoff device that does not work? Do you have program A, B and C set to run subsequently? Is your water bill for more than 20,000 gallons of water per month? If yes, call Paula Staples at 744-5519, ext. 54142 to see how she may be able to help you decrease your water usage.

Right Plant, Wrong Place: After the last chance of frost, which is generally mid-February, consider the opportunity to move the right plant to the right place in your landscape if it is not there now. Consideration should be given to light (sun/shade), soil pH and texture, water, wind and other conditions. An invasive plant is never the right plant in any place. If you’re not sure if it’s invasive, go to the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas.

Rewards of winter landscape maintenance: You are outside, productive, enjoying nature and speaking with neighbors you may not have seen in a while.

For more information on environmental horticulture, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office. In Hillsborough County, call 744-5519, visit our office at 5339 County Rd. 579 in Seffner or visit our website, calendar of events and Facebook pages.

Lynn Barber is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County. Contact her at

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