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Tips on azaleas, lawns and palms

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POSTED: May 22, 2014 7:00 p.m.
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The time to prune azaleas is as soon after the blooms fade as possible.

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Remember spring from this year? It showed up about a month late and lasted about 72 hours.
The azaleas are done blooming. They will start setting buds for next year’s flowers in July. Azalea pruning should be done as soon as possible after blooms fade in order for the plant to produce as much new wood and leaf as possible before buds set.
Pruning our standard indica azaleas is a task that takes only minutes if it is done annually. If yearly pruning is put off, the azaleas eventually will grow out of bounds, produce progressively fewer blooms per pound of plant and become more susceptible to root and crown rots. Annual pruning keeps the plants in bounds, maximizes bloom efficiency and reduces rot problems.  
Shearing azaleas is a no-no in the same class as binding women’s feet, crape murder and three cars up on blocks in the front yard.
The proper way to prune azaleas is to wait until after the blooms fade, then count the number of stems coming out of the ground from each shrub, divide that number of stems by four and cut that number of stems out of the plant near the ground. Pick the largest canes to cut. This keeps the plant constantly rejuvenated and at maximum bloom. We grow azaleas for their bloom, not for lumber.
We have had cold injury on lawns and palms from winter. The centipede lawns will grow out of cold injury once the soil heats up. If your yard is slow to recover, a good raking with a leaf rake to remove dead grass and those matted live oak leaves will help the sun reach the soil.
UGA’s Turf Specialist, Dr. Clint Waltz, has made a change in his recommendation for fertilizer application rates and timing. For as long as I can remember, the recommendation has been half a pound of nitrogen in May and again in July.
Waltz is reducing the slug of nitrogen the turf gets twice a year by spreading that same pound of nitrogen out over three applications instead of two. Instead of half a pound of nitrogen in May and again in July, three applications of one-third pound of nitrogen are recommended for May, June and July. No nitrogen fertilizer after July instead of no nitrogen after August.
A lot of winter injury he sees on centipede partially is caused by the grass being too succulent going into winter. Shutting off the nitrogen tap by the end of July should help.
The winter injury on palms this year makes the plants look untidy.  Frosted frond tips have turned brown and hang off the remaining green part of the frond.
Canary Island Date Palms have yellowing lower fronds. Sagos may have individual leaflets that have turned a golden-straw color or the whole frond has browned out.
As much as I know, many of you are ready to whack away at these plants. I request some sober consideration before applying steel to chlorophyll.
Most of our palms are undernourished due to 1) insufficient fertilizer applications and 2) improper pruning.
The cold injury has revealed these deficiencies. When CIDP is under-fertilized, it strips minerals it needs for new fronds from the oldest fronds, making the lower fronds turn yellow and decline far before their time.
Cutting off these lower fronds forces the plant to start robbing minerals from the next whorl of fronds. The decline works its way up the palm, resulting in insufficient fronds to maintain energy stores and defenses.
The solution is to put away the saw, pick up the bag of fertilizer and see if nutrition can restore the lower fronds before putting cold steel to the plant.
On sago palms, a few brown leaflets on a frond are no reason to cut off a mostly green frond. The plant knows when a frond is not pulling its weight better than you do.
Again, fertilizer and manganese sulfate can do a lot to improve color and health. If the plant really got frosted and all the fronds have turned brown, prune them off and use this opportunity to check for scale insects.
If you find scale, apply a dormant oil now to suffocate the scale insects before the plant sends out its new fronds.
Finally, the “hurricane cut” on cabbage palm is a great way to debilitate an otherwise tough plant. The best palmetto pruning is to remove only the dead fronds and dead or living berry racemes.
Green fronds should be left on the plant. Palmetto should have a globe of fronds.
The most severe pruning of a palmetto should be a northern hemisphere cut with all fronds above 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock remaining.
When transplanting palmetto, all fronds should be removed from the plant and no green allowed to develop until six months have passed to allow root-system development.  
I do not know where the “hurricane cut” came from, but it has nothing to do with doing what is right for the plant. So why exactly are you planning to do that pruning on that poor, defenseless, neglected palm?

Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.

 

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