Your bushes need some attention this month. Don’t “shrub” it off—this article provides everything you need to properly care for your shrubs in preparation for spring. Included are our pro tips for pruning, shaping, planting, watering, and fertilizing.
To paraphrase what someone once said: there is a time for planting, and a time for pulling; a time for pruning, and a time for fertilizing. But in February, which time is it?
Shrubs require year-round attention based on conditions, so here we’ll cover some basics for how to care for your shrubs at this time of year.
Wait Wait . . . Don’t Prune Me!
Any cold damage that was going to occur this year should happen by the end of February. Plants harmed by the low temperatures often look worse off than they actually are, and they’ll perk up after a few weeks of recovery. Be patient, and don’t prune brown leaves or branches until you know for sure they’re dead.
Hold off on fertilizer until spring, but do ensure your plants stay appropriately hydrated. Watering them will help them begin growing again.
Direct the Growth
New shoots will be emerging on your shrubs, and now is the time to determine which ones will stay and which need to go to produce your desired shape. Shrubs spend a lot of energy growing these shoots, so it’s important to keep only those you want. It’s a waste of that energy to allow a shoot to grow in an undesired direction, only to remove it later.
Look at where a bud is facing to determine the direction a new shoot will grow. If the shrub needs some more density, remove only the end of a shoot and allow the plant to beef up in place. This is a great tip for homeowners who want a thick privacy hedge.
Planting and Watering
Now is the time to plant many shrubs. Visit your local nursery for the best advice for your specific needs.
After you get those plants in the ground, ensure they’re getting the water they need. The cooler weather means more water makes it into the soil before evaporating, so don’t go overboard. Pay attention to the plant’s thirst cues—wilting leaves, for example—and water as necessary.
Here are some additional watering tips:
- Keep enough mulch in place to retain the moisture
- Don’t trust your sprinklers—check plants and apply more water when needed
- Use micro-soakers and soaker hoses to get water straight to the root system
- Surround the plant with a small ridge that directs water toward the rootball
Fertilizing Like a Pro
If you’ve ever been intimidated by fertilizer application, let’s end that today. It’s a simple process of getting the right stuff (again, local nurseries are goldmines of information) and spreading it evenly under a shrub. In most places in Florida, you’ve got until mid-March to apply fertilizer with the best results.
Here are some additional fertilizer tips:
- Lightly feed new plants every 6-8 weeks until October
- Feed established plants 2-4 times per year. Applications in March and September maintain growth; additional feedings in June and August encourage more growth.
- Water after fertilizing to move nutrients into the ground. Leave the mulch in place; it won’t get in the way.