Jan 5, 2017 2:15:31 PM / by Claude Kershner IV

The attractive, vibrant plants we grow in South Florida thrive in the tropical climate here. But the reality is, many of the ornamental trees and shrubs in our landscapes are commercially grown and not native plants. This means they require fertilization and pest control to stay healthy and beautiful.

You might be tempted to cut back on lawn care services because fertilization and pest control add cost to overall landscape maintenance. But it’s easy to spot properties that neglect tree and shrub care. How do you know? Foliar damage. Browning out. Dead or dying branches. All of this can develop quickly.

It doesn’t take long for pests to find and feed on compromised plants. And disease naturally sets in when plants do not have the nutrients to fight back.

If you think about it, fertilizing trees and shrubs is a lot like making sure you eat your vegetables and get proper nutrients. When we are healthy, we are less likely to get sick. When our plants are strong, they too stand up to pests and disease.

What’s more, fertilizing trees and shrubs is a matter of protecting your investment in the landscape. What do you think costs more: a monthly tree and shrub care program, or replacing plants? (We promise, you’ll thank us for the fertilizer visits when you find out the price tag on grown trees and shrubs.)

So, what kind of fertilization program do you need for your South Florida trees and shrubs? What’s actually involved in caring for your trees and shrubs so they can stay healthy and you maximize the investment in your property?

Here is what you need to know about fertilization and pest control in the Florida Keys.

What Is A Typical Tree And Shrub Care Program In South Florida?

Tree and Shrub Care FloridaWhile there are some variables, such as the type of plants growing on your property, most South Florida ornamental trees and shrubs needs monthly care. Fertilizer is critical to achieve the proper soil pH. The soil in Monroe County tends to be alkaline, which can hinder plants’ ability to absorb nutrients. This makes plants more susceptible to weeds and disease. Feeding trees and shrubs nutrients will help them stay strong and disease free. Here are our recommendations:

  • Foliar liquid fertilizer. This is applied monthly. Foliar products enter the plant through leaves, which take up the nutrients.
  • Granular fertilizer. Every quarter, we apply a granular product to landscape beds. Granular fertilizers are taken up through plants’ root systems, and they have a longer residual. So, they’re slower to act and longer lasting vs. foliar fertilizers.
  • Foliar + granular = healthy plants. Why apply both granular and foliar fertilizer to trees and shrubs? Some plants feed more readily through their leaves, especially in tight landscape beds where roots may be competing for nutrients or ‘blocked up.’ On the other hand, some plants prefer to feed through their roots, so applying a granular product that seeps into soil and enters the plant this way is more effective. A broad-spectrum approach like what we do at Reef Tropical ensures that all trees and shrubs in the landscape receive necessary nutrients to stay healthy and ward of disease.
  • Pest control. Aside from fertilization, our trees and shrubs need protection against pests—because with year-long temperature weather comes a pest population that is always active. Monthly pest control applications are recommended for South Florida trees and shrubs. At Reef Tropical, we partner with two certified, licensed pest control firms that we trust because of their experience. Eastern Exterminating and Plant Health Care Systems serve our clients pest control needs.
  • Fungicide applications. Fungicides are critical, especially considering our humid, wet, hot climate. These conditions create a breeding ground for fungal plant diseases if proper protection is not in place.

Timing Is Everything: When and How Often To Fertilize Trees and Shrubs

fungal infection on palmA monthly insecticide and fungicide program will prevent pests and fungal disease from spoiling your plants. With fungicides in particular, we like to be sure we switch formulas often so plants do not become immune to a certain product.

That said, we like to avoid granular fertilizer applications for three months, during December, January and February. This feeding can stoke growth, and if a cold snap occurs, it will damage the plant. Damaged leaf growth does not recuperate during this time of year, so you’ll end up with unhealthy looking plants for some time.

We do continue with foliar fertilizers every month, including in winter. These nourish the plant and provide nutrients but do not tend to trigger new growth.   

Quarterly service is also available and encouraged as a minimum for maintaining healthy plants, trees and shrubs.

Plant Selection: Know How Feed Your South Florida Plants

gardeniaAcid-loving plants need appropriate soil pH to thrive, and in South Florida this means lots of feeding. For example, many property owners like to grow gardenia because the fragrant, flowering shrubs are appealing in the landscape. However, gardenias need acidic soil and require a diligent, monthly fertilization program to succeed.

We see the same issue with some Australian palm trees. You can grow them in your South Florida landscape, but they just require more constant care than a native plant, or a shrub that prefer alkaline soil.

The majority or property owners have no idea if their plants require acidic or alkaline soil, or even what this means for growth. (We wouldn’t expect you to know this!) This where an experienced grounds management provider can serve as an educator and guide you toward a tree and shrub care program that suits your specific landscape.

Tree And Shrub Care: DIY or Hire A Pro?  

Trees and shrubs in South Florida require consistent, monthly feeding and protection against disease and pests. (If not monthly, we encourage clients to get quarterly service to maintain the integrity of their landscapes.)

When property owners decide to take on the job of fertilizing plants, we see problems.

  • Fertilizers must be applied at very specific rates, which vary based on the product.
  • Equipment used to apply fertilizers and other tree and shrub care products must be accurately calibrated. This is a skill that landscape professionals are certified to do properly.

If caring for trees and shrubs looks easy, that’s probably because the professional doing the job is efficient, effective and makes the process look effortless. We promise you, it’s a science that requires experience.


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At Reef Tropical, we create customized tree and shrub care programs based on properties’ needs. Because no two landscapes are exactly the same, our professionals assess the type of plants and their nutrient requirements.

Let’s talk more about how to improve the appearance and health of your South Florida landscape with monthly or quarterly tree and shrub care services. Call us any time at 305.367.2005, or fill out this simple contact form and we’ll get in touch with you.

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Topics: Tree and Shrub Care

Claude Kershner IV

Written by Claude Kershner IV

President Reef Tropical • Pool & Landscape

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