By Lesley Arrandale, Master Gardener

Jacksonville has been lucky — so far. As of early October, the people of the Carolinas are struggling to recover from continuing flooding after Hurricane Florence; our thoughts go out to them. But Florida now has its own storm, Michael, which will hit the Gulf Coast as a strong category 4 hurricane. We hope for the best under dreadful circumstances.

On a more positive note, hailing from another clime, albeit more than 30 years ago, I really love the onset of cooler weather. (And even “cold” weather, in this climate zone.) So much so, that autumn is my time for walks on the beach and generally enjoying getting out and about, after the blistering summer heat has moderated. I think many people would agree that it’s more appealing weather for gardening too, and there are plenty of tasks to tackle.

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One such project may be planting a new bed in good time to allow the plants to settle in before the colder months of January and February. There are plenty of resources to turn to for ideas, and perhaps the most useful one is the Florida-Friendly Landscaping (R) program. There are nine principles governing the program, with “Right Plant, Right Place” being the first and probably the most important; it covers all the information needed for success. For an overview and links to detailed guidance on design and plant choice, begin here This video from the Polk County Extension office is a good introduction to the program and not overly specific to their county:

To keep your cool season vegetable production well organized, decide what you can reasonably eat (unless you like to share your bounty or are adept at home canning and freezing), and plant small quantities of your favorites at intervals. Some of the brassicas and mustards are large plants and you may only need a few to satisfy your needs. Broccoli produces small tender side shoots resembling the large main head after it has been harvested, and can be treated as a “cut and come again” vegetable. Carrots are slow growing, but a short row sown every week or two through the season may suffice. These are tactics from which we all would benefit. I’ve certainly been too gung-ho in the past, and my family has made it clear that some vegetables can quickly lose their appeal if they appear too often on the menu. Refer to the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide for what to plant, and when: This is a comprehensive guide that is well worth consulting regularly.

Certain culinary herbs that struggle in Florida’s summer will be coming into their own. For an illustrated guide to herbs and how to grow them, check out this PowerPoint presentation:

Autumn-blooming wildflowers along our roadsides have been delightful. The tall billowy yellow flowers are goldenrods (Solidago spp.) which make a spectacular display when massed. However, not all species are suitable for a modest sized garden, as some can spread aggressively. Check out this article about Chapman’s goldenrod (S. odora), one of the more restrained species: And there are cultivars available in the nursery trade which have been bred for desirable characteristics.

My beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa americana) are putting on their fall display of luscious magenta berries — a real treat for mockingbirds, who find them irresistible. It reminds me that I share “my” space with other creatures, seen and unseen, and prompts me to try to tread lightly and considerately in my dealings with others — of all descriptions.

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