Gardening | Falling leaves and inclement weather

By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale

In early November, the whole country experienced record lows after record highs, and some improvement in the drought — never a dull moment!

As clocks have “fallen back,” those of us with in-ground irrigation systems need to change our watering schedule, even if we use well water. Hand held hoses and drip systems can run at any time. Check here for details: www.sjrwmd.com/wateringrestrictions/. Watering just once a week, if needed, is all that is required for our grass to adjust to shorter days and cooler temperatures, both of which cause slower growth. Until we have a freeze we will likely see grass continue to grow, so if you must mow, be sure to set your mower blades high; scalping a lawn will weaken the roots and make it more susceptible to freeze damage.

Finally it’s cool enough to grow lettuce, and continue to plant cool season vegetables; see “The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021).

By now, the wild sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are past their prime, and setting seed, which is a boon for our wild life. Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) are blooming along the roadsides, and the seed heads of bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) are turning a rusty brown color, lighting up the roadsides as they catch the sun. Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) is one of the few native shrubs that turn a beautiful red in autumn, and is a delight. The leaves of the ubiquitous Boston ivy (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) become a stunning red before dropping, and in addition the vines produce plenty of small black berries for our avian neighbors, and probably for small mammals too.

It won’t be long before we dress our homes with festive plants. When buying Christmas cacti and poinsettia, take care to place them where they will be happy, and care for them appropriately. This humorous article by “The Grumpy Gardener,” aka Steve Bender, tells you what you need to know: www.southernliving.com/garden/grumpy-gardener/how-to-care-for-holiday-plants.

Birds need to fatten up for the colder weather ahead, and now is a good time to put out protein-rich suet cakes. Making your own is a possibility; the internet is always a good resource. The big box stores sell several varieties of suet, and I’ve found that one formulated for woodpeckers is popular with many backyard birds as well as winter migrants.

Until our first frost we can expect some of our tender perennials to keep blooming and one that I really enjoy is the tall red pentas or Egyptian starflower (Pentas lanceolata). Other late fall and early winter flowers include pansies and violas. For more information on winter annuals see https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep451#SECTION_12. Camellias are wonderful evergreens that can provide color throughout the winter. With early, mid and late season bloomers, Camellia sasanqua and C. japonica can provide color for months, although the mid-season bloomers are the most reliable in Florida (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep002). There is no need for a dull yard, at any time of the year. Happy Holidays!