Gardening: Storms and autumn delights

Gardening

By Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

As September rolled in, so did Hurricane Hermine. We watched with bated breath as the track gradually shifted and lifted to the north and breathed again as we were spared the worst of the storm. Not everyone was so lucky.

Unfortunately this storm heralded a change in the weather forecast; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects an increased number of storms – 17 to 20 named systems, of which five to eight could be hurricanes, and two to four of those could be major. Not a comforting prospect — and if you are unprepared, now would be a good time to take stock.

In the event of another storm, your irrigation system should be off. Trees and shrubs should already be trimmed so they don’t hit the house or other buildings during high winds and trimmings should be moved off your property so they don’t become projectiles; dead and hanging palm fronds should be removed. Gutters need to be secure and running freely, and rain barrels should be disconnected from downspouts to avoid water backing up. Mulch may wash away, so be prepared to tidy and replace it.

When a storm is coming, don’t fertilize, even if it’s on your schedule, since it will be probably be washed away and end up polluting the river. Move potted plants to a sheltered area or lay them down close to the house if they are too heavy to move easily. Patio furniture needs to be inside or perhaps at the bottom of the pool. Once a storm hits, wildlife will have a hard time, so expect more insects trying to move inside the home and be aware of snakes. For more information, see http://tinyurl.com/hfbhazj. It’s worth reflecting that there is still a chance of storms until the end of November.

One of my current garden delights is the dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata) blooming in my yard. It simply hums with pollinators. Watching for just a few minutes, I counted at least a half dozen species, including several impressively large wasps (behaving very benignly, I should add), and pretty little green sweat bees, as well as honey bees. By mid-September, blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) will be blooming and is equally attractive to pollinators. Both are wildflowers which can be seen locally, along some of our roadsides. A word of warning, they both spread readily — the former by seed, the latter both by seed and by sending out roots, so be prepared.

In the veggie patch, the sweet potatoes are also flowering profusely, feeding small bees and wasps. My late tomatoes are looking unlikely to succeed (still too hot?), the okra is just about finished, but the eggplants (Ichiban type) are producing well. In a small space those sweet potatoes may seem an odd choice, but when they’re harvested there will still be time to plant some beautiful Chinese greens, assorted brassicas (like cabbage, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi), carrots, onions and hardy herbs, before a potential cold snap comes along. (See the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide,” http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021 and “Herbs in the Florida Garden,” http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh020.)

I recently discovered a page on the University of Florida website which lists links to the various programs we access so often: http://tinyurl.com/jtcc7hb. I encourage you to take a look. The current issue of “A New Leaf” is available at http://tinyurl.com/haw5wet and contains lots of information about suitable flowers to keep your garden blooming into the fall and beyond. And don’t forget that Master Gardeners are available to answer questions every weekday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 at (904) 255-7450.

At the time of writing, beautyberries are looking their colorful best and most of our backyard birds are relishing the juicy magenta berries, which seem to appeal to seed- and fruit-eaters alike. Hummingbirds are busily zipping around the firebush and it’s so comical to see them chase off any rival despite the abundance of blooms — no sharing of territory for them. It won’t be long before migrating birds start coming through our area and overwintering birds move in for the season. Much like spring, the transition to autumn feels like a new beginning.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.