By Lesley Arrandale
Like many Floridians, I left Jacksonville with my family to escape hurricane Irma. I began writing sitting in our friends’ sunny dining room in Atlanta, while Irma was moving along the coast of Cuba. It had already destroyed many of the Caribbean islands that were in its path, and millions of Floridians were awaiting their fates.
People who love their trees were hoping they would hold up in the coming winds, and others were watching nearby creeks, wondering how high they would rise. For some folks, the next 48 hours would define the coming months, or longer.
Thinking about gardening, then, was both a welcome distraction, and yet another reminder of how frail are our human constructs: nature will always take its own course, and our part seems to be to make our way despite obstacles.
Now the clean-up begins, and this blog post (http://tinyurl.com/yawlnrge) explains how to deal with your trees and lawn after a storm. If you have large trees that are damaged, make sure to consult a qualified arborist. Some types of damage can be managed and trees may be saved, but it takes skill to recognize that and a plan to continue to monitor a tree’s development for several years after the event. An arborist will help you choose the best course of action. This article gives tips on how to choose a reputable tree company: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/arborist.shtml.
Early fall is usually a good time to be thinking about reviving the tired summer garden. Clearing out storm debris and assessing what plants need to be replaced will become part of my early autumn gardening, assuming our house is in one piece. Since I know that — at the very least! — some of my seedlings will have drowned, I’ve collected some seeds of Baptisia australis (false indigo) and Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) to sow when I get back to town. Generally, summer- and fall-blooming wildflowers can be sown in October and November, which is what would happen naturally, as their seeds mature. If you prefer to sow seed in the spring, dry seed keeps best refrigerated in sealed plastic bags. For more information, check out http://flawildflowers.org/planting/.
The cool season vegetable garden needs attention too. It’s a good time to plant brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale and radish), beets, mustard, spinach, and Swiss chard. For more information, see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021). If you buy transplants, be scrupulous about avoiding diseased plants, particularly brassicas with browning leaf edges. They are carrying a soil-borne disease which will plague your vegetable garden long after they are harvested and removed. (I’ve learnt that the hard way.)
Preparing a bed for new plants requires fertilizer. Sandy soils are readily leached of nutrients, especially after torrential rain. Choose a slow release fertilizer with micronutrients to help the soil’s microbial residents, and apply it according to the label on the package, usually a week or two before planting. Add organic matter such as shredded leaves and compost to the soil, and use an organic mulch around plants. The healthier the soil, the stronger will be your plants.
After a storm, flowering plants that have been battered down won’t be any use to hummingbirds, so if you can, supply them with a feeder until you have flowers again. Everyone needs help now and then — now more than usual. Take care, everyone.
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.