Gardening | The autumn garden

By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

Although the Atlantic hurricane season was remarkably quiet for the continental U.S. up until the end of August, early September saw an abrupt change. As of Sept. 5, tropical storm Gordon is now moving well inland after wreaking havoc along the Gulf coast, and Hurricane Florence has strengthened to category 3; we need to pay attention (www.nhc.noaa.gov/gtwo.php).

If you are interested more generally in the weather in our state — temperatures, rainfall amounts, storm impacts — check out this website: https://tinyurl.com/y7jznm5d.

The latest issue of A New Leaf newsletter is available here: https://tinyurl.com/yc7kqfxr. As always, there are plenty of inspiring ideas and tips about what to do in the garden this month.

If you have been dealing with a bounty of produce and realize you would have found it useful to know how to preserve it, there are two canning classes in October. On Oct. 13, learn how to preserve apple wedges in cinnamon hot syrup, and on Oct. 27, you can make Chicken in a Can-Homemade Noodles. Pre-registration and pre-payment is required. Each class is $20 per person. Call Jeannie at (904) 255-7450 to register. With the holiday season approaching, homemade preserves make a thoughtful gift.

The upcoming class on Microgreens and Wildflowers on Oct. 10 (cost $10, call Sarah at (904) 255-7450 to register) will likely be the last class led by Terry DelValle, our Horticultural Agent of 35 years. She is to retire in November, and I know that anybody involved, however loosely, with the Extension Service, will miss her for both her depth of knowledge and her unfailingly helpful approach to us, the public. Thank you, Terry.

Our fellow creatures are preparing for the cooler weather, and some of our birds are fattening up for the grueling task of migration. As the weather cools, suet will be a welcome, high calorie treat for residents and migrants alike, and it won’t be long before our winter visitors begin to arrive, needing a restorative meal.

Hummingbirds and pollinators alike are seeking out nectar-rich fall-blooming flowers like firespike (Odontonema cuspidatum or O. strictum), Mexican sage (Salvia leucanthum), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), asters (Aster or Symphyotrichum spp.), ironweed (Vernonia spp.), dotted horsemint (Monarda punctata, a prolific self-seeder), wild ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum, which is an incredible insect magnet, but can spread aggressively if the roots aren’t kept in bounds), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), and blazing star (Liatris spp.). Do your homework to determine which species suit your location, and plan to add those to your garden. Early fall is a good time to plant hardy perennials, but hold off on planting tender species until the spring.

Flowers that bloom in the fall make great decorations for Halloween. Look for autumn shades of chrysanthemums (“mums”), and other orange, red or yellow blooms and berries. If you’re aiming for a really spooky look, try draping Spanish moss around your decorations. For indoor use, freeze the moss for 24 hours in plastic bags to kill off any insects.

As you plant your cool season vegetable garden, make sure to scout regularly for insects and caterpillars. Cut worms make short work of small transplants and the problem can be avoided by using a protective barrier like a short section of kitchen paper tube around each plant. There is nothing quite as disheartening as finding your lovely new transplants completely destroyed.

Mary Puckett, the Urban Garden Assistant who has been so crucial to training master gardeners in the subtleties of vegetable gardening, and for the assistance she and her helpers have given to community gardens around Jacksonville and the beaches area, is also retiring. We wish her well, and I for one thank her for her contributions to A New Leaf, including her latest article “A successful garden takes planning.” How true that is!