By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
I feel as if I’ve taken a break from gardening now that my main activity is tending the new native plant bed — our insect haven or insectary — in our front yard. A gentle amble around to check for any wayward weeds, testing the soil moisture around the plants when we’ve had too little rain … it’s really not arduous, even in the heat of summer.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. The okra plants are dropping leaves, but two of them are branching out from low down, so I’ll cut off the main stems and hope those new shoots will fill out and keep producing. There are aphids on some of the buds and leaves, but there’s also a ladybug or two around, and I’m hoping they will keep the aphids in check, along with some squishing and hard sprays of water.
I’ve disposed of our tomato plants, which were no longer looking promising. (There were some green fruits left on the vines, so my husband made some green tomato chutney.) The chili plants are still doing well, and while the sweet pepper plants aren’t producing right now, having been shaded out by the tomatoes, they do have some tiny flower buds. I find it hard to decide when to discard plants that are past their best, and unless they really decline after some TLC, I will probably let them hang on until I need to prepare the beds for our cool season crops.
The rest of the yard is still burgeoning — busting at the seams with green growth — with shrubs and vines threatening to overtake paths and spaces they don’t deserve. This is a problem currently, as the city is struggling to collect yard waste regularly, and our street is often lined with containers and plastic sacks full of debris. Yards hereabouts are modest in size and it’s not always practical to compost every last bit of plant material, so the city service is invaluable.
Happily, we are not in drought, and NOAA doesn’t predict drought conditions in the months up to October; however, we can expect higher than average summer temperatures, which sadly seems to be the norm nowadays. If you would like more details, check out the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, at https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/.
Being aware of longer-range forecasts can help in planning when to plant cool season vegetables. Lettuces, for example, are notorious for bolting quickly in the heat so an early direct sowing would be pointless; however, sowing in more controlled conditions can overcome this problem, but it means setting up an indoor growing area for seedlings, either on a very sunny windowsill or under a grow light. Germinating seeds can be easily monitored until they sprout, and then moved to the light right away. They may need potting into larger containers, depending on how you start them, to be planted out when the weather is just right. (See the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, https://tinyurl.com/86m742yb.)
If you have tender perennials or shrubs you are fond of, now could be a good time to take cuttings to root in case they are lost over winter. This isn’t as hard as it may seem, and I encourage you to check out this publication: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/MG108. If you have a desire for native perennials that are sometimes hard to come by, autumn is the most natural time to start some seeds. The Florida Wildflower Cooperative has some useful information about timing (https://tinyurl.com/s27ajryj), as well as seeds for sale (https://tinyurl.com/4bkfrukx).
For more information on what to do this month in your yard and garden, check out the “North Florida Gardening Calendar” (https://tinyurl.com/efxxfczr) and “A New Leaf – Yard and Garden” newsletter (https://tinyurl.com/4zpx4c5x), both of which are particularly useful locally. I also highly recommend the “Neighborhood Gardener” (https://tinyurl.com/4jcn8ryy), which includes a calendar of events from around the state, many of which are presented online. That should be enough to get you through for a while. Stay cool!