By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale
Sometimes I have hankered to live farther north just to be able to grow some of the fruits, flowers, and vegetables that I grew up with, but seeing last winter’s devastating storms that swept across the plains and northwards, I realize we are relatively lucky in northeast Florida. Encouragingly, this hurricane season may be less busy than average, according to Colorado State University predictions (https://tinyurl.com/y5ltxj43), but it only takes one major storm to have devastating impacts, as we know.
There are certainly beautiful plants that grow here in Zone 9 that would struggle to survive in colder climates, but the flower garden in the height of summer is not always at its best. Heat and humidity can take their toll. At the Extension program, “A Day of Gardening” held in February, two of the speakers, Linda Reindl with the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association and Billy Butterfield, owner of Ameriscapes Landscape Management Services in Orlando, told us about some of their favorites. Here I’ll provide a list; you can find information on the internet on their cultural requirements (sun/shade, moist/dry), growing habits (height, spread, annual or perennial) and other attributes, like being attractive to pollinators. (Remember: right plant, right place.)
Gerbera daisy “Sweet” series; Salvia “Big Blue”; Alternanthera “Purple Prince”; Dianthus “Jolt”; Verbena “Finesse” (V. bonariensis hybrid); Coleus “Campfire Orange”; Zinnia “Zahara” series; Melampodium “Derby”; Melinis nerviglumis “Savannah” (a grass); “Bounce” Impatiens (downy mildew resistant); Caladium; “Sedona Sun” ornamental pepper; Ipomoea “Floramia” series (ornamental sweet potato); Gomphrena, globe amaranths; Dwarf vinca “Soiree” series; Lantana “Little Lucky Red”. As you may know, none of these are native Florida plants, but all should be Florida-FriendlyTM. If any are inclined to spread by seed, a good layer of mulch should prevent that, and it will keep the soil cool and moist.
I often consider turning over my yard entirely to native plants, but there are some beautiful exotic flowers and shrubs that make me hesitate, especially when native plants are not often sold locally. One native plant that can be found is the orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), but it sells out quickly. The tropical or Mexican milkweed (A. curassavica) is far more widely available, and is also prime Monarch butterfly fodder, but it isn’t native, and that isn’t always made clear.
Grass is now growing well, and probably needs mowing once a week. Whatever your grass type, mow at the highest recommended height, as its roots will be stronger with longer leaf blades to feed them. Check out https://tinyurl.com/y29f7dhz for more information. If rains are adequate, a lawn may not need regular watering. With an automatic system it may be tempting to set it and forget it, but you will probably do more harm than good. Excess moisture leads to overly lush growth, which is tempting to insects and can also promote the growth of fungal diseases. A soil moisture sensor is a helpful aid in combination with an automatic irrigation setup as it simply shuts off the system when soil moisture is adequate. To check that you have the correct information about when and how you may water your lawn, see https://tinyurl.com/yy4yh6os.
If maintaining your lawn is too taxing in the summer heat, consider expanding your flower or shrub beds to reduce its size. You would provide more habitat for beneficial insects and birds, and could save your energy. An easy method (but HOA members will need to clear this with their association): layer clean cardboard or newspaper, leaves, compost, and mulch, and secure the edges with pavers which will keep the area looking tidy. Come fall, the summer heat will have killed the underlying turf, rotted down much of the other material, and you will have a new bed ready to be planted.
The May-June edition of “A New Leaf” will be available here: https://tinyurl.com/y9yfxd89. I’m looking forward to those timely tips and useful articles. Enjoy!