By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale
Boy, has it been hot! Across the country high temperatures are breaking records. On a positive note, there is the potential for an El Nino weather pattern to build, so the hurricane season in the Atlantic could be less active than usual (https://tinyurl.com/yaxsllv4).
The July-August edition of A New Leaf is out now: https://tinyurl.com/y7bpghof. It’s a great resource for timely information on what to do in the garden, as well as activities at the Extension office. In this edition, summer vegetables are covered in detail, as well as some of the pests and diseases that we can encounter at this time of year. Lawns in particular can succumb to fungal problems when summer rains set in, so it pays to be watchful (see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh064).
On Aug. 18, there will be a fall gardening class at the Extension office, offering participants the opportunity to learn what cool season vegetables grow well here, and also — the really excellent bit, in my view — they will take home a seed tray of assorted vegetables they have sown themselves. Registration and prepayment ($15) are required. Visit https://tinyurl.com/ybeo4wr3 to register and pay online. Or call (904) 255-7450 to register.
If you are buying milkweed, don’t shun plants that have a few aphids (small yellow-orange insects that cluster around stems and beneath leaves). In this instance it’s a good sign, as it means that the nursery that grew them hasn’t treated them with insecticides. Monarch butterfly caterpillars don’t survive on plants that have been treated, especially if the insecticide is a systemic like a neonicotinoid. If aphids begin to take over, simply wash them off with plain water or squash them, taking care not to damage any tiny monarch caterpillars or eggs. Interestingly, there are tiny wasps that parasitize aphid nymphs by laying their eggs in them: https://tinyurl.com/y9pn2dya. The aphids turn into empty brown husks once the wasp larvae have hatched and eaten their hosts, and the plant is fine.
If your summer annuals are flagging, either shear them neatly or deadhead them, depending on their growth habit, and give them a liquid feed. They may take time to respond, but this will encourage them to keep flowering. If you applied a slow-release fertilizer in spring it will need replenishing, so go ahead with another application after the liquid fertilizer. Alternatively, top-dress regularly with good homemade or commercial compost, spreading it over the root area, and keeping it away from the plant stem.
Why not take a break from the heat, and check out some online catalogs. It won’t be long before it’s time to plant bulbs. And if you intend to sow wildflowers in your yard, check out www.floridawildflowers.com/. Many wildflower seeds germinate better if we follow their natural life cycle and sow their seeds in the fall, whether in the ground or a seed tray, and they will get a head start next spring.
Backyard birds benefit from an uninterrupted supply of fresh clean water, and a bird bath can be as inexpensive as a trash can lid. I find that watching their antics is a relaxing way to enjoy my yard while keeping cool inside. Try it!