By Lesley Arrandale

As of early November, temperatures are beginning to moderate, which is a relief. We are also entering a generally drier season, which means that any newly installed plants need your attention if they are going to establish a strong root system before spring. Cooler, drier air can dehydrate a plant more quickly than you may imagine, and if the rains are sparse you may need to irrigate established citrus and shrubs every three weeks or so — but don’t do so without making sure it’s really necessary.

As an El Nino weather system is setting in, the forecast is for a colder than average winter in the south although, Florida being Florida, no doubt we’ll have some warmer than average days thrown in for good measure. As always, we need a plan to protect our tender plants, both those in the landscape and in pots.

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The Extension Service bi-monthly newsletter “A New Leaf” is available at The final class of the year is the Winter Workshop on Dec. 5. Participants will make a Forsythe pot, which is designed to improve the success rate of rooting cuttings. The workshop will also cover vegetable growing tips. The cost is $15 and you can register and pay online at Call Sarah Freeman at (904) 255-7450, who can help you register if the class isn’t full. If you don’t make it to the class, you can learn more about the Forsythe pot at

Leaf fall is well underway for some of our trees. If your grass still needs mowing, lighter leaves can simply be run over with the lawnmower and left to decompose in place, but once the tough leaves of live oaks and similar trees start dropping in earnest, make plans to use them wisely. It’s a waste of nutrients simply to bag them for collection with yard waste. Put them to good use, preferably shredded, as mulch; heap them up in an out of the way spot where they will slowly rot down into “leaf mold,” which makes a wonderfully rich top dressing, despite sounding like a disease; or compost them in layers with green material such as kitchen waste and yard trimmings. Even if you have more leaves than you can handle, recycling at least some of them back into your landscape makes economic sense as it reduces the need to buy mulch and compost.

At the end of a plant’s flowering, the seeds produced are great food for birds, especially going into the winter months. When insects hunker down during cold snaps, hungry birds will benefit if you leave those seed heads standing ( The spent flower stalks of coneflowers, sunflowers, and Stoke’s asters, among others, can be quite structural. So when you consider whether or not to tidy the yard, please give some thought to our feathered friends as well as overwintering insects, many of which will be good guys. And while this article,, praises the value of a “messy garden,” it does not have to be an all or nothing approach. A small, more casual area where plants are left to fulfill their purpose of setting seed and producing fruit will certainly be better than no wildlife friendly habitat at all.

Pansies and other cool season annuals make a lovely showing as the rest of our landscape slows down. If you find yourself also slowing down in the yard, containers filled with hardy flowers and greenery strategically placed nearby in the landscape and around your entrance can make beautiful additions, as long as you are prepared to water them as needed. Happy winter holidays, everyone!

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