By Lesley Arrandale
The day after Hurricane Irma passed by Jacksonville, the multi-trunked live oak tree in our front yard fell — apparently quite elegantly, although we weren’t there to witness the event — onto our house. Aside from dealing with the repair work, my thoughts have turned to — what next for our yard?
If you are still dealing with debris, see this article, which pays particular attention to safety issues: http://tinyurl.com/yc35sfvh. People understandably want to restore some semblance of order as soon as possible, but in the heat and humidity following the storm, it is safer to go slow and steady.
With a now-exposed south-facing aspect, we hope to find another less massive, possibly native tree that will be more in scale with our modest street. There are resources to help with tree selection on the University of Florida’s website. This publication (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP31000.pdf) guides the reader through an extremely detailed analysis of the process, and although very informative, if you are considering planting a new tree, you might prefer this website: http://tinyurl.com/yacznu2g. From here, you can research the characteristics of trees which are suitable for the Jacksonville area, and match the tree to your particular site. Fall is a good time to plants trees and shrubs. Give them the care they need, and they will put down roots in the winter months, and be ready to take off, come spring: http://tinyurl.com/y8x68f73.
As of early October, our lawn is still being smothered by limbs, trunks, and dead leaves, and may well be dead by the time the debris is removed. We might decide to substitute shrubs, native clumping grasses, and flowers in mulched beds, rather than lay new sod. In any case, sod shouldn’t be installed until spring, as the grass won’t have time to develop strong roots before turning dormant in the cold weather: http://tinyurl.com/yb5a6ros.
If you are planning for new flower or vegetable beds, and don’t want to dig out weeds, or use chemicals to kill them, try sheet mulching. Lay down overlapping sheets of damp cardboard or several layers of damp newspapers, cover with at least three inches of compostable material, and top that with mulch to make the area look presentable. Building up more layers of compost followed with nitrogen-containing material like shredded leaves or straw will add even more humus to your soil. The process of decomposition takes several months, but the result will be worth the effort (http://tinyurl.com/ycvopkcj).
Check out the November/December edition of A New Leaf, available in early November (http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/lg_new_leaf_news.shtml). There you’ll find timely gardening advice, and information on upcoming programs at the extension office. This is the ideal time to plant cool season vegetables, as well as some perennials, bulbs, and shrubs and trees, and there are plenty of annuals available to brighten the winter landscape — something that many of us need!
Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.