Florida Gardening In May

florida gardening in may

Florida gardening in May is no picnic… well, actually it is!

Ah… now it feels like summer! Of course, it feels like summer a lot around here, thank God! Give me lemonade, a hammock and a cigar
and all is well with the world.

Have you seen any lubbers yet? They’re the adorable little black and orange-red grasshoppers you’ll find in many Southern yards this time
of year – also known as Romalea guttata. Don’t let their dopey movements, cute coloration and slow speed fool you… lubbers are eating machines. As the nymphs grow into adults, they lose their black coloring and become 2.5-3” long, multicolored Death Locusts. If you don’t kill them, they can do a lot of damage. Handpicking and drowning in soap water works well (or, alternately, you can stomp, burn, shoot, slingshot, freeze, incinerate, or fire them from a cannon). Unlike most other locusts and grasshoppers, lubbers are NOT edible. So, despite their undoubtedly high protein content, making kebabs is an unacceptable way of removing this pest from your yard.
Keep watering your trees and shrubs. If your plants are wilting, they’re overstressed. By the time plant leaves lose their turgidity, it’s long past watering time. Water sensibly and use drip irrigation if possible. Sprinklers lose a lot of water to evaporation (even though kids love
them). Making little dirt basins around new trees is a good idea because it allows you to flood the root zones. Fill a bucket from your rain barrel and pour it in… voila!
How are your azaleas looking? Probably pretty darn boring right now. However, if you want to do some shaping now, go ahead. You have
until roughly October before next year’s buds begin to form, so hack away. And remember, they love acid soils so pine needles, mulch and oak leaves are all good azalea additions.
Since I started off with a look at a poisonous grasshopper,
did you know we are also the home of America’s most poisonous snake? The Coral Snake, though rare and non-aggressive, has a potent neurotoxic venom. And along with that, we also have America’s most poisonous spider, the Black Widow. In fact, I have one in a jar at my house right now, caught in a field just a few miles from where I live. Interestingly, one of the most toxic plants in the world is also in Florida, though it isn’t a native. The Rosary Pea, a plain-looking climbing vine, produces beautiful brilliant red and black seeds that we used to call “ladybug eggs” when I was a kid. There seeds are where the toxin is located. I collected a few specimens in South Florida a couple of months ago. Just one pea, if chewed, is fatal. If you see them growing in your
yard, watch out. Isolated populations are apparently here in the county, though they’re much more common down south. A more likely source of poisoning for children or pets is the lovely Oleander tree – which is terribly toxic.
Now that your head is full of poisonous grasshoppers, snakes, spiders and plants, enjoy the rest of May and be happy you don’t live in Australia. Don’t even get me started on the incredible diversity of
dangerous animals there. Go plant something safe and hopefully tasty… and I’ll catch you next month.

Florida Gardening in April

Photo Credit

It’s time to take a look at Florida gardening in April.

Back when I lived in Tennessee, I loved the spring. Things were coming alive. We had plenty of rain and amazing, amazing green everywhere. Here, things are coming alive… then dying of thirst as the brutal sun bakes our sand into desert and desiccates their newly awakened roots.

 Well – perhaps it’s not quite that bad – but last year I did spend an inordinate amount of time dragging my hose from new fruit tree to
fruit tree and from garden bed to garden bed. As soon as I finished watering everything, it was time to start again. On the up side, there were no more frosts!
Hurray for frost-free growing!
And, unlike Tennessee and other Northerly climes, we’re not subject to long, cold, drizzly brown winters.
Keep an eye on your grass throughout April. Hopefully you fed it in March, but if not, it’s not too late. Adequate fertilization will help reduce drought stress. Also, make sure you give the lawn a good soak every
week this month if the skies don’t do it for you. Your young trees and shrubs will also need extra attention. Make sure to chop back the grass around your young trees in a 3-4’ ring. If you don’t, the competition for water will greatly inhibit your tree’s growth. Grass is remarkably stingy with letting nutrients and moisture through to the tree roots beneath.
And speaking of trees, have you ever seen a tree called “Hercules’ club?” Also known as Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, this strange creation looks like an invention of Dr. Seuss. A Florida native, Hercules’ club
can be found growing at the edges of woods in half-shade. Its trunk is covered with strangely spaced thorns and most of the greenery appears in a big puff like the feathers at the end of a feather duster. A little-known fact is that this bizarre looking far-off relative of the orange also has bark that can be used as a topical anesthetic similar to Novocain. You may need an anesthetic, too, if you run into its thorns. I’m going to plant a few beneath my oaks this year just because I like things that look weirder than I do.
Along with the warmth, the bugs are back.  Keep your eyes open and provide habitat for predators. Planned “wilderness” patches, stick and rock piles, dense foliage and water features are all great places for bug-eating good guys to live.
April is blueberry season. If you don’t have any of your own, be sure to look around for a local U-Pick establishment or hit the farmer’s market. You’ll be surprised at the good price you can get when you buy in quantity, and by buying locally you’re supporting other Florida farmers and gardeners.
Enjoy the warm weather – and plant away!

Florida Gardening in February


The madness is back. Can you feel it?

Clutch your wallets and purses, gardening friends – alluring trays of veggie seedlings are everywhere. And don’t forget the pots of flowers… brimming seed racks… birdhouses… shiny new lawnmowers… whimsical yard art… kink-free hoses… flower-printed gloves and all the other sordid paraphernalia of green fever.
Yep. It’s time to get started on your spring garden. Hurry! It’s almost too late!
Fortunately, it’s not that difficult or expensive to get a
plot started. Seeds are the cheapest route and often do better than
transplants. Why? Because they root in place and acclimate right where they are,
rather than being under or over-watered in a garden center, getting bound up in
their own roots and dealing with random light conditions in the process. When
you plant a seed in place, it can find its own pace and never has to deal with
the considerable shock of transplanting or “hardening off.” You can plant a
garden for a few bucks if you start with seeds. And if you’ve got access to
homemade compost or rotted horse or cow manure, you certainly don’t need to buy
dirt. Even trenching in your kitchen wastes can make a big difference. Or you
can take a cue from the Indians and dig holes, toss in some meat scraps,
kitchen waste, fish, road kill, manure or all of the above… then cover with
soil and plant on top of that. From personal experience, I can tell you that’s
a great way to grow squash and other vining crops.
As for tilling, consider double-digging instead. It
certainly takes a lot longer, but the results are incredible. My double-dug
beds significantly outperform areas where I’ve used tilling alone. Also, if you
turn up an area of decent soil and don’t keep it damp, or mulched, or seeded
immediately, it rapidly turns into a patch of sandy desert. Don’t do it!
Topsoil is hard enough to maintain around here.
Vegetable gardening aside, this is also the time of year to
bust out the pruning shears and attack your trees and shrubs. Make sure you
sterilize the shears in between similar species so you don’t inadvertently
spread disease. Alcohol is a great way to do this. If you’re a drinker, simply
dip the blades of your shears in your Martini as you sashay through the yard.
(Just don’t do this when trimming oleanders or it’ll be your last drink.)
As the weather warms up, keep water needs in mind. This is
usually a dry time of year and plants really feel the lack of water in warmer
temperatures. Water well and top off beds with mulch to keep moisture in. Just
make sure to water good and deep every week or so, rather than shallowly and
Enjoy a wonderful new year of gardening – and if you see a
two-for-one sale on flower-printed gloves, pick up an extra pair for me.
They’re… uh… for my wife.

Florida Gardening in January


Florida gardening in January

January is a time of rest and reflection for most Florida gardeners in the northern half of the state. Before too long, we’ll be planting out seedlings and biting our nails over late frosts… but right now, we’re in the coldest month of the year and there really isn’t a lot to worry about. That said – the excitement of new challenges is building as each new seed catalog arrives in the mail.
January is a good time to build a garden bed like this one:
florida gardening in january - make a bed!CLICK HERE to see how we did it!
I admit it – I’ve got “seed fever” right now and there doesn’t seem to be a cure. I’ve already bought a quantity of grain corn seed to try, some bizarre cucumbers, dwarf papaya seeds, heirloom tomatoes, a cigar
tobacco variety and all kinds of other exotic stuff.
If you’re itching to try something new and you don’t have space, now is the time to make some. Digging new beds, putting in landscape logs, mulching and making compost are all good activities as we count down to the new planting season.
Setting goals is another good idea. Did you grow enough tomatoes last year? Do you wish you’d taken better care of your lawn? Have you
wanted to plant a peach tree but just haven’t done so? Make some resolutions and plans and then write them down.
For example, during 2012, I harvested over 330lbs of food from my gardens, despite having had a run-in with herbicide-contaminated manure that wiped out a lot of my spring beds. My goal for 2013 is to produce over 1000lbs of food. Manageable? Just barely! It gives me a solid target to hit – and if I decide to grow zucchini, I might just make it!
On the non-edible side of the fence, we’re ticking off the days until azalea season now. If your plants are looking leggy – don’t trim them. Leave those poor things alone until after they flower or you won’t get
blooms. You can, however, mulch and weed around them so they look their best for their grand appearance next month. This is the month to think about “hardscape,” that is, the landscape elements of your property that aren’t living. Fixing ponds, mending fences, laying pavers – all these tasks are very nice in our wonderful January weather. If you put it off too long, it’ll get hot… and the jobs are unlikely to get done at all. (Trust me – I’ve been there and done that!)
Get outside – get working – and have a wonderful 2013.

Florida Gardening in December

Merry Christmas, green thumbs!
Unlike our poor sad friends up north, we don’t have to worry about “White Christmases” and all that nonsense here in Marion County. No… here Christmas is a time of cool nights and sunny days… and ongoing gardening. I grew up in South Florida, where it’s always green, so the multiple freezes and brown grass up here took some getting used to – but it’s a lot better than living further north, where snow, drizzling rain and weeks of grey skies drop your dopamine levels into the basement of despair.
If you have a greenhouse or a sunny window, December is a great month to start sprouting sweet potatoes. Toothpicks, a healthy tuber and a jar of water are all you need to get going. Poke three or four toothpicks into a sweet potato at about 1/3 of the way down from the end with the stem scar/little eyes on it. Then use those to suspend it into the jar, and fill it with water so at least half the potato is submerged. You may have to change the water occasionally if it gets nasty, but that’s part of the fun. In a few weeks, sprouts will appear. When they get 2-3” long, break them off and stick them into some soil. They’ll root and the potato will continue making new sprouts, sometimes for months. In fact, you can just about plant an entire bed from one good potato in the window. By March, you ought to have plenty of
little vines ready to go.

Another thing you can do this month is create new garden spaces. The weeds grow really slowly during the winter and the weather outside
is perfect for working. I like to use this season to double dig new plots,
build raised beds and clean up and mulch around my dormant trees and shrubs.
Don’t wait until spring to get rolling – it’s better to get things pretty and functional now before the rush to plant starts.
Ever start trees from seeds? Though they don’t come true to
type, many trees will produce wonderfully even without being a named variety. I’ve started pecans, peaches, persimmons, loquats and other attractive trees around my yard – for free. Many seeds and nuts that fall to the ground late in the year need a time of chilling to sprout – and that time is now. Soak acorns, chestnuts, pecans, hickory nuts, black walnuts and other seeds in water for a day or two, then pick a spot in your yard (or use a pot) to plant them. The chill of winter should initiate germination them and in spring, you’ll have baby trees popping up. I’m experimenting with mixed nuts from the supermarket this year – why not? At $3 a bag, I’ve nothing to lose – even though I know some varieties will be out of our growing range. Interestingly, trees that
start from seed often have faster growth and stronger taproots than those which are bought and transplanted. It will take a long time for them to bear this way – but who knows – you may end up with something really cool. If you’ve got a scientific streak and like to experiment, this is a cheap way to satiate your inquiring mind. (Though you might want to mark where you’ve planted things so you don’t accidentally decapitate your seedlings during a spring mowing!)
Enjoy the chill air – and enjoy celebrating the Nativity with your family, friends and plants.

Florida Gardening in November


Florida Gardening in November


Though many of our plants and trees are going to sleep, we gardeners shouldn’t do the same. November is a beautiful time of year here in Florida and as the rest of the country starts to freeze, we have plenty to thank God for.

If you started your winter garden last month, you’re probably already harvesting lettuce and radishes. And if you didn’t, it’s not too late to pop in a few cold-hardy veggies like peas and collards. Though they may not grow as fast as you’d like, they generally survive the winter fine and burst into growth as spring approaches.
It’s also not too late to plant a tree. Fall is a great time for that since it allows the new tree to settle in and grow roots throughout the winter. One thing to watch for in November, however, is the lack of rainfall. New transplants need lots of water – don’t let them dry out. One trick is to leave a garden hose at the base of a new tree and just barely turn it on. The slow trickle won’t flood the roots and it also keeps the tree from
experiencing as much transplant shock.
florida gardening in november

Why not use fallen leaves in your compost pile?

Around the yard, it’s acorn season again! Though most acorns are too bitter for humans to eat without extensive preparation, they make great
food for goats, pigs, squirrels and some birds. They’re also really good for slingshot ammo; however, the University of Florida does not recommend that particular usage.
In November it’s also time to think about frost protection for your more sensitive trees and shrubs. Canvas, sheets and blankets work well, provided you can keep them from flying away in the wind. Other options
for frost protection include strings of incandescent Christmas lights (the LEDs are worthless in this regard), running the sprinkler on your plants all night through a cold snap, keeping the ground bare and un-mulched beneath trees to provide radiant heat from the earth, burying smaller plants beneath straw, planting next to the south wall of a building – and of course, the old standby, praying like crazy that the thermometer stays above 32 degrees. I do all of the above.
Enjoy the cool weather, get some work done while it’s nice
out – and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.