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by Monica Brandies
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2005 Seasonal Advice
January is the time to ...
- Pour over catalogs and garden books on cold days and plan some landscape improvements like cutting the lawn size by expanding the shrubs and ground covers or adding more color, texture, and interest to the your plantings.
- Take inventory of the plants you have and how they are doing and decide which ones you want to replace, move, or prune to a different shape.
- Replace bird houses that may have been damaged or brought down by the hurricanes.
- Notice Florida's fall color. It hasn't been quite as bright as some years, probably because of the hurricane and the hot weather, but there are golden strings of wild grapevine leaves all over, and some bright red chains or Virginia creeper. The maples dropped their leaves before they got scarlet this year, but they will soon be deep red with opening buds. The turkey oaks that are usually dark red by Christmas in our neighborhood are still turning and may or may not make it. A frost would make them more colorful, but I'm glad enough to have no frost damage. It is a good trade off.
- I've especially noticed the little red and orange leaves still clinging to the crape myrtles that have been especially lovely this year. Notice also the dark berries and the mottled bark of these deciduous small trees. And the cypress trees are always covered with rusty red before the leaves drop, and then with a misty green a month or so later when they begin to leaf out again. We do have seasons. They just are more subtle and gentle so we stay much more comfortable.
February is the time to ...
- Decide what to do with what you prune off. Small green pieces can become mulch, except for rose prunings. For roses, both twigs and leaves should be either burned or put out for the trash, never added to the compost pile or left as mulch for that could allow insects and diseases could run rampant.
- Larger branches can be cut into smaller pieces and piled in an inconspicious corner to break down. This provides mulch eventually and give wildlife habitat in the meantime.
- Trash collectors, God bless them, will take some, but I never would expect them to take all my yard produces. Still my daughter Teresa and I fill those three trash barrels almost every week when I am pruning.
- You can rent or buy a grinder. This takes considerable labor, but it produces fine mulch and solves much of the problem.
- Visit places such as nearby Eureka Springs , Leu Gardens in Orlando, Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee, Historic Bok Sanctuary in Lake Wales, or whatever public gardens are near the route you are taking. You can enjoy both the camellias and the azaleas this time of year.
- It is well worth a visit to the State Fair if you only see the Horticultural Exhibits. The Camellia Society's, the Begonia Society's, and the Rare Fruit Council's are among the twenty or so and you won't want to miss a one.
March is the time to ...
- Plant seeds of something, anything, either in the ground outdoors or in pots on the porch or kitchen shelf where you can watch them sprout. This is great winter therapy, even when we don't have winter, and guaranteed to give you a great a boost of gardening enthusiasm. To be very truthful, I don't have such wonderful luck with seeds in Florida, but just the thought and the possibility keep me trying again. Use fresh seeds and put what you don't use in the freezer until you need them.
- Maybe if I remind everyone to water it will rain between now and publication. I sure hope so. It has been terribly dry. I've been watering young seedlings every day only to find the patch dry as dust when I look the next time. Usually we don't have to water like this until April and May, but the days are getting longer, the plants starting new growth and bloom, and water can make a world of difference.
- Wonder if you have seen or used any of the beautiful magnolia stamps the post office is now selling. The name Martin Johnson Heade, the artist who painted the picture, is also on the stamp in tiny letters. He lived from 1819 to 1904, grew up as part of a family of farmers in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, traveled the world as an artist and settled at last in Florida.. He was the first artist of national repute to make his home here and he spent his last 20 painting lovely landscape and floral pictures. There is a book about him in the library system which you may want to read when I take it back.
- Finish up the last of the drastic spring pruning as soon as possible and then just continue with normal pruning thereafter.
- Watch the rain gauge and water as needed, especially container plants. The days are getting longer and warmer and are still sometimes a bit windy, so that sandy soil dries out quickly.
April is the time to ...
- Keep the hose handy and water as needed, especially newly set plants and those in containers.
- While you have the hose out, water the compost pile and be sure to sprinkle or mist the rooting cuttings often.
- If you have plants in pots that you plan to put in the ground, the sooner you do it the better. In ground plants are more forgiving of dry conditions than those in pots, and our two driest months of the year are upon us..
- Mulch well. This also helps prevent drying out.
- Pass on a hint from a wonderful talk by Tom Hewitt, who writes for Florida Gardening Magazine and whom I met at their recent symposium. He grows my favorite Heavenly Blue morning glories by planting seeds in a gallon size pot which he puts into his Florida/English garden and lets them wander over the other plants as they will. I have planted the seeds and they are thriving in that pot as they never did in the ground where they were overcrowded.
- He also reports that his Buddleia or butterfly bushes get smaller and smaller blooms as they age in his south Florida garden, so he starts new cuttings every winter and then cuts the parent plant back almost to the ground.
- Tom Hewitt cuts his plumbago back to the ground in winter--its still not too late for pruning it heavily--and it comes back and blooms better than ever. Now I know how some people keep theirs so low. He believes in sculpting some plants to the shape that fits in the garden and that often adds interest. My pruners now have a new purpose.
May is the time to ...
- Plan some garden or nature activities for the summer. You can plant some fun plants like pentas and lantana. They are beautiful, easy, and will bring butterflies to your garden.
- Children or adults can collect and study bugs or butterflies or the moths that fly in the evening. There are good guidebooks at the library.
- Plan some picnics at public gardens like Eureka Springs and USF Botanical Gardens or Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. The latter are right near the Pinnelas bike trail, so you might want to take you bikes.
- Read great books with gardens and nature woven into the stories like those by Jean Craighead George and Gene Stratton Porter. Kokopelli's Flute by Hobbs in a good one with a bit of fantasy.
- Water wisely. We had a wetter, cooler, and more cloudy April and early May, but the next few weeks could be the hottest and driest of the year. Put a few empty tuna cans at various places through the garden. If they fill half an inch twice a week, from rain, sprinklers, or hand watering, that is enough for most plants. Newly set plants and those in pots need water as often as every day, but just half an inch. We seldom have water bills higher than $30 with three people and half an acre of garden. Don't overdo.
- Give you a list that is very important for container planting.
Annuals that Spill Over the Edge
Pots, windowboxes, and containers full of flowers should combine the colors and textures of full, upright annuals with those that trail down the edges of the pot. The biggest mistake you can make is to use a small pot; in hot, dry times you'll have to water too often. The smallest pots we use are twenty-one inches wide and eighteen inches deep.
Some of the most artful combinations you'll ever see are at the Disney World. Trailing annuals seem to be the most difficult to think of (and find, sometimes). Don't hesitate to combine them with trailing perennials, vines, and low shrubs that you can later move to other places. This list even includes some houseplants that do very well in Florida.
- Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)*
- Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
- Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata)*
- Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida)*
- Cuban oregano (Coleus amboinicus 'Variegata')*
- Dahlberg daisy (Dyssodia tenuiloba)*
- Geraniums, Balcon series
- Lantana, trailing (Lantana montevidensis)*
- Lobelia (Lobelia erinus)
- Nasturtium, Alaska series
- Petunia hybrids
- Polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)*
- Purple heart (Setcreasea pallida 'Purple Heart')*
- Purslane (Portulaca spp.)*
- Scaevola (Scaevola aemula 'Blue Wonder')*
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum 'Variegatum')*
- Swedish ivy, variegated (Plectranthus Oetendahlii 'Variegatus')*
- Thyme, creeping (Thymus spp.)
- Verbena (Verbena Xhybrida)*
- Vinca, bigleafed (Vinca major)*
- Zinnia, narrow leaf (Zinnia angustifolia)*
*Those with asterisks are good to get now. The others do best in the cooler months.
June is the time to ...
- Ask if anyone knows of a place where the Tampa Rare Fruit Council might have their meetings on the first Sunday of most months at 2 pm. There are usually 80 in attendance and the crowd sometimes swells to 120, but we are not a rowdy group. Call Charles Novak, 754-1399 if you have any leads.
- Thank God for the rain, even when it seems like a bit much of a good thing. Turn off the automatic watering systems. You can rely on rain for most of the summer and if the rains give less than an inch a week, you can turn the sprinkler on manually for just that rare time.
- Continue to water plants in containers as needed.
- Also, always water newly set plants, even if it is raining when you put them in. The watering is needed to settle the soil. Plant in late afternoon or on a cloudy day so the sun doesn't add to the shock of transplanting, or cover them with something to provide a little shade if you must plant in the sunshine. Check them every day and water deeply enough to soak the entire root ball every time they seem dry or stressed. As soon as new growth starts with newly set plants, you can cut your watering in half, and a few weeks later in half again.
July is the time to ...
- Consider an Elderhostel now or look forward them in your future. Elderhostels started 30 years ago to offer programs that share the excitement of learning and are also entertaining, and relaxing. At first at least one spouse had to be 60 years old, but now the age is 55. Sometimes younger people come to help an older parent. And there are programs for grandparents and grandchildren. You can visit www.elderhostel.org online and find programs in any place in the world with any activity from riding barges on the rivers of France to seeing Washington, DC without getting stuck in traffic. If you don't have a computer, you can send to Elderhostel, 11 Avenue de Lafayette, Boston, MA 02111-1746 to order a free catalog or see one in the local library. We have gone on two of these trips and enjoyed them immensely. I have friends who went on three consecutive ones as they crossed the country to visit their son. The reasonable prices include everything: food, shelter, transportation on field trips, gratuities, and such. Best of all, once you get there, you don't have to make a single decision. The best ones have already been made for your enjoyment.
- Keep watching for wildflowers, even though they are less prevalent in summer and fall. Since one of our guides was a horticulturist, I did learn a few new wildflowers. Spiderworts were even thicker there than in Florida. There was also a lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata, which is native to the Eastern U.S. to south Florida, Zones, 6-10. A little pale yellow primrose was blooming there and is still blooming here, but I am not sure of a more specific name. It bloomed both day and evening, so it is not an evening primrose. A wild sorrel looked like a reddish grass but was actually spires of blooms above a rosette of green or reddish leaves and it grew on the beach as well as in Florida fields.
- Attack pesky slugs and snails!
- I've always had some, but suddenly I have millions. Here again you can get slug and snail killers and I have a box I intend to use up. But first I am trying some non poisonous methods for getting rid of them or at least reducing the population so we can coexist. Some of the following ideas are taken from the new book Panty Hose, Hot Pepper, Tea Bags and more--for the Garden. I was one of its several writers.
- Picking off and squashing the snails may seem a repulsive endeavor at first, but the more the snails eat my plants, the more I don't mind crushing them, either with gloved fingers or a tissue in hand or dropped on the sidewalk and crushed underfoot..
- Crumple up wet newspaper into balls the size of a melon. In the evening, place these where the slugs and other pests are doing their worst damage. Just after sunrise, pick up these traps, put them into a garbage bag, and seal tightly. Other traps include damp cardboard, grapefruit rinds, or damp burlap. You can also deposit these, slugs and all, on a hot compost pile. I tried this and found the wed cardboard works best, even thin cardboard from pop containers or cereal boxes. Cut the pieces so they will lay flat. Drop them in a buck of water until evening, then spread them around.
- If you have wood ashes from a fireplace, a ring of these will discourage slugs from climbing up the stems. Sprinkle the ashes in a band a few inches wide but don't let them actually touch the stems.
August is the time to ...
- Admit my mistakes and beg my neighbors' forgiveness for planting some plants that now none of us can control. I am working on my side of the fence, but it is a lifetime battle.
- Consider the advantages of porches. They give a house a friendly feeling from the outside and give the people who live there the pleasure of sitting out in wicker rocking chairs or on porch swings to enjoy the evening's rest or the morning coffee. One of the great advantages of such porches in pre-air conditioning days was to shade the rooms in summer and let the windows stay open without worry of rain getting in. We've changed the times when we sit out and leave the windows open, but the advantages of such a porch wrap around the entire year in Florida even now.
- If you have a porch, decorate it with blooming plants in containers that you can change out as needed. Be sure to include some fragrant flowers or foliages for maximum enjoyment. Often you'll find that plants will thrive on the porch that will not do so in the garden.
- Report on my slug and snail war. The wed cardboard is doing in many, especially the smaller ones. It also spurs my efforts. I've killed a few hundred in the last week. But there are plenty more.
- Dishes of beer have always been toted as the ultimate slug killers. Bury a shallow dish up to the rim and slugs should crawl in and drown. They never did for me. I think I was mostly giving them a party. Instead you can use 2 tablespoons of years, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 2 cups of water. This would be a good way to use up old yeast you don't trust with your bread dough. Check the dishes daily and remove any dead slugs. Be sure to empty and refill after every rain.
- Slugs abhor caffeine, so mulch with coffee ground around the must holey plants. In my garden they ruin the ornamental sweet potatoes, recently ate whole pots of morning glories and even succulents. You may want to get your favorite coffee shop to save ground for you, in which case, don't put them more than an inch deep. Save any leftover coffee and pour it right on the plant leaves.
- To keep the slugs out of your containers, plug the holes firmly with pieces of old panty hose.
- Keep a bottle of water handy when working in the garden in this hot weather. I also like to keep handy small buck of water to rinse off my hands when they get too grubby and also to ease any mosquito or ant bites on the spot. A rag in the pocket would be good for drying hands if you don't want to use your britches. Before you go back inside, pour the bucket water on the nearest thirsty plant.
- Keep a vase of water by the nearest door when you are working in the garden to put in those flowers you have to prune off or weed out. It saves extra steps and dirty tracks back into the house.
- Spend some garden time reading, planning, or visiting other gardens during the hot weather. The weeding and pruning will always be there.
September is the time to ...
- Cuttings will root very quickly in this humid weather, so if you have one coleus you can soon have a dozen. It is also a good time to back up you best plants with new cuttings--just in case anything happens to the parent. Or share your cuttings with gardening friends.
- You can multiply your plants by the hundreds if you save trimmings for cuttings, but don't get carried away. You don't need them by the hundreds. What you don't root can be used as mulch if it is soft and neat or put on the compost pile.
- Order seeds for your fall vegetables. I will soon green beans, collards, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, endive, kohlrabi, onions, southern peas, potatoes, summer squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and turnips in September, also pepper plants and cabbage.
- Treat fungus on walks where it can both unsightly and downright dangerous. After I fell flat on my back, rested in shock and mire, and got up unhurt, thank God, my son Mike poured on Clorox carefully so there would be no runoff, and it ate the mire away.
- It is not just what you put in a garden but also what you take out that makes it look good. Prune and purge unwanted plants as the weather and your energy allows. You can put soft material on the compost pile unless it is very invasive like the Wedelia I just removed. For that I used four trash cans so it wouldn’t crawl off the compost pile and invade the backyard, too. Use Wedelia only where you can mow all around it or in the center of cement surroundings.
October is the time to ...
- Keep taking cuttings of plants you want to multiply. It is easy, fun, and richly rewarding.
- Put into action some of the good ideas you see in other gardens. I came home and did some ground layering of plumbago bushes to get more of them. They were blooming in low clouds of blue in the Keys. Mine is climbing a tree. So I took four of the lower branches, scraped the bark or skin around one of two of the nodes, loosened the soil where they would make contact, pined them down with plant pins, and buried that point in soil. They will root at that point. There is a good foot or more beyond each of these pinned places that will be the start of the new plant. Three of them will be in a good position and I'll leave them there. The fourth one, I'll dig up and plant further away. I plan to cut them to the ground every winter once they are started so they will stay low. If all goes well, I'll have a cloud of blue across the road frontage next spring with an echo up in the tree.
- Get out the hose. We've had some dry weather again. I dipped from my rainbarrels all summer for new plants and containers, but I managed not to use my hose for three months. I'm using it again.
- If you have an automatic watering system, it is time to turn it back on and adjust it for the season. Be sure the rain gauge is working. We'll still have some good rains and it is not only wasteful but harmful to water when the lawn or garden is already well soaked.
- Plant winter vegetables and annuals, both from seeds and from bedding plants. Most nurseries have large range of choices now.
- Whenever it is cool enough or your gardening urge overcomes even the last of the heat, prune and weed the summer overgrowth. While you are pruning, sculpt a bit. It is both fun and rewarding to give a plant a pleasing shape that fits your particular planting. Sue Murkey in the Keys has a jacaranda pruned back to just a bare wisp of a tree but she says it grows out and blooms abundantly every spring. All of her trees and shrubs were pruned more drastically than mine, and the result was--- neatness! I'm going to work at it.
October is the time to ...
- Pot up extra plants, either cuttings or seedlings, winter container color and for holiday gifts.
- Keep cleaning up the summer weeds and pruning back the surplus growth of treasured plants. I'll be working on mine right up until Nov. 12, the day of my first Garden Open House. But once I get it done, it will stay neat through the winter unless we have frost damage, and we won't even think about that now.
- Go to your local nursery and treat yourself to some winter bedding plants and some seeds. New color will not only help your garden but it will boost your morale, increase you ambition, and if you choose carefully, those plants can bring more birds and butterflies to you garden.
November is the time to ...
- Enjoy the cooler weather and the fact that this is the start of the garden year in Florida. Don't wait until spring to plant or your season will be short. Herbs and annuals you plant now you can enjoy for at least 8 months and perennials and shrubs will be with you for years.
- This is a good time to set out new bulbs and tubers of many kinds, freesias, callas, glads, ranunculus, anemones. You can also still divide daylilies and amaryllis. Be sure to plant the amaryllis so that the tops are even with the ground. I was once told to plant them higher, but then either grasshoppers or squirrels ate them all, so they are safer covered.
- It is time to get your rye grass seed and be ready to plant as soon as the weather cools. It can go right over your regular lawn or weedy spots. Water to keep the soil surface moist for five days, and then it is up and growing and will give you a soft, bright green lawn all winter. You will have to mow it, but perhaps only once a month. It will die out on its own in late spring.
- Water as needed, but much less than you did through the spring or early fall. Plants are growin more slowly now and need less.
- Feed citrus trees if you did not do so in October. For young tree use a pound of 6-6-6 with added minor elements or a citrus fertilizer and spread it over the ground beneath the entire canopy. For older trees, use a half pound of fertilizer for every inch of trunk circumference measured 6 inches above the ground.
- Stop in at your nearest Starbucks and help yourself to as many packs of their coffee grounds as you can carry. They are great for the garden. Be sure to thank them for recyling. What do you do with the coffee grounds when you get them home? Put them on the compost pile or add them to your potting soil. They are light in weight, high in organic matter, and attractively dark. You can use a whole paper filter full of grounds at the bottom of a pot and the filter will keep the soil from coming through the holes.
Coffee grounds and tea leaves are acid in content, so use them as mulch around azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, dogwoods, hollies, and blueberries. Also put some in the planting holes when you set out such plants.
Slugs don't like caffeine, so use them as a mulch where you are having slug problems.. Spread them no more than an inch deep.
If you don't get to Starbucks, ask your favorite restaurant to save their coffee ground for you. Or at least save your own at home. Also save leftover coffee and use it in any of the above situations.
- Pick up or push over any plants growing in containers in your yard every few months to be sure they are not rooting through the bottom holes and into the ground. If they are, cut off those roots and keep the plant well watered until it recovers.
- If a plant gets hopelessly rooted into the ground, you can cut away the pot, dig a hole on the spot, and bury the rest of the root ball the best you can. If you have to cut away quite a few roots, cut back some of the top growth to maintain the balance and prevent severe wilting.
- Consider the gardeners on your Christmas list. Autographed books make great gifts.
December is the time to ...
- Consider Christmas gifts. A State Park pass is good for people who may use one often. Get details on web or from any state park office.
- A membership at the USF Botanical Gardens has many benefits and also gets people into other botanical gardens throughout the state. Like the State Park passes, it helps support these wonderful places so that we can always enjoy them.
- Books (especially if autographed by the author) make good Christmas gifts. Shop online for books for gardeners both in Florida and in the north and also for Bless You, a book of stories for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Local people can call me at 654-1969 and stop by for pick-up to save postage if they want.
- Gift certificates from local nurseries are great gifts that keep on giving.
- My children know that two things I will surely need and use are potting soil--I use both the cheap and the Miracle-Gro and any other kind I get. Kerby's has a good mixture--and Bloom Booster fertilizer, available at WalMart, Home Depot, or any similar stores.
- Appreciate the short days of winter when weeds grow slowly and garden work can be done at leisure.
- Bring foliage and flowers into the house for spotlight enjoyment. Try some different companions and be sure to add something for scent, even if it is mint. Arrangements make good gifts.
- Pot up some of your extra plants in interesting combinations for gifts.