The long summer days are beginning to wane, the mercury is starting its slow march down the thermometer, and your landscape displays all the signs of winter. It’s the time of year that many gardeners dread. Fear not, my fellow parishioners of the soil. I’m here to tell you that there is hope for your landscape. With a little planning, your home can remain beautiful as there are blooms aplenty even into the autumn months here in Florida.
Established deciduous landscape plants begin their annual cycle by sloughing off their leaves, but this doesn’t mean they have no value. After months of standing boldly in your yard, many begin to lose their chlorophyll and turn eye-catching hues of orange and purple. Trees such as bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) create a fantastic fall display as they march into winter slumber. Maples (Acer spp.) will similarly provide a beautiful show once the cold weather hits. Plant these trees in your landscape while observing the “right plant, right place” philosophy and you will provide a low-maintenance pallet of annual colors for decades.
Next, perennial plants are the lynchpin in many landscapes, filling in the space between your trees and inground annuals. Choosing those with bright, warm colors will make your yard stand out against your neighbors. Remember, when planting, some plants will not survive the first frost. One plant prone to this style of dieback is fire spike (Odontonema strictum). Here, you will find bright red blooms underpinned by large, striking green leaves. Don’t be dissuaded by the frost-tender nature of this plant, it is an excellent specimen and supports pollinators later into the season. Salvia (Salvia spp.) is another superb specimen for some color later in the season. This again will die off upon the first frost but, until then, will provide bright flowers with grey-green foliage that is striking in any garden. For those seeking an evergreen autumn bloomer, look no further than the leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum). This sometimes overlooked and shade-loving member of the aster family provides yellow flowers through the fall and unique round leaves throughout the rest of the year.
Annuals for Brilliant Color
Finally, let us peruse flowering annuals. The advantage here is the vibrant colors they bring, but they are short lived and will need to be rotated out in a few months. Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) is a prime example of a versatile plant fitting this bill. They have a spreading habit, making them excellent as a cold weather ground cover or a beautiful trailing potted plant hung on your porch. If sprawling isn’t your cup of tea, investigate calendula (Calendula officinalis) for a splash of yellow in an upright ray-style flower. Remember that these cold weather annuals will not tolerate heat or humidity, so plant them in the fall when things cool off. They will do well in the ground directly or with a pot-in-pot system. The latter will allow easy switches should the plants begin to falter. If planted directly in-ground, prepare your site accordingly. Soil testing will dictate fertilization needs and adding organic matter will ensure adequate water retention.
Gardening in Florida is always a tough row to hoe. We are fortunate in that we can provide color in our landscapes throughout the year, but to do so one must understand our dynamic environment. Florida will throw you some curveballs, but with a little planning and some understanding you’ll be well on your way to thriving gardens. For more information, see this Ask IFAS document for trees, this ASK IFAS for perennials, or this ASK IFAS for annuals. As always, please contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
In case you missed it, you can watch our last session of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! that aired on October 12th by visiting our YouTube Playlist with all the past episodes of our gardening webinars.
We had a great conversation about herbs and cool season edible plants last month and this article compiles the links shared by the expert panel in the episode. Thanks for watching!
It’s no secret that fall, October specifically, is the best month for wildflower watching in the Panhandle. From the abundant vibrant yellow-gold display of various Sunflowers, Asters, and Goldenrods to the cosmopolitan bright pinks and purples of Mistflower, Blazing Star, and False Foxglove, local native landscapes light up each year around this time. However, if you’re lucky and know where to look, you can also spot two species, Azure Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) and Forked Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) that sport that rarest of wildflower hues – vivid blue.
Forked Bluecurls begins its flower show in late summer, picking up steam in fall, and reaching its peak now as nights get cool and the days grow short. The species’ flowers are easily among the most unique around. Each flower has two distinct “lips” – the lower lip is white and dotted with blue specks, while the top is distinctly pure blue – with characteristically curled blue stamens rising to preside over the rest of the flower below. Though individual flowers are very small and only bloom in the morning, they appear by the hundreds and are very striking taken together. Various pollinators, especially bees, also find Forked Bluecurls flowers to their liking and frequent them on cool fall mornings. Though the flowers are obviously the highlight, the rest of the plant is attractive as well, growing to 3’ in height and possessing small, light-green fuzzy leaves. Forked Bluecurls, while not exceedingly common, can be found in sunny, sandy natural areas throughout the Panhandle, including well-drained flatwoods, sandhills, and open, disturbed areas.
The second blue bloomer, Azure Blue Sage, is possibly even more striking in flower than Forked Bluecurls. Aptly named and blooming around the same time as Forked Blue Curls, Azure Blue Sage is a much larger plant (often 4-6’ in height) and holds its abundant sky-blue flowers high above the surrounding landscape. Because of their height and their propensity to occur in bunches, Azure Blue Sage’s brilliant tubular flowers are immediately noticeable to passersby and the myriad bee and butterfly pollinators that visit. Beyond its flowers, Azure Blue Sage is a very unusual looking perennial plant, tall and spindly with dark green, narrow leaves held tightly to square stems, a giveaway of its lineage in the Mint family. The species can be found in similar areas to Forked Bluecurls – natural areas in the Panhandle that possess abundant sunshine and sandy, well-drained soil.
Both species would make excellent additions to mixed perennial landscapes where the soil and sun conditions were right, as they are exceedingly low-maintenance and have the propensity to reseed themselves from year to year. Unfortunately, they are rarer in the nursery trade than they are in the wild and can only be found occasionally at nurseries specializing in Florida native plants. (Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find native nurseries in your area!) However, even if you are unable to source a plant for your home, both these somewhat rare, blue-blooming fall beauties, Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue Sage, are worth searching out in the many State Parks and public natural areas across the Panhandle! For more information about Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue sage or any other natural resource, horticultural, or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy fall wildflower watching!
Step-by-Step Instructions: Indirect Seeding Fall Veggies
While summer gardens offer a variety of intriguing fruiting crops, I have a special fondness for gardening during the fall season. This preference stems from the reduced pest pressure, decreased need for watering, fewer weeds, and the more favorable cooler temperatures for completing gardening tasks. Although it generally offers a more straightforward gardening experience, achieving success with your fall garden still hinges on applying the right techniques, with one crucial aspect being the care for seeds and young seedlings.
Indirect seeding allows you to nurture your seedlings before they establish their permanent residence in your garden, ensuring their growth into robust, mature plants. Below, you’ll discover a step-by-step guide to indirect seeding and planting for fall vegetables. By following these instructions, you’ll get a head start in cultivating a thriving fall garden that will delight your taste buds.
Seeding into Starter Cells:
While many crops can be started indirectly in starter cells, it’s important to note that root vegetables (such as beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, etc.), peas, and beans are exceptions due to their delicate root systems, which do not transplant well. These particular crops thrive when directly seeded into the garden. Conversely, fall crops that typically benefit from indoor seeding include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cilantro, kale, lettuce, mustards, parsley, spinach, and Swiss chard. For Florida planting dates, transplant ability, and other detailed planting information, see Table 1 in the UF/IFAS publication Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
Begin by moistening a starting mix, which is any fine-textured growing medium designed to support seed germination and early seedling development. Fill seed starter cells with this prepared mix, ensuring a level, flat surface.
Create shallow indentations (2-3 times the diameter of the seed) in the starting mix in each starter cell using your finger and place 1-2 seeds in each cell. (Remove all but the strongest seedling if multiple seeds germinate in the same cell.)
To ensure even coverage and prevent clumping, lightly sprinkle dry starting mix over the seeds.
Label with the crop name, variety, and date.
Mist the surface with water from a spray bottle, pump sprayer, or a hose spray nozzle. Maintain moisture levels, avoiding waterlogging.
Before the seeds germinate, keep them in a temperature-controlled room or out of direct sunlight. Germination time varies, but typically takes 5 to 14 days, depending on the crop, environmental conditions, and seed quality. (For fall varieties, germination is best between 50-80°F.)
As soon as seedlings emerge, move them to a sunny location with more than 6 hours of direct sunlight. If temperatures exceed 85°F, provide afternoon shade to protect them from intense heat. If using full spectrum grow lights indoors (such as a T5 fluorescent light fixture), place seed starter cells at a distance of 2 to 4 inches between the top of the seedlings’ canopy and the fluorescent bulbs for 14 to 16 hours a day.
Continue to keep the starting mix moist but not waterlogged.
Up-potting into Larger Pots:
Up-potting refers to transplanting a young plant or seedling from a smaller container or pot into a larger one. While up-potting most seedling crop varieties into larger pots before transplanting into the garden is beneficial, you can skip this step and directly transplant seedlings from the starter cells into the garden if conditions are favorable (maximum air temperature is less than 86°F). However, keep in mind that young seedlings may be more vulnerable to rain, wind, insects, and animal disturbances. Up-potting into larger pots with nutrient-rich potting mix offers better protection and more time for root development.
When seedlings develop “true leaves” (the second set of leaves after the initial seedling leaves), it is time to transfer them into larger pots (2″-4″ wide).
To start, fill the larger pots about halfway with pre-moistened, nutrient-rich potting mix designed for vegetables, ensuring good drainage.
After thoroughly watering the small seedlings, carefully extract each from the starter cells, using a butter knife for gentle and precise removal to avoid disturbing the roots.
Being careful not to disturb the roots, place each seedling gently into their halfway-filled pot and add more potting mix until the seedling is secure, standing upright, with all roots covered. There should only be one seedling per pot.
Keep seedlings in a sunny location with more than 6 hours of direct sunlight. If temperatures exceed 85°F, provide afternoon shade to protect them from intense heat. If using full spectrum grow lights indoors (such as a T5 fluorescent light fixture), place seedlings at a distance of 4 to 6 inches between the top of the seedlings’ canopy and the fluorescent bulbs for 12 to 14 hours a day.
Continue to keep the potting soil moist but not waterlogged.
Transplanting into the Garden:
Once the plants have developed strong roots and reach about the height of their pots, they are ready for transplantation into the garden.
If the plants have been indoors under grow lights, allow them to “harden-off” by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions for a week. This helps them adjust to wind, direct sunlight, and varying temperatures.
Prepare the garden bed with compost and other soil amendments.
Water the plants thoroughly before carefully removing them from their pots, ensuring minimal disruption to the roots.
For each plant, dig a small hole in the garden bed and place the plant, along with the potting mix, in the hole, following the crop-specific spacing requirements (see Table 1 in the UF/IFAS publication Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide).
Cover the roots and maintain consistent soil moisture, avoiding waterlogging.
In summary, mastering the art of indirect seeding and planting fall vegetables can greatly improve your chance of a successful harvest. From carefully sowing your seeds in starter cells to up-potting and ultimately transplanting into your garden, each step is a vital component of the process. So, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and witness your fall garden flourish. Happy gardening!
Fall hasn’t even started and the garden centers are already filled with mums. Somehow I made that sound like a bad thing. Chrysanthemums look great in containers at the front door and planted in the garden too. They also last pretty long as cut flowers. And they’re not just a fall decoration, mums are a great addition to the garden for years.
Mums have deep-green, lobed foliage with soft gray undersides. They are available in a number of colors, from dark red and orange to lavender and pink to white. Mums bloom when nights start to get longer in late summer and fall. Some species and varieties can be used as low-growing groundcovers and others can grow to 5 feet tall. All are herbaceous perennials that can continue to bloom for years.
Mums prefer full sun to partial shade. They like slightly acidic, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Use slow-release fertilizer to ensure an even flow of nutrients throughout the season. Keep plants looking attractive and healthy and full of new blooms by dead heading. You may also choose to choose to cut of side buds on main shoots to create larger flowers.
Mums can be propagated by either division or cuttings. It is important to either divide and re-pot potted plants or transfer potted plants to larger containers to keep plants from becoming root bound. Chrysanthemums are relatively pest free, but spider mites can become a problem in hot, dry weather. Make sure plants receive water regularly in hot, dry weather.
In spite of this record-breaking hot summer, it might be surprising to realize that we are just a month away from the onset of fall. As the sun-soaked dog days gradually relinquish their hold to the inviting coolness of autumn, the allure of the new season comes into view.
If your thoughts are already conjuring images of vibrant leaves and the anticipation of robust greens and earthy root vegetables in your garden, we extend an invitation to explore our newly revamped edition of the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
We’ve transformed the guide from a static PDF into a user-friendly website, making it easier than ever for you to tap into its wealth of gardening insights. Crafted by the adept hands of the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension, this guide serves as an invaluable resource catering to both seasoned horticulturists and aspiring gardeners.
Dive into an array of articles, planting schedules, images, and informative UF/IFAS EDIS publications – all thoughtfully designed to address your gardening questions. From the basics of getting started to the finer points of site selection, pest management, fostering biodiversity, soil testing, composting, harnessing cover crops, and mastering irrigation techniques – the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide website has it all covered.
For those who prefer a tactile experience, physical copies are available upon request at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office, located at 615 Paul Russell Rd., Tallahassee, FL 32301. A quick call ahead will help you ensure availability.
We’re also excited to announce our upcoming Fall 2023 Backyard Gardening Series, set for September 6 and 13, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on both evenings at the Leon County Extension Office (615 Paul Russell Road).
If you’re eager to explore the art of fall gardening in depth, this series will cover topics like site selection, soil enrichment, effective fall planting techniques, and more, including a hands-on planting activity.
Individual tickets are available for $10 per person if pre-paid online or $15 in cash or check at the door. For families of three to four, pre-paid online family tickets are $20 per family or $30 in cash or check at the door. This registration fee includes both evenings on September 6 and 13 and light refreshments will be provided.
For any further inquiries, please contact Molly Jameson at email@example.com or via phone at 850-606-5200.