It has been dry as a bone lately, and your landscape is beginning to reflect that fact. Before you call it the dreaded “D” word you should understand that these dry periods are part of our yearly weather cycle. This year, we are drier than usual which means we are indeed in a drought. This can be alarming as you’ve doubtless spent tons of time and money on your landscape and want it to thrive. Irrigating as much as possible may seem attractive but is not necessarily the best strategy. Let’s first look into a few questions. What happens to your plants when Mother Nature turns off the waterworks? What can be done to prevent the mass die-off of our landscape plants?
Before we delve too deeply into the subject, it’s worth taking a few lines to discuss what happens to plants in periods of drought. Many will close the tiny pinpricks in their leaves known as stomata to prevent water loss. This is known as a drought avoidance strategy, and while seemingly foolproof also prevents moisture absorption while shutting down photosynthesis. If this condition persists, the plant will begin to lose the macronutrient carbon and sugars. When a lack of water becomes long term, the plant will perish as it lacks resources.
Other plants utilize a drought tolerance strategy. Unlike the avoidance strategy, these plants leave their stomata wide open despite the lack of moisture in the soil. The advantage here is that photosynthesis never stops. They’re banking on a return of water before they perish from dehydration. Most of your landscape plants utilize the first of these strategies. Your gardening habits and strategies are crucial to keep your plants thriving even in our extreme heat.
The practices you implement in your gardens are what we refer to in this business as “cultural practices.” You may have heard of these at lectures on Integrated pest management, but they are just as applicable in landscape management.
Irrigation is easily the most crucial of these practices as improper watering is the number one killer of plants. Deeper watering delivered less frequently encourages deeper rooting and higher drought tolerance. Irrigation should occur early in the morning just before sunrise to prevent evaporation and mitigate fungal issues as plant water use begins at sun rise. Frequency and volume are the next critical factors in watering. Turf grasses need 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water, but only when they present the three signs of wilt including folded blades, a bluish-grey hue, and lingering footprints. Bedding and landscape plants are a little trickier as they don’t have standardized signs of wilt. You’ll need to pay close attention for loss of vigor in the leaves which are likely to be subtle. When these signs present, apply enough water to reach their root zone. A great way to extend the time between irrigation events is to amend soils with organic matter and to utilize mulch. These retain moisture keeping your plants less thirsty.
Fertilization can be another far more detrimental to plant growth than you think. While it’s true that your plants need nutrition for vigorous growth, only those deficient in the soil are limiting factors. This is simply not possible to create a fertilization strategy without soil testing. Your extension office can facilitate testing, which should occur at a minimum every three years. Balance these deficiencies with your plant’s needs to create a healthy landscape.
Pruning is the final practice to look at for healthy landscapes. Turfgrasses need to be cut at a height conducive to their growth. This varies for each grass type, so make sure you know yours. Landscape plants may also need species specific pruning practices such as deadheading to maintain healthy growth.
To Sum Up
The key takeaway from this article is that stress free plants are more capable of tolerating less than ideal growth environments. Familiarize yourself with the needs of your plants and provide them with what they need to thrive. Very often this means less intensive maintenance practices. For more information, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
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!
Weeds can be the bane of the gardener’s existence and Extension Agents get a lot of questions on how to manage them throughout the year. Whether you are growing edibles, ornamentals, or turfgrass you have probably encountered a plant out of place which is basically the general definition of a weed. Just like with any other landscape challenge the first thing you need to do when dealing with weeds is accurate identification. Understanding the life cycle of the pest (weed in this case) you are targeting will be key for the most effective control with minimal inputs. Your local Extension office can assist with weed identification, and you can find a list by county here.
If you missed the live broadcast, you can watch the video on YouTube
Below are the links that were shared during the episode in the order discussed if you would like to follow along:
The plants you bring home from garden centers and nurseries may look beautiful in your landscape, but they might be invasive species that could escape your yard and quickly spread into natural areas, becoming an ecological and economic nightmare. Florida’s climate makes a cozy environment for a variety of plant species, including the non-native ones. To avoid contributing to the problem, homeowners, landscapers, and plant lovers should carefully select alternative sterile cultivars or other native plants.
The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) created a list of invasive plants that was published every two years through 2019. Professional botanists and others perform exhaustive studies to determine invasive plants that should be placed on the lists. Invasive plants are termed Category I invasives when they are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives.
In 2020 the Florida Invasive Species Council (FISC) took over this task. They began by standardizing invasive species terminology. FISC has adopted the following definitions as described in the publication “Invasive Species Terminology: Standardizing for Stakeholder Education” from the Journal of Extension (Iannone et al. 2020). For details on the new terminology go to: https://floridainvasivespecies.org/definitions.cfm. Words like “exotic”, “alien”, and “naturalized” have been removed from educational material due to individual interpretation concerns. The term “invasive” can only be applied to nonnative species. Many previous informational publications referred to aggressively growing native plants as invasive. This use is no longer accepted. Here are some sample definitions:
Invasive: A species that (a) is nonnative to a specified geographic area, (b) was introduced by humans (intentionally or unintentionally), and (c) does or can cause environmental or economic harm or harm to humans.
Nuisance: An individual or group of individuals of a species that causes management issues or property damage, presents a threat to public safety, or is an annoyance. Can apply to both native and nonnative species.
On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, the Okaloosa County Master Gardener Lecture Series topic will be “Plant This, Not That”. This program will introduce the invasive plant species that pose an ecological threat to Florida ecosystems and some alternatives that provide a similar aesthetic value. For more information and to register, click on this Eventbrite link.
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.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been hot outside. Like really, scorching, hellacious, dog days hot. In this weather pattern we’ve been in, it’s hard to make yourself do non-essential stuff outside that doesn’t involve swimming and so our gardens go by the wayside. In my opinion, that’s totally okay! Give yourself a rest from the garden and landscape chores for the next couple of weeks and get your fall gameplan ready. The following are some things to think about over the next few weeks to prepare yourself for the coming cooler weather!
Get your soil tested. If you’re an in-ground vegetable gardener or just like to have an attractive lawn/landscape, performing a simple soil test can offer either peace of mind that your soil’s pH and fertility is good or give you a nudge to schedule some needed amendments. Though I don’t recommend fertilizing lawn grass this late and there’s no need to fertilize the garden before it gets planted in mid-late September, you can certainly begin to source and price fertilizer for the appropriate time based on your test results. However, now IS the perfect time to get lime out in a vegetable garden if your pH has sunk beneath the recommended 6.5. Lime takes weeks to months to begin to alter soil chemistry so the sooner the better if it is needed!
Order seeds. While I love to support local farm stores and plant nurseries, you are limited with the vegetable and flower varieties you can plant by what they have in stock. I enjoy trying new/improved and heirloom plant varieties each year and, most of the time, these can only be found by ordering online. For the latest in vegetable and cut flower varieties with a nice mix of heirloom cultivars thrown in also, I can recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and other similar purveyors – all of these are great places to look. Continue to purchase your more common standbys through local outlets but, this year get different and try new things by ordering online!
Develop a garden/landscape plan. I doubt there’s a gardener amongst us who wouldn’t like to rearrange things a bit outside. Maybe you planted your lettuce a little too closely together last year, you’ve been dreaming of installing a new flower bed, or you really want to do a full garden/landscape renovation. The best way to be successful at any of these things is to get outside (or at least look out from behind a window in the A/C), take stock of what is already there, the space that is or might be available, research what plants or varieties might do well in your yard/garden (your local UF/IFAS Extension office is a great resource for this), and begin to sketch your ideas out. This planning step WILL save you time and money by ensuring you don’t purchase too many plants, by picking plants that will do well, and ensuring you install everything at the correct time.
So, take advantage of the heat, stay inside, and work up your garden gameplan together this August – fall is just around the corner. For help with soil testing, recommendations on plant varieties to purchase, or working up a garden/landscape plan tailored to you, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Stay cool and happy gardening!