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!
A mole cricket has a face only a mother could love. They are so strange looking, in fact, that in the past week I’ve had two people ask me what they were. They have large, round, helmet-like heads, undersized eyes, and massive front claws used for digging. Unlike your garden-variety crickets, which really don’t cause any major damage to home landscapes, the mole cricket is quite the turfgrass menace. Instead of hopping about aboveground, they tunnel beneath the lawn and feast on the roots and leaves of grass, often destroying entire yards. They are also vegetable pests, going after tomatoes, cabbage, and peppers.
Mole crickets spend most of their time below ground and form burrows for hiding, laying eggs, and traversing through their territory. In mating season, males create a monotone song that averages 88 decibels—as loud as a motorcycle! The call comes from their burrows, which have funnel-like openings that expand at the surface, creating amplification comparable to a horn.
The tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus) is the most common to our area and is an invasive species from South America. UF IFAS has had a specific research program related to mole cricket management since the late 1970’s. One successful outcome of this program has been the introduction of a biological control species, the larra wasp (Larra bicolor). The wasp manages mole cricket populations by stinging and temporarily paralyzing crickets. A female will then deposit an egg into the mole cricket’s body. The cricket recovers and goes about its daily routine until the egg hatches, at which point the larval wasp feeds on and eventually kills the mole cricket. Along with the wasp and release of flies and a nematode that also manage mole crickets, the biocontrol methods introduced between the 1980’s and 2004 have resulted in a 95% reduction in mole cricket populations in north Florida.
If you are seeing mole crickets, you can attract larra wasps to your property by planting shrubby false buttonweed or partridge pea plants, which the wasps feed on. If you have serious damage from mole crickets, check out this thorough Mole Cricket Integrated Pest Management Guide, or contact the horticulture agent at your local county extension office to get a site-specific recommendation for management.
You’re in the right hands if you want to grow pumpkins in Florida. While growing pumpkins can be tricky in Florida’s hot and humid climate, you can successfully grow Sunshine State pumpkins with the proper planning and care. Pumpkin is a popular vegetable in the cucurbit family. It shares this family with members of summer and winter squash. The pumpkin varieties differ from those called squashes by having coarser, more intensely flavored flesh and rinds that are softer at maturity than the winter squashes but harder than the summer squashes. Pumpkins refers to certain varieties of C. pepo L., C. moschata Duch. ex Poir., C. mixta Pang., and C. maxima Duch. Local tradition and common usage may dictate that a particular variety is called a squash in one area of the country and a pumpkin in another.
Pumpkin Varieties Choosing the right pumpkin variety is a major decision when growing pumpkins in Florida. Not all pumpkin varieties are suited to Florida’s warm and humid climate. Seminole Pumpkin is a native pumpkin variety well-suited to the state’s warm and humid environment. Traditionally grown by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable for Florida gardens. Seminole pumpkins are known for their hardiness and resistance to disease and pests. The Big Max variety is known for producing giant pumpkins that can weigh up to 100 pounds or more. Big Max pumpkins do well in Florida’s warm climate but may require extra care to prevent pests and diseases. The Jack-o-Lantern variety is the classic Halloween pumpkin for carving and decorating. Look for types suited to warm climates, such as “Funny Face” and “Big Moon.” The Pie Pumpkin variety is best used for cooking. If you plan to use your pumpkins for cooking, look for pie pumpkin varieties such as “Small Sugar” and “Early July.” These pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than carving pumpkins and are ideal for making pies, bread, and other baked goods.
Most pumpkin varieties need around four months to reach maturity. Pumpkins should be seeded by early July to be ready for Halloween. Spring pumpkins planted in March or April can be stored for use in October and November (though long storage is difficult in Florida). Early August seeding provides a fall crop for late November. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil for your pumpkin patch. Pumpkins can be grown in small gardens or containers if you need more space. Plant your pumpkin seeds about 1 inch deep and should be placed 6 feet in either direction, except for the bush types. Plant 3-4 seeds per hill, then thin when the plants are 2-4 inches tall.
Once your pumpkin seeds have sprouted, it’s time to start caring for your plants. Pumpkins need consistent moisture to grow, so be sure to water them regularly. Aim to give your plants about 1-2 inches of water per week. Water thoroughly after planting to help the seeds settle in. Climbing varieties like Seminole can be trellised for more space while using slings to support larger fruits. Use a balanced fertilizer to help your pumpkins grow strong and healthy. Apply the fertilizer according to the package instructions. Pumpkins do well with large amounts of compost. Place compost under each hill before seeding. Side dress with a handful every three weeks or as needed. Keep an eye out for pests such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles, which can damage your plants. If you notice any signs of pests or disease, treat your plants with a pesticide or fungicide as needed.
Like other cucurbits, pumpkins need bees for pollination to produce fruit. Bees are the primary pollinators for pumpkins, so make sure to plant flowers and other plants that attract bees to your garden. Each plant holds male and female flowers, and knowing the difference between them is essential. Male flowers have a long, thin stem and no fruit behind the flower. Female flowers have a swollen, bulbous base that will eventually become pumpkins. It’s essential to have a good balance of male and female flowers to ensure a proper fruit set. If large-size fruits are desired, keep only two fruits on the vine. Once two fruits are the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form.
Harvest and Storage
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the skin is hard, and the stem is dry and brown. Cut the stem about 2 inches above the pumpkin. After harvesting, allow your pumpkins to cure in a cool, dry place for 10-14 days. Curing helps the skin to harden and protect the pumpkin from pests and diseases. Once your pumpkins are cured, store them in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Avoid storing them on concrete or damp surfaces, which can cause them to rot. Pumpkins keep for a few weeks, but long-term storage of 1–4 months is challenging in Florida. Store them in a dry (70% RH) and cool (50–60°F) place where possible.
Trying to rejuvenate your flower beds can be challenging during these hot days and warm nights. This presents a chance to carefully select and plant varieties that not only endure but thrive in the scorching summer season. Luckily, Florida gardeners have many options, including bulbs. Bulbs are known for their ability to flourish and produce beautiful flowers year after year with proper care. Three of these, Aztec Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily, can be planted during the month of August.
The Aztec Lily, a tender perennial bulb, belongs to the Sprekelia genus in the amaryllis family and is one of only three known species. Among them, Sprekelia formosissima stands out for its striking and showy flowers. Growing from 12 to 36 inches, Aztec Lillies are typically colored from scarlet to deep crimson, though there are also pink and white varieties available. Each bulb has the potential to produce multiple flower stalks annually, usually in sequence rather than all at once. The flowers exhibit bilateral symmetry, resembling the velvety appearance of an orchid. Aztec Lilies should be planted in full shade to part sun and can tolerate acidic and alkaline soil. These plants are incredibly versatile and well-suited for various landscaping purposes, such as mass planting, border decoration, adding accents to garden designs, and attracting butterflies to butterfly gardens.
The Walking Iris, Neomarica spp., is a clumping herbaceous perennial, growing to a height of 18 to 36 inches. These plants boast attractive light green leaves and small Iris-like flowers that bloom periodically throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Although the flowers have a short lifespan, they still add a delightful splash of color, making the Walking Iris an interesting addition to any landscape. The Walking Iris thrives in both full and partial shade, making it a versatile choice for your garden. While it can adapt to various soil types, it truly flourishes in moist areas. When grouped together in shady areas, the Walking Iris creates a lovely and eye-catching display. Its upright foliage, coupled with the occasional blooming flower, makes a bold statement in the overall landscape.
Native to Florida, the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis latifolia) is a captivating perennial featuring alluring foliage and fragrant white blossoms. This clumping plant exhibits long, dark green leaves that emerge from an underground bulb, gracefully reaching a height of 24 to 36 inches. During the summer and fall seasons, the Spider Lily adorns itself with numerous white flowers, known for their enchanting fragrance, remarkable longevity, and delicate appearance. For optimal growth, place your Spider Lily in either full sun or part shade, and ensure the soil is well-drained. With its rapid growth, the spider lily serves as an excellent ground cover option, spreading its beauty across the landscape. Alternatively, it can be strategically planted in borders or highlighted as a specimen plant, adding charm and elegance to any garden or landscape design.
In the world of flora, the Aztec Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily stand out as captivating gems worth exploring. Each possessing its unique allure and charm, these three species display nature’s diversity and ingenuity. For more information about summer bulbs, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
Bright color is sometimes hard to come by in landscapes, especially in those areas where not much likes to grow. In particularly sandy areas along our coastlines, it can be a challenge to find plants that can both tolerate extremely dry conditions with heavy salt spray and provide an aesthetic boost. Luckily, there is at least one flower out there that goes above and beyond when it comes to beauty.
Gaillardia pulchella, or blanket flower, Indian blanket flower, firewheel, or sundance is a relatively low growing (up to 1.5 feet tall) plant that favors conditions that would make most plants wither. It grows as an annual or short-lived perennial and though it goes dormant in the winter, during warm weather, it’s bright and colorful! It is native to the United States, but probably never spread farther east than Texas until assisted by humans. It grows well throughout Florida, and can often be seen along roadsides.
Spreading to around two feet wide, each individual plant may not blanket the ground, but it readily produces seed which is easy to germinate. Flowers are produced throughout the growing season. Varieties are available with different appearances, though all tend to be some combination of bright yellow and dusky red. The blossoms can be used as cut flowers, or left in the landscape to attract pollinators.
Blanket flower prefers well-drained soil, even growing out into beach dunes. As stated previously, it may be propagated easily by seed; either let dried seed heads remain on the plant long enough to drop seeds or harvest them to plant elsewhere. Sow seeds in the spring and enjoy low-maintenance color for months after!
It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year. It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.
Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all. This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well.
Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within. Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals. This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase. If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process. Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services.
Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth. Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful. If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration. Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site. If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings. The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance. Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range). Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information.
The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light. Space should be considered both above and below ground. With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height? If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option. Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant. If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas. Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option. Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil. If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment.
The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one. As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking. Enjoy your gardening experience.