Thursday, October 4, 2012

Timely Tips for October

The following is my latest article for the Marion County Master Gardening Program's "Marion Gardener" publication:

Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County (October)

Fall is in the air, the Christmas displays are pushing out the patio furniture in your local home improvement store… and suddenly… as the mercury drops… gardening is fun again.

Did you start your fall veggie garden last month? If not, there’s still time to attack it. If you’re from up north, the idea of planting a garden at this time of year probably sounds ridiculous – but in Florida, we can grow through all four seasons. Of course, it’s too late to plant tomatoes and hoping for another crop of green beans is probably a stretch, but peas, collards, carrots and other cold-hardy plants are perfect for carrying on through the winter. You can also manage to grow some decent lettuces as long as you’re willing to protect them on frosty nights.

On the tree and shrub front, it’s time to quit fertilizing. Feeding right now will encourage new growth – and that new growth will be susceptible to frost damage. Let your plants wind down for the year and prepare for winter. Coaxing an extra burst of growth out of them before the end of the year isn’t worth the destruction that could result. Tender new growth on citrus, pomegranates, cattley guavas, figs and olives suffer terribly.

Speaking of cold, do you have a greenhouse? If so, you can keep it warmer for your plants by adding “thermal mass.” (i.e., “something that holds heat.”) One of the best ways to do this is to buy 55-gallon drums, fill them with water and place them about the space. I did this in my unheated greenhouse and was amazed at the difference it made. The gentle warmth of the barrels protected even my fully tropical plants - there wasn’t even a touch of frostbite. Just having that slight radiant heat is very helpful – and it saves you from more expensive heating options. In Florida, simply holding on to the heat of the day is usually good enough for most greenhouse plants.

Also, if you’ve ever wanted to grow tropical plants but haven’t been able to pull it off, take a look at the south side of your house. Do you have a sunny wall there? You might be surprised by what you can grow. I’m currently growing pineapples, bananas and a key lime tree right next to my south wall. It’s my own little piece of USDA Zone 10 and I love it. Experiment and see what you can do – I’ve noticed that if I get further than 2’ from the wall, the frost damage really picks up. Just like barrels in your greenhouse, a nice concrete wall really holds the heat… think about trying something new there.

October is a good month for putting in deciduous trees. If you’ve always wanted a peach or a plum, a live oak or a dogwood, snag one and plant it now. It’ll go to sleep and awake refreshed and ready to go in the spring. Though we don’t see leaves in the winter, the tree is still putting out roots and gathering strength while it awaits the return of warm weather. Plant now and you get a jump on next year.

Until next time, enjoy your gardening.

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