September in the North Florida Garden
Start your planting! North Florida's fall gardening season starts this month. Gone are the long days of summer. You’ll notice shadows lengthening in the afternoons. The first visitors from up north will flit around our yards and gardens on their way south. A frequent phrase of the TV weather forecasters may be "Continued warm and scattered thunderstorms" for the first few weeks. On average, September is one of North Florida's wetter months. Sometimes, due to tropical storms, it may be the wettest. Although flowers declines on many plants, foliage may thrive due to continued rains. In spite of a feeling that this month seems hotter than last month, take heart, it’s only twenty-two days until fall is officially here with cooler and dryer weather.
It’s time to start vegetable seeds, if you haven’t done so in August. See the list in “Let’s Plant” below for suggestions. Alternatively, you may buy seedlings from many garden centers and nurseries. While choosing transplants will give the garden a faster start, seeds provide a wider variety from which to select the vegetables you want to plant. Whichever way you elect to begin planting, build your garden plots east and west to take advantage of the sunlight as it moves toward winter. Your garden may be raised beds if your land is low or you prefer working at a higher level. Enrich your gardening plots with peat, composted products, or aged animal manures before putting your seeds or seedlings into the garden. Make sure not to sow seeds too deeply -- follow the recommendations on the packet. To sprout successfully, most seeds should be barely covered with soil. Also water them daily if rain does not do it for you.
Another alternative is container gardening. Make sure to use big enough containers for large vegetables like beans and squashes so they don’t become pot-bound. A four to five gallon sized container is usually what is required.
For non-vegetable gardeners, there’re plenty of flowers and perennials that may be added to your beds to produce color after some of the summer blooming plants have faded. Check the list of flowers in the ”Let’s Plant” section.
Top Ten Tips for September
O Check irrigation system: Before summer rains taper off, check that irrigation systems are providing good coverage and operating properly. Fix or replace any defective parts to get optimal effect from it during the dryer season. Adjust the system depending on the rainfall.
O Divide and replant perennials and bulbs that have grown too large or crowded. Add organic matter to new planting areas and monitor their water needs during establishment.
O Fertilize lawns: Bahia, Bermuda, Centipede (by mid-September) Zoysia, and St. Augustine lawns should be fertilized this month with a complete fertilizer. Choose one with slow or timed-release nitrogen for longer lasting results.
O Monitor the lawn for problems: Continue to check your lawn for signs of insect damage or disease. Bugs are still active this month. Chinch bugs, mole crickets, armyworms and sod webworms may infect your lawn, depending on the type of grass you have. Treatments vary based on the kind of pest and the grass.
O Mow grass to recommended heights:
~ St. Augustine & Bahia: 3-4”
~ Bermuda: 0.5-1.5”
~ Centipede: 1.5-2.0”
~ Dwarf St. Augustine 2.5”
~ Zoysia: 1.0-3.0”
O Mulch: To help suppress weeds, prevent the soil from loosing moisture during dry spells and enrich the soil, adding a layer of bark or pine straw to your beds will be helpful.
O Pests: Another major concern for the vegetable gardener. Although you may not see stink bugs, cabbage worms, or big-legged bugs all year, when their favorite vegetables appear, they sense it and will be in your garden before you know it. Hand picking the insects may solve the problem. If they are more persistent, pesticides are an optione. Be sure to read all the directions and warnings on the labels. Then take proper precautions when applying pesticides. They can impact on more than just the bad bugs in your garden. Insecticides do not differentiate between good bugs, bad bugs, birds, fish, pets or you. They can and will harm all of the above if not used with due care.
O Amaryllis: Dig and reset Amaryllis plants now. Divide large bulbs and remove offsets (bulblets). Replant in an area that has been amended with organic matter. Take care not to plant bulbs too deep (part of bulb should be exposed) for better blooms.
O Bougainvilleas: If you are growing bougainvilleas, this is the last month to prune them and only for the removal of awkward growth. Do not water or feed them again until the early part of next summer. If you do not follow this advice, it may negatively affect flower production next season. Remember bougainvilleas need to be brought inside for the winter. They are zone 10 and 11 plants that will not tolerate our North Florida winter night time temperatures.
O Poinsettias: This is also the last time to prune poinsettias. Poinsettia flower buds begin forming after the middle of October. To get a nice show for the holiday season, do not prune them after this month. Because the best flowers on poinsettias are produced at the tips of healthy branches, encourage your plants to make as many branches as possible with judicious pruning. Small, spindly plants will require more pruning than plants with large trunks and strong branches. After pruning you may give your poinsettias a shot of general purpose fertilizer then some high potash fertilizer at the end of October. When new foliage begins to show after pruning, watch out for hornworms which are fond of the new tender foliage. Also be careful about the location of your poinsettias. They rely on the shortening of the daylight they receive for a cue to begin budding. Car lights, porch lights and street lights will throw this timing off.
Suggestions for varieties that do well in our area are listed below. Flowering plants will add color through the fall and some may continue to flower into winter. Herbs shown will tolerate the warm temperatures of early fall.
Elephant Ears (Alocasia)
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