Friday, August 23, 2013

Fall Gardening 101

Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent


In the fall the weather will begin to cool and the rains will slow down.  (Hard to imagine these days, isn't it?) These conditions present several challenges for the home gardener, but there are some things you can do to prepare your garden (and yourself) for the cooler, drier weather.

If you use annuals in your landscape it may be time to replace some of the summer annuals.  In early fall (Sept.-Oct.) try plants like ageratum, coleus, celosia, zinnia, and wax begonia to give your landscape color into cooler weather.  Then once temperatures start to cool (Oct.-Nov.) you can plat petunia, pansy, snapdragon, dianthus, and alyssum.  When shopping for annuals choose compact plants with healthy leaves, good color, and lots of flower buds (they don’t have to be in bloom at the time of purchase).  For more information about gardening with annuals in Florida:

Since annuals are seasonal they should make up focal areas in the garden, but not too much space, as they require a lot of energy and resources for such a short life-span.   Lots of bulbs like to get their start in these cooler months.  Plant agapanthus, amaryllis, and lilies now for blooms next spring and summer.  Divide and replant perennials and bulbs that have grown too large- be sure to do this by November so they can become established before the weather turns colder.  Add organic matter to new planting areas and monitor water needs during establishment.  For more information about dividing and propagating plants:

Cilantro (Photo-Iowa State University Extension)

Plant herbs that tolerate the warm temperatures of early fall, such as Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.  Later in the fall when the weather is cooler try parsley, cilantro, garlic, and thyme.  Since some herbs are annuals and some are perennials remember to group them accordingly so you won’t be disturbing the perennials when replanting the annuals.  Many herbs are also suited to planting in containers- but you must remember that those plants in containers will dry out faster than those in the ground and will need more irrigation attention.  For more information about growing herbs in your Florida garden:

Cabbage (Photo-Purdue)
In this cooler weather (Oct.-Nov.) you can plant cool-season vegetable crops, such as celery, cabbage, lettuce, collards, and many others.  For more information about vegetable gardening in Florida, including suggested crops and their planting dates:

In September or October, fertilize your citrus with a balanced fertilizer.  Many early season citrus varieties will be ready for harvest starting in October and November, such as ‘Navel’ and ‘Hamlin’ oranges, ‘Marsh’ grapefruit, ‘Orlando’ tangelos, ‘Meyer’ lemons, and more. 

If necessary, fertilize your St. Augustinegrass and bahiagrass lawns with a fertilizer containing at least 50% slow-release nitrogen and no phosphorous in early October.  Do not use a “weed and feed” product.  No lawn and landscape fertilizer containing nitrogen can be used in Pinellas County before October 1st.  (For more info on the Pinellas County Fertilizer ordinance:  As the weather gets cooler the turf will not need as many nutrients so this is best applied in early October. 

Enjoy planning for this cooler season soon to come!

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Could Have it Made in the Shade

During the summer when the heat is stifling, it’s important to take advantage of shade when you are outdoors.  If your yard has no shade trees you may not have much respite from the heat. Shade on your home and air conditioner may also decrease your energy costs in the summer.  With all of these benefits you may be considering planting shade trees on your property.  Planting a tree is a (hopefully) long-term commitment so you want to choose the right tree from the start. 

If you choose an evergreen tree you will have shade year-round while deciduous trees will shade your house in summer but allow the sun to warm your house in winter when they lose their leaves.  You can plant shade trees at any time of year; just be sure to follow UF recommendations for proper planting practices.   To learn more about these practices visit Planting and Establishing Trees at

Pinellas County is unique in several ways- most of us have smaller lots to work with, some have salt breezes from the water to contend with, and we all have wind storms.  You may be wondering what shade trees can we plant here that will thrive in our unique environment?  A favorite shade tree in our county is the Live Oak, Quercus virginiana (large tree, zones 8-11).  Live oak is a great choice but grows very large- up to 40 to 60 feet in height with a 60 to 100 foot spread.  It is drought and salt tolerant as well as wind resistant, which is why it’s a popular choice if you have the room. 

Sparkleberry, Vaccineum arboreum
Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua

If you have a moist but well-drained site and space you could consider Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua (large tree, zones 5b-10a) or Sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum (small tree, zones 7-10).  These two choices are deciduous, so they will lose their leaves in winter when you would probably prefer more sun anyway.  Their leaves also turn beautiful colors before they fall bringing seasonal color to your landscape.  Sparkleberry has high wind resistance and sweetgum is considered to have medium-high wind resistance.  Sparkleberry also flowers profusely if grown in full sun.

Silver variety of Buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus

For smaller property with drier conditions you might consider the following small trees, all of which are salt and drought tolerant and have high wind resistance: Buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus (small tree, zones 10a-11), Simpson’s Stopper, Myrcianthes fragrans (small tree, zones 9-11), and Yaupon Holly, Ilex vomitoria (small tree, zones 7-10).  These three choices are all evergreen and will provide year-round shade.  All three of these choices can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree.  Each of these have unique characteristics that take them beyond a simple shade tree: Buttonwood has a silver variety that has silvery leaves that shimmer in the sun and the wind, Simpson’s Stopper has reddish, flaking showy bark and Yaupon Holly produces beautiful red fruit in the fall and winter on the female plants (males must be present for fruit production). 
Yaupon Holly, Ilex Vomitoria

Yaupon Holly fruit
The right shade tree for you may not be on this short list, but remember to consider size, evergreen vs. deciduous, color, seasonal interest, and match growing conditions to your site conditions for the greatest chance of success.  For more guidance with this and other plant choices in your landscape please visit the interactive plant selector Florida-friendly Plant Database at  For information on the health and maintenance of shade trees please visit:

*Northern Pinellas County is in zone 9b, central and southern Pinellas County is zone 10a.