Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
August 1999 - August Heat Means Gardeners Should Take Precautions
August is often the hottest wettest month in southwest Florida. Temperatures and humidity in the nineties can make all but the most essential garden chores a bit much for even the most ardent fan of the outdoors. Experienced local gardeners have learned to pace their activities to avoid the very real risk of heat exhaustion.
Heat stress can be very serious and even deadly. When the body is over heated, less blood goes to the active muscles, brain and internal organs. The victim get weaker and less alert. There may be a rapid rise in body temperature and heart rate, but the sufferer is often caught unawares as there is little pain involved. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include profuse sweating, headache, fatigue, nausea, dilated pupils, fast pulse and dryness of the mouth and eyes. Extreme cases can lead to confusion, loss of coordination, cramps, fainting and even death, especially in susceptible individuals predisposed by other complicating factors.
With the proper precautions, this common summer hazard is easily avoidable. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to replenish those lost by the body - a glass every 15 -20 minutes is recommended. Water is best as some beverages such as those containing caffeine or alcohol may actually cause further dehydration. Wear light-colored, loose fitting clothing and hat to provide shade. Try to time your work to coincide with the cooler mornings and evening times of the day. Lastly, take time to rest - sit back in a shady place and enjoy nature and the fruits of your efforts.
The next few months have the highest probability of tropical storms moving through our area. These systems can bring high winds and dump a lot of rain. Now is a good time to survey your place and remove any hazards, be especially alert for any weak or damaged tree limbs that can cause potential problems. Consider calling a professional for help with big jobs who have the know how and equipment to avoid injury.
The combination of high temperatures and adequate rainfall contribute to ideal growing conditions that make August a good time for transplanting just about any tree, shrub or palm. Planting now will allow plenty of time for establishment before the dry season resumes. Be sure to be ready to irrigate though as it is not unusual to go through a dry spell such as the one we experienced in late July.
Rapid growth may call for pruning to keep some of your plantings in bounds - since local growing conditions normally result in several flushes of growth a year - it is recommended that you wait until the growth flush is over before pruning. This practice will result in a longer lasting more satisfactory job. Before pruning, study the natural growth pattern of the plant in question. Individual cuts to preserve the natural form will yield a more appealing product than a one-size-fits-all bowl cut with a pruning shears. It is too late to prune azaleas, camellias and possibly gardenias (unless they have very recently stopped flowering) to avoid reducing next years bloom. Do your last pruning of bougainvillea for the year now. For more information on pruning a specific tree or shrub, contact the Hendry County Extension Office.
A number of lawn pests are active now. Chinch bugs and mole crickets may require treatment. A variety of leaf spot diseases are also active. Be sure to keep mower blades sharp to avoid tearing grass blades which can help encourage turf diseases. Take-all-root rot may become active on St. Augustine lawns in some areas. Measures which can help avert this problem include cutting the lawn at recommended heights - 3 to 4 inches and mowing frequently to avoid removing to much leaf tissue at one time. If it does invade - there is no real control measure although light fertilization and top dressing with an organic soil amendment sometimes helps reduce the severity of damage.
Vegetable season is fast approaching. Now is the time to prepare soil for planting in late August or September. Addition of compost or other organic material to your soil will be sure to pay off. Be sure and allow a few weeks for the material to breakdown before planting unless it is very well composted. Local gardeners find that raised beds will give the best results. Most vegetables require substantial amounts of fertilizer for best results - a soil test will help you determine optimal rates for your plot.
By mid August, you can begin planting beans, broccoli, celery, collards, cucumber, eggplant, onion, pepper, squash, tomato and watermelon. Flowers that are suited for August plantings include begonia, blue daze, cat's whiskers, celosia, coleus, marigold, pentas, periwinkle, petunias, porterweed, purslane, salvia, and zinnia.
Bulbs that can be planted in August include African iris, agapanthus, canna, crinum, gloriosa lily, society garlic and zephyranthes.
Late summer and early fall is prime time for butterflies. If you would like to attract these lovely creatures consider planting a butterfly garden now. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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