Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
August 1998 - Rainy Days Rule
Fortunately following desert like conditions in the late spring and early summer, normal summer rains have returned to bless Southwest Florida. Parched landscapes have reverted to verdant lushness. Green is in and nature has pulled all stops trying out every shade and hue of the color from emerald to lime. Streams, ponds, wetlands, and swales have been replenished and furnish an indication of how the area might have looked before drainage and other projects bought by development forever changed the landscape and allowed the settlement of the area. High wet season water tables lend us some idea of the thin fragile firmament of earth between sea and sky, that we in southwest Florida actually inhabit. What is normally dry land has become the abode of wading birds and amphibians. Nights resound with the multitudinous chorus of several species of frogs.
August falling in the middle of our rainy season is a time of growth and creation. Most plants, unfortunately including lawn grasses, are growing at a fantastic rate as if trying to make up for lost time. Often accompanying the growth spurt induced by warm temperatures, moisture and the long days of summer comes the explosive proliferation of certain insects and diseases. Astute gardeners will take advantage of the relatively cool morning and evening temperatures to patrol their domain and nip the development of any pest problems in the bud.
Lawns, in particular, are prone to a number of insect and disease pests at this time of year. Mole crickets and chinch bugs are two insects that may become problems at this time of the year. Mole crickets can be controlled with baits applied in the evening while chinch bugs are best managed by spraying the affected area with materials like dursban or diazinon. Gray leaf spot and other fungal diseases may be controlled with chlorothalonil or similar broad spectrum fungicides. Contact the Hendry County Extension Office for specific pest control recommendations.
Slime mold is a summer phenomena that is often mistaken for a disease on turf grasses. Slime molds are primitive fungi that have a mobile stage. When the colony has absorbed sufficient nutrition and the weather is warm and moist, the entire colony becomes reproductive and "crawls" up anything above ground level including grass blades to disperse spores. The sudden appearance above ground of the orange, pink, purple or gray soot like reproductive mass often startles gardeners, who assume their lawn is being attacked by some strange disease. Slime molds do not harm turfgrass in any way and disappear back into the turf after a few weeks.
Many turf problems can be avoided by practicing good cultural techniques. Over watering and over fertilization, especially with nitrogen, can lead to lush, tender growth that is more attractive and susceptible to attack by insects and diseases. Excessive growth can also lead to the formation of thatch which can harbor insects such as chinch bugs.
Mower blades should be kept sharp. Dull blades tear rather than cut the grass cleanly creating wounds that are conducive to the entrance of disease organisms. Grass should be cut frequently to avoid removing more than one third of the blade at any one clipping. To close a cut will weaken the lawn making it more susceptible to the ravages of insects and diseases. Whenever possible lawns should not be cut while wet as this practice fosters the spread of disease from one area to another.
Fire ants are another bane of gardeners that seemingly become worse during periods of high rainfall. In actuality, high water tables resulting from heavy rainfall force fire ants to the ground surface where the have a greater probability of coming into contact with people. A variety of products are available for the control of fire ants. It is important to realize that nothing will completely eliminate fire ants.
Other garden chores for August include: removal of tree hazardous tree branches that may blow down in the advent of high winds associated with tropical storms, prune seed heads from crape myrtle, test and prepare soil for fall vegetable gardens, treat roses for black spot, prune blackberries and bougainvillea. The time for pruning azaleas, gardenias, and camellias is past wait for next year to avoid reducing next seasons floral display. Be prepared to irrigate during the inevitable dry spells which normally occur during the rainy season.
The planting season is beginning to open up for the planting of fall crops. Vegetables that can be planted toward the end of August are beans, broccoli, celery, collards, corn, cucumber, eggplant, onion, pepper, pumpkin, squash, tomato and watermelon. Beware of diseases and be sure to apply a fungicide on a preventative basis.
Flowers that can be planted now include begonia, blue daze, coleus, marigold, pentas, periwinkle, porter weed, portulaca, salvia and zinnia. Bulbs include agapanthus, amaryllis, canna, crinum, society garlic and rain lily.
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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