Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068  Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

October 1998 - Cooler Times Are Here

Congratulations we made it!  Another southwest Florida summer is over and we are definitely entering into our cool season.  Even though subtle changes were apparent last month, there is no doubt about it now, October has arrived and refreshingly cooler times are near at hand.  Our area will normally see the first cold front of the season before month's end.  Although it may still get quite warm during the midday hours, the mornings and evenings are delightful and gardening is once again a pleasurable activity rather than a frenetic perspiration drenched aerobic exercise.  With the advent of milder temperatures, gardening possibilities are wide open and it is now possible to grow almost anything.  In addition to lower temperatures, October typically ushers in our dry season, so gardeners should be prepared to irrigate if necessary.

Fortunately, we were spared the ravages of Hurricane Georges which passed uncomfortably close in late September and which served as a reminder that in spite of all our modern technology and sophistication how vulnerable we really are when it comes to the forces of nature.  This especially true in the garden and is a lesson that has been bought home repeatedly several times over the last year with the torrential rains of last winter's El Nino and the hot dry spring that followed.  Luckily little damage was sustained locally and the storm provided a sort of fall cleaning - removing dead leaves and branches from trees and shrubs.  The savvy gardener will take advantage of the material bought down by Georges as an opportunity to renew the compost pile and produce some homegrown organic material for future gardening endeavors.  With a little effort almost all garden wastes can be recycled on site enriching the soil and providing a number of advantages to the gardener.

The majority of our soils are deep sands which are quite poor and can benefit in many ways  from the addition of organic matter.  Many a gardener struggling to produce plants on our local sands has wondered how it can be so difficult to produce a crop while one only has to look to the nearest oak hammock to marvel at abundant fecundity of nature.  The answer is actually quite simple - organic matter!  Over time organic matter has accumulated in these areas permitting and perpetuating the rich vegetative growth seen in the hammock.  Composting can take many forms but basically entails the stockpiling of organic waste in a manner that facilitates decomposition.  A few of the dividends of adding organic matter to our soils include the improved ability of soil to hold water and nutrients and the slow release of macro and micro nutrients for plant use.  For more information on composting contact the Hendry County Extension Service.

If you haven't gotten around to a fall feeding of your ornamental and fruit trees, shrubs and lawn, there is still time and this should be done to prepare plants for winter.  Be sure to do this as soon as possible to avoid encouraging tender new growth too late in the season when it is susceptible to damage from cold weather.  Lawns should be monitored for chinch bug and mole cricket activity as these are still active.  Sod webworms, fall army worms and other lawn caterpillars may also become apparent now.  Damage is usually first apparent in areas adjacent to beds or bordering hedges or other plantings.  Use of a soapy water solution will often reveal these insects which tend to hide during the day.

Try increasing your mower height for a more healthy lawn.  Proper mowing height will result in a stronger more drought resistant root system as well as helping your turf resist certain fungal diseases.  In general recommended mowing heights are 3 - 4" or at the highest setting that most mowers will allow.  October is a good time to divide and replant perennials and flowering bulbs.  Remember to maintain poinsettias, kalanchoes and Christmas cactus in full darkness at night to ensure the formation of flowers later in the season.  Roses should be monitored for the presence of mites and should be sprayed regularly with a labeled fungicide such as dithane or daconil for the control of black spot.  Remember to side dress flowers and vegetables beds every 3-4 weeks with either a complete or nitrogen containing fertilizer to ensure good yields and continued flowering.

Most vegetables can be planted in October including broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard, corn, cucumber, eggplant, endive, green beans, lettuce, lima beans, mustard, onion, peas, pepper, potato, radish, squash, turnips and tomato.  For a special treat try planting a row of sugar snap peas along a fence or trellis at the north side of the garden.  A wide range of flowers including alyssum, begonias, blue daze, calendula, cockscomb, coleus, dianthus, geraniums, impatiens, lobelia, marigold, periwinkle, petunia, salvia, snapdragons, sunflower, sweet peas, verbenas and zinnias can also be planted now.  Bulbs to be planted consist of agapanthus, amaryllis, callas, crinum lilies, gladiolus, society garlic and rain lilies.

To avoid all your vegetables maturing at the same time, try succession planting or planting small amounts at weekly intervals to ensure a steady supply over the whole season.  This practice can also be applied to flowers as well.  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 - 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.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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