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

July 1998 - Hot Sultry Days and Nights

Hot, sultry days and nights characterize our summer weather pattern.   Since May, day-time temperatures have soared in to the nineties and will hover there until late September or October.  This season has been particularly hot and dry, with June temperatures regularly reaching into the high nineties, accompanied by clear skies and very little rain to provide a little bit of afternoon cooling. Our fair weather friends, the snowbirds, who have long since taken wing northward in search of more temperate climes can not develop a true appreciation of our Florida lifestyle without spending at least one full summer here.

Summer in south Florida embraces you in nearly suffocating hold that affects one's entire way of life.  The summer heat induces a slower, more gentle way of doing things.  Work and even walking and talking slows down to a bearable pace.  The slower pace is in some ways a blessing that compels us to step back and observe and enjoy our surroundings.  Most of our tropicals are in their glory now, displaying a color and vigor unknown to our winter visitors, who see only a pale shadow of their full summer splendor, while they try to survive the cool winter months until the tropics return once again to south Florida.

The normal summer rainfall pattern has been slow to establish itself this year and the region has been in the grip of a drought that has persisted since late March.  Late June started to bring a few typical thunder storms, hopefully this pattern will take hold and rain will return to southwest Florida.  Our unique rainfall pattern is another aspect of Florida weather unknown to winter residents.  The incredible sound and light show that regularly accompany a typical summer afternoon thunderstorm are truly awesome.  The magnificent interplay of shades of green and gray following a storm is a majestic sight that can only be experienced on a summer day.  Four inch downpours in the space of an hour or two and almost daily rainbows are all part of our unique summer experience.

Gardeners can take advantage of these natural phenomena as an excuse to sit back and appreciate nature and observe their landscape and gardens.  This can be time well spent.  Heat, drought, and rain can all be used as tools by the perceptive gardener to identify the microclimates that exist on almost every property.  Wet spots - areas of poor drainage and dry spots - excessively well drained areas can be easily identified by observation during different weather cycles.  In some instances, these areas can be improved for cultivation through drainage or irrigation.  Plant selection - choosing plants that are suited to the environmental conditions existing on site is often an easier and less costly solution to such problems.

Proper selection and placement of landscape plantings can also be used to take advantage of and sometimes even modify temperature microclimates that may exist on site. In our area, about 35% of residential energy consumption is used for cooling during our 5-7 month long summers.   Sunlight striking walls and passing through windows on the southern, western and eastern exposures can add significantly to the heat load that must be removed from a dwelling using air conditioning.  Correct placement of shade trees can significantly reduce air conditioning bills. In general, target areas for shading are walls on the western, eastern, and southern exposures in that order of importance.  Since windows provide the most direct entry for heat into the home, special consideration should be given to walls with lots of windows.

The benefits of newly planted shade trees may take up to five years to become apparent.  Shade trees should be planted at a distance of 7 to 20 feet from house walls depending on mature tree size and lot size.  The closer a tree is to the house the longer the shading effect will last during the day.  Placement of trees on the north and northwest boundaries of the lot will help blunt the effects of cold winter winds and help protect more delicate plantings.

In addition to lawn mowing which seems to occupy a disproportionate amount of time during the summer month, other July gardening activities include: take and root semi-hardwood cuttings of shrubs and perennials if desired, transplant palms and sagos once good rains are established, check and treat lawns for mole crickets and chinch bugs if necessary, fertilize bananas and papayas monthly, groom roses and treat for black spot, remove and pot air layers set earlier in the year, prune azaleas by early July to avoid reducing flower set next year, cut back blackberries, trim gardenias, and clip spent flowers from crape myrtle to encourage the production of more blossoms.

Warm season flowers suitable for planting this month are: ageratum, begonia, blue daze, blue porter weed, coleus, gaillardia, ginger, marigold, morning glory, pentas, periwinkle, portulaca, purslane, salvia, and zinnia.  Summer season vegetables include: black-eyed peas, calabaza, cassava, okra, sweet potato, and yard long bean.   Herbs such as basil, dill, ginger, oregano, sage, sweet marjoram and thyme may be planted now.  African iris, canna, crinum lily, gladiolus, gloriosa lily, society garlic and rain lily bulbs can all be planted in July.

July is a good time to begin to prepare the vegetable garden for planting in late August.  Vegetable and flower seed for early fall season transplants may be sown after the middle of the month.  Keep cool and enjoy those rainbows.  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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