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 2000 - Skies are Big and Blue

October is a delightful month in southwest Florida.  Cooler weather has finally descended across the region and fall is in the air.  Clear skies are big and blue and the landscape lush after our long hot rainy season. Another southwest Florida summer is over and we are definitely entering into our cool season. Even though some changes were apparent last month, there is no doubt about it now, October has arrived and refreshingly cooler times are at hand, inviting the avid gardener to renewed activity after the heat imposed summer doldrums.

The changes may be subtle to recent transplants from more temperate climates but the revolution of the seasons is apparent is the golden maturity of the grasses and the change of color in the red maple, willow and cypress leaves.  Although we may lack the vivid display of colorful fall foliage seen further north, our area is not without its own spectacular fall display.  One merely needs to drive along some of our more rural road ways to witness the stunning golden display of acre upon acre of brilliant yellow southern sunflowers (Heliantus agrestis) in full bloom.

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.

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.  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. 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 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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