Best gardening season begins in Florida
This is Florida's best gardening season. Unlike gardening up north, autumn is not the end. Instead, this is the beginning of the longest, best gardening season of all. We call it the "cooler months," when you can go out and work any time of day and enjoy the breeze and the lack of heat. From now until May or so, we grow almost all of the plants we grew up north. Day by day, the days are getting cooler and more pleasant. Because the days are also shorter, we don't need as much water; but once the rains stop and until they start again, it is all up to us. Still, that's not a big problem in the winter. If you have automatic watering, be sure to cut back your watering until the days start to lengthen again. Be sure to cut back on fertilizer as well.Some of the ornamentals have bloomed already, but plenty of plants — especially the golden senna or cassia — will soon be in full bloom. It is time to plant alyssum, calendulas and nasturtiums. You'll probably want to get blooming plants of dianthus, pansies, petunias and snapdragons. And the geraniums will be at their best for months ahead. Most of the vegetables can go into the garden now. Cabbage, lettuce, carrots, onions, beets, celery, radishes and Swiss chard won't even mind a mild freeze. They just keep on growing. Beans, tomatoes, and peppers had best wait until February, unless you are willing to cover or carry them in on our few cold nights. Everything does grow more slowly in the cooler months, so patience is important, but the rewards are worth the wait. This is the best time to buy new plants of the summer-sensitive herbs, such as parsley, sage, lavender, thyme, lemon balm and watercress. They will surely last now for eight or nine months, and sometimes you can even bring these through the summer, though they will look bad from the strain of heat and rain. If you got some of them through the 2012 summer, they will soon look much better. I have two different lavenders that have lasted for years. It also is time to plant cool weather annual herbs such as dill, borage and fennel from seed. The only herbs you need to cover or carry during freezes are scented geraniums, lemon verbena, marjorum, patchouli, pineapple sage, tropical oregano, basils, perilla and the tropicals like allspice, cardamom and cinnamon. You can save these also by taking cuttings indoors before a cold spell as a back-up. So enjoy some spring fever this fall and visit local public and open gardens to see how lovely it can be. Now's the time to tell you about growing celery. Plants are seldom found for sale, and seeds take a long time. I tried to root the stems, but it didn't work. Then my friend Vicki Parsons of Neem Tree Farms gave me the following websites, and what a discovery they were. The video said the little leaflets would start growing the first day. My first one took six days, so I cut the second one with the center three-quarters of an inch taller, and it did begin to grow at once. I kept it then in the cool house at first, partly to enjoy watching them. They do make good houseplants, but three of them are going into the garden and should keep us in celery all winter. Here are those websites that offer information on growing plants from plant parts: Learn to identify common yard insects and friendly ways to manage them. Join us at the Seffner Mango Library, at 410 N. Kingsway Road. For more information, call Verna Dickey at (813) 685-1055.