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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Our upside-down garden year is just beginning

Now is the time to get out in the garden. While there’s something you can plant and enjoy every day in Florida, most gardeners here consider fall the beginning of the garden year.

Instead of waiting for the last frost of the spring to pass, we plant quickly to get our beans and tomatoes producing before winter’s first frost, which usually comes in December or January. Actually, we hope it never comes at all. Last winter it hardly did, but we still must be prepared.

For us, fall stretches from August to October. Before the rain stops, it’s still very easy to root cuttings, so propagate any of those plants you want to multiply. When it doesn’t rain, remember to sprinkle or mist the cuttings as needed, as often as every day.

One morning we’ll wake up and go out to feel wonderful coolness again. Seedlings thrive in the cooler weather, and it sure revives us gardeners, too.

We can plant many more flowers and vegetables through the fall-to-spring season than we can in the summer, especially more of the plants we grew up North.

This is especially true for herbs. Only a very few of them are threatened by frost — tropical oregano, basil, patchouli — and they are easy to cover or start over with cuttings. There are at least a hundred others we can grow through the winter and many that will grow all year.

If your parsley, lavender, savory or tarragon died, as mine almost always does through the summer, don’t feel bad. It isn’t your fault. Our heat and rain together is hard on these plants. If they just look bad but aren’t dead, they’ll revive with the fall. If not, buy new ones at your first chance and you’ll have them at least until next summer.

Don’t buy any coleus, melopodiums or torenias right now. Wait for bedding plants such as petunias, pansies, snapdragons and my favorite — lobelias. Periwinkles are usually good any time of the year unless there’s a freeze.

We can start many flowers from seed as soon as cool nights return, including alyssum, ageratum, calendula, Queen Anne’s lace, larkspur and nasturtiums. My nasturtiums self seed every year and when I see them coming up as early as August, I know fall is coming soon.

We do have to consider the shorter days. There can be as much as three hours’ less sun, and the sun is lower in the sky than in summer. So most plants grow more slowly, and some will grow hardly at all, when the shortest days are also the coldest ones. But this is not all bad. The weeds also grow more slowly and we gardeners can catch up and relax a bit. But even by mid January, we’ll be seeing a new burst of growth that will increase and continue until summer heat returns.

Another important change in the seasons is that we have to water again. With shorter and cooler days, the plants don’t use as much water and the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly. But we have to be watchful and ready to provide when nature doesn’t. Still, we have a long stretch of great gardening ahead. Enjoy it. I always do.

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Today’s pick is the Tibouchina or Purple Glory Tree. There used to be many more of these in the area, and they were spectacular when covered with deep purple flowers in the fall. They can be shrubs or small trees up to 20 feet tall. They like full sun or almost full, acid soil and regular water. I’ve had one for many years, but it was in too much shade and never bloomed well. Now that I have more sun, I’ve rooted some new ones and they are all blooming but aren’t quite spectacular yet.

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Now’s the time that gardens will soon look their best. We can have a freeze in the winter, drought in the spring and too much heat and water in the summer, but fall is not only a new start but a climax of color and bloom.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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