September is nearly here and so is the promise of cooler days and nights on the horizon. Because I grew up in the Northeast, this season always brought warm memories of harvests on our farm, color changes in the forest, and so many amazing smells ranging from apples to spices to decomposing leaves. In Florida, those changes are usually much less dramatic, but there are some benefits to being in a warmer climate and some ways to bring that autumn feel into your garden.
Plant while others are harvesting
Fall is harvest season for much of the country but in Florida, September is prime planting season. With vegetables, we have a large array of plants we can set out for a winter harvest with collards, cabbage, radish, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and many more that will thrive. It is even not too late to try to push through another round of cucumbers or summer squash. For great tips on vegetable gardening, see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide online at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/VH021.
Autumn weather is also great in the landscape, bringing about less stressful temperatures for trees, shrubs, and perennials in the garden. Remember that anything newly planted will need to be kept moist for its first few months after planting. This is especially important as weather patterns can dry up this time of year. One key step is to consider the concept of right plant/right place, matching the needs of the plant to the characteristics of your garden. Stay away from plants that will not survive the colder months ahead.
Bringing fall to Florida
Autumn has a certain aesthetic in our minds and coming from the Northeast originally, I find myself missing the dramatic color change in the landscape and all of the sights and smells the season provides. However, we can try to bring a bit of this into our Florida gardens.
Chrysanthemums, often shortened to “mums,” can be added either in containers or in ground to provide some yellows, oranges, and reds and actually do quite well in our climate. Marigolds are another annual with a similar bloom. Think about pairing these with other annuals and perennials in that warm color pallet. Some of my favorites for this are ornamental grasses with their form that reminds me of crops and then coleus which have a wide range of color choices available. Ornamental kale and cabbage also provide excellent texture and color. For fall color in trees, consider maples, sweet gum, Shumard oak or baldcypress.
It is too late to start growing pumpkins now, so wait until next year to produce your own. Remember that they will also rot quickly in our climate, so consider dried gourds or artificial ones for longer term usage.
Fall turf care
After a wet, stressful summer your lawn may be looking a little worse for wear. Autumn usually brings a reprieve from some issues but others may thrive. In September, you can apply a complete fertilizer to your turfgrass, but a soil test is recommended to ensure that is needed. Do not apply anymore until mid-April and stay away from any combination “weed and feed” products. In early October, put down a preemergent herbicide if you have issues with winter weeds such as annual bluegrass.
For insects and disease, tropical sod webworm and chinchbugs are still active in the Fall, so look for damage and pests. Diseases that thrive in fall include large patch, brown patch, and take-all root rot. If you need help in diagnosing any of these issues, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office. Make sure you know the cause of the turf issue before applying any insecticide or fungicide.
Things to plant in September
Vegetables: Arugula, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cardoon, carrots, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, endive/escarole, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, nasturtiums, onion, radish, summer squash and Swiss chard.
Herbs: Anise, basil, bay laurel, borage, chervil, dill, ginger, horehound, marjoram, Mexican tarragon, mint, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Annuals: Angelonia, coleus, crossandra, foxglove, marigold, melampodium, milkweeds, moss rose (Portulaca), New Guinea impatiens, pentas, ornamental peppers, petunia, torenia, vinca, wax begonia and zinnia. Start seeds of alyssum, calendula, dianthus, hollyhocks, ornamental cabbage, pansy, snapdragon and viola.
Perennials: African iris, blue daze, chrysanthemums, firebush, firespike, peacock ginger, pentas, plectranthus, russelia, perennial salvias and walking iris.
Bulbs, tubers, rhizomes or corms: Amaryllis, Aztec lily, calla lily, elephant ears, grape hyacinth, iris, leopard lily, narcissus, snowflake, watsonia and zephyr lily.
Wayne Hobbs is an extension agent in environmental horticulture for Clay County.