Vegetable gardening should be going full steam ahead this month. Be sure first to amend your soil with compost or other organic matter and plant your garden where the veggies will get six to eight hours of full sun. Since our fall can be somewhat dry, also make sure to provide adequate water. • It is time to start planting cool season crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, carrots, cabbage and collards. Wait a bit later to plant spinach, which needs cool soil to germinate. • A great resource is Vegetable Gardening in Florida by James M. Stephens (University Press of Florida, $16.95). You also can access the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide on the Internet at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH021.
Say hello to herbs
Veggies aren't the only edible plants that thrive in the cooler temperatures that fall and winter bring. Now is also a good time for growing herbs. If you don't have a lot of space, try your hand at container gardening. Get an idea of which herbs do best in Florida online at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/VH020.
Break out the bulbs
Transplants from up North often lament the lack of tulips and daffodils in the landscape here. While those particular bulbs don't thrive (without extreme techniques), others do. Now is the time to plant bulbs, and we share some of our favorites:
• Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) could be called the Florida tulip. The flowers make a striking show in the spring when planted in groups of 10 or more. When planting, the collar and very top of the bulb should be above the soil line. Keep the mulch away from the top of the bulb.
• Plant crinum or swamp lily bulbs (Crinum americanum), above, now for spring and summer blooms. Well-suited to hot, dry locations, crinum lilies grow from what are among the largest true bulbs, with some weighing more than 40 pounds. Crinums also recover quickly from killing frosts in our area.
• The tall spikes of blue or white flower heads of agapanthus or lily of the Nile (Agapanthus orientalis) are some of our favorite flowers (and are included here, even though agapanthus is not a true bulb). The plants prefer moist, organic soil but can endure drought once established.
• Other bulbs to plant now are gladiolus, lycoris, daylilies and zephyr lilies. Get more tips on growing plants from bulbs at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG029.
Fall is for flowers
Florida's growing seasons often seem upside down to newcomers from the North. Here, October is like spring and the time to plant annuals, including impatiens, geraniums (above), petunias, pansies and snapdragons. Seeds of calendula and nasturtium also can be planted directly in the ground. Spade in compost or other organic matter with some slow-release fertilizer just before planting. Mulch the bed well after planting to conserve moisture and keep down weeds. Keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches from the base of each plant.
m Feed your citrus trees
Fertilize citrus trees this month using a special formulation of 8-8-8. Apply the fertilizer to the entire rooting area, which usually extends well beyond the drip line of the tree. The amount of fertilizer varies according to the age of the tree. Fertilizer should be applied three times a year: February, June and October. For additional information, see Your Dooryard Citrus Guide at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/HS120.
Have an avocado
Several varieties of avocado — Booth, Monroe, Hall, Lula, Taylor and Choquette — are harvested from October through February. Avocado fruits don't ripen on the tree but in three to eight days after being picked. They ripen best at temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees. Cold storage can delay ripening.
Many banana trees have large stalks of fruit now, but don't plan on harvesting anything soon. It takes 2 1/2 to 6 months for bananas to mature, depending on temperatures, cultivar and cultural practices. Mature fruit will turn pale green and be plump with no distinct ridges. Bananas need fertile conditions with plenty of water for best growth and fruit production. They also require plenty of potassium; a fertilizer with a ratio of 3-1-6 is best.
Ward off winter weeds
This is the last month to fertilize lawns with a complete fertilizer and a good time to get a jump on weed control. Use a fertilizer with slow-release nitrogen at the rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of grass. (If you don't know how much fertilizer you need, check out Figuring out Fertilizer for the Home Lawn on the Internet at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP221.) Also apply a pre-emergent herbicide for winter weeds when nighttime temperatures are 55 to 60 degrees for several nights in a row. (Be sure the herbicide you choose is labeled for your type of grass. Consult Weed Management in Home Lawns at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP141.)
• Perfect circles around the edges of your rose leaves and other plant leaves are caused by leaf-cutter bees. These bees do not feed on the leaves but roll pieces of them to line their nests. They are harmless, they don't do a lot of damage and chemical control is not practical.
• Scale insects on camellias, holly, gardenia, magnolia and other broad leaf evergreens can be controlled with sprays of light horticultural oil, fish oil or neem oil. For heavy infestations, a product containing acephate or malathion can be used.
Carol Suggs is with the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. Pam Brown recently retired. Online: pinellascountyextension.org.