For Florida gardeners, summer is a good time to give plants a health checkup and make cuttings

I have so many weeds, I've been ripping them out by the fistful — and pulling up good plants with the bad. I don't care!

The other day, I got stung by wasps the size of blue jays because I was so intent on taming the out-of-control Confederate jasmine, I didn't notice I'd disturbed their nest.

To get anything at all done outside, I've got to be up and out before the sun. On the weekends.

Do I love summer gardening in Florida? You betcha!

Once the rains start in June, so do the blooms in my garden. Yellow thryallis and allamanda, blue butterfly, plumbago and tweedia, little purple balloon plants and violet Mexican petunia. The other morning, I was thrilled to spot a hummingbird buzzing from bloom to bloom.

In summer's steam, my cuttings root, my seeds sprout and my transplants take. The new perennials I put in become superheroes that grow faster than a speeding torpedo weed, more drought-tolerant than a boulder, able to cover tall fences in a single bound. Thank you, deluges of nitrogen-rich rain!

This good stuff is important to keep in mind now that we've hit August, the worst — I mean best — month for heat and rain. In Tampa, August is historically the hottest, wettest month of the year, with an average 90-degree high and 7.60 inches of monsoon, according to the National Weather Service's 29-year climate graph. (For the record, that's 0.3 degree hotter than the highs in July, the second-hottest, wettest month, and well more than an inch of rain more.)

So how do we make the most of this most wonderful of opportunities?

Here's my suggestion, and a few from other local gardeners:

If you aren't already, start taking and rooting cuttings now. They'll be great insurance against a winter freeze and they strike (root) more quickly this time of year.

Here's why (my theory): Cuttings do best when taken from vigorously growing plants, which most of our perennials are now. They also like moisture and humidity. Got that in spades.

Not all plants start easily from cuttings, but I've had good luck in summer even from the most stubborn.

If you haven't tried, it's super easy and cheap. Pick up some potting soil (I use Miracle-Gro) and perlite (available at all the big garden centers for a few bucks). Mix the perlite and potting soil in a small container with a drain hole so it's a little less than a 50:50 blend of the two.

Clip 4 to 6 inches from the stem of the plant you want to root. Look for healthy stems that are putting out new leaves. Snip the stem just below the lowest-growing leaves, pinch off those leaves — and most of the others on the stem — and stick the stem in your little container.

I take at least a few cuttings from each plant, figuring I'll lose some. I keep them outside in an area that gets morning sun, but not the afternoon blaze, and I water them just about every day. Sometimes, they will look deader than dead for awhile, and then suddenly spring to life. So be patient!

• • •

From Tanja Harmon, urban homesteader and firefighter in Tampa:

"Finding annuals and perennials for your area is important. Right now I have, for annuals, Florida lettuce, Jewels of Opar, Malabar spinach," Tanja says.

For edible perennials, she's growing Okinawa spinach and Dawn Dewa spinach, along with purslane and sea purslane (which many of us consider weeds).

A good hot-weather substitute for cilantro in Florida is papalo, Porophyllum ruderale, Tanja says.

"Beans are great, like cow peas . . . you can eat the beans and flowers. And pigeon peas, which will last three to five years.

"Okra loves the Florida summers. And my kale is thriving. Cranberry hibiscus is great because you can add the young leaves to salads, make tea and eat the flowers."

You may have to shop for seeds online to find some of Tanja's suggestions.

From Johnnie Jones, South Tampa, co-owner of Sunset Beach Lawncare and Landscaping:

"I would rather work in the heat than rake stinkin' leaves," Johnnie says. "The time spent in the garden is preparing everything for the Sept. 29 full moon. The weather will cool down. . . . I will begin planting the following week."

And in the meantime, Johnnie's keeping everything in the garden fed, trimmed and healthy to ensure his plants are in good shape to weather a freeze.

"This is also a good time to purchase any freeze cloths, clothespins etc.," he adds. "It's cheaper."

Annamarie Osborne, Forest Hills, Tampa, gardener:

"Other than a bit of pruning and some weed pulling where I missed with the pre-emergent in May, I finally enjoy the rewards of all the gardening work I did in the spring," Annamarie writes.

"In the PERFECT hours of the early morning, when the dew is sparkling on the leaves and the temperature is a perfect 78 degrees, I take my morning coffee for a quiet stroll and ENJOY."

• • •

We gardeners are so fortunate. No matter what else is going on, it's always easy to find a bright side among flowers and vegetables.

Yeah, it's hot. The weeds are as happy as the flowers. And sometimes life gives us (really painful!) wasp stings. But it gives us hummingbirds, too. Especially when everything's blooming.

In the garden, if you don't like today, you can always plant for tomorrow. No sweat.

Penny Carnathan can be reached at pcarnathan@gmail.com. Read more local gardening stories at digginfladirt.com, or join the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt.

For Florida gardeners, summer is a good time to give plants a health checkup and make cuttings 08/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 4:30am]

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