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Diggin' Florida Dirt: Readers share tips for taming summer's ravages

More than one reader swears by the Yard Butler. Joanne Drake of Seminole says this hand tool, plus a Coleman camp stool and garbage can (drag along the lid, toss in weeds), makes weeding much less painful.
More than one reader swears by the Yard Butler. Joanne Drake of Seminole says this hand tool, plus a Coleman camp stool and garbage can (drag along the lid, toss in weeds), makes weeding much less painful.
Published Sep. 30, 2016

Remember when garden rehab meant a week in March digging up freeze-dried plants? That's (almost) a fond memory.

Climate change is kicking my butt! Warm, wet winters and soupy summers have turned my good plants obnoxious and my bad ones tyrannical. Fall whack-back is the new spring cleanup. I've got jungle!

I'm not alone.

"I was out of town the first week of August and returned to a yard that had morphed into a savanna," says Roberta Malickson of Tampa.

Susan Gillespie took a walk around her garden a few weeks ago and burst into tears.

"My nephew thought my cat had died!" she says.

But we gardeners adapt. Shared misery gives us strength and a killer sense of humor — literally — in the face of towering weeds.

"I may invest in a 'Goat For Rent' venture," says Jim Duffey of Oldsmar.

Got a yard gone feral? Don't throw in the trowel! Readers offer these suggestions for taming the wild beasties you used to love.

Annie Sprague, St. Petersburg, Armstrong Nurseries

Do NOT think "I need to keep this to repot or this will come back in six months!" Be strong, be stern, be tough. Let go!

Get GOOD gloves, a sun hat, large fan, market umbrella to move around, LOTS of garbage bags, good relationship with the garbage man. Wear old clothes. Do not worry about what the neighbors think. They will admire your fortitude. They may even applaud.

Jim Duffey, Oldsmar

I've found pine straw mulch to be good in fighting aggressive weeds like torpedo grass, which can penetrate asphalt. Ace Hardware has a great quality and a 10 percent veterans discount (if you ask for it — must have ID.) It lays down well and does not run off with wind or rain.

Janice Vogt, Tampa, Hillsborough County Master Gardener

I went crazy looking for coleus, crotons and fall containers so I'd have fall foliage to fill in when I cut back the wild.

Robert Bowden, Orlando, Leu Gardens director

Native Turk's cap hibiscus is easy to grow, no bugs, tough in the heat, always blooming — but it's a little more than vigorous. After about three hours of pruning and sawing back my overgrown Turk's cap, I found a 6-foot-tall apple tree!

You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. Have a plan, be deliberate, stay safe (those folding hand saws are sharper than you think) and take your time. It didn't get that way in one day, don't try to clean it up in one day.

Vicki Parsons, Brandon, Neem Tree Farms

With cordless tools, you don't have to drag power cords or lug heavy gas-powered tools. Buy tools that use the same batteries to avoid buying multiple batteries. Now's a good time to get deals online, because who in Wisconsin wants a weedeater in October?

Darcey Phillips, Clearwater, Detail Divas Landscape Gardeners

Dig out unwanted plants, roots and all, and toss them into a bucket bound for the garbage can. Don't leave them on the ground! Given the slightest chance to reroot, drop seed or find some other way to survive, Florida plants will.

Allen Boatman, Lutz, horticulturist, agriculture instructor

If you live in an area that freezes, be conservative this time of year when pruning plants you want to keep. They need as much foliage as possible going into winter so that they can store nutrients and have leafy protection from frost and freeze. Use some trimmings to start new plants.

Deb Hamilton, Wesley Chapel, Pasco County Master Gardener

Start early, pace yourself, stay hydrated and have a reward at the end. After I've toiled in the yard all day, I put my feet up and enjoy chips, salsa and a cold beer.

Kitty Wallace, Tampa, Tampa Heights Community Garden coordinator

When new gardeners come to the community garden to weed, I hand them "the tool" — they become instant fans. It's a slicing hoe on one side and a cultivator on the other, and it has a short handle. That allows you to work at ground level with a shorter radius of impact. Much quicker than a long-handled hoe! (On, it's called Yard Butler TT-1W Hand Gardener; about $16.)

Ken Marion, Tampa

As soon as it's light in the morning, I take a walk in my garden, pick some weeds and enjoy the beauty. Plants crowding other plants or getting straggly are easily fixed. It's a great way to start the day.

• • •

Many readers also reminded me that mulch discourages weeds (they recommend straw, oak leaves (free!) and fine-screen micro nuggets pine bark). To maintain your own good mental health, many suggest tackling one small section at a time and, heck yeah, rewarding yourself!

None mentioned my personal plan: Pray for a freeze.

Contact Penny Carnathan at; visit her blog,; join in the chat on Facebook, Diggin Florida Dirt; and follow @DigginPenny.


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