Preparing Your Garden and Turf for Autumn
"Autumn" in South Florida is such a subtle concept that you would need a calendar to know when it happened. Perhaps the more accurate terms for what Northerners would call Autumn would the "less rainy" season, or the "I don't sweat all day" season. It means that days are getting shorter, the heavy rain and high humidity will slowly diminish but the daytime heat will continue. This means several things for your garden. Grass will still need watering, but by November, it will need less, as it will respond to short daylengths and start to slow down. You can help this by using a lower-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 15-0-15 or even a 12-2-12. The equal balance of the first and third numbers is important, since it fosters root and stem development, not so much leaf and grass growth.
|New Guinea Impatiens|
Trees will really slow down growth, and some have stopped already. We might even see some light defoliation in the very dry days of November or December. This is the time of year to give them less nitrogen, and more potassium. The same types of fertilizer for palms can be used very effectively on palms and trees together. Flower gardens should be cultivated and cleaned before the winter annuals or vegetables are planted. Mulch should be applied to keep roots moist, and to retard weed growth from the crop of weeds which set seed in the short days. This is a good time to fertilize to get iron and manganese into plants before the soil is too cool to allow plants to get it from granular fertilizer.
There are numerous plants which get going in the cooler Fall weather, as the stress of summer heat wears off. Rhizomatous Begonias, ferns and roses really start growing starting in October. Fertilize them with controlled-release fertilizers, as well as some liquid iron and manganese to get the plants pumped up on these metals before the cooler days are here. Many annuals are ready to plant, as are a wide variety of herbs and vegetables. You can start seeds of Spring plants now and grow them through the winter for planting in March. This is also a great time to tend to greenhouse and shadehouse repairs before winter storms are upon us.
The weather will remain warm for another 8-10 weeks, and the soil will remain warm even longer. This is the time to use organic fertilizers wherever possible to avail ourselves of the warm soil to start the breakdown into usable nutrients. Compost, eggshells, and coffee grounds make excellent soil additives. Many plants and trees enjoy the break form the brutal summer sun, but beware of trying to over-do fertilizer and be careful of trimming too much. Although the weather is still warm, the plants will start to slow down, and won't regenerate growth very quickly.
Get plants pumped up for the winter, starting now. Reduce fertilizer in your gardens in December, and resume in March when the daylength gets appreciably longer. Plants will "wake up" at the Spring equinox.
We're entering the season of amenable weather. Prepare your garden for the tandem duties of some plants going to sleep for the winter, and some plants just starting lives in the short days. Enjoy the weather and your garden as well.