Digging in for the winter season
Rainfall is still below normal which does not bode well for gardening activity. Temperatures are slowly decreasing and we have put the clocks back one hour, add in the uncertainty of windy conditions and we know that autumn is upon us and with it a slowdown in garden activity.
Preparation should be the name of the game especially in the avoidance of damage from wind which can create secondary and tertiary problems when foliage/branches are damaged. With existing temperatures and the occasional rain showers the need to check for pest and disease problems is ongoing. New growth is very attractive to insect activity looking for a gourmet meal whilst the 'damp' mornings are ideal for fungal activity on both plants and St Augustine lawns. Any sign of a problem should be addressed immediately as both problems can spread quickly through you and your neighbour's garden. The need to fertilise to encourage good growth and strong root systems is still advisable; I am of the belief we do not 'nourish' our soils enough throughout the growing season. Plants will grow and survive if left to their own devices, but adding nutrients to the soil makes a world of difference. The use of fertilizers be they granular preferably 'coated' for slower release or given in a liquid form to supplement during periods of drought is essential for good growth. Compost is also a good way to enrich garden soils with the organic nature of the compost assisting to develop a more soil retentive nature for holding moisture. As costs continue to rise, creating a compost bin should be considered, after-all it is your property it is potential organic matter so why pay to have it trucked away and then pay for supplements to be added to your garden beds.
Weed control is an ongoing exercise which at this time of the year is exacerbated by the continuance of summer weeds and the emergence of cool season weeds both of which grow at a rapid rate when compared to garden plants! Vigilance is the name of the game as weeds also harbour pest and disease problems becoming a host to both. Weed control, which is, removing weeds when in a very young state of growth, has many benefits including reduction in moisture uptake from soil thus leaving more moisture available for garden plants to use. Negating dispersal of weed seed especially on ephemerals weeds which germinate, grow and produce flower/seed in a short period of time. Weeds make an immediate impact on the eye and detract from a well kept garden be it in a flower bed or lawn. Seed dispersal is obviously a major player in weed growth with seed being spread by wind or on an animal's fur/coat or by being digested by animals and passed through the gut and deposited accordingly. Seed can also be spread by the movement of tools and equipment when same are not properly cleaned, and even on work boots! At this time of year larger plants such as Jumbie Bean, Allspice and Mexican Pepper are setting seed which when ripe will be dispersed by those means as mentioned above; removal of the offending seed will eliminate such dispersal. Having said that, it is also prudent to accept the fact that good land management will also assist in reducing the dispersal of unwanted 'species'.
With the onset of 'winter' winds the need to 'open' up growth in trees and large shrubs should be seriously considered in order to reduce damage to branch systems.
Heavy growth as was seen in the east coast of the USA recently when early snow damage caused damage to foliage and branches will be ripped apart by strong winds. Heavy growth does not allow wind to 'filter' through the branch system, but has the effect of acting like a wall with the result the branch system can be seriously damaged and the shape of the plant 'ruined' until a new system is established.
I have oft mentioned the mowing heights for the various lawn grasses, it is important that coming into the cooler months and with lawn grasses slowing down that height of cut is such that the lawn is not cut too short with the result that weed growth becomes a prominent factor to the detriment of the lawn. This is especially the case in St Augustine/Floratem lawns. Keeping mower blades sharp should also be an ongoing exercise as blades dull quickly if not maintained regularly.
As temperatures decrease and growth slows flowering will also be in decline, to continue interest in the garden planting a selection of the numerous varieties of annuals available in the local nurseries should be considered. In protected areas of the garden the use of taller types can be used to great effect in combination with lower growing types; however, in more exposed areas the use of low growing types will survive the potential wind damage occurring in these areas. When purchasing annuals select the sturdiest plants available making sure they are healthy with good root systems and clean foliage. Water in regularly until plants become established and new growth is continuous.
Mother Nature never sleeps neither should garden owners, you may have what you think is a trouble free garden; the question is have your neighbours? A garden can be a thing of beauty, but beauty lies in the eye of the beholder!