Preparing your Florida landscape for winter and planting your fall garden

Preparing your landscape for winter and planting your fall garden by - Mark Govan, Host of “Florida Gardening” heard on 970WFLA

As November winds down and December approaches, this is the time of the year you need to prepare your garden for the cool season to follow. This means protecting your turf and ornamental plants for the winter by applying the proper fertilization. You should also be sowing your cool-season vegetable seeds now to harvest a good crop in February. In this article, I will go over a few simple techniques you can use to make your winter months both enjoyable and productive. Let’s get started.

Many of our winter visitors are just arriving, and they have not had a chance to give their landscape the nutrients needed to feed their plants through the winter months. Proper fertilization practices may have been left up to the people that mow their yards or possibly their association. If your landscape looks like it is lacking enough fertilization, then you can still give your plants the necessary nutrition by applying it yourself.

Most lawns require equal amounts of both nitrogen and potassium to help give the grass the energy it will need this winter season to fight off diseases and promote a healthy root system. The roots of plants and turf grasses continue to grow throughout the winter, and if you do not have enough nutrients available, then the plant will be susceptible to fungal diseases. I recommend that you apply at least forty pounds of an 8-0-10 granular fertilizer now. You need to apply this with a rotary spreader and then water the lawn to drive the nutrients into the thatch area. I know this sounds like a lot of fertilizer, but this is the minimal amount you would need to apply for a five thousand square foot lawn. Just to let you know, you really need to repeat this application a minimum of four times yearly to get the University of Florida recommended amount of fertilizer for your lawn.

For your landscape plants, you will need to apply a different product. Landscape plants, especially those that flower need phosphorous, the middle number on a bag of fertilizer to produce their blooms. Citrus trees use phosphorous to yield more fruit. Mangoes and avocadoes require phosphorous to produce the blooms that will become fruit this summer. Even your hibiscus and Indian hawthorn plants need this element to yield more blossoms. I suggest that you pick up a bag of an 8-10-10 granular fertilizer to use on all your flowering and fruiting plants. Please apply this fertilizer with a hand-held rotary fertilizer spreader. You will need to apply at least three to four pounds of this fertilizer for each one-hundred square feet of bed space you have. An average-sized residential home will require about thirty pounds of fertilizer per application. Once your landscape plants are taken care of, you can start working in the vegetable garden.

Those of you whom have not started your fall/winter vegetable garden, will be pleased to learn that you can still plant a nice garden now. Even if you have not gardened before, you can easily put out several small containers and enjoy a bountiful harvest. Plants I am working on now are brussels sprouts, swiss chard, radishes, broccoli, and spinach. These plants are easy to start from seed (especially radishes) and will keep producing for you for several months. Some small seeds are coated with a red dye to make them easier to see and handle when you plant them out. Even if you do not have a raised bed or a grow box, you can use a large container filled with a good potting mixture three-quarters full. I am currently using several fifteen-gallon pots instead of “grow” boxes, and they work just fine.

I recommend using one pot just for radish seeds. These seeds grow very quickly, and you will be harvesting within thirty days. Make sure you plant plenty of them as they are delicious eating them fresh-picked from the garden or in a salad. A second container filled with three or four spinach plants will provide fresh greens until a seed stalk is produced. Once a seed stalk grows, you will need to harvest the entire plant. Another container planted with up to four broccoli heads will give you two rounds of fresh broccoli. The first round is when the main head is harvested. The second round will be the small heads that form on the side shoots produced on the outer edges of the cut broccoli. Swiss chard should also be planted separately. Four plants will fit nicely in a fifteen-gallon container and are ready for consumption in about sixty days, just like the broccoli.

Brussels are the largest of all the plants I have mentioned here and only two plants per container are recommended. When brussel sprouts grow to about a foot tall, you will need to remove some of the bottom leaves to encourage flowers to form. These plants can grow to a height of two to three feet, so some staking may be necessary. Fertilize all vegetables every three weeks for best results and monitor them for pests.

Taking care of your home and garden really is easy, but you must take a few steps to ensure a healthy landscape. Fertilize with the amounts and types of fertilizers I mentioned above. Please try a small garden. The plants I mentioned above and the potting mixes I recommend, are meant to get you interested in gardening. Fresh vegetables are expensive, and many of you just getting back to Florida should be thinking about how you can produce some of the things I have mentioned above. If you try them, you will be surprised and hopefully hooked on gardening as I have been. Good luck with your garden and remember that without plants, we would not be here!

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