Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dog Days of Summer in the Vegetable Garden

Back in the late 1950’s when I was a budding gardener growing up in North Florida we planted our vegetable once “all danger of frost was past”.

Many things I learned from my grandmother have held since true and have been validated by science. Not surprising, science and my grandmother’s wisdom are both rooted in observation.

But move to the opposite end of Florida and vegetable gardening dates are reversed. In extreme South Florida we plant our vegetables once “all danger of permanent wilt has past”. What is permanent wilt? It is when a plant has wilted beyond recovery and no amount of water or plant “whispering” will bring it back. Extreme heat can cause permanent wilt even while plants are well tended by the most diligent of green thumbs.
“Past the dangers of permanent wilt” often meant past another term spoken by gardeners of olde, past the dog days of summer, during which time we are most likely to experience bouts of extreme heat.

Information abounds on the internet regarding the dog days of summer and its relationship to the astrological event surrounding the star Sirius. Ancient Greeks and Romans noted that Sirius seemed to rise and set with the sun from late July to August. Since Sirius was associated with heat and light and this concept strengthened during the summer period when it appeared to work in tandem with the sun.

The span of days and the beginning and end of dog days is much debated. I took my grandmothers meaning to be when summer reached its hottest days, usually the entire month of August. Ancient Anglo-Saxon England attributes dog days ran from various dates in mid-July to early or mid-September. A look at temperature predictions from NOAA confirms dog days are here now and will probably last thru mid-September.

What do dog days mean for planting vegetables? Delaying planting for now might be wise. With changing weather patterns and more extreme weather events we may need to be patient and observant. Do your planning and sourcing now just as northern vegetable gardeners would do during cold winter days. Our Extension website has publications in an easy to access format, all the information you need is at your finger tips on what we can grow well here and also offers suggestions on resources.

 Remember also, with the heat of summer comes numerous insects with preliminary research indicating increases in insects with rising temperatures. Many folks plant early only to have their seedlings consumed by hungry pests or die off from too much rain and heat.

If your planning includes adding new raised beds, installing rain barrels or setting up a composting station choose the cool of the morning to work outside. I love nothing more than greeting the day with a cup of coffee on the patio while I survey the garden and the nature it holds in the fresh morning light. Puttering in the garden provides much needed, uninterrupted time to think and exercise! And there are delightful surprises to be discovered…
Zebra Longwing butterflies sleep together at night and are late risers, you may find their roost. I know where they sleep in my yard.
Some spiders take in their webs as soon as they dry in the morning sun.
Humming birds are up at first light.
Many flowers are most fragrant at dawn (and dusk).
Right plants in the right place can succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Crinum asiaticum plants constantly produced 20 or more flowering heads throughout the summer creating a heady fragrance in my garden at home.
Got it? 
The early gardener stays cool and sees some cool things out in the garden!

Another good planting tip to remember, if possible choose an overcast day to work in the garden and/or shadehouse. It will be better for the plants and better for you!

So while the heat is on in South Florida check out upcoming workshops and presentations on our web page google calendar and save the dates below for awesome events coming up later in the year.
Check the calendar often and look for our new
webpage format for all of University of Florida's
Extension Offices coming in November 2017.
This blog which predates UF/IFAS/Extension immersion into the world of social media will move and change as well.

http://miami-dade.ifas.ufl.edu/Master Gardener Preview & Interviews Wednesday, August 16th, 2017
Adopt-a-Tree Saturday September 16, 2017
GrowFest # 6 at the Fruit & Spice Park  Saturday & Sunday, October 14th & 15th 2017
Butterfly & Bird Day for Kids Saturday, October 17th, 2017

Note: 12 years ago this month I interviewed for the Master Gardener Program. It was to become one of the turning points in my life and set me out on a mission to teach and share knowledge of how to preserve and care for our natural world and its resources that provide for all life on earth.

Barbara McAdam, Urban Horticulture Program Specialist
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods
UF/IFAS Extension- Miami-Dade County
Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department
18710 SW 288th St.
Homestead, FL 33030-2309
305.248.3311 245

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pollinator Plants: FrogFruit/Phyla nodiflora

What’s on my list to add during this year’s optimum growing season aka our Rainy Season? Frog Fruit! Although my grandmother thought of this plant as another “Creeping Charlie” nuisance plant in the lawn, I think of it as a ground cover that never needs mowing. And as the backdrop of a panoramic view of almost endless pollinators, best viewed at eye level while laying down on the ground, with the kids!

Where to plant this:
Differing information can be found from reliable sources and local native plant enthusiast. One advises it is drought tolerant and will grow well in dry locations another source states it is an aquatic edge plant. The true nature of this plant may lie somewhere in the middle, it will grow well thru the dry season if it is established. I have noted this never entirely dies out when it is growing mixed with lawn grasses and weeds at our Miami Dade County Extension Office in Homestead. However efforts to keep our cultivated patch full over the dry season have failed this year. It was necessary to relocate the plants in January and they did not receive enough water to establish.
We will establish a patch this summer and monitor and report on growth/maintenance habit through the dry season.

Where to obtain this plant:
It may already be growing in your lawn or your neighbor’s lawn. Extension Publication “Community ButterflyScaping” provides information on how to propagate fog fruit. The publication uses another common name, this serves as a reminder to refer to the scientific name to ensure you get the plant you are looking for! 

“How to propagate fogfruit"
"To propagate fogfruit, find a succulent, healthy stem with several leaves. Near the bottom of the stem, trim at least two leaves at the leaf nodes. Place the exposed nodes in wet, rich soil or water. The nodes will form roots. Water daily for at least a week until the plant no longer wilts between watering. While fogfruit can grow almost anywhere, from beach dunes to pond edges, it makes a lush, dense groundcover under moist, rich conditions.

We were able to transplant a 10” sq. of frogfruit with roots and soil attached into a large pot containing moist rich soil on Thursday, May 17th.  Our transplant is growing well so far. There is also one local but wholesale nursery that grows this plant. You may want to have your landscape company obtain the plants for you. Have them call our Extension Office for a list of local wholesale nurseries.

All the minor problems of finding this plant are quickly forgotten once your local butterflies begin to visit. It is a larval host for three butterflies, phaon crescent, common buckeye and white peacock. In addition many butterflies and small pollinators will visit for a sip of nectar.
Visit the Institute for Regional Conservation webpage for information on this plant and a partial list of butterflies that visit. Maybe you will see one of our tiniest and exquisitely patterned butterflies, the little metalmark.

Happy Gardening to all, remember to stay cool and hydrated.

Barbara McAdam
Urban Horticulture Program Specialist
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods/Florida-Friendly Landscaping
UF/IFAS Extension- Miami-Dade County
Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department