December in the Garden

Except for the past several days November has seemed awfully hot and humid and I, for one, am ready for some pleasant gardening weather. Keeping in mind that meteorologists can be wrong about 80% of the time and still keep their jobs (an ability shared with financial prognosticators), here’s what the weather wizards predict for our dry season and what you can do in your garden:

• Warmer waters over the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator and the resulting atmospheric conditions continue to support a strong and historic El Niño.

• Seasonal storminess is forecast to be well above normal, leading to an enhanced risk of hazardous weather, including severe thunderstorms as well as strong-to-violent tornadoes and tornado outbreaks. • Given that the previous eight winters in Florida experienced storminess much below normal (with no strongto-violent tornadoes), the likely transition to a very active season may come as a surprise to those who are unaware.

• Wetter than normal conditions are favored through next spring, with increased chances for episodes of heavy rain.

• Below normal seasonal temperatures (typically a result of stormier and rainier conditions rather than intrusions of very cold air from the north) are forecast between February and April.

• November, December, January – Temperatures near normal, Precipitation Well above normal, storminess well above normal.

• February, March, April - Temperatures below normal, Precipitation Well above normal, Storminess well above normal. We’ll just have to wait and see. If a frost or freeze is forecast make sure the ground is moist and be prepared to move orchids and other cold sensitive plants indoors or provide protection for them. Don’t let plastic touch the leaves.

Meanwhile, this is a good month to add or transplant trees, shrubs, roses, and other plants and to continue dividing perennials. Because of cooler weather, water loss through foliage will be low and above ground new growth minimal. It’s also a good time to start flower transplants. Continue fertilizing hardy annuals and container grown plants monthly. Discontinue fertilizing other outdoor plants except vegetables. Delay any major pruning until after winter. Renew mulch where needed, keeping it away from trunks of citrus and other fruit trees to prevent foot-rot. Hardy annuals that provide color and survive our normal winter cold include alyssum, calendula, cleome, dianthus, pansy, petunia, phlox, salvia, snapdragon and verbena. Remove faded blossoms to encourage flowering. Bulbs to plant now include African iris, amaryllis, anemones, bulbine, crinum, day lily, paper-white narcissus, ranunculus, society garlic, spider lilies, and rain lilies This is a good time to plant herbs and vegetables such as Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, horseradish, lettuce, mustard, onions, peas, radicchio, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. Be alert for spider mites and thrips, which thrive in drier weather and can damage brugmansia, crotons, avocados, mangoes, copperleaf and some citrus. These sucking insects attack the leaves, causing a stippling pattern and a brown spot in the center of the leaves. This year there is unusually heavy infestation of bagworms. You’ve probably noticed the little brown larval cases the females construct of tiny twigs, leaf bits, and silk and attach to plants, walls, and almost any other surface. Commonly called evergreen bagworms these pests (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) feed on over 50 families of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs. Bagworms thrive from Canada to the tip of Argentina.

In Florida they especially feed on juniper, live oak, Indian hawthorne, arborvitae, Southern red cedar, and willow. Other hosts include maple, pine, ligustrum, and viburnum. In small numbers they are not a problem and severe infestations can damage the aesthetics and health of host plants. If you are having problems with bagworms check out this IFAS website: MOTHS/bagworm.htm However, be prepared for some rather yucky images. Florida Today ran a Sunday feature article on the blizzard “Florida snow” currently blanketing Brevard. Medians and lawns are covered with Richardia grandiflora better known as large flower pusley, Florida snow, and Mexican clover, although it is neither a clover and from Brazil not Mexico. I first noticed it several years ago profusely blooming on medians in the Suntreee - Viera area. This year Indialantic has a lot of this invasive plant. Sally Scalera tells homeowners who want to get rid of it to hand pull it out rather than spot treating with the potentially dangerous herbicide Atrazine. I love Richardia. It blends with turf grasses providing a low-maintenance, drought-andcold resistant ground cover. It stays green during the cooler months when St. Augustine grass declines and best of all it reminds me of the flowery lawns in medieval tapestries

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