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Florida temperature fluctuations are a pain

April 15, 2011
By H. JEAN SHIELDS, Garden Club of Cape Coral


One thing a Florida gardener can depend on is unexpected fluxuations in heat and moisture. The cool 50s of March and the sturdy winds are a thing of the past now. Maybe a quick passing of an occasional cold front and who knows if we will be blessed with some drenching rains again this month.

Potted plants of veggies and flowers, or anything, are going to need special attention for another month. They dry out so fast, even without a lot of drying winds.

Last weekend was a hot one. The Garden Club had a garden tour of three of our members' yards. It was warm, however we were out in the Northwest and east, and believe it or not folks, we were cooled nicely by beautiful winds out there.

It is easy to forget what the wide open spaces are really like when you live in the more populated areas of the Cape. There is definitely a climate change north of Pine Island Road. I know my son who lives out in the northeast, had to scrape his truck windshield a couple of mornings, last winter.

I sure do not miss doing that, but this weekend's freewheeling breezes and open skies sure reminded me of some long ago country days. I do not think anything grows any better out there then in the south of town. However, it has to be a better type of soil out there than in the south with the entire canal coral we have layered on our lots.

You still need some soil amending and some good mulch. One yard used pine needle mulch, one a regular brown mulch and the other one was a masterpiece of jungle: trees, bushes and flowers with paths going every which way. That type of yard needs just as much time investment, but with the shade and mulched paths, the weed population does not thrive as well.

The bubbling pond by the front door and all the shade and pathways going off into the unknown were a delightful change from the usual open sunny gardens.

Whenever we have a garden tour we all start thinking of what we can go home and do differently with our own gardening spaces. Sometimes we take clippings with us also. It will always be the willing gardeners touch that makes a good garden.

I myself am doing more watering than actual gardening right now. Lots of things in pots. I do, however, make sure that I catch a lot of water from the kitchen sink to do most of the watering on the lanai.

When I boil eggs, I do not salt the water anymore. I use the water they are cooked in and the rinse water. I have a larger pan or bowl setting there to catch any water I can use. You would be surprised how much you can collect.

I have drawn the line at putting a bucket in the shower to catch the first outpouring of the shower waters. I would probably fall over the bucket and cause more trouble than necessary.

I was able to catch a lot of rainwater in a bucket on the lanai, for the orchids. I do have a couple of rain barrels, also. I guess I should confess, I have two rain barrels, however only one is actually working.

I have them because of the Florida Yards and Neighborhood FYN, programs I have attended over the past two years. You do not get one every time you go, however I did earn one by completing a course last year, over at Rutenburg Park, in South Fort Myers, and I bought one from there at an earlier time. They come all ready to be attached to your downspout. You can also just set it someplace with a screen over the top to keep critters and leaves, etc., from getting in.

I am assuming you will understand that your downspouts are not just hanging around waiting to be hooked up to a rain barrel.

My first one fit just below an elbow joint in the downspout so that was easy to just go and get a nice piece to connect the barrel to the spout.

The second one does not have a nice joint where I need it so it has to be cut or changed around, so it is still setting there waiting to be aligned, before rainy season - I hope.

There are plenty of flowering plants for sale now. Make sure you are reading their tags and that you know where the sun shines on your plantings. The Florida sun is HOT and some sun plants will still like some light shade and may require more water than specified, to tolerate the heat.

When you mulch, do not suffocate the trunks of bushes and trees or pile the mulch up around the plants neck. Two or three inches of mulch is recommended, however. You do not have to smother the plant. It needs some room for air to circulate.

I like easy marigolds and colorful purslane. I was never impressed with a kalanchoe, however I have had a red one for over a month and it has done very well. They do come in several colors so it is not hard to find them. I am not sure just how long I can expect it to keep blooming but the thick leaves will still look good when the flowering stops.

Several garden things have started to come back and look healthy after suffering from the cold. Trim and cut things now, to shape and get rid of dead parts. Do not cut anything that is getting ready to bloom, like the gardenia or you will lose this year's flowering.

Geraniums are still doing well, but it will not be long before the humidity will

descend on them and they do not grow well then. Most of mine are in pots so I just pull them back from hot direct sun and where they can get some breeze.

It's a good time to take some cuttings. Keep them moist and in the shade and do not hurry them along with fertilizer.

There's still time to fertilize trees, a good schedule is every three months. I have to write a schedule on calendar so I remember which month is the correct time.

I am glad there is a lot of leeway with fertilizing palms. I am always off at least a month.

Visit the Florida native plant sale which is this Saturday at Rotary Park. There will be great, healthy plants and lots of knowledgeable local people to help you decide what to plant where.

Keep cool and happy gardening until we meet again.

H. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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