Plant Veggies Now, Enjoy Second Harvest
Now is the time to add annuals and bedding plants to the home landscape to complement the autumn season’s color. These may be started with seeds in some cases, and there are many species and cultivars readily available in retail establishments and nurseries.
Confirm that seeds have been germination tested within the year. The sell-by date is on the package and is required by state law.
Ageratum, celosia, zinnia and wax begonia are all good candidates, along with numerous others available at garden centers. Be sure to choose fresh, healthy plants free of disease and insect damage.
It is a great time to get the fall and winter vegetable garden off to a good start. Strawberry plants, collard seeds and others will need full exposure to the sun. If obstructions to the light are a potential problem, deal with them now to avoid mediocre performance.
Much like bedding plants and annuals, vegetables will yield better with a soil amended with organic material.
Broccoli, radishes, cabbage, kale and many others can be planted now for harvest in the mild days of autumn. Some, like radishes, can deliver multiple crops over the course of the cool seasons.
A Beneficial Insect
Milkweed Assassin Bug
Luckily, there are insects that stand guard to prevent the total pillaging of our cherished green resources. Among the many native hunter insects is the milkweed assassin bug, Zelus longipes. Sometimes known as the long-legged assassin bug, it displays the bright coloration of deer hunters, especially when in juvenile stages. This winged bug is slightly less than an inch long and has a slender, straight beak with pierce-sucking mouthparts. When not in use, the beak is bent back and held under the thorax in a groove, carried much like a folding knife. Adults and nymphs have a pear-shaped head, constricted neck and long hairy legs, giving this insect an awkward, lanky appearance. The shape and appearance are generally the same throughout its life. The method used to catch its prey is known as the “sticky trap strategy.” The exposed forelegs are covered with a viscous material that acts as a glue resulting in the prey’s entanglement. The target insect is rapidly paralyzed when the milkweed assassin bug inserts its beak into the host body. This tiny ambush predator can feed on prey that may be up to six times its own size.
Autumn Sun Exposure
One key to growing success is establishing plants where their sunlight needs are met. Commonly only the east to west movement of the sun is considered, but there is another factor to remember. This time of year, the sun is progressively moving a bit further south in the sky each day. Depending on the surrounding structures, the light availability can change drastically over the next
Rain and Weather
Summer commonly delivers a bounty of rain in spurts and fits. Historically, however, autumn has been relatively dry, and surplus water may literally dry up. The lack of water can be overcome with irrigation, the use of mulches and the addition of organic matter to growing beds. Sandy soils or near soilless sand make these critical success components.
Aggressive and prolific plant pests that consider tender young plants their meal of choice are a particular problem in the fall. These problem species reach their peak numbers as the warm growing season comes to an end. Chewing and piercing/sucking insects are the two basic types of bugs at play. These gluttons eat like there is no tomorrow. The cooler weather eliminates many, but unfortunately some will survive until next spring to begin the cycle again.
Mushroom compost, homemade composts, peat moss and many other growing media help with fall gardening in two ways. These organic compounds add soil nutrients needed by the plants. Additionally, high levels of organic matter in growing zones promote the retention of critical moisture, especially during drier times.
Les Harrison is a retired University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Wakulla County Extension Director.