Marion County’s usually pleasant late fall makes for a nice time to work outside and prep for the coming winter.
Unlike our neighbors to the North, who get excited about gardening in April and start to wind down in October, our unique ecosystem lets North Floridians do nearly the opposite. We tend to let things kinda go and grow out there from May to October, and then the weather cools down and makes being outside more pleasant. The humidity fades, cool Arctic air starts coming down in waves and the sun is less intense. Fall in Florida is a great time to work in the yard and get ready for our actual (really short) winter.
Lynn Lewis, a sales associate at The Yard Stop in Ocala, has more than 30 years of experience in gardening and landscaping. If you want some flowers and color now, there are annuals available for putting in the ground and in containers to add some cheer as the days grow shorter and grayer.
“Petunias, snapdragons and marigolds will last through the winter,” Lewis advises. “And dusty miller.”
Dusty miller is a silvery-gray plant that resembles coral reefs; it’s sold as an annual throughout the country, but it’s actually a perennial that likes full sun. It can tolerate a light frost but will die if not protected in a hard freeze. Its gray and white tones really contrast nicely in a garden bed or pot mixed with other bright colors.
Lewis also recommends camellias for folks in this area. In winter, “Camellias are the only thing that will bloom,” she offers “They stay a nice, bushy green. And they start blooming in December.”
Some camellia varieties continue blooming through March, and they do well in light frosts. In a hard freeze, you might lose some flowers and buds, but a well-established shrub will survive just fine.
Poinsettias and chrysanthemums are also fall and winter favorites. Both can tolerate colder temperatures and look seasonal and festive. Poinsettias have been hybridized to create white, red and pink varieties, and mums come in autumn colors such as yellow, gold, orange and white.
For long-term landscape changes, November through March is a great time to do installations. Plants aren’t actively growing this time of year as they edge into dormancy with the shorter days and cooler temperatures. The energy of the plant is reduced, and you won’t have the leaf drop and stress from the sun that can damage plants that are moved in the summer.
“If you’re going to plant a tree,” Lewis says, “it’s good to plant it from now until March. Something like a bottlebrush tree will actually bloom in the wintertime.”
But hold off with the pruning shears.
“Don’t do any fertilizing right now, don’t do any trimming back until the end of March,” Lewis urges. “We always get one last frost,” usually in late March, which can damage new growth.
Sales associate Tara Pieri suggests doing some yard prep in November and December.
“You can re-mulch,” she says, which helps protect the roots of plants from temperature extremes and, of course, perks up the landscape and looks nicer. She also recommends thinking about being ready for freezes and frosts with plant covers. “There’s a frost cloth actually made for plants,” she adds.
A frost cloth will hold the humidity and heat inside on nights when the temps really dip, and Lewis cautions folks using covers to wait until at least 9am to remove them.
“You always want to wait until about 9 in the morning, because from 7 o’clock to 9, it’s still the coldest air,” she says. “You can also put in a little spotlight under the cloth that will also save your plants.”
Some chores to do while you’re working should include clean-up and disposal of debris, diseased plants and weeds. It’s also a good time to divide and replant any perennials going dormant that you want to propagate—such as flax, daylilies, liriopes and hostas. Compost any clean, non-diseased plant material, and then rake up any fallen leaves and pine needles to add to your garden beds.
Spending a day doing some minor clean-up, mulching and replanting will pay off for you this winter with appealing flowers in cheerful colors, a tidied-up appearance and the benefits of improving your soil and landscape. OS
A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at email@example.com