Much To Do So little Time – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”


Can you believe September is already here? Seems like this year is passing so quickly but we still have a lot to do in the garden. Right now you should be planting your fall vegetable garden. If you have not started your plants yet, you are still in luck as you can purchase plants from the local garden center. This week I want to go over some of the vegetables you can be growing and I would like to give you a few tips regarding the maintenance of plants you may already have growing. If you start now, you will have a great bounty of vegetables in the coming months. Let’s get started.

            Over the last week I have noticed that many of the commercial tomato growers have planted their fields with small starter plants. I take my cue from the professional growers and that means you need to start planting now. Unlike the small grape tomato varieties we plant during the summer months, fall vegetable gardens can handle the larger beef-steak varieties. If you still have some tomatoes growing from over the summer, then you should pull those plants out and start new ones now. Be sure to add additional fertilizer and dolomite to the garden and make sure you have the right nutrients in the soil to give your new plants a healthy start.

            If your planting in containers have lost soil over the summer, you should add new potting soil to the existing mix before you plant your new tomatoes. I like to plant my tomatoes a little deeper than they were in the starter pots I purchase. Tomatoes grow roots from the stem area and the more of the stem you put into the soil the more roots will grow giving your plant a stronger root system. If you purchase larger tomato plants or plants that have long stems, you can even plant them a little deeper to encourage additional root formation. 

            Some of the larger fruiting varieties of tomatoes I plant during the fall season are the Bigger-Boy, Beefmaster, Better Bush, Celebrity, and the Whopper. These are all good growers and many of the local nurseries and most of the box stores carry large starter plants. If you prefer the Yellow varieties try the Golden Boy or Jubilee. One of the local box stores I visited this week carries the pear tomatoes called Roma.

            If you find or prefer additional varieties of tomatoes and want to grow them here, you need to read the information on the tag from the grower. The tag contains information about the select variety you choose, the area where the tomato grows best, and the disease resistance of the variety you have chosen. Look for the letters V.F.M. on your tag. These letters stand for Virus, Fusarium, and Mosaic resistant varieties. Choose these varieties when possible to lessen the chance of problems down the road. Also, you may want to purchase Determinate tomatoes which means their height is set at three to four feet tall. Indeterminate tomatoes may grow several feet high and outgrow many grow boxes without support, so choose wisely.     

            If you like root vegetables I suggest Beets, Carrots, Potatoes, Radishes, and Turnips.  Depending on the size of the garden, Beets can be planted in one row with spacing of about four inches between planting holes. If you have a larger garden you can plant two rows. Do not plant your beets to deep as you only need about one half to one inch of depth if you are planting from seed. If you are planting starter plants then you should increase the distance between plants to about five inches apart. Look for seed varieties such as Early Wonder if you want a nice crop.  

            Carrots are one crop that I believe are underused in the garden. With so many varieties to choose from and since carrots require little care; you can be the carrot king of your block. Sow seeds in at least three or four rows (I like lots of carrots) and plant your seeds at least one half inch deep with about two inches between the planting holes. I like the tapered variety Orlando Gold or Gold Pak. If you want a rounded variety try the Kundulus. If you want to make your rows interesting and you want color in your garden, you may want to inter-mingle radishes in every fourth of fifth planting hole. Radishes mature much earlier than the carrots and once the radishes are harvested your carrots will have plenty of time to continue growing. Look for radish varieties like Cherry Red, Early Scarlet, or White Icicle.

            Make sure you have at least twelve inches between the rows of your carrots/radishes and if you feel you want more carrots, sow a second crop in about four to five weeks. Plant the second crop in the area your radishes were as they will have matured by now. Keep carrots and radishes moist and do not forget to fertilize them with a light application of an 8-10-10 fertilizer every three to four weeks. Radishes mature in about thirty days and Carrots mature in about seventy-five days.

            Potatoes need a larger area to produce their tubers but you will appreciate the effort you put into them with the bounty of the harvest. Because I just wrote a complete article on planting potatoes several weeks ago I do not want to waste this space describing to you how to plant them however if you need this information just send me an e-mail to mark@abc-pestcontrol.com and I will send you the article electronically.

            Turnips are an easy plant to grow and both the tops and the roots can be used in the kitchen. Plant your turnips from seed and make the planting holes between one half to one inch deep. Leave at least two inches between planting holes. As the young plants germinate you will need to thin the crop keeping the strongest seedlings on four inch spacing. In about four to five weeks you should be able to start using the fresh tops in the kitchen. I usually wait until they are at least four to six inches long before I cut them off. Watch out for cutworms which feed on the new growth and if necessary spray them with Dipel or Thuricide. Look for varieties such as Purple Top or Just Right as these varieties allow both the tops and the roots for harvest. You can expect to wait at least fifty days to harvest the root sections. Those turnip roots not harvested by then may crack or have too strong a flavor.

            In the landscape there are several things you should be doing for your plants and a few things you should not be doing. September is too late to trim your azaleas. If you trim your Azaleas now you will sacrifice the blooms come springtime. Azaleas set their blooms during the fall so no trimming is necessary. The best time to trim your azaleas’ is right after the bloom cycle in the spring. Check your azaleas for lace bugs which feed on the underneath side of the leaves. Look for dark spots on the lower leaf surface and if you find these you will need to spray your plants with Talstar. Be sure to spray both sides of the leaves for proper control of this pest.

            If you are a poinsettia grower you have until the fifteenth of this month to do your last pruning of the season. Poinsettias get leggy during the summer months and need to be pruned to allow the plant to branch out. Never cut more than one third of the plant at any one time. After trimming the plant back, be sure to feed your plants with a fertilizer containing magnesium as deficiencies of this element cause the leaves to turn yellow. A light application every six weeks will keep your plants looking good.

            I hope you enjoyed this section on Fall Vegetable Gardening and look forward to my next article on Leafy Vegetables for the garden. Thank you for your support and remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here!

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