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John   Gardener's Journal title graphic

October 2004

October Fence Garden
The Fence Garden was an overgrown mess but I cleaned it up in October. It looks much better and even has a few things blooming - like the hurricane lilies (Lycoris radiata) which must be delicious because the rabbit eats them the moment they open.
Spring Fence Garden
Here's the same area as it was on March 21, the first day of spring 2004. The high rainfalls from last summer's storms caused a noticeable growth spurt in most of the woody plants around here.

We enjoyed an outstanding October here in Florida's Big Bend. It was bright and sunny and breezy and dry and I would have spent much more time outdoors except for one thing - actually many things called no see'ums. These are tiny, almost invisible flying insects with a huge appetite for human blood and they are October's nano-vampires. Their tiny dull teeth really hurt when they gnaw into your skin and would best be called no see'em but sure feel'ems. Usually I dread the arrival of the first frost of the season but this year it won't be as bad because I'll gleefully be celebrating that the no see'ems ceased being.

October's best treats are the Japanese persimmons (Diospyros kaki) that ripen at this time of year. Most of mine were knocked down by the summer's storms but about a dozen made it to almost ripeness - at which point the squirrels stole all but one which I got to taste. It was deliciously sweet and tangy and made me resent squirrels even more.

The Japanese persimmon becomes more popular each year because it's easy to grow, beautiful and produces lots of tasty fruit without a lot of spraying and fuss. I like that it's getting easier to find someone who is happy to share with you when a treeful ripens at once. If you live in USDA Zones 7-9 it's possible that someone might give you a big bag of persimmons which you might be tempted to eat all at once which you shouldn't do because it leads to extreme bathroom experiences that are best avoided though almost worth it...

tree frog inside a bromeliad
The snakes have eaten all of the green tree frogs around here but this one who's hiding out in a bromeliad over by the dog kennel. Smart frog. Stupid snakes.

Wildlife
Maybe is was the blood thirsty no see'ums (joined by 3 or four advanced races of mosquito) that drove the wildlife wild here in October. Mathilda the Great Dane came into season again which is kind of trampy for an old lady like her. Therefore Bubba the studly young male spent the month longing for his lady love and acting the fool (he has to have his hips tested before he can "date" but besides, Mathilda is too old anyway). So all month Bubba is whimpering and moaning from love unfulfilled while outside the squirrels are noisily chasing each other around in fits of what I thought was romance and passion. Later I noticed a quantity of the half eaten mushrooms and puffballs laying around so it's more likely that they were freaking out on drugs (just like last year at this time). I saw one jump from the ground to a nearby tree trunk - and completely miss - as if the tree jumped out of his way! I taunted, scoffed and laughed "Ha Ha" out loud as the stunned squirrel stonily scampered into the shrubs. This explains a lot: squirrels got high, got the munchies, got all my persimmons on which they pigged out and hopefully got diarrhea as punishment for their selfish indulgence (or maybe even got killed because some of those mushrooms gotta be poisonous...)

Around mid-month I took a break from the computer and ventured out for a little gardening. Late in the afternoon after the 7th or 8th espresso of the day I often imagine myself as a bionic WeedWaster 2100 android programmed to destroy unwanted plant life, ripping it asunder with relentless force and mindless determination. Square foot by square foot of real estate undesirable plant growth falls before the might of WeedWaster 2100's - GRRRRRRRR.

That particular day though the weed wasting came to a sudden and tragic end when the WW 2100 was brought to his knees after ripping asunder weeds from a fire ant nest. Dozens of these evil creatures swarmed onto bare leg flesh. A battle ensued with cursing and swatting that was quickly followed by pain, inflammation and dozens of angry red pustules.

Later in the month the WW2100 staged a revenge attack on the ant stronghold with an Aquavenger XL7 (hose) that proved too much for the little devils and they abandoned their camp. Victory achieved, the weed wasting will continue next month!

Here are some useful tips on fire ant bites: 1) don't get them; 2) if you do, apply antibiotic cream (with topical pain reliever) immediately; 3) pop the pustules as they appear and apply more antibiotic cream (I waited more than 2 weeks for them to go away on their own - they don't - gotta pop'em); 4) the hideous wounds take a long time to disappear - cancel all dates for the next 4 weeks and apply antibiotic cream until the lesions disappear.

The WW2100 is lucky to have only a painful leg after the attack - fire ant bites can cause allergic reactions in some humans. Young children have died from fire ant bites. Use commercial fire ant baits to keep play areas free of these nasty creatures. You may also want to keep a product especially designed for fire ant bites in your First Aid Kit for such emergencies.

The Hill side
This is the front side of The Hill looking toward the top. Those little things planted in the foreground are baby Euro (Chamaerops humilis) palm seedlings. To the left is a Butia yatay palm which is a look-alike cousin of the pindo palm (Butia capitata). Up the hill behind these are several Puerto Rican hat palms (Sabal causiarum).
Projects
Throughout October I braved the no see'ems for short periods to run outside, quickly pot up a couple California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera) or podocarpus (Podocarpus macrophylla) seedlings and then dash back indoors to wait while the bug bite swelling subsided. I discovered that there's fewer insects out at night this time of year and that it's really nice to work in the garden when there's a full moon illuminating your way around snakes and other nocturnal hazards (like fire ants). So under the moonlight I cleaned up most of the Fence Garden and much of the Compost Garden. I also planted about a dozen Sabal mexicana palm seedlings and a few more European fan palm seedlings out in the front field as well. I plan to use next month's full moon to rake piles and piles of leaves and pine needles so I can mulch these nice neat beds and baby palms before the winter weeds appear.

Fall is a great time to propagate many woody stemmed species so I've been spending some of my moonlight garden time making new plants for next year's planting projects. I'm making a grove of China firs (Cunninghamia lanceolata) so I wanted to get a another dozen of them started. I removed suckers from the base of the trees, dipped the ends in rooting hormone powder and stuck them into regular potting soil where most of these should root without much effort. The China fir is very easy to propagate this way and fast growing once established.

rooting plant cuttings
The two bluish China firs in the foreground were rooted last year and have just been repotted, behind them are rooted sections of pipestem (Agarista populifolia) and firebush (Hamelia patens).
There's two really pretty azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) out front that I want more of - one is the white ('Mrs. G.G. Gerbing') and the other dark red ('Red Formosa'). Azaleas tend to layer (make a root where a branch touches the soil) so they are very easy to propagate. Just rummage around in the mulch at the base of the shrubs and locate a rooted stem by gently tugging until you feel resistance. Cut the stem with a shears and then loosen the surrounding soil with a shovel. Use your hand to gently tease the layer out of the ground. Put them up in potting soil and keep moist and out of direct sunlight for a month or so. By next spring they'll be ready to plant out in the landscape and by then they may even have a few flowers . If you find layers that are already well rooted these can be transplanted directly into the landscape provided they are kept well watered and mulched for the next several months.

field flower
This delicate little flower grows out in the front field - I haven't been able to identify it yet so please write me if you know this little beauty). Click here for a large version (800x600).
Liatris
One of my favorite field flowers is the native gayfeather (Liatris) Click here for a large version (800x600).
A couple years ago I dug up and moved a crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). Small plants grew in a circle around where the tree once stood as each piece of cut root sprouted a new stem. Last year I potted up a bunch of them and in the spring they were transplanted out into the yard. Incredibly by mid-summer they were 3 ft high and blooming! More baby crapemyrtles have sprung up from the roots so maybe I'll dig more up and make a grove of these too - they should look spectacular next to the blue China firs!

Next month I'm going to propagate some dwarf gardenia (Gardenia spp.), dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) the same way. I'm planning on propagating a couple dozen blueberry shrubs too (Vaccinium ashei, Vaccinium elliottii). I'm going to plant them out in the front field to create a blueberry bird buffet - maybe with so many blueberry bushes there might be some left for me!

The best project of the month was planting spring bulbs and wildflower seeds (I got them from our sponsor AmericanMeadows.com - hope you get some too!). I planted a wildflower bulb collection just out front of my office window where I'll be able to see them be spectacular by late winter or early spring.

salvias
Next to the deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) on the right this colorfully low maintenance patch of 'Indigo Spires in front, with rosebud salvia and white butterfly lily (Hedychium coronarium) in back. Click here for a large version (800x600).
Salvia perberula
This is my first year for growing the rosebud salvia (Salvia perberula). It blooms in fall and is easy and carefree like many of its salvia relatives. Click here for a large version (800x600).
coralvine
Coralvine(Antigonon leptopus) is a tropical plant that is root hardy here in Zone 8 where it blooms in the fall. I don't grow it because it's too rowdy but it sure is pretty! Click here for a large version (800x600).
Confederate rose
One of fall's flashiest flowers is the Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) Click here for a large version (800x600).
muhlygrass seedhead
Purple muhlygrass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a delightful native of the southeastern United States. It's drought tolerant, beautiful and highly recommended. Click here for a large version (800x600).
In Bloom
My garden beds may not look so great but there are a lot of pretty things to see in the field out front. This area is mowed only once or twice a year. It is a rough combination of wiregrass, bahia grass, prickly pear and all sorts of native flowers that I'm just now beginning to learn.

I've been photographing them for a while and have identified a few of them. But there's such a huge diversity of species here that just studying these could keep me busy (and confused) for years.

Besides the lower temperatures and humidity and lack of hurricanes, another nice thing about October here is the fragrance - the place is awash is agreeable smells. Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac), downy jasmine (J. multiflorum) and angelwing jasmine (J. nitidum) are all blooming now at the end of October. We should get to enjoy them for a few weeks more before they get killed back by the inevitable freeze. The tea olive's (Osmanthus fragrans) tiny white flowers contribute a fresh fruity fragrance. There are several trees blooming around the place now. Out front is a strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) a beautiful small tree that produces fragrant flowers throughout the winter here in Zone 8. The handsome evergreen loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are also blooming except for one that suddenly died early in the month (perhaps from bacterial fireblight transmitted by chewing beetle - bummer).

Although a couple of sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) varieties began blooming in late August, it is in October when they really steal the show which the later blooming varieties will continue into January as they are succeeded by their larger cousins, the japonica camellias (Camellia japonica). There's red and pink and rose sasanquas but my favorite is the snow white 'Mini-no-yuki'. I planted a dozen or so around the place about 10 years ago. They're slow growers and are just now getting some size on them - along with tons of blossoms! The azaleas that were crowding them were pruned back and now that they have room to stretch, my 'Minis' can only grow more spectacular.

Up on The Hill all of the plants that I mentioned last month are still going strong and should continue flowering until First Frost including the angel trumpet (Brugmansia suaveolens ) blue glorybower (Clerodendrum ugandense) and Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus). The scrambling sky flower (Thunbergia battiscombei) is still blooming and looks especially cool next to the mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) whose fuzzy purplish flowers appeared early in the month.

October skies here are brilliantly blue and the many yellow flowers in bloom look their best when posing in front of it. The sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), yellow and orange Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundiflora) were joined this month by the fabulous forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis)contributing yet another shade of yellow to the scene. This salvia is a large attractive plant that grows to 6 ft tall and forms large sprawling clumps. It has big beautiful leaves and interesting square stems that are often tinged with red or maroon and is pretty even when not in bloom. Most of the other sages (plants in the genus Salvia) are still cranking out flowers and most have been all summer - this is one of many reasons we love these easy to grow species as do the butterflies and hummingbirds!

Jack's side yard
I enjoy October's beautiful weather with a 20 minute nap in the lawnchair which is about how long the lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) oil on my skin will repel the noxious no see'ums (but OUCH! - it stings on ant bites!).
Lawnchair
No see'ums or not October was pretty good month. I updated more than a dozen Plant Profiles (more than 650 since September 9 of last year) and worked on the design for Floridata 2.0. I spent hours downloading, installing and configuring new software. Then more hours were burned making everything play nicely with the anti-virus and firewall software. Now at last everything is in place and I can spend November programming. It's been several years since I did much technical work so everything is new and fun for now and I'm aglow with nerdular delight.

Since we came online 8 years ago I've kept a list of suggestions from visitors for improving Floridata which I'm now using as the new Floridata is built. If you have a suggestion or idea please Write Us (send your suggestions for plants to Profile too). I hope you'll return for next month's Gardener's Journal when I'll write about some exciting changes coming to Floridata in the coming months.

Thanks for your visits, clicks and business. Please tell your friends about us and be good and grow! - Jack

11/12/04



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