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...
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.
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.
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.
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!
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