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Gardening From Florida

...Holidays Don't Have to be a Chore
by Teresa Watkins
by Teresa Watkins

Teresa Watkins, University of Florida's Florida Yards & Neighborhoods multi-county program coordinator is a recognized leader on xeriscape principles and creating 'environmentally-friendly' landscapes.

An award-winning radio and TV host of a variety of gardening shows in Central Florida, Teresa recently designed the landscaping of the 'first energy and environmentally efficient' home in the state of Florida to be certified as a 'green home' by the Florida Green Building Coalition and Florida Solar Energy Center. Currently, she hosts a weekly radio show, 'In My Backyard' on WLBE 790 AM, sponsored by the Lake County Water Authority, that features environmental issues and landscaping advice on for backyards.

When not digging in someone else's backyard, you can find Teresa digging in her own garden, looking for slugs and lubber grasshoppers --- creatures, that she adamantly swears, do not have souls --- aided in that effort by Sheila, her loyal Scottish terrier and legendary lubber killer.

December 16, 2007

Looking over my front garden after a day of pulling the last of the summer weeds,

I’m starting to stress about family and friends arriving for a delicious meal for the holidays. Isn’t that the underlying theme to holidays? Stress?

Stressing about preparing a meal for a group of ten or more?


Stressing about a spick-and-span, scrubbed house before company arrives and cleaning up the mess after everyone leaves?


Stressing about keeping children entertained and making sure there’s something on the menu that will appeal to them while making sure there’s enough to satisfy everyone’s appetite yet not have so many leftovers that will cram the refrigerator until New Year’s?


I am stressed about my landscape. All gardeners worry about how their yards look to other gardeners. I had a new Master Gardener in my office last week that was worried that everyone would look at her yard because of her new certification and it wasn’t up to her level of expectations. I had to laugh out of empathy. Then I tried to ease her mind by letting her know that the “cobblers’ children never have shoes” and so it is with most gardeners. Gardeners will play in their garden whenever they have a spare moment (and many times even when they don’t), but gardeners are truly generous and help those who are not blessed with green thumbs have better yards. Unfortunately, we do that to the extent that we don’t have time to work in our own. So stressing out about our landscapes for the holidays, especially when company is coming, is predictable but not good for your soul. The holiday season is when we gardeners can show off our green thumbwork for the last year. Holidays are for enjoying family and friends and no stressing!

The good news is that by living in Florida in the wintertime, we get to listen to the sleigh bells ringing but don’t have the glistening snow to shovel. So, unlike our northern friends, we do have a few chores to do, but it’s a wonderful time of year to be out in the yard, heralding in the next six months of the most beautiful weather in the world.

To help ease your stress, let me give you a few “don’ts” that are time-consuming, not effective, and costly.

  1. No need to worry about fertilizing your lawns this late in the year in the northern panhandle of Florida or Central Florida. Ideally, lawns should be fertilized no later than October to give them adequate growing temperatures to absorb the nutrients. If you haven’t fertilized, then an application of potash or low-nitrogen winterizer will be adequate to help your grass winter over. Tropical Zones 10 and 11 can fertilize if you really are bound and determined, but ideally lawns can wait until late February and March for fertilizing.

  2. No need to prune any shrubs or hedges! My daughter called this week asking to borrow hedge clippers and an edger, but pruning your hedges now would not give any new growth stimulated by the cutting a chance to harden before any unexpected freezes that may happen. Save your pruning for the end of February.

  3. Don’t use plastic, shower curtains, or heavy quilts on your plants to protect them from freezing. These items can cause more frost damage and are more timeconsuming taking them on and off each morning and night.

  4. Don’t use irrigation to protect your landscape before a freeze. It’s a waste of good water and it can cause more freeze burn of your landscape. Quick thawing of plants in the Florida sunlight can hurt plants more than the actual frost temperatures.

  5. Don’t point out any gardening mistakes to your guests; accept their compliments on your yard graciously. You’ve worked hard enough for it – and they probably won’t notice what you think are garden faux pas.

Not having to worry about those chores will help tremendously and allow you more time for necessary holiday preparations.

Now for a few “do’s” that will put festive touches and protect your landscape this winter. (Yes, in Florida, we do have winter.)

  1. As soon as possible, if you don’t already have some, purchase frost-blankets to protect your tropical plants from freezing. Frost blankets are light-weight, airy, polyester fabrics that allows sunlight and water to penetrate but keeps the temperatures around your plants 2 to 3 degrees warmer, which could mean life or death for cold-sensitive tropicals. Frost blankets, which is very inexpensive can be left on your shrubs and flowers for days without damaging the plants, saving you from going out and taking it off and on every day. After winter, fold and put away for next year’s winter. Purchase frost blankets now ahead of any foreboding freezes and you will find ample supply on the garden center shelves. If you wait until the freeze is forecasted on the nightly news, you may be left out in the cold looking for it.

  2. Transplanting any overgrown, misplaced trees and shrubs from one location to a better location is a timely fall/winter chore for Floridians. No need for fertilizing, overwatering, and less shock on the plant. Transplant only when there is little chance for extreme temperature changes within two weeks, now through mid- December should be fine for north and central Florida.

  3. Add any new ornamental spring blooming plants to your yard now. Getting them in the ground will allow them to establish nicely before their spring bloom is the optimum.

  4. Save money for more Christmas and Hanukah presents by reducing your water bill and cutting back on your irrigation. When temperatures average 70 degrees, watering once a week is fine for St. Augustine. When temperatures dip to the 50’s, it is necessary only to irrigate your lawn once every ten to fourteen days.

  5. Add color to your front entrance with one or more containers full of colorful annuals, like pansies, poinsettias, chrysanthemums, and gloxinias. Mix a medium height cedar or juniper, trailing ivy; add red and green ribbons, tinsel, and you’re all set for a party. A few selected winter garden pots by your front door, gate, or patio area can cheerfully greet your guests before they knock on your door, adding holiday ambiance with minimal pocketbook outlay. With less work in your yard, you will have less stress on your pocketbook, your muscles and your nerves. Having your family, friends, surround you with good memories of your holiday time together in your garden will keep you warm all winter long. I always say “In Florida, it can get as cold as Mother Nature wants, as long as the sun shines.” Send a postcard to your snowbirds and let them know how relaxing it is to enjoy a Florida winter.


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