December generally brings much cooler and drier conditions to Central Florida gardens. Due to lower water requirements by plants, automatic irrigation systems can generally be shut off and only used during extended dry spells. This will also help harden off your plants and make them more tolerant of any freezes we may have later on in the season.
Be prepared to protect tender tropicals from frost at any time. Weather forecasts often change at the last minute, or may be off by several degrees.
Plant new trees and shrubs now, which are easier to establish in cooler weather. By spring they’ll have well-developed root systems, enabling them to put out lush new growth and survive the summer heat.
Alyssum, calendula, dianthus, petunias, pansies and snapdragons will add plenty of color to otherwise drab landscapes during the winter months. The earlier you get them planted, the longer you’ll be able to enjoy their color as they’ll fade out quickly when the weather warms again in the spring.
Now is an excellent time to start an herb garden because many types thrive in the cooler winter months. Cilantro, dill, fennel, garlic, Greek oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme and sage are some that are easy to grow and are cold-hardy.
In the vegetable garden, the harvest of warm-season vegetables comes to an end, but an enormous bounty of cool weather crops is just around the corner. If you got some of these in the ground early, you’re no doubt already enjoying the delicious flavors of winter. If not, here are some vegetables to plant now: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions, English peas, radish and turnips.
Now is the time to dig up many of your perennial root vegetables, like sunchokes, arrowroot, yuca, winged yams, taro, yacon, turmeric, and ginger. Use these in your favorite recipes in the coming weeks. Pick your maturing chayote and dried luffas. Fruits ready for harvest this month include banana, carambola, glycosmis, kumquats, papaya, and endless varieties of citrus. If you don’t grow these yourself, visit a local farmers market and pick up some freshly-harvested seasonal fruits and vegetables. The flavor will be far superior than anything you’ll find in the grocery store.
As you travel around Central Florida this month, the spicy fragrance of blooming loquats is filling the air. There are also some spectacular landscape plants putting on a show. Some of the best color right now can be seen on callicarpa, cassia, clerodendrum, hibiscus species, jatropha, malvaviscus and odontonema. Click on the links for profiles and photos.
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