Harvesting rain water: nature’s bounty
July 17, 2020
53 inches! 53 inches of rain on average per year in Lee County! According to the Lee County rain gauge data, June is typically the wettest month, averaging about 9 inches of rain, while August is the rainiest month with approximately 17 rain days. As gardeners, we often wish we could reserve some of that rainfall for the very hot, dry days throughout the year. We may not be able to control nature, but we can nurture our gardens with harvested rain water, collected and saved during rainy season.
Many gardeners are fortunate to have rain barrels for this purpose. Rain barrels are a low-cost way to collect rain water from our rooftops and store it for hand watering or drip irrigation on dry days. One inch of rain from a small 1,000-square-foot roof can deliver over 500 gallons of water. Although this water is not filtered or treated to use for drinking or cooking, it is acceptable for watering indoor and outdoor plants. In fact, scientists from Washington State, New Jersey and Australia have studied rooftop run-off for pollutants and have found that the water is "surprisingly clean" and safe for watering edibles especially when the water is directed to the soil first. However, they recommended that rain water from treated wood-shake roofs, copper roofs, zinc roofs or roofs treated with toxic chemicals not be used for watering edibles.
That being said, rain barrels offer several benefits to the home gardener. First, if reclaimed city water is not accessible to you, having a rain barrel will save you money on your water bill. Second, you can water from your rain barrel as you need to without worrying about irrigation schedules and restrictions. Third, plants prefer rain water since tap water contains chlorine, fluorides and salt. All of which can stunt the growth of your plants. As an aside, if you must use tap water, fill your buckets and let them sit out for 24 hours so the chlorine and fluoride can dissipate.
Harvested rainwater can also be used to fill ponds and bird feeders, creating a freshwater oasis for migrating birds, butterflies and wildlife. In addition, rain barrel collection systems have an overflow feature that can direct excessive water to your garden or, better yet, a rain garden. This feature will help to "slow the flow" of stormwater runoff, thereby protecting our groundwater from the pollutants that are washed off our landscapes into our nearby waterways.
Some tips: Plan the placement of your rain barrel near a downspout in an area accessible to your garden. Use a tight-fitting lid and downspout to keep mosquitoes out of your barrel or add about 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil to the barrel creating a surface area that keeps mosquitoes from laying eggs there. Although not required, you can paint your rain barrel. You can keep it simple and paint it to match your home or you can be creative and add an artistic touch.
Rain barrels are available locally and online. For specific details and more tips, you can join the next rain barrel workshop hosted by Cape Coral Parks and Recreation in conjunction with the Lee County Master Gardeners. This virtual workshop is scheduled for July 25 at 10 a.m. Registration is $45 and includes a completely assembled rain barrel that can be picked up at Rotary Park in Cape Coral. To register, please call the Rotary Park office at 239-549-4606.
Happy Gardening & Stay Florida Friendly!
Deborah Haggett is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral and a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer.
You’re not in Kansas anymore!
July 10, 2020
Southwest Florida is a rapidly growing region of our wonderful state, and it is estimated that 6 out of 10 new Florida residents move here from other states. The Cape Coral/Fort Myers Metro Area has the fifth highest growth rate in the nation according to Census figures, so we are welcoming many new residents from outside Florida every day. The physical beauty of our area is no doubt one of the major factors influencing people to relocate here, but it can be challenging to adapt our former gardening practices to the requirements of a year-round growing season in our subtropical paradise!
While many residents may long for the evergreens, spring bulbs and wildflowers they enjoyed in their previous homes, I invite you to experience the abundance of subtropical plants and native species that will flourish here in Southwest Florida. It is not difficult to create a beautiful landscape that doesn't require a great deal of maintenance if you just consider the governing principles of successful gardening in our unique climate.
In Florida your garden can experience vastly different conditions depending on the season. Florida is not called "The Sunshine State" purely for marketing purposes -- most of our days are bright and sunny. As the angle of the sun changes, areas that are shaded in winter can be in full sun during the summer months. The seasonality of our rainfall can also affect your landscape; the drier winter months give way to abundant rain in the summer that can cause soggy areas. And our soils are sandy, which allows rapid drainage during summer rains but also discourages water retention in the winter months. Because sandy soils also dissipate nutrients more readily, fertilizer requirements may be different.
So how can you best adapt to the new Florida environment that you may feel is so alien to your previous gardening endeavors? The most important consideration for gardening anywhere is to select the right plant for the right place. Observe your garden at different times of the day throughout the year to determine which areas are shaded and which receive more sun. Since some areas may be in full sun in the summer and more shaded in the winter, look for plants that will tolerate a sun/shade mix. Your local garden center can help you identify these plants. If your sandy soil dries out quickly and produces plants that appear below par, your best option is to add organic matter, such as compost, to the soil. Compost not only helps retain moisture, but it also promotes the retention of nutrients and encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms that are vital to your plants' health. Mulch is also an easy way to help cool the soil, preserve moisture and prevent weeds and it makes your garden beds more attractive.
One of the best ways to learn more about gardening in Southwest Florida is to visit the University of Florida IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) Extension Website at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu. You'll find a wealth of resources here, including various lawn and garden topics, handbooks and FAQs. Extensive gardening information for Lee County can be found at: sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lee/?topic=home-landscapes
Compared to your previous home, the Southwest Florida environment may seem quite different and challenging, but don't be afraid to experiment with the beautiful exotic plants that thrive here. Rather than wishing for the familiar plants you grew before, you can cultivate an exciting landscape that has a "sense of place." After all, the graceful palms and vibrant tropical flowers that grace our area surely influenced your decision to make Southwest Florida your new home. Reflect your joy at being in Southwest Florida in your garden!
Cathy Dunn is a Florida Master Gardener and Garden Club of Cape Coral member.
Right Plant, Right Place
May 22, 2020
Right Plant, Right Place is the first of 9 principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping. In the past my standard approach to both plant selection and location went something like this. First -- a plant catches my fancy. Second -- I purchase said plant, taking only a cursory glance at important information specific to it. Third, I place said plant in the ground without considering whether the location will be ideal over time. Fourth, I tend to the plant and keep my fingers crossed, hoping for a positive outcome.
As you might imagine, this particular approach proved less than optimal. By putting the cart before the horse, oftentimes the location did not match the plant's requirements, causing stress to the plant and more work for me as I attempted to "fix" problems as they arose. Lesson learned? Before jumping to purchase, upfront planning is key, with one important element being to get the "lay of the land." By doing so, we can save time and effort going forward and have a better chance that plants will not only survive but thrive with proper care.
During the planning process, begin by taking a stroll around your property. As you explore, consider the movement of the sun over the course of the day. Which areas enjoy morning sun and which areas experience full sun most of the day? Where is shade most prevalent? The seasons also play a role. A plant that appreciates one locale in the winter sun may find the sun too brutal during the summer in the same location. For those plants, placing them in movable containers may be a viable option, giving you the ability to relocate the plant as the seasons dictate.
Soil composition, pH and moisture are other important considerations. If you live in a residential area, chances are the soil is mostly sand and fill and the pH measures alkaline rather than neutral or acidic. To determine actual pH, the best approach would be to gather soil samples from different areas around the property and get a free soil test done at the Lee County Extension Office.
With results in hand you can then make informed decisions moving forward. Keep in mind that trying to "fix" the soil by adding supplements to either raise or lower pH to accommodate a poorly placed plant can be time consuming and costly. Soil amendments are normally only temporary remedies and re-applications are often needed, especially when attempting to acidify soil. Better to select pH suitable plants at the outset.
Does the soil hold moisture or is it well-draining? Because water is such a precious and valued resource, consider current conditions and how best to conserve water within the landscape moving forward. Some plants and turf especially crave water and suffer when it is lacking, while many native plants and some non-natives are drought tolerant once established.
What has been presented here is just the tip of the gardening adventure. To view more detail regarding Right Plant, Right Place and the remaining Nine Principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/materials/FYN_Handbook_2015_web.pdf. "The Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook" is a great resource document.
Janetta Fox is a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.