A Gardener’s Guide to Navigating Florida’s Rainy Season

Florida’s subtropical climate gifts the sunshine state with two distinct seasons, the “dry season” and “rainy season.” And gardening – along with most outdoor activities, can be challenging during both. According to The National Weather Service, the rainy season officially runs from May 15th through September October 15th though it’s start can vary year to year. Unless current moderate to severe drought conditions continue, the rainy frequent showers and thunderstorms should ramp up anytime now. The warm and humid conditions definitely have! Let’s take a look at how to navigate the coming months.

Local Fertilizer Bans

First and foremost, don’t forget about local fertilizer ordinances. Sarasota County bans the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus between June 1st and September 30th. Check your locality for any variations that may apply to your property. These bans are in place to protect streams, rivers and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico from chemical runoff. Instead, opt for adding soil amendments, iron-rich supplements and compost. No one likes algae blooms!

Choosing Heat-Tolerant Plants

Ideally when first planting your gardens and flowerbeds, you chose plants suitable to Florida’s climate. And by now, the root systems should be established and capable of withstanding the coming wet and humid conditions. Plants such as Lantana, Colocasia, Amaryllis, Gardenias and Coleus are ideal for our subtropical conditions. Others include Orchids, Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Plumeria and the Bird of Paradise. If you have not yet planted, University of Florida’s Extension identifies the following as suitable for June planting:

Full Sun Partial Sun
Amaranthus, Balsam, Begonia (Wax), Celosia, Crossandra, Gaillardia, Gazania, Gomphrena, Marigold, Melampodium, Milkweed, Moss Rose, Pentas, Periwinkle, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Sunflower, Torenia, Tropical Sage & Zinnia Amaranthus, Balsam, Begonia (Wax), Celosia, Crossandra, Gaillardia, Gazania, Gomphrena, Marigold, Melampodium, Milkweed, New Guinea, Impatiens, Pentas, Periwinkle, Salvia, Torenia, Tropical Sage & Zinnia

 

Prepare for Storms, Wind and Heavy Rains

Florida’s hurricane season arrives along with the rainy season. Accordingly, you’ll want to prevent your gardens and flower beds from providing debris to add further property damage. Make sure all trees are regularly pruned and dead branches are removed. Stake or otherwise support younger trees and taller plants. Remove any plants or trees that display weakened or dying roots. Turn off your irrigation system. And of course, move hanging baskets, trellises, wind chimes and other garden décor to a secure location.

Too Much Rain

Having too much rain can be as devastating to your lawn, garden and flower beds as can drought. Florida’s monsoonal rains can wash away mulch, soil and even the plant itself. Your plants’ roots serve as a highway for minerals, nutrients and water being absorbed from the soil. Excessive rain not only submerges the roots in water, it can also compact the soil. Both scenarios interrupt absorption and can quickly starve the plant of needed nutrients. Weakened or strained plants often cannot withstand the coming heat, humidity and additional rainfall.

Here come the Fungi!

While some beneficial fungi are present in the soil, excessive rain brings with it the risk of fungal and bacterial infections throughout your garden & flower beds. Be on the lookout for wilting and leaf spots & discoloration. It’s important to be diligent in your search, as often such infections can be discrete until significant damage has been done. 

  • You may find a powder-like mildew on the leaves of your vegetables, trees and ornamentals (Powdery Mildew)
  • Leaf Spot shows as flat or raised spots on leaves (white with a yellow or brown border)
  • Rust Disease (orange- and yellow-colored spots) will weaken the plant’s ability to utilize nutrients (though not directly kill it). Variations can also affect grass and trees.
  • Root Rot attacks roots and causes them to darken and become mushy, resulting in yellowing and wilting leaves and eventual plant and tree death.

We recommend that you photograph your affected plants and visit your local garden center to ensure proper identification. Likewise, your garden experts can then help you determine the appropriate action to take. Depending on the severity, a homemade treatment or stronger fungicide will be recommended.

Lawn Considerations

Your lawn is equally susceptible to fungal infections. Brown Patch begins as an irregular circle and quickly spreads throughout the lawn. To prevent Brown Patch, allow your lawn to grow slightly longer during the rainy season, aerate the soil and don’t allow grass clippings to lay atop the lawn. While it may be difficult, mow your grass when dry (i.e., early morning or late afternoon). Note that mowing through Brown Patch can spread the fungus to unaffected areas. Fungicides are available to treat Brown Patch, as it will typically not go away without treatment.

Wet and/or waterlogged lawns are also susceptible to mushroom-like growths and slime molds. We suggest you remove them as some growths may be poisonous to pets or young children and both detract from your lawn’s appearance.

Growing Vegetables During the Rainy Season

Just like with flowers, there are many vegetables that grow well and actually thrive during the rainy season. Peppers, Sweet Potatoes, Cherry & Grape Tomatoes and the southerner’s favorite, Okra, all enable you to be a year-round gardener. Additional vegetables to consider include Pumpkins, Pigeon Peas, Chinese Yams, Chayote, Boniato and Calabaza. Some gardeners also grow Guava, Hot Peppers and Eggplants.

Beware of vegetable garden pests

Stinkbugs, Hornworms, Aphids, Cabbage Beetles and Armyworms will find your vegetable garden to be nature’s smorgasbord. Likewise, be on watch for Leaf Miners, Thrips and Whiteflies. And like your flower beds and lawn, fungi can also infect your vegetable plants.

Regularly walk your garden to monitor for any of these pests and/or diseases. Signs may include damaged leaves and eggs attached to the underside of leaves. You’ll need to address any concerns quickly and regularly or risk the spread throughout your garden. Well-fed and watered plants provide for the best protection against these pests. However, natural insecticides like Neem oil or commercial insecticides or fungicides may be needed. Photograph your findings and share with your garden center expert for proper treatment options.

Consider a Rain Garden

Low-lying areas lend themselves to “Rain Garden” development. These small, short-term water retention gardens often attract wildlife, birds, butterflies and desirable insects such as bees. At the same time, the rain garden drains away otherwise standing water that could have been a mosquito breeding ground.

Ideal plants for your rain garden include Fakahatchee (Gamma) Grass, Bee Balm, Leather Fern Iris and Palmettos, all native to Florida. Likewise, Buttonbrush and Wax Myrtle contribute beautifully, as do the flowering Blue Flag Iris, Spider Lily Goldenrod and Milkweed.

Let’s Get Gardening!

There’s no reason to let the rainy season prevent you from enjoying your garden and flower beds. Stay hydrated, protect exposed skin from UV exposure and take regular breaks. Make the most of this rainy season!


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