By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
The arrival of chilly temperatures have, no doubt, proven the winter of 2016/17 is in progress. The cold days and freezing nights have taken a toll on power bills, auto batteries, and the mosquitoes.
Still, there is an indication that spring will soon be coming. The most tangible evidence is arriving in Leon County mailboxes almost daily.
Garden catalogs from every part of the nation are finding their way into many area homes. Their pages promise the buyer the potential for legendary success and the envy of their friends and neighbors.
After all, who can resist the full-color beauty of giant flowers or large luscious fruit and vegetables, which are sure to win a prize at the fair? There is not a runt, reject, or cull in all the pages of these publications, offering the mortal version of horticultural heaven.
Before ordering, the would-be gardener should consider several factors to increase the likelihood of a positive gardening experience. A failure will waste not only funds, but also much time and hard work and may introduce a long term problem or two.
Cultivar selection for a tree, shrub, vegetable or fruit is critically important to producing the desired results. While a specific plant cultivar may grow and produce in one environment, it may not do so in all situations. A common example of this problem is grape vines offered. Only muscadine grapes will grow and produce locally because Pierce’s disease kills other varieties.
Carefully examine the growing zones recommended by the catalog for specific cultivars. Check with fellow gardeners and the Leon Extension Office to see if they have any information or experience with specific cultivars under consideration.
Heirloom varieties are especially sensitive to the variances in growing conditions. While they offer unusual and sometimes unique taste and culinary traits or landscaping characteristics, these antique varieties can be a challenge to grow. Their genetic potential can make a consistent yield, especially for the novice growers, a real effort. Also, as an open pollinator variety, the results can be inconsistent.
Another question for the catalog company customer is new or untried plant varieties. Some of these plants are patented and there may be few or no trials in north Florida’s growing zone.
Caution should be used when ordering these seed or plants. Being the first in the Big Bend to cultivate a new variety may require a large commitment of time and resources, and may produce only an enormous disappointment. Check with fellow gardeners, local nurseries, and the Leon Extension Office for available information on these new or patented varieties. It may save much wasted motion.
Lastly, be sure the plant or seeds under consideration do not have the potential as exotic invasive pests. As hard as this may be to believe, this does occur. Some catalog vendors will warn buyers in the ordering instructions or at the time of ordering. Either way, the purchaser should check to verify the plant ordered does not have the potential to escape control and damage the environment.
Spending a little time planning now can save time and resources in the future. It will also provide a better chance for impressing the neighbors with your gardening skills.
Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director and Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent. For gardening questions, email us at AskAMasterGardener@ifas.ufl.edu.