Gardening: Approaching spring

Gardening

By Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

I confess to being a little haphazard in my approach to spring — seeds that should, for optimal growth, have been sown indoors around six weeks before our last predicted frost, often have to wait till I realize where I am in the year. On the other hand, some of us have a tendency to sow seeds too early, not realizing that once they germinate, they need to be placed in good, strong light to promote sturdy growth, before they are acclimated and planted out after the last frost.

The Extension service always starts the year with a timely schedule of programs to help us make the most of our gardening. Maybe you have already checked out the January/February edition of A New Leaf (http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/NleafJanFeb_17.pdf).

On Feb. 8, there will be a workshop for participants to make their own rain barrel in time for the anticipated dry spring ($50, but be sure to register and pay by Feb. 2; call (904) 255-7450). On Feb. 11, Growing Warm-Season Vegetables and Composting will include advice on fertilizing your garden ($5, registration required, call (904) 255-7450).

Perhaps the highlight of the year – A Day of Gardening – will be held on Feb. 25. This annual event is always well attended. There will be a variety of vendors and a choice of talks on widely differing aspects of gardening. A light lunch and snacks are included in the $20 fee. Attendance is limited, and prepayment and preregistration is required, so if this event takes your fancy, please don’t delay. Registration is either through the Extension office, (904) 255-7450 or on line at www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-a-day-of-gardening-tickets-30497118703

As always, I’ve been enjoying watching the backyard birds that visit my feeders. Before the holidays I spotted what I thought was a yellow-breasted chat — having seen just one earlier in the year — but now I’m almost certain it was either a young male or female Baltimore oriole. Even more dramatic, our street recently had a visit from two bald eagles. They perched high atop an oak and a majestic pine, calling occasionally. It was tempting to imagine they were a pair looking for a nesting site, as, in the south: “the nesting season generally begins with courtship and nest building in September through February, with young fledging as early as January and as late as May”, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Services, but I don’t think our neighborhood would suit.

One plant that often keeps flowering in a sheltered place in my yard is the shrimp plant, Justicia brandegeana, which hummingbirds visit. And as I write, my redbud (Cercis Canadensis) has just started blooming, hopefully also supplying food for any hummingbirds which decided to stay for the winter. For information on cool season plants that attract hummers and could help them to overwinter in the south, check out this article: http://tinyurl.com/jngcxbm. And of course, the University of Florida also has information on gardening for hummingbirds: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw059.

I enjoy watching the progression of the seasons and also how plants grow and develop year by year. A landscape, and its inhabitants, is never static, and there are surprises – both good and bad – which continue to pique my interest. I hope you feel the same.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.