Gardening: January blues?


By Lesley Arrandale

As November slid into December, there had been so little rain in northeast Florida, it was deemed “abnormally dry” by the U.S. Drought Monitor ( And unfortunately the rain we need to replenish the aquifer is forecast to be lower than normal in early 2017. Luckily, our established landscapes do need less rain in winter. Most trees and shrubs need irrigation — or rain — only about every two to three weeks, depending on their drought tolerance. As always, any newer plants need to be carefully watered to help them establish successfully.

Some homeowners like to keep their lawns green throughout the winter and will have overseeded, usually with ryegrass, by early December ( To ensure success, these lawns need as much care and irrigation as our warm season grasses, including mowing, so it’s not possible to sit back and leave the mower in the shed. For those of us who are happy to forgo those chores till the spring, despite our browning turf — well, we enjoy the break. Mowers need maintenance and winter is an ideal time to do so. If you are mechanically inclined, this article should help you tackle the job yourself:

Traditionally we look to seed and plant catalogues for inspiration, but increasingly companies are making their publications available online. If you love wildflowers, check out the Florida Wildflowers Growers’ Cooperative website, Their seed is usually sourced from Florida, which makes the likelihood of success higher than for seed from northern states. For more traditional, Florida-Friendly plant choices, check out “The Plant of the Month” list, And visit for All America Winners.

Vegetable gardens should be coming along well; warmer autumn weather certainly promoted growth for some crops, but lettuce planted out while temperatures were higher than usual tended to bolt (go to seed) quickly. The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide ( designates our area as North Florida, and it’s not recommended to plant lettuce again till February. But our winters are relatively mild these days, and if lettuce is your passion, it might be worth trying a few plants if you have a sheltered spot in your garden and you are prepared to cover them during a cold snap. An alternative would be growing some in containers, which can be moved into a garage when freezes are expected.

For many people in northern climes, the long hours of darkness in the depths of winter can lead to episodes of SAD – seasonal affective disorder. Here we are lucky and enjoy cooler temperatures and periods of beautiful sunny weather, during which it’s relatively easy to get out to tend our gardens or visit our parks or beaches.

Another modern “condition,” nature deficit disorder or NDD, apparently can affect people who aren’t interested in or perhaps knowledgeable about nature and simply don’t see what‘s around us. To try to connect to nature, and be a part of nature rather than apart from it, seems to be a healthier way to live our lives:

My New Year’s hope is that, as much as we are able, we take pleasure in the natural world. Whether we simply nurture a houseplant, tend to a few herbs, plan and prepare a manageable planter or small garden, including flowers for butterflies, let’s enjoy the beauty around us and say goodbye to those winter blues. Happy New Year, one and all.

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.

Photo courtesy Terry DelValle


Cut- and come-again lettuce in a five gallon container: Tropicana (green), Mottistone (speckled) and Red Sails (red).