Gardening | Planting for beneficial insects

Gardening

By Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

With the mild — actually exceptionally warm! — temperatures we’ve been experiencing, we can continue planting some hardy perennials and bulbs in December, as well as shrubs and trees. Bear in mind, though, that we are now in a dry season, and be prepared to water newly installed plants to get them well established.

Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a class of systemic insecticides that can be used on many types of plants. Briefly, there is evidence to show that, in combination with other stressors, bees can suffer from these chemicals because they spread throughout treated plants, and are found in both the nectar and pollen ingested by bees and their brood. It makes sense, therefore, when choosing flowering plants that encourage insects to enhance our gardens, we need to consider whether they may unintentionally be harmful. Growers of native plants will avoid the use of neonicotinoids, as do Bonnie Plants, growers of vegetables and herbs. Proven Winners’ plants are produced without neonics, but they also sell liner plants to nurseries that then grow them to sale size, and not all of those nurseries will necessarily avoid neonics. So do your research, ask questions of the nursery staff where you buy plants, and choose wisely. Large bees and small bees are attracted to different types of flowers; those with short tongues collect nectar from ray flowers, or typical daisy-like flowers, whereas larger bees have longer tongues and can handle tubular flowers. Unlike hummingbirds, which are readily attracted to red flowers, bees prefer flowers in shades of blue, purple, white or yellow.

Aim to find a range of plants that bloom at different times of the year. Early bloomers include the native spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis. It has one-inch, pretty blue to purple triangular flowers, which are clustered at the top of 12 – 18 inch stems; they open briefly, but sequentially. It self seeds readily and spreads by rhizomes, so make sure it will fit with your plans.  Other spring-blooming native flowers include violets, wild petunia (Ruellia humilis — not the Mexican type) and coreopsis. Many of our trees that bloom in spring, like the redbud (Cercis canadensis), are invaluable to pollinators. Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a particularly important source of nectar for honey bees, as well as a cheerful reminder that spring is on the way.  For inspiration, check out The Florida Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection and Landscape Design at http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/FYN_Plant_Selection_Guide_2015.pdf. Bloom times are given to help you achieve a colorful garden year round.

Now the clocks have changed, our lawn watering schedules have been adjusted to once a week. To ensure you have the correct schedule, please see http://www.coj.net/departments/neighborhoods/environmental-quality/irrigation-and-fertilizer.

As grass gradually becomes dormant in cooler weather it will need less water and you may find that rainfall is adequate. Remember that overwatering, at any time of year, can cause problems with diseases. Cut down on mowing and cut the grass high so it has a strong root system going into winter. Hand pull cool season weeds, or spot treat with an herbicide suitable for your grass species, to keep them under control. If your grass is still recovering from damage caused by debris from hurricane Irma laying on it for weeks, check out the November/December issue of “A New Leaf” for recommendations: http://duval.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/nleafNovemberDecember.17.pdf. As always, you will find timely articles on vegetable growing, what to plant in December, and upcoming classes.  Happy floriferous Holidays, One and All.