Gardening | Weeds or Wildflowers?

By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale

It’s a truism that weeds are simply plants in the wrong place, and it comes to mind especially now as spring is shifting gears to summer. It’s a time of rapid green growth, and before we know it, our beds can be overrun with weeds.

Natural mulches, which break down more rapidly as temperatures rise, should be replenished as needed. If mulch is decomposing and settling it can be a good medium for germinating seeds, so either fluff the mulch to disturb and uproot small weed seedlings or have a good old fashioned hand weeding session and pull large weeds. You can compost in place (tucked tidily under the mulch) most weeds that are seed free, but definitely dispose of dollar weed and Florida betony, for example, that will regrow from even the tiniest piece. Either way, don’t let weeds linger.

Mulch is also invaluable in the vegetable garden to reduce weeds, and clean, organic mulches like shredded leaves atop homemade compost add valuable nutrients while helping to keep both the soil moist and rains from splashing back onto the plants. Pine straw is lightweight and also works well.

By early May, the medians and roadside verges were full of flowering plants, amid rough grasses (and not a few “weeds”). Nowadays city budgets would appear to limit mowing, and I’m all for it. Not only do I often see some of my favorite native plants in just these places, but they are havens for insect life while undisturbed. One hardy plant that thrives in these conditions is Gaillardia pulchella — blanket flower — a red and yellow daisy. For a few weeks in the spring, patches of blue-eyed grasses (Sisyrhinchium sp.) resembled lovely hazy blue blankets. In early May, fragrant white orchids — marsh lady’s tresses or Spiranthese odorata — popped up in moist places along highways and in damp front yards. Tiny white flowers spiral along the top three inches of the stems which are at least a foot tall. As is often the case with delicate wildflowers, they aren’t individual showstoppers, but look beautiful growing together. As long as people desire perfectly groomed front yards, and more and more of Jacksonville is developed, there is a growing need for wild areas in Jacksonville, and these unruly medians and roadside “meadows” help enormously.

Azaleas and other spring-flowering shrubs should be pruned after they flower, traditionally before the end of June. (Summer and fall bloomers can be tackled when dormant in late winter.) Perennial herbaceous plants will flower for longer if spent blooms are removed, or dead-headed. Annuals too can be cleaned up to promote flowering, and benefit from a boost of liquid fertilizer every four to six weeks, since they bloom so profusely — unless you applied a slow-release granular product when planting, more is not always better.

It goes without saying that summer has its challenges. Despite rising temperatures, it is wise to keep on top of basic garden chores as much as possible. Don’t slack off watering first-year shrubs and trees. If we get good summer rains that certainly counts as watering, but we can’t rely on rainfall alone.

The vegetable garden will need a minimum of an inch of water per week. As a rule of thumb (or index finger), water deeply when the soil is dry to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. As ever, vegetables should be scouted regularly for insects and diseases to keep problems from getting out of control, and soil moisture could be checked at the same time. Fertilize according to your chosen product’s directions to keep crops growing strong and healthy.

Our local nurseries are full of tempting flowering plants. Containerized plants can be installed at most times of the year, but summer heat can be hard on them. If possible, plant them on a cloudy day, or certainly late in the day. Water them in well. Improvise some shelter to give plants in full sun some light shade for a day or two. As well as needing some coddling after having their roots disturbed, they may not be accustomed to full sun, depending on where they were held in the nursery.

Stay cool, and if you enjoy reading, take the summer months to learn more about plants, gardening techniques, landscape design, whatever you fancy. Consider the creatures, welcome or not, with whom you share your landscape; gardening for the benefit of wildlife can be rewarding. This is a time of plenty for wildlife if we have flowering and fruiting plants, and shrubs for food and shelter, as well a clean water supply, in our yards. Young birds will be finding their way around your neighborhoods, and if you supply bird food, bird watching can be a relaxing and delightful pastime. Enjoy.