By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
mail@floridanewsline.com

Our last average frost date is historically around March 16, but it feels like spring to me, even though I’m writing in early March. NOAA is predicting that March will be warmer than average, so that frost date could be redundant. In contrast, during the same period we can expect lower than average rainfall, although drought is not likely through the end of May. If you’re interested in long term weather forecasts, check out https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/.

Recently the city’s Free Tree Planting Program (https://www.coj.net/welcome/news/630-city-free-tree-planting-program) fulfilled part of their obligation to mitigate tree loss, and there is now a Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) just in front of my yard. It’s easily 12 feet tall, and the trunk has a straight, good-looking single leader. I am delighted. My task is to make sure it’s watered properly by topping up the water reservoir that’s in place and if it doesn’t survive, despite my taking care of it, I have instructions to let the city know. If you have city property abutting your yard, why not consider requesting a tree or even two? They are offering small, medium, and large trees, some of which are native to our area, and all are Florida-Friendly.

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Many perennial plants that died back to their roots over the winter have already started to take off growing again. Deciduous shrubs have been budding out and showing fresh green growth. Once they have, it’s time to trim back any dead or damaged wood. I know from experience that it’s important to wait on any plants that seem slow to come back. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which is a wonderful plant to grow to support monarch butterflies, is especially slow to resprout. I have some in pots and I’m hoping that they have survived the winter; I’m trying to resist poking around in the soil to see signs of new shoots. I’ve been careless in the past and have foolishly broken off new growth. This spring I’ll just be watching to judge their progress.

Browsing the news, I discovered an interesting article about our native yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria (https://tinyurl.com/39w4838d). Did you know that it’s possible that vomitoria was used in the name to discourage the use of the tea made from its leaves? Apparently around the time of Britain’s early trading with the Colonies, the tea was becoming very popular in Europe. The importers of what we think of as more traditional Asian teas were increasingly concerned that their trade was being threatened. So the name could have been concocted in an attempt to discourage Europeans from drinking it. On this side of the pond, the tea was used in Native American rituals involving vomiting, so perhaps the jury is out on the true motive for the name.

Yaupon holly can be a very useful shrub or tree in our yards, especially for the birds, even if we don’t process its leaves for tea: https://tinyurl.com/knzwdjvh. I particularly like its smooth gray bark which contrasts beautifully with the evergreen dark green leaves and bright red winter berries. It has various forms, from dwarf to small weeping tree, and is fairly adaptable as to soil and water needs. Fruiting is best in part to full sun. 

There are certainly other options for herbal tea plants we can grow here in Florida. If you’re interested, check out https://tinyurl.com/2b92y29v. Happy brewing!

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