By Lesley Arrandale

As I write (in early March) winter has still not arrived. The closer we get to our traditional last frost date — about mid-March — it is predicted to be less and less likely that we shall see cold temperatures and we could therefore see the early emergence of insect pests (see Keep a close eye on those young vegetable plants. On the plus side, beneficial insects, such as the lady beetles, should also be more abundant (see

According to the US Drought Monitor, Duval County is considered to be experiencing “abnormally dry” conditions, which doesn’t bode well as we move into what is traditionally considered our dry (spring) season. Until May, it looks like we will probably experience higher than average temperatures; hopefully the prediction for more normal summer temperatures will come to pass.

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On a brighter note, Feb. 25 saw upwards of 120 people enthusiastically participating in the Extension Service’s annual “A Day of Gardening,” at a time of year when gardeners of all stripes were eagerly anticipating the change of seasons. Terry DelValle, Duval County Extension Agent, showed us her easy plant choices for color. Some will be familiar, but you’ll likely find some new ideas. The closing speaker, Dr. Bob Chabot, director of horticulture, facilities and exhibits, introduced us to the many and varied gardens in the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, in which the primary focus is to integrate the gardens with the animal exhibits. Visit to see PowerPoint presentations from the day.

The March/April edition of A New Leaf newsletter is also available:, where you can find details of the upcoming Master Gardener Plant Sale and Gardening Expo, coming up on April 22, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. As well as flowering plants, many of which are being grown by Master Gardeners, there will be herbs and selected shrubs and trees. Activities for the kids and short seminars round out the day’s offerings. (Please note, parents will need to supervise their children at all times.)

My spring garden has brought pleasures and concerns. Old fashioned evergreen azaleas have been putting forth their blooms for a few weeks, extending our enjoyment much as they did last year, rather than flushing out in one brief showing as in years gone by. This may be due to a combination of drier weather and fluctuating, generally warmer daytime temperatures, along with cooler but not cold nights.

The early fruiting of the Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus carolinia), however, is troubling. While this particular native tree can be a thorn in the side – it’s a rampant self-sower, plus it sends up new growth from its roots, making it difficult to restrict to one place – it is a wonderful food source for the American robin. Flocks of robins usually move through our area in conjunction with the cherry laurel fruits’ ripening, but not this year. I fear the fruits have come and gone, with nary a sight of a robin. Clearly there is a disconnect between what governs a plant’s timetable and what prompts a bird to migrate. There is one benefit for the bees, however, as these trees have been blooming beautifully when there aren’t many other flowers around. For the robins’ sake, I can only hope that this situation will be temporary and the system will realign; time will tell.

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.


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