By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
It is early February as I write and already there are signs of spring, with redbuds and maples blooming, and honey bees taking their fill of pollen and nectar. Bees and other insects are also enjoying the profusion of flowers of some Chinese greens, another valuable early food source. Our local population of hummingbirds can be spotted, if fleetingly, feeding on still-flowering shrimp plants.
While many lawns are probably still in winter dormancy, by early March we will be seeing them showing more green. As we go into the seasonally drier spring, it is well worth ensuring that irrigation systems are functioning properly. Check out tinyurl.com/2xx6fmcz for articles covering many aspects of how best to manage your lawn and landscape irrigation. It does need stressing that flower, vegetable, and shrub beds need different watering schedules to lawns.
It is also worth reminding ourselves about fertilization best practices. One widely observed, but not advisable, lawn practice is the use of “weed and feed” products. While it’s tempting to be able to apply something once, and be done, any seasonal weed problems should either be tackled before they emerge (using a pre-emergent product) or spot-treated in the case of perennial weeds. Applying a weed and feed product at the correct time to deal with weeds would mean the lawn fertilizer component being applied too early, before the grass is fully growing and able to take advantage of the fertilizer. That is really doing your lawn a disservice when it’s trying to come back from its winter rest, as well as being a waste of money. See tinyurl.com/1v22ian9 and links therein for more information.
Many people enjoy seeing wildlife around their homes, and in Florida we are lucky to have some beautiful birds all year round, but especially during spring and fall migration. I had been waiting to see the more usual characters, like American robins, which in the past have descended in flocks to rummage through leaf litter, and they duly arrived on Feb. 13. Just a few days before, I was lucky to spot cedar waxwings (tinyurl.com/12fnu9kn) high in my neighbor’s bare-branched hickory. They enjoy fruits of trees like the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) and Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana), but seemed to be zipping in and out of the trees after insects. Overwintering birds include the black and white warbler (https://tinyurl.com/2es2l2zx), which is so striking, and also cheeky yellow-rumped warblers (https://tinyurl.com/qagdk15o).
By expanding my plant palette I hope to attract a wider variety of insects, especially pollinators, but with a quick draining sandy soil, they will need to have at most a medium requirement for water, and preferably lower needs. Native plants will feature, such as those found in this Xerces Society recommended list: https://tinyurl.com/44693m98, and of course Florida-Friendly flowers have a place too (https://tinyurl.com/3rynujbq).
A favorite shrub of mine, the classic tea olive (https://tinyurl.com/37sw6jwe) has the most beautiful perfume imaginable and is an easy-care evergreen candidate for a trimmed hedge or more relaxed specimen in a mixed backdrop to a flower border. It would be a good choice for part of a relatively low cost, low maintenance landscape (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep442), which could help us aging folks — or anyone with limited time to work in the yard.
Check out the monthly “Neighborhood Gardener” from the University of Florida Master Gardener program (https://tinyurl.com/n3edz023), as well as our own Extension bi-monthly newsletter “A New Leaf – Yard and Garden” (https://tinyurl.com/3q9btfy3). Both of them cover a wide range of topics to help in our Florida gardening activities. Enjoy!