By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale
As January came to a close, the weather was fairly seasonal, but we had two really cold spells. With luck and some protection many of your plants will have survived — even if their tops are looking bedraggled — so don’t give up on them and don’t prune them before they begin to flush out in spring. Clean up dead foliage of bulbs and gingers if you like, but leave any material that comes from below ground or from the neck of bulbs; we need to prevent water getting down into those bulbs and rhizomes, which would promote rot.
Now, in early February, I am thinking about a summer garden. (Unfortunately Hurricane Irma foiled my chances of a cool season garden, as we had no water for several months.) I’m looking forward to establishing some transplants in our raised beds and using my drip system again. As always, I’ll refer to the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021), and our county newsletter A New Leaf (http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/duval/horticulture/homowner-hort-pdfx27s/January—February-2018.pdf). Seed catalogs are a good source of information about new varieties, but take care to make sure they are suited to our region.
Since the last week in January, I’ve been seeing flocks of robins around town, and have had intriguing glimpses of winter visitors — those hard to identify pretty little warblers in particular. And I’m pretty sure my yard had a visit from either an immature or a female Baltimore oriole. In among the robins there may be some elegant cedar waxwings. Both species like fruit, and the (unfortunately rather weedy) Carolina cherry laurel is a favorite, as well as the loquat or Japanese plum. Loquat fruits are tasty for both humans and birds, but once a flock of cedar waxwings finds them there will be precious few left. One of the more recognizable warblers is the yellow-rumped warbler, an insect eater. They also love suet, and it’s an ideal time to set this out when insects aren’t so readily available. You may continue feeding commercial suet throughout the year, which is rendered and bacteria free, but in our climate it doesn’t hold up well. It will attract woodpeckers, wrens, brown thrashers, and cardinals, to name just a few.
Looking around town, camellias, specifically Camellia japonica varieties, have come into their own, their blooms brightening up the somewhat somber evergreen shrubs. The early winter blooming types are Camellia sasanqua, and their flowers are equally beautiful. Ideally new plants should be installed November to February, but with care camellias can be established in late spring. For details on culture and varieties, see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep002. It won’t be long before our azaleas make a showing. The newer “Encore” varieties bloom in flushes throughout the year, although not always profusely, and are well worth considering. See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg019 for culture and care, and brief descriptions of our native azaleas. Most native species, like the Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) are deciduous, and those with fragrant flowers make a particularly delightful contribution to the spring garden.
Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) have begun blooming, and the maples too, which are both good food sources for bees. The winter flowering tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is another potential food source, but I love it for the perfume alone. One grows near the corner of my house, and I intend to find something equally as scented for other areas of my yard. Possible contenders include the old fashioned banana shrub, Michelia (or Magnolia) figo, wild olive or devilwood, Osmanthus americanus, and sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus (apparently “Michael Lindsey” is wonderfully fragrant and has beautiful, shiny leaves, see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp095). Scented perennials include butterfly ginger, dianthus, phlox, and moonflowers (Datura spp.). Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow (Brunfelsia grandiflora) is a deciduous shrub to about six to eight feet. It is easy to grow and has attractive mid-green foliage, but the pretty lavender-fading-to-white flowers are powerfully scented, and, to me, it can be overpowering.
Our average last frost date is around March 20, but that can depend on your own microclimate. Stay watchful, read the next March/April edition of A New Leaf (http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/duval/new-leaf-newsletter/) for those timely tips and information on upcoming Extension programs, and have a happy spring.