By Master Gardener Lesley Arrandale

As of early March, it has rained fairly frequently, temperatures have been variable but generally milder than usual, and the azaleas are blooming beautifully. The ground is warming up and daylight hours are slowly lengthening. I was delighted to see my first hummingbird, probably a resident, during the third week in February, and by the end of February there were gulf fritillary butterflies looking for passion vine (Passiflora incarnata) on which to lay eggs. In my vegetable bed, I found a beautiful spider, Argiope aurantia, or yellow garden spider, sitting in its web with two neatly wrapped but unidentifiable food packets. Its web is very distinctive, with a dense zig-zag, ladder-like vertical structure across the center. (My dilemma is how to relocate it — this species can bite — since I need to clear the bed for summer vegetables.) And then along came an iridescent green and rusty brown dung beetle, Phanaeus vindex, probably drawn to the area because of local cats…!

The latest edition of A New Leaf is available here: It is always a useful starting point when deciding what needs to be done in the garden and what to plant, and in addition gives details of upcoming Extension classes in gardening and canning. Two worthwhile events on April 26: Landscaping for Wildlife and Bring on the Pollinators, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. at the Extension office at a cost of $10. Plus Workshop and Open House at the Urban Garden Center, 1032 Superior Street, off Commonwealth Avenue, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Registration is required for both events; contact Sarah Freeman at (904) 255-7450.

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In spring, after our landscapes begin waking up after the relatively slow winter, we will likely begin to take more notice of how our plants are faring. We may find there are problems associated with winter damage, perhaps some twig and branch problems that could be because of too much rain or fluctuating temperatures. Whatever the problem, take advantage of upcoming Master Gardener plant clinics, hosted by local nurseries, where they can examine your ailing plant and advise a course of action. There will be several plant clinics on April 6, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Check for locations in A New Leaf. Sometimes problems can be traced to root trouble, so make sure to examine your plant carefully and bag all suspicious parts. Master Gardeners should then have enough information to make a diagnosis.

Many of us think of spring as the time to plant, and while woody plants are easier to establish when dormant, container-grown trees and shrubs can be planted throughout the year if well cared for. When possible, choose smaller woody plants; one gallon plants grow to catch up with larger plants after two or three years, and are quicker to spread their roots out into garden soil. Remember: the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.

After the first flush of spring growth, many of our deciduous oaks are a lovely fresh green, while some live oaks (Quercus virginiana) still look rather dark and jaded. They only drop their old leaves when new ones are literally pushing them out, so while we think of live oaks as evergreen, it’s not strictly speaking the case. As usual, my neighbor’s hickory is still looking quite bare, illustrating how varied our landscapes can be if we plant for diversity. Looking at a mixed tree canopy we see a wide variety of leaf form, color, and texture, particularly in spring, and for me the whole effect is one of promise of things to come.

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