Cool season (?) gardening

By Lesley Arrandale

As I write, Northeast Florida is experiencing near-record temperatures. While October temperatures moderated pleasantly into the 70s for a while, early November feels like summer. A plus — there are butterflies galore on my neighbor’s porterweed (Stachytarpheta sp.) and maypop (Passiflora incarnata). We are waiting on a nor’easter, though, and by early December I am hoping for more seasonal temps.

There is a wealth of information in the latest issue of A New Leaf (, notably what seasonal vegetables to grow and which varieties do well here. If you don’t have access to a computer, call the Extension Office (904-255-7450) and ask to be put on the mailing list. Alternatively, they could put you on the email list and you’ll get a digital copy in your inbox. (Your email address will only be used for A New Leaf.)

Our watering schedule has changed with our clocks, so for the sake of our water supply, please follow the rules: odd numbered homes and those with no address water on Saturdays, even numbers on Sundays, and commercial properties on Tuesdays. See A New Leaf for details on watering wisely.

In October we saw some beautiful roadside wildflowers – huge stands of golden rod (Solidago spp.) and cheery yellow sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) graced the hedgerows. As November slips by we’ll see frothy lavender-colored asters which are a little more subdued but very pretty. Clumping grasses are turning various shades of buff and brown, and are architecturally striking. All these plants produce seeds that feed the birds at a time when most flowering plants are winding down. If you watch backyard birds you may enjoy installing feeders to supplement those wild supplies, and leave seed heads rather than dead-head your flowers.

Recently, I was lucky to have a black-and-white warbler frequenting my suet feeder. Other residents and a few visitors have included a female American redstart darting around in a tree where I discovered ladybug pupae and cardinals galore feeding on beautyberries (Callicarpa americana). Add to that: catbird, mockingbird, blue jay, tufted titmouse, brown thrasher, yellow-throated chat (a first), downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, Carolina chickadee, Carolina wren and several unidentifiable (for me) warblers. Not all birds subsist on seeds alone and anything we can do to encourage a healthy eco-system – which includes insects, berried plants and a simple water source – adds to our enjoyment as well as the birds’ welfare.

If you are still seeing monarch butterflies as the weather cools, please cut down any Mexican milkweed in your yard and keep it cut until spring. Research has shown that monarch butterflies stay healthier if they are discouraged from staying year-round; weaker butterflies are weeded out during migration and returning butterflies are stronger. It is really sad to find a new monarch with wings that fail to open fully. The parasite that causes weakness and deformities lives on Mexican milkweed foliage. Without exception, local native milkweeds die down in the fall and the proper life cycle of the monarch is to migrate to certain Mexican forests where they overwinter in the millions. And they will return to grace our gardens – I promise.

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 States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), and the City of Jacksonville.