Fall is brief in North Florida. Now that it has arrived, winter will be here soon. Daytime temperatures have fluctuated from the 50's to the mid-70's this month. Nights have ranged from the upper 30's to 50's F. The big billowy clouds of summer are disappearing and the skies have been overcast gray. The winter resident birds are here. I hear sapsuckers and flickers in the woods behind my house. Phoebes perch at the wood's edge to watch for insects. Goldfinches, chipping sparrows and white-throated sparrows have joined the cardinals, chickadees and other year-round residents at the feeders. When the sun shines, I find insects and reptiles basking in its warmth. Otherwise, they are hiding in whatever safe places they can find.
Parts of Georgia, Alabama, Texas are still experiencing drought. Parts of the Carolinas are dry. In north Florida, we are out of the drought but rainfall remains lower than average. Two tall laurel oaks and several smaller shrubs in my garden show signs of severe drought stress. One of the oaks is next to my house and its removal will create a big hole in my landscape as well as a dip in my bank account. I see trees dying in the forests on Jacksonville's roadsides. I hope that this winter's cold fronts bring us some additional rain.
Fall color is such a delicate thing in this area. Some trees that are colorful further to our north drop their leaves a few at a time and provide no significant display of fall color here. The orange-browns of the leaves of bald cypress and cinnamon ferns are dramatic enough to be appreciated as fall color. Red maple, Florida sugar maple, sweet gum, dogwood, sumac, sassafras, grapes, Virginia creeper are the best. A reasonably rainy fall and a sudden cold snap will bring out bright colors in our forests but that did not happen this year. The leaves of most trees are turning brown and dropping. Japanese maples are turning red in my garden anyway. This small tree provides one of the most reliable displays of red in the Coastal Southeast.
Nevertheless, a lot of color remains in the north Florida garden. Many of the plants in our gardens will remain green until we experience our first hard frost or freeze. The various fall-blooming camellia species are at or near their peak. Pink muhly grass is covered with soft pink flower spikes. Roses and summer bloomers like pentas, plumbago and galphimia continue to flower. While the Satsuma tangerines remain green-yellow, the clusters of fruit on my Changsha tangerine have turned bright orange. Holly berries are bright red. The first flowers of paperwhite and tazetta narcissus have appeared. They will reach their peak in the next few weeks. I planted a red-leafed annual Hibiscus acetocella for its summer foliage color. Now, it is producing dark red flowers. They almost blend in with the red, maple-like leaves. Other annuals, like Fireworks gomphrena, copperleaf, marigolds and porterweed, continue to provide color. Potted geraniums, Simply Scentational heliotrope and Snow Princess allysum are blooming again after taking break for the summer. Wild aster species and yellow bur marigold are flowering well now. Most of the showiest of the fall wildflowers are almost finished. There are only scattered flowers of Spanish needle, coreopsis, goldenrod, liatris, spiderwort and Florida paintbrush now.
It is already late to start winter seeds. I'll have to visit local nurseries to see what I can find. I need to work more with winter vegetables and annuals but the cool weather always sneaks up on me. I guess it is good that I have a few months of cool weather ahead of me.
Looking through my home garden today, Alpinia japonica is one plant that stands out. This is a low-growing ginger that is reported to be cold hardy to zone 7b. In my experience, it is evergreen to the mid-20's F. It makes a beautiful groundcover in a shady, well-drained spot. It can produce spikes of red flowers in summer but I rarely see them because flower are produced on the previous year's stems and my plant dies back most winters. I purchased a single mail order plant from Woodlanders Nursery in 2004. I have dug it up twice to divide the clumps and spread them out. I water well to get it re-established each time. In a shady, unirrigated part of my garden garden, this plant has grown to a height of twelve inches and spread slowly to cover a couple of square yards under taller shrubs and trees. In a similar situation, cast iron plant has barely spread. For some reason, Woodlanders is still the only place that offers this beautiful little plant, to my knowledge.
October is here and summer is finished. Temperatures started to drop last month but feel our first cool mornings in October. In north Florida, an overnight low in the 60’s means that the first jackets of the season start appear and the car temperature controls are turned toward “heat” for the first time in months.
This is fall, or as close as we get. Migrating flickers, hawks and a few warbler species have been appearing in my yard for a few weeks. Great crested flycatchers have departed. The black gums are nearly bare and laurel oaks have started to drop leaves. Acorns of several oaks are dropping. Tangerines are beginning to turn orange and the fall-blooming camellias are beginning to flower. The big change, though, is in the wildflowers and the butterflies. The pinks and purples of false foxglove, paintbrush and liatris splash color through the fields and open woods. Dotted horse mint was beautiful for weeks but is nearly finished now. Wild morning glories have colorful flowers of pinks and red. Spanish needles and Eupatorium species have white flowers. The dominant color is yellow. Goldenrods and daisies of several types blaze in the fields and along roadsides. The tall swamp sunflowers are particularly showy. Their stems stand eight to ten feet tall and their flowers glow like their namesake, the sun. Other yellow daisies include Balduina angustifolia, Coreopsis gladiata and Bidens laevis.
Butterflies have been common and diverse in my garden for most of our years in this house but their numbers were much lower this summer. I attributed this to the recent cold winters and the long drought. By September, several species were back in good numbers. In October, I am seeing an even wider variety of species. I am amazed at the variety of bees, wasps, flower flies and other insects that are attracted to the fall wildflowers.
Many of the summer-blooming wildflowers have mature seed pods now. I am reminded of nature’s ingenuity as I pluck the seeds of various plants off my pant legs and shoe laces after a walk through the natural parts of my garden. Seeds drift in the wind, are thrown by exploding pods, are carried away by birds and other animals and a few attach themselves to passersby. Those green, triangular things that attach to clothing like Velcro are pieces of the seed pods of Desmodium species. They produce bean-like pods that break apart into triangular sections, each with a single seed. Another hitch-hiker is Spanish needle. This is the brown seed that attaches by two barbs at one end of the seed. The Spanish needle plant has pretty white daisies that are attractive to butterflies. I leave them to grow and flower in corners and edges of my garden where I do not have to walk often. Sand spur grasses distribute their seeds in much the same way but I don’t encourage them in my yard.
In the domesticated part of my garden, fall-blooming camellias are beginning to flower again. Roses are always at their best in spring and fall. Clumping bamboo plants have tall new shoots with new leaves and the starts of some branching. Some of the summer-blooming tropical are at their peaks, too. Angelonia, bat-face cuphea, Cape honeysuckle, copperleaf, galphimia, mussaenda, pentas and plumbago still look great. A geranium (Pelargonium) that I planted in a pot last winter sat quietly with slow growth and no flowers through the heat of the summer. It began flowering in late September again and is now covered with bright red flowers. ‘Simply Scentsational’ heliotrope declined through the summer and died back completely to the ground by September. Almost immediately, it resprouted from the base and is now flowering again.
Recently, I visited the Armstrong Atlantic State University Arboretum and the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden in Savannah, Georgia. I always enjoy these gardens. For those of you who have not seen them, I have posted a page about these gardens with photos on my website at http://www.southeastgarden.com/georgia.html .
We had so much rain in August that I heard gardeners complaining about it! Still, we were very close to the monthly average in most of Jacksonville and I am very happy with the rainfall. Plants that had grown very little over the past two years are responding well to the “normal” rainfall.
I see distinct signs of the approaching fall, now. The sun is lower on the horizon so some of the plants that are protected from rain under my car port are now getting sun most of the day. Japanese persimmons are turning bright yellow-orange. The first few have ripened already. The little fruits of the black gum trees are nearly ripe and their leaves are turning and fall. In my garden, that means most of the leaves are turning brown with some flecks of red. Most of the leaves of these trees will fall by the end of September. It is time to start working on a fall vegetable garden and to start thinking about winter annuals.
I took a little drive west on I-10 this month. Searching on the internet for information on public gardens in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, I found a page about Imahara’s Botanical Garden, just outside of Baton Rouge. I e-mailed for more information and received a response from the owner, Walter Imahara. Walter said the garden was closed for the summer but he would give me a personal tour if I wanted to visit before the opening in October. When I asked him for recommendations for gardens, Walter said that he wanted to visit some of the gardens around his area, too, and offered to organize a tour. Walter and his wife Sumi were wonderful hosts for my short visit to his garden in St. Francisville. Walter is a very interesting man with many weightlifting medals and a business history that included a chain of nurseries in Baton Rouge and continues with a landscape company and his new garden.
In addition, I stopped at a few gardens along I-10 in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida on my return. I stopped at Tallahassee Nursery, too, and found a couple of plants that I had not realized that I needed.
I have placed photos and brief descriptions of the gardens on my website at the following links.
I will add Maclay Gardens to the Florida page soon. It is another estate garden near Tallahassee with a newer home than the plantations of Louisiana but with an old garden.
Looking at my home garden and at UNF day after day, I focus increasingly on the problems. Visiting other gardens helps me see that these gardens compare favorably in many ways and helps me look beyond the garden weeds and pests. These visits always give me new ideas and renew my energy.
In the coming months and years, I plan to visit and report on more gardens in north and central Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and the coastal plain of North Carolina. I welcome recommendations.
As I type this, the sky is overcast and a gentle rain is falling. It must have rained all night and the forecast says it will continue through the day. We have not had many days like this in recent years. Looking at the rain this morning over a cup of coffee, I am enjoying the sound of the rain and feeling good about putting out a little extra bird seed this morning. Most of the birds ignore a light rain like this and continue coming to the feeder. The cardinals look a little crest-fallen but I am sure they need extra food to keep their body temperatures up. The Carolina wrens spend a little more time under a roof, looking in nooks and crannies of the carport for bugs and spiders. On a rainy or cold night, they will squeeze onto the top of a narrow window frame under the soffit of my roof.
Speaking of birds, I watched a pair of swallowtailed kites swoop and glide over my yard a few days ago. If I can, I stop whatever I am doing to watch these beautiful, graceful birds. Audubon reports that about 10,000 of these birds spend their summers in the United States, with most of them in north Florida. They return to South America after raising their young. I have not seen them in Jacksonville after August.
Butterfly numbers remain low in my garden. I am seeing sulfur butterflies again and now see some evidence of their larvae feeding on senna plants. A few giant swallowtails have stopped at flowers in my garden but I have not seen any of their larvae, the orange dogs, on my citrus or toothache trees. A Facebook friend from Jacksonville reported seeing a zebra longwing in her garden. I have not seen one for at least two years. In general, it seems to me that butterfly numbers have dropped at home and in the Preserve at UNF. I assume that this is largely related to the recent drought and some cold winters. I hope that the butterfly populations recover. Continuing rain and another mild winter would help.
Toads seem to be coming back after a recent drop in their numbers. I am seeing more little ones since our recent storms. Green and squirrel tree frog numbers dropped off, too, but they are recovering more slowly. I wondered why I heard no frog calls this morning. Despite more than an inch of rainfall overnight, no water has pooled in the seasonal pond in my yard. It is soaking into the ground too quickly. I am beginning to think that it is time to create a small, lined pond in my garden to provide a permanent water supply for some of these small creatures.
In the garden, flowers come from the typical summer stalwarts: beach sunflower, begonia, canna, chenille plant (Acalypha hispida,) crape myrtle, duranta, gaillardia, galphimia, various gingers, pentas, plumbago, porterweed and rosinweed (Silphius.) Colorful potted annuals include Angelonia, Calylophus, Cuphea, 'Fireworks' gomphrena, and Pelargonium. The foliage of Hibiscus acetocella and Acalypha wilkesiana remain colorful, too.
Wildflowers in bloom in early August include camphor weed, Centrosema, coral honeysuckle, various wild milkweed species, partridge pea, pine lily, Rhexia, standing cypress and some of the garden plants listed above: beach sunflower and gaillardia. Where it did not freeze back last winter, Hamelia patens is in bloom. In my garden, where it did freeze down, it has not yet begun to bloom. I see the first goldenrods in bloom and Liatris spikes developing. It may not feel like it yet, but we are on the downhill side of summer.
Just a few days ago, I read an article about an archeological discovery of dried remnants of yaupon tea in ceramic cups. I l decided to look a little further into the use of yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) as a tea. I found a few references to it, including one from University of Florida professor, Dr. Jack Putz, who has promoting the drinking of this tea. The articles say that the yaupon holly provides a high quality tea that is high in antioxidants, moderate in caffeine and low in tannins that cause bitterness. Southerners may have heard stories about Native American use of this tea as a purgative. Apparently, this is exaggerated because studies have shown that nothing in the tea causes vomiting. From what I read, any yaupon holly will provide leaves for a tea that is high in antioxidants. You can save your clippings from the Shillings Dwarf hedge in front of your house or collected young shoots from wild plants. Reportedly, caffeine rates are highest in the weeping yaupon. Caffeine rates are higher in all plants that have been fertilized with nitrogen. I found several recommendations on the preparation of the leaves. One was to collect tender shoots, roast them in an oven at 350 degrees for twenty minutes and then crush and store them. A tea strainer for loose tea leaves will work fine for steeping the tea in hot water. I have plenty of yaupon hollies in my yard so I will try this as soon as I can find a tea strainer. Please let me know about your experiences with yaupon tea and I will report on this again soon.
I have been in my home garden for ten years, now, and at UNF for seven. I have learned that Jacksonville is a challenging place for a gardener. From what I have seen, this is true of much of the Coastal Southeast, from east Texas to the southern coast of North Carolina. We seem to have more than our fair share of catastrophic events: hurricanes, floods, droughts, freezes and extreme heat. Many of us in the Coastal Southeast have miserable soils, from gumbo clay to nutrient poor sand. With a little effort, however, we can grow a remarkable representation of "northern" plants, tropical plants and some that are limited to a narrow area in zones 8 and 9.
For wildlife enthusiasts, nature continues to disappear from our urban areas due to expanding development. Homeowner associations seem driven to create sterile, resource-demanding, golf course-like environments in entire neighborhoods. In Florida, at least, state laws protect those creative individuals who wish to reduce the water and pesticide demands of their yards and make their gardens more inviting to urban and suburban wildlife. Below is the IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) summary of that protection in Florida.
"The law does not invalidate architectural control committees or landscaping committees. It merely states that covenants, restrictions, and ordinances may not prohibit Florida-Friendly Landscaping practices.
• US Supreme Court: Police powers of the States to protect public heath and welfare may trump private contracts.
• Does not invalidate Landscape Committees or Architectural Control Committees – It does apply reasonable limits.
• Does prohibit mandates that require:
- water-wasting practices such as overwatering of plants or inappropriate site design;
- inappropriate placement of plants such that regular irrigation is required to keep the plants healthy or prohibitions on attractive, well suited plants in the landscape in favor of other plants that are less well suited to the site (wrong plant, wrong place);
- excessive or improper fertilization;
- excessive use of pesticides.
• Does prohibit any watering mandates that are in violation of Water Management District water use restrictions.
• Does forbid prohibitions on reasonable and appropriate use of mulch,
- plants attractive to wildlife such as butterfly or hummingbird gardens or other non-nuisance wildlife,
- swales or rain gardens, waterfront buffers or other protective practices,
- composting bins or rain barrels, etc.,
• However, it does not prohibit reasonable limits such as to be well maintained or limited to a backyard, side area or screened, where feasible."
The drought came to an end. My garden had twenty inches of rain in June. At the middle of July, nearly half of the monthly rain average has fallen. Like the weather forecasters, all I can tell for certain is what I have already seen.
The butterflies seem to have taken a hit with the recent drought and a couple of cold winters. Large swallowtails drift through the garden from time to time. I still have a few species of skippers, an occasional hairstreak and some satyrs back in the woods. The buckeyes and red admirals left when the spring wildflowers faded and I had to start mowing. Zebra longwings disappeared with the exceptionally long cold winter we had recently. The yellow sulfurs did not reappear this summer despite the fact that I have lots of host plants for their caterpillars. I have seen few monarchs and gulf fritillaries. As I think about it, I seem to have fewer grasshoppers, wasps and other insects – except for mosquitoes! I feel like I have already donated my annual allotment of blood to their cause.
At this time of year, most trees are busy with photosynthesis and the development of fruits and seeds for fall. Crape myrtles are flowering. Increasingly, I think of the sweet almond verbena, Aloysia virgata, as a tree. Mine are no longer the eight foot shrubs that were promised in the catalogs and I have seen specimens in public gardens that were over twenty feet tall. Bottlebrush shrubs and trees (Callistemon species) may produce scattered flowers in summer. A few shrubs are flowering. Mostly, though, this is the flowering season for herbaceous plants.
I have a lot of volunteer Formosa lilies, Lilium formosanum, flowering along the driveway this year. They return as perennials in other parts of the garden but are thriving and spreading here where they get sun for most of the day and have a thick groundcover of sunshine mimosa, Mimosa strigulosa. There bold, showy white trumpets are striking in mass. I count thirty-six flowers open this morning. (As I stepped out the door to look at them, a red fox ran across the driveway from the fig trees. I guess this little rascal has discovered that the figs are ripe.) So far, at least, these lilies are not spreading beyond acceptable boundaries. In contrast, the Easter lilies, Lilium longiflorum, that have been spreading in part shade along the tree line for the past ten years, were fewer in number this year. I assume that the drought hurt them.
Globba marantina is a somewhat weedy ginger that has settled down under a group of live oaks behind my house. The clump spreads by rhizome growth and the development of dozens of tiny corms on the old flower stalks. My original plant spread rapidly and then slowed in recent years, possibly due to the drought. It has become a ten foot wide clump and is very showy right now, absolutely full of pendant yellow flower spikes. It is a groundcover in a large bed of woody plants surrounded by turf and a path so I am prepared for aggressive behavior. Globba winitii is a beautiful, slow-growing species that is better suited for the small garden. Some of my plants are already flowering now, too.
In mid-July, Calylophus x ‘Southern Belle’ has filled an eighteen inch pot is still flowering stongly. I read that these species are native to alkaline soils. Maybe watering them with well water is helping provide the proper pH. Angelonia, Cuphea llavea and Gomphrena x ‘Fireworks’ are annuals that are flowering heavily now, too. The foliage of copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana) and red-leafed hibiscus (Hibiscus acetocella) are splashes of color throughout the warm season.
Coreopsis species, Gaillardia pulchra, Ratibida pinnata and Silphium asteriscus are the big, showing daisies in my garden. The Helianthus angustifolius clump is smaller but it lived through the drought years and will flower again this fall. All of these daisies are native to my state, but not necessarily to my part of it. The Rudbeckia species died out during the drought years. Wild, native Rudbeckia hirta plants survived the longest so I will add it to my garden again. The “gloriosa” daisies are selections of this species and are relatively easy to find but I want the wild type with its bright yellow daisies. The Ratibida and Silphium are native to the Florida panhandle but they provide me summer daisies reliably despite drought, flood, cold and heat.
In case you have not learned this previously, take a close look at a daisy and consider the fact that it is not a single flower. The central disk is packed tightly with small flowers, each of which will produce a seed. These are called disk flowers. In most cases, the central disk is surrounded by things that look like colorful petals. Each of these “petals” is an individual flower. They are called ray flowers. Typically, they serve the sole purpose of attracting pollinating insects and do not produce seeds. A few daisy species do not produce only a cluster of disk flowers. Helianthus radula, the rayless sunflower, is a native wildflower that produces a dark, purple-brown disk with no ray flower “petals.”
I sat down to start this blog wondering what I would talk about this time. As I write, more and more thoughts come to mind. I think that this is plenty for now. If you are interested in on-going updates, take a look at my Facebook page, under my name, Chuck Hubbuch. If you want to "friend me," give me a little information about your interest in gardening. I post photos and comments there throughout the month.
This blog is coming out a little later in the month than usual. I spent the first part of the month touring eastern and southern Texas. I visited Mercer Arboretum in Houston, the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Big Bend National Park, World Birding Center sites along the Rio Grand and the National Butterfly Park in Mission. On the way back, I stopped in Louisiana to visit the New Orleans Botanical Gardens. It was a rush tour with a lot of driving but it was a great trip.
You can read more and see photos about the trip at the following pages in my website's travel section.
For anyone on Facebook, my Facebook page includes a few additional photos and comments about the trip.
The big news is rain! Jacksonville had reached the level of "Exceptional Drought" on the National Drought Monitor. With the rains of the past few weeks, we have improved to "Moderate Drought" south of the river and "Severe Drought" north of the river, as of June 12, 2012. I never thought I'd be happy to reach "Severe Drought." It feels more like summer now: the humidity is up, the mosquitoes and yellow flies are biting and the weeds are growing like... well, weeds!
I love summer, though. It is why I live in Florida. To me, daisies are symbols of summer. My black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia species) died during the two years of drought but coreopsis, prairie coneflower (Ratibida), starry rosinweed (Silphium) and gaillardia are flowering strongly. Roses are still blooming but will not last as the temperatures rise. More color is provided by agapanthus, blood lilies (Scadoxus,) pink and red bottlebrush, brugmansia, cannas, coral honeysuckle, crinum, gardenia, gaura, Globba marantina, lantana, Indigofera decora, pentas, phlox, plumbago and porterweeds. For their long seasons of color, I am using more annual red-leafed Hibiscus abelmoschus and Acalypha wilkesiana in a variety of foliage colors. The white flowers of night-blooming datura, four o'clocks and spider lilies are showy each evening.
I have mentioned several plants in blogs over the past several months. Calylophus x 'Southern Belle', Cuphea llaeva, Ptilotis exaltatus 'Platinum Wallaby' and 'Simply Scentsational' heliotrope continue to flower. Oenothera x 'Lemon Drop' is supposed to flower all summer but it stopped when the rains came. Hopefully, it will pick up again soon. I pulled a potted geranium (Pelargonium) under the porch roof before the rains came and it is still covered with flowers. I am sure it would be dying or rotted if I had left it out. I did leave the potted Poliomintha out in the rain and it died. I am not ready to give up on it though because I saw plants growing and flowering well in a couple of gardens in Texas. It may be that I need to give it a potting mix with better drainage.
I have refrained from planting four o'clocks in my yard but I finally decided that I need more tough, adaptable flowering plants. I found a source for seeds of white-flowered four o'clocks and planted them in three sites in my yard. I like the fragrance of four o'clocks and the way they attract moths. I will watch them for any sign of aggressive spread and remove them if necessary. I planted a related species, Mirabilis longiflorus, also. It is also white-flowered but is a much less vigorous plant than the common four o'clock, Mirabilis jalapa.
I have found that I really enjoy having potted flowering plants around the door of my house. Relatively delicate, little annuals that die in my garden ground thrive in potting soil and provide a bright splash of color. I maintain enough pots so I can rotate them and keep at least a half-dozen, eighteen to twenty-four inch pots in full flower at the entry. We are finding that large pots of plants are very useful and decorative at the University of North Florida, too.
Temperatures have risen into the upper eighties and lower nineties in early May. Humidity is starting to increase. After the cool, dry months of winter, it feels like summer. I know, though, that this is just a prelude to summer. The real heat and humidity have not arrived. Summery clouds are starting to build but we remain dry. The U.S. Drought Monitor ( http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ ) says that we reached "Exceptional Drought" status in late April. This is the worst category of drought. If things do not get better, I propose "Death Valley" as the next level. The drought has made this year worse than usual but springs are often dry here. This is the time for the gingers to appear in my garden. A few flower in late April and their leaves follow. Most wait until now.
The ginger order, Zingiberales, includes a large number of interesting plants that we grow in our gardens, especially in zone 9. The families of canna, heliconia, spiral ginger, prayer plant, banana and bird-of-paradise are in this order. All of them have bold leaves and many have showy flowers. The ginger family, Zingiberaceae, is a diverse plant family with over fifty genera and approximately 1300 species. Gingers tend to live in forests, in reasonably moist regions and are most abundant in the tropics. Ginger scientist, Tom Wood, expects that as many as four hundred ginger species may grow in upper zone 9a, and may more to the south. Gardeners in the Coastal Southeast are most likely to run into the following genera of gingers:
The genus Alpinia includes the shell gingers. Typically, these gingers are evergreen and they flower on the previous year's growth. They look best in part shade with just a little supplemental water. If winter cold kills the stems then no flowers will be produced that year. The shell ginger may be the best known of these plants, especially in zone 9 and south. The typical green form may grow ten feet tall with long pendant spikes of white to pink flowers. The variegated shell ginger is more common and is tough enough to be used in commercial landscapes. The peppermint ginger, Alpinia japonica, is a favorite of mine. In my garden, plants grow to about a foot tall and make a very attractive groundcover. In a moister, richer soil, this species may grow to eighteen inches tall. It may be the cold hardiest species of Alpinia. It is reported to be cold hardy in zone 8 but winter lows in the upper teens will kill foliage to the ground. The common name refers to the red and white striped flowers that are produced in summer.
Alpinia nutans is another ginger that can be found in the nursery trade with just a little effort. It is sold by some as dwarf cardamom, Afromomum species. In average garden sites, it is a medium-sized ginger that grows to about four feet tall (taller in moist, shady sites.) Its most distinctive feature may be the aromatic leaves. Rub a leaf gently between your fingers to release the fragrance of ginger. It is well-known among gardeners that this plant does not flower in cultivation. However, I have seen several plants flower in Jacksonville, Florida. Look at the Alpinia page on my website for photos of the flowers and fruits.
Cornukaempferia and Kaempferia are relatively small, spreading plants, often with colorful foliage. Leaves may be green or patterned with bronze, reddish and silvery markings.. They are deciduous in winter. Cornukaempferia has yellow flowers. Kaempferia has white, lavender and purple flowers. Grow them in shade. These are surprisingly drought tolerant little plants although they respond very well to supplemental water during the growing season. One Cornukaempferia species is common in the nursery trade. Nearly one hundred species of Kaempferia are named and additional hybrids may be found in the nursery trade. With their small size and great variety, they have great appeal for the collector.
Curcuma species are known as the hidden gingers. They are deciduous in winter, dying back to underground rhizomes. In many species, the flowers emerge in spring before the foliage appears. The flower spikes can be large and very showy with colorful, overlapping bracts. Leaves are green and range from a few inches to six feet tall or more. Curcuma elata is a favorite of mine. The flowers are showy, the foliage is big and bold and the plant so easy to grow that I remain surprised that it is not much more common in gardens of the Coastal Southeast.
Two species of Globba have been successful and rewarding in my garden. Globba marantina is very easy to grow and a little weedy. It produces many little bulbils on each flower spike. Each has the potential to become a new plant. In my rather dry garden, only a few survive so it is manageable. Despite its delicate appearance, Globba winitii and its hybrids have been easy, also, and they do not spread rapidly.
The butterfly gingers, Hedychium species, have large, fragrant, showy flowers that attract butterflies. Some nice species are available in the nursery trade but the efforts of breeders like Tom Wood are making showy hybrids increasingly common. The commonest butterfly ginger may be the white-flowered species, Hedychium coronarium. This is a vigorous species that can be aggressive in a sunny, wet spot. 'Elizabeth' and 'Pink V' are good growers in dry, partly sunny spots in my garden. 'Disney' and Hedychium greenei seem to require more moisture. This genus includes some tropical species that grow as epiphytes high in the trees of southeast Asia.
Zingiber is the genus of the commercial ginger root. Zingiber officianalis and Zingiber mioga are two species that are most often cultivated for ginger root. They make attractive plants in the garden, too. The shampoo ginger, Zingiber zerumbet, seems to be the commonest species in gardens of the Coastal Southeast. It has arching, leafy stalks that stand two feet tall or more. Under the foliage, stand the flower spikes that are composed of densely packed, fleshy bracts. The bracts are green as the flowers emerge and then turn bright red. Squeeze the pine cone-shaped spike to produce the frothy, fragrant fluid that can be used as a shampoo.
Costus are close relatives of the true gingers. Commonly known as spiral gingers, several species have leaves that spiral in a dramatic fashion around vertical stalks. Flower spikes may be at the tops of the stalks or may arise separately from the ground. Only a few make it as far north as upper zone 9a. Where it can be grown, one of the showiest garden species is Costus barbadensis (sometimes known as Costus comosus.)
Carefully chosen, gingers can provide dramatic, low-maintenance color and texture to the gardens of the Coastal Southeast especially in zone 9 and south.
March began with stormy weather and ended with showers that dropped nearly an additional inch of rain. The total for the month did not reach March’s average rainfall and the drought continues to worsen. Extreme drought is spreading across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. The mild winter was followed by a brief spring. By early April, days are already reaching the 90’s F. Despite the drought, trees are producing new leaves in a rush, trying to keep up with the rising temperatures. It seems that something new is sprouting or flowering every day.
I am eating salads out of the vegetable garden and the first tomatoes of the season. Blueberries are beginning to develop. My apples and plums were not productive this year, probably due to the on-going drought. Figs and Japanese persimmons are flowering. Hopefully, they will bear well during the summer and fall.
Leaf and shoot emergence has been erratic this spring. Plants of the same species are sprouting at different times, sometimes with plants of the same clone growing just a few feet apart. Small differences in exposure and soil moisture may be the reason. Black gum is one of the last of the deciduous trees to produce new leaves in spring. They are sprouting finally at the beginning of April. Butterfly gingers, Hedychium species and hybrids, are the first of the gingers to sprout. The various gingers may continue emerging from winter dormancy from now to mid-May.
The corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, seeds that I sowed in a large container last October began flowering about four-and-a-half months later in mid-March. These are brilliant red flowers with a satiny sheen to its petals. Each petal may have a black, white or black-and-white spot at its base, or it may lack a spot. The foliage is nice overwinter and did not require protection from winter lows in the mid-20’s F. These dramatic flowers were worth the effort. Growing them in a container was easy last year. I plan to try them in the ground next year just to see how they do. Photos of this plant’s flowers are on this website and on my facebook page. I purchased and planted Papaver somniferum seeds in spring. It may have been too late. I will let you know if I gave them enough time to flower before the heat of summer.
Spiranthes vernalis is a native orchid that produces tiny white flowers that spiral down the top of a nine to twelve inch tall stalk. This pretty little orchid has the common name of ladies’ tresses. The first flower spike appeared in early April. Flowers will continue to appear into May. Typically, it grows in open, moist areas. In my yard, I carefully mow around the spikes until they turn brown and seeds are released. Nolina brittoniana is native to a relatively small area of central Florida. It is sometimes called Florida beargrass and related to a group of plants that is much more common in the southwestern United States, plants like agave, yucca and Dasylirion. I bought my plants from Claudia at Micanopy Wildflowers a few years ago. A plant forms a rosette of stiffly arching leaves about a foot tall, eventually forming a cluster of rosettes. Flower spikes are developing now, nearly three feet tall with several branches and dozens of small buds. Soon, this spike will be topped by a cloud of tiny white flowers. My plants flowered last year for the first time but did not produce any seeds. I hope to be able to collect some seeds this year. The other wildflowers in bloom include: coreopsis, daisy fleabane (Erigeron,) dwarf dandelion (Krigia,) evening primrose, Florida betony, gaillardia, hawkweed (Pyrropapphus,) Helianthemum, Hypericum, woodland phlox, lyre-leaf sage, ruellia, spiderwort and Venus’ looking glass (Triodanis.) Some of the Florida native shrubs and vines that are flowering now are: red buckeye (Aesculus pavia,) pipestem (Agarista populifolia,) sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus,) coralbean (Erythrina herbacea,) heart-a-bursting (Euonymus americanus,) Florida anise (Illicium floridanum,) Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica,) coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens,) sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) and deer berry (Vaccinium stamineum.)
I am looking at mail order nursery catalogs again. It seems that each has one or two plants that I want. With the state of the economy, the nurseries might even appreciate small orders but I hesitate because of the shipping costs. Besides, April is a good time to start visiting local nurseries to see what they offer for plant nuts like me.
Animal life is becoming more active, too. Swallowtail, buckeye, red admiral, sulfur and other butterflies are busy at the flowers. I saw the first fireflies of the season in the evening of April 1. Cicadas are calling. Great crested flycatchers are back and are singing to claim their territories. Chipping and white-throated sparrows will hang around until a desire to find a mate and raise young overwhelms the easy life that a bird feeder offers. Crimson clover is trying to bloom in my yard but rabbits are working hard to keep me from seeing open flowers. Deer have been nibbling on my young fruit trees. Carolina anoles slip away quietly to hide from me among the pots and leaves of my plants. I have seen a couple of garter snakes. One flung itself across the driveway in a desperate and conspicuous attempt to escape me. Another lay quietly among the leaves hoping I could not see it. Young lubber grasshoppers , black with red stripes, are hatching all over the yard. Despite my best efforts, enough will escape the soles of my shoes to demolish my crinums and amaryllis and lay eggs for next year. Fire ants, mosquitos and ticks are out too but their bites and stings are minor annoyances compared to the beauty of this season.
The familiar line, “March comes in like a lion…” is certainly true this year with the recent storm system that produced devastating tornadoes across the mid-west and east. Having experienced a killer hurricane, I am sympathetic for those who lost family, friends and property. For those of us in the Coastal Southeast, however, the winds were tolerable and the rain was welcome. The latest report shows drought across much of the Coastal Southeast with severe drought in Texas and from southeastern Alabama through much of Florida to coastal North Carolina. Large pockets of extreme drought and exceptional drought have developed within this drought region. (See the Drought Monitor at http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ )
Earlier this week, the afternoon temperature was 86 degrees F. The next day was windy with seven-tenths of an inch of rain. As the cold front arrived, the temperature dropped to 39 degrees F. This is typical of late winter and spring. For the past few years, cold fronts have been our most reliable sources of rain. Unfortunately, late frosts or freezes at this time of year cause a lot of damage to our gardens. I am not sure that the risk of frost is completely over in my garden but I am ready now to take that gamble and plant my spring garden this week. Asparagus, collards, carrots, cabbage, lettuce and onions survived the last freeze (22 degrees) and are growing. I will replant broccoli and sow pea seeds. By mid- to late March, I’ll plant tomato plants and it will be time to start spring garden seeds like beans, corn, eggplant, okra, squash and melons.
Strawberries and blueberries have been flowering and are starting to produce fruits. Tiny Chickasaw plums have tiny, developing fruits. The last of my low-chill apples, Tropic Sweet, flowered last month. I purchased Fuji, Gala and Pink Lady apples from a nursery in Georgia last month. They have not broken dormancy yet. I suspect that this is due, in part, to the recent transplanting. I hope it is an indication that these apple cultivars will not break dormancy early and be damaged by late frosts like Anna and Dorsett in my garden. Other fruit trees, like figs, persimmons and jujube, are just beginning to break dormancy. Tangerines are starting to sprout new leaves. I have had enough winter and am ready for spring, too.
Spring flowers are beginning in earnest. In my neighborhood, native coral honeysuckle, pink pinxter azalea, redbud and dogwood are in bloom. Flower buds of the native crabapple are swelling. As the live oak leaves drop, many other trees are producing bright green and reddish new leaves that glow in the sunlight against the dark green background of pine trees. Spring blooming camellias are nearly finished with their flowering. Walter’s viburnum is almost finished, snowball viburnum is starting and Philippine viburnum (Viburnum luzonicum) is covered with buds. Flowers of hybrid azaleas are just beginning to open. A few wildflowers are in bloom. Violets, lyre-leaf salvias, woodland phlox, spiderwort, blue hearts (Buchnera,) blue-eyed grass and yellow-eyed grass (Hypoxis) add spots of color to the landscape. Florida anise (Illicium floridanum,) yellow ragwort (Packera aurea) and white false lupine (Baptisia alba) in bloom now. These three are native to the southeastern United States but are not native to northeast Florida. Fortunately, all grow well in my garden. My potted calendula, Snow Princess allysum, Iceland poppy, geranium and nemesia are still flowering and, with temperatures rising, the calibrachoas are starting again. Larkspur, California poppy and corn poppy grew through the winter but have not flowered yet. I have enjoyed potted plants for the past couple of years and especially enjoyed the colorful annuals around the entry of my house this winter. The pots hold a growing medium that is better than my native garden soil. They are easy to move for cold protection or to change their positions as plants go in and out of flower.
I am ready to get my fingers into the garden. For the moment, I am still planning. My priority is to reduce maintenance demands. My father’s garden books separated landscape plants into herbaceous perennial beds and shrub beds. I have mixed them in my home landscape beds but am beginning to rethink my approach. Bermuda grass, dollar weed and Florida betony, in particular, have invaded the sunny beds so thoroughly that I need to start over. I do not want to dig aggressively around the shrubs and damage their roots. I do not want to spray a lot of herbicides for the weeds. Instead, I plan to renovate these beds so I can better manage them. I have enjoyed the potted plants and the raised vegetable bed. So, I will build a raised bed along the driveway for herbaceous perennials and potted plants. This will concentrate the color and the highest maintenance plants into a small prominent area. Then, I will revisit the old beds, planting vigorous herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees that can out-compete these weeds, focusing more on natives and fruit-producing plants.
By comparison, the shady parts of my garden have been much easier to maintain. I enjoy working in the shade during the summer and have filled these areas with plants. Camellias, azaleas, gingers, viburnums, butcher’s broom and many others give my shade garden a lot of color and interesting textures. I will expand my shade garden this year. I am planting more trees, too, for further expansion.
This has been a strange winter. Following a warm December, early January brought my zone 9a home garden five freezes with a low temperature of 25 degrees F. My landscape turned from predominately green to brown overnight. In mid-month, temperatures rose again and we enjoyed days in the 70's and 80's. Now, in early February, my trees are producing new leaves and some are flowering. This weekend (Feb . 11-12,) my garden will see overnight temperatures in the mid-twenties again. It seems that most of my winters here have warm temperatures that lull leaves and flowers out of their buds only to hit them with one more freeze or frost. If our yo-yo temperatures are not enough, the two years of drought continues. So far in 2012, my garden has received three tenths of an inch of rain. I have been making catalog orders for rare plants in the hopes that rainfall and temperature patterns will improve this year. Gardeners are optimistic people, aren't we?
Recently, I purchased Dr. Michael Dirr's new book, Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. It is a big book with a lot of good information but gardeners in the Coastal Southeast may not find a lot of improvements over Dirr's Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates. Every gardener in the Coastal Southeast should have one of these two books but chose the one that best fits your budget and bookshelf. I get a lot of useful information from all of Dirr's garden books but, like so many other garden references, they do not address the hardiness of plants in zones 8b and 9 well. Also, it seems that Dirr does not take the issue of invasive plants seriously. After spending so much time removing exotic pest plants from natural areas, I am very sensitive to the issue. I am concerned, too, that if gardeners do not manage this issue, the federal government may decide to exercise greater control over the importation of plants.
The 2012 version of the USDA hardiness zone map was released recently, too. The web-based map is improved in many regards but the changes in the zone locations in the Coastal Southeast seem strange to me. The USDA website states that the zone borders have moved northward by about half a zone based on annual low temperatures. My home garden was in zone 8b previously. That seemed correct since I have had three winter lows in the teens F in the past ten years. Now it is in zone 9a where winter lows are supposed to be 20 to 25. Obviously, a map does not change the plants I can grow. I am concerned that it may confuse the issue greatly for gardeners with reference books that pre-date this change and with the latest catalogs. Certainly, I have a lot of work to do to adjust to these changes on my website. I have read a few statements on forums and blogs that some gardeners in the northeast find that these changes agree with their observations. Regardless, hardiness zone maps have changed before and we will adjust once again.
My apples are in full flower again with another hard freeze forecast. This happens most years and my apple yield is determined by the severity and timing of late freezes. I notice that native crabapples flower later than the domestic apples and have never been damaged by late cold spells. It makes me wonder about the standard recommendations of "Anna," "Golden Dorsett" and 'Tropic Sweet' for northern zone 9a. I see a few other apple cultivars in on-line catalogs that require a few more cold chill hours. Has anyone else had experience in northern zone 9 or lower zone 8 with apple cultivars like Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Summer Banana or others?
I mentioned that I have been ordering plants. Camellia Forest's Ternstroemia collection is worth mentioning. This is a fairly common, sturdy plant in the Coastal Southeast. Camellia Forest offers a variegated cultivar, a dwarf form and a selection with golden foliage. It is great to see interesting new forms available of a time-tested, reliable plant like this.
February is a good time to find fruit trees in the nurseries and to plant them in the landscape. It is time to restart vegetables that were damaged by last month's freezes. One key to success is watering through the dry spring until summer rains start (hopefully.) Plan now to protect tender plants from late winter freezes and frosts. The last few years of cold winters and drought have been hard on gardens for some of us. It is about time we had a garden-friendly spring.
I just read about two new problems for gardeners in the Coastal Southeast.
Daylily leaf miner found in Florida. (I do not have a good link for this more information at this time.)
Boxwood blight in North Carolina. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/337795/title/Boxwood_blight_invades_North_America
Others in the eastern United States are complaining about the lack of snow and ice during this mild winter. Okay, maybe not everyone but the news reports that skiers, snow-mobilers and ice fishermen are complaining.
Typically, the severity of winter in the Coastal Southeast is determined by a few cold fronts from December through March. Our temperatures yo-yo between the 80's and freezing temperatures. One of these fronts just brought a low of 25 degrees F to my zone 8b garden. It killed the foliage of my bananas, gingers, pentas, plumbagos and other tender plants. If this is the coldest night of the year, I would still consider it to be a moderately cold winter because of the damage caused by this one night. However, the winter is still young and we may experience more landscape-altering cold fronts before spring arrives.
These cold fronts are not all bad. They are our primary sources of rainfall during the winter and spring months. Tropical rains will not begin until June or July.
The cold weather does not mean that Coastal Southeast gardeners stop working in their yards. Leaves may fall from October into spring, with live oak leaf fall bringing up the rear in April. Citrus and persimmons bear fruits into the early winter and then need fertilization in February. In mild winters, my loquat flowers and begins developing fruits. Winter vegetable gardens are somewhat fragile because of uncertain weather but usually I can grow collards, cabbage, carrots, onions and asparagus through the winter. Lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, beets and turnips may survive the winter or may require a second planting in late winter. With any luck, I'll harvest greens throughout the winter months. By late winter, I start peas, parsley and potatoes. Usually, winter and early spring are a good time to grow leafy greens because insects are inactive.
The ornamental garden varies according to the temperatures. Roses, bottlebrushes, mahonias and certain azaleas bloom in the winter, although not during the coldest weather. The various species and hybrids of camellia flower from November to May. I can't imagine having a garden in the Coastal Southeast without several different camellias. A few winter wildflowers flower in winter. Right now, violets and creeping houstonia are in bloom. Others, like lyre-leaf sage and dock, were stopped by the recent freeze. In my garden, beautyberry and wax myrtle fruits are gone by January but hollies and sarcandra still have colorful fruits. Sabal palms still have small black fruits. These small fruits help attractive birds to my garden. Coontie (Zamia floridana) seeds are ripening and spilling out onto the ground. Further south where the plant is native, I saw squirrels and birds carrying off these seeds so they could eat the orange flesh. Here, the animals have ignored them.
To brighten up my winter zone 8b garden, I plant winter annuals in pots. They provide a welcoming spot of color near the house entry and can be easy to protect when severe cold fronts threaten. I have learned not to plant annuals in pots that are too heavy to carry quickly to protection. So far, my favorites are nemesia and diascia, Snow Princess allysum, callibrachoa (the mini-petunias,) larkspur, Iceland poppy and calendula. I like nasturtium but have come to realize that this plant requires protection from each and every frost. Cornflowers and California poppies seem to have have potential but I have to plant them in a better drained potting soil next time to prevent damping off disease. Violas, pansies, snapdragons and petunias are suitable for the winter garden, too.
Cold hardy succulents are another option for container gardening in the Coastal Southeast. My hardy agaves, cacti, sedums, nolinas, dasylirions and yuccas provide interesting forms throughout the year. It is important that drainage is excellent, or that the plants are protected from winter rains.
This month, I see chipping sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers and robins. I am sure more migrants are out there that I have missed but they are not all here, yet. For example, I have not seen a goldfinch yet. Resident mockingbirds, cardinals, Carolina wrens, ground doves, mourning doves, Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice are active. I see bats at dusk and hear barred owls calling each night. Native anoles bask in the sun on warm days and green tree frogs will show up at lit windows whenever the nights are warm enough. I see gray squirrels nearly every day of the year. In the late afternoons, I hear red foxes barking. I assume that they preparing for new litters. Most of the insects I see are cold-hardy bees and flies at flowers. While raking leaves, I watched a monarch butterfly glide by, then a buckeye butterfly and green darner dragonfly. Like the plants in the garden, animal life is less exuberant but you can see interesting things if you look.
Oh, and I do take time to review the many seed and plant catalogs that arrive during the winter, just like our chilly friends to the north.