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Signs of Spring in Northeastern Florida, Finally!
by Ginny Stibolt

In mid March this year when Janice Lloyd, a USA Today writer in Virginia, interviewed me, she asked if there were any signs of spring here in northern Florida.  She became excited when I listed the early bloomers such as Carolina jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens), dew berry (Rubus trivialis), a crawling blackberry, and the St John's-wart (Hypericum spp).  I also told her about my winter vegetables.  She sent out a local photographer, who also took video.  It was a cold drippy day for a photo shoot on St. Patrick's Day, but the photos and the video came out very well.  Most of the time it wasn't pouring rain, but it made for an interesting opening of this really cool video taken by Bob Self of Jacksonville's Times Union newspaper.  The article "Spring has sprung gardeners, and 3 in 4 Americans can dig it" takes a broad look at the effects of the hard winter across the country and those in the arid regions of the SW US loved all the extra rain they got this winter. Wow, what exposure and what an ego trip!

Now, a couple of weeks later, spring really has arrived and I thought I'd share some of what's happening in my yard.

Chives and toadflax are decked out in their Easter lavenders.  Photo by Stibolt

<< Chives and toadflax decked out in their Easter lavenders.

I love the location of our herb garden. It's right next to the kitchen door.  At this time of year, the chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are blooming and I've left the toadflax (Lineria canadensis), a wildflower, stay in the herb garden for a while this year because it's pretty. The brighter green beyond the chives is meadow garlic (A. canadense), which is locally native.  I originally found some growing in my lawn and  now it's one of our favorite herbs.  I use the whole plant in stir fries and since its leaves are solid, not hollow like chives, it holds up much better.  The slightly garlicky flavor and smell is quite enjoyable.  I wrote about it and have a photo of its wild-haired flower head in Hidden Ginger and other Intriguing Monocots. You can also see the rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and dill (Anethum graveolens) in the background.  I've planted two types of basil in this garden, but they have not sprouted yet.

The toadflax has done so well this year that you can see it as a lavender haze in fields and along roads and the Wildflower Foundation has called 2010, the year of the toadflax because so many folks have reported large populations of it. 

The rain lilies have begun their erratic sprouting >>

These native rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) usually bloom after a good rain from now through summer, so you never know exactly when you'll see them.  If you're like me, you love to find surprises in your garden, so this beauty fills this need.  It's not in the lily family, but is in the amaryllis family.  I wrote about them in Rain Lilies for my Rain Garden.

As part of my book tour, I've been talking to a lot of groups about rain gardens. I've included them as part of sustainable gardening because any time you can slow rainwater down so it doesn't all end up in the storm drains, you've helped to restore our aquifers and helped to reduce water pollution. So make a point this year to sequester more rainwater on your property.

Royal ferns with their curled fertile parts at the top of each frond.  
		Photo by Stibolt<< The royal ferns have popped and their fertile leaflets atop each frond are curled and thick. This is what supposed to happen to royal ferns (Osmunda regalis), so don't panic if you notice these deformities.  The ferns we know and love are the sporophyte structures--the ones that produce spores.  The fertile parts of the fronds are where the spores will be produced. Normally once the fine dust-like spores have been released and blow away in a breeze, the fertile parts of the fronds will shrivel and break off. The sterile fronds will remain for us to enjoy for the remainder of the season.  If the spores land in a moist location, they will sprout into the gametophyte stage which produces the gametes or the male and female structures.  Moisture is necessary for the male sperm to "swim" to the female eggs.  The result of this union is the sporophyte stage.  A dual stage lifecycle may be somewhat difficult to comprehend, but everyone can enjoy the beauty of ferns in the landscape.  More fern details are in I Covet My Neighbors' Ebony Spleenworts.

Brandy Boy tomato seedlings guarded by a used cup.  
		Photo by StiboltAnd then there are the spring critters: 90% of the bugs are beneficial or benign, but ones that are destructive get our attention.  So this year as we planted our tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) and peppers (Capsicum spp), we installed used paper or Styrofoam cups, with their bottoms cut out, over each plant and stuck the bottom edge an inch or so into the soil. The culprit is cutworms. They are the larval stage of several moths which lay their eggs in weedy areas and they over-winter as grubs in the soil or as eggs. When the warm weather arrives the hungry worms come to the surface of the soil and chop off vulnerable seedlings at the soil surface.  You can loose your whole crop in one night's cutworm orgy.  Our tomatoes and peppers are safe from this hazard this year with this simple fix.  Another measure to take to lessen the cutworm threat is to keep your fallow beds weed-free with thick mulch of straw or pine needles so the adults will not find a place to lay eggs.  I took this photo last week--these Brandy Boy tomatoes are twice as big this week with all our warm weather.  My mouth is watering for a tomato sandwich, which I wrote about in Tomatoes are for Summer.

Enjoy your spring and the fruits (or vegetables) of your gardening labors.  I know I will.

Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners here in northeast Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in planting zone 8/9. She's written a book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," published by University Press of Florida.

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