Floridata Article

Garden To Do List

Yes, it's the beginning of the year and like all good gardeners I'm adjusting my gardening strategies for the year.

Basil crop at mid-season.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Hydrilla costs us $$.

Kill More Invasive Aliens

This year, for me, it's time to kill more aliens. Last year around this time I harvested a goodly number of water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes) from our finger of the lake: they were a great addition to my compost. This year a few more have floated in, so I'll remove those on a warm day* when it's comfortable to jump in the water.

There's another alien in the lake this year, that's going to need attention: it's hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata). Even though the lake association has paid for special herbicide applications and has brought in grass carp that eat hydrilla, some of it has taken root in the bottom under our boat lift I'll pull it out along with its tuberous roots so it won't grow back so quickly. I'll be sure to compost every scrap so it doesn't add to the population. Each piece can become a new plant.

Hydrilla's shameful history: Once upon a time, hydrilla, a native of the warm waters of Asia (probably Korea), was sold to aquarium owners. It grew very well and produced dissolved oxygen in any type of tank for the benefit of the fish. At least two people dumped their aquarium contents into the waters of Florida, and in 1960 it was growing wild in the Crystal River on the Gulf coast and in a canal near Miami. It grew just as well in Florida waters as it had it all those aquaria. Boaters did the work of spreading hydrilla to almost every lake and river in the state by chopping it up with their propellers, and not washing the pieces from their boats before re-launching in another body of water. Now many millions of dollars have been spent to keep it under control because it has clogged our waterways.

Those carp that were bought for our lake, at a cost of $6 to $10 apiece, are sterile, so we have to keep buying more as they die off. The herbicide treatment is an annual expense that puts a big dent in the lake management budget.Unfortunately, we can never turn back the clock and have Florida's waterways unfettered by this pest, so we all have to do what we can to keep it under control.

Wedelia, the beautiful invasive.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt
The beautiful invader: Creeping daisy or wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata).

It was widely planted in this region as a ground cover; now it's on the invasive plant list for Florida and nurseries are not supposed to sell it any more. There are two invasive lists, the most widely invasive are on list #1, and regional invasives like wedelia are on list #2.

It has crawled all over the shady back meadow, into the wooded area, and out in the mowed lawn areas. The diversity of this meadow area is quite low compared to our other meadows without this fast-growing invader. It had also started to grow out front, but I caught it in time and have kept it under control. Of course it keeps sprouting anew. Oh the weeder's work is never done in Florida.

Rattlesnake or grape ferns now grow where wedelia once covered everything.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.
Rattlesnake ferns (Botrychium virginianum)

This year I vow to continue working on pulling it out, especially in wooded areas where it's covered ferns and other native plants. Last year I pulled it out at the edge of a wooded area, and now rattlesnake ferns have appeared. I'd never noticed them before: I guess their spores were waiting for more light. I love ferns and welcome this new addition to our collection. See my column on ferns.

Another invader that I'm working on is the Chinese tallow or popcorn trees (Sapium subiferum). I'm sorry to kill them, because they are nice-looking trees with heart-shaped leaves, good fall color, and the birds love those white puffy seeds. But they have to go: they are on the number one list of invaders, and they are sprouting everywhere in our neighborhood. I've girdled the trunks with a saw and have sprayed herbicide on the bare wood underneath. I won't know until spring if I've killed them or not. I'll leave most of them where they stand as dead wood to provide habitat for wood-boring birds.

For more on invasive plants in Florida: Plant Management in Florida Waters: an Integrated Approach.

Remove More Lawn

Our mostly St. Augustine lawn is dormant: my husband hasn't mowed since early November. I've been de-thatching the lawn during its dormancy. It's not an easy task, so I've been working one small area at a time and have completed most of the lawn at this point. As an experiment, I've left a sizable section of the front yard alone: it's in full sun and a good distance away from trees where grass should do well. I'll let you know what differences I can see between that experimental area and rest of the de-thatched lawn.

De-thatching with a metal leaf rake.  Photo by Ginny Stibolt.

There are a number of ways to de-thatch, but here's what I've done. I hold my flexible metal leaf rake vertically and use short strokes to pull up the thatch, and then I rake it again perpendicular to the first pass. I try also to rake left handed half the time so I'll be a more balanced person. It was also time to rake the leaves from the lawn, but de-thatching is more intense than just raking the leaves. Now we have lots of new compost and mulching material.

Our lawn is its own ecosystem. After more than two years without fertilizer or pesticides, there are some bad spots in our lawn; but the bluebirds, blue jays, brown thrashers, moles, and armadillo have been working on the grubs, mole crickets, and other critters. They've also done a good job of aerating the soil under the grass. I pat the divots left by the armadillo back in place and they re-root quickly. Also, the sod that I've transplanted to these dead spots has done very well. My un-poisoned lawn is its own ecosystem. The more lawn I cut away, the more sod I have to fill in the holes and the less I'll have to do when I de-thatch the lawn the next time.

Another part of our lawn removal will be replacing the grass at the edge of the lakeside bulkhead with mulched gardens and with pavers for access to the boat lift shed and dock area. This will make the area easier to mow and it will reduce the likelihood of our grass trimmings falling into the water. The lake doesn't need any more organic matter to absorb. If we all did just a little for our waterways, the health of our whole region would improve.

Try Tomatoes Bred for Florida's Heat

This last year we had a successful batch of tomatoes, but they petered out well before the end of summer. There are some tomatoes bred for Florida's heat, and we'll try some of those this year. I'll let you know what we find out.

Finish Writing the Book

"Sustainable Gardening for Florida," to be published by University Press of Florida, is an exciting project. I've learned so much from expert and amateur gardeners and property managers across the state as I've worked on my research. My goal is to get the whole first draft done by May. It will cut into some of my gardening time, but I knew that when I started this project.Look for some previews later this year.

I trust that you are working on your 2007 garden plans. Let me know how your garden grows. Happy New Year to you!

Ginny Stibolt moved to northeastern Florida in 2004 and even though she's a botanist and lifelong gardener, Florida gardening was a shock. She started writing The Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener columns for the Times Union newspaper in Jacksonville. This is one of those columns archived here on Floridata.com for your enjoyment. Now she's written three Florida garden books published by University Press of Florida: Sustainable Gardening for Florida, 2009; Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida with Melissa Contreras, 2013, and The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape, 2015. Check out her blog for the latest news and articles: www.GreenGardeningMatters.com

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