Floridata Article

Celebrate the Vernal Equinox

Ginny planted seeds in her cutting garden to celbrate the first day of spring. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Ginny planted seeds in her cutting garden to celebrate the first day of spring.

It's that time of year when the equal days and nights cause birds and bats to set up housekeeping, and gardeners to scurry before summer's heat hits. Happy spring!

The gardener's flurry

It was high time to get my new spring bulbs and seeds in the ground, so the past couple of weeks have been busy. Down back by the lake, our bulkhead had been overrun with wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata)and wild taro (Colocasia antiquorum). I thought the wedelia was bad as an invasive, but the taros are much worse. Because the previous owner had planted sod right up to the bulkhead, there was also St. Augustine grass in the mix. My husband and I spent a few days working to clear the bed.

Now it's planted with some sago pups (Cycas revoluta) that I harvested last spring, some new liatris (Liatris spicata) corms, and some wild asters (not sure which one) from the lawn. Since it's a mostly sunny location, the seeds I've planted are purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), cleome (Cleome serrulata), and Burpee's hybrid zucchini squash (Cucurbita pepo).

I have not yet mulched the bed for two reasons: 1) I'm waiting for the seeds to sprout, and 2) I'm watching for those obnoxious taro sprouts. But the whole area looks so much better, and the bulkhead will last longer without all those weeds crawling over it.

Blue eyed grass at the edge of the lawn. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Blue eyed grass at the edge of the lawn.

In a damp site near the front rain garden, I removed more grass in front of the foundation plantings and planted some new pink rain lily bulbs (Zephyranthes grandiflora) and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) seeds that were as fine as dust. I also planted some blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) that I'd rescued from the lawn. There's an area on the way down to the lake where there are still quite a number growing with the grass. After I dug them out, I replaced my divots with grass plugs from other areas. It's all about reusing and recycling. I read one Florida lawn book that listed blue-eyed grass as a weed. I think of it as a treasure: it's blooming now in the rain garden.

Then I worked on the west-facing bed behind the garage. I'd tried some wildflower mixes there last year with limited success. I did end up with a gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia gloriosa) that has been blooming all winter even after I split it into several pieces. There are a couple of other perennial holdovers in this bed that I planted around. Last year the zinnias (Zinnia elegans) loved it out there, so I planted two different types this year. I also planted these seeds: scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), blanket flower (Gaillardia grandiflora), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), wild lupine (Lupinus perennis), and the heirloom hybrid, salvia blue bedder (Salvia farinacea). When I bought seeds from one company, they sent a bonus pack of wildflower mix, so I planted those seeds as well. Maybe a mix will do better with my new planting method.

The method I use now for planting seeds here in our weed-prone climate is to prepare the soil by digging in some of my compost and smoothing out the surface. I cover the planting area with a half-inch of sterilized soil. Then I sow the seeds and pat down the soil. For fine seeds like the cardinal flower, no topping is necessary. For larger seeds, I rub more of the sterilized soil between my hands to make a fine dust covering. This works for rows or areas. This year I'm going for the cottage garden look, so I've planted more areas and fewer rows. I make sure to plan for places where I can step for easy access to the beds.

All around the planting areas I mulch heavily with wood chips, making sure there are no gaps between the planting areas and the mulch. I'm still using wood chips that I got from a tree trimmer in our neighborhood last fall. The price was right: free.

Cardinals have set up housekeeping in Ginny's jasmine vine. Photo by Ginny Stibolt
Cardinals have set up housekeeping in Ginny's jasmine vine.

Signs of spring

The tangle of our jasmine vine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) offers cover for a cardinal's nest by the back porch. Right now there are two eggs in the nest. We have been careful not to let screened door slam as we go in and out.

Honeybees have been busy on the clover flowers in the lawn and in the blackberry brambles in the meadows. The hummingbirds are back at our feeder. There are mostly males this early in the season.

The bats are back, too. Unfortunately, they like our back porch pillars and leave their droppings on the screen and on the ledge outside of the screen. When they leave this year, we'll install screening on the open pillar tops, and put up a bat house or two out in the yard. We want them, but just not that close.

All these signs of spring are endlessly fascinating, and give me great joy. I celebrated the vernal equinox with vigorous gardening activities. Enjoy your spring, and get out in your garden!

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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