February 2004 - Gardener's Journal
February got off to a good start here in North Florida with a few sunny days but the cool gloomy weather that had hung around all January soon returned. By the middle of the month a constant rain and drizzle took hold for more than a week. The Big Bald Cypress Pond out front had almost dried but now at month's end it's spread itself among the cypress (Taxodium distichum) knees thus rescuing the small remaining population of fish from certain desiccation or (more likely) hungry birds. The Catfish Pond out back also rose about 1 ft (0.3 m) to the delight of seasonally resuscitated frogs and hungry minnows who are finding lots of good things to eat among the flooded feet of rushes (Juncus effusus) and grasses (Spartina bakeri) that outline the shore.
I didn't mind the dull weather too much because there's a lot of work to do on the computer and who needs to be continually tempted to go outside? Not me for sure. Another thing that I didn't need was to get hit by more computer worms, virus etc. But I did despite serious efforts to be safe and secure. I didn't ever get angry because it's just too depressing to comprehend how vulnerable the Internet is in general and Microsoft products are in particular (especially the Window 2000 operating system that I use). I think the problem is so dangerous that I'm not even going to whine about it but I do want to remind everyone to Protect Your PCs (Macs and Linux users need to secure there systems too!)
Wildlife at Floridune
You know how I'm always complaining about deer eating everything here? Well it seems the dining here is so good that they all decided to move in. Out in the front corner of the property is a wet area that is overgrown with gallberry (Ilex glabra), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) and probably a hundred other species to form a thicket so dense as to be impenetrable to all but really skinny snakes. That was until the deer engineered a highway system within the thicket complete with rest areas and scenic overlooks. They made grand boulevards wide enough for two deer to walk abreast. There's also narrow back door escape paths only about 6 in (15.2 cm) wide that lead from secret rooms hidden deep within the thicket. These deer parlors are furnished with piles of earth that serve as sofas so they have a dry place upon which to relax while they digest my plants. Within the complex seeps form small pools of fresh water for sipping and bathing and it looks like they had just finished clearing space for what appears to be a volleyball court.
It's all very nice for them but not for me because I'm selfish and don't want to share space with these always hungry creatures no matter how cute their children. So I've begun to thin out the thicket in the hopes of evicting these unwelcome homesteaders (don't feel sorry for them, this place is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of the St. Mark National Wildlife Preserve - they can move...). Unfortunately the thicket is really thick so they might still have a place to hide but not to hang out and relax. I'm making sure of that - I walk Bubba and the other Great Danes out there to pee and poop just to freak out the deer. Brutal yes, but a man must protect his plants.
While out surveying the deer colony I came across a boggy patch that was crisscrossed with bright yellow-green fuzzy ribbons. They looked familiar and my old brain whirred and clanked as I tried to place them - I flashed back to college botany class - swamps - ancient plant - primitive - Carboniferous Period - club mosses - lyco - Lygodium, no that's a ferny vine - lyco - lyco - Lycopodium! Woohoo! I remembered something and now I even have my own Lycopodium garden! Steve (who is a naturalist and knows these things) told me that where there is Lycopodium there are usually also sundew (Drosera spp.) plants, a meat-eating bog plant.
For a plant nerd like me this is a wonderful discovery. I plan to keep a pathway cleared so I can visit my bog throughout the year so I can watch what's growing on there. Floridata has already profiled a couple other carnivorous plant genera, pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp.) and Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) but we still need to do sundew which now we'll do since I have my own to observe and photograph.
I didn't mind staying inside on the computer because I got a lot of work accomplished for Floridata in February. During stretch breaks I'd walk out and prune a bush or two but I need to do a lot more stretching because almost everything is overgrown and in need of some sort of trimming. Even the places that did get attention look bad because the the branches and stems are still laying around looking messy. The pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) trimmings are all strewn about too. I wanted to dig them up this year but even just cutting them back took more time and energy than I had. Now there's all these 10 ft (3.1 m) long, sharp edged blades of pampas grass laying in wait to slash any bare skin they encounter (illustrating why they're called them "blades").
By mid-month I was anxious to get some new plants started despite the gloomy weather. A few weeks ago I noticed about a dozen little plants growing around the spot where I had dug up a crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) last winter. Each piece of severed root had grown several new stems. It was easy to dig them up and put them in pots where they'll be pampered over the summer so they'll put on some size before I plant them out in the yard next autumn. Not far away I found a similar arrangement of baby pipestem (Agarista populifolia) shrubs where I had dug one of those last year too. Pipestem is one of our beautiful native evergreens which grows well in the landscape but is also happy growing in shady wet places (like bottoms of the sinkholes we have here).
Many plants tend to form roots at points where stems come in constant contact with the soil. Azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) do this naturally and it is a fun and easy way to score new plants. Just look for stems that are touching the ground and give a light tug to see if it's rooted itself (but not hard enough to pull the roots out if they are there). If it is rooted, cut the stem about 2 in (5.1 cm) toward the main plant. Let the new plant grow in place until fall (or May if you're impatient like me) and then dig it up and pot. Treat it with tenderness and care and it will be ready to plant in the yard next fall or winter.
I like the bluish color and low profile of Parson's juniper (Juniperus davurica 'Parsonii') and favor it as a fine large scale ground cover for both sunny and shady areas. It's drought tolerant and seldom bothered by pests or disease which is why I'm eager to have more of these likeable shrubs. The stems of this ground-hugging plant often form layers and I found three up on The Hill already rooted. But more would be nice and there are techniques to encourage woody plants to layer. Remove the branches from a length of the stem. Girdle or scrape a 1 in (2.5 cm) strip of bark away with a blade. Dust the "wound" with rooting hormone (optional) then bury the stem and anchor with a stone or some other weight. Roots will eventually form and you can sever the stem in about six months time.
The camellias (Camellia japonica) have been sputtering out flowers since December but in February they totally exploded into color. The glossy leaved stems bend under the weight of their beauty and each shrub poses prettily in a pool of spent but still colorful blossoms. If you live where they can grow, I highly recommend this beautiful shrub. Even when not blooming their handsome foliage makes a beautiful backdrop for other plants and they don't require much effort to grow. The spectacular flowers come in different shapes, sizes and forms and in a palette of whites, pinks, roses, reds and patterns. Best of all, they bless with beautiful blossoms at a time when almost everything else is earthtone.
The old sand pear (Pyrus X Lecontei) began blooming in mid-February at about the same time as the saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana). The star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) started a week later but my yulan magnolia (Magnolia heptapeta) is not going to bloom because it's dead - a victim of deer vandalism. I was startled to see the red loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense) shrub out front already covered in witchhazel-resembling ruby red flowers. The red loropetalum takes me by surprise every year because a nearby loropetalum with ordinary white flowers doesn't bloom for another month or so.
If February is the month for deciduous magnolias around here then March is for azaleas. There's one called 'Solomon Salmon' that's been popping a few pinkish-orange blossoms each day for a while but in a few weeks this place will be an riot of "pastalea" color (visit next month fer sure!)
I'm happy to survive another month intact, especially a gray nasty one like February which, though grim was at least short (but could have been shorter!). In March I'll still be hard at work updating the older Plant Profiles which are benefiting from new pictures and the fact that I now have a spell checker. It's going to take me a while to work my way through the list (there's more than 725 Profiles now) and we'll be adding some new Plant Profiles to Floridata too.
An important way that you can help Floridata grow that doesn't cost anything is to do "word of mouth" advertising ( and "word of keyboard" too!). To survive Floridata must grow but I can't afford to spend much on advertising and depend on our visitors to share Floridata with friends and family. Perhaps you could also introduce us to your garden club, class, organization, church, local newspaper but only if you like us (if it's something bad or you have a complaint please send that to me instead!)
As I work on the final edits to my February Journal the weather is warm, sunny, breezy and I saw my first hummingbird of the season today! If it's not yet warm where you are let me assure you that Spring is coming soon so be good and grow! Jack
Jack Scheper 2/8/04