Garden Diary - January 8, 2017: The First Winter Freeze

The first big freeze of 2017 here in N. Florida has left me with a lot of damage  in my tiny garden. I didn't cover anything but one brugmansia with a seed pod on it, because I wanted to see just what could survive a freeze and what couldn't. It seems that the courtyard does not offer as much protection as I had thought, but the south facing fruit wall garden doesn't seem to have had much damage at all, just like last year.

So here are the winners and the losers:

In The Courtyard

Strangely enough, the Cherokee Purple tomato is badly wilted, while the Supersweet 100 next to it seems fine so far (see pic above). Luckily, I have a couple of rooted suckers from the CP, so I can replant that once it gets warmer. By the way, that trellis to the right is one I picked up from beside the dumpster. It has a broken leg and is a bit rusted, but I can fix all that and it will be pretty with some Cardinal Climber planted on it, from seeds I rescued from a plant down the road just recently.

The banana plants sustained major cold damage to the leaves, but I won't know about the fruit until it either turns black and falls off or continues to grow. I don't see how it can survive another cold night, though, and we have many more to come this winter. It would have been nice to have bananas, but it wasn't meant to be.


Tender plants in the courtyard, such as the Phillipine Spinach are wilted, but the milkweed looks fine. I think this is the last hurrah for the giant elephant ear, though. It usually goes completely dormant after the first real freeze, so no great loss there, since I'm taking it out this year anyway. The collards and kohlrabi are fine, if still growing at a snail's pace, and the kohlrabi refuses to bulb.

The Brugmansia Bed

The only plant I covered was the brug with a seed pod, and it still wilted. I cut one limb with a seed pod off and have it in water in the house. I may do the same with the other seed pod branch, because I'd really like to get some seeds. Some parts of the brugs have wilted leaves and some don't One is defiantly still blooming.  They normally die to the ground and reemerge in spring, and they are going to come out and be moved anyway, so I'm not too worried about them.

The oyster plants in the brug bed border all have frozen foliage, which is to be expected since they are Z10 plants, but they have leaves piled around them, so they may come back from the base. I've had that happen many times before in SW FL during freezes. Still, I will probably go dig up and pot the largest clump and cover the others with pots tonight.

The Hibiscus Bed 

The hibiscus seem to be fine, and are still blooming this morning. I'm sure after another night of cold, they will likely drop all their flowers, but that's o.k., because I'm planning on whacking those back severely in February. Everything in the bed underneath seems to be fine, save a few exposed frozen leaves of the wandering jew. Even the shrimp plant survived, but I've taken several cuttings from that in anticipation of its death, which will go into the shadiest part of the new butterfly garden this year.

The South-facing Fruit Wall Bed

Of course, everything in this bed is fine, as usual. Not even the yellow cannas have gone completely dormant. I did see red on the Confederate Rose leaves, and the coleus will probably not survive another night of cold, but that's fine, because it's supposed to go completely dormant anyway. The pigeon pea blooms seem to be frozen, but I can't tell. It's a pretty tough plant. Everything has 3-4 inches of oak leaves protecting its roots, so I don't see anything not surviving the winter, unless we have some strange arctic express or something later on.

So that's it for the first freeze. We are expecting even colder temps tonight, so the bananas and tender things will likely not survive, but that's nature.

Happy Gardening!

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Garden Diary: 2016 - The Experimental Garden Year in Review

2016 was the first full year I had in this space, and as the year comes to an end, I'm looking back on my triumphs, tragedies and what I've learned from this tiny garden. With less than 300 sf to work with, no money to speak off, horrible soil and problems with sun and shade, the learning curve was steep, but I mucked along in my own "do or die" way and had a few triumphs.

Traditional Veggies Were a Bust, but Tropical Veggies Thrived

When I moved here, I had grand plans for growing veggies, but lack of sun quashed that idea, and I ended up getting very little by the way of traditional veggies at all. I did get a few tomatoes, but vowed never to grow them again. HA! I have tomatoes out there growing right now, and the Cherokee Purple and SuperSweet 100 have blooms and a couple of fruits, while the Everglades seedlings both in and out of the ground are doing well. I think the secret is in finding the right time of year to plant them, and moving them to a spot that gets more afternoon sun in the winter.

Some things that seemed to be doing well disappointed, like the Seminole pumpkin which grew a twenty-foot vine that only produced one fruit and died before the fruit could mature. I have it indoors now, trying to see if it will ripen in a sunny window, but I don't hold out much hope. The sweet potatoes grew beautiful vines, but when I went to dig them, I found no potatoes at all.

The big triumph so far of this year was that the banana tree bore fruit. It may turn out to be a tragedy, since the fruit is still in danger of freezing, and isn't mature enough to pick yet.

Another triumph was the pigeon pea,which gave me a decent amount of peas last year, but has grown to over 10 feet tall and  is loaded this year, along with a baby tree I planted from seed this past spring which is 6 feet tall and heavy with peas. Unfortunately, I have discovered I'm not too crazy about pigeon peas, so I'll only grow them as chop-and-drop material and to attract pollinators and give the peas away.

Non-traditional edibles, like edible hibiscus, taro, xanthasoma and Florida spinach (talinum fruticosum) grew exceptionally well, while traditional leaf vegetables like collards and lettuce struggled.

Bees and Butterflies

Last winter, a monarch decided to lay eggs on my milkweed, and one of the larvae pupated on one of the last remaining milkweed leaves. Luckily, it was in a pot, so I ended up bringing it inside during cold snaps to save it, and it finally hatched in early spring. Reading that they would return to their same breeding grounds the next year, I planted more milkweed, and sure enough, one lone monarch returned and laid her eggs. I had about a dozen or more larvae, with half already growing to maturity and going off to find a place to build their cocoons and the others still munching happily along. I don't see any cocoons yet, but I still may find one.

This year, I had many more butterflies and pollinators visit, as they discovered my little patch of flowers. Sulfur butterflies are frequent visitors, and the Cassia bicapsularis I grew from cuttings last year will be planted this year for them to eventually lay eggs on. My favorite butterfly this year, and one that did me the most good, was a tiny little long-tailed skpper who pollinated my butterfly weed so it would make seeds. I also saw a few gulf frittilaries, so I'm going to try to find a passion vine for them to breed on.

On the bee front, a couple of carpenter bees lay claim to my pigeon pea, and chased off many an intruder on their bountiful find. Native bees also loved the pigeon pea, and I had a couple of varieties of those gathering pollen. When the marigolds burst forth with bloom in early fall, there were all sorts of bees and other insects on them. In November, I made my first honeybee sighting, which thrilled me, because there are so many trees around here where they could build hives. I'm hoping to see more in 2017. There was a large cicada killer wasp that came around, but my paper wasps never built a nest, because my neighbor kept spraying them whenever they tried.

Beneficials and Baddies

My Confederate Rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) struggled this year, due to a horrible infestation of whitefly. I fought as hard as I could, but finally gave up the fight and decided to just use systemic insecticide next year. Then, one day, I noticed a ladybug on a leaf, and discovered that she had laid eggs and the larvae were munching happily on the whitefly eggs and larvae. The plant was too far gone for them to do much good, but they cleaned it up rather well, and I'm sure they will be back next year to keep it clean. Therein lies the dilemma, though. If I treat it with systemics, there will be nothing for them to eat, and they may actually be killed. Luckily, the butterfly weed has a ton of aphids, and they seem to be migrating to those, so maybe they'll be o.k.

I fought a bad infestation of army worms on my Brugmansia (angel trumpet) plants this year, going out every evening and every morning to pull them off and drown them. I'm sure they'll be back next year, so I'm prepared to do battle once again. Luckily, the brugs survived to burst forth in a glorious display of blooms in the fall.

I've learned a lot from gardening in this space this year, and although I had some failures, I know what to do and not to do in 2017 now, so the experiment continues with more flowers and a dedicated butterfly garden in the future.My plan is to strip the gardens and start all over, so Subscribe to The Consummate Gardener by Email for more adventures to come!

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in January

January is one of the coldest months in North Florida, but it's a great month for starting veggies for your spring garden. Put your potatoes in the ground this month, and start some tomatoes from seed or clone some from your existing plants for spring planting. You can also brighten up your landscape with the cute smiling faces of pansies or add a graceful camellia to your flowering shrubs. As the days get longer and winter is upon us, gardening is still going strong in our part of the state.

Preparing For the "Polar Plunge"

It's that time of year, and now we're having our first serious freeze warning. The weatherman is calling for freezing temperatures in North Florida on Thursday and Friday nights. The predicted temperatures keep fluctuating, but it seems

Garden Diary: November 30, 2016

This is a picture of me using leaves to kill grass to expand the garden last year.

 I can't believe it's almost December, and then it's 2017, and I haven't gotten half of the things done that I wanted to do. Thing is, I just got burned out trying to do too much, and now I'm going to relax and concentrate on building the soil in the beds instead of expanding them any more. I'll let all the tender plants die back and reconfigure the bulbs, etc. so they will grow and thrive.

Luckily, I have a lot of leaves around here to use for mulch and soil amendment. Today, I was racing the yard crew to get my elm leaves raked before they came through to mow. The guy who runs the mower on my side of the complex is a good ole' country boy, and if he sees me out there working, he'll just mow slowly or do other areas and come back to my tiny little strip in front of my apartment. He and I have talked, and he likes to garden too, so I was happy to see him on the mower today.

I got all the elm leaves raked today, and got most of the then-fallen oak leaves yesterday. I didn't want to really cover up the gardens yet, so I put the leaves into the courtyard. It looks really strange out there now, but it gets covered in leaves in the fall anyway, because a lot of the oak leaves blow into it. As the outer gardens die down, and there are plenty more to fall. I'll carry these out of the courtyard and put them into those beds, and of course, leave some in here too.

The leaves will keep the earthworms warm and well-fed in the winter. I'll water them tomorrow to mash them down a little. It takes awhile for them to settle in and stop blowing around, but once they mat down, they make a great ground cover.  When they're loose, I worry about spiders crawling over my feet when I walk through them.

I could get many more leaves if I wanted, because this place is full of trees. If I felt like picking out the pine cones, I could get pine straw. I should have picked up Spanish Moss after the storms this summer, but I didn't, so I'll try to get a bit now to put over the top of the leaves to make it a little more attractive. People look at me weird when I start raking and picking up moss, but I don't care. They love my flowers, so they should appreciate how I grow them.

If I won the lottery, I'd buy this place and turn it into a complex for gardeners. Not as much veggies as ornamentals, but still, I'd let them use the land around their apartments to plant whatever they wanted.That isn't going to happen, so I guess I'll just be happy with what I have.

Hope all of you are getting bountiful amounts of leaves for your gardens. Free soil amendment and compost material is never a bad thing.

Happy Gardening!

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in December (Updated 2016)

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule or whatever you celebrate this holiday season. No, you can't plant poinsettias in North Florida this month, but what would December be without them?

Garden Diary - November 20, 2016

Monarch on Tropical Milkweed

I don't think I'm going to get any Monarch babies this year. This butterfly has been hanging around, but I don't see any eggs or larvae yet. I can't bring the plant inside this year, so if they make chrysalises, they'll just

Garden Diary: November 10, 2016

Not much to say today. I planted some sweet potato slips this summer, just mostly for ground cover. I had a few that had come back up from the winter, which I just let grow. I don't know how to grow them up here, obviously, because

Tiny Flowers Make Me Smile

I love tiny flowers, which is why I love wildflowers so much, I guess. Any little weed that has a pretty flower catches my eye. I was walking around the garden this morning and snapped a few pics of some of the tiny flowers in my garden.

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in November (UPDATED)

Last year's post had me grumbling about not knowing what I was doing in Gainesville, but I've learned a little since then. Plus, the IFAS/UF Vegetable Gardening Guide has been updated, so there will be some changes to what you can and cannot plant in November in North Florida.

Plants From the Spice Rack

Dill Flowers
Did you know that many of the spices you use will grow herbs, veggies or flowers? Yes, they will! Read here, then check out your own spice rack to see what you can find. Tell me if I missed anything.

Garden Diary - October 19, 2016

Hibiscus Radiatus

Well, fall is coming in fast, and whereas parts of the gardens are going to sleep, others are just waking up.  The perennial hibiscus are starting to bloom. the H. radiatus (picture above) is blooming like mad and the Confederate Rose is showing signs

Garden Diary: October 9, 2016

The final blooms of the season of the desert rose

Last year when I brought in all the plants still in containers, I only had a small path left in the LR. This year, when I took the ones inside back out, I kept looking to see if I'd missed anything. Nope. All out. Shocked at just how few I have left to

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in October

Shasta Daisies
October in North Florida is the time when summer plantings are finished, and it's time to plant your winter crops, and some perennials and bulbs for spring blooms. It's also the last chance to plant strawberries, although you can still plant

Waiting On a Hurricane

Meet hurricane Matthew. This is what it looked like at 7:00 AM ET. It's ripping the east coast of FL apart as we speak, tearing down power lines, blowing away houses and knocking down trees. Over here in Gainesville, the effects are scheduled to start rolling in about 11:00 AM ET

The good news is that Matthew is now a Category 3,