Thursday, January 14, 2010

Brand New Day

With the temperature forecast to reach nearly 70 today, I knew it was time to begin the clean-up and renewal of My Florida Backyard. I decided to focus on the back gardens, since these are the ones we see the most. I had dreaded the job, feeling it would be a lot like going to a funeral - it just seemed like everything was dead.

But, I had some pleasant surprises. As I cleared away dead brush in the butterfly garden, I discovered that nearly every milkweed plant had a stalk or two with new growth on it, growth that had been protected from the cold somehow. And on one particularly lucky plant, I discovered not one but two little Monarch caterpillars!

The purple lantana survived as well, and the blanket flower seedlings made it through just fine. They were scattered pretty haphazardly through the garden, so I transplanted them into a slightly more orderly pattern. Within a few weeks I should have a lot of bright blooms from this wonderfully hardy wildflower.

The true surprise of this whole ordeal has been that the flowers on the south side of the house haven't been affected at all. The pentas and angelonias, both of which would have been wiped out anywhere else, were protected (I assume) by the radiant heat from the side of the house. Looking at that area, you'd never know we just suffered the most severe cold snap the state has seen in 50 years.

Still, there can be no doubt the rest of the garden needs some help. I've never planted many annuals in My Florida Backyard, because native perennials can generally be used to provide year-round blooms. This year, obviously, is the exception, so I headed out yesterday to several nurseries, determined to find something to add a little color back to the gardens. The nurseries, as you might expect, had pretty slim pickings - after all, the cold snap affected them too.

I did manage to find two trays of very healthy and cheerful yellow snapdragons - a great choice because they will tolerate frost, which is still very possible over the next month or two. I also found a Tampa Verbain (a great endangered Florida native that butterflies just love) and a plant I'd never encountered before called Calibrachoa (see below). This South American native is very similar to petunia, with the great advantage of being willing to tolerate light frost. I bought two of these beauties, one in purple and one in dusky pink, and before I even had them in the ground, a bright yellow sulphur butterfly stopped by for some lunch (but left before I could grab the camera).

The newly planted Tampa Verbain was popular too - this Gulf Fritillary barely moved as I planted snapdragons all around it. As butterflies "wake up" after this cold snap, they may have trouble finding food - many of the nectar plants were killed. I'm glad I can provide some for them in My Florida Backyard.

This time of year, the east-facing butterfly garden doesn't get as much sun, so I decided to focus the planting in the sunny south-facing garden nearby. With all the plants fairly close together, I can cover them if another severe cold snap threatens, and for the next few months we should have bright blossoms right where we can enjoy them.

So, the rejuvenation of My Florida Backyard is underway. We hope now for warm sun and gentle rains to continue the work our hands have begun.

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