Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Force of Nature

Much as we absolutely love living in Florida, there's some small part of us that misses the traditional signs of spring from up north. Starting with crocus and forsythia, through daffodils and tulips, to the ultimate fireworks of hundreds of flowering trees, spring up north seems desperate to display as much color and brilliance as quickly as possible once the grip of winter finally loosens. Here in Florida, there's no need for desperate displays, of course,  but we can't help but miss some of those traditional spring flowers. So, this year, we decided to force some spring bulbs, including tulips.

Tulips and other traditional spring bulbs require a dormant season in low soil temperatures, much lower than our ground temperature ever reaches here in Central Florida. In order to force them to bloom, it's necessary to mimic those conditions.

Back around Thanksgiving, we potted up six tulip bulbs and some grape hyacinth bulbs that we ordered from American Meadows, a popular bulb company. Per the instructions we found on the internet, we used soil-less potting mix and packed the pots full of bulbs; then we popped them into the crisper drawer in the fridge.

We left them in the fridge for a couple of months, until we noticed that a bit of fungus was growing on top of the soil. At this point, we thought perhaps we'd messed up the process, and just put the pots out on the porch and decided we'd see what happened. Within a week or so, green shoots started to appear, and within a month, we had tulip blooms!

We only planted half a dozen bulbs (this was really just a bit of an experiment this time around), and so far we've had pink (forgot to get pictures of that one), yellow, and red, with a few more buds starting to appear. When the bulbs are done flowering, there won't be any point in saving them for next year - the bulbs used up all their stored nutrients in the forcing process, and can't be forced again next year.

The grape hyacinths are starting poke up some bloom stalks now, so it seems our forcing experiment was more or less a success. It's nice to have a bit of northern spring here in My Florida Backyard while still enjoying the warm weather of February in the south!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Daily Mail

Well, the new year is less than two months old, and we're pleased to announce we've already completed one of our New Year's Resolutions. We finally took some time to add some plants around the mailbox, adding a little shot of color to the area.

We had a few challenges to meet, the main one being that the people who owned the house before us had placed lava rock around the mailbox area without putting down landscape fabric underneath. In the intervening years, the lava rock settled down into the soil, making it very difficult to plant in this area without digging up all the rock first... something we didn't really want to have to do. So instead, we used some edging and filled it in with fill dirt and potting soil. Then we added our plants, society garlic and bulbine.

Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is native to rocky grasslands in South Africa, and thrives in Florida's climate without being invasive. It grows and spreads by rhizome, and after a year or two you can divide and spread it to other areas if you like. It tolerates dry conditions but also withstands our humid summers, as well as withstanding temps as low as 20 degrees.

Society Garlic has a flush of blooms in mid-winter (right around this time) and then off and on throughout the spring and summer. It rests in the winter. The foliage has a strong garlic scent, but the purple flowers themselves are surprisingly sweet-smelling. The bulbs and leaves can be used just like garlic.

Society Garlic mixes well with - and is often planted alongside - Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens), another plant native to South Africa. They thrive in the same conditions and have similar foliage, so they look nice planted together.

Neither of these plants have particularly showy flowers, but their foliage remains green all year round and they'll do well in the dry sunny area by the mailbox. Later this year, we plan to add a flowering vine like thumbergia to climb up the mailbox pole and add some more color. This landscaping may not be exciting or flashy, but it's easy to care for and Florida-Friendly - and we've checked one of our resolutions off the list!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Share My World

Introducing a new monthly feature here at My Florida Backyard: Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! This monthly event was started by a blogger named Carol at her blog, May Dreams Gardens, and now over 100 bloggers participate, sharing all of the blooms in their own gardens on the 15th of each month. Starting this month, we do too!

Blooms in My Florida Backyard seem to be about three weeks ahead of normal this year, thanks to the very warm January. The mild freeze this past weekend scared us a bit, but there was no real damage. Below is a collage - click here to view a complete slideshow.

There's a lot going on here - in the coming days, look for posts on our mailbox landscaping and forcing tulips. The Hippeastrum out front is about to burst into bloom too, so expect to see that post soon. In the meantime, if you have your own garden blog, why not join in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day? If you do, drop a link to your post in the comments below - we'd love to check it out!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Pelican Brief

Every winter around this time, we get a very strange visitor to the lake in My Florida Backyard. It's unusual and yet expected, so even though we're no longer surprised, we're still always pleased to see him. It's a Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), which are common as dragonflies along the coastal waters but somewhat unexpected on a shallow inland lake more than five miles from the coast.

This brown pelican is an adult in non-breeding plumage - pelicans in breeding plumage have dark brown necks and white heads tinged with yellow. We've never known for sure if it's the same pelican that comes back each year (it's certainly possible - pelicans have been known to live 30 years or more), but it's definitely only a single pelican at a time. Sometimes he's part of the massive groups of water birds that congregate on the lake in the winter (see this previous post for an example) and sometimes he's on his own.

Some days we only see the pelican in flight overhead, soaring up and down the string of stormwater lakes that dot our neighborhood. Brown pelicans are unique among pelicans in that they look for food from the sky, diving in headfirst like a sleek arrow. Other pelican species hunt more like dabbling ducks, swimming on the surface and bobbing their heads under to catch fish. When the brown pelican bobs along on the water, he's just taking a rest between diving missions.

He looks large next to this flock of Double Crested Cormorants, but brown pelicans are actually the smallest of the eight species of pelicans found worldwide. The White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), found in some areas of Florida during the winter, can be more than twice its size. Still, the brown pelican is a commanding presence on our small inland lake, and we enjoy having one around every winter!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Two Little Flowers

The spring rehabilitation of My Florida Backyard has begun at last! We started small, with our favorite cool season wildflower - it's Tampa Vervain time! Each year, we wait eagerly for Tampa Mock Vervain (Glandularia tampensis) to start showing up at nurseries. Butterflies love it, and it flowers non-stop from now until the hot and humid summer days set in.

We mixed it with another tiny flower that butterflies adore, gold lantana (Lantana camara 'New Gold'). We like this lantana because even though some varieties of L. camara are found on the invasive lists, 'New Gold' is considered sterile and doesn't spread beyond where you plant it.

Purple and yellow is one of our favorite color combinations - together the two just look so happy and spring-like. And this will make a nice little corner for butterflies to visit while we work on the rest of the yard and gardens.

There's plenty more planting ahead this weekend in My Florida Backyard, so drop by in a few days to see the changes!