|Azaleas blooms switching to high gear|
|First Monarch of the season|
One good reason that I wait to trim is that the weather has been, and is always, unpredictable. Here in North Florida, even though we have pretty mild winters, there is actually a possibility of a freeze throughout the winter and well into Spring. Just last week one of my Facebook friends remarked that it was colder in Gainesville than it was at the Olympics at Sochi. Today it will be in the 80's. Next week, maybe cold again. Plants that have been trimmed back are more susceptible to freeze damage, especially when the temperatures are swinging back and forth. Also, trimming the plants may stimulate new growth, which could be damaged by frost. I've read that here in Gainesville it's better to wait until March to cut back dead vegetation. We rarely have frost after March. And by that time new growth will be coming up from the roots and you will be able to determine which branches are actually dead, vs. dormant (scratch the bark with your fingernail and if you see green underneath, it's still alive). In the meantime, the upper dead vegetation provides some buffer to the rest of the plant from the cold. So I tell myself to just wait. It is hard to hold back on those February days when the weather seems so perfect, but killing my plants is not a preferred outcome.
|Chipping Sparrow hanging out on a dried flower branch in the yard|
Another reason that I wait to trim is that the dead branches and dried seeds provide important shelter and food for wildlife. When the winter temperatures freeze back plants and insects, it can leave a food source vacuum for wildlife at this time of year. Seeds and berries on dead flowers and grasses (as well as filled bird feeders) give birds and other wildlife enough calories to keep warm and prepare for breeding season. And when trees, shrubs and plants have shed their leaves there is less shelter for them. Cutting back foliage before there are new leaves in the trees gives the animals fewer safe places to hide. Spiders, such as Green Lynx, lay their egg sacks on the tops of tall wildflowers. And there could be overwintering cocoons and chrysalids hanging in the safety of a low hanging limb. Trimming those plants kills all those helpful garden arthropods. And even later in the spring, birds will make their nests in the safety of thick azalea bushes. So I think of the wildlife and wait to cut.
|Spider Nest on spent Wood Sage|
So if I don't trim in February, what can I do in the garden when it's so nice out? Personally, I use this time of year to pull sprouts of weeds, or thin plants that I have too many of, or move things that I don't want growing where they've popped up. In a native plant garden, there are a lot of seeds to sprout. And, believe it or not, there is actually such a thing as too many Blue Curls, Salvia and Coreopsis. Over the years, I've gotten to know the seedlings of my least and most favorite plants. I find that it's easier to pull them while they're small, although there are a lot that like to grow and spread during the cold weather months and by the time I finally get outside to weed, they have already started to take over. If you drive by my yard in February, you'll probably see me with a bucket and a butter knife, my preferred tool for digging up the dreaded Pink Woodsorrel, Oxalis debilis. As pretty as these flowers may be, I won't let them stay. They are exotic pests and if you give them an inch, they spread and take over everything. So I dig them up. But you have to be very careful to get the root as well as the little bulbettes that are attached to the root. Any one of them left behind will grow a new plant. I've found that by using a butter knife, I can loosen the soil around the root and pull it the whole root unit out intact.
|Oxalis debilis cluster with sprigs of Spiderwort popping through|
|Don't let the pretty pink trick you!|
-Note Bidens leaves in upper left and lower right-
|Oxalis Root with clusters of little bulbettes just below the stems|
Another plant that has to go is Globe Sedge (or any sedge grass, really). If I don't catch them early, they mature and make lots of seeds and then I'm in trouble. They are very prolific. I've learned to recognize in the tiniest sprig the shine of the leaves that sets them apart from other grassy clumps. Also, the leaf has a wedge shape, with the two sides coming to a "V". "Sedges have wedges" is the helpful mnemonic. I also always pull Spanish Needles, or Bidens. It's a pretty white flower that attracts all sorts of wildlife (read my blog about it), but it also produces millions of seeds (the "Needles") and if I let it stay in the yard, it takes over. So out it goes. Bidens lives happily at my neighbors' houses, so there is plenty in the area. I pull Smilax from my flower garden, even though it is a native vine with berries that the birds like (which is probably the reason it grows in my yard), because it grows into a monster with sharp thorns that is hard (and painful) to pull. It's ok with me if it stays in the back yard, in the bushes and bamboo, where I do not believe there is any danger of it being eradicated. I also pull Virginia Creeper when it comes up in the garden, but I'll let it grow along a fence or up a tree in the back yard because the berries have excellent wildlife value. And I'll pull Scarlet Morning Glory, because even though it is pretty, it is impossible. I have never let it grow in my yard, and yet after 9 years of living in this house, I'm still pulling sprouts from the extensive seed bank left by previous owners.
|Unmistakable, shiny Sedge plants|
|Spanish Needles/Bidens alba--No, No, No!|
|Virginia Creeper. No, it's not poison ivy. But it still can't grow in the front yard|
|Out, Damned Spurge!|
|Painted Buntings enjoying a meal of Chickweed seeds|
February is a good time to thin a lot of plants I actually want, but need to control, like Spiderwort. I love this plant with it's pretty blue flowers, but a little goes a long way. As the plant matures it makes a big clump, and the flowers all have seeds, and before you know it, you can have a whole yard of Spiderwort. I need a little room for other things! In the winter, the first sprouts are abundant, but they are much easier to pull than the big clump. I thin Coreopsis and Blue Eyed Grass, Lyre Leaf Sage, Blue Curls, Carolina Wild Petunia and Goldenrod because, like the Spiderwort, although I love them, there can be too many of them.
Some plants, like Skull Cap, Venus's Looking Glass and Toadflax, I will dig up and replant if I don't like where they're starting out. They're a little less abundant than the Coreopsis and friends, and the Venus's Looking Glass and Toadflax are very seasonal. They bloom in the early spring and then they die back. They seem to like to grow in the cracks of the sidewalk, and while it is cute and whimsical, people step on them and they don't thrive. So I move them.
|Spiderwort sprouts--best to catch them when they're small|
|But Spiderwort is definitely worth having in the garden. The flowers look like fireworks!|
|One of many Coreopsis sprouts|
|Coreopsis is our State Wildflower--Absolutely gorgeous!|
|Lyre-leaf Sage sprout on left, Venus's Looking Glass sprouts on right. I Keep Both.|
|Venus's Looking Glass--One of my favorite flowers|
|Toadflax sprigs in the center, surrounded by Powderpuff Mimosa vines|
|Some Spring, I hope to have a Toadflax meadow like this one at Paynes Prairie|
|Sida can be very pretty in a garden and it's a good host and nectar plant!|
|Pennsylvania Cudweed sprouts amidst Ponysfoot and Turkey Tangle Fogfruit|
|Pretty, tiny green flower of Ponysfoot|
|Ponysfoot works as an interesting ground cover|
Really, there is plenty to do in the yard already without adding pruning to the list. So put down the clippers and start pulling those sprouts! March will be here soon enough. And if you have a seedling shortage, you know who you can turn to.