As I write this, I’m sitting on the patio by the pool, enjoying one of the last cold fronts to reach all the way down the Florida peninsula. The temperature is hovering around 80 degrees and there’s a coolness on the breeze.
It’s delightful! It’s the most perfect spring day in May — make that the most perfect northern spring day in May, because this is March in Florida.
As a New York gardener, I loved spring — the buzz of glimpsing the first flush of green, eyeing new sprouts pushing up from the what’s left of winter leaves, and celebrating the return of color. I also remember the frustration, especially when the best-laid weekend garden plans were sideswiped by another of winter’s icy grasps.
As a Florida gardener, though, I have two seasons of spring-like weather, winter and spring, and I live with color all year long. An example is the bromeliad (above), which has been putting on a flower show for weeks. With this in mind, is it possible to still have spring fever in South Florida?
The answer is a simple yes.
Very often, friends and family will say they could never live in South Florida because they would miss the change of seasons. I worried about that myself when I moved to zone 10B/11. Gardeners here, though, have taught me there are changes, but one has to know where to look. So, this is where I look when I’m walking and working around my garden.
While I may not have a first flush of green — because it’s always green here — some plants manage provide that thrill. Take, for example, the lightbulb plant. Over the winter months, the lightbulb plant was covered with long, draping panicles of white flowers.
These were followed by seedpods, which I think are the happiest looking seedpods in the world.
While the seedpods ripened, the leaves on the plant turned yellow and fell from its branches. I was concerned at first, but decided to just let nature do its thing. After all, these leaves had been on the plant since last year and they must be tired. With spring’s arrival, new leaves have begun to emerge.
Traditional bulbs — like tulips and daffodils — are impossible to grow here. Although they’re sold in supermarkets and box stores, they’re best as indoor houseplants and then trashed after flowering — unless someone wants to go to the trouble of refrigerating the bulbs to trick them into winter. I once did that with hyacinths, but they petered out after two or three seasons.
A bulb that does very well here is amaryllis. Normally grown as a potted houseplant in northern areas, amaryllis is very happy to be planted outside here. This one set buds for the first time this year.
Then, in a matter of days, this happened.
In New York, there were certain plants — like forsythia — that heralded spring’s arrival. In my Florida garden, I have “lobster claw” heliconia. For much of the year, the banana-like leaves are shredded and torn by the prevailing winds. By springtime, the battered leaves look like delicate curls of aged paper.
Then, right on schedule with spring, new leaves and flowers start to emerge.
What would spring be without a little garden cleanup? Although I weed all year long — the weeds never, ever stop — the low humidity and cooler temps during this time of year make weeding a pleasure.
I’ve spent days and days pulling out sprouting areca palms, courtesy of the seeds dropped by my neighbor’s green wall of arecas. My satisfaction comes from pulling out the stem, desiccated seed, and root in one pull. If not, I run the risk of having the palm re-sprout a little bit thicker and stronger.
While crawling around on the ground pulling out arecas, I found this Jamaican croton growing beneath its parent plant. A branch had touched the ground and rooted, much like hydrangeas did in my New York garden. I removed the baby plant and gave it its own pot in my plant nursery.
Perhaps no other moment better illustrates my spring fever than the re-appearance of my transplanted coontie palm.
Coontie is not only a Florida native, but it’s also the host plant for the Attala butterfly, another Florida native (pictured above from last summer). Last year, Attala caterpillars devoured the leaves. By the end of the season, whatever remained of the plant was brown and brittle. The plant died back to the ground, something it had never done before. I was concerned.
I dug up the root ball, which actually looked like three rutabaga-sized bulbs all attached to one another. They were firm and heavy. Perhaps all was not lost. I replanted the coontie in the backyard, in a corner that I started to dedicate to native plants in an effort to learn if iguanas would avoid them. Each day I checked for any new growth… nothing.
One morning, this is what I found.
Yes, that springtime feeling surged through me, although I’m not sure if this surprise was seasonal or coincidental. Either way, I’m taking it because as a northern gardener I know that when spring stares you in the face, you embrace it.