By Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor
I LOVE this time of year. Yes, this chilly-most-perennials-turn-brown-and-crispy time of year. This is a good time for letting Mama Nature cull the weak. If you want a low maintenance yard then a mild winter like this should not worry you or your plants one bit. Yes some may turn brown but that is naturally what perennials do, they need a little dormancy time…a little rest so they can come back next year twice as strong. For some strange reason people think that brown in the yard is ugly and run for the clippers at the first sign of frost; up north we call the brown ‘winter interest’. Remember to not go rampaging thru your garden beds cutting every bit of brown as it appears. Dead foliage not only acts as an insulator for the plants it also helps protect the wildlife you are trying to attract to your yard. Brown plants may have seeds, they also house little insects, and both help nourish birds during these chilly times. And any good butterfly gardener with host plants knows that caterpillars wander all over the yard before they go into chrysalis. There is no way of knowing how many are being tossed to the compost if you cut your brown in the cold. If your garden is like mine filled with horrible hydrophobic sandy soil, the way to make it better is to add organic material yearly. Fallen leaves should be raked into your beds, not to the curb. Oak and pine are great for mulching beds, because they help acidify your soil as they slowly decompose. Even fast decomposing leaves like maple, sycamore and sweetgum offer a nice little blanket of warmth in these chilly times. Plus a blanket of leaves helps suppress weeds, adds organic material to the soil and costs a lot less than buying mulch. Just remember to enjoy this wonderful chilly weather for the short time we have it. March is the time for your pruning and cleaning, when there is less chance of new baby leaves getting hit by the frost. All too soon it will be unbearably hot August and we will be asking for the cooler weather back.
Making Your Green More Green
By Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor
Nowadays everyone is talking about going green…recycling instead of trashing, reusing instead of buying new, reducing our waste output…but what about addressing the original green, our gardens and gardening practices. There are many common garden chores that are done because “our parents or neighbors do them” without a second thought as to why or if they are even good for the environment. With gardening, “Going Green” can actually mean less work for you so it’s worth a second thought to rethink those old-fashioned practices.
When choosing plants, look for native or Florida Friendly plants; these are plants that will tolerate our extreme growing conditions, but do your homework. Just because it is native doesn’t mean it will grow anywhere. Remember “Right Plant Right Place”; find out what conditions the plant likes before plopping your shade-loving plant in the full sun. The bonus is properly planted natives don’t require extra fertilizer or water once established. In layman’s terms, this means less work and money spent on the garden.
Check your irrigation system. Make sure there are no leaks, and sprinkler heads are aimed into the garden, not the driveway or the street. It’s silly to wash your money down the drain and into the river. Also check your timer, make sure you are irrigating on the proper days at the right times. You do not want to water in the heat of the day between 10-4, in our hot summers the water evaporates before it even makes it to the ground. Remember overwatering your grass makes it weak and susceptible to disease and pests.
Improper fertilization is another offender of the Green…especially if you live on a body of water. You pay more to live next to water, why would you not take care of it?? If you are planting with natives, there shouldn’t be much fertilizing necessary; established landscapes should only be fertilized if needed. However, if you do need to fertilize, it should be done properly and sparingly. Fertilizer is one of the worst offenders polluting our river and causing harmful algae blooms. Make sure to use slow-release or organic fertilizers and don’t apply before a rain storm or within 10’-30’ of the edge of the water. Planting marginal plants along the water’s edge also helps slow the runoff of fertilizer into the water. And remember, fertilizer will not help poor growth in a plant that is planted in the wrong place.
Going Green in the yard is not difficult and will save you time and money once you put your Best Green Management Practices into place.
Cold Weather Veggies
Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor
YEA! The weather is finally cooling and hopefully going to stay that way. You know what that means…time for a ‘green’ winter! It’s time to be sowing and planting those lettuces and kales and collards and chards and mustards…I could keep going but you get the idea. The cooler weather is the perfect time to get those leafy greens in the ground. Even if you don’t like cooked greens many of them are wonderfully delicious raw in salads, on burgers or straight out of the garden.
Giant red mustard is one of my favorites; I put it in my garden as well as use it in containers at home and in the Zoo. The gorgeous dark burgundy leaf is a beautiful contrast to the other winter flowers and I can just step out my front door and harvest a few leaves for the evening’s meal without disturbing the look of the container arrangement.
Bright lights Swiss chard is another green that doubles as a beautiful container plant with its bright pink, orange, and yellow stems as well as being a tasty addition to the dinner plate. What’s even better is the mustard and chard need no protection from frost or the winter cold. Even if they look black on a chilly morning give them a couple hours to warm up and they are back to their splendid colors.
Leaf lettuces, like bib, red leaf and mescaline mix are great because you can continually harvest all season long. Carrots, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cabbage should also be on your list to plant this time of year. And after all these veggies you don’t want to forget about the strawberries! Yes, they too like the cold weather, and now is the time to get them in the ground. Remember to mound up the area before you plant them. Strawberries like to have good drainage and raising the soil or putting them in containers also helps get the fruit up off the ground.
Most of these plants have no problem with the cold, but if you are in an open area that is known for regular heavy frosts, you can use cardboard boxes or empty nursery pots to easily cover your babies for those nights that Jack Frost visits. Just remember to uncover them for their daily dose of sunshine.
Botanical Garden Concept Plan: Setting a New Standard
For decades, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has given Jacksonville and Northeast Florida residents a place to love animals. Now our mission is to offer our community a public place to love plants, while setting a new standard for zoos in the process. We are in the process of building a first-of-its-kind botanical garden inside our Zoo that, unlike other zoos, is integrated among the animal exhibits. Unlike most other growing and culturally-rich cities, Jacksonville cannot list a botanical garden as one of its cultural treasures.
Beyond filling an educational need, botanical gardens benefit their communities in many ways. They become tourist attractions, benefit the green industry, serve as an employer and pump millions of construction dollars into the regional economy. Over the past 400 years, botanical gardens evolved from a menagerie of medicinal plants to entering the 21st century with a strong focus on the concept of environmental sustainability. While some zoos have enhanced the natural habitat of their animal collection, none to our knowledge have committed to the idea of combining a zoo and botanical garden. This combination will only serve to strengthen each institution’s ability to foster a clear vision of sustainable conservation of our natural resources. With the help of a nationally-renowned botanical garden design firm, the Zoo developed three major garden zones in its Botanical Garden Concept Plan:
The Main Path, known as the River of Color: Visitors will begin their garden journey in the Main Camp Garden greeted with a celebratory display of striking foliage and flowering plants. They will be drawn toward the River of Color by drifts of colorful bloom swirling through ribbons of contrasting foliage and textures in the distance. Throughout the Zoo, the River of Color will be a linear garden that links garden destinations and animal exhibits.
Themed Pocket Gardens: Distinct and unique garden jewels of horticultural display that immerse the visitor in through plant themed forecourts to the animal exhibits that follow. Each garden is about 2 acres in size. Currently our Pocket Gardens include the African-Savanna Blooms Garden, South American-Range of the Jaguar Garden, the native gardens of Wild Florida and Play Park, the formal Gardens of Trout River, and the Asian Garden.
The Primary Gardens: In Jacksonville, visitors to the Zoo have recognized the unique relationship the Zoo shares with the Trout River. The beautiful native water-edge plants and spectacular panoramic views over the River set this area aside as something quite special. Recognizing this potential, we selected this area as the home for the Primary
Gardens which will cover approximately twelve acres and include Collection Gardens and the Conservatory.