Gardening |New Year, New Hope – Florida NewsLine


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By Lesley [email protected]

We gardeners always hope for good results in our landscapes and gardens, and although it’s still early in the year as I write, the buds on my eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis) have been showing pink since the first week in January. I’ve already spotted a few honey bees cruising among the flowers and hope that other pollen- and nectar-eating insects will also find them. Even some backyard birds like to nibble on flowers.

A stand of cardinal’s guard (Odontonema strictum) withstood the latest cold snap and is feeding at least one resident hummingbird. Zebra longwing butterflies are also venturing out on milder days. Firebush (Hamelia patens) fruits are clearly a magnet for catbirds. They are quite comical to watch, as they acrobatically tackle the fruits hanging at the tips of slender twigs. It won’t be long before the bushes are stripped. I hope they are finding alternative food, perhaps holly berries or fruits of the Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana). Sadly there are too many feral cats in my area for me to put out feeders. For many birds, though, suet-based food is welcome during the winter months, and the dense nutrition helps prepare them for breeding. 

To keep up a supply of vegetables, start warm season crops indoors as soon as possible: 

Ensure seed trays or repurposed containers are clean. They must have drainage holes. Moisten the seed soil and fill containers about three-quarters full. Don’t pack it down.Follow seed packet instructions for planting depth. Cover seeds lightly.Spray gently with water to ensure the seeds are in contact with the soil. Don’t drown them.Cover containers with plastic wrap or similar.Put them in a warm place and keep the compost moist but not saturated. 

It’s not necessary to put the seed trays in bright light until they have begun to germinate. At that point, immediately remove the covering and move them to a position where they’ll receive up to 16 hours of bright light every day. This is more easily achieved with grow lights. A sunny windowsill will do in a pinch, but seedlings will become leggy without enough light. Don’t allow them to dry out, but don’t over water either.

Unless you grow your seeds singly in four- or six-pack cells (sow two seeds per cell for insurance), or similar, it will be necessary to pot up your seedlings when they have at least their first true pairs of leaves. Otherwise, thin to one plant per cell. Use a diluted fertilizer every week or two, to give them a chance to develop sturdy roots before planting them out in the garden. At this point you may realize you have overestimated what you can handle, and surely no one likes to throw out plants! If you have neighbors who are gardeners, this might be an opportunity to swap or share. 

Young plants need a gentle introduction to the outside world, beginning with a couple of hours of morning sun and gradually increasing exposure, for a couple of weeks before you intend to plant them out. Avoid putting them on a concrete base as they will quickly get too hot and too dry. Ease back on watering and fertilizing to prepare them for being in garden soil. Be mindful that garden soil may need additions of organic matter (compost) and fertilizer, preferably a week or two before you plant out your vegetables.

Check out the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide ( for more information, as well as the monthly newsletter, The Neighborhood Gardener ( Our local bi-monthly newsletter, A New Leaf, can be found here: There’s a great deal of information for vegetable gardeners in the latest issue.

These instructions apply similarly to growing flowers from seed. This can be particularly rewarding for annuals like gaillardia, zinnias, and cosmos, and other beauties that attract and feed butterflies and pollinators, to our benefit. Find out more here: Enjoy!

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