Daffodils – A Sign That Spring is Near

Daffodils – A Sign That Spring is Near

sunny_daffodils-2Few plants seem to signify the freshness of spring quite as well as daffodils. The name “daffodil” is derived from “addodell” a variant of Asphodel (a plant of the Asphodelus genus.) In historical documents and the common language of 16th century Europe, the term “daffodil” referred specifically to the wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus.


The derivation of the Latin narcissus is unknown.  It is frequently linked to the Greek myth of Narcissus, who was rumored to be so obsessed with his own reflection that he died while gazing at himself in a pool of water.  From the location of his death sprang the narcissus plant.  Another Greek myth finds Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, lured to her doom by the God Hades while picking a narcissus.  Therefore the plant is perceived as a symbol of vanity in some Western culture.narcissism


Others attribute the plants’ name to its narcotic properties. One translation of the Greek name is “I grow numb!”  All narcissus species contain the alkaloid poison lycorine, mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves.  Members of the Amaryllidaceae family contain a unique type of alkaloids.  They are responsible for the poisonous properties of a number of the species.  Of the 200 different chemical compounds found in this plant family, at least 79 of them can be found in narcissus.


Daffodils are a popular potted plant for cut flowers, but also make attractive naturalized groundcovers in gardens and around trees, providing color from the end of winter through late spring. If the narcissus blooms on Chinese New Year, it is said to bring wealth and good fortune throughout the year.  The flower color varies from white through pinks and yellows to deep reddish-orange with multiple petal forms. Hundreds of cultivars are available.


Planting dates vary according to geographical location, but the bulbs are usually planted in the fall when the soil is cool. Daffodils grow well in full sun or light shade, with the blooms lasting longer when protected from the noon day sun.  When selecting a location for planting, it should be noted that the individual flowers will face the sun.


Pre-chilled bulbs should be planted in 6-8” deep holes with a tablespoon of slow release fertilizer added to the soil directly under the bulb and with 4-5” of soil covering the bulb. Watering throughout the winter will be necessary if rains are infrequent.  After flowering, the daffodils need to be fertilized and watering should continue.  The foliage will naturally turn yellow and die as stored food is restored to the bulb.


Division, transplanting and collection for forcing potted plants can be done after all the foliage has declined. To force Daffodils to bloom at varied times in a container the dried bulbs will need to be stored at a 45° F temperature for 4-6 weeks prior to being placed in the sun to grow.


The bright, cheery Daffodil flowers are beginning to bloom now and will continue as Easter approaches, reminding us that spring really is coming.

“Big Old Squash” (Gete-okosomin) Unearthed in Wisconsin

“Big Old Squash” (Gete-okosomin) Unearthed in Wisconsin

A picture of the 'Big Old Squash' winter squash variety.

“Big Old Squash” (Gete-okosomin) Winter Squash

About an hour’s drive northwest of Green Bay, Wisconsin in the land of the Minominee Tribe, a tiny clay pot was discovered by archaeologists. The clay pot was nothing out of the ordinary, but its contents revealed a gift that will live on for generations to come. The 800 year old seeds of an extinct squash lay inside. The whimsy of this story is captivating, unfortunately it is most likely untrue.

The variety of squash reported in this tale comes from the saved seed of members of the Miami Nation of Indiana. The seeds were gifted to David Wrone, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin. Although the seeds have not been stored underground in a clay pot for 800 years, they have been grown and saved by the Miami Nation for more than 5,000 years.

The squash named Gete-okosomin (meaning “Big Old Squash” in the Menominee language) is a variety of winter squash (Curcubita maxima) that can grow up to 30 pounds. It has been reported to have a much thinner rind than most winter squash. The most common preparation by the Miami people was to cut the squash in strips, allow it to dry naturally, and add desired amount to soups and stews. I would not recommend this preparation method for the humid climate of Florida.

Not only do these two stories of seed survival provoke an interest in gardening, they also bring up the question of the proper way to store and save seed. It is important that you choose to save seeds from open-pollinated varieties in order to save the traits of the parent plants. Most vegetable seeds can simply be washed, dried, and stored in a cool, dry space. However, the germination of tomato seeds can be increased by allowing them to ferment in water. For more detailed information on saving seeds, you may find this bulletin from The University of Maine helpful: Seed Saving for the Home Gardener.

The ‘Star’ of Magnolias

The ‘Star’ of Magnolias

Magnolias are well known plants to gardeners and many are familiar with the foliage and flowers of these plants. If you are looking for another earlier bloomer, you may want to consider adding a specimen selection to your landscape, the Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata).


Although not native to the United States, star magnolia is a slower growing multi stemmed deciduous shrub reaching about 15 feet in height over time. The best feature are the bright whitish pink star-shaped blooms appearing in late winter before leaves emerge.  The flowers offer gardeners a peek of the spring to come and remind us that our Gulf Coast winters are not that long. DSC_0065

Plants do best in soil with some organic amendments and mulch over the root systems. A planting area that receives a little afternoon shade is ideal but established plants will adapt to sunnier locations when irrigation is provided during drier weather.  Only occasional pruning is required to remove crossing branches or those that grow out of bounds.  Prune after flowering if needed.

Sprinkler System Check Up

Sprinkler System Check Up

Setting the sprinkler head for an irrigation system. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham

Setting the sprinkler head for an irrigation system. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham

Lawns and landscapes require water to flourish and provide the green surroundings desired around homes and recreational areas. Often nature provides water for the landscape in the form of rain, but that is not always adequate. Turf and ornamental plants in the establishment stage need supplemental irrigation during hotter months, especially in the sandy soils of northwest Florida, which can dry out at a rapid pace. February is typically a time when very little supplemental irrigation water is needed because most of the desired landscape plants and grasses do not use much water in the cooler temperatures. The warmth of spring and the heat of summer are around the corner and preparations should be made now to ensure that irrigation systems are working properly before being needed. Here are a few things to think about when prepping irrigation systems for spring:

  • Maintain, Repair, or Replace the Rotors, Nozzles, and Heads. Many sprinkler heads get damaged over time from riding lawn mowers, utility workers, vehicles, or other causes. To avoid having a geyser in the irrigation zone, it is a good idea to test run the system to make sure the rotor and heads are working properly and the nozzles have not been knocked loose. Many times broken rotor or spray heads can be replaced simply by taking the interior mechanical parts out and replacing them with new parts. This may not even require digging! Sometimes repairs are as simple as replacing a filter or spray nozzle that has popped off over time.
  • Calibrate the system to provide 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch during an irrigation event. Many Florida homeowners and horticultural professionals apply too much or too little water while irrigating. Most do not even know how much irrigation water is being applied. It is important to calibrate the irrigation system to apply only 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch of water during an irrigation event to promote a healthy lawn and landscape. To little water will stress the plants while too much water may promote disease and insect problems.  Irrigating improperly may also cause environmental issues, from soil and fertilizer runoff, to develop. Watch this short video on irrigation calibration.

  •  Inspect and make sure the Rain Shutoff Device is working properly. In Florida, it is state law to have a rain shutoff device on an automatic irrigation system. Most systems have a device installed that utilizes a small cork disc that expands when wet and physically clicks a button to tell the system to skip the next automatic cycle. As the cork degrades over time, it will cause system malfunction and should be replaced periodically. It is best to skip using an automatic timer and instead watch the weather and the plants for symptoms of drought stress. If an automatic timer is used, a functioning rain shutoff device is essential for proper irrigation management. Other types of shutoff devices are available as well.

The following University of Florida / IFAS publications contains more information on proper irrigation management for landscapes:

Residential Irrigation System Rainfall Shutoff Devices

Using Reclaimed Water for Landscape Irrigation

Florida Lawn Handbook: Watering Efficiently

Gardening Success Begins with Choosing the Right Plant

Gardening Success Begins with Choosing the Right Plant

tomato3Last Week’s temperatures have confirmed the winter of 2016 is not 100% over. Now is the time to plan that spring garden!.

Garden catalogs from every part of the nation are finding their way into many area homes. Their pages promise the buyer the potential for legendary success and the envy of their friends and neighbors.

After all, who can resist the full color beauty of giant flowers, large luscious fruit and vegetables which are sure to win a prize at the fair? There is not a runt, reject or cull in all the pages of these publications offering the mortal version of horticultural heaven.

Before ordering, the would-be gardener should consider several factors to increase the likelihood of a positive gardening experience. A failure will waste not only funds, but also much time and hard work and may introduce a long-term problem or two.

Cultivar selection for a tree, shrub, vegetable or fruit is critically important to producing the desired results. While a specific plant cultivar may grow and produce in one environment, it may not do so in all situations.

A common example of this problem is grape vines offered. Only muscadine grapes will grow and produce locally because Pierce’s disease kills other varieties.

Carefully examine the growing zones recommended by the catalog for specific cultivars. Check with fellow gardeners and the UF/IFAS Extension Office to see if they have any information or experience with any cultivars under consideration.

Heirloom varieties are especially sensitive to the variances in growing conditions. While they offer unusual and sometimes unique taste and culinary traits or landscaping characteristics, these antique varieties can be a challenge to grow.

Their genetic potential can make a consistent yield, especially for the novice growers, a real effort. Also, as an open pollinator variety, the results can be inconsistent.

Another question for the catalog company customer is new or untried plants varieties. Some of these plants are patented and few or no trials have been performed with them in north Florida’s growing zone.

Caution should be used when ordering these seed or plants. Being the first in North Florida to cultivate a new variety may require a large commitment of time and resources, and may produce only a large disappointment.

Check with fellow gardeners, local nurseries and your UF/IFAS Extension Office for available information on these new or patented varieties. It may save much wasted motion.

Lastly, be sure the plant or seeds under consideration do not have the potential as exotic invasive pests. As hard as this may be to believe, this does occur.

Some catalog vendors will advise buyers in the ordering instructions or at the time of ordering. Either way, the purchaser should check to verify the plant ordered does not have the potential to escape control and damage the environment.

Check out the following publications to assist with finding adapted fruit and vegetable varieties for North Florida.

The Vegetable Gardening Guide

Dooryard Fruit Guide

Plant Selection and Landscape Design Guide