Welcome to spring in the coastal south! Our state flower, the Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata), is in full bloom with its strikingly white five-petaled flowers twining through the maritime forest edges. Several other blooming natives join it. Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is sporting its pinkish purple flowers along its stems and trunks. Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus carolininana) is covered with its lightly scented 2-3 inch pendulous white blooms, and the native, but not well-known, male plant of white fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) adds to the canvas with its creamy white clusters of delicate fringe-like flowers. The pendulous purple fragrant racemes of naturalized Japanese wisteria (Wisteria japonica) that escaped long ago from the cultivated garden hang from the sturdy arms of live oaks. And then, of course, the myriad colors found in the blooms from southern Indian azaleas (Rhododendron indicum) and late blooming camellias (Camellia japonica) complete the picture.
Alas, although surrounded by beauty, the morning quiet is now interrupted as early as 8 a.m., with landscape crews busily wielding gas-powered blowers on their shoulders, attacking the piles of oak leaves currently being shed from the native oaks. It seems that the task is futile. Leaves are blown from one location to another, stirring back up into the air copious quantities of Eastern red cedar pollen and dust that had finally settled on the ground. Our state tree, the live oak (Quercus virginiana) is considered by many to be evergreen because it retains its green leaves through the winter months but come springtime, those leaves are shed as new green leaves emerge. Leaves will continue to fall for several weeks and will soon be followed by dropping male flowers called catkins that will have shed their yellow pollen into the wind. Blowers will continue on to remove these catkins and the remaining leaves, since both can stain decks and concrete surfaces from the tannins they contain. All summer, well-groomed lawns will have mown grass blades removed. Eventually, acorns produced by fertilized female oak flowers will develop and mature by fall, giving those blowers yet another reason to continue disturbing the peace. Later in the fall, the leaves of native deciduous trees like sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), water oak (Quercus nigra), pignut hickory (Carya glabra) pecan (Carya illinoinensis) and red maple (Acer rubrum) will provide landscape crews the opportunity to use their blowers the remaining months of the year. Now that I think about it, the quiet months may only be December-February!
Lest you think this article is one solely bemoaning modern day technology, let me draw you back in so that you can refocus on the beauty of the South Georgia coast this month. A phone call last evening with my sister, who lives in Nebraska, reminded me that high winds and blizzard conditions were her reality over the last few days, whereas mine were sunny mild temperatures with a light coastal breeze, scented by sweet alyssum, pansies and snapdragons, citrus blooms and sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans), all of which I can enjoy as I sit on my patio listening to the bubbling fountain and watching the migrating birds at the feeders.
March 15 is the frost-free day for our coastal climatic zone 9a. This does not mean we won’t get a late freeze (ask some of the local blueberry growers), but that the likelihood is a very low percentage. A local garden that now falls under my care and responsibility already has a heavy set of nectarines and peaches on its fruit trees, thanks to the warmer winter, profuse blooms and the busy work of nearby honey bees whose hives I also watch. The pear trees in the garden are just starting to bloom, as are the blackberries and blueberries. The low-chill apple trees aren’t doing much yet. Yes, you can grow fruit trees in this zone — just be sure to choose varieties recommended by the local UGA extension office; otherwise, the plants will not set fruit for you. Tomato plants, all 60 of them, were started indoors in seed trays under grow lights just a few weeks ago; they are now in 6-inch pots developing strong root systems and will be transplanted by month’s end. Heirloom pumpkin seeds were directly sown this week and summer squash, cucumber and pole beans are on the agenda. Next week, pepper and basil seeds will be started indoors under the grow light. Of course, many of these plants can be purchased at local garden centers if you prefer to skip seed germination and plant seedlings.
Indeed, a gardener can and should be aware of the beauty of the area and a climate that allows for almost year-round gardening! So what are you waiting for? Take a walk outdoors. Visit the local garden centers. Get blown away!