Jan. 10, 2010
After the freeze
For three weeks now we have had below normal temperatures but last night we had our first freeze. At 7:00 AM it was 31 degrees. The butterfly garden was holding its own with no casualties until early this morning. I went to check on the damage and discovered that most of the pentas, yellow elders, porter weed, milkweed, firebush, some of our coffee and pineland lantana had significant damage to their leaves. It looked as if someone had taken a large black paint brush across the western end of the garden where these plants were nestled. Could it have been a freezing wind? The east side of the garden was untouched except for a few burned leaves on the newly planted yellow elder. Then as I stepped back to take in the whole garden I realized that our native plants had little to no significant loss. The only exceptions were the firebush and lantana. I had trimmed some of the firebush early in the fall to trigger more growth and flowers. All that new growth was now gone. The untrimmed plants were fine with their orange tinged leaves still securely fastened awaiting their new spring growth with evolved patience. I think the lantana was already suffering from lack of water because the ground under its roots was so dry, so it was already stressed. There were still some hopeful signs of green along the base, however. The verbena, Glandularia tampensis, seemed to be thriving with its brilliant purple, the only color now in our winter garden.
We are expecting another freeze tonight and although they probably won’t need it, I did cover the blanket flower and some of our new transplants with pine needles. The lizards were absent as expected and the milkweed bugs were huddled together on one of the sign markers. The caterpillars that were left on the milkweed seemed to be doing their own version of meditation. These insects are actually in a state of torpor, a method of conserving energy that reduces their body temperature and rate of metabolism that helps them survive periods of cold temperatures. I retrieved one with some new stalks of fresh milkweed and placed it in the butterfly house.
Our water temperature must have dipped below 60 degrees because as I walked along the creek’s edge I saw a number of dead fish, some being covered by the incoming tide.
The rhythm of the garden needs to be respected I learned. Wait, watch and observe continues to be my mantra here in this beautiful butterfly garden nestled in between the mangrove forest and the uplands in Southwest Florida. After my observations today, it is clear to me that we need to plant more natives and observe more closely the transitions between the seasons.