Monday, October 14, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 33 Birdhouse

November 2018, Tom and Judy (my brother and sister-in-law) come here for Thanksgiving.  Tom delivers the birdhouse that he made for my birthday.  He installed it in the late afternoon.  The very next morning – Bluebirds were checking it out!  I understand they won’t be moving in anytime soon, since nesting is in the spring.  But I am thinking “Build it and they will come!”  Two of my neighbors decided to follow my example and got some birdhouses from the local box stores. 

In early spring, 2019, they each get bluebirds, but I get a House Sparrow.  The House Sparrow never really builds a nest – he just claims the birdhouse to keep any other birds from getting it!  However, in late June 2019, after the house sparrow left, I made sure the birdhouse was clean and bluebirds DID arrive.  I enjoyed watching them go in and out with bugs collected from my yard.  In July, after the fledging left, I checked the birdhouse and there was a beautiful, neat nest left behind.  I cleaned it out – ready for the next breeding season!

                                                   Bluebirds check out the neighborhood                      

Checking out the interior accommodations 

Empty Bluebird nest after a successful breeding in 2019 

Monday, September 30, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 32 Irrigation

November 2018 - We need rain.   September 2019 – We need rain.  It seems Florida is constantly in a drought.  Since I moved here in 2016, I have yet to experience the “daily 3pm rain showers”.  The best time to water plants is early morning before the sun rises or evening after sunset, so that the water has a chance to soak into the soil keeping it moist as long as possible.  In fact, according to The Villages Water Wisdom site, watering may only occur BEFORE 10AM or AFTER 4PM, and for less than one hour per zone.

When my yard was first planted, I set my irrigation for three times a week, 30 minutes.  Now that it is one year old (September 2019), I set the irrigation schedule for two times a week, 10 minutes.  Native plants have evolved over time to adjust to the soil and moisture in their natural habitats.  So planting a healthy diversity of native plants will help reduce irrigation water needs.  Of course, keep in mind “Right Plant, Right Place”. My irrigation water use for the first 9 months of 2019 is down 38% from the first 9 months of 2018, so I feel I’m on the right track. 

Roger comes with his drone and takes aerial photos!  I’m disappointed that the yard doesn’t look more green from above.  But it does look more interesting to me, with the different beds and the walking path.  Close up, the Tropical Sage is still full of blooms, and it looks great with the flags that I have out for Veterans’ Day.  The Blanket Flowers have hundreds of blooms!  It’s getting “there”.  

                                              Aerial view November 2018

                      Celebrating Veterans’ Day (photo of flags & tropical sage)

Monday, September 23, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 31 Gusty Winds

It’s a November afternoon (2018) and I am looking forward to some rain.  Around 4pm it is getting darker, so I open the shades in my Florida Room.  The rain comes and I watch it pour like a mini-Niagra Falls off my roof on to the patio at the back of the house.  Watching it makes me think I need to see about getting a rain barrel.  I look out to the front yard.  Oh my gosh, the wind has blown over my wooden glider – and that is quite sturdy!  Luckily the flatwood plum tree behind it appears to be unharmed.  The next morning I go out to assess the damage.  I manage to right the glider and confirm that the flatwood plum has just a small broken branch or two, and no damage to the trunk or bark that would encourage pests.  The bee balm is also undamaged. 

I walk around the entire yard.  The occasional torn leaf, but no real damage.  The small blazing star liastra which was upright is now horizontal on the ground, but still has the lavender flowers and the long one that was always lying in a circle / halo is the same.  All the trees and shrubs appear good.  The muhly grass is still lovely blowing in the breeze.  I spot one blanket flower bush which is windblown to the side.  Once again I will hold out hope that the rain lilies will appear in 2-4 days!  (spoiler alert – they STILL did not come)

Wind has blown the glider over and pushed aside some blanket flower plants. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 30 Enjoying My Surroundings

It’s a Fall morning, and I am weeding around the yard. I see at least 5 different butterflies, but can only identify the Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.  There is a pale yellow one that maybe is a skipper or a sulphur.   There is a small one that looks black - maybe a Florida Duskywing?  One has pale beige wings when closed but bright orange pattern when open, but smaller than monarch - A Florida LeafWing?  I try identifying them from a couple of websites:      or

I catch sight of a sparrow sitting in the Simpson Stopper!  Gradually the wildlife is coming back to the area after all the consruction.  In the evening, I take time to sit on my glider in the front yard.  I have a view of the wildflower garden, right in front of me, the trellis to my left and I can look to right and see the lamp post garden, and across the driveway, the bed with Muhly grass, Wild Lime Tree and Pinelands lantana.  

I have an ancient cat (22 in May 2019), who enjoyed some outdoor living in his life up North.  Here in Florida, if he comes outside with me, he is on a leash.  However, he does not seem to appreciate the yard – he just wants to go back into air conditioned comfort.

                                                      My 22 year old cat on a leash

Monday, September 9, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 29 Resources

I thought I would put all the resources I’ve referenced or used in one place for you.  

Amanda Martin, Grounded Solutions – Landscape consultation & design company

Green Isle Gardens – Nursery focusing on Florida Native plants & wildflowers

Florida Native Plant Society – promotes the preservation, conservation & restoration of native plants & na├»ve plant communities in Florida

Florida Native Plant Society The Villages' Chapter - Mission - The Villages become renowned for its extensive use of native plants and award winning native plant landscapes

Creative Garden Structures – helps you create sustainable landscapes and backyard habitats; maintenance of native yards; beautiful custom made garden seating / trellis / shed and more

University of Florida / IFAS Extension – Find information on Native plants, grasses, trees, shrubs.  How to grow and maintain.

The Villages’ Architectural Review Committee (if you live in The Villages, FL) – maintain the high quality and consistency of the aesthetics and design of the residences and home sites found throughout The Villages.

Identify weeds by state: I am determined to avoid pesticides.  Preen is a manufacturer of lawn care products, but on their site, you can search by state & they have clear photos of the culprits! 
Identify birds and birdsongs:  The Cornell Lab or Ornithology

Monday, September 2, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 28 One-Year After Conversion

Well, in real time, my front yard reached the one-year mark July 6, 2019 and the backyard on September 10, 2019.  So I thought I would show you some before / beginning / after photos.  Despite my complaining about the weeds, I am loving my Florida Native Yard!  

                           May 2018 – Before                                          November 2018 - After
                                            Just to see the change in overall "pattern"    


August 2018 – front yard, frog fruit just coming in, the trellis is bare, backyard not planted yet

July 2019 – frog fruit coming in; back yard planted; trellis covered in Coral Honeysuckle

August 2018 – side yard of Pinelands Lantana, Wild Lime Tree, Muhly Grass, 
and frog fruit just starting 

July 2019 - same side yard

Oct 2018 - Muhly Grass in bloom

                               August 2018 – trellis with 2 small Coral Honeysuckle plants

             July 2019 – Trellis covered with Coral Honeysuckle, a favorite of the hummingbirds  

August 2018 - Facing the street (standing in front of the trellis)

July 2019 - Facing the street – addition of pavers with my glider, bird bath, Simpson Stopper on right

September 2018 - Backyard from Privet Senna corner – twinflower, swamp twinflower, tropical sage, wild petunias, compact firebush, corky stem passion vine, beautyberry, coontie, frog fruit

   July 2019 – Backyard – a new prickly pear cactus, gift from a neighbor (at corner of the house)

2018 Sept. – Privet Senna corner with Muhly Grass, Privet Senna, Narrowleaf Ironweed and Rosinflower 

2019 July – Privet Senna corner with Privet Senna, Narrowleaf Ironweed and Rosinflower  (the Muhly grass is still there, behind the tall Privet Senna)

                               2018 September -  Lamp post garden, blanket flowers, red pentas

                                                    2018 October - Lamp post garden  

2018 November - Lamp post garden on foggy November morning – one of my favorite photos

                                2018 December - Goldenasters brightening winter days
2018 – July – Sky Blue Clustervine, just planted       2018 – November – Sky Blue Clustervine
                                                                                                        Honeybees love it!                                                   

2019 – August – Sky Blue Clustervine – lush greenery, but flowers are expected in late Fall

Monday, August 26, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 27 Polka Dotted Wasp Moth

COMING NEXT WEEK (Sept. 2, 2019) - Lots of photos - 
BEFORE / AFTER Jo's yard @ 1 YEAR

Not one leaf left on the Milkweed in the Wildflower garden.  The Milkweed by the heat pump on the north side of the house is recovering.  I haven’t been able to find even one chrysalis, although there were five Monarch caterpillars there on Oct 11 (2018). 

Not long ago (#20, July 8, 2019), I posted a picture of the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar on my Facebook page.  A neighbor texted me that she had them on her oleander plant and sent a photo to me.  Although the two caterpillars look similar, the caterpillar in my neighbor’s photo looked like he had little “brushes” along his back, not “spikes”.  So after little research, I concluded that she had the caterpillar for the Polka Dotted Wasp Moth.  Now, low and behold, I see this moth in my yard.  How beautiful! 

The Polka-Dotted Wasp Moth is thought to be a native of the Caribbean.  They are only found in “neotropical areas”, so in Florida and sometimes as far north as Savannah, Georgia.  It resembles a stinging wasp, which keeps many predators at bay, however, it does not sting.  It’s consumption of oleander and devil’s-potato plants makes it poisonous to predators, so it has that two-pronged defense. 

                                         Polka Dotted Wasp Moth Caterpillar on Oleander
                                                           (Photo from Wikipedia)                 


                                Polka-dotted Wasp Moth (Photo from Wikipedia) 

Monday, August 19, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 26 Mockingbirds

October 8, 2018, Hurricane Michael is in the Gulf and not expected to come this way.  On this Monday, it is windy and cloudy.  Just after 4 pm, there is a heavy rain shower.  I hope that this might lead to my first sighting of the Rain Lilies that are in my wildflower garden!  Maybe in 3-4 days, according to one website.  (spoiler alert – they didn’t come)

I have seen Mockingbirds in my yard – the Florida State Bird.  I often see them on neighbors’ roofs, but I think my yard is developing some attractive food.  The Mockingbird is known for mimicking the songs of other birds, but its own song is a pleasant lilting song that is both varied and repetitive. A mockingbird may sing all night long, especially under a bright spring moon.  It feeds on insects, weeds’ seeds and ripe berries.  I could definitely use the help with the weeds!  Mockingbirds reside in Florida year round and will fiercely defend their nests which are built in dense trees. 

I saw an amazing sight in my backyard that involved an Eastern Bluebird, a House Sparrow and a Mockingbird.  House Sparrows are described as the “number 1 enemy” of Bluebirds and Purple Martins.  House Sparrows will destroy the eggs & the young and even attack and kill adult bluebirds.  My neighbor had a Bluebird family in a birdhouse.  A House Sparrow claimed my birdhouse (although he didn’t have a mate or a nest).  The same neighbor had a palm tree that was home to a Mockingbird’s nest and young. 

One afternoon, I observed the House Sparrow sitting on my birdhouse that is among the privet senna, rosinflower and narrowleaf ironweed.  The Bluebird parent was on the roof of my neighbor’s house.  The Bluebird swooped off the roof and attacked the House Sparrow.  The two birds fell from my birdhouse to the ground, seemingly locked in “mortal combat”.  I couldn’t see what was happening but the pine straw was flying!  The next thing I knew, a Mockingbird flew from treetop to ground at the two fighting birds and apparently broke up the fight.  All three birds then flew from ground to three separate rooftops!  That Mockingbird was not going to put up with that behavior in his territory!  It was DRAMA IN THE BACKYARD! 

Here is a website I found that not only helps you identify birds, but has recordings of their songs.  I have cued up the Northern Mockingbird for you -

           Common Mockingbird-State Bird of Florida (photo from Florida State website)

Monday, August 12, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 25 Positive Feedback

I find I am spending about 30-60 minutes every morning weeding.  Each morning, I pick a section of the yard and start.  I carry my newspaper bag with me.  A lot of bending over!  The grasses seem especially stubborn.  One morning, 3 months after Phase 1 was planted, and after an hour of weeding, I was talking to one neighbor when someone she knew drove up in a golf cart.  He exclaimed “Here’s the woman in charge who I can ask about what’s going on here”.  So I told him I replaced all the grass with Frog Fruit – he didn’t think he’d ever seen frog fruit before, although it is in many public neighborhood places like Postal Pick-up areas and median strips.  He asked if I had to go through the ARC.  I replied I hired a professional landscaper for the design and got ARC approval.  The ARC's only stipulation / exception was that the plants (other than ground cover) had to be planted 3 feet from the property line.  I told him that within a year I would be only watering as needed.  He mentioned it was a different look from the usual rocks and stone landscaping and finished with “it shows imagination!”  That put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.  

          The front yard just 3 months after planting in July – the frog fruit has filled in nicely

Monday, August 5, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 24 Monarch Chrysalis & Butterfly

In Phase 2, I wanted to add more Milkweed plants to support the Monarch butterflies and caterpillars.  Now I have Milkweed in two locations – in the Wildflower garden in the front of the house, and next to the heat pump on the North side of the house.  I am so excited to find a beautiful jade green gem of a Monarch Chrysalis hanging from the vinyl siding just a few feet from the Milkweed on the north side of the house. It is 18 days since this Milkweed was planted.  I check it anxiously every morning.  Seven days after I first saw the chrysalis, I see that it is broken and now a silver color.  At first I am disappointed to have missed the butterfly, but then, I look over to the pine straw and see it – The Monarch Butterfly is drying its wings.  I am all smiles!  

                                Sept 28, 2018– find Monarch Chrysalis near the newest Milkweed plants

                                     Oct. 4, 2018 – A new Monarch butterfly is in the world!


Monday, July 29, 2019

In Jo's Yard - 23 Variety Is the Spice of Life

The second week of September, Green Isle Gardens [ ] arrives to work their magic once again.  By the time they are finished, I will have 30+ different Florida Native plants in my yard --a good variety to attract and support many different kinds native wildlife.  For trees, I have 

    • two Flatwood Plums
    • two Yaupon Hollies
    • three Simpson Stoppers
    • one Wild Lime

For shrubs, I have 

    • Beautyberry
    • Compact Firebush
    • Privet Senna
    • Walters Vibernum
    • Florida Privet
    • Coontie

For flowers – 

    • red & pink Tropical Sage, Coral Honeysuckle, throw in the Muhly Grass
    • pale pink Bee Balm and Swamp Milkweed
    • lavender Wild Petunias, Stokes Aster, Purple Passion Vine
    • yellow Rosinflower, Goldenaster, Chapman's Goldenrod
    • yellow & orange Blanket Flower
    • blue Twinflower, Swamp Twinflower, Sky Blue Cluster Vine
    • white Rain Lilies and Scorpion-tail 

                                                                     Newly planted backyard

In Jo's Yard - 33 Birdhouse

November 2018, Tom and Judy (my brother and sister-in-law) come here for Thanksgiving.   Tom delivers the birdhouse that he made for my b...