The astronomical event called “spring” equinox occurs every March in the northern hemisphere, but can be on different days depending on the year. February’s extra leap-year day caused this year’s equinox date to be March 20. Equinox is when the sun is directly over Earth’s equator and daylight hours are equal to darkness, at exactly 12 hours each. In the northern hemisphere after equinox, each day will now get a bit longer and the nights a bit shorter until the summer solstice on June 20. In the southern hemisphere, winter equinox occurs simultaneously with the northern spring equinox.
Traditionally, equinox is the start of spring and the planting season in the northern hemisphere. In Florida, masses of wildflowers start to bloom around equinox. Cold-blooded insects emerge from overwintering when they were too cold to fly and when there were fewer flowering plants to nectar on. Around equinox, new adult butterflies emerge to mate, then lay their eggs on specific host plants. Birds follow the insect life cycle and begin to migrate north to their breeding grounds. Birds need prey to eat and feed their nestling babies. Insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fish, mollusks, seeds, nectar and human trash are potential bird food.
Gardeners enjoy spring flowers. In my garden, the repeat-blooming Rhododendron azaleas — all patented ‘Encores’ — are just about finishing their six-month long flowering season. Spring is the time to pinch or snip back repeat-blooming azalea twigs and new shoot tips to promote many times more flowering tips for next season’s flowering. Standard old-fashioned azaleas must not be pruned after June, as doing so will remove all the latent flower buds for next year’s flowers.
Evergreen camelias are usually finished blooming around equinox locally. All camelias bloom for about four to six weeks. Some varieties bloom early in fall, others over the winter festive season and others are late bloomers in February and March. When camelias have finished their bloom cycle, gardeners can prune them back for shape, density and height. I prefer to snip off camelia tips before the shrubs and small trees bud out into new leaves. Tip pruning induces branching below the cut, controls height a bit and the plant will have many more times the tips, which will bloom next flowering season. The dry spring weather with still cool temperatures is a perfect time for Florida gardeners to tackle spring pruning.
Camelias are subject to alien Asian Cycad Scale, sucking insects. While spraying all lily family plants to dispatch Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers, a gardener’s camelia plants can be sprayed with the same systemic insecticide such as long-lasting Bifenthrin. Please read and follow the label directions. Also, do not kill tent caterpillars in their nests, as birds – particularly Eastern Bluebirds — need this food source to feed their hatchlings.
I have an environmentalist’s habit of adding native, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, pest- and disease-resistant plants among and beneath the existing sandhill vegetation surrounding my home. In Central Florida, outside my windows, wildflower plants in flower by equinox are: Blue Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana; annual Texas Phlox, Phlox drumondii; Blue-eyed Iris, Sisyrinchiun angustifolia; Blanketflower, Gaillardia puchella; Florida violet, Viola sororia; Dune/Beach sunflower, Helianthus angustifolia; Zephyr/Rain Lilies, Zephyranthes atamasco and Greeneyes, Berlandiera subacaulis, among others. Some shrubs in flower by the start of spring include Reeves Spirea, Spirea cantoniensis; deciduous Japanese magnolia, Magnolia soulangea; native dwarf Scrub Palmetto, Sabal etonia; Pipestem, recently renamed Ararista populifolia; Scrub Wild olive, Cartrema floridanum, and more
Readers can search a vetted university website for accurate, research-based information. Copy and paste the species’ common and scientific binomial into a browser then click on a university site for accurate, updated further reading. Enjoy spring gardening.
Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at email@example.com or phone 352-249-6899.