Verdant View – February 2024

This year has proven to be the coldest in 10 years in our Lakeside area. I see my garden responding to the cold. Now that the sun’s intensity has returned the plants are trying to start themselves again after an extended cold spell. The plants are troopers, trying to adapt, knowing that they should now be preparing to return to their former glory, but aware that something is awry. In February the temperature difference from day to night can be as much as 20 degrees Centigrade/68 Fahrenheit.

With our recent drought the lack of rain has placed an added burden on my garden. Lake Chapala is now at 48 % capacity. I’m fortunate to live in an area that still receives sufficient water to maintain my garden, but I also work in areas such as San Pedro Itzican and the villages adjoining and water is scarce there. Most days the people in these villages have to purchase water from ‘pipas’ or water trucks to have enough to wash and bathe, let alone water their gardens.

To Lake Chapala’s detriment, between 1980 and 2002 more than 500 dams were constructed on the Rio Lerma by thousands of farmers using the 470 miles of river water to irrigate their crops. The Rio Lerma empties into Lake Chapala and the water levels have dropped significantly as a result.

According to CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research from Phys.org, wildflowers are increasingly doing without insect pollinators. Scientists at the CNRS and the University of Montpellier have discovered that flowering plants growing in farmland are increasingly growing without insect pollinators. As reproduction becomes more difficult for them in an environment depleted of pollinating insects, the plants are evolving towards self-fertilization. These findings are published in a paper in the journal New Phytologist. By comparing field pansies growing in the Paris region today with pansies from the same localities resurrected in the laboratory from seeds collected between 1992 and 2001, the research team found that today’s flowers are 10% smaller, produce 20% less nectar, and are less visited by pollinators than their ancestors.

This rapid evolution is thought to be due to the decline in pollinator populations in Europe. Indeed, a study conducted in Germany showed that over 75% of the biomass of flying insects has vanished from protected areas in the last thirty years. The study identified a vicious circle in which the decline in pollinators leads to reduced nectar production by flowers, which could in turn exacerbate the decline of these insects. It underlines the importance of implementing measures to counter this phenomenon as quickly as possible and thus safeguard the interactions between plants and pollinators, which have existed for millions of years.

In the meantime, the plants are doing their best to adapt. Some scientist also say that this recent, needed adaptability is increasing productivity in our plants. This could be a sign that forced adaptability can be a good thing…until it is not.

I’ve found that most people shy away from change if given a choice or unless it is required. Once we see that change is inevitable we then start moving forward, sometimes with reluctance. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from plants and their ability to change. Change can be positive and beneficial albeit difficult.

What to plant in February

The weather is chilly at night, but clear and sunny during the day. The few summer edibles that still exist, like tomatoes are struggling trying to give tiny fruits hoping to ripen enough to pick. The deciduous trees and plants are becoming even more seasonally colorful and the edibles and ornamentals that love the chill are getting stronger quickly. Daytime temperatures make working in the garden very enjoyable.  So what to concentrate on in the garden? 

Do you want to grow tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants? Start these indoors around February. Then, around April you should start watching the weather and, as soon as it is warm enough, go ahead and transplant those into the ground.

It is still cold at night, but warmer in the morning. Pruning now will bring back many plants that are looking a little sad, encouraging new growth. Look for iris, heliotrope, pentas, primrose and snapdragons at the viveros. Now is the time to put radishes, carrots, Swiss chard, kohl rabi, leeks, and beans (wax, runner and bush) in the garden.  For flower growers, start morning glory, evening primrose, liatris, clarkia and tuberous begonias in pots. It’s an excellent time to get the garden cleaned up and ready for the hot, dry months and the new things you will be planting. Don’t forget to deadhead and water and keep up with your compost.

I dream of having some late seasonal, gentle rains so the soil can drink it slowly. Unless that happens irrigation should be reduced, not stopped, as plant photosynthesis slows down and cold weather dries plants out. Water less frequently but just as deeply to assure that the full root systems are hydrated.


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com


Francisco Nava
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