Posts

Showing posts from July, 2010

Just What Kind of Gardener Are You ? Part 2- Container Plants

Many gardeners want a nice garden, but may not have the time or physical ability to maintain a landscape garden. I am well aware of what happens when a large garden can get out of control, and it happens rather fast. For those people who want low-care gardens, or for those who have limited space or time, consider container gardening. The catchy new term for this is "containerscaping", to go along with the other pop-garden terms of hardscaping, lightscaping, nighstscaping, aquascaping, and probably every other garden aspect-scaping. I prefer the old-fashioned term of 'container gardening'. There are lots of variants on this theme, but as with so many other parts of life, the basics still apply.

Growing plants for the long term in pots means that you need well drained soil that breaks down slowly, pots large enough to allow for years of growth, and provisions for water drainage. Keep in mind that the roots are completely confined, and can't find new sources of wate…

Heliconias revisited

Our heliconia collection is coming back to life after its near-death winter experience. We're busily fertilizing them with both slow-release fertilizer and liquid fertilizers and mulching them to boost them to their pre-winter dimensions. We've learned a few things about growing heliconias in the last few years. One of the most important aspects of growing champion heliconias is continuous availability of fertilizer, followed closely by very regular watering. Most heliconias are from wet tropical climates, so nearly-continuous water and fertilizer are requisites for best growth.

A balanced slow release fertilizer like Dynamite / Nutricote 13-13-13 makes a great choice, as does the slow-release 12-4-12 Container Palm Special fertilizer. Heliconias are heavy feeders, and 3 applications of this type of fertilizer per year give you really solid growth. Most heliconias will grow well with at least 6 hours of sun per day,but understand that the more sun they get, the more water they…

The Weed's World

Weeds are plants growing out of place ( they're not bad, just misunderstood). In their own native habitat, they're just part of the neighborhood. In our world, weeds outcompete valuable plants for fertilizer and water.

We use the word in a bad or valueless connotation ( growing like a weed, weeds infesting my garden, etc),yet we should elevate our knowledge a little. Even the venerable Royal Poinciana can be a weed, if one was growing in your driveway. I would readily admit, though, that some plants are weeds in almost any setting, such as Spanish Needles, Sandspur, Spurge, Dodder Vine, and a LONG list of others. Some trees and palms are weeds with their copious seed production. It is interesting to note that very few native species are considered weeds in our gardens ( some species are). How should we manage the scourge of unwanted plants ? Here is a short list of management tactics...

1.Consider using a different species of plant which is less trouble than the "weed"…

Herb Gardening Basics

The smell of fresh herbs in your kitchen is almost irresistible and there are lots of kitchen herbs that grow well here. Remember, though, that we live in a subtropical climate with plenty of other critters that like to eat your herbs.You'll need to take some cautionary steps to grow herbs and keep them growing. Here are some simple tips for growing herbs successfully.

First--most herbs would prefer to grow outside, not on your kitchen sink window.
Second-- if you're not familiar with specific garden herb culture, start with growing herbs in large pots ( over 10 inch diameter) in cactus soil. It's best to set the pots on bricks or paver stones to keep the pots off the soil to improve drainage.
Third- most herbs prefer morning sun. Provide a spot where there is sun until 11 a.m. and bright light the rest of the day.
Fourth--except for the desert-type plants like Rosemary and Culantro, water your plants enough to keep the soil moist.
Fifth-- keep an eye out for birds, lizards…

How Not to Kill Your New Orchid.....

I publicly admit to being an orchidholic; I've been one for over 30 years. I used to pay some princely sums for orchids at orchid shows and through mail-order firms. I would never have imagined seeing such a selection of quality orchids at the retail level as I see today. You can now buy blooming orchids for under $ 20 at big-box stores which would have cost double or triple that much at an orchid show just 20 years ago. When you see these new dazzling orchids, it is easy to impulse- buy them. What is the best way to tend to them when you get them home ?

It would be hard to give out one uniform direction for the wide array of available plants, but here is a good set of general directions:

--keep the plant in a sheltered,shady area,
--water it weekly with enough water so that water flows out the bottom of the pot,
--plants will do better outside than inside,
--don't expose the plant to direct sunlight,

Keep in mind that most orchids are tropical plants; they won't appreciate th…

Grow Your Own Plants !

In my earlier days in Wisconsin, it seemed every gardener I knew grew something in his garden from seeds or rooted his own plant cuttings. For them, it was a natural task, even if he had no training. Here in Miami, we can make thousands of species grow so easily that I wonder why people don't propagate more of their own plants. Of course, the simple reason may be that people don't WANT more plants, and they are tired of pruning back plants that grow too fast already.We have such a great diversity of plants available to us that we should use our climate to try new plants. In many cases, newer species are less maintenance than some of the older ones. Conversely, some of the "older" types are bug and disease resistant, and should be distributed more.

Diversity is key to keeping the home landscape interesting. Propagating plants is easier than many people think, and you can end up with a wide variety of plants for free. Sometimes the simple act of stabbing a branch of ce…

Renovating Old Landscapes-Part 3 Installations

I often hear people who are concerned about how plants will be installed, long before the planning and design stages. This is akin to worrying about the paint color on a house that isn't built yet. Once you've completed your due diligence on removing weeds / unwanted plants, planning and design of the landscape and the sources of the plants, THEN consider an installer.

Planting landscape plants is hard labor, but technically simple. The steps to success are straightforward enough. Here are my views on installing landscape plants, in order...

First- mark the planting site with spray paint, including the edges of the planting hole. Surveyor stakes or colored flags are neat, but can get moved or knocked over in the work process. Using paint + flags is the best idea of all.

Second- make sure the digging crew knows how wide and deep the holes should be. 3 times the diameter of the rootball and slightly deeper than the root ball is my recommendation. This ratio works well for most pl…

Renovating Old Landscapes, Part 2 +

When you are designing for trees on your property, find out what they'll do in 10 or 15 years. Some trees have reputations for being very brittle, messy, or have invasive shallow roots. Plan to space the trees assuming they were full sized when you put them in ( plan for future growth). If you are concerned about the sparsity of the new trees, consider temporary "fill-in" plantings of plants which last a few years, and you won't miss when they've done their job.

Second- after the trees have been planned, plan for some color areas, varying types of plants, and possibly distinct landscape areas ( butterfly, vegetable, fruit trees, flowers, foliage color). You could also choose themes like Asian, desert, rainforest, or the ever-popular golf course-all-grass motif.

Third- ask as many people as possible about your plants. Tree service people are excellent sources of information, since they deal with the mature plants all the time.Remember that landscape designers and …

Renovating Old Landscapes, Part 2

As a follow-on to the previous chapter on renovating old landscapes, these last few steps will help in making the smart choices needed for a long term and sensible set of plantings. As with so many things in home ownership, good planning and advance research equal long term success. If you've already followed the previous steps of weed removal and the choices of what to keep or remove, consider the next steps as the completion of the process.

First, if you plant shade trees or palms, consider where the mature shade trees will cast shade, preferably on the south and west sides of the house.

Renovating Old Landscapes- Part 1

Sometimes people move into a home where the primary focus of the owners' attentions is on home renovations. The landscape often comes in third or fourth place. The odd thing about this priority ranking is that landscapes often help define the house and property. There are numerous TV shows on renovating homes, patios, kitchens, and every type of room, but not so much with renovating an old landscape. We inherited such a landscape at Pinecrest Gardens, so we have some experience with the topic. Years ago I worked at the Boca Raton Resort, also built in 1936, with some older landscape areas in need of attention. I learned a lot about how to restore landscapes. Here are some landscape renovation basics....

The first step is to remove as much weed material as possible, as fast as possible so weeds don't spread any further. Many local landscapers are really good at this, and it's worth the cost of their services. At the very least, try to trim back the seed heads on trees and lo…

The Cycad Scourge

We hear a great deal about the latest in human diseases, and recently we have heard a lot more about plant blights. Recently in our area we've heard about Ficus Whitefly, Croton Scale, Red Palm Mite, and the latest Citrus disease du jour which will need to be eradicated statewide. Cycads are one of the great and venerable landscape plants for Florida, and are usually pretty trouble-free, but an exotic scale insect has dampened our efforts to grow them.

We have almost forgotten about Cycad Scale, which largely prevents us from growing many species in the genus Cycas, the Sago group. Cycas revoluta , the King Sago, is among the most susceptible and hardest hit, but the scale has a wide menu of cycad species to infest. Some genera are resistant,though. Many of the species in the genera Encephalartos and Dioon seem resistant to the scale. Once the scale has infested a plant,though, it is difficult to eradicate the bug without some protracted efforts. There are 2 main avenues to pu…

Just What Kind of Gardener Are You ? Part 1--Low Care Gardens

I often get questions about what kind of plant is best for a given area or for someone's yard. I'll query them about planting conditions to help answer their questions. Eventually, though, I'll get around to asking the person the biggest question of all: "what kind of gardener are you ?" The question is usually met with some puzzlement, but I ask this on purpose to jog someone's mind a little. Knowing what kind of gardener you are helps in selecting and growing plants well.

One school of gardening thought is that gardens should be self-sufficient, require no water or fertilizer, and all plants should flower constantly. I call this method of gardening "zero-phytic" gardening, modeled after the popular word "xeriphytic" referring to drought-tolerant or low-maintenance plants.

There are many plants suited for dry or low-care conditions. Both exotic and native plants can fill this bill, but do some homework on whether the plants live in our s…

Palm Culture 101

Palms are one of the signature plant groups which define South Florida. Oddly, in an area legendary for its rocky soil, we can grow an amazing array of palms with rather little trouble. There are over 2000 species of palms, and we can grow over 1500 of them here. The South Florida Palm Society hosts the largest palm sales in the USA, with a huge selection of species at their twice-a-year events. Keep the mature plant size in mind when you plant a seedling palm, and get lots of advice from several growers in advance about your purchase. Before you dish out the money for an expensive palm, ask some questions of both the seller and of yourself. Here are the basic palm culture questions, so that you can get the right plant for your property:



do you want a native species ?does the palm shed its leaves naturally or do you have to cut them off ? ( Hint: if the leaves fall off, they'll smash plants underneath the palm)how big does the palm get in our climate? ( suitable for your property?)…

Bugs in Your Lawn ?

It's the time of year when we see bug problems in our lawn areas. Especially common are the small grayish moths which signal an infestation of armyworms. The moths are the end result of the small ( 1/4") larvae which eat grass roots. These little larvae can make a large amount of damage, shown as roundish areas of dry grass that look like the sprinkler system missed the area. If you dig up a small patch of the affected grass you'll likely see lots of small wiggling "worms".


How do we control this ongoing pest ? Many retail insecticides that are labeled for turf insect control will do the job, but here's the tip for success: 3 applications spaced about 10 days apart does the job. Keep an eye on the affected areas for a re-infestation of the bugs after you treat the area. New grass should grow back into the affected areas within a few weeks. Here are 2 management tactics to control turf insects:

1. use razor-sharp mower blades: Clean-cut grass edges have less d…

Irrigation Irritation

Irrigation systems are both a curse and a blessing to our gardens. Most systems are designed for maximum area coverage yet are not very efficient in watering plants well. Landscape plants need different water schedules than grass does. Furthermore, most homeowners irrigate far too often and too lightly. Usually one heavy irrigation per week will suffice for most landscaping, twice a week on grass areas. A simple rain gauge placed in the spray area will let you know how much water is applied, with a target amount of 3/4" to 1" of water, once a week. This heavier and less frequent watering promotes deeper rooting and more drought tolerant plants.


We have a new comprehensive irrigation system at Pinecrest Gardens which is tailored to individual areas, and we water the gardens once a week. Some areas are irrigated with drip-line irrigation for maximum efficiency. Even the rainforest areas get watered just once a week, with 1" of rain and with excellent results. We've als…

Rainbows of Bromeliads

We are blessed to live in a climate that permits us so many landscaping options. I believe we have grown used to the high diversity of interesting plants in this area, and take some plants for granted. A case in point: I visited the Ft. Myers area last weekend and noticed a big difference in the landscape: a substantial lack of bromeliads ! We have a LOT of bromeliads in a rainbow of colors and textures in our local area. Many bromeliads are really easy to grow: we can just park the plants on the surface of mulch, prop the plants up with a few rocks, and they seem to grow by themselves. Bromeliads are almost the definition of low-maintenance plants. There are hundreds of varieties to grow here, not just the big copper-tone types. With interesting names like Hannibal Lecter, Shark Tooth, Snaggle Teeth, Silver Vase, Fireball, Big Mac, Passion, Grace, and Foster's Favorite-Favorite, why limit yourself to just a few common ones ?


Propagating bromeliads is really easy, since most of the…

Native or Exotic Plants - Not Always an Easy Choice

There are so many plants to choose from to install in your home landscape. There is a common battle-cry of "Go Native ! " and there are many good reasons to plant native species. There are equal reasons to plant exotic species as well. Neither is categorically good or bad, although native plant enthusiasts have a few compelling reasons to plant native species (there are rather few native invasive weed species, and many are low-care, thrifty-on-fertilizer species). If we want really flashy flowering plants, or dazzling leaf patterns, then exotic species have a lot of appeal. Consider the idea of tree-dwelling plants like orchids, staghorn ferns, and bromeliads as we see on many trees here. Many native species are more subtle, and some are well adapted to our weather and storm conditions ( see previous blog about exotic plants). There are fundamental differences for both camps, and plant societies to vigorously defend each ideology. There are such enormous variables and differ…

The Hunt for New Plants

As a life-long plant collector in 2 disparate states, I have plenty of tales to tell about hunting down some fabled plant, acquiring it at some expense, and watching it die, sometimes quickly. I've seen this fervor in other people, and am now old enough to coach the new collectors on what problems to steer clear of. One of the biggest mistakes I see in people with "plant-hunter's disease" is the belief that plants acquired from tropical countries will automatically grow here. Vendors with exotic plants from Peru or Thailand or Africa will occasionally tell unknowing buyers that the country of origin "is just like Florida". Not true, I say, since few countries are like Florida except the Bahamas or Cuba. Some semi-tropical savannah plants come from Florida-like conditions, and these plants often do well here. Many tropical plants come from areas of even, predictable rainfall, acid or clay soil, and stable temperatures all year long.Many rainforest plants are…