Showing posts from September, 2010

Trees for Small Gardens


 In previous blogs, I raved about large-statured trees like Royal Poincianas and Silk Floss Trees. There is such a major selection of trees available throughout the country that there are trees for every sized property and for every climate. In Miami, the selection is remarkable for its diversity. The Tropical Flowering Tree Society ( is based in Miami, and has been responsible for introducing over a hundred species of new trees into the local area. The corridor on both sides of US Highway 1 in South Miami and Coral Gables is well stocked with interesting trees, a brilliant educational and marketing move to show off  new and interesting  species to thousands of drivers every day.

There are good plant choices for every size garden, for every climate and any budget. Some of the more compact trees are pictured here, including the king of all native trees, the Lignum Vitae, arguably one of the slowest growing of all trees. Resplendent with cobalt flowers d…

The Fabulous Silk Floss Tree


One of the premier flowering trees of this season is the Silk Floss Tree, Chorisia speciosa , named as such for its soft silky fiber surrounding the avocado-sized seed pods. This is one of the most spectacular flowering trees in the area, rivaling a Royal Poinciana in its "Wow" appeal. The tree thrives on poor rocky soils, is undemanding in its need for care, and after it is established, need no particular attention from you. Naturally, with all these qualities, there is a downside or two. The tree comes with a formidable-looking set of thorns on the trunk, and the roots can come up out of the ground. The tree is deciduous part of the year, but usually after the flowers open like slow-motion foreworks in September and October. In some of the selected varieties, the flowers can exceed 6 inches in diameter. There are numerous grafted and named varieties with predictable colors and flower shapes, although I have never seen a bad-looking Silk Floss Tree.

Growing this…

Setting Up Your Garden for Autumn

Landscape gardening in the subtropics of Miami has many advantages over growing plants in the northern states. One of disadvantages is the lack of distinct seasons, especially for a midwesterner like me. The seasons dictated what we did to the plants, and the plants needed different care for different seasons. Our local plants need different care in different seasons, but our weather here is more more subtle in its changes.

Growing up in Milwaukee, autumn was a distinct season for me, with a predictable type of weather, namely, cool dry weather. Indian Summer was welcomed, with its brisk cool days and chilly nights, preceded by stout winds, requiring the wearing of two layers of sweatshirts. In Miami, autumn is more of a concept rather than a reality. Locals might refer to autumn as "less than monsoon" weather, or "not dripping sweat" weather, or even "almost tolerable" weather. The term "winter" is different for me than it would be for local r…

Gardening in Small Spaces

One of the biggest challenges for people who live in urban areas with little or no outside space such as townhomes, apartment complexes or multi-unit buildings is that gardening must be done on a very small scale. This would normally dictate container gardening, but the residents of hilly cities like San Francisco have raised small-space gardening to an art form. There are stunning gardens on the smallest urban properties I've ever seen. The plants they use won't grow here, but the techniques are adaptable for our needs here. One of the problems I see with gardening on the "flatlands" here is that residents are used to wide-open areas, and haven't been beset with the challenges of working in small spaces. Necessity if the mother of invention, says the old motto. Why not diversify our  gardens with some creative new techniques and materials ? The state of the art in outdoor building materials is far advanced over the old railroad-ties of my parent's home in th…

Citrus in Containers--An Easy Way to Enjoy Citrus in Small Spaces

Florida is legendary for its citrus growing areas, especially the famous Indian River area. Decades ago, when the climate was cooler than it is now and there was far less development, citrus trees were in almost every yard and farm. With intense development and far less land per household, citrus growing isn't the sport and craft it used to be. There is still hope, though, for growing citrus in small spaces. In the same fashion that there are dwarf mango and dwarf avocado varieties, there are dwarf citrus or "small statured" varieties.
You can grow full sized citrus in pots, too, but you need really large pots ( over 36" diameter).

One of the most prolific and rewarding container citrus varieties is 'Calamondin'. This variety is frequently sold in garden centers across the country, especially in early Spring. 'Pondersoa' and 'Meyer' are stalwart varieties which produce huge fruit on small trees. There are several varieties of kumquats, includ…

Roses in South Florida


   I always think of roses as temperate plants, yet  there are substantial rose societies and rose nurseries in Florida. Even in almost-tropical Miami, there is an established rose society, and some very fine rose growers in it. One grower, Jeff Chait from Kendall, has over 600 roses. As might be expected, roses in this hot and humid climate need some extra attention compared to more temperate climates, but
it is possible to grow even hybrid tea or antique roses here with success. There are rose varieties quite well suited for landscape use here in South Florida such as
'Knockout', 'Mrs. Dudley Cross', and the highly
vigorous 'Fortuniana'.

Growing roses here involves the same basic planting
techniques as growing roses 'up north'. Soil preparation involves digging deeply into the soil, amending the soil with as much organic material as possible, using organic fertilizers where possible, and tending to the fungus problems which will inevitably arise…

Cactus Gardens in Miami ? Yes, really.


When we think about subtropical Miami we usually think about palms, orchids, bromeliads and other tropical plants. Cacti and succulents seem to be left out, despite the fact that most cacti are tropical. There are even rainforest cacti with some really flashy flowers. There are column cacti, tree-dwelling cacti, miniature, giant and groundcover cacti and succulents. There are, of course, those "other" cacti with lots of spines which seem to poison our idea of using cacti in this subtropical climate. Yet cacti can be a great addition to landscapes, presenting a whole new look, including the addition of some excellent stand-alone container plants for focal points and balcony planters.

One of the best arid gardens in the area is at Fairchild Garden, where the staff  has done marvelous work in building and maintaining first rate cacti and succulents. Pinecrest Gardens also has a cactus garden, in which you can walk through a small valley with cacti and succulents on…

Fighting Phase 1 Orchid Addiction

I speak from experience about orchid addiction, and I admit my addiction freely. I have been smitten by orchid growing for years, decades, actually. I started growing orchids when I was 14, long before I could drive. I had amassed  almost 100 orchids and tropical plants by the time I could drive to nurseries to buy more plants. The addiction led to greater and greater collections of anything I could get my hands on, leading to converting the front porch of my parent's house into a greenhouse. By age 24, I had collected almost 1000 plants, which I moved to Gainesville to pursue a degree in, (you guessed it), horticulture.

Orchids, as well as other plant groups, have a magic about them that is hard to quantify. Their unusual growth habits, exquisitely complicated flowers, and heavenly fragrances can lead to a true addiction, in every sense of the word. I do not purport to be Dr. Phil, but I often counsel people on how to manage their plant addictions. One of the biggest challenges …

Something Ate My Plants !

This is one of the most frequent comments I hear, especially in the warm months. The comment can apply to any plant, and invariably is something that happens really fast. One grower I know calls it "the weekend syndrome", meaning that on Friday everything looks good, but on Monday the plants look like they were hit with a shotgun at close range. What happened, and why did the critters do so much damage so fast ? There are several answers, but some common threads in what caused the damage. First and foremost, you are unlikely to see the offending beast in the daylight. To find out what ate your plants, look under the leaves near dawn or at night. You will likely see the snail or slug or caterpillar, and then take appropriate action once you have identified the offender. Snail, slugs, and caterpillars all leave holes in the leaves. Caterpillars leave small black droppings, whereas snails and slugs leave a slime trail but no other evidence. Look for empty snail shells near the …

Houseplants Run Amok !

We live in a great climate to grow tropical plants, save for the occasional frosts and windstorms. The down side to this climate is that weeds grow well, too. It gets even more complicated when desirable plants run amok, and become weeds by their aggressive growth. There are many examples of "houseplants gone wild", as there are with many exotic animals that are escaped pets-gone-wild. In a strict definition, a weed is a plant growing out of place, but the definition has no strictures for the value of the plant. A good example is a Royal Poinciana growing in the middle of your brick driveway, causing havoc as it lifts the bricks, and rains leaves everywhere. Everyone who sees a Royal Poinciana agrees it is a gorgeous tree, your driveway ?
Many people move here from out of state, bringing their houseplants with them. When the plants get too large, people plant them outdoors. This is where our story begins............

Over the last 40 or 50 years, laws have change…