Showing posts from 2011
Several Dozen Words About Pesticide Safety

Over the last 40-plus years that I have grown plants, I have seen a major shift in the feelings about pesticides. As a child, I remember my father using a smelly gray granule on ant mounds to get rid of pesky ants. 2 decades ago, I remember looking at the 40 year-old container, stuck in the back corner of a tool shed, to see that it was a cyanide compound ! I hear many tales of gardeners long ago, using nicotine sulfate on their vegetable gardens, mercury fungicides on millions of tons of grain crops, arsenic to control grasshoppers, and a very wide range of compounds that are eminently lethal to just about everything.
Today, modern pesticides are a great deal safer than 50 years ago, but are still toxic in specific ways. We have a far better understanding of how these products work, as well as their impacts on us, wildlife, and the environment at large. We should still look carefully at pesticide use. Here in Miami we are experiencing outbre…
"Soilless" soil ?

Many gardeners have worked with artificial soil mixes, sometimes called "soil-less" soils, which is sort of a misnomer. This implies that "real" soil is organic, of the Earth, and only occurs naturally. For most of us, if it's outside in the yard, it's soil. If, according to my Mother, it's on my shoes when I walk in the house, it's DIRT. Perhaps I can shed some light to the idea of artificial soils, and the topic is no small affair to clarify, since there are so many components and mixtures to choose from. Let's look at the most common components.  

One of the most important things to remember is that artificial soils are usually made to grow plants in pots in greenhouses, where plants need a very stable supply of water, and where the plants are produced in a few months to a year at most. These mixes are not very suitable outdoors in the wettest parts of the year. They are often used in propagation beds and with high-d…
Managing Storm Damage in Your Garden

 In this section of the country, storms of various sorts assault us now and then. We have tornadoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, downburst cells, and lightning hits. There are several forces at work in the damage these storms can cause, and as a gardeners you should be aware of the suite of problems that can arise. You should also be aware of what NOT to do, such as "hurricane pruning".
One of the unseen dangers of protracted rainfall is that the soil can become super-saturated, and allow trees to fall over with only moderate wind gusts. This tactic is likened to a spoon in a bowl of Jello; it can move easily in any direction. Since we have such weather problems, I suggest  people keep their trees trimmed in such a way as to allow wind to pass through them easily, but this is not "hurricane pruning". An experienced arborist can remove selected parts of the canopy while maintaining the structural integrity of the tree. Overwaterin…
And You Thought YOUR Snails Were Big.........

Recently there has been an incidence of Giant African Land Snails abbreviated as GALS, in the Coral Gables neighborhood in Miami. The local residents have seen a few snails here and there, but as with all introduced pests of any size, it is cause for caution and observation. 
Make no mistake about the creature, it is a large snail, with a shell measuring over 6 inches long. As with many snails, it has an appetite for plants, and this species can eat a LOT of plant material. It would be bad enough if the snail just ate plants, but this species also carries a disease that can affect your health: meningitis. The snails are available through pet stores worldwide, and are used in religious ceremonies, especially by Caribbean religions. After a boy smuggled a few snails into Miami as pets in the 1970s, they quickly became a serious pest. The Department of Agriculture eradicated them in 3 years after a protracted program of hand-catching the snails…
Can we really plantHummingbird gardens ?

I believe the answer is "yes". It would be safe to say that, as with butterfly gardens, it is not a plant-a-few-plants-and-they-will-arrive scenario. As with butterflies, hummingbirds enjoy sunlight, plenty of plants to feed on, and instant availability of shade cover in which to escape from predators. Planting a wide variety of plants attractive to butterflies often nets the added benefit of attracting 'hummers'.

In this section of the country, we have a small selection of hummingbird species, even during migration season. By far the most common species is the Ruby-Throat, and if you're really lucky, you'll see the emerald green flash of a male bird, about the size of a small dragonfly, and moving even faster. The bird's ability to defy the laws of aerodynamic flight is simply amazing. The birds can start and stop in no time at all, and they are fun to watch if a group gets together in a feeding area. The border wa…
Preparing Your Garden and Turf for Autumn

"Autumn" in South Florida is such a subtle concept that you would need a calendar to know when it happened. Perhaps the more accurate terms for what Northerners would call Autumn would the "less rainy" season, or the "I don't sweat all day" season. It means that days are getting shorter, the heavy rain and high humidity will slowly diminish but the daytime heat will continue. This means several things for your garden. Grass will still need watering, but by November, it will need less, as it will respond to short daylengths and start to slow down. You can help this by using a lower-nitrogen fertilizer, such as 15-0-15 or even a 12-2-12. The equal balance of the first and third numbers is important, since it fosters root and stem development, not so much leaf and grass growth. 

Trees will really slow down growth, and some have stopped already. We might even see some light defoliation in the very dry days of N…
Growing Standard Water Lilies Successfully

  Watergardening has become very popular in many areas, and justly so; the availability of great aquatic plants has never been better. Years ago, water lilies were the domain of large gardens and large ponds. The availability of plants at retail garden centers was poor at best. In recent years, the production of water plants has increased, but the quality of plants at retail centers is still less than it could be. I wonder if the supply:demand curve may have something to do with the lack of education on the customer's side of economics. I believe the true reason is more subtle: people don't want to get wet ! Locally, people feel that water gardens are high-maintenance mosquito attractors. The mosquito problem can be solved easily and economically by adding a few surface-feeding fish like guppies, gouramis, paradise fish or mosquito fish.  There are wonderful ways to have a great water garden in a small space, but homeowners need to…
Underwater Gardens ? Why Not ! ?

Over the last 15 months I have written over 130 blogs about plants and all things terrestrial - horticultural. I thought it was well past due that I should speak about the world of underwater plants. The aquarium and water gardening business is a thriving one. Florida has a burgeoning set of aquatic businesses, split into several groups including aquatic plants and aquarium fish. It is indeed possible to have an underwater garden ( immersed), although the choices are more limited than a terrestrial above-water garden ( emersed). Very surprisingly, some "regular" foliage plant growers sell plants for the aquatic plant  market, a fact I found surprising when I worked in a foliage nursery 20 years ago. Quite a few "garden" plants can be grown underwater for a very long time. 

Many of the same criteria are needed for aquatic plants as for emersed plants: light, oxygen, and fertilizer, but in different proportions to…
Coffee, Chocolate, Vanilla, ..........and?.........Tea !

What else could there be to complete the world of great tastes and brews than Tea ? Empires have been made and lost on the sweat of workers and the hillsides in the tropics in cultivating tea, coffee, and chocolate. Tea is one of the oldest cultivated plants used for brewing, and is one of the simplest in terms of garden-to-market processing. It is, however, land-intensive, requiring large tracts of land and a LOT of hand labor to pick young tea leaves at just the right stage of maturity. The young leaves are dried, then packaged for sale and shipment. There are hundreds of varieties and dozens of ways to make tea as a drink, but they are all based on just one species of plant: Camellia thea.

 Tea is grown in low mountainous areas, preferably with a mild climate. The major growing areas for tea are China, India, central-east Africa and Sri Lanka, but other countries produce tea in respectable quantities. Tea still ranks as…
Grow Your Own Chocolate ? Why Not ?

Last week I wrote a blog about Vanilla and where it comes from. I thought, "why not write a blog about its companion--Chocolate " ? Both Vanilla and Chocolate are tropical plants originally from the equatorial regions, now grown in many countries far from their home countries. Chocolate is an interesting tree in an unusual family, the Sterculiaceae, which contains both ornamental flowering and economical trees, including Cola, from whence comes some popular soft drinks.

Chocolate comes from a small tree, often called cacao. This is an interesting paradox, since the species of the commercial plant is Theobroma cacao, and is both the common name of the plant as well as the products produced from the fruit. I can imagine how "cocoa" came about from "cacao". The tree is unremarkable when looking at it, with a rather scraggly appearance, tiny flowers, and strongly veined deep green parchment-like leaves. The pods are abou…