July 29, 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 water or nutrients, so water and fertilize plants gently.

Millions of people grow plants in containers indoors successfully. We have the added benefit that we can rehabilitate plants outdoors in the shade when the plant looks tired of being indoors. Just make sure the pots are off the ground, to allow water to drain out. Choose plants which are suited for indoor culture, and know something about them before you buy the plants.

For instance, cacti can be great windowsill plants with a lot of sunlight whereas Peace Lilies are better suited for filtered light. Many common landscape plants are used as indoor plants such as Lady Palm, Bamboo Palm, Chinese Evergreen ( Aglaonema), Dracaena ( Dragon Tree), and a host of others. Be aware that these plants are good indoor plants once they have acclimated to shade conditions.

If you choose your plants wisely, understand the restrictions and conveniences of container gardening, and tend to container plants carefully, you'll have the pleasure of gardening indoors, without the bugs and weeds and sweat.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

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'll need.

The plants will grow taller in shady areas, shorter in sunny areas. We cut off stems after they flower to allow more light to the center of the clump, and divide the clumps every few years to remove old rhizomes. We'll replant clumps of 6 to 8 stems to rejuvenate the plant, mixing the fertilizer into the planting soil. Heavy mulching maintains soil moisture and retards weed growth.

We're approaching the end of the planting season for tropical heat loving plants, so get your plants in the ground as soon as you can. We think it's still really warm, but heliconias need at least 60 days of tropical heat just to get established, and our warm, long days are coming to an end in about 90 days.

Heliconias are definitely high-maintenance plants, but they are also high-return plants, with a tropical flair that is hard to beat in a garden. There are dozens of types available, from miniatures to giants, for every sun exposure and every size of garden. We have a good collection of types to show off the diversity in the genus, and have flowers available year round. Visit your favorite garden to get some ideas for your own garden.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

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" species e.g. replacing Cluster Fishtail Palms or Veitchia Palms with slower growing species such as Single Fishtail Palm or King Alexander Palms, respectively.A sterile Hong Kong Orchid Tree is a better choice than the type that sets buckets of viable seeds. There are dozens of "better than" choices on the garden market.

2.for smaller herbaceous weed species, mulch is a great preventative measure against weed incursions. Wood chips, grass clippings, pine bark nuggets, and even multiple layers of newspaper are good mulch choices.

3.There are excellent chemical weed-control herbicides on the market, but they must be used very carefully and strictly acording to the label directions. If you do use such measures, try a small area first, evaluate the results, and apply the product exactly as directed.

4.weeds grow fastest on bare soil in the sun, far less so on covered ground in the shade. Groundcovers help prevent weed seeds from sprouting.

We should aspire to manage weeds, not try to eradicate them, as we would manage pests and diseases. Eradication of such problems is expensive and time consuming.A few minutes' time in your garden every week or two and some basic prevention measures are far more effective in controlling unwanted plants than massive corrective actions. We can live with a few weeds, and spend our valuable time with the gardens we create and tend.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 28, 2010

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, snails, and all herb predators. Stick with organic repellents to keep them off your plants.
Last--use a slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote or Dynamite mixed into the planting soil.

A good general rule for harvesting your plants is to cut no more than 1/3 of the plant off at any one time. Trimming off any old seed heads will help the plant stay in growth mode, as opposed to moving into seed-then-die mode.

Members of the Parsley family of herbs often attract certain butterflies, so don't be surprised if you see some zebra-striped caterpillars and busy butterflies on your plants, especially when the herbs flower. Some people plant extra plants just to attract and feed these gorgeous black and yellow beauties. Provide your herbs with a good bright airy spot in the garden, give them some attention and water, and harvest your ultra-fresh plants when you want to.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 27, 2010

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 the dry air of air conditioning for very long. Most orchids die of overwatering, so don't try to make plants grow by watering them very often. Wait until after flowering for that part.

When the flowers die, cut off the brown flower spike, but not the stem it was attached to. If the flower stem is still green, better to wait until the spike dries up. Put the plant outside, in a bright, filtered shade area, out of direct sunlight. Consult your local orchid society, or your local horticulturist for more advice !

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 26, 2010

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 certain plant species into the ground works just fine. Plumerias, Gumbo-Limbos,and many succulents grow very well from unprepared cuttings. Some people do this successfully with Crotons, although it has not worked for me very well just yet. My own preference is to use tip cuttings, dipped into rooting powder I buy at garden stores or big-box stores.

Tip cuttings of many soft-tissue plants ( about 8 inches long, with most of the leaves removed) root fine when placed into clean pots of sterile potting mix, such as African Violet soil. Water the soil until water comes out the bottom of the pot, place the whole pot and cutting into a bread bag,and loosely tie the top shut. Place the bag in a shady spot, and wait until roots form. The same mini-greenhouse arrangement works for growing seeds, too, without the rooting powder. This is a great tactic for growing palm, aroid, and flowering tree seeds.

If you have interesting or rare plants, make a few extras and give them to neighbors and friends. In the event you lose a plant, you can reclaim it from your "plant bank" friends. Share the landscape wealth we have in our gardens and make the community a more interesting place at the same time. We have the best subtropical plant-growing spot in the country; let's make the most of it !

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 23, 2010

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 plants. Use some of the backfill to fill in the hole to match the soil with the level of the rootball. One tactic I use often is to fill the hole 1/2 full of water to check drainage and see how long it takes to drain away. If the water drains in 15 minutes or less, plant the plants. If not, consider a different site.

Third- I like to mix some organic material such as compost or Milorganite into the backfill to get the root system going quickly. There are debates on this, but I've found it effective. Park the plant in the center of the hole, match the rootball level with the surrounding soil level EXACTLY , and add backfill, tamping the backfill with a shovel handle to eliminate air spaces as you go along. Take a lot of care not to scratch or abrade trunks or stems, and tip the plants into a planting hole, don't drop them in .

Fourth- just before you finish backfilling the hole, add water, and let the water drain down. This will really settle the soil around the plant. Finish filling the hole, and make a "doughnut ring" of soil at the edge of the hole to act as a dam to hold water. Without this ring, any water you add will drain off to the side, rather than settle down into the rootzone. You are almost finished, two more steps....

Fifth-any plant taller than about 2 feet needs staking. Heavy bamboo stakes are good for plants under 5 feet, metal electricalpipe is my choice for stakes taller than 5 feet. GENTLY tie the plants to the stake with plant tie tape or rope ( not wire), leaving a little space for the plant to flex.

Last- use 4-6 inches of mulch over the entire digging area, taking care not to mulch against the stems or trunks. Water the plants daily and heavily for 30 days, then monitor the plants for drought stress afterwards. Usually, twice a week watering is sufficient after the initial grow in period. These are simple steps to planting landscape plants. Take care of the plants at these early stages and they'll mature into the plants they can be.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 22, 2010

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 architects are in the business of designing landscapes, not maintaining them. While many designs are beautifully constructed, long term maintenance of high-density designs can be problematic for some homeowners. Plant societies are always good sources of information, and will have no reservations about telling you the good and bad qualities of a plant. Once you have the design, then you need to find the plants and the installers.

Fourth- Miami-Dade County has one of the largest concentrations of nurseries in the world, exceeded only by Central Florida. There are over 800 nurseries in this area. If a plant can be grown here, it is possible to buy it. Plant societies often have plant sales at Fairchild Garden, and are terrific venues to find both plants and installers. Full service nurseries can be a great place to shop for plants, and many nurseries on the western and northwestern sides of the city offer spectacular deals. Once you know what you want, where it will go, how the landscape looks now and in the future, and where to get the plants, the hardest work is done.

Almost any landscape service can plant trees; tree planting is one of their staple incomes. Handling trees carefully, staking them properly, and how to tend to them after planting are important considerations. There are debates over the "proper" size of planting hole, and these items will all be addressed................in the next blog.

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.

July 20, 2010

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 low-level weeds. Weeds can be many different things, like Umbrella or Cecropia Trees, some palm species ( like Fishtail, Solitaire, Veitchia, and other unwanted species),Pothos vines, and running plants like some bamboo species or Clerodendrons.These may be undesirable plants on YOUR property, not that they are bad plants in every sense. Weeds are simply plants out of place.

The second step is to assess which remaining plants to keep for the long term landscape, and which should be removed or cut down. Unless a species is rare or is a part of the core landscape design, consider removing it. The other plants WILL grow bigger when they get more light and less competition from the weeds. This step allows you see the valuable plants better, and assess future shade patterns.

The third step, perhaps the toughest one, is to plan which new plants should be installed. If you've been reading my previous blogs, you'd expect my recommendation to do some research before you buy. You're right, and this is more important than ever when working in a new landscape. See what you like in your neighborhood, or at local gardens ( that's a hint), take pictures of the desired plants, and compile a want list. VERY few plants are available only once in history; there is no need to rush out to buy plants and plant the property all at once.

There is no need to rush to renovate landscapes. A landscape isn't a snapshot in time, it's a process, just like raising children, and you are part of that process. I hate to see people who "just plant something" to have a tree in the yard. It pains me to see people try to make "instant" hedges, but fuss later on when the hedge grows too fast or costs too much to keep it trimmed. There are hundreds of options for every scenario, and lots of experienced , skilled people who can help you make smart landscape decisions. Next: planning for shade, finding the plants, finding the skills, and phasing the installation.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 19, 2010

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 pursue in dealing with the scale.

The primary and long term solution is to plant scale-resistant species to avoid spraying an infested plant over and over.One plant I see more and more of in local landscapes is Dioon spinulosum, the Giant Dioon. It is fairly fast growing, can grow in a wide range of sun and soil conditions, and it is easy to locate one at your local nursery. This species is very resistant to the Cycad Scale, and makes a nice open crown of sea-green foliage, spreading into a broad rosette.

If you already have a Cycas species, and it is infested with scale, there is hope for the plant. You must be diligent in keeping the pest problem under control; you won't be able to get rid of it easily. You will "manage" the pest, not try to eradicate it. Monthly spraying with an oil-based insecticide such as Organicide will help a lot in managing Cycad Scale. Several systemic insecticides such as Orthene and Cygon will help in the cause, but monthly, full-coverage spraying seems to work best. Managing a pest by planting resistant species is a better alternative than spraying every month, but sometimes we need to tend to the plants we have. Inspect new landscape plants carefully, and do some advance research before you buy.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 14, 2010

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 soil and rain and local climate before you buy them. Specialized irrigation, good plant selection, and scheduled neglect can add up to a great low-care garden. Just don't expect a lush tropical paradise with this style of gardening ! (Low-care gardens have a more subtle appeal.)

Drip irrigation can be a real boon for low-water need plants, delivering small amounts of water to just those plants that need it. Rock gardens are excellent venues for zero-phyte gardeners, although it takes some design effort to have plants in flower constantly. Many succulents and flowering bulbs need a winter dry period, or "programmed neglect" to flower at their best. Fortunately this type of growth fits our climate, where we get rather little rain in the short-days, often comically called "winter". Advance plant research, some thought about landscape design, and knowing what kind of gardener you are can add up to having a great landscape that fits your style needs. Next: The Constant Gardener.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 12, 2010

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:

  1. do you want a native species ?
  2. 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)
  3. how big does the palm get in our climate? ( suitable for your property?)
  4. does it need lots of water ?( e.g. Royal Palm, Everglades Palm, Veitchia Palm)
  5. does it need a lot of shade ? ( e.g. Licuala palms, Pinanga Palms) is it cold-sensitive or wind-sensitive? ( many rainforest palms)

Matching the right palm to the right place makes for a better plant / gardener relationship. Regular watering and mulching are two key steps to growing solid palms. In most cases with palms growing in the sunlight, a deep watering once a week is enough to keep plants healthy. Make sure to use at least 6 inches of mulch on top of the roots, but not up against the trunk itself. Spread the mulch out past the edges of the leaves, ( the advice works for all sizes of palms), and add fresh mulch every 6 months.

The biggest step to success with new palms is to dig a proper sized planting hole, which is 3 times the diameter of the root ball, no matter what size plant ! Admittedly, this is an expensive proposition at first, but a great planting hole at the beginning helps make a great palm in the future. Well-rooted palms are storm resistant, more so than a big palm stuffed into a small planting hole, which leads to unstable palms. Do some research, plant and maintain the palm well, and it will become a permanent, enjoyable, valuable part of your landscape.

Craig Morell

Pinecrest Gardens

July 8, 2010

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 damage to attract insects.

2. Using a lower-analysis fertilizer will slow the growth of grass blades, and the grass will need less water. Fast growing grass with soft growth will be more attractive to insects than will solidly rooted sturdier grass. A little tough love for your grass will give you a stronger lawn with fewer insects.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

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 also used a lower analysis fertilizer to get plants to slow their growth and use less water.

Many people use a high-nitrogen grass fertilizer which leads to fast grass growth with shallow roots (leading to very thirsty grass, too). A more balanced fertilizer like 12-4-12 or 15-2-15 fertilizer along with weekly deep watering will give you better results and use less water than the common tactic of daily watering for 10 minutes. The plants will grow better, need less fertilizer, and we'll conserve our water resources. Regular maintenance on irrigation heads and attention to the controller schedule will keep the system trouble-free while staying in compliance with watering regulations.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

July 7, 2010

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 them propagate themselves by offsets called "pups". The main plant will flower only once, and as it dies, it will produce pups. If you cut back the big leaves of the main plant after it flowers, the pups will have more light and space; they'll grow twice as fast. Some plants produce pups on long runners called stolons, and make a nice groundcover. There is a huge range of plants available: miniature plants, giant plants, plants for all-day sun, shade, plants for tree mounting and hundreds of others. Here's a great time-tested tip for selecting plants for your garden: "hard leaves, hard light-- soft leaves, soft light". If the plant has teeth on the leaf edges, plant in a really bright area, but with a little afternoon shade. If the plant has very soft leaves, the plant won't like much direct sunlight.

The South Florida Bromeliad Society is the oldest in the nation, and hosts a major plant sale every year. We've used bromeliads as a major part of our landscaping here, following in the footsteps of Mr. Nat Deleon, who pioneered bromeliad landscaping and culture in this area. He was also integral in bringing bromeliads to the mass market. Visit Pinecrest Gardens to see some of the vast array of bromeliads, and then look at your garden again to see if a few unusual types might find a new home at your place.

Craig Morell

July 2, 2010

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 differences in planting techniques, site choices, proximity to salt air, and on and on. Homogenizing plants into "native" or "exotic" is a huge disservice.

Native plant people would say that native plant species attract and foster native wildlife at many levels. Yet many exotics do the same, to different degrees. Many wildlife species have expanded their menus to include feeding on exotic species, since we have had them around for so long. Whether to plant natives or exotics is an equal choice on many levels, but it boils down to some basic choices: the right plant for the right place; the look you want for your landscape; ethical decisions of trying to replace lost native species; and doing some research on which native species will grow for you. Remember, "native" means that the species lives here in Florida, it doesn't unilaterally mean it will grow for you, in your conditions, or on your property. After all, Bald Cypress trees won't grow well on solid rock in the middle of a dry field, Lignum Vitae won't grow well in deep shade in a wet area, and so on. There are native and exotic plants for every taste and condition. Use our local expertise to research and plant what grows well for you in your conditions.

Craig Morell

Pinecrest Gardens

July 1, 2010

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 sensitive to soil conditions, weather extremes, and cold dry winds.

In Miami, we have very alkaline rocky soil, dry winters, uneven rain periods in the summer interrupted by scorching drought, and near-freezing weather every winter. Be wary of "new" species recently introduced into this area, and research them before you buy them. There are a dozen top-notch plant societies here, loaded with expert growers in their fields. Use the societies as brain trusts or as consultants, available at a very reasonable cost. Very likely, these growers have experience in your field of interest and are quite willing to coach you. Knowing some of the flaws in a plant before you buy can save you money and grief. The allure of new plants is powerful, but I strongly suggest you do some homework before shelling out the money for an expensive exotic plant which may or may not grow well for you. I've grown fond of buying plants from local growers, with plants born and grown outdoors in our conditions. Ask growers at plant sales if they have such "local produce", and you'll have less grief with your landscape.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens