July 29, 2010
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.
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.
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.
July 28, 2010
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.
July 27, 2010
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 !
July 26, 2010
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 !
July 23, 2010
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.
July 22, 2010
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.
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
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.
July 19, 2010
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.
July 14, 2010
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.
July 12, 2010
- 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?)
- does it need lots of water ?( e.g. Royal Palm, Everglades Palm, Veitchia Palm)
- 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.
July 8, 2010
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.
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.
July 7, 2010
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.
July 2, 2010
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.
July 1, 2010
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.