October 28, 2010

The Ill-Named 'Ground Orchids"- part 1- Spathoglottis

One of the more prevalent of the terrestrial orchids in local cultivation is Spathoglottis. So often this group is lumped into the ill-named "ground orchid" group. "Terrestrial orchid" is more accurate than "ground orchid". While it is true that Spathoglottis are strictly soil-dwellers, I find the generality of the 'ground orchid' misnomer to be counterproductive. We have such great information resources here and on the Internet that we can and should use the proper terms. There are some terrestrial orchids which can also grow in trees, such as Cyrtopodium, Cymbidium, and Epidendrum, amongst many others. 

Spathoglottis are wonderful landscape plants but they do require some attention. Regular irrigation to prevent drying out, strong yet filtered light, deep organic soil with good drainage, and regular liquid fertilizing are all prerequisites for growing Spathoglottis successfully. Within the last 10 years there has been a renaissance in this orchid genus with a rainbow of flower colors available ranging from pure white to deep purple, including several types that are fragrant as well as colorful. Several tissue culture "bloodlines" have been introduced, allowing for highly consistent plants with desirable growth characteristics to be propagated en masse and at reasonable cost. These plants are increasingly common in retail markets and are very tempting for the first time buyer. Understand and tend to their special needs and they will grow productively for you.   

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

October 26, 2010

Bamboos are not all alike.....part 3- the compact-miniature group

Sasa palmata - a temperate dwarf runner

Pleioblastus virdidstriata- a subtropical dwarf runner

Sasa palmata variegata- a dwarf temperate runner

Completing the trilogy of bamboo information, showing that bamboos are widely diverse and adaptable, I list a few bamboo species here for those people with space challenges or for those who wish to grow plants in containers. I have the luxury at work to grow the largest bamboos in the business to substantial size, but I also rent an apartment and can empathize with those who have small garden spaces.

Schizostachyum brachycladum- Golden Bali Bamboo

Thyrstostachys siamensis- Monastery Bamboo
There are bamboos for small spaces, and a few that grow well in containers. Unfortunately for us in the subtropics, the list of "miniature" bamboos is a short one, since many of the best dwarf cultivars are temperate. One of the other problems we face in South Florida is high pH water, which many bamboos dislike, showing their unhappiness with lots of crisp brown leaf edges. Fortunately, though, there are a number of great species for large containers. Even the slightly larger-scale Golden Bali and Monastery Bamboo can grow well in large architectural pots, resulting in plants that grow to 12 feet or more in height. Both of these species  can grow comfortably in courtyards and on rooftop gardens.   

Even the running types can be grown in containers, as long as the containers are off the ground, set onto blocks or timbers. Running bamboos can find every hole in a pot, can find Mother Earth, and will take off.....well...running. Containers should be made of heavy clay, concrete or ceramic. Plastic pots will not contain the powerful bamboo roots and rhizomes very long. If you decide to grow running bamboos in pots, and the plants get too large for the pot, DON"T PLANT THEM IN THE GROUND. If you do, you will have a forest of bamboos very quickly, and the forest will be hard to get rid of. 

Fertilizing bamboos either in pots or in the ground requires a shift in your thinking. For much of horticulture the dogma is to fertilize plants to get lots of growth. This can be dangerous when trying to grow bamboos ! The smarter tactic is to use slow-release fertilizers or organic rose fertilizers to give bamboo enough fertilizer to grow well, but not so much as to grow them really fast. In so many cases, bamboo species are colonizing types, and they do their job really well. Compost, Milorganite, Black Kow, aged manure, bone meal, coffee grounds and many other organic fertilizers make excellent food sources. One of the secrets to growing great bamboos is the regularity of watering. bamboos are giant grasses, and as such they are rather thirsty. Make sure you water your bamboos regularly, enough to keep the plants from wilting. Use abundant mulch for plants in the ground. Using a drip irrigation or soaker hose will allow the deep watering that bamboos really like while conserving water during the water regulations so many of us are seeing.

Choose your bamboo very carefully, learn about it, and tend to it well. Bamboos are expensive, so treat them as a living asset. Their grace and character will reward you every day. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


October 19, 2010

Bamboos are not all Alike- part 2- Mid-size Bamboo

Angelmist Bamboo- Dendrocalamus amoenus var. minor

In part 2 we'll look at mid-size bamboo types for smaller gardens such as townhomes, condominiums, apartments, and space-challenged  areas. While many people think of bamboos as hulking towering plants ( see previous blog), there are many modest species perfectly suited for smaller gardens, with mature growth under 25 feet. In the bamboo world, these classify as mid-size plants. Once again I recommend that you choose a non-running variety, unless you wish to make a large forest in a small area. The tightly clumping varieties shown here are worthy of almost any garden, but be prepared for a slightly higher price tag than the fast-growing, easy-to-propagate running types.                                                                                                                                                          

Golden Bali Bamboo- Schizostachyum brachycladum

 There are several genera and numerous species and their cultivars within this size group. Some are tropical but many are cold-hardy, some of which can tolerate the midwestern deep freeze. For those who live in Florida, a great many mid-size species can be grown well with some care.

Caring for this group of bamboos is easy enough.Most of this size group of bamboos needs average landscape planting conditions, but do require ample moisture to grow their best. Heavy mulching and routine fertilizing with low-analysis organic fertilizers will bring out the best characters in bamboo. Many people will try to grow bamboo at maximum speed by overfertilizing their plants, but this practice leads to soft growth and shallow roots. Slower, controlled growth makes for a better bamboo plant. Make sure the plants have plenty of root space at planting time so the plants can make the maximum root ball while they                                                                                     establish.

Slender Weaver Bamboo - Bambusa textilis var. gracilis
 The most important aspect of bamboo growing is
to choose the right plant for your needs and space. Knowing what conditions you have and  what kind of  grower you are will mandate which species you should choose. Of course, there is a bamboo society to coach you with the space and skill needed to grow every species for your climate.

 Craig Morell
  Pinecrest Gardens

Bambusa glaucescens

October 18, 2010

Bamboos are not all alike- Part 1- The Giants

I have the advantage of having the space to grow a great diversity of plants, as well as experiment with new species. One of the plant groups I inherited with this property is giant bamboos. We have 6 distinct species here, some of which have grown to over 70 feet in protected areas. Unquestionably these are impressive and imposing plants for large properties. In certain locations, they are the perfect accent for a large structure, or to screen large stretches of property from view of another property. Many people mistakenly choose a giant bamboo for a small cottage or bungalow, with an odd disparity between the home and the towering canes. Homeowners often say the leaves rain down on the yard , carpeting everything in sight. Giant bamboos epitomize the tropics, and need everything in abundance: water, fertilizer, heat, humidity, and space. For the right place, giant bamboo can be the perfect plant. But.............. Choose the right plant for the right place !

Bambusa oldhamii

Bambusa arundinacea- a running, thorny bamboo

Dendrocalamus giganteus - the largest bamboo to 100 feet

There are so many choices for bamboos in our climate that you can absolutely choose the right plant for the right spot, and avoid the headaches of having bamboo erupt through a driveway or house foundation. Recently introduced varieties are very well behaved and require rather little specialized care. There are types which run vigorously over large areas ( not good), and types which clump tightly together, and stay put ( better). There are bamboo types with black or ebony or striped or mottled or yellow canes. Plan on a giant bamboo species to grow over 40 feet tall, with canes at least 3 inches thick. When a species is well placed, the plant will usually stay in an area about the diameter of  its crown. While I would never suggest that bamboo be placed right next to a building, it can be done with certain species provided there are some root barriers in place. Many of the very large-leafed varieties need some protection from dry winter winds, or they will look haggard and rough.

Many people have chosen a cheaper, invasive species to "use up some space" on their property. The owners usually get what they ask for ! The wrong species can bring on years of trouble, where the right species can be years of pleasure. In our environment in Miami, one of the more popular bamboos is Timor Black, a tall ( to 50 feet) type with elegant ebony-mahogany canes, emerald green leaves, and a nearly vertical growth habit. Its slow and controlled growth habit also means a higher price than many faster-growing green species, but the end result is a bamboo with great aesthetic value to a large garden. Some species in the genus  Dendrocalamus and Guadua are giants, suited to a large garden especially those with tropical or Asian garden themes.

Even if you start with small plants, caring for bamboos requires forward thinking ( what space will the plant grow into in 5 years ?). In South Florida it is recommended that you dig a hole 3 or 4 times the size of the rootball and backfill the hole with organic compost and organic fertilizer. Plant the new bamboo from April to August to take advantage of maximum daylength and heat. Water the new plant heavily every day for the first 60 days. After the initial grow-in period, monitor the plant for signs of drought, and water immediately if the plant wilts. The first year is the most important to establish the plant and make sure it is solidly rooted.

Bamboos are very responsive to watering especially deep soaking, so using a drip or soaker hose is  recommended. Heavy mulching ( over 8 inches deep) over the entire root zone is also recommended. Such measures ensure a stout and well-rooted bamboo. Consider also that repeated mulching with leaves, bark chips, coffee grounds, and the bamboo's own leaves will make the plant even healthier. Cut out old and leafless canes in the center of the clump whenever possible. The next installation will cover mid-sized bamboos, followed by a blog on small-statured bamboos for small gardens and containers.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens         

Dendrocalamus 'Timor Black' ( below)
Guadua angustifolia-a New World bamboo


October 15, 2010

 Dendrobium retailicum- The Retail Orchid

Dendrobium orchids are one of the most popular
orchids in the retail market. They have a lot of good things going for them: the flowers last a long time, the plants can re-bloom with minimal care, and there is a huge diversity of plant sizes and flower colors to choose from. Dendrobiums are marketed by the millions worldwide, and are one of the easiest of all orchids to grow. One of the sad parts of the buying experience is what happens after the flowers die off. Many orchid retailers get "the call", wherein the flustered caller says that the orchid died after only 6  months of repose on the grand piano in the  library. The truth to the scenario is that  flowers died
after 6  months, not the plant. The plants will live for
                                                                                     decades with proper care.

My first reaction is that if you can buy an orchid for 15 or 20 dollars and have the flowers last for 6 months, you're doing really well ! Many orchids are in flower for only a few weeks at best, so anything more than 2 months is doing well. The recent trend in cutflower-style Dendrobium plants is to grow medium sized plants ( under 2 feet tall), with at least 2 spikes of flowers expected per matured cane. These plants are extremely easy to grow and quite forgiving in their care needs. Simply choose a sunny spot in a window or and area outdoors where the plants can receive morning sunshine and afternoon shade, and the
                       plants should thrive.

Growing the plants outdoors in Miami is easier then growing many landscape plants, since many Dendrobium types make
excellent tree-mounted plants, rooting extensively to tree trunks.
Choose a rough-barked tree such as an Oak, Mahogany, Weeping Bottlebrush, Black Olive or Cypress tree on which to mount your plant. The plants also make excellent potted plants outdoors, provided they are potted in something coarse, watered and fertilized often, and potted in very small pots. Dendrobiums need to have the roots contained tightly in order to bloom well. The plants will escape their pots quickly, and grow larger as they do.

The first step to take after you get your plant home from the retailer is to water it thoroughly, which means until the water comes flowing out the bottom of the pot. Proper watering is one of the keys to good culture. Give the plant as much light as it can stand without burning. Indoors this usually means an east or southeast window. Outdoors, these plants can handle almost any weather that Florida will throw at them. There is no longer any reason to fear these easy-to-grow orchids; they behave like regular plants. Just give them the sun, heat, water  and  fertilizer they like, and they'll reward you with exotic blooms year after year.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

October 14, 2010

Growing Kalanchoes in South Florida

Kalanchoe thyrsiflora- Flapjack Kalanchoe

One of the most rewarding succulent groups is the Kalanchoe group, a diverse group of easy to grow spineless succulents. They make excellent container plants as well as good landscape plants. Some of them can grow to be small trees to 10  feet tall, while others are compact groundcovers. So many people are familiar with the modern hybrid Kalanchoes seen in florist shops and garden centers. The genus has so much more to offer than the "thoroughbred" florist types that we should experiment with them far more than we currently do. I believe that Kalanchoes can take some of the sting out of people's reactions when we talk about cactus gardens, since there is often an equation between cactus and "ouch". There are species with colorful flowers and those with elegant foliage, most of which are considered easy to grow. Look at some of the species below and see what you like. Many of these are available by mail order, and require olnly a sunny window indoors, or 6 or more hours of sun outdoors to grow well. As with so many succulents, great soil drainage is important. Clay pots will foster drainage better than plastic ones will, and fertilizing should  be light and occasional. Slow-release fertilizer such as Dynamite and Osmocote are good for these plants but in small doses.

Kalanchoe species

Kalanchoe beharensis 'Fang'

Kalanchoe tomentosa- Panda Kalanchoe

Kalanchoe beharensis- tree form

modern hybrid Kalanchoe
Many Kalanchoe species grow from leaves, rooting as do African Violets and other succulents like Sedum  . Propagating these plants simply requires putting leaves up on their edges into a very well drained mix such as cactus soil or perlite. The leaves will sprout roots and then grow into a new plant in a few months' time. This habit becomes especially rewarding if you happen to break a piece of the plant off during transport. The cut pieces will root, yielding plants that can populate your garden or be given away to friends. The plants should be grown in very well-drained media, whether they are in pots or in ground beds.
Most of this group will flower in the early months of the year during the shortest daylength.

With all of these good qualities and their high degree of adaptability, Kalanchoes should be part of the palette of plants you can use to make a great garden.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

October 13, 2010

The Dazzling World of Dendrobiums--the pendant deciduous types

Orchids belong to the largest group of plants on Earth, certainly the most genetically diverse. The number of species in the orchid family is just mind boggling, by some estimates over 28,000. The number of hybrids is close to 10 times that amount, by other estimates exceeding 250,000  different hybrids, and the the number grow by 1000 or more hybrids each year. Some genera have a few species in them, while giant genera 
 ( Bulbophyllum , Dendrobium ) can have over 1000 species. The genus Dendrobium is now considered to have over 2000 species. Just tackling one of the sections within the genus is a challenge, but I've chosen one of my favorite groups, the pendant deciduous group, mostly from seasonally dry forests of India, Thailand, and Burma / Myanmar.

Dendrobium sulcatum

  Some of the species are petite, such as Dendrobium unicum, measuring 8 or 10 inches in length. Others, such as the hefty Philippine species D. superbum , can have canes that measure over 8 feet in length. The flowers range in color from pure white to flashy multi-colored types with 3 or 4 colors. Flower sizes can range from a modest 1/2 inch bloom to well over 4 inches in the case of the best superbum varieties.

Dendrobium superbum

Dendrobium loddigesii
  Once you understand the growth cycles of the deciduous species, you will find them wonderfully satisfying, since you don't really need to care for them for several months of the year. Certain species in the nobile  group can be grown outdoors almost anywhere in the USA during the summer months, left outside until frost arrives, enjoy the frost, and bloom beautifully. In the subtropical south, the more tropical species enjoy the occasional cool spells, dry winters, and rainy summers reminiscent of their home countries. Most of these species are grown in moss-lined baskets with a potting mix that holds moisture, commonly used mixes include sphagnum moss mixed with coconut husk or fir bark.

Dendrobium parishii a specimen plant

A great many of these species  have fragrant flowers as well as flashy colors. Pay the plants some special attention when they go dormant, and enjoy the blooms in the early months of the following year. The diversity of species available is remarkable, and many of them adapt to home conditions, as well as being excellent candidates for tropical landscaping. Try some small plants to see if you get along with them. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

Dendrobium pierardii

Dendrobium parishii

Dendrobium unicum

Growing the plants in this group is remarkably easy, but you must pay close attention to a few critical details. When the plants are growing actively, they need frequent watering and fertilizing. When the plants start their dormant period, watering must be reduced, and fertilizing should stop completely. If you water and fertilize these plants during dormancy, you will reduce or eliminate flowering completely.

October 12, 2010

Cattleya violacea

Basic Orchid Care- Cattleya species
One of  the best known of all orchids is the Cattleya, the famous (or infamous) corsage orchid. Millions of these orchids are harvested annually as cut flowers. Their unique combination of color, shape, and exquisite fragrance make them perennial favorites for many occasions. There are several dozen species, yielding thousands of hybrids, stretching back in time to 1870. The modern hybrids are a far cry from the elegant yet durable species, many of which make outstanding landscape plants for the subtropics.

Cattleya skinneri--National Flower of Costa Rica

Cattleya bowringiana

As with so many plant groups, there are miniature and giants in the group, and a wide range of colors and even fragrances to choose from. The smallest of the genus, Cattleya luteola, grows comfortably in a 4 inch pot for many years. One of the largest species, Cattleya bowringiana, can grow over 4 feet tall, and weigh over 100 pounds. Yet most Cattleya species will interbreed with each other, often resulting in some unusual primary hybrids. The genus is widespread over many countries, all in the New World. All are tropical species, but some species are native to dry scrub habitat, while others are native to rainforest climates, and a few grow on rocks in all day sunlight. Knowing something about the species' native habitats can greatly help with growing the species successfully.

Cattleya rex

Cattleya luteola, a true miniature

Growing species Cattleyas requires some knowledge, a little skill, some patience, and some gentle neglect. Most all of the species need bright light, some really like several hours of direct sunlight. All of the species require good to excellent drainage in the potting media, while some, like the aclandiae / schilleriana / walkeriana group really prefer to be mounted on cork or wood slabs. Given the choice, most of the species will produce larger and more robust root systems when the roots are unconfined and allowed to grow throughout open, coarse media.

Recently, orchid growers have begun growing Cattleya species and hybrids for the mass market with outstanding results. Many tissue-cultured varieties are available at local big-box stores for a fraction of the costs once seen only at orchid shows. Recent culture advances have produced high-quality plants at not only a reasonable cost but a higher quality of growth as well. Some varieties ( especially the blue tones and alba varieties) were difficult to acquire until tissue culture and mass growing techniques came along. As growers selected more and more vigorous varieties, plants became easier for novices to grow successfully.

Cattleya warscewiczii

Most of the species will grow well in slat baskets or in clay pots with coarse media and excellent drainage. With rather few exceptions, plants enjoy morning sunlight but afternoon shade, and to be dry at nightfall. watering and fertilizing should be done early in the day. Various species grow at various times of the year, so the best advice is the oldest: if the plant is growing, water it. If it isn't growing, don't water it. It would also seem reasonable that a growing plant needs fertilizer, but fertilizing should be done judiciously, once a  month at the middle range of fertilizer label recommendations.      

Cattleya walkeriana semi-alba 

One of the hardest aspects to learn about growing species Cattleya is to grow them "lean" or "hard" meaning that the plants need great drainage, to remain dry more than to stay wet, grow in abundant light and air movement, and to have less care than more care. In some grower's definitions, "tough love" is a great credo for growing the species in this genus. This is a great section of orchids for those people who tend to their plants occasionally, not so much for those people who constantly water and fertilize.  There are orchids which really enjoy lavish care, such as Vandas, but Cattleya species need less. The subtle beauty and complex fragrances can enchant you, especially if you know that it is these species which started the Victorian orchid craze of the late 1800s. I'll address complex Cattleya hybrids in another blog. Visit a local orchid show and see what tempts you. Local orchid societies are great resources for information on the special needs of individual species, and are more than happy to tell you everything you need to know. Think of them as data banks, at a very reasonable cost. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

October 11, 2010

Basic Orchid Care- Phalaenopsis 101

Phalaenopsis bellina- Borneo species

One of the most popular orchids in cultivation today is the Moth Orchid, in the genus Phalaenopsis. Millions are grown worldwide each year, and have become truly a "volksorchid", the people's orchid,  in the same vein as a Volkwagon is the people's car. You can now purchase extremely high quality Moth orchids at your local supermarket for about $ 20, costing $ 50 or more at an orchid show just a decade ago. These modern plants are extremely easy to grow, but like so many plants they have a few specialized needs. Once you know what the needs are, you can determine if the plants suit your needs. One of the most important things to consider in growing any plant is whether you and the plant can get along. I can speak from experience regarding the unusual effort needed to grow plants that either should not grow here, or that I cannot grow easily.

Growing moth orchids indoors requires a bright light area, but without direct sunlight. Most Phalaenopsis require a through watering only once a week. Such watering is best done in a bathroom shower or in a kitchen sink, pouring water through the potting medium for a minute or two to make sure the roots and medium are thoroughly wet. Adding a small squirt of Dove or Ivory soap to a gallon of water wets the potting medium faster than plain water alone. Don't let a plant sit in water. Once flowers are completely gone, cut the entire flower stem off, so the plant can redirect its growing energy into growth mode. Indoor orchid growing results in slower growing plants which need less fertilizer, so once a month fertilizing is all that is needed, at the rate of 1 teaspoon of 20-20-20 per gallon.

Greenhouse-grown plants have a lesser tolerance to standing water in the crowns than do many natural species. With this fact in mind, you can decide how you want your plants to grow; either as indoor plants or as outdoor plants in the landscape. Many Philippine species do well when mounted on trees or in baskets outdoors in South Florida. Some of the hybrids can be grown as landscape plants or can be acclimated to outdoor conditions, but  can take a year or more to acclimate them. Growing Phalaenopsis indoors requires different conditions than outdoors, primarily regarding watering and light.

Phalaenopsis gigantea- a giant species

A modern phalaenopsis hybrid

A modern Japanese hybrid

Phalaenopsis parishii- a true miniature 

Phalaenopsis Phillishill- a primary hybrid

All Phalaenopsis species come from the tropics, but from widely diverse climates within the tropics. Some species come from seasonally dry areas in Thailand or Burma, some are wet-rainforest species from the Philippines or Indonesia. The modern Phalaenopsis hybrids come from equally tropical but artificial climates, such as greenhouses China or Japan, southern Florida or coastal Hawaii. In any growing scenario, natural or artificial, Phalaenopsis need warmth, humidity, and moderate light. The differences between wild species and artificial hybrids can result in differences in growing habits.

Growing Phalaenopsis outdoors calls for more frequent watering and fertilizing, as well as extra care to make sure the plants are tilted so that water quickly runs out of the crowns. Growing plants in long fiber sphagnum moss in slat baskets is a very successful way to cultivate Phalaenopsis outdoors. For those species that want extra moisture, the roots will stay inside the moss. For those which want drier roots, the roots will head out onto the basket surfaces, sometimes into the direct sun. Some of the speckled-leaf  species and hybrids like more light and less water than some of the green-leaf  hybrid types. In all cases, Phalaenopsis like filtered light, dry leaf crowns, and good aeration at the roots. While regular watering is appreciated, wet and soggy roots systems and media are to be avoided.

Modern Phalaenopsis breeding programs have brought about enormous changes in plants for the mass market, with true miniature plants flowering in 2 inch pots, to multifloral types that flower several times a year, to enormous plants with 3 foot leafspans and yard-long flower stems. There are plants for almost any culture, space, condition and color taste. If you had trouble growing these plants in the past, try again. New hybrids are introduced every month, and with a most reasonable price tag. Keep experimenting, and you will find a plant that you like and it likes you in return.  

Phalaenopsis equestris- a miniature species

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens           

October 6, 2010

Autumn Turf Care

As autumn arrives, we begin to see a group of contradictory conditions. The weather is both friend and foe.
At this time of year, we are still experiencing high heat and humidity levels, yet the daylength is slowly disappearing. Our turf areas are still growing, but slower than in summer. The slightly cooler nights are better for our comfort, but also foster several fungal problems. We need to remember that we should start reducing fertilizer and water levels now to slow grass growth, as well as slow down tree growth. We can reduce watering to once a week on turf and most landscaping areas unless plants show signs of wilting or drought stress. If we 'toughen up' the turf for Fall, the grass will need less water, and we'll all be better prepared for the inevitable water restrictions that the Water Management District will likely impose.

St. Augustine grass

Healthy St. Augustine grass
In cooler weather, we can also spray for weed control better than in summer months, but many weeds can be controlled by cultural methods as well. The presence of dollarweed usually indicates too much water, leading to wet or soggy soil. Broadleaf weeds can be controlled simply by routine fertilizing with a good quality fertilizer that will promote grass growth to such an extent that the grass will crowd out the weeds. Turfgrass types are really vigorous, so much so that they'll choke out weeds. One of the ironies of fertilizing turf areas is that we fertilize the weeds at the same time as the grass. The grass usually wins !

Chinch Bug damage on turf grass

Many fungal and insect problems are culturally-related to poor growing practices. Overwatering grass leads to weak grass, which falls prey to fungus problems. Watering at dawn allows grass to dry off thoroughly before night-time. Using very sharp mower blades helps reduce ragged leaf tips, which foster both fungi and insects. Clean grass cuts reduce problems, so keep the mower blades razor sharp. Grass can be stressed by cutting it too short. Many lawn cutting companies cut grass too short; St. Augustine grass should be cut at 3 1/2" in summer months, 2 1/2"-3" in winter. Many maintenance companies think that shorter grass leads to increased growth, but short-cutting can have the opposite effect.

Cultural practices can affect the growth of many aspects of horticulture, with turf being no exception. "Smart" watering, routine fertilization, attention to proper trimming practices, routine weed control, and the right grass for the right spot are fundamental yet highly effective tenets for good grass growth. A lower-nitrogen fertilizer is a good idea for autumn turf care, and experiment with organic fertilizers like Milorganite. The effect can be quite noticeable. Pay attention to the recommended fertilizer rates, and keep Milorganite away from edible plants or fruit trees if possible.

The basic idea is to slow grass growth down, and the rest of the landscape will respond in kind to the shorter days. We'll all save water resources, and have a lot less groundwater contamination as well. In the process, you may notice that your landscape plants have fewer pest troubles, and many plants respond favorably to a drier winter season to promote flowering.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens