January 28, 2013

       The Giant Gingers- Over Ten Feet, and 

The Torch Ginger
Etlingera elatior
 In our subtropical Miami climate, we can grow a great many species of plants, but for some reason many local gardeners have chosen their landscape designs to favor smallish plants. Perhaps this is a maintenance issue more than a design issue, but I thought I'd counter the trend of smaller plants by pointing out some of the giant ones, for those with larger properties. Few things can make such a statement as a specimen clump of a ginger or heliconia ( see previous blogs). I recall a trip I took to Hawaii in 1996 to the eastern side of Maui, a wet and moderate climate near Hana. I saw a forest of Etlingera elatior, easily 25 feet tall, growing in what seemed to be primordial and prehistoric conditions. The inflorescences were over my head, over 6 feet tall, and I expected a dinosaur to walk out from a nearby clump at any moment. It was a memory for a liftetime.  

Aframomum alpinia
There are quite a number of gingers which grow over ten feet tall at maturity, but there are so few areas of the country where they can be allowed the heat and long growing season to attain this size. Given ample water, mulch and fertilizer supplies, this group of impressive gingers can be a focal point in a garden, even if there is limited ground space. A number of giant gingers grow like bamboo; they grow tall, but don't use up much ground space. Dimerocostus can grow to 15 feet in height, yet occupy just a few square feet of ground space. In the case of some of the Etlingera and Renealmia species, though, the stems have a tendency to arch out from the center and occupy "head room" over the garden area, sometimes shielding overhead rain from the plants underneath the stems.  

Dimerocostus strobilaceus
outside Hilo, Hawaii
photo courtesy of Daves Garden;
this ginger is over 20 feet tall
 Some of the giant gingers would be ideal for landscapes with long narrow plans, where there is sufficient overhead space as is so common in urban townhomes or in condominiums. The tall stems would benefit from wind blockage from the nearby buildings, as well as the extra heat provided by the walls in colder weather. One of the complaints heard about the really tall gingers is that they look ragged in the winter. Most of these species are forest or river dwellers where there is very little wind or dry air to dry out the leaves. Plant these gingers in a protected spot with strong but filtered light and protection from the northern winds in winter. Provide ample organic soil, add slow-release fertilizers to the planting soil when the plants are first dug in, and make sure there is ample mulch to keep the roots moist. We find that planting is best accomplished in May, when the soil is warm enough to allow the plants to root immediately without any delay due to cool soil. The ideal soil temperature is over 75F and less than 95F, with minimum air temperatures over 60F to attain best growth.

The plants will likely sustain damage when air temperatures go below 45F, so try to provide wind protection to keep the plants from chilling quickly. Once established in a protected spot, the plants usually grow robust and strong, with a grand display of flowers.        

Costus guainaiensis
a giant spiral ginger to
ten feet tall

Tapeinochilos ananassae
Indonesian Wax Ginger
    I encourage people to plant species which grow vertically, to add another design element to a landscape. There are so many landscapes in which the garden seems dwarfed by the home. I prefer the hybrid of home + landscape seen as a unit, neither outcompeting the other. The availability of many of these plants is quite good, either as potted plants or as rhizomes. Try a few species and see what they can do to add character to your landscape. There are so many options, so be adventurous with some of the giant gingers. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens  

January 3, 2013

New Guinea Impatiens--Thoroughbreds of the Annuals Group

For many gardeners, especially in the mild parts of the year, Impatiens are a staple item of the garden color palette. With the recent gardening trend toward smaller-statured plants, modern Impatiens are being bred for compact plant size, bright colors, and even growth habit. This trend makes for an interesting conundrum: if the plants are smaller and smaller, you'll need to plant more and more of them to attain the "wow" quotient you hope for your garden's color display. 

My question is: why not use larger Impatiens ? New Guinea Impatiens grow taller and broader than their smaller cousins, and put on quite a show of color. This group of Impatiens often shows off larger flowers ( up to 3 inches across) as well as taller plants ( up to 2 feet and even more).     

One of the down-sides to this group is the plant cost; about double the price of the "regular" Impatiens. While the New Guinea group grows taller and broader than the garden-type varieties, they require about the same care regarding watering and fertilizing--plenty of both. New Guineas will need more shade from the hot sun, and enjoy cooler temperatures than the garden-variety types, but the extra show of of flowers is worth all the extra efforts. 

Pink Frost
Courtesy of Proven Winners
plant grown in a 12 inch bowl,



This is a premium plant, which deserves a little extra effort to make it really show off. Grown in decorative containers or in hanging baskets, these plants can be quite a show-stopper. Fertilize them every week with a liquid fertilizer suitable for orchids, and make sure the plants are well hydrated. Pinch off old flowers to promote new ones. There are always options for new and interesting plants in the garden world. Try something new on occasion, and don't be discouraged if you fail !

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

Infinity Orange
courtesy of Sobkowich Greenhouses