I love color

What 'full sun'
really means here


The 'building blocks'
of gardening:
fertilizer,
dirt and mulch


Books

Gardening magazines

Where I live

Alstroemeria, also known as Peruvian lily...Pictured at right is Alstroemeria, also known as Peruvian Lily or Parrot Lily. They need protection in the afternoon from our very intense Florida sun, so I've got my plants nestled behind shrubs.

They like cool, moist soil. I add mulch to my plants in July to help keep them cool through the summer. Alstroemeria make excellent cut flowers and add a delicate beauty to any bouquet. They were new to my gardens in 2003. Try to plant them where they will be living for a long time because, when moved, Alstroemeria are very slooooooooooow to re-establish.

The large leaves belong to a Grandiflora Tibouchina that a friend in Alabama sent to me last Fall.)


I love color...

And where better to find color than in Mother Nature's garden. I've always loved gardening and, in fact, had my own greenhouse when we lived in South Dakota. Moving from that great state to this great state was not only a cultural shock, but a gardening shock as well. It may get to be darn-tootin' cold in SD, but come springtime, you could count on the daffodils, tulips and pasque flower to pop up and bring you instant joy. They would be followed closely by masses of creamy pink peonies and heavenly-scented lilac trees.

Then we moved to Florida.

One can plant scads more varieties of plants the further north one lives. However, central Florida, with its unique and diverse conditions, is more than willing to give you a whopping dose of beauty. You just have to accept the fact that while lilacs won't grow here, buddleia, with it's profuse blooms and heavenly scent, will. Tulips and daffodils won't bloom more than once, but agapanthus and daylilies love it here and with a little TLC, will bloom forever.

Central Florida is notorious for its difficult growing conditions. We are dry and cold during the winter, hot and humid during the summer. We are subjected to occasional hurricane force winds and torrential rainfalls. Our soil is naturally sandy and has to be built up everywhere we want to put a plant. And, that's an ongoing process. I don't know where the cow manure (packaged, not fresh) and humus disappears to, but it doesn't seem to hang around for more than a year.

Of course, that's probably because I move my plants around on a regular basis! And, when you move plants, you move dirt, too.

Tuscawilla Tigress daylily(...The bright orange daylily pictured at right is Tuscawilla Tigress, new to my yard in 2004. Scapes will reach a height of 25" and the flowers are large. This is a stunning addition to my landscape and they are gorgeous as cut flowers.)

I've tried plants that are not meant for this area, mostly zone 8 plants, which is northern Florida or Georgia. They usually don't survive very long. If I plant in the fall, they will make it through spring and early summer and get my hopes up, darn it. But, come summer, they bid me a fond farewell.

However, I don't mind. If I can get a few months of enjoyment from a plant, I'm satisfied. I feel like I've got my money's worth since I probably didn't pay that much for it to begin with. However, I have finally given up on two plants I would love to grow here, hosta and astilbe. I would like to know if anyone has had success with either of these plants and, if so, how they did it.

a hanging basket of portulaca about to spill over the sidesI keep trying to grow lavender. I just bought two more small plants from a local nursery (7/06/02). Lavender does great in the fall, winter and spring, but the summer humidity does wear it out. Sally Scalera, Brevard County horticulture agent, did write a column about lavender. You can read it here. In that column, she says that the English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) that I bought yesterday has the best fragrance (that it does!) but it doesn't always make it through our hot and humid summers.

I usually move my orchids from the front courtyard to the north side of the house in May. One pot hangs under a grapefruit tree and the other on the fence where it will be in shade all day. Come October, I'll move them back into the courtyard where I can enjoy their blooms.



What 'full sun' really means here

Most everywhere else you can take ‘full sun, full sun to partial shade, or partial shade to shade’ as meaning just that. But, in Florida, you need those phrases translated. For example, ‘full sun’ really doesn't mean full sun. It usually means put your plants where they get morning sun or filtered afternoon sun or else watch them burn up in the summer. However, if we're talking native plants such as daylilies, bouganvilleas, portulaca, lantana, etc., then yes, you can put them in the full sun (the real stuff).

‘Full sun to partial shade’ plants work best with morning sun and perhaps late afternoon sun, but not the middle of the day sun. Although, afternoon sunlight filtered through tree leaves also qualifies as full sun to partial shade.

‘Shade or partial shade’ means plant it in the shade 24 hours out of 24. Even our morning sun is too much in July, August, September for plants requiring partial shade.

statice(Pictured at right, statice.)

However, you also should experiment because every once in awhile, something will grow where it shouldn't and perform in a spectacular fashion. It may then give up the ghost, but you will have enjoyed a grand show. At the moment, I've got roses growing on the south, east and north sides of the house. They all seem to be doing well so they are probably getting sufficient sun. I fertilized them every two weeks in the spring and they rewarded me with growth and flowers.



Tips & Tricks

Don't plant trees willy-nilly. Plant them in groups, forming an island in your lawn. Plant a ground cover instead of mulch. It will set up housekeeping quickly and eliminate the need for mulch. Before you plant your trees, use hose or string to outline your island area. A design on paper does not always do the trick.

(Croton Petra pictured at right. Likes the sun.)

Outlining the area first will save you time and trouble. The best idea is to find someone in your neighborhood who loves to design landscape schemes. That's what I did. I had my own ideas and I drew it out on paper, etc., but having another pair of very knowledgeable eyes look it all over was a decided help.

In Central Florida, we can begin to prune our roses in February. It's best to skip January as we can still have a frost hit the area. Remove dead wood down to the nearest healthy, dormant bud eye (a tiny bulge on the stem, looks like an eye, has creases underneath). This bud eye will develop into a new shoot. Make sure the bud eyes on each cane are facing outward so that new canes don't all grow into the center. If the cane you are working with does not have a bud, remove it down to the union with the stem. Remove old, woody canes and weak, spindly growth. If two branches cross, remove the weaker one. Remember to cut and properly maintain your home flowers as well whether they're straight from your garden or if you purchased them during the off season. This is critical in optimizing your plant life.

Sexy Rexy roseCut roses in the early morning or evening. If you cut them during the heat of the day will wilt quickly. Take a bucket of tepid water with you to plunge the roses into immediately after cutting.

Black spot loves a moist environment, such as we have during a rainy summer in Central Florida, and something that's uniquely emphasized by hotels such as the Hilton Orlando Convention Center with their lush green atmosphere.

Infection begins on leaves low to the ground -- remove all those lower leaves up to about six to eight inches. If it strikes without your catching it right away, prune and destroy all the affected leaves immediately and begin weekly applications of fungicidal soap, continuing throughout the season. Be sure and spray under the leaves. Spray during a cooler part of the day.

Carry a pair of pliers as you walk through your gardens. Use them to pull out tough weeds. like tree seedlings that are hard to yank out by hand.

Ornitholgalum(...Ornithogalum, at right, is three years old now and still a very small plant. It can be grown indoors or out. It obviously doesn't require much care since I usually don't even notice it's around until the lovely blooms start to come out.)

Try planting a mum in your vegetable garden. It's sort of like a canary in a coal mine. The mum wilts before other plants, giving you notice to water the vegetables.

Powdery mildew? Last summer, I attended a seminar by a Central Florida nurseryman and his solution was to use Lysol. He said, “It says right on the can, ‘Mildew,’ what more can you want?” Hmmmmmm, might be worth a try, but you'll find a better tip here! Check out the 4th bulleted item.

Soak banana skins in a sealed jar of warm water for two weeks to make a booster cocktail for your roses. You can spray the liquid directly on your rosebushes.

For big, colorful gladiolus blooms, spray leaves with 1 tablespoon household borax cleaner dissolved in 1 quart warm water. Spray before and after buds bloom.

Work in a tablespoon or two of lime around the base of lavender plants every spring to maintain the sweet soil in which they bloom best.

When planting impatiens: if you want tall plants, space them about 4 to 6 inches apart. If you prefer low plants, space them about 12 to 14 inches apart.

Plant heat-lovers such as bougainvillea, hibiscus and canna against south-facing walls to bring them into flower sooner. As a rule, plants with red pigment in their leaves take heat much better than green-leafed ones.

Always include a strongly scented flower in the garden. Alyssum (one of my favorites for scent) is easy to grow, works well with other flowers and gives off a heady, vanilla-honey fragrance. (Unfortunately, our neighborhood peacock uses that scent to search out these little patches of what it considers dessert!)

If you find your container-grown plants seem sluggish after transplanting, the root systems may need a jolt. Cut an X across the bottom of the root ball before setting them in the ground. The cuts stimulate new root growth and give plants a good start.

When propagating shrubs, try a little potato magic. Cut a slit on the diagonal and tuck the cutting immediately into a hole in a small potato. Prepare the ground for planting and settle the potato into the soil, covering it completely. Be sure to leave the cutting above the soil's surface.



The 'building blocks'

Fertilizer

I use a fairly even mixture of:

Powdered fertilizer that I mix with water
Peters 20-20-20
RapidGro 15-30-15
Pelleted fertilizer that I throw out
Sunniland 2-10-10 for flowering things
Sunniland 6-6-6 for green things
Powdered fertilizer for azaleas, camellias and other acid-loving plants
MiracleGro 30-10-10
Pelleted fertilizer formulated for azaleas, etc. that I toss around

When I'm transplanting flowers, both perenniels and annuals, I first fill the hole with a water/fertilizer mixture. Then, I plop the plant in and scratch dirt into what's left of the hole. This gives plants an unbelievably great start, they almost begin to grow before I've left the area. Well, okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. The final step calls for about a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch.

Pelleted fertilizer is easiest and quickest to apply. You simply broadcast it around the plant and let the sprinklers and rain soak it in. Because we mulch so thickly here in Florida to keep the ground moist and cool, we need to fertilize more heavily than normal. The ingredients have to work their way down through a 4 to 5 inch layer of mulch. Plus, our sandier soils do not retain water or nourishment very well. So, if you use water soluble fertilizers rather than the pelleted type, you should plan on fertilizing weekly.

I do like the pelleted Dynamite brand fertilizer that Home Depot carries, but it's way too expensive to use when you have as much garden space to cover as I have. Even though we have a small yard, I have much more garden space than lawn! I usually get the Sunniland pelleted fertilizers in large bags that I dump into two covered buckets for easy access.

I like to give all my babies a monthly foliar bath during their particular growing season. I do not do this during July, August or September. It's too hot and the plants would burn before they could download the nutrients.

The azalea fertilizer, MiracleGro 30-10-10, is also good for indian hawthorn, hydrangeas, orchids, my fringe tree/shrubs, the crape myrtle, croton, hibiscus, podocarpus, coreopsis, pansies, camellia, amaryllis, mums, glads and ixoria.

Buddleia (butterfly bush), my daylilies, marigolds, petunias, snapdragons and zinnias like a bit of acid soil. I usually combine azalea fertilizer pellets with regular 6-6-6 pelleted fertilizer (half and half) and sprinkle that mixture around those plants. Everyone else gets Peters 20-20-20 for regular flowers.

Soil

Our Central Florida soil is sandy. The middle of the state may have black dirt -- referred to as black gold -- but the coastal sections are sandy. Before I plant anything, I build up the soil so it can retain nutrients and moisture longer. I use either humus or cow manure that I get from Home Depot. Or, I should say, that my husband gets from HD. Those bags weigh about 40 lbs. each and I can drag them around, but it's hard to lift them into the trunk.

One excellent way to build soil is to use a layer of newspaper as mulch before you add your bark mulch. Use about six to eight sheets of newspaper under the mulch. Newspapers block weeds and earthworms love to wiggle around down there, providing nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Speaking of earthworms, I hope everyone has a healthy bunch of them. I do in my yard and they are marvelous. If I accidently dig one up when I'm planting, I dig another hole for him to crawl back into. For this muching process to work quicker, shred a batch of newspaper into 1-inch strips before turning it into the soil.

I'm a fairweather friend when it comes to working with newspaper. When I'm in the mood, I put it down and shovel it in or lay it down in thick mats, and when I'm not... I don't.

Mulch

The last two years, I put down about a 2-inch layer of mulch. Believe me, that's not enough to keep the ground cool and the weed crop down. We get our mulch from Home Depot. I had them deliver a pallet, thinking that would be sufficient. Silly me. Thank goodness my husband is kind enough to drag home a couple trunkloads each weekend for me to work with during the week.

Putting down 4- to 6-inches of mulch takes a lot of bags. Two pallets is about right for a year's worth of mulch. The stepping stone pathways around the house are also mulched.

a rather surly looking Fred...My neighbor likes to use eucalyptus mulch right next to her house. This mulch is known for resisting a variety of insects, including ticks, roaches, aphids and fleas. I use cypress mulch simply because it's less expensive, is much easier to find and I like to put it on t-h-i-c-k. pretty GingerHowever, because of Fred and Ginger (yes, Astaire and Rogers), our two cats who like being out on the patio more than anything else, I will try the eucalyptus next to the patios, at least.




Gardening books

a great book for your gardening libraryIf you have just one book in your gardening library, you might consider this one: The Southern Living Garden Book. This is 512 pages of great information covering more than 5,000 plants. The book has more than 800 color photographs and a marvelously detailed set of climate maps describing the growing zones represented in Southern Living.

The “A to Z Encyclopedia” describes more than 5,000 plants and answers many frequently asked gardening questions. At the end of the book is a Resource Directory with an extensive list of mail-order nurseries and public gardens.

Granted you can only grow about a tenth of the plants listed, at least in Central Florida, but this book is fantabulous. One of the best sections lists plants for shade, plants for damp soil, plants that will tolerate drought, plants for coastal gardens, etc. Once you find a plant you're interested in and it's in your zone, you can turn to the page in the book that gives you all the info you need.

great month-by-month bookTom MacCubbin writes a weekly column in the Saturday Orlando Sentinel. He is the Orange County horticulture agent and is knowledgeable about what works in our part of the world.

Each chapter of this book focuses on one area: annual flowering plants, citrus, houseplants, etc. Chapter are divided into an introduction, a planting chart and then a month-by-month list of what to do. Beginning gardeners would benefit a great deal from this book.

another excellent addition to your bookshelvesYet another book by Tom MacCubbin, which he co-wrote with Georgia B. Tasker. She is based in Miami and covers South Florida. You'll find a lot of helpful information in this book. In the center of the book, you'll find the pictures, which I always think are so helpful when deciding on plants. Descriptions are all well and good, but a picture is worth a thousand of those words.

You will find these books in any local bookstores. Tom MacCubbin's books may be found in the Florida section, rather than the general gardening sections. All are worthwhile investments. And, if you ever go to a gardening presentation by Tom MacCubbin, you can bring your all books with you and he will sign them. Tom MacCubbin's Web site.




Gardening magazines

Florida Gardening
June/July issue“Florida's Own Home Gardening Magazine”

Florida Gardening is published six times a year: February, April, June, August, October and December. Subscriptions are $19.00 annually. Their address: Florida Gardening, P.O. Box 500678, Malabar FL 32950. If you are a serious gardener or a new gardener and haven't seen this magazine, I encourage you to subscribe. It's marvelous and just for Florida.

Their web address is www.floridagardening.com

yet another excellent magazine Garden Gate is another great magazine for tons of information. This is the August 2001 issue and it has an outstanding article about Lilies, which I love to grow. I have about eight mounds out there multiplying as I key this in. Because I cut off the stalks after the first bloom, they are rewarding me with blooms the second time this summer.

This magazine does not pertain just to Florida gardening, but they have many hints and tips and fascinating articles. Another feature in this magazine, called “Choose Your Partners,” deals with the right plant combinations that will keep good bugs around and help chase bad bugs away. Garden Gate's Web site



Where I live...

I've drawn two lines that show my planting area. They're not exact, because the central area bumps up and down in the center of the state. This is merely to give you a rough idea of where my flowers are growing as we speak.


map of Florida

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