What about Ferns?

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I think Ferns are just beautiful. When i was in college in New Hampshire taking Botany classes, we would frequently go on field trips out into the forest to look, identify and collect plants. Ferns were very prevalent in the areas around my school and I always thought they were just stunning. I used to take a frond and press it in my plant press and make framed pictures for my family for Christmas. 

Ferns are actually different from the trees and shrubs you see around you. They developed earlier on the evolutionary track. They are similar to trees and shrubs in that they transplant fluids and nutrients internally and they have true roots, leaves and stems. However, unlike most plants they do not produce flowers and seeds. Have you ever seen a blooming fern? No, they reproduce by spores which can be seen on the undersides of the leaves.

Most ferns enjoy a shady spot in the yard and do not like to have direct sun. Some spread and some stay put. It is important that you know the growing characteristics of the fern you are choosing before you plant.  I want to give you a few of my favorite ferns. The first on my list would be Foxtail Fern, but alas, it is not a true fern, it is a member of the Lily family.

Wort Fern

Wort Fern

Wart fern (Microsorum scolopendrium) - This is a lovely low growing fern that makes a beautiful ground cover. It has very compact growth unlike most sprawling ferns reaching only 2 feet tall by 1.5 feet wide. It prefers dense, medium or light shade but will also tolerate more sun that most ferns however, the color will bleach out in too much sun).

Macho Fern

Macho Fern

Macho fern (Nephrolepis biserrata)- This is an absolutely gorgeous fern! What I like the most about it is the dark green lush foliage. Beware though, this fern needs some space and it will spread. It will grow to 3’ tall and 4’ wide. If you have a large area to naturalize, this is a great option. Another bonus is that it is a native plant. 

Fishtail Fern

Fishtail Fern

Fishtail Fern (Nephrolepsis byserrata ‘Furans’) - This fern gets its name because the ends of the leaves or fronds look like little fish tails. This is a very graceful, slower growing fern that reaches 2-3 feet tall and wide. It does spread but it is much easier to control and does not get as big as the Macho Fern. 

Autumn Fern

Autumn Fern

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)- This is a fern that I have used in Massachusetts all the way down to Clearwater, Florida. I love it because it stays compact and the new growth has a bronze color. It will grow to 1-2 feet tall and wide. 

Australian Tree Fern

Australian Tree Fern

Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi)- This is a very unique tree for a shady location. This was the first plant that I bought when moving to Florida. I planted it in a pot on my deck and it got a little too much sun and not enough water and ended up a casualty. These plants need a lot of water so I would not classify them as low-maintenance plants.  But in the right location, under trees and in enriched soil with daily watering or rain, they are magnificent. They can get up to 15 feet in height and width. The fiddleheads that push up to form the new fronds are just so interesting looking.

If you have a shady spot in your yard, try planting some ferns. There are lots of varieties and in general they are low maintenance and will greatly enhance your garden.

High Maintenance or Low Maintenance

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There is much discussion about whether a plant is high maintenance or low maintenance. Most people who talk about maintenance have done very little plant maintenance. There are so many things to consider when you classify a plant as a high maintenance plant or a low maintenance plant. And here is one HUGE consideration when classifying plants that has to be looked at: if you plant a low maintenance plant in the WRONG location you may have turned it into a high maintenance plant. Wow! That’s confusing, isn’t it! Let me give you an example, Dwarf Firebush, Hamelin patens ‘Compacta’ is a low maintenance plant. Once established it does not need a lot of water, will take sun, if given a 4’x4’ space, it does not need much if any pruning and it will tolerate the native soils. If you place this plant in a 2’ square bed, plant in the shade and give it lots of water, all of a sudden you have a high maintenance plant. It will require pruning every month and will start to look leggy because it doesn’t get enough sun. Suddenly you HATE this plant and tell everyone it is hard to maintain. Do you see what I mean?

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The first thing to remember when choosing a plant, if you wish it to be low-maintenance is to plant it in the right spot (sun or shade) and give it enough room to grow to it’s mature size. If everyone JUST did that, people would have much more success in their garden.

Now what are the characteristics of a plant that make it high or low maintenance? Let’s list them out.

  1. Does it need a lot of water? This time of year it is not a problem, but in the winter, when we have watering restrictions, you will want plants that can endure the droughts with 2x a week irrigation.

  2. Does it need to be pruned a great deal? For example, who does not love a Bougainvillea, but if you let them go for 3-4 months without pruning, you have a big and thorny project ahead of you.

  3. Is your tree or shrub self-cleaning? What does this mean? Self-cleaning means that the plant drops its flowers after they go by and new flowers emerge to take their place. You see that beautiful picture of the Bird of Paradise? When the flowers go by, they turn brown and stay on the plant making it look messy unless you cut them back.

  4. Is the plant susceptible to disease or insects and require regular spraying? I personally won’t plant a plant that I need to regularly spray. It makes me think that my environment is just not correct for this plant and I can’t be bothered. Take roses for example. Roses hate humidity and get black spot and powdery mildew when they get too much moisture on their leaves or have too much humidity. Hello, we live in Florida!!!! I have seen very few nice looking roses except for possibly in the Spring when they first emerge. To get them to look nice you need to spray for diseases. Another plant is the Sago Palm which is a gorgeous cycad. However they get scale and mealybug and need to be sprayed weekly!!!! Who wants to spray weekly???

  5. Is the plant likely to be damaged with a frost? For all of you that love your Tropicals, most of them will not withstand temperatures below 32 degrees. So it necessary to cover these plants with some sort of fabric when we get cooler temperatures.

  6. Does the plant need special soil? Some plants require special soil with more organic matter like Camellias or they require special fertilizers.

  7. Does your plant spread uncontrollably or is it invasive? Yikes! That is a great way to have lots of maintenance.

So you can see, there are lots of things to consider when choosing plants that are low maintenance. My rule is that shrubs and trees should only have to be pruned and fertilized three times a year- early October, end of February and end of May. They should not require spraying and should not have to have extra irrigation. They should not be invasive and they should fit into the space you give them.

Next time you choose a plant, go over this list and ensure you are not buying yourself a problem.

"Our backyard was a real disaster..." | CLIENT TESTIMONIAL

"Our backyard was a real disaster. With Hurricane Irma taking down one large tree leaving a giant stump, and our most majestic oak falling around a year later, we were pretty discouraged about having a yard that we could really utilize. Our yard backs up to a real jungle, with 100 foot bamboo, bananas and a steep embankment filled with many tropical plants. It is very serene and quiet but because it was overgrown and needed some terracing, and other work, we just could not use it.

“That’s when we called in Vicki Crocker from Victoria’s Bloomers. She definitely thought it was a challenging project!  First she listened to what we wanted and how we wanted to use the property. She designed a plan to include a lawn area, fire pit, plantings around the pool, raised garden beds and then naturalized areas with ferns and grasses that would fill in and be low maintenance.

“Once we approved the plan she got a landscape crew to put all the pieces together. They built two retaining walls, graded out the soil, put in irrigation, cut back or removed overgrown plants and stumps, built the raised beds and planted flowering trees and plants all over the property. 

“Now, we can come out in the yard and be around the pool or on the lawn in a hammock and truly enjoy the yard.  We have grown vegetables all winter and spring and have had social gatherings around the pool and fire pit. 

“Vicki regularly checks up on the job to make sure everything is doing well and keeps our shrubs and trees pruned and fertilized.

“We would recommend Victoria’s Bloomers for any landscape or garden project. “ 

F.B.

If you are interested in getting a Landscape Design please contact me here:

Spring Update to the Ultimate Guide to Planting Florida Container Gardens

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Spring has arrived and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we got any winter! I feel totally cheated. Well, now as the temperatures are rising, we need to pick the correct plants for planting in our containers.

Warning! Warning!  Do not decide what to plant by what is available in the box stores. I was in Lowe’s the other day and found many plants that will die once we get 90 degree weather. Here is the list of “DO NOT PLANT” PLANTS: 

Osteospermum or African Daisies- Hate the heat!! Love Florida winters! 

Geraniums- These plants love the Florida winters and spring but once the rain and humidity comes, they melt!! 

Dianthus- These plants love the Florida winters but hate the heat.

Snapdragons- These lovely plants will perish in the heat of summer.

Delphiniums- Nope! Don’t do it!! Those gorgeous plants are peaking now but will go in a quick decline in the summer. Again, these are great winter annuals but once the rain and heat come, they melt away.

The reason I am putting out this list is because they are selling these NOW! You will go to all the work to plant and won’t get much more that 2 months out of them, if that. Therefore, it is important to look ahead to the warmer months and plant for those conditions. Picking the wrong plant because they are presented to you, does not make you a poor gardener or have a brown thumb. It is just lack of information. I owned a nursery for 23 years and we never put things out for sale that would not thrive at that season. Now it goes back to the old saying, “Buyer Beware!”

Here is the list of plants for containers that you can put out that will last into the summer with heat, humidity and rain. 


Why Plant Native Plants in Your Yard?

I have been in the Nursery and Landscaping Industry since I was 16 years old. I have always know about the importance of planting native plants. They are more suited to the environment, usually attract more wildlife including pollinators and birds, they require less maintenance once established and the need for pesticides and herbicides is zero.  Having owned my own nursery on Cape Cod Massachusetts for 23 years, I sold many native plants- Beach Plum, Bearberry, Bayberry, Blueberry and many more. I have never, however, increased my knowledge to the degree that I should have on the subject. 

Now that I have relocated in Florida, I have realized that it is vital for me to increase my knowledge on this subject. The landscape of Florida is nothing like the Cape. Huge areas are stripped of all vegetation and replaced with strip malls and homes with minimal landscaping- mostly a little grass and some tropicals. These plants aren’t maintained properly and lots of herbicides and pesticides are used to control insects and disease. This has created a destruction of the natural environmentNow we enter the subject of native plants and my first reaction when I moved here was, “What Native Plants?” Nothing I saw around my environment looked indigenous to the area- it was all Crotons and Ti Plants and Bird of Paridise! 

So I traveled to the Florida Botanical Gardens and learned about many Natives that were beautiful. It was a real education. I have since been using many natives in my designs but I plan to use many more. 

I want to give you a short list of some of the Native Plants that I use that are very suited to the landscape- they are very attractive, mix with other landscape plants nicely and are good for our environment. 

I also wanted to share a link with you in regards to “why” you should plant native plants. I found this to be remarkable!!!!! Please read it!! Click here

Here are a few of the native plants I have had great success with:

Zamia pumila- Coontie Palm is a very slow-growing, low maintenance Cycad plant. This plant is often referred to as a palm but it is not. It actually looks more to me like a fern. This small shrub grows to be  about 3’ tall and wide. It is drought resistant and will grow in in both full sun and full shade. It works great lining walkways, in the front of larger foundation beds and as a low evergreen hedge. This is the perfect low maintenance plant.

Coontie Palm

Coontie Palm

Chrysobalanus icao ‘Red Tip’- Red-tipped Cocoplum is a beautiful plant that produces an edible plum loved by people and animals alike. This shrub has shiny, rounded leaves that are red-tipped at the new growth. The plant produces small white flowers followed by a fruit with starts pink and matures to purple. This shrub grows 4-6’ tall and wide. It prefers full sun to part shade and will tolerate exposure to salt. 

Red tipped Cocoplum

Red tipped Cocoplum

Conocarpus erectus- Sea Grapes is a very uniques looking plant. Please, please, please give it enough room to grow because it looks terrible as manicured hedge. This plant will grow upwards of 15 ‘ if unpruned. The leaves are round and grow to 8-10”. The new growth has a bronzy-red color. The female produces a fruit in the late summer that looks like grapes (hence the name) and once ripe are edible to birds, squirrels and people!!

This is a very hardy plant that is salt-tolerant, will take full sun, acts as a wind block.  If you have the space to let it grow, this is a wonderful native plant.

Sea Grapes

Sea Grapes

Stachytarpheta jamaicensis- Blue Porterweed is a wonderful native plant that makes a great addition to a butterfly garden.  It is a “cottage-garden” type of plant, meaning it grows quickly and sprawls around other flowers and does not have a formal look. It grows in sun to partial shade and can be kept to 2.5-3’. Without pruning it can grow to 5-6’. The flowers are a beautiful blue and bloom most of the year, more so in the warmer months. 

Blue Porterweed

Blue Porterweed


























Protect Your Plants from Cold Weather

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What plants need to be protected in the cold weather? If you are located in  Pinellas County you are probably in Zone 10a. What does that mean? It means that the average minimum temperature is 30-35 degrees.  Last winter we had record breaking cold temperatures and in some areas going down to 25 degrees. With this cold brought about a great deal of damage to tropical plants which make up a large portion of the local landscape. 

So which plants do you need to protect and how can you protect them??

First off, you need to know your property. If you are near the salt water, you will probably not get a frost. The water keeps the air warmer. However, if there is wind, which is also common on the water, the wind chill makes the temperature lower and you can get burn on the leavesPlants that are in sheltered areas suffer less cold damage that plants out in the open.

Areas close to buildings are warmer than more open areas especially on the south side of the building.

Also if your property is in a lower elevation, you are more likely to get a frost. If you are up on a hill, you are less likely to frost.

How to protect your plants.

First off- if it starts feeling cold- watch the weather. Usually frosts are predicted and are not surprises. 

Containers or portable plants- If you can, bring any tender or tropical plants inside. I will give you a list at the end.

For larger landscape plants the solution is to mulch around the roots if you haven’t already done so, water thoroughly and cover with old blankets, sheets or commercial frost cover. Make sure the fabric drapes over the plants and hits the ground. The idea is to trap the heat from the ground.

If you live in Pinellas County and your temperature is expected to go below 35 degrees protect these plants:

Tropicals:

Shrubs:

Copperleaf
Ixora 
Jatropha
Crotons
Allamanda
Snowbush
Cocoplum
Buttonwood
Ti Plant
Firebush
Variegated Schefflera
Hibiscus
Ginger

Ground Covers

Crown of Thorns
Blue Daze
Bromeliads

Annuals

Geraniums
Sunpatiens
Begonias
Petunias
Marigold

One thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t protect these plants, many of them will die back to the ground but will recover and grow back from the base. Last year, with the record breaking cold days we had, many of the tropicals looked dead but down at the base of the plant was still life. Unfortunately, your plants look bare until the beginning of the summer. 

The moral of the story: watch the weather when it gets cold, bring in sensitive plants if possible and cover others. Don’t wait until the temperature has already dropped to cover the plants, do it earlier in the day so you collect the heat in the soil. Protect your plants, they are counting on you!!  

Outdoor Design Trends


Just as we have trends in Interior Design, we also have trends in Outdoor Design. Last January I attended the Tropical Plant International Expo in Ft. Lauderdale. This is a trade show for Retailers, Landscapers, Interior Landscapers and Wholesalers in the Tropical Plant Industry. Wow! It was so much fun! I got to see all the new varieties of houseplants, succulents, bromeliads as well as new pots and garden decor.

I was very interested in watching which booths got the most attention from the attendees. There were many pottery vendors ranging from brightly colored glazed stoneware to sleek modern composite pots created from stone and fiberglass. It was interesting to see that the buyers were all looking at the modern black, white and gray pots, not the vibrant blue, red, aqua stoneware. And this is Florida!!!


So this year, I ordered pots in these neutral colors and they were the ones that sold first! This type of modern pot has been seen inside office buildings with houseplants in them but now they have crept outside. Most are made of the new fiberglass and stone composite, but there are others that are made of glazed stoneware. There are even some plastic look alike pots that look like a stone pot.

When planting these pots, it is a good idea not to fill them entirely with soil. I usually put empty water bottles in the bottom so that the soil drains well and does not rot the roots.

Here are some pictures of some of these very cool pots in residential and commercial locations.



Ideas for Naturalizing Areas In Your Yard

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There are many reasons for naturalizing an area in your yard. First it is important to understand what naturalizing is. The basic concept is to plant an area with native plants so as to bring it back to its natural state. There are many variations of this that I have seen such as seeding an area with wildflower seed and letting it go or planting individual plants and allowing them to grow and spread out and fill in an area. A naturalized area can be kept neat and weeded or just let go. I prefer the former.

I just completed a landscaping job that covered a very large area. If the entire area was going to become a cultivated landscape, it would require many, many hours of maintenance. So, my design included some naturalized areas for the shade and a naturalized area for the sun.

In the shaded area, I used Macho Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) and planted them about 4 feet apart. They will grow in so that they are a blanket of ferns. Until that point we will keep the area weeded so the ferns can take over.

The sunny area I planted Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) which is a native grass that likes to be in the sun. This grass will get to be about 3' tall and has beautiful pink flower heads starting in the fall.

Naturalizing an area in your yard can give a beautiful contrast to the more manicured areas of your landscape.

Newly planted Macho Ferns under some Australian Tree Fern.

Newly planted Macho Ferns under some Australian Tree Fern.

What to Plant in a Shady Area

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Often times when I visit people’s homes, they don’t really know how much sun or shade their yard gets. This is vital information to have for this reason: all plants are not created equal! Some plants love the sun and others prefer partial shade or even full shade. Planting a sun-loving plant in shade will produce stretched out growth with few flowers. Planting a shade-loving plant in the sun will produce burned leaves. Therefore if you are going to have plants added to your home or if you are going to DIY, you need to observe where the sun shines during the day. 

 

My suggestion is to make a sketch of your yard and watch the sun as it moves during the day. Check it at 9:00AM, 12:00 PM, 3:00PM and 5:00PM. Mark whether sun is shining in the areas around your house at those times. According to the South Florida Plant Guide, Full Sun would be 8 hours of direct sun, Part Sun would be 4 hours of direct sun either morning or afternoon and Full Shade would be no direct sunlight but has bright indirect light. For complete information on this, check out https://www.south-florida-plant-guide.com/plant-light-requirements.html

 

Since sun loving plants are much more common and well-known, I would like to go over some plant options for part shade or shady gardens. I just completed a landscape project and the entire front yard was in the shade of an Oak tree. This was a challenge. I wanted to have different textures and foliage colors and flowers???? So here are a few of the plants I used which were interesting.

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Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ or Variegated Ginger is a spectacular plant with beautiful yellow and green foliage. It will reach 4-7’ tall and 5’ wide so give it some room. It likes partial shade.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’- Red Camellia is a winter blooming variety. It likes partial sun and acidic soil. The flower is red with a yellow center. It can reach 6-10’ tall depending on pruning.

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Cordyline ‘Red Sister’ or Ti Plant are quite common in Florida and often planted in areas where they do not thrive. They prefer medium shade but will grow in more sun. They do best when planted in tight groups. The foliage is a wonderful addition to the landscape.

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Schefflera arboricole ’Trinette’ or Variegated Arboricola is also a common plant in Florida and will grow in full sun to full shade!! It is a compact grower and can be kept 2’ tall but over time could reach 8’ without any pruning. The variegated yellow and green foliage really pops in a shady garden.

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Dianella ensifolia or Flax lily is a very attractive grass-like plant with green leaves and white stripes. It prefers full to part shade and will grow to 2.5’ tall and wide.

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Zamia pumila or Coontie is a slow-growing evergreen with beautiful shiny foliage. It will grow to 2-4’ and prefers partial shade. It is a nice contrast to other variegated plants.

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Neomarica or Walking Iris- This plant is very versatile growing in both dense shade or partial shade. It will bloom off and on all year. It will grow 2’ tall and wide and has a variety of bloom colors-yellow, blue or lavender and white.

 

Check out these plants when you are at a local nursery and use them in your shady garden.

Growing Succulents in Florida

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Succulents are the rage right now and everyone is interested in how to grow them both indoors and out. There are a few basics that need to be understood before you embark on your succulent gardening experience. 

Succulents get their name from the fleshy leaves and stems that store water. This characteristic allows them to survive in low-rainfall areas. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy weekly downpours provided they are planted in well-draining soil that dries out quickly. Soggy soils kills a succulent off in record time!

What about soil? Since it is imperative that succulents are planted in a well-draining soil, you should use a cactus and succulent soil that has excellent drainage. If you buy a cactus soil and it seems very similar to regular potting soil, then you can Doctor it up. Here is a great DIY recipe for Cactus and Succulent soil:

3 parts potting soil

2 parts coarse sand 

1 part perlite

Additionally, you can add some fine gravel at the top of the soil to keep the base of the plant from rotting. It is also very attractive!

Pots for succulents: In general, succulents like to be planted in pots that drain. Then they can be thoroughly watered once a week and any excess water will flow through. During the winter, the watering may be reduced because of less light and warmth. Make sure you check the soil to ensure it is dry before you water. If you are a beginner gardener, I would stick to pots that have drainage holes. If you are planting outside in pots, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT THE POTS HAVE SUFFICIENT DRAINAGE HOLES!

That being said, many of the succulents displayed on Pinterest or in magazines are in pots or various containers that do not have drainage holes. So you will need to have more awareness of what is happening with the soil. Instead of watering automatically once per week, you need to stick your finger in the soil to ensure that the soil is dry, then water a little less than what you would do with a pot with drainage. Again, after the water has absorbed, check with your finger to make sure it has gone down to the roots. You want to give them a good watering and then let them dry out completely before doing it again. They will forgive you for not watering them but they will not forgive you for over-watering! Pots without drainage can only be grown inside or outside under protection from the heavy rains. Another option to having a pot with no holes is to drill holes in the base. I found a very good reference on how to do this:

http://www.bystephanielynn.com/2013/06/drill-drainage-holes.html

 

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What about grouping succulents together? Succulents look great in a combination but there are a few things to think about when grouping them in the same container. First off, some succulents like more sun that others and may not be happy when combined with more shade tolerant varieties. Additionally, all succulents do not grow at the same rate. Therefore if you have a fast growing plant mixed with a slow growing plant, it will overtake the container. So, the answer to this is to know your varieties- sun or shade tolerant or fast or slow growing? Plant like varieties together. Another option is to put all the different varieties in separate pots and group the pots together in an arrangement. Then when one plant grows faster you can shift it to the back of the group.

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What about sun? Despite widespread belief, most succulents do not thrive if blasted with the hottest temps and the fullest sun exposure. While they appreciate a lot of light, most succulents need sun protection.They prefer 5-6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight a day. That means putting them in a bright window that does not receive the direct light. If you putting your pots outside, place them under trees or on a porch that does not get intense sun.

I found a very informational website that goes over many, many varieties of succulents. Check it out at www.worldofsucculents.com

If you would be interested in coming to a workshop about succulents with access to hundreds of plants directly from the grower, please email me at vicki@victoriasbloomers.com

Blooming Balconies!

When you travel to Europe you see balconies planted and tumbling down with plants and flowers. It is not as common in America probably because the architecture is not suited for it. However, on a recent road trip to St. Augustine, FL, I found an adorable street that had many balconies planted and maintained. But, after all, St. Augustine is the oldest permanently occupied settlement in America, having been founded by the Spanish in 1565. If you haven't been there, you should go, it is like going back in time. Here are some pictures of that trip.

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Outdoor Decorating in the City

Road trips always bring about opportunities to view plantings and gardens. On a road trip from Florida to Massachusetts in August, I found that the plants featured in the pots, window boxes and gardens had more similarities than differences as we traveled from South to North. Some cities and areas are really into planting in window boxes and city gardens. I personally think that gardens uplift everyone's spirits when they look at them. What do you think? Here are two window box plantings in Philadelphia. This was a city of art with many beautiful gardens and artwork and my favorite.....mosaics!

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Tricking Cape Cod into thinking it is Florida

As a landscape designer and grower, I was always looking for the next cool variety of plant or perhaps enticing a plant that does not belong in your climate zone to stay and visit for a while. I went to a lecture by some landscape designers in Long Island and they wrote a book about putting Tropical Plants into the cool climates of New England. So I started integrating Cannas, Elephant Ears, Banana Plants and more into my Cape Cod gardens. Obviously they would not winter over outside so they had to be dug and stored in a greenhouse or basement.
Here are a few pictures of some of the gardens I planted in this manner.

When I moved to Florida, many of the Tropical plants that I found, I was already familiar with so the transition to Florida planting was a breeze.

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A Beautiful Combination!

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When we were in NYC for a seminar, our flight got delayed for 4 hours! Fortunately we hadn't headed out to the airport yet so we spent a few hours in Bryant Park. It is beautifully landscaped with big trees that surround a large grass area. There were hundreds of people enjoying the gorgeous summer day with their families.

Most of the gardens are in the shade or partial shade so many of the same plants are used: Hostas, Astilbe, Begonias, Coleus, and Ferns. Also, there were lots of hollies and hydrangeas of every variety.

This is one combination that really caught my eye: Pink Begonias, Dark Red Coleus and Plectranthus (a type of Swedish Ivy having a yellow and green leave which is very fragrant when crushed). All in all the colors all work beautifully.

Growing Caladiums in Florida

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Caladiums are great plants to use in Florida. They are grown for their leaves which come in a variety of colors of red, pink white and green. These are amazing in their spectacular color and will brighten up a boring garden.

A little about their care and maintenance. Caladiums are grown from tubers ( a type of bulb). These can be planted in late winter and early spring. The other option is to purchase them already started in pots. Last week I saw 6-packs of them in Home Depot ready to go in the garden. Now here is the most important part about being successful with Caladiums......they can't be grown in full sun!!!!! Plant them in partial shade or full shade gardens. Do not allow them to get any direct sun in the middle of the day or the leaves will burn. When planting supplement the soil with some composted cow manure or peat moss to help retain the water.

After the heat of the summer, Caladiums will die down to the ground. At that point in the Fall, you can plant a cold tolerant annual on top of the tuber. In the Spring the tuber will sprout again and give you a summer full of beautiful foliage.

Caladiums look great when mixed with Begonias and New Guinea Impatiens and Sweet Potato Vine.

Top 20 Shrub Choices in Florida

If you are a lover of unusual plants, this isn't one of them.  From years of experience I have found that it is good to have a palette of reliable plants that showcase your unusual plants.  Many unusual plants are unusual because they are hard to grow or hard to grow for Growers.  Therefore, you don't want a whole yard of high maintenance, fussy plants.  But you can have your cake and eat it too.  Utilize the tried and true varieties and showcase one or two somethings that are spectacular.

One of those staple plants is Schefflera arboricola `Trinette' or Variegated Arboricola.  The variety Trinette is a very colorful variegated yellow and green variety.  Another great characteristic is that it is slow growing and compact and works well in larger groupings.  The yellow leaves are a great contrast to reds and dark pinks such as Firespike and Dwarf Jatropha and can be used as a layering plant.  Variegated Aroricola can easily be kept at 2-3' tall and 2-3' wide or left alone with no pruning they can reach 6-8' tall and 4' wide.  They prefer sun but will tolerate dense shade. 

Maintenance: the best way to prune is to clip prune.  That's right get out your pruners and turn off the hedge trimmers.  These plants tend to shoot up uneven growth so often times just a couple cuts of more aggressive branches and you are all set.  Enjoy these plants!

Spacing Landscape Plants in Florida

How close do you plant landscape plants in Florida.  Most of my Landscape Design experience has been in New England and I have been known to plant trees and shrubs a little too close because I am really impatient for things to grow in. However in Florida I would be known as a person who plants too far apart!!  The difference in Florida's growing season is that plants grow about 9 months out of the year unlike the short growing season up North.  So you plant a cute little 6 inch Canna bulb and it is 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide in a year.  Given that information, spacing depends on the mature size of the plant- you need to research a bit.  Look how big the plant is going to get and space it accordingly.  Do not plant a tree 6" from your foundation or you WILL be sorry.

The above photo is of Ginger and Dwarf Natal Plum ( nice combination) but they are planted 2 feet apart.  Both of these plants will get 4 feet across and you will constantly have to prune them back- what a waste of plant material.  Give plants the proper space and you will reduce the money you have to spend in the beginning and you will reduce your maintenance and if you are a landscaper you will have happy clients!

Vegetable Gardening in Containers in Florida

Vegetable gardening in Florida can be a bit of a challenge.  For the most part the best season to grow vegetables is in the Fall, Winter and Spring.  The challenges that you face when you grow in containers is:  too much water, too little water, not enough drainage, disease and bugs.  You also have to choose the type of container as well as the type of soil and fertilizer.  I am going to be updating this blog as my project goes along to see if some of my choices are successful.  First I wanted to grow organically- so that creates a bit of a challenge because I have found that many of the Organic Potting Soils were rather heavy and compacted in the pots.  I bought a bag of Organic Choice Potting Soil ( and please get potting soil and not garden soil for your pots!)  and it was a bit heavy.  So......I decided to mix in the bottom half of the pot some 1/4" pea stone.  This would aerate the soil and if there was a great deal of rain my plants would not drown.  I also worked in some Espoma Plant-tone as an Organic Fertilizer.  This is one of my favorite fertilizers- I have used it in New England and sold tons of it at my nursery.  So here is a photo of my completed pots.  I have 2 cherry tomatoes and 1 Yellow Bell Pepper and I have seeded some Snap Peas and Pole Beans.  I hope my Condo Association doesn't have a rule about beans growing over my railings.

Note:  The day after planting it rained solidly for 4 days and none of the plants died so the drainage idea was a hit!  By the way you can get bags of stones at Home Depot or Lowes.  Another Advantage to adding the stones is that it gives the pots weight so the wind does not knock them over.  I live near the beach and it is a consideration.

Successful Flowers to Plant for Winter

What are successful flowers to plant in your pots for the winter?  I would have to consider myself a flower snob- when I lived up North I only planted unusual flowers, never giving way to the common.  Well, Florida is a whole different story.  The climate is so severe and pots take such a beating with the heavy rain, high humidity, bugs, etc.  Therefore the flowers that I love are the ones I can keep alive.  The Begonia Family is so reliable.  From wax begonias to Angel Wing begonia- they are hardy and bloom all throughout the winter.  Impatiens also do nicely as well as geraniums, snapdragons, blue salvia, pansies and violas.  The plants all thrive with the cool weather and it is not necessary to water them as heavily.  Stay tuned and I will give you some important information on how to plant your pots for great success- what kind of soil, fertilizer and pots.

Firespike

Looking for an unusual plant in Florida that you won't see in your neighbors yard- well here it is!  It is called Odontonema strictum or the common name is Firespike.  It will grow in zone 7-11.  I love this plant because when the flowers come out it is very striking but as the little flowers drop off the long flower stem- the stems are still red and very attractive.  Therefore you don't have to prune these plants as soon as the flowers go by.  It was voted "Plant of the Year" in 1998 by the Florida Nurserymen and Growers Association.  Any plant voted by any Nurserymen Association is usually a good choice. 

Firespike grows about 4-5' tall and the same in width.  They prefer sun to light shade. They bloom from the middle of the summer until mid winter.  It is good to cut them back severely in February.  If you are in areas of Florida that get freezes it will die back to the ground but will recover again.

I have planted them along with Ruella Purple Showers and Pinwheel Jasmine.  They also look great with pentas.  Enjoy this lovely plant!