Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

Planting Time is here!

 

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It’s here!
The calendar says it’s here, the excitement in the air says it’s here, the decorations and stores say it’s here. All over there are signs; all proclaiming fall has arrived.
Although it might still be in the high 80s, there is a definite change in the air. The evenings are a little bit cooler; which is great for plant growth. And because of that, the nurseries are starting to fill up.
Although the plants are still small, you can go to the nurseries now and find benches upon benches of beautiful flowers just waiting to be potted into your containers or into your planting beds.
For those coming down from the north to spend the winter here, it’s a welcome sign. They left fall colors and empty planting beds when they pulled out of their driveway. Now they can start over and plant beautiful flowers in the South. Or have someone like me do it.

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But, before you start planting, a couple of maintenance items need your attention first.
1. Put your pots into position. Make sure they have no cracks or chips. There’s nothing worse than getting a plant planted and finding out there’s a crack running down the side of the pot, and you need to start over. Now is a good time to decide if you want to add or subtract containers. Maybe you want to upgrade: take that old clay pot with a few too many chips and slimy algae growing up the side of it, and replace it with a pretty decorative ceramic. There’s a wide variety available from hand-painted to glazed.
2. Now your pots are in place. Is there was any soil left over from last year? Check it thoroughly for insects, turn it over to decide whether you can reuse it. Or could you add some fresh soil to what is left? Usually, you can get a couple years out of a good potting soil by just replenishing as needed. If the soil is no longer usable, get rid of it and put in fresh soil. You can add fertilizer to your soil or wetting agents to help the plants hold water. If you’re going to use a wetting agent, I advise caution. During the winter months, when it gets cooler, you don’t want the plants holding water.
3. I think it’s a good idea to have a plan before you go to the garden center. Know how many pots are being filled, the colors you want to use, and whether the location of the pots is in sun or shade.
4. If you’re detail oriented, figure out exactly what how many plants you need and what type of plants you want to put in your pots before you even walk out the door to the garden center. If you’re more impulsive, like me, or would rather be creative on the spot all you will need is to have an idea of how many plants your pots will support, and then let your imagination take over when you reach the nursery.
6. Don’t be afraid to combine colors and plants. But, a good idea is to keep plants that like to be kept wet together and plants prefer to be dry together. Mixing the two together is sure to lead to problems down the road.

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Okay, now you’re organized. You know how many pots you have to fill or garden space you have to plant in. You have an idea of the colors you want to use, the number of plants you’re going to need and the varieties of flowers you want to incorporate. Your first trip should also include purchasing any new pots, soil, and soil additives that you’re going to need to do the job. You’re ready to go.
Grab your keys, your cup of coffee, and your list.
Be sure to get an early start to the garden center. Don’t forget it’s still hot out there: you don’t want to be wandering around the garden center in the hot sun.
Happy planting!

Victoria LK Williams

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

A little road trip.

Last weekend my husband and I decided it was time to get away for the day, so we jumped in the car and headed west. We headed for one of my favorite spots in Florida, Bok Towers. As we drove across State Road 60, it didn’t take long before we left civilization, so to speak. Once you reach a certain point on State Road 60, the only thing to wave at you as you drive by is the cows.

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As you get past seeing the same thing over and over, you begin to  notice little things. And one item I saw repeatedly gave me encouragement.
The Citrus growers are replanting.
I rejoiced as I saw this because our citrus industry has gone through so much in the last couple of decades. The land was sold for development and growth, groves aged and were not replenished. There were a series of hurricanes and deep freezes, and then, of course, the diseases. Citrus canker and Citrus Greening have taken their toll on the groves in our state.
Agriculture of any kind is difficult, but seems as if the citrus growers had taken one hit after another.

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But they persist, and to see new trees being planted right alongside the old existing groves is encouraging. It shows there is hope.
When we finally arrived at Bok Towers, we had another surprise in store. The garden had also gone through massive changes as well. Beautiful changes, and again it was because of nature. The azalea plants the tower was so well known had also suffered the ravages of age. Repeated hurricanes had knocked out the natural canopy that provided the shade the azaleas needed to survive and then a series of years of extremely cold winters took out the weaker plants. But in their place other plants were able to survive. And with the replenishment of the garden, the wildlife came back,
The one addition that I thought was encouraging was the children’s garden, once again showing that there’s hope for the future. If we encourage children to love and appreciate the gardens we are setting the next generation up to respect our earth.

 


As we walked to the gardens my husband, and I saw beautiful flowers; some native, some exotic. Some plants you had to search for, while others could easily be found right along the main walkways, making for an interesting day.
Anyone who says that the summertime in Florida it’s impossible to grow colorful flowers, well you’ve never walked the paths of Bok Tower.

“Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it”
~Edward W. Bok~

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Victoria LK Williams

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

Think Outside the Pot

Wait!
Don’t throw that out, it might be the perfect container for the Fairy Garden you’re making, or to be used as an unusual container for the garden.

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It’s time we start thinking outside the pot. Look for different sources for containers and don’t always take the easy route. Simply pulling the first pot off the shelf can lead to ho-hum gardens. Why do this, when there are many other objects that could work really well as containers.
I can remember as a child, my grandfather taking an old tire, painting in the bright color and cutting the top part open making it look like a flower. Ta-da, my grandmother had a new planter and she would fill it with colorful pansies. Or what about the old fountain? You know, the one with the burned-out motor? Drain it, and create a statement planter.

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Maybe for the generations before us, this practice wasn’t so much about looking for unusual containers as it was being responsible; recycling old items into new purposes. Perhaps it’s time we all started being responsible as well. With so many beautiful object available, if you use your imagination you could turn into a great planter.
Have you ever bought something you really liked, used it to serve its purpose for a short time and then you’re tired of? A perfect example is an old metal fire pit purchased before the propane firepits became so popular. Our customer uses the firepit for a year and decided they wanted to upgrade to the propane style. So, we cleaned up the old brass firepit and made a huge planter which now sits on a wrought iron stand and is focal point to their patio.

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And just because a pot is broken doesn’t mean it needs to be thrown out, either. You’ve seen the pictures of a play pot laying on its side in a landscape bed with annuals just filling out across the ground? Once the flowers grow, the pot becomes a beautiful addition to the garden.
If you’re using a different container in your interiors, a simple way to avoid leakage is to line the bottom with heavy florist foil that will hold water and soil in. Don’t be afraid to try something completely different: a wood box, an old water bucket, an unused fountain or bird bath.
It’s time to start looking at the items around you in a different light; try to imagine a new use for something before you throw it away. That beautiful broken teapot, belonging to your grandmother, can be perfect for the miniature garden, or to hold an African Violet.

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Those are a few tips & I hope they work for you…
remember; think outside the pot!

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

Nature has the final say!

Gardners.
They’re is different as night and day.

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But there is one unifying factor that bonds us all together and that is the plants.
It always amazes me how gardeners seemed to be drawn to one another. It’s like some inner string is pulling us together to compare notes and admire each other’s work.
Above and beyond all of us enjoying time in the garden, each of us has their own flair of how we want our garden to be and how we go about achieving the look we want.

Some want to get right in there and work, placing each plant where it should go standing back and looking at it. Maybe moving a plant a couple inches, standing back to look again, until finally its time to plant. Then there are others that just randomly placed plants, letting them grow as nature would not so particular but still getting fantastic results.
And that’s the beauty of working with live plants. In all honesty the plants will, to a certain extant, do what they want to do. Regardless of how much time we take for placement and care we give them before planting. Nature has the final say.

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Yes it’s important to plant where they will have plenty of room and where they can grow to their full potential. But each plant will grow differently. They have their structure they will follow, giving them they growth patterns we recognize for each species of plant. But there will always be a stray branch that will come off to the right of the left. One side might flower heavier than the other. They might have a bare spot or a twisted stem.
Each plant is just like you and me; it has its own individual personality. The more you spend time in the garden, the more you will come to understand your plants. I know that sounds crazy, but they do have their own way of adapting to where there planted.
There are plants that have a unusually fast growing season and may have a smaller lifespan because it has but so much into that season. Other plants may grow differently if placed in a stressful environment.  A great example of that is the geranium planted in a heavier shade: most often their the flowers will be fewer but when they do flower, it will be huge. Some plants such as Croton, that naturally have lots of bright colors, when planted in heavy shade will revert to be a green plant and have no added color to their foliage. This is nature’s way of adapting to their environment.

Flowering plants under stress from heat will slow down their production. The  same happens with fruit and vegetables. They will concentrate their growth on foliage which will feed the flowers, roots, and fruit. When a plant is under stress, it will produce what it needs for survival.
Some plants, when under extreme stress, or at the point of failure will suddenly burst out into flowers. This is a way of pro-creation. They strive to produce seeds for the next generation of the plant to grow.
So you can see that no matter how hard and how particular you are about placing your plants, it comes down to nature. The plant will grow the best way it can to thrive and flourish in the environment you’ve planted it in.

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It’s your job to keep it growing, keep it healthy, and keep enjoying it. 

Victoria LK Williams

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

A 6-pack of Flowers

Every gardener has their favorite flowers and shrubs. These are the ones we fall back on and use often. I have so many, but I thought I would pick six to share with you. These are not the typical geranium or petunias you often see in garden planters. Not there is anything wrong with either of those plants. The opposite is true, and I use them both and often.
But the following six flowers I like to use for special spots or containers. They may not be available all year long down here in the south, but when they are, you will find them on my plant pick list.
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Kangaroo Paw. This is a newish plant for me, and I am still becoming acquainted with it. It likes full sun, loose soil, and room to get some height. The foliage is a dark spikey green and the flower shafts rise from the center. The flower lasts for several weeks, paling as it matures. Multiple spikes will bloom at the same time. I have noticed that it does not like to be kept wet. Water thoroughly and let slightly dry between watering. A fertilizer for blooming flowers is necessary for continued spikes of flowers to be set. This plant can be mixed with other flowers or in a pot by itself.

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Cassandra. I love the deep salmon/peach color of these flowers. A plant that prefers light shade, it is a summer blooming plant. The flowers last, losing the lowest petals on the spike first. An interesting fact: if the flower spike is finished and water is applied to the spike, you can hear the popping of the seeds as they burst from the spike. Given the room, this plant can get 1-2 feet tall. Sniping off the dead spikes will promote fresh flowers. Because this plant is grown in lower light, do not over water.

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Mona Lavender. One of my favorites! The spikes of delicate purple flowers are long lasting and the plant, when properly pinched back, will become a full mound of color. Although, not a true Lavender, the foliage has a slight scent when crushed. This plant will grow in winter sun or partial shade. Unless in a shady area for the summer, it will not survive the intense summer sun and the plant will decline. Also, during the summer, it attracts soft scale and mealy bugs. A pretty plant  by itself or mixed with other annuals. This also makes a great bedding plant.

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Dragon Wing Begonia. The delicate drape to the foliage and the lacy appearance of the blossoms makes this plant a great hanging basket or a trailing flower in a container of mixed annuals. It is also good for under-planting a taller palm or flowering tree in a container. The flowers are available in red or a coral color. This begonia will limp along through the summer months but only in a shady location. It is best to cut the plant back as the heat begins, since the leaves will often turn thin and drop.

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Mandavillea Vine. The large trumpet flowers on this vine are a big attraction for butterflies, and if you’re lucky, humming birds. Available in white, several shades of pink and red, the flowers are slow to appear in cool weather. But the lush foliage makes up for the lack of flowers. I mix lower growing annals at the base to give extra color. Once the weather warms up, the flowers will show, and is best grown in full sun. The plant is a rapid grower and fertilizing with a blooming plant mix is important. Don’t be afraid to cut the climbing tendrils when they get out of hand. This will help the plant stay lush and produce flowers.

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Dipladenia. Similar to the Mandavillea flowers. But this plant is a great producer of consistent flowers. Blooms will slow if the weather is too cold. The plant does best to keep a bit dry. Tendrils should be cut back to keep the plant full. Because the plant spreads with in a container, it is best used by itself. This plant will last through the summer months, but the sun will scorch the leaves. Pink is the most common color, but can be found in white and a deep pink/read.

So, there’s my six-pack.
I hope you can find a place for them in your garden. I’m sure you will enjoy these plants as much as I do.
Maybe they will become your favorites as well.

Victoria LK Williams

Botanical Concepts

 

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

The Summer Cut

Around the beginning of June/July you should see a difference in your landscape. That’s because it’s time for the summer cut back. Often this includes cutting plants back so hard, they look like there’s nothing left of them.
This is a common practice with landscape companies in our area. Although it doesn’t look great right after it happens, most plants will flourish under this type of pruning and come back looking strong by the end of the summer months.
That’s fine and dandy, but if you live here year-round it can sometimes be frustrating to look at sticks instead of lush bushes. From a business standpoint this is how the landscapers have to do it; they are rarely contracted to provide  selective pruning your plants. But there’s no reason why you can’t.
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Some plants will survive without the summer cutback if you simply cut year-round. By selectively pruning branches as the plant grows, you can keep the plant at a nice year-round focus and shape. Plants like Dracaena Marginata, Ti Plants, Croton, and most trees  are perfect for this type. Even some of your hedging material such as Jasmine,   Hawthorns and Dwarf Ixora will maintain a good look if they are hedged periodically rather than a drastic cut back.
There are some plants such as Ornamental Grasses and Oleanders that thrive on the hard cut back and come back even stronger as a regrow.
It’s all a matter of knowing the plant structure and how it wants to grow naturally. If you have a plant that’s fast-growing and likes to spread, you may need to do more cutting or the drastic hard cutback to keep it looking full and thick.
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But slower growing plants tend to do better with selective pruning. It’s easier to stay on top of them keeping their shape manageable.
So whether you’re doing a hard summer cutback, or selective pruning, there are a few things you need to do before you start…
First and most importantly, make sure your tools are clean and sharp. If you’re pruning large plants make sure the area around is clear so  when the branches drop they don’t damage any lower plants. When you’re done pruning, make sure you clean up the debris, don’t leave it there to die off on the fresh growth. The debris is a primary place for insects and fungus to develop,  you want to be sure to get all cuttings picked up and disposed of, because along with the heat in the summer comes the rainy season. And a combination of the two was perfect for the spread of insects and disease.
After you cut back is the perfect time to fertilize, providing you are not breaking any county ordinances. Some counties will not allow fertilizing during the summer because of fertilizer runoff into lagoons. If this is the case, then try to time your cutbacks so your pruning just before the ordinance timing starts. If you’ve missed that date then as soon as the ordinance timing ends, apply fertilizer on the plants.
It’s pretty hard to cut back too much down here in Florida, between the heat, the rain, and the type of plants, things flourish quickly. By the end of summer you’ll forget how the plants looked after a hard cutback.

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So get out there and get your work done now before it gets too hot and then sit back, relax and enjoy your summer. 

Victoria LK Williams

Posted in gardening, The Southern Garden

What’s that I Smell?

When you look at a flower, a beautiful flower, an almost immediate reaction is to bend closer to it and take a sniff. Does it have a pleasant scent?
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From childhood we do this. I can remember holding the dandelions up to my chin or my nose and smelling, getting the pollen on the tip of my nose with giggling results.
We can plant herbs for the aroma. Their scent smoothing, soothing, and healing. Or we could plant herbs for the scent they add to your food. There are plants we plant because the smell repels animals that might harm our vegetable gardens.
But not every pretty flower has a pleasant scent. Not every person reacts the same way to the smell of every flower.
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A perfect example of this is Society Garlic. I love the flower. It’s airy and delicate, but the smell certainly isn’t delicate. You don’t have to get too close before you can smell the strong scent of garlic. So strong, it will take over your garden area. This is a plant that is best planted in the back corner or an area you may not wander into often, but can still see from a distance.
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Even the most pleasant of scents like a Gardenia or Jasmine can affect people differently. I have more than one customer  tell  me they love the smell of gardenia, but when their entire bushes in bloom; they can’t be around it because it gives them headaches. The flower’s scent is too overwhelming.
Even some shrubs have distinctive smells. Juniper has one of the most distinctive smells, often reminding me of cat urine. Other people may not smell it, but I certainly do.
If you’re unsure of the smell from a shrub, (will bother you, or give you enjoyment) I would recommend buying a single plant. Place it where you plan on planting it and leave it there for a couple of days. (Don’t forget to water and take care of the plant while it waits to be planted!). Wander around the plant, especially in the early morning when the scent is usually the strongest. Determine whether it bothers you. Does it leave a pleasant or repugnant scent? It’s best to find out now; there’s nothing worse in planting an entire hedge and then discover you can’t stand the smell.

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And don’t forget some plants don’t give off a scent all the time. For instance; Citrus Trees will only bloom around February and their scent is beautiful. But if you happen to be in the middle of a citrus grove during flowering season, you may find it’s too much.
Remember, some smells you may not like, could repel other things like pesky animals that might eat your garden, or insects that might bite you. Lemon grass and rosemary can repel mosquitoes and, although both produce a pleasant scent, too much of anything can be overwhelming.
So remember, your garden is more than just visual feast. There is also the sense of smell that has to come into play. And keep in mind; what you find attractive may not be attractive to your neighbor, so go easy on plants like Society Garlic.

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