30.12.10

Those Beautiful, Tempting, Devilish Flowering Vines
Part 2- Modest Growers


Allamanda cathartica


Allamanda 'Stansills Double'


Mandevilla 'Suntory Red'
a trademarked selection

Tecomanthe dendrophylla
The New Guinea Trumpet Creeper
( courtesy Richard Lyons Nursery)



Stephanotis grandiflora
Hawaiian Wedding Vine
wonderfully fragrant
( courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden)
 Part 1 of this series on flowering vines was termed "The Speedy Growers". This installment deals with more modest growing species, requiring a little less care. As with all vines, there are species for every climate, garden location, and grower ability. I have grown many species over the years, but time and space constraints are the biggest problems for every gardener, even in public gardens. Unless you have a full time gardening staff ( some gardens have their own staff just for pergolas and vines, lucky them), then I would still recommend good judgment in choosing vines. Good advice is just a few phone calls away. Most any garden center, botanical garden, and University Extension Service agent can lend a lot of advice on which vines to choose, along with problems or benefits for each one.

While there is no Vine Society that I know of, the Tropical Flowering Tree Society ( http://www.tfts.org/) does an admirable job of producing and promoting such vines for the local area. In our local, coral rock soil, almost any vine we plant will require extra organic material and extra iron fertilizer to keep the plants healthy. I  found that modest amounts of nitrogen ( under 10% of the formula), combined with extra amounts of potassium ( over 10% of the formula) make for good growth. If you are lucky enough to have real soil, then a lower analysis fertilizer will do the job nicely. In our area, a palm fertilizer such as 8-2-12 works just great. Slow release fertilizers also work well. If you like organic fertilizers, use one made for roses, with extra greensand and bone meal in it. The plants will respond quite well. The main idea to remember is to keep the growth modest, while encouraging flowers, not foliage. Many novice gardeners want the "grow it fast to cover the wall fast" method, and then rue their impatience forever after. Be patient, and grow a solid, well-rooted vine, chosen carefully to be suitable for the growing space.

One of the problems that vines seem to incur is insects and mites , especially mealybugs and mites. These can be problematic to control, although granular systemic rose insecticides work really well, controlling the insects from the inside out. Occasionally, snails can be a problem, for which I found almost any snail bait works, if you use it every few weeks during the wet weather that snails love. There are organic ,metal based snail baits that are safer to use around dogs and children. There are also some of the blue-pellet synthetic materials that can be used effectively if you don't have pets or kids.


Petrea volubilis
Queen's Wreath Vine
(courtesy of Richard Lyons Nursery)

Vines can make a huge difference in the look of a garden, especially in the vertical aspect. They need extra attention in every phase of culture, from planning before the vine is installed, to installation of a solid support, to long term maintenance. The rewards are certainly worth the effort.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


















      

29.12.10

Those Beautiful, Tempting, Devilish Flowering Vines-Part 1
The Speedy Ones

At some point in every gardener's career, you will consider planting a flowering vine. It could be that you saw a vine trained on a trellis, or saw one at a public garden, or perhaps was smitten by a photo in a garden magazine. There are magnificent books written about flowering vines ( as opposed to foliage vines), and the pictures are very tempting indeed.



Philippine Jade Vine
Strongylodon macrobotrys




Red Passion Flower
Passiflora vitifolia


Sky Vine
Thunbergia grandiflora


Red Jade Vine
Mucuna bennettii




Stictocardia beraviensis
extremely fast grower


There are dozens of great flowering vines available at specialty nurseries.All of them have something to offer, but there are some aspects of flowering vines you should recognize before you buy them. One of the most common comments I hear about flowering vines is that the have outgrown their trellises or fences. I can't help but think ( quietly, to myself) " did you really think the vine would just stop growing where you wanted it to ?" Of course the vine grew !! Vines of almost any sort need some level of management, as with any fast-growing plant. Every vine I know of will over-grow its mount if allowed to, so make sure you have enough room to accommodate the chosen plant.

There are dozens of species to choose from, and one grower I know of classified them into 3 speed categories: modest, speedy, and 'don't stand too close to it'. Unfortunately, some of the most beautiful vines are aggressive, fast growing plants that will rapidly cover several hundred or even several thousand square feet of trellis or fence. In my usual fashion I recommend a good bit of homework before you plant a vine into the ground permanently. If you have a very large dead tree to devote to a flowering vine, or a LOT of fence, or a very long arbor-trellis-pergola, you can choose almost any vine that will grow in your climate. The Miami- based  Tropical Flowering Tree Society ( TFTS.org) can help with plant choices as well as sourcing plants for you.

Many people mistakenly believe that vines are just thin, herbaceous affairs with pretty flowers. NOT TRUE ! Some vines have 2 inch thick woody stems, and the whole vine can weigh many hundreds of pounds. Left to their own devices, some fast growing species can consume an entire forest, or at the very least, dominate a large part of your yard !! Therefore, I suggest a stout trellis or arbor, made of heavy gauge pressure treated wood trellis and posts, sunk into the ground into concreted post holes. There are some vines that can grow nicely in a large container on a wire trellis, but there are far more species which need serious support to grow large enough to make a good show.

As with almost any kind of plant, there are choices for your budget, available growing space and growth speed. Choose wisely, and think about how the vine will grow in the next few years. It's OK to trim vines to control their growth, but find the growing tip of a vine, then track it back to where you wish to prune the plant. Do NOT "hedge-cut" vines since you may be cutting off major food supply vines without knowing it.
Flowering vines can make a grand statement for your garden, but please choose wisely and with forethought. You will save yourself a great deal of headache and backache.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens
                

16.12.10

Crinum Lilies for the South

Who says you have to give up growing bulbs when you move to the deep south ? There are many options, but the largest growing group of flowering bulb plants are unquestionably the Crinums. There are hundreds of choices, but a great many of them are collector's items, and some have some peculiarities about them. For the "garden varieties", there are a few basic groupings to choose from, based loosely on certain species. One of the most common growers here is the asiaticum group, seen by the thousands in commercial plantings. There are dark-leaved and dark-colored forms in this group. One of the most frequently seen varieties is called 'Queen Emma'. with a reddish color to the leaves, and wine-tinted flowers .  


'Queen Emma'


'Rose City Star'


'Ellen Bosanquet'


'strictum'



'Crinum jagus'
'St. Christopher Lily'



'Menehune'
 a semi-aquatic type, probably
C. americanum
Crinums are fairly easy care in the landscape, but as with many fast-growing plants, they appreciate regular watering and almost continuous fertilizing ( think about slow-release fertilizers like Osmocote and Nutricote). In my experience with these plants, I found that keeping the plants a bit potbound made for better flowering. In the ground, the plants needed to be of some size before they flowered. One of the few commonalities in the genus seems to be that the plants are highly attractive to grasshopper attacks. Removing the grasshoppers when they are still young is paramount to success. There are organic repellents containing hot pepper oil or neem oil that can help in repelling grasshoppers, and are worth investigating. Other than grasshoppers, mites are a pest in dry weather, easily resolved with soap or soap / oil sprays.   

There is a broad  range of colors and fragrances, something for every size garden and taste. Some of the species types have impressive displays of flowers, but rather short flower lives. The newer hybrids have a longer flowering season, along with improved flower shape and texture. There is, of course, a society to help you make choices with many bulb crops, the International Bulb Society. There is a great deal of information out there as well as a wide range of plants to choose from. Consider growing a few Crinum lilies in your mixed plantings, and perhaps try a few in large containers.



Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 



















      

14.12.10

Large and Larger Dendrobiums
 
Dendrobium speciosum
used as a landscape specimen
Sydney, Australia

In past blogs I wrote about miniature Dendrobiums, pendant species, and some of the old standby types like the Dendrobium Phalaenopsis group. I received many favorable comments about the pendant and miniature groups. For all tastes, there are plants to meet the need. In our section of the country ( not tonight, since we will experience hard frost over most of the state, even in Miami), we can grow Dendrobiums as landscape plants. To that end, with some residents who have larger properties or large trees, they'll request larger orchid species. There are numerous species, notably from Australia and  New Guinea , which grow to substantial dimensions. One species in particular, D. speciosum, can weigh over 500 pounds in a large specimen !  Some of the New Guinea species such as D. veratrifolium can grow  over 10 feet tall, and I have heard of specimens reaching 18 feet tall. As with so many plants, there are tons of options regarding plant size, blooming season, and care requirements. This group of larger species requires the same care as most other Dendrobiums in their respective groups, just a larger basket, pot, or mount to hold them. Given enough room, they can become grand specimens, but do some advance thinking to see if you ever need to move them to an orchid society or plant show. If you do, then be prepared to have some extra help !

Dendrobium lasianthera varieties
averaging 7 feet tall



Dendrobium Jacquelyn Thomas type
production plants average 5 feet tall


Dendrobium production in Asia
head-high flower stems

Dendrobium superbum
well established on a tree
  
In the event you have the space and resources to grow these "plus-sized" plants, consider them permanent landscaping, and accord them the care and respect they deserve. There are "normal" sized plants that will grow to mega-dimensions given consistent care and fertilizing for years at a time. I have attended many orchid society meetings where fairly common plants were grown large enough to require 4 men to carry the plant. In one notable case, a plant purchased from Home Depot 20 years ago required 4 men and a stretcher to carry a 200 pound Dendrobium  to a plant society meeting ! A little consistent care and regular attention can make almost any plant a specimen, even miniatures.
 
 
Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens
 
 
 


13.12.10

An Old Friend Revisited- The Dendrobium phalaenopsis group


'Hickam Deb'
the original standard of the "Den Phal" group


'Anucha Flare'


Den. compactum


'Sonia'
an inter-group hybrid









'King Dragon'
with very Cattleya-like flowers
Over 30 years ago, I started growing orchids, and I remember growing a Dendrobium phalaenopsis hybrid called 'Hickam Deb' with its massive round burgundy-Merlot flowers. It was a slow-growing plant by today's standards, and had a fairly short flower life. It needed a rather strict dry rest in the winter, and the plants were never robust, either. The modern hybridizing is much better, and far different than the hybrids of a lifetime ago. The newer hybrids are faster growing, more diverse in size and shape than anything seen before, as well as easier to grow. There is actually a species  Dendrobium phalenopsis, also known as D. bigibbum and is one of those curious plants with two genera names in its binomial e.g. Oncidium phalaenopsis, Miltonia phalaenopsis, and so on. 

This group of species and its hybrids have diverged markedly from the ancestral plants of the 1960s. There are numerous cross-group plants using other sections in the genus, with curious group names such as Den-Phal, inter-Den-Phal, Antelope-Den-Phal, and on and on. The range of hybrids is astounding, but fortunately they all require about the same conditions: very bright light, plenty of water and fertilizer in active growth, and a bit of attention to pest control while in bud or spike. It is wise to keep these plants almost pot-bound, and in as much sunlight as they can stand. Many growers use a high-phosphorous liquid fertilizer toward the end of the growing  season to boost flowering, and the empirical evidence supports this idea. I would not suggest that phosphorous "makes" flowers or spurs a plant to produce flowers when it is not ready to, but I would concur that extra phosphorous ( the middle number in the 3-number series on a fertilizer label) combined with a reduction of nitrogen would likely produce more flowers than a regular, balanced number fertilizer.

Many of the new Asian hybrids have Art Deco colors or some unusual flares and even 2-tone striping in the flowers. Larger orchid sales have a wide range of colors and sizes available. Be aware that many overseas growers have nearly perfect growing conditions, and the plant you buy may need some extra care to make sure it acclimates to your conditions. Some growers pot their plants in pure sphagnum moss, which may be too wet for humid rainy conditions, so a bit of drying out and repotting may be needed.

One of the most important things to remember about repotting these plants is to use a well-drained mix that still holds water. A Cattleya mix with a bit of extra sphagnum moss should do the job. Repot plants when new canes are produced. The plants are prodigious feeders, and in very strong light they can be fertilized every few days and watered daily. Here in South Florida some of the better growers grow their plants in all-day sunlight on pool decks, with Dynamite or a similar fertilizer mixed into the potting mix, in addition to weekly liquid fertilizing.

If you pay a bit of attention the plants' needs, especially snail and pest control during summer months, and mites in winter months. this group is quite rewarding, and put on an eye popping show of flowers that last for months. You can get a lot of firepower In a small area with this group, so look at an old friend  once more.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


10.12.10


Cold Weather Problems

Well, it is that time of year again when we see the roller-coaster weather ride of hot muggy weather interrupted by fast-arriving cold fronts with temperatures near frost, followed by weeks of warm sunshine and dry days. This up and down style of weather wreaks havoc on some plants, especially those with tender foliage, or those plants prone to damage from drying winds. It does not require freezing temperatures to fatally damage plants; some plants can be mortally damaged at temperatures below 40 F, and there are species that show severe damage even at 45 F. There are legion stories of Breadfruit trees showing discomfort at 55 F, although I have not seen this personally.


Cold damage on Aglaonema


Cold damage on Kerriodoxa palm




Cold Damage on
Dieffenbachia


Early this year, Florida saw some of the longest cold weather periods in recent history. The deadly combination of strong dry winds, unusually cold weather ( under 40 F for days at a time), and the length of the cold period resulted in a large amount of leaf and plant loss. While many plants can withstand short periods below 32F, rather few tropical and subtropical plants can withstand such temperatures for days on end. With this scenario, several processes happen, setting many problems into motion over the next 12-18 months. The soil temperatures dropped to such a degree that plant roots stopped moving water from the soil to the foliage. The end result is that plants desiccated, even if the roots were quite wet. Some plants simply died back, some plants lost their foliage due to extremely dry air ( less than 30% humidity for days), and some died of secondary fungal infections. Even 12 months after a prolonged cold episode, plants can still show the damage from cold weather. It takes a lot of patience to recover plants from such episodes, and one must be diligent in keeping up the program to re-grow foliage and roots. It also helps to know whether a plant is actually dead or just "hiding" from the cold. Many gingers and aroids had their foliage frozen off, but 6 months later the plants "woke up" and grew back almost as if nothing had happened.

One of many tactics I've seen recently is to use a dilute hydrogen peroxide solution as a  surface cleaner to reduce fungi and bacteria on dying foliage. There are several commercial preparations such as Zero-Tol and
other products based on hydrogen peroxide. While the off-the-shelf variety of peroxide is usable, it must be diluted to avoid damage on the plants. Try a small area of a leaf to check for bleaching or damage before using it on larger areas.

One of the most important tactics for cold-weather recovery is to wait until the cold weather is well passed before thinking about trimming any damaged branches. It is commonplace that trees will lose leaves and stay leafless for up to 6 months after cold weather. Trimming leafless branches too soon after a cold episode can damage a plant more than leaving the damaged branches on the plant. I have seen instances where trees magically sprout leaves up to a year after cold damage.

Even tropical palms can regenerate a damaged spear leaf many months after cold damage. Many growers pour copper-based fruit tree spray into the crown of a palm to control bacteria and fungi in the center after cold weather. In many cases, the palm has the energy to regenerate a new spear leaf, but the fungi and bacteria present after cold weather damage the leaf  faster than the palm can grow a new leaf.

The overall advice from most arborists and growers I know is to wait until mid-summer to trim trees. It's OK to trim brown leaves off any time, but leave any leaves with any level of green in them. The plants will need all the help they can get.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens   


















     

6.12.10

Mulch: The Great Saver of Water and Fertilizer

There are a lot of misconceptions about mulch and even more that is misunderstood about it. In almost every landscape and horticultural case I can think of, mulch is better than no mulch. If you are designing a Japanese Garden, organic mulch may not be the in the scope of the design, but stone or gravel mulch may very well be in the design. Mulch has a lot of advantages, including stabilizing  soil moisture, erosion and soil temperature. Decomposing mulch adds organic acids to the soil beneath it, slows weed incursions, retards nematode development, and stabilizes fertilizer delivery to the root system. Over time, decomposing mulch can create a very workable organic soil, especially important in very poor mineral soil areas or in very rocky areas. In South Florida, we have a combination of extremely rocky areas and extremely sandy areas. In both cases, mulch can help a lot in making the plant root zones a better habitat for plants to live in. 



Cypress mulch
 

Eucalyptus / Australian Pine mulch


'Volcano'  mulching
a serious threat to tree and palm trunks

Mulch can come in many forms, the most common being tree bark of one size or another. In many states, cypress is the most common, whereas eucalyptus is the most common type in the western states. One of the biggest misconceptions is that mulching should be done every year or two. Organic mulches do decompose, sometimes rather rapidly, necessitating re-application every 6-12 months. Many discount-price mulches are made of shipping pallets or chipped wood from assorted tree species, both of which decompose quickly to leave behind a gummy residue. At Pinecrest Gardens, we use chipped Australian Pine Tree mulch ( Casuarina species), and the results have been very good. The mulch is cheaper than Cypress mulch, lasts twice as long, and does a great job of preventing weed growth . We buy it in bulk lots from a vendor who specializes in bulk mulch. We also have serious ethical concerns about using Cypress trees as mulch since they grow so slowly and are not cultivated as a timber crop. Australian Pine is a weed species and we find it very "green" to use a weed tree species as a mulch. Other organic mulch types include grass clippings, hay, pine needles and even old newspapers. These all decompose, adding organic material to the soil, but less than bark or wood products do. They should be used as one component of a soil-enriching program. They are all useful, but pay more attention to them than bark or wood mulches.      


There are inorganic mulches as well, including crushed tires, crushed glass, and gravel. These are decorative and should be more properly referred to as decorative additions. None of these hold water in the soil, but they do help with weed control. Crushed glass is usually sold in a semi-polished chunk form that is safe to handle. In some applications it can look like flowing water in a pondless water feature, or can make a xeriphyte garden look more colorful. Crushed rubber tires are often used in children's playground areas to great effect, and are very good at repelling weed growth. The only downside is that this product gets rather hot in direct sunlight. This heat can translate to the rootzone, to a deleterious effect in summer, but a good effect in winter. Gravel is also effective in repelling weeds, and is often seen in Japanese garden designs, as well as cactus / succulent gardens.   







recycled glass mulch




recycled tire mulch
courtesy of NuPlay
One of the larger problems I see is called "volcano mulching", where mulch is piled up against a tree or palm trunk. This is almost always damaging to the trunk, and can be fatal. Mulch should be pulled away from the trunk by several inches. Some trees and palms can tolerate mulch against the trunks, but it is rare. People often ask how deep mulch should be applied to the rootzone, to which I usually suggest a depth of 8-10 inches, starting several inches away from the trunk, and continuing out to the edge of the tree or palm canopy. This usually brings about some level of surprise from a customer, who often believed that mulch only need be applied an inch or two deep. One good method for determining how much mulch is required is to place an unopened bag of mulch on the ground. The bag shows how much mulch will be needed to cover the "footprint" on the ground. In other words, a bag of mulch does not cover much real estate, and once people understand this, they know the true quantity of mulch a garden requires. In our garden areas at Pinecrest Gardens, we use over 600 cubic yards of mulch per year, and could use double that amount in the future.


In most gardens, mulching is a good idea and should be pursued with the same importance as the selection of the plant, irrigation, and fertilizing. Choose a method that complements your garden, your budget, and one which produces an improved soil quality. Your plants will benefit, and you'll have fewer weeds to pull.


Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens          























            

3.12.10

Timing is Everything
Rainbird Easy-Rain
9 volt valve timer


battery operated hose-tap water timer



battery operated hose-tap water timer




Toro valve timer,
in-ground installation



Irritrol Commercial 24 volt multi-station controller

One of the most pressing questions I hear when I speak of irrigation systems is how to automate a water system without the availability of electricity. There are excellent irrigation timers for use in applications where there is no electricity, and they are highly reliable. The range of controllers and timers includes types that can be mounted on a hose tap to control anything on the end of a hose, to a multi-station controller able to control 6 commercial-grade electric valves. Many of the 6 volt AA battery powered hose-tap timers can be purchased at retail gardens stores and building stores, and cost from $ 25-$45 each. The commercial grade valve controllers are mounted to an electric valve, and take the place of a hard-wired electric controller. These higher-grade controllers are available through irrigation supply houses, and cost from
$ 100-$ 200 each or more. Both groups of timers are effective in controlling water, although the smaller hose-tap controllers will not handle high water pressures. The commercial grade timers simply turn electric valves on or off, and are generally configured to run that brand of electric valve ( Toro timer on a Toro valve, etc) although conversion parts are available to convert one brand of timer to another brand of valve. 

Of particular importance is the idea of using these timers to control drip irrigation systems, or temporary sprinklers while landscapes are establishing. I have used them to control solid-set PVC pipe irrigation systems for many years and they have been a real life saver where it was impractical to install permanent electrical service. In residential applications, these timers can be just the solution needed to operate a sprinkler in dry weather, help a new tree or plant get established or to irrigate a specific distant spot where the main sprinklers don't cover. There are lots of options, so do some research. 

Unlike the many blogs I've written about plants and their associated plant society aficionados, there isn't likely to be an "irrigation society" nearby. Contact a few local landscapers and see what they say about which brands they like. Irrigation supply houses can assist, although they are often is industrial districts, and can occasionally be hard to get to in rural areas. One thing is certain: don't let the lack of electricity stop you from installing automated irrigation to reliably water your plants and make your gardening experience easier. 

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens                   






 



1.12.10

Controlled Release Fertilizers-Fertilizing the Economical Way

One of my biggest contentions in horticulture in this area of the US is that people underfertilize their plants. It has gotten to the point that I see malnutrition in almost every municipal landscape I see, especially in xeriscape landscapes. It seems almost a dogma that plants are installed without additional fertilizer at planting time, then allowed to dwindle away to the point of no return. This is easily manifested and seen in South Florida in the larger palm species, with a trademark yellowing of lower fronds. For 20 years I have heard landscapers say that such lower-frond yellowing is normal. It is absolutely NOT normal for the lower fronds on a palm to be yellow; this is a clear sign of malnutrition and under-fertilizing. I see Oak trees stay the same size for decades, as well with many highway and residential plantings. It is apparent that many landscape installers feel that fertilizer is an unnecessary expense, especially in municipal plantings. I can't help but wonder why this is. It would be difficult to quickly change municipal planting codes in many cities, but perhaps I can appeal to residential gardeners.    


retail packaging of commercial-grade Nutricote fertilizer


commercial version of Dynamite fertilizer


the venerable Osmocote


a famous and recognizable brand in many formulations

fertilizer spikes for in-ground use around trees and palms

I have also heard that people don't want to fertilize their plants for fear that the plants will grow too fast and become a maintenance hassle. I have a great urge to yell "REALLY ??!!" What a bizarre concept ! Fertilize the plants properly, and they will grow properly ! Plants, pets, people, and most any living organism need some sort of nutrition source on which to grow and thrive. To starve plants to avoid having to clean up after them is a curious tactic, akin to starving your pets to avoid cleaning up after them. Plants are supposed to grow, yet we complain they grow at all.

I also realize that many people may not know the technical ins and outs of fertilizing plants, but there are ways to help your plants and minimize your care of them. One of the best long-term fertilizer management strategies is to use controlled release fertilizers, usually called "slow-release" fertilizers. Two applications per year of these CRF products will do the job in the warm subtropics, and one application in the northern climates will provide enough fertilizer throughout the growing year. There are many brands and types of CRFs, and they all work to some degree or other. It would be safe to say that a CRF is more economical to use than a water-soluble or quick-release fertilizer, with caveats. One of the caveats is that the longer-term CRFs start their release slower than the over-the-counter lawn and ornamental fertilizers do. This slower initial release often misleads people into thinking the products don't work ( people often want instant  gratification). You can also control plant growth more accurately with water-soluble fertilizers than CRFs, but they are shorter-lived in the plant than the longer-term CRFs.

Many organic fertilizers act as CRFs, and they all work to some degree or another as well. It is helpful to find out what your plants need to make sure you choose the right fertilizers. Here are some helpful ideas:

1.  for plants that are used for their foliage, or those that need foliage to make flowers ( herbs, Canna lilies, Heliconias, many gingers, etc), than use a slightly higher nitrogen fertilizer such as 15-6-12, or a 3:1:2 ratio of N:P:K.

2.  For those plants where leaves and stem or root development is needed, ( cane begonias, butterfly gingers, bulbs, etc) use a more balanced fertilizer ratio such as 15-5-15, or a 3:1:3 ration of N:P:K.

3. Many flowering plants like a very even fertilizer balance, such as 13-13-13, or a 1:1:1 balance of N:P:K. Some orchids and flowering plants like a little extra phosphorous in their diet to promote flowering.

You can use any of these CRFs effectively by mixing the fertilizer into the soil or by making small holes into the soil with your finger and pouring the fertilizer into the holes. Covering up the fertilizer will slow down weed growth, and the fertilizer is more effective when it is covered up than exposed to sunlight. In almost any case, using a CRF is better than using no fertilizer at all. Placing the fertilizer in the soil at the bottom of a planting hole is another effective way to deliver fertilizer without exposing the fertilizer to weed incursion, and the fertilizer stays put in rainstorms. Experiment with some of these products and you'll be a believer as I am. Once you know how the products work, you'll wonder how you ever got along without them.       

30.11.10

Growing Bananas in Your Backyard

Even in temperate climates, you can grow bananas in your backyard. There are numerous edible and flowering types to choose from. In the northern climates, the plants must be grown in pots and brought indoors before frost hits the foliage. In South Florida, we can grow bananas easily in the garden, but the usual result of contented bananas is that they grow to a nuisance size too quickly. This can be remedied ( as you would expect me to say by now), by choosing the right varieties !  

Musa ornata
a flowering type


Musa 'Aeae'
one of the most desired bananas

Musa balbisiana
grown for fiber and flowers


Musa coccinea
a flowering species


Musa 'Pitogo'
Ping Pong banana


Musella lasiocarpa
Himalayan Banana
 I cannot say that there is a Banana Society, but the Rare Fruit Council members will gladly inform you about different varieties. As with almost every type of plant, there are numerous varieties to be had, from dwarf to giant to unbelievable. Some of the more recent introductions are plants with full-sized bunches of fruit on a small plant, sometimes as short as 7 or 8 feet. There are types with colorful leaves, some with unusual fruit types, and even some varieties with burgundy or striped fruit. There is a neat variety called Ping Pong, and another called Buddha Hands. There are bananas for eating, cooking, flower arranging, and fiber production. There are a number of varieties used as cut-flowers, too. For almost any size garden or container, there are banana varieties for you.

In most every type and species, bananas need copious amounts of water and fertilizer while in active growth. Bananas don't seem to be fussy about what type of fertilizer they get, they just need lots of it, and enough water and mulch to keep them from wilting on hot days. In the ground in warm climates, it would be difficult to overwater and over-feed these plants. Many years ago, I heard a commercial banana grower say that he placed a 50 pound bag of fertilizer next to each clump of banana stem, then turn on the water for several hours each night. It would be safe to say that he had really robust plants !

Musa 'Goldfinger'
one of the better tasting varieties
(A James Bond banana? )



Musa zebrina
'Blood Banana'
a foliage type
   One of the comments I hear about this blog is that there are so many varieties available that making a choice is becoming difficult. To this comment I say  "GOOD !" I would much rather have too many choices than too few. It may indeed be too hard to make an easy choice for landscaping in South Florida, but I suggest that for northern gardeners, the idea of growing beautiful bananas in containers is a welcome respite from the same old foliage plants we see in big-box stores. People choose amongst hundreds of choices for building homes, decorating kitchens, and choosing paint and trim styles. With so much good advice available on the Internet and from plant societies, why should choosing plants for a landscape be so much more difficult ?

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens