Monthly Archives: September 2014

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom?

Amy N. told me about her hydrangea with lots of beautiful deep green leaves, and nothing else. Not a single flower. Nada. “Why won’t my hydrangea bloom?” she asked. I had a mental picture similar to the one below:

Hydrangea Leaves 2

After questioning her, and establishing that it gets the proper amount of shade vs. sun, is in good soil, and was covered during our last cold spell, I asked when she last pruned it. She had pruned it in the spring.

I suspect that is the problem, or at least part of the problem. Because the huge blossoms grow only on new growth, springtime pruning removes the flower buds that may not even be visible yet. Simultaneously, late winter pruning of old wood may cause the same problem because it is the old wood that carries the new stem and leaf buds from which the flower buds will emerge.

After asking if it is likely to outgrow it’s available space, and learning it has plenty of room to grow quite large, I suggested she not prune it at all. Of course, she may want a few blossoms to put into a vase in her home. After it blooms, she will need to remove any spent flowers in the late summer or fall. Removing spent blooms encourages more flowering.

I like to cut hydrangea flowers for indoor arrangements. Cut them when the flowers are at their peak, and they will last for weeks. They won’t wilt as most cut flowers do. Instead, they will gradually dry out, and make great dried flowers, too. The photo below is of some white Annabelles I grew in my yard in Alabama.

White Annabelles turn a lovely sage green as they dry.

White Annabelles turn a lovely sage green as they dry. This dried flower arrangement lasted about 6 months.

Another possibility for the lack of flowers could be too much nitrogen. Amy top-dressed her hydrangea with Black Kow. Composted cow manure has lots of nutrients, but is typically low in nitrogen, so that’s not likely to be the problem. It could be that any other fertilizer or plant food she may have used, or that may have been used on the lawn near the hydrange is too high in nitrogen for flowering shrubs.

Remember “NPK” the letters that are represented by the numbers on fertilizer bags? NPK stands for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium(K); and the numbers will always appear in that order. The numbers indicate the percentage of each nutrient that is present in the bag. Nitrogen produces very green grass, as well as more leaves and top growth on plants. Phosphorous produces more flowers and fruit, and strengthens root development. Potassium produces strong healthy plants.

A fertilizer numbered 26-3-3, or any combination with a larger amount of nitrogen is a good fertilizer for turf grass, but NOT for flowering plants. For flowers and flowering shrubs a fertilizer with a higher middle number (phosphorus) is needed.  Some examples of this are 15-30-15 and 5-30-5.

With tomatoes, too much nitrogen will produce lots of pretty leaves, but a less than normal amount of fruit. I suspect that is what’s going on with Amy’s hydrangeas.


White Lacecap and Purple Annabelle Hydrangea

Pink Annabelle Hydrangea

These pink Annabelle Hydrangea are beginning to change color because I’ve been sprinkling used coffee grounds around them. The more acidic the soil, the bluer they become.

What are Some Sun-Loving Flowers to Plant Here in Zone 9-A?

At a neighborhood gathering, Ginger T. described her problems with planting flowers in her new yard, saying that soon after being planted, they died. She wants bright, colorful flowers in her yard, and asked what to do, and what flowers will do well here.

Gerbera Daisy

Pink Gerbera - mlm c@

Gerbera Daisy, often mis-pronounced as “Gerber” Daisy, is one of my favorite perennials. It is available in many beautiful colors. I have them in red and yellow. This photo I took in the florist section of my local grocery store a few years ago. When we put our former home on the market, I blew this photo up to 8 x 10, framed it, and put it on the wall. Most of our paintings, and my artwork were already on the walls in our new home.

Tulip Ginger

Another perennial I recommend for this area (and not just because of my friend’s name) is a variety of ginger called Siam Tulip (Curcuma alismatifolia).  Below are some photos of those in my yard. This is NOT an edible type of the popular plant.

Ginger - Siam Tulip 2 MMP2

These beauties multiply like crazy, making them an excellent investment in your landscape. Last summer I bought 5 pots of these; there were 3 plants in each pot, which I planted without dividing. Now each of those has multiplied into clumps of about a dozen. This fall I plan to divide them and spread them across a larger area of my garden.

Ginger - Siam Tulip 1 MMP2

Recently, I needed a last minute centerpiece for a casual birthday dinner party. Last minute because I forgot to arrange for one. I cut some of these beautiful flowers and a few pieces of white vinca, put them into a small crystal bowl, and voila, a lovely centerpiece that drew lots of comments. That was on August 29, and that arrangement was still beautiful on September 3. The vinca still looks as if it had just been cut.

Ginger - Siam Tulip Bouquet


Another long-blooming and sun tolerant flower that I highly recommend is lantana, a member of the verbena family. It is drought-tolerant and comes in many colors, both solid and variegated.

Lantana is sold with flowers at garden centers everywhere, but I think of it as a flowering shrub. This is because it can grow to about 3-4 feet wide and about 2 feet tall, but mostly because its stems become woody.

This pink and yellow one grows in our front yard. In the backyard, I have a red-orange-yellow variety. As you can see, the leaves are a beautiful deep green that add depth and texture to the garden even when between blooming cycles.

Lantana - mlm c @

I snapped this photo of purple lantana at Colony Plaza shopping center recently. It will need a haircut soon. Unfortunately, the grounds crews rush by with gas-powered shears and chop it off into little box-shapes. This plant grows too large for some of the small spaces they have planted it around most of the shopping areas here.

Lantana - purple

If you live in Florida or any tropical area, be sure to get your lantana from a nursery or garden center, as Florida has a wild lantana that is very invasive. Lantana from a garden center is NOT invasive. Instead, it will grow into a spreading mound. Mine has grown from about 6 inches across to about 2 and 1/2 feet across, and about 18 inches high. If lantana spreads to cover an area larger than you want, it can be clipped back. Please resist the urge to shear it off all at once. Instead, clip individual stems, preferably at a joint. To maintain the natural appearance of the overall plant, clip some stems shorter than others.


Some annual bedding plants I recommended to Ginger were petunias, vinca (shown here), and marigolds, as these prefer full sun. These are normally thought of as annuals, but here in central Florida, petunias often survive our mild winters. My waxed begonias survived the winter here and even in North Carolina (Zone 7), but they did not survive the summer sun here. They need protection from harsh afternoon sun. Last summer mealybugs killed my hot pink vinca, so I don’t know whether it would have survived the winter or not. So far, this year, the vinca in the photo is still going strong. We’ll see how it “weathers” the winter.

Vinca - Hot Pink2 - mlm c @


One of many perennials that love the sun, but also do well in partial shade, is the daylily. Here are two of mine.

Orange Double - mlm c @

Yellow with Bud - mlm c@

Perennials are a bit more expensive but multiply each year.  My daylilies never completely died down here in Florida or in Alabama (Zone 7).  Because they multiply rapidly, daylilies, like most perennials, are a good investment, unlike most annuals which will need to be replaced year after year — unless they re-seed themselves, of course. As far north as Charoltte, North Carolina, my lantana had to be cut back each fall and heavily mulched, but it returned every spring. Here, it survived even our colder than average winter last season (2014-15).

The sun is intense, not only here in central Florida (Zone 9-A), but throughout the South. If you have no shade in your yard, or if the place where you want to put your flowers is in the sun,  it is best to plant those flowers in the late afternoon or even just before dark. This is because the planting process is traumatic for the plant. Planting them when the sun is not bearing down on them gives them time to adjust to their new home, and to recuperate overnight. They will need special attention and frequent watering until they become established. After that, water them only when they are not getting enough rain.


What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?

Gina McG. texted me this photo and asked, “What’s Wrong with My Tomatoes?”

I texted back:  “This looks like to much water, which is a common problem, especially with all the rain we’ve had. Thank goodness we only get stretch marks when we grow too fast!”

Gina replied that she was growing her tomatoes in containers inside her screened-in lanai.  Below, I have elaborated on the information I gave her.

Gina's Mater

At the time this photo was taken, we had had more than our fair share of rain. Too much water causes rapid growth for many plants. The tomatoes were growing faster than their skins could stretch, which caused the skins to split open.

If the splits are very recent, and are not too large, you can simply cut away the exposed portion of the tomato, and eat the remainder.  If you have been away for a few days, and the problem has gone unnoticed,  pests and/or disease could have infiltrated most or all of the tomato. In that case, simply toss it — preferably into your compost bin. From what I can see in this photo, I believe the top half of this one should be trashed. Maybe all of it, but I wouldn’t know for sure without cutting into it and seeing the inside.

Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about too much rain on our gardens. On the other hand, if you are growing your ‘maters in containers, simply take them into a covered area whenever they have had too much rain.

During extremely hot weather, container-grown plants will need more water than those planted in the ground. A good way to monitor moisture is to put your finger into the soil. If the top inch is dry, add some water. Use a saucer to catch the water that drains out of the bottom of the container. The plant will soak up water from the saucer, BUT be sure to pour off any water that remains in the saucer after about 30 minutes has passed, as most plants don’t like wet feet (aka, roots).