Monthly Archives: July 2015

My Aggies Have Gone to Seed – I Miss Them Already



I’m missing my Aggies already. My Lily of the Nile, also known as African Blue Lily, but often affectionately called “Aggies” due to their botanical name Agapanthus africanus, have come and gone. We had summer-like temperatures early this spring, so they bloomed earlier than usual around here. They also seemed to last longer — what a pleasant surprise. I always hate to see them go.

These beauties live up to their name which comes from the Greek words “agape,” meaning unconditional, sacrificial love (such as that between parent and child) and “anthus,” meaning flower. They bloom in clusters of small blue, violet-blue, or white flowers that look like tiny lilies. Those clusters are completely round, globe shapes, called “umbels”, that can a have anywhere from 30 to 100 tiny flowers. Mine typically have about 80 – 100. These plants perform best in Zones 8 – 11. However, I grew them successfully in Charlotte, NC, USA, which is in Zone 7. Although they did not multiply as rapidly there as they do here in Zone 9-A, they did multiply and thrive, coming back each spring, year after year.

Their Needs:


Aggies need plenty of direct sunlight. Plant in partial shade or filtered light only if you live in intense heat. I have seen them growing in full-sun in commercially planted areas here, and they appear to be thriving. We have summer temps in the mid- and high-nineties, so mine are planted where they get direct sunlight from early morning until around 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. The house shades them from the harsh afternoon sun.


They prefer rich, well-drained slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7.5. Plant them no deeper than they were planted in the container they came in when you bought them. Plant them about 8 to 10 inches apart. I began with two plants that I bought at Lowe’s. They have multiplied like crazy. I now have enough to move some to other parts of our yard. This photo shows just a few of them.


The Seeds Are Easy to Collect

Aggie Seeds - mlm c

The upside of their going this year is that I got lots of seed from them to spread around my yard. These seed pods are still green. When they are ripe, they will be light brown, and will split open along the folds to reveal small elongated black seeds. I have already sown some new seed for next year.

Aggie Seeds & Pods - mlm c

These are some of the dried seeds and seed pods.  Although they are tiny, the individual seeds are quite large compared to some seeds such as those little specks produced by petunias and lettuces. As can be seen here, the pods will split open and drop their seed on the ground around the existing plants. I prefer to harvest the unopened pods so that I don’t lose any of the seeds. Be sure to keep your seeds in a cool, dark place until you are ready to plant them.

Beautiful Evergreen Foliage

As they begin to die down for the season, the tips of the deep green strap-like leaves will begin to turn brown. In a month or so, new green leaves will emerge, and, in mild climates, will stay all winter. In North Carolina, mine died down in winter but emerged in very early spring.

Lily of Nile Leaves - mlm c

My Aggies are gone for this year, but I know they’ll be back next year, nodding their heads in the breeze.

Rain Just Won’t Go Away

Rain Guage - site

We’re still in the middle of Florida’s rainy season. For days, it rained buckets every afternoon, and most evenings. On the day this post was originally written, we had 8/10 (0.8) inch by midday. The next day we had 2.2 inches.  Since then, we had 2 days without rain. Then, on Friday, August 7,  we had a half-inch in less than a half-hour. That’s a hard rain, folks. More came that evening, and even more on Saturday. So far, no rain today — at least not in my neighborhood. Earlier this week, my yard and garden  had just begun to dry out a bit, and now are are soggy and mushy again. I keep reminding myself that, a couple of months ago, we were desperate for rain, so we should be thankful.

Herbs are mostly from the arid regions of the world, so they are drought-tolerant. Of course, it follows that they really don’t care for a lot of water. To date, my other herbs are doing fine. I have already lost my parsley plant, and my squash leaves are turning yellow — a sure sign of too much water. The tomatoes seem to appreciate the rain, but they are growing so fast the skins are splitting. I have some rooted cuttings of coleus I would like to get in the ground, and some volunteer vinca I would like to relocate, but it’s definitely too wet to dig. I just can’t seem to win this summer.

One Good Thing – The Residential Areas Here Have Never Flooded

In Full Pond at Mallory

This is one of the larger water hazards on one of the championship golf courses. Those Washingtonian Palms Should not be in the water, and they normally aren’t. The False Cypress on the far right will be okay in the water but they were planted on the banks of this pond. If they stay in water they will develop “knees” just as Cypress trees do.

One good thing about living in this very well-planned community is that all the lakes and ponds (mostly golf course water hazards) are connected underground. When the ponds get too full, the sprinklers are turned on to draw water out of the ponds and give it a chance to soak into the ground, sand traps and all. This means this community has never flooded, and may never flood. Even when much of central Florida was under water the summer of 2012, and again last week, we had no problems.

Mushrooms, Mushrooms, Everywhere!

Mushroom EnlargedThere are mushrooms everywhere. Here’s half of a fairy ring. They look so innocent, but they’re deadly. They are also interesting to me because of the unique shapes and patterns they have.


Mushroom Underside - mlm c @Each day I go out to pour off the excess water that has collected in my few container plants — sometimes twice a day. They have drainage holes, of course, and saucers, but these days the saucers are overflowing.  Even my container-planted lemon tree has little mushrooms growing on top of its soil. Over the last few days, I have measured a total of 3.8 inches. We are most thankful for the free water, but enough already!!


Gardens Grow Even When the Gardener is Away

Basil - picked - mlm c

This is a lot of basil.

Whether you are at home or away, your garden keeps growing. On Monday evening, I returned from a wonderful visit with my daughter. Even though I was gone less than a week, I could see a lot of growth in my tiny garden. The basil had grown far too tall — one stem was trying to bolt, so I immediately pinched off that flower bud. The rosemary is getting tall, too. It will soon need trimming. My spaghetti squash plant had produced a new baby squash.

The next morning, I cut back the basil. The above photo shows how much I got from only 3 plants. This container is one of those buckets that you put ice into for keeping bottled and canned drinks cold during a party or cookout. It was running over with basil. That’s a lot of basil.

Normally, I wouldn’t cut more than 3 inches or so from any herb plant at any one time. This basil was so very overgrown, I decided to go ahead and remove a lot more than that. I don’t recommend doing that on a routine basis, because it really isn’t good for the plant. I had planned to begin a new painting today, but it looks  like I’m going to be busy drying and grinding basil this week. On the other hand, it will keep. I need to paint.

Pests on Basil

Basil with Worm - mlm c

The spaghetti squash and zucchini had trails of slug slime on the leaves, but no damage I could find. One of the basil leaves that I cut and brought into the house had this worm on it. It’s the same pest that was on Gina’s basil. Fortunately, this one was already dead from the insecticidal soap I had sprayed the evening I arrived home. Yeah, that black spot is what you think it is — he left me a little present, just like my dog does.

The Mandevilla Grew Rapidly While I Was Away

Two years ago, I planted a mandevilla on the screened end of our lanai, with the hope that it would someday provide privacy to that room. It quickly outgrew the small trellis I had chosen. The following summer, it was attacked by mealy bugs which nearly destroyed it. When it recovered, it grew at the top of the trellis, but didn’t put out new leaves on the lower part. The top part got longer and longer while simultaneously becoming top heavy.

Mandevilla on Trellis - mlm c

It became apparent that that trellis had to be replaced. We installed one of the ones you see in this photo, and I quickly saw I would soon need two more, one on each side of the first one. Those two were installed about three weeks ago (the one in this photo is one of them) but most of the vines were not quite long enough to stay wrapped around the trellis bars. Well, they are now!

When I returned from my trip I was amazed at how much they had grown. So I have now spent a lot of time on a step-stool untangling those high-up vines. It was like separating strands of cooked spaghetti. It looks so much better now, and I know that with the air being able to get to those formerly crowded vines, they will truly blossom. Pun intended.

Here’s a close-up view of one of those gorgeous flowers. It’s a new one that just opened. Notice how much lighter the pink color is when the flower first opens. In the photo above, you can see the difference between the older flowers and the newer ones.

Mandevilla - New Bloom - mlm c

Bracelet Fun

I finally finished that bracelet I was working on during my trip. There’s a close up photo of it on my last blog post. It’s at the top right in this photo. Except for the five-strand one designed by my daughter, these are my designs. She has far more intricate designs in her Etsy shop. Here’s the link: Designs by LolaBelle.

Bracelets I Made

I used to make prayer beads and pocket rosaries, along with the occasional bracelet, but am out of practice. I don’t have the grip I once had, and my vision isn’t what it once was. That made this tedious work more difficult. Without her help, I probably wouldn’t have finished these. Maybe I should stick to gardening, writing, and painting. Here are the bracelets I made — my favorites are the top two. The tiny green and white one is for our youngest granddaughter’s 5th birthday. It’s made of Swarovski crystals and pearls.  Okay, it’s time to get back to gardening. No, I’m going to paint. I plan to do a painting of the pink double hibiscus outside our back door. I think I will get something to eat first, though.


Visiting My Daughter, Planting Flowers, Making Jewelry, Teaching Her to Knit

Flower Photo

I left home last Wednesday to visit my lovely daughter. We have been staying up late talking and laughing, going out to lunch, and visiting lots of really neat little shops.

She wanted to brighten up the front entrance to her home. She lives in a Williamsburg-style townhouse with no yard, and only a tiny front porch. So we have some waxed begonia cuttings that we will put in a pot for her porch. Here they are on the right. These flowers are shade-lovers, and she has the perfect place to put them.

Bracelet I Made

We’ve also been making jewelry, going to Starbucks, of course, and just catching up with each other. I am so blessed to have such a close wonderful relationship with my daughter.

I’m making a bracelet like this one today, with her help, of course. You can see it on her Etsy shop. Here’s the link: Designs By LolaBelle.

We’re Knitting, Too!

She wanted to learn to knit, so while I’m here, I’m getting started on teaching her to knit. I had forgotten how frustrating the early stages of learning to knit can be for a beginner. She wouldn’t let me make a photo of her efforts at learning to knit. I understand completely — I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see my first efforts, either.

Lola on Chair Back TA

As always, I have enjoyed visiting my granddog, LolaBelle. I often call her Miss Belle. Here she is.

I’ll be home and back to gardening and garden writing in a few days. “See” you then.

Palms: When to Prune? When Not to Prune?

Palm with Brown Leaf Ready to Be Removed

Palm with Brown Leaf Ready to Be Removed

Above is a photo of one of my Queen Palms with a leaf that has turned completely brown, and is ready to be removed. The key word here is “completely”.

The photo below shows the top of the same Queen Palm with a new leaf spear which is just beginning to unfurl:

Queen - New Leaf

Generally speaking, remove brown leaves, but not yellow leaves — and ONLY with a clean blade. If you prune your own palms, as we do — I mean as my husband does — be sure to sterilize the saw blade before taking it from one palm to another. Why? Because, if one of your palms is diseased, the saw blade will take the disease to all your other palms.

What if Your Landscaper or Yard Maintenance Man Refuses?

There are a lot of guys all over this country making a living with a pick-up truck and a lawn mower. That does not mean they know much about plants. Your lawn maintenance man may tell you he doesn’t have time to do this, or that it’s not necessary to clean the blade. If that happens, please DO NOT let him prune your palms. Either find someone else or do it yourself. It takes only a few minutes.

How to Clean the Blade?

  • Rub with a solution of 70% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and 30% water, OR
  • Soak in a 50-50 mixture of chlorine bleach and clean water for 15 minutes.  The problem with this is the blade may to rust.

Pruning of palms should be done very carefully, and only when the leaves are completely brown. If you’ve ever grown daffodils or tulips, you will remember that after blooming has finished, the green leaves are not to be cut until they have completely turned brown, because the bulb needs to take nutrients from those leaves. As the nutrients are absorbed by the bulb, they turn yellow, then brown. The same is true with palms. If the yellow leaves are removed before turning brown, the palm will begin drawing nutrients from the next tier of leaves, causing them to turn yellow. If yellow leaves are left until they have turned brown, the leaves above will remain green. Eventually, though the palm will need to draw nutrients again, and the process will repeat itself.

Some palms, such as Sylvesters, get several new leaves at once, creating a whole new tier of leaves. Similarly, they entire lowest tier usually begins yellowing at the same time. Others, such as Queens, get only one, occasionally two, new leaves at a time. When the leaves of a Queen Palm have reached the end of their lives, they turn yellow, then brown, at about the same rate as the new leaves emerge.

Your first instinct may be to remove those yellow leaves. Please don’t follow that instinct. The palm is busy drawing nutrients from that tier of yellow leaves. If they are removed, the palm will begin drawing from the next tier, and those leaves will begin turning yellow. Be sure to allow the yellow leaves to remain untouched until they have turned completely brown. Then, and only then, should they be removed. According to the local master gardeners, brown is a color, too. They say we should leave them alone, and that, when they are ready to fall off, they will.

What if Half the Leaves Are Turning Yellow?

Around our neighborhood, you will see some palms, especially Sylvesters, whose lower tier of leaves has turned yellow. This is okay. On the other hand, if you have a Sylvester with half or more of its leaves turning yellow, this is most likely a mineral deficiency.

How Many Tiers of Leaves Should Be Removed?

Sylvester 9 - 3 - mlm c

If you can picture the face of a clock (not a digital clock), draw an imaginary horizontal line from 9:00 to 3:00. The leaves of your palm should cover the area above that line. It’s okay if they hang below that line, but it is not good if they don’t cover the area above the line, as in the photo below.

Sylvester - Severely Pruned 9 - 3 - mlm c


This Sylvester appears to have been given a Mohawk haircut. The poor palm is probably embarrassed.






What About Hurricane Cuts?

Shouldn’t we do that in preparation for severe weather?

Palms Folding in Wind

The Short Answer:  No. Don’t do it – EVER.

The Long Answer:   In high winds, the leaves of palms will fold upward, protecting the newest leaf buds, as shown in this photo. I paused my TV and snapped a shot of the screen with my phone. This is a perfect example of how the leaves fold upward.  Most of these palms have folded up — the others are working on it.

Hurricane-strength winds and even some straight-line winds will will rip off the bottom tier of leaves, which is the outer layer of leaves when they have folded up as shown above. If all but the top few leaves have already been removed by severe pruning, the winds will remove the remaining leaves. If the green leaf-bud, left unprotected at the center is torn off, the palm will die. It may take a while, but it will happen.

Newly Installed Cabbage & Washingtonian Palms:

Newly Installed Cabbage - mlm c

In areas of new construction, you can see newly installed Cabbage (sabal) Palms and Washingtonians. Most are delivered with their leaves completely removed, and only a few stalks, with the new leaf-bud in the center, sticking up at the top, as shown in this photo of a Cabbage palm. I’m not sure why they do this, except that it must make them easier to handle.


Yard Man's Hurricane Cut - mlm c

These Cabbage palms were installed about 18 months ago. The one inside the circle is growing out from the severe cut it had when delivered. The hurricane cut that is done by yard maintenance crews would take your palm back to this stage. Any high winds would then remove the lower tier of leaves, leaving only a very few, if any, at the top.

If left un-pruned prior to a storm, your palms are far more likely to lose only those leaves that are ready or near-ready to fall off anyway. The younger, stronger leaves will fold upward as in the weather photo above and protect the newest leaves.



What’s Eating My Basil?

Gina's Basil copyrighted

My friend and neighbor, Gina, texted me some photos of her basil leaves this week. Unfortunately, the first one didn’t come in right away, so I saw only the 2nd and 3rd ones until just now. The above photo (the 2nd one to arrive) shows leaves with holes in them. The 3rd photo, below, shows a worm or caterpillar on a basil leaf. Here’s that little critter:

Gina's Basil Worm copyrighted

My Suggestion: insecticidal soap

Insecticidal Soap

GardenSafe is the brand I use, and is the same photo I texted back to Gina. Normally, I use Neem Oil because it doesn’t wash off  with rain, but this time of year it is so hot around here, the oil melts and slides right off the plants. Both of these products are safe to use on vegetable plans as well as flowers. I insist on organic gardening in my kitchen garden, and these products are perfect for that. The only down-side of the soap is that, after a rain, you will need to spray again. I got this insecticidal soap at Lowe’s, and my Neem Oil at Ace Hardware, but most any good garden center should have them.

Because I missed that first photo — it was late arriving in my in-box —  I didn’t see the whitish squiggly things that Gina mentioned, and told her it was probably mealy bugs. Now that I have seen it, I see I was wrong. The squiggles she mentioned appear to be trails left behind by slugs. For more information see my April 20, 2015, post entitled, Amy Asks What to Do About Snails.

Something weird is going on in cyberspace yet again:  I emailed all the photos to myself to get them on the computer, and again, the same one is the only one that hasn’t shown up yet. Those white squiggles Gina mentioned can be seen in the top photo above on part of a leaf showing out from the main one with holes in it. Looks like slug trails to me.