Monthly Archives: March 2016

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Wordless Wednesday 3/30/16

White Calla on Black - mlm c @ 60

Glen Asked About Transplanting Bougainvillea

Our good friend, Glen, told me about recently moving his bougainvillea to a different spot in his yard where he thought it would be better suited. Glen says it’s not doing so well now. After questioning him about the process of the move, I think I found the answer to his problem. Glen did several things right, but he also did a couple of things wrong.

Bougainvillea - Becky's Purple - mlm c

This beautiful purple bougainvillea belongs to my neighbor, Becky. I enjoy seeing it out my back windows.

What He Did Right:

  • He found a sunny spot with good drainage — two very important things.
  • He pruned the plant a bit to make moving it easier.
  • He dug carefully to avoid damaging the root ball.

What He Did Wrong:

  • He dug up the plant before digging a hole in the new spot.
  • With no hole ready to receive the bougainvillea, he put it on the ground while digging the new hole.

A Common Mistake:

White - mlm cThere was another plant in the place where the bougainvillea was to go, so he dug up that plant and moved it to the place the bougainvillea came from. Then he planted the bougainvillea in the hole where the other plant had been. Meanwhile, the bougainvillea roots were exposed to the air. Not having the new planting hole ready and waiting is a common mistake. I even had a landscape worker in North Carolina do that to a large lantana. I was not a happy camper.

For a plant to be moved within the landscape, moved from a pot to the ground, or even re-potted, puts it into shock for a few days. The roots should be exposed to air for no more than a couple of minutes.

My Suggestions for Glen Were:

Keep the traumatized bougainvillea well watered while it recovers from the shock of being moved. Be sure it is in rich, acidic soil. It should recover soon, but will likely lose some leaves. There may also be some dead wood that needs to be removed.

When moving a plant, whether established, or newly planted, be sure to have the new hole prepared and ready to receive the plant, before digging it from its comfy home. If, like Glen, you need to move one plant in order to move another, dig up the first one and put it into a pot with good soil, or into a bucket of water until its new home is ready to receive it.

Hot Pink - zoomed mlm c@

This is the hot pink bougainvillea that once grew near our front door.

How and Where to Plant Your Bougainvillea

There is an expression among gardeners that, for any plant, a good rule of thumb is to dig a $50 hole for a $5 plant. You need a hole that is wide enough that you can easily rake soil into it around the root ball. For bougainvillea, the hole should be deep enough that the top of the root ball is just slightly above the surrounding soil level. This allows water to drain away, and prevents standing water at times of heavy rain.

Plant your bougainvillea close to a wall if you plan to let it climb a trellis. If you have space for these beauties to ramble, you can also plant them by a fence. To be on a trellis that is not against a wall, would require a very sturdy trellis, but it can be done. Those make great privacy screens. Also, there are some that have been trained and pruned to behave as if they were small ornamental trees. I have no experience with those, but it seems to me they would also require some maintenance pruning.

White - mlm c

This gorgeous white bougainvillea is one I saw in a garden shop. Of course, I snapped a photo. Notice the little touch of pink on that top bract?

If you are new to a warm or mild climate, and want bright, almost year-round color, and don’t mind the thorns, bougainvillea is for you. One other thing, you will need plenty of room for this aggressive, sprawling, vine to grow and show off for you.

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Wordless Wednesday 3-23-16

Zoomed on One - mlm c

Shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day

Today, everyone is Irish, so here are some shamrocks from my garden for you.

cropped-shamrock-leaves.jpg

In the spring and summer, shamrocks have a profusion of lovely white flowers.

Shamrock Flowers - mlm c@

Shamrocks are happiest in moist, but well-drained soil. They enjoy full sun. You can buy them almost anywhere that sells plants at this time of year. I bought mine at the grocery store several years ago, and they are dong well. They did suffer a bit from the freeze we had in February, but are coming back now.

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Wordless Wednesday 3-16-16

Purple Wetlands Flowers - mlm

Real Mulch vs. Rocks — Does it Matter?

One of the most frequent questions I get from neighbors is, “Why do you use pine straw for mulch instead of the rocks our landscaper encouraged us to use?”

Pine Straw - mlm cThe first thing to understand is that the sandy soil here is almost worthless, and needs to be amended with good top soil, cow or chicken manure, or compost, then covered with a good thick layer of a biodegradable mulch that will continually nourish your plants and trees, retain moisture, keep roots cool, and prevent weed seeds from getting enough sunlight to germinate.

The second thing to understand is that your landscaper wants your money — as much of it as possible. Rocks are far more expensive than good biodegradable mulch, and aside from being temporarily low-maintenance, there is nothing good rocks can or will do for your plants. Why do I say temporarily low-maintenance? Because they are rarely, if ever, put down in a thick enough layer to keep down weeds for very long.

So many people have asked me about this, I have lost count.  Every single one of those asking moved here from much colder climates where roots grow deep into the ground. Rocks are great in Colorado and Arizona, but not here. Unfortunately,  landscapers pushing rocks got to them before they learned about Southern landscaping or gardening.

“But almost all my neighbors bought rocks…”

It’s true, you do see a lot of planting beds around here covered with rocks instead of mulch — pretty rocks, ugly rocks, river rocks, lava rocks, and so on. 

The short and sweet answer to their question is: “Because, in the Deep South, where roots are shallow, rocks will damage your plants”.

The ugly truth is, in the southeastern part of the United States, rocks are a horrible choice to use instead of a true mulch. There is a longer and more detailed answer, but first, you should know that the best mulch you can use is pine straw, often called pine needles. This is especially true for plants that prefer acidic soil, such as azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, blueberry bushes, etc. The 2nd best is pine bark chips, often called “nuggets”.

Cypress Bark is Good, Too, But…

Cypress Bark - mlm c@Most people who have always lived and gardened in Florida use either pine straw or pine bark, but many use Cypress bark for its pretty reddish color.

Unfortunately, commercial producers of Cypress bark have come very close to eradicating those beautiful cypress trees. So, if you like the Cypress tress, please don’t buy cypress bark.

The Downside of Each:

It’s true that pine straw needs to be replenished at least once per year, sometimes twice per year. Mine is long past due. You can stretch it to last a year by doing what I call “fluffing” it periodically to expose the dark, rich, reddish-brown color, as the exposed side turns grey. I simply rake mine around a bit every so often. 

Bark chips will need to be replenished less often. On the other hand, bark chips have a tendency to wash out into your yard and onto your driveway during a hard rain. Also, and this is very important, if you have a frame house, DO NOT use wood chips or bark chips of any kind near the foundation of your home. You will be inviting termites.

The downside to rocks is that a) they will damage your expensive plants and trees and, b) they provide absolutely no nutrients to the soil.

If you insist on using rocks, at least use lava rocks. They are not as pretty, but they are porous, and, according to local master gardeners, not quite as bad for the plants.

If you like the Cypress tress, please don’t buy cypress bark.

Even though our community does not allow soliciting by local vendors, they come into the newer neighborhoods while the gates are up for construction crews, and sub-contractors. Within days of moving into our new home, a man rang our doorbell and proceeded to tell me how good his company was, and that he would remove “all that nasty pine straw and put in beautiful rocks”.  I quickly replied, “On, no you won’t!” His face gave away that he had never had quite that response before, and he went on to “educate” me on how bugs and other pests get into the pine straw. I couldn’t resist asking him, “Do you really believe bugs don’t get under the rocks? They are outdoors, after all…”   My husband came to the door and said, “Believe me, buddy, you don’t want this job!”

Think twice about buying palms from guys driving through your neighborhood, selling them off the back of a pick-up truck.

If you have recently relocated here, or to anywhere in the Deep South, please be aware:  This is a scam. Some of the rocks are pretty, especially the smooth river rocks. Others, not so much. I’m sure you have heard the old expression, “It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk today!”  Well, that is how hot those rocks get; and here’s proof:

Dead Azaleas - mlm c@

The photo above shows three small dead azaleas in a nearby neighborhood, and a crepe myrtle that needs to have it’s sucker growth removed at ground level — but that’s another topic for another blog post. The first azaleas installed there died during their first summer. They were replaced with more azaleas, which also died. They were replaced again with another plant that seems not to be suffering as much as those azaleas. That’s six dead azaleas, plus landscaper charges for removal and installation three times: a lot of money and beauty wasted due to the heat coming off those rocks.

Shallow Roots vs. Rocks

Azaleas, palms, and all tropical plants have very, very shallow root systems. In warm climates such as this, and throughout the South, all plants, even those that do well in cold climates, have shallower roots than the same plants in other locales. Here, most of the roots are within the top 6 inches of soil, many within the top one or two inches, except maybe for the ancient Live Oaks we cherish around here.

The photo below shows the roots of a young elephant ear plant lying on top of the ground. I raked back the pine straw to plant some coleus, and there they were, just lying there. I knew they would be shallow, but I never expected this:

Elephant Ear - Shallow Roots

The next photo shows where I was digging to plant some Creeping Jenny underneath a palm in our front yard. These roots were within the top half-inch of soil. They seem tiny and insignificant, right? Wrong. The largest roots on a palm are about as big around as the pinky finger on an average-sized man.

Shallow Roots of Queen Palm

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

What's Wrong - mlm c@

Oh, so many things. First, of course, is the rocks. Notice the root ball. Not only is it above ground level, it it also covered with rocks. Then the delicate, fibrous trunk is lying on rocks that get scorchingly hot in summer, and so very cold in our few nights of freezing or near-freezing temps. I’m sure the owner of this palm thinks it looks very tropical. Well it does, but this is not the tropical south. Yes, you will see low, curving palms such as this on the golf courses here, but take note:  they are planted in sand bunkers, or mulched with pine straw; and their root balls are NOT above ground. This is central Florida: the land of rolling hills and orange groves; horse country. Installing this type of planting here is similar to someone taking an Aspen from the Rockies and planting it in the low country of Georgia or South Carolina.

If you have a frame house, DO NOT use wood chips or bark chips of any kind near the foundation of your home.

New to This Area?

If you are new this area, before having any landscaping done, look around your neighborhood. You will see that your neighbors who have always lived in the Deep South (no farther north than Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia,  Mississippi, and parts of South Carolina) and, therefore, understand Southern gardening, are using either pine straw or bark chips for garden mulch.  If you are new to this area, please go to the plant clinics or seek the advice of a local master gardener. You will rarely see rocks used in place of mulch in other Southern states, but if you are in another of the Southern states, please consult your local extension service, master gardeners, or botanical gardens  before paying big bucks for this very poor mulch substitute.

My Cauliflower is Turning Pink

My cauliflower plants have grown from tiny seedlings to large plants with almost mature heads of delicious edible flowers. I’ve been watching and waiting for one to be ready to come into my kitchen. So imagine my surprise when I went to my tiny garden yesterday and found this:

Cauliflower Turning Pink - mlm c

The photo above was taken late in the afternoon using a flash, so the leaf colors may look a bit strange. The photo below, of a much younger plant, was taken in full sun, showing off the beautiful true green color. Notice thatI had to hold the leaves back in order to see the head. As the plants grow larger, the lowest leaves wither and fall away, while the uppermost ones open to expose the flower but, at this early stage, the leaves are tightly closed around the baby flower head.
Baby Caulliflower - mlm c

After finding that purplish-pink tint on my cauliflower, I did a bit of research, and learned that it is caused by the heads being exposed to the sun when the leaves begin to open. I learned that the upper leaves should be tied closed over the heads to shield them from the sun. It seemed to me that the leaves would slip out of any string or cord I could use, so I gathered the leaves around the heads, folded the largest ones over the tips of the others, and secured them with clothes pins. In the photo below, you can see a few of them with clothes pins clipped at the top. I think I may go ahead and clip off those lower leaves. They will make great compost. Here you can see a few brown leaves that I have clipped off and just dropped on the ground. That is really good for nourishing the garden soil, but it doesn’t make for pretty photos. Guess I’d better rake them away next time, huh?

Cauliflower with Clothes Pins - mlm c

I may go ahead and cut a couple of these guys, because I have snow pea seedlings that need to begin climbing the obelisk at the center of the garden.

Do you like cauliflower?  We have three favorite ways to eat it:

  1. Raw, dipped in light ranch dressing
  2. Steamed with just a bit of butter, salt, and pepper.
  3. Creamed, just as you would make creamed (mashed) potatoes. Some people call this South Beach potatoes.

I have learned that the pink tint may cause the cauliflower to have a bitter taste. I found nothing to indicate that it causes the vegetable to be harmful. Next time, I will know to keep the heads shielded from the sun.

UPDATE:  As it turned out, I injured my ankle, 2 days after publishing this blog post, so I did very little gardening for several months.  At the time, the cauliflower heads seemed small to me, so I was content to ignore them for a couple of weeks while nursing that ankle. When I was able to check on them, they had bolted; i.e., gone to seed. So I composted them. I guess I’ll have to try again later.