Guest Post on Tulips From FTD

Today I have a guest post from Alexandria Heinz at FTD’s beautiful blog. It seems she saw my Wordless Wednesday photos of tulips, and found them to be gorgeous. Thank you, Alexandria.

Here’s Alexandria’s intro, followed by a brief excerpt from the FTD blog:

Did you know there are over 3,000 varieties of tulips? As one of spring’s most colorful flowers, it’s easy to see why they are one of the most popular flowers in the world. Since there are so many types of tulips, FTD created this handy guide that features the 14 main groups, along with a list of their most distinctive characteristics so that you can easily identify your favorite types. From the classic single early tulip to the exotic parrot tulip, your bound to find a few of your favorites featured below along with new tulips that you’ve never seen before!

 

From Alexandria and the FTD Blog:

Spring has sprung, and that means the tulip is showcasing her spectacular beauty. Tulips belong to the lily family, and are native to Eurasia and North Africa. Tulipa grow cultivated and in the wild, and are highly favored additions to gardens. Some of the more popular types of tulips include:

  • Single tulips
  • Double tulips
  • Parrot tulips
  • Darwin Hybrid tulips
  • Triumph tulips

While a perennial, many gardeners grow tulips as annuals since it can be a challenge to get a repeat performance in the second and third year. Depending on the variety, their brightly colored flowers are single or double and shaped like a bell, cup, or lily.

Different types of tulips also have different bloom times, which are divided into early spring (typically mid-March to late April), mid-spring (early to mid-May), and late spring (mid- to late May). In their peak season, they make stunning arrangements that can range from simple and classic to exotic.

There are 3,000 registered tulip varieties with striking differences, so we’ve outlined the characteristics of the 14 groups, so you can choose the best variety for your garden. We also created a handy guide to help you visualize the characteristics of these different kinds of tulips. To read more about the types of tulips and see lovely photos, just click right here.

 

 

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! In honor of Earth Month in April each year, our local unit of United Methodist Women had a plant exchange at our April unit meeting.

Each woman was asked to take a plant or a cutting of a plant from her yard to the meeting. At the meeting each woman who wanted a new plant could choose one or more of the plants there. All gardeners love to share plants. I took three and picked three. Even if someone didn’t take a plant, she could still take one.

The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church call for us to care for and protect the planet that God provided for us to live. This requires us to be ecologically responsible. So consider not using styrofoam cups, using your own reusable bags for groceries, and buying locally grown produce. There are many other ways to protect our planet, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

 

Garden Bloggers Featured on Wayfair.com

I was recently asked by Wayfair.com to contribute a photo of my favorite planter, and to answer some questions related to container gardening  for their section on garden planters. Of course, I was thrilled to be among the garden bloggers invited. Here’s my photo that’s featured on their site:

The section of garden bloggers tips on container gardening went live today on Wayfair.com. Click right here to see it.

 

The planter in the photo was given to me for my birthday a year or so ago by my dear friend, Becky Witherby. She had put a red bromeliad in it. I had put that bromeliad in the ground in my back yard garden only a few days before Wayfair’s invitation arrived in my inbox. Perfect timing, as I then had an empty planter. I’m now waiting with baited breath for the bromeliad to bloom again.

I love the gorgeous blue of this planter. Becky made a great choice. Thank you again, Becky.

Wayfair provided this clip from their site for all of us to add to our blogs. If you enjoy container gardening, you may find it useful:

 

Walter Asks About Options for Flower Boxes Mostly in Shade

SunPatiens – hot pink

I received this question from Walter, an old friend from my high school years:

I’d like your opinion on the best flowers to put in my boxes on the porch this summer. I have flower boxes that I put on my porch rails that are about 3′ long and 5″ deep. They will get full morning sun for about 3 1/2 – 4 hours then total shade the remainder of the day.

I had impatiens in them last year and they did well for a while but began to fizzle out in July. I know they don’t like the sun a lo but I didn’t think that much would hurt them. Anyway I wondered if you had any ideas.”

I replied to Walter right away by e-mail, but I’ve just now had time to turn his great question into a blog post. So, here are my suggestions:

Off the top of my head, impatiens do seem like the best choice for planter boxes that get mostly shade. It was probably the intense summer heat that caused them to fizzle out last summer. Impatiens, petunias, and vinca tend to get long and leggy during the hottest part of the summer. I have found that, when they become leggy, cutting them back severely will encourage new growth, and helps them to bush out more. I haven’t had good luck with regular impatiens here in central Florida, probably because I have very little shade, but I’m creating shade as fast as I can. With my lack of shade, I have used SunPatiens (a brand name of sun-tolerant impatiens) and vinca instead, so I don’t have any photos of regular impatiens.  Below are some photos of leggy vinca, showing how beautifully they  recover from severe pruning of the “legginess”. The same effect can be obtained with impatiens.

Near the base of this leggy plant is a lot of new growth that can’t be seen in this photo. That new growth will be encouraged by removing those long, bare stems.

Below is some vinca that I cut back a few months ago. It filled out quickly, and looks better than it did before:

This white vinca in my backyard night garden has filled in beautifully after being cut back when it got leggy.

Another Shade Lover – Waxed Begonias

These waxed begonias would be a beautiful option for your planter boxes. They can take morning sun, but need to be shaded from the afternoon sun. They are available in this darker pink, a lighter pink, white, and red. There is also some variety in the colors of their heart-shaped leaves.

Waxed begonias have either these dark-colored leaves or a lighter, true green. Both are complimentary to your garden.

 

One More Shade Lover – Caladiums

Another good choice for an area of mostly shade like you described is caladiums. There are some newer varieties of caladiums that can take more sun than the older varieties. Below are some photos of my caladiums that can tolerate partial sun are Red Flash, Gingerland, and Florida Sunrise.

Red Flash

Florida Sunrise

Gingerland

These three caladium cultivars perform beautifully. You could combine them with impatiens for a little variety; and when your impatiens get leggy, the caladium leaves will act as a type of camouflage.

Caladiums in Winter

North of Zone 9, be sure to dig up your caladiums before the first freeze. Wash the bulbs to remove all soil. Lay them out to dry, then store them in a cool, dry, and dark place. A cardboard box or vented or net bag in your basement should be perfect. Replant them the following spring after all danger of freezing temperatures has passed.

A Substitute for Impatiens

Another option is vinca, which likes full sun, but does well in part shade, too — and it comes in lots of colors, just like impatiens. Here are some photos of vinca:

Vinca – hot pink with white center

Vinca – White

Vinca – Peppermint

Walter, be sure to let me know how the flowers in your planter boxes do this summer. See you in the garden.

Sharon Asks About Pruning Her Crepe Myrtle

Sharon F. recently read my article on HubPages, entitled “Proper Pruning of Crepe Myrtles” and e-mailed me about her myrtle. Here’s Sharon’s question:  “My Crepe Myrtle is getting too large (both tall and wide) for the space where it was planted. How would you approach shaping this lovely tree?”

So many people butcher their myrtles. I feel sick every time I see one lopped off with nothing but chopped off trunks sticking up. They may as well go ahead and cut it down, and let it start over from the ground up. So I was really glad to receive this question.  Here’s my reply, minus the small talk of thanking her for the question and for reading my article, etc:

First, do a little routine maintenance:  Remove any dead wood and any branches that are growing back toward the center of the tree — this will allow air to move freely between the branches, and will help to maintain a healthy tree. (This is true for any tree.) Also, if you have two branches that rub against each other, one of them will need to be removed.

For controlling the width of the canopy:  If it has a large spreading canopy, I would first remove the lowest branches at the point where they emerge from the main trunk, taking care to make a clean, smooth cut. Then, to reduce the overall width, remove the ends of the branches around the circumference of the canopy, but again, remove them at a joint in order not to spoil the natural appearance of the overall shape of the tree.

For controlling the height of the tree:  Choose the tallest branches, and remove each one at the point where it grows out from its supporting branch. After you have done this, if the tree is still too tall, repeat the process, always taking care to cut at a joint, so as not to leave a branch that is just lopped off.

I also offered that if Sharon needs more info, to please send me a photo of her  myrtle, so I can offer advice more specific to her particular myrtle.  If you have a problem with your crepe myrtles or any of your plants, drop me a line. Include a photo when you can. If you have a question or comment related to crepe myrtles or pruning in general, just leave a comment below. For questions or comments on a different topic, please click on the “Contact Me” tab above to send an e-mail message.

 

 

Great Ground Covers for Sun or Shade

Healthy ground covers add color, keep down weeds, and help to prevent erosion. For areas where turf grass refuses to grow, or a bank that is too steep to mow safely, ground covers are your best alternative.

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Ground covers have an upside and a downside. The upside: most spread quickly, so they are great at filling in those bare spots. The downside: they spread quickly, and can become invasive. Some are more invasive than others. I will mention invasiveness on the ones listed here that are particularly invasive.

Most of my gardening experience has been in Alabama and North Carolina —  both areas where we lived are in USDA Zone 7. The ground covers featured here will grow all over the southeastern U.S. with the exception wild violets which do not do well in the tropical south. They seem to be very happy here in central Florida (Zone 9). I am not sure where else they will grow, but you know your area. I can tell you that, in the southeast, they grow beautifully, and will help to keep down weeds.

Ground covers add interest to the garden, and many have lovely flowers. I enjoy the contrast of the yellow-green, blue-greens, true greens, and even purples of the various ground cover foliage. If you don’t mulch heavily or plant ground covers in those areas where nothing else will grow, Mother Nature’s ground covers will take over. “Nature’s ground cover” is just another name for weeds. Here are some of my favorite ground covers:

Pinto Peanut

I don’t recommend this one, but it is so pretty, I had to mention it. 

The good news:  Pinto Peanut (Arachis pinto) is a great plant to use for adding nitrogen to the soil. It forms a mat that suffocates weeds, and the little yellow flowers are very pretty, resembling the flowers of peas. It is used in our community in some of the common areas and is beautiful. There are no true peanuts, and it is most highly recommended as a pasture plant for grazing and foraging.

The bad news:   this plant is highly invasive. Once the roots become established in the soil, they are very stubborn. It is slow to become established, but difficult to eradicate. The Pinto peanuts that are nearest to my yard are about two miles away, yet I occasionally find tiny seedlings of it in my flower beds. I quickly pull them out.

If you own acreage or pasture land, you may want to use Pinto peanut. If you have a suburban lot, you may want to take a pass on this one. You don’t want your neighbors to hate you.

Creeping Jenny

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Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is prized for its foliage, because it often does not flower at all. This cultivar is called “Goldilocks”. When it does bloom, the small flowers are yellow with dark red spots. Jenny forms a dense mat, and is is NOT drought tolerant. In fact, it thrives in moist soil, and must be watered well during dry spells. It’s worth the effort, though, to have that lime-green color that contrasts so well when set among the darker green and blue-green leaves of other foliage plants, or among brightly colored flowers. My Jenny has never bloomed, but I love it anyway.

Jenny does well in Zones 3 – 9, and can tolerate all but intense light — it will need shelter from the harsh heat of afternoon sun. Unless you live in the warmest climates, it will die back in winter. It is an annual, but with the mild winters of Zones 7 – 9, it will stay around. It may begin to look a bit ragged, but when spring arrives, it will perk right up again. Creeping Jenny spreads quickly, but I’ve never had a problem with it becoming invasive. It is really pretty spilling over a retaining wall or dangling from a container.

Purple Ajuga (a.k.a. Bugleweed)

The plants in the photo above are still quite young, and have not yet turned the purple/green that is so popular. Ajuga reptans will grow in full shade, but does best with morning sun and dappled light, which brings out the purple color in the leaves. It can take some full sun, but you will see fuller coverage and larger, healthier plants if shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. In heavy wet clay soil, or in the humid conditions of the Deep South, crown rot can be a problem. Be sure to allow for good air circulation. 

Ajuga grows as little rosettes (see center of photo) that send out runners which establish more rosettes, and the process continues. When clumps become overcrowded, they can be divided and moved or shared with a friend.

Ajuga is one of my favorites because it blooms, and its dark green and purple leaves add interest to the garden. It prefers moist soil, but requires good drainage. Once established, Ajuga reptans is self-sufficient. In late spring it sends up little stalks about 8 – 10 inches tall that have tiny purple flowers. To encourage spreading, remove spent flower stalks. Here’s a peek at the flowers.

purple-ajuga-flower-mlm-c

 

If it’s where you want it to be, it’s a wildflower. If it’s where you don’t want it to be, it’s a weed.

— Maria

Golden Sedum

Golden Sedum (Sedum rupestre) is a foliage plant that spreads rapidly, and grows to a height of 4 to 6 inches, and requires full sun. It . When newly planted, golden sedum should be kept moist, but once it becomes established in your garden, it will need less water. It should, however, be watered more often during dry spells. It is hardy to 10 degrees F. Mine died back this winter, but came right back when warm days returned. Another good thing about this one is that it is deer resistant.

This dense ground cover has a beautiful bright green color, but under dry conditions, turns to a more golden/green color, hence the common name, Golden Sedum. I prefer the darker, brighter, green myself, but that’s just me.

Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine

No ‘taters, just foliage. Sweet potato vine can be invasive, so be careful where you plant it.

sweet-potato-vine-mlm-c

This particular cultivar is called “Margarita”. While ornamental sweet potato vine (Ipomoea balatas) does not produce potatoes, it does provide beautiful foliage that adds gorgeous color to your landscape. It is happy in Zones 8b to 11, but at the first frost, it’s toast. Along with the chartruese type shown here, there is also a dark purple/black type that is equally beautiful. Both are gorgeous when paired with brightly colored flowers such as impatiens, petunias, or vinca. At our former home, I paired this Margarita potato vine with hot pink vinca in the bed around our mailbox. The contrasting colors were stunning.

It spreads quickly to cover large areas. Because of this, it has become a common summer plant in commercial landscaping, as well as the home landscape. It likes full sun — at least 6 hours per day. Because the growing season is so long, giving it ample time to spread, here in central Florida, the local master gardeners recommend against planting this ground cover, because it is so very invasive.

Mondo Grass

mondo-grass-mlm-c

This is mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicas). It is in the lirope (monkey grass) family, but grows to only about 6 inches tall. It is a shade-loving plant, and spreads quickly and stays dark green year-round. It may become a bit discolored in times of extreme drought or long periods of extreme cold. It should be watered well until established. After becoming established, it can be left on its own to flourish, except of course, in extremely dry conditions.

Mondo grass and its cousin, dwarf mondo (Ophiopogon japonicas nanus), which reaches heights of only 3 to 4 inches, are great ground covers for shady areas where little else will grow. Both are especially good to plant underneath large trees that block the sunlight so much that turf grass cannot survive.

Wild Violets

wild-violets-mlm-c

Another favorite of mine is the wild violet (Viola papilionacea). While technically not a ground cover, wild violets can serve the same purpose. These little guys will flourish wherever there is a woodland setting, and will spread by seed to cover large areas. They don’t insist on a woodland setting, though, and will even move into the edges of your lawn if you don’t watch them. Just a little encouragement and they may spread too much, but they are beautiful when they bloom. They have purple, white, or lavender flowers on 3-4 inch stems in springtime. The flowers tend to open in mid-day. If you have hard freezes in winter, they will die back for the duration, but will cheerfully return when spring arrives. Because wild violets spread by seed, and can pop up all anywhere, some people consider them to be weeds, but I think they are beautiful.

Do you need ground covers in your landscape?

Do you have one of those spots where grass simply refuses to grow? Do you make use of ground covers? They can serve a wonderful purpose in your garden and yard. With the exception of wild violets, all the ground covers I have discussed spread primarily by runners. Still, they can sometimes move into your grass, too. So keep an eye on them. Of course, if you hate mowing lawns …

Thank you for visiting this page. I hope you enjoyed it and will plant some new ground covers.

Wordless Wednesday – Lots of Tulips

pink-tulips-1-mlm-c

parrot-tulips-mlm-c

pink-tulip-open-mlm-c

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2017

Here’s some great information for Southern gardeners.

Florida Master Gardener Program

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy gardening!

Bouquet of red roses with white baby's breath flowersCut Flower Care – Cut flowers are a popular gift, particularly for the biggest gift-giving day in February, Valentine’s Day. From Asiatic lilies to zinnias, proper care is the key to a long-lasting arrangement, and UF/IFAS Extension has some helpful tips. To keep your thoughtful floral present looking its best, treat your bouquet to a few simple steps. With some fresh water, a sharp pair of kitchen shears, and that handy little packet that’s typically included, your arrangement will last much longer.

Yellow flowers of the invasive cat's claw vineInvasive Plant Awareness – National Invasive Species Awareness Week is generally at the end of February; this year, it’s February 27 – March 3. This is a national event intended to raise awareness and identify solutions to invasive species issues at local, state, tribal, regional, national, and international scales. Invasive species have a negative impact on the economy, environment…

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Tiny Flowers

Some of the tiniest flowers are some of the most beautiful. Because they are so small, they usually grow in clusters, but not always. Some tiny flowers often mimic other flowers in appearance. Take this one, for example. Is it an orchid?

ginger-flower-mlm-c

No, it’s just one of a large cluster of the orchid-like blooms of variegated ginger (Alpinia zerumbet variegata). These flowers and their buds hang like clusters of grapes. This is a hugely popular plant, and my post about how to prune and care for it is my most popular blog post. To see it, click right here.  Please note: No part of this plant is edible.

 

aggie-sweep-mlm-c

This one Lily of the Nile, or Aggie because of its botanical name Agapanthus africanus. It is one of my late-spring/early summer favorites. These tiny blossoms grow in large globes called “umbels” with up to 100 tiny flowers in each umbel. For my post on growing Aggies, click right here.

 

Shamrock Flowers - mlm c@

These are the delicate, tiny white flower of Shamrocks (Oxalis regnellii) – another of my favorites. They typically bloom in spring here in the Southeastern United States. Mine, however, are confused by our fluctuating temperatures. They have been blooming off and on since November.

Another one of my favorites is the wild violet (Viola papilionacea):

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These tiny woodland flowers are the harbinger of spring in most places, but here in central Florida, they bloom intermittently all year. They produce blossoms ranging from white to deep blue-violet. Wild violets need shade from the harsh afternoon sun, but can take morning sun. They are native to rich woodland soil, so they don’t care for the sandy soil found here. I grow them in rich black soil that I had brought in to amend my planting beds. They re-seed themselves easily, and will spread rapidly if you let them. If you have a place where moss grows, wild violets will be very happy there. I don’t mind them popping up all over my flower beds underneath larger plants, but when they get into the turf grass (and they will) they have to go.

No Clusters Here:

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This is one of the tiny flowers that does not bloom in clusters. It is the flower of Purple Queen (Tradescantia pallida purpurea) one of many variations of Wandering Jew, a plant that grows in a trailing pattern. It makes a good ground cover, but suffers in winter, even here in Zone 9a. This plant would be beautiful drifting over a retaining wall, or cascading from a hanging pot.

Another Wandering Jew (with small clusters):

variegated-wandering-jew-mlm-c

Variegated Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebina), is the version most people are more familiar with. It, too, makes beautiful hanging baskets, and is a good summer ground cover. A hard freeze will kill it, though.

No Longer a Mystery Plant:

The name of this plant with beautiful blue and white tiny flowers was a mystery to me, but two of my readers have told me the name of it (see the comments below).  It is called Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis). The flowers last only one day, but each day there are many more. Many flowers that are called blue are actually a shade of purple or blue-violet. This one is a true blue.

tiny-blue-flower-mlm-c

It was in the yard of a home we bought near Birmingham, Alabama, several years ago. I accidentally brought it with me from Alabama in the pot with another plant where it had evidently dropped some seed. It re-seeds itself easily — too easily. It quickly took over two of my flower beds and a hydrangea. I had to pull it up and put it in the trash. Not the compost. The trash can. It took two summers of pulling up its new seedlings before I was completely rid of it. I’ve learned that it is often considered a weed. That’s definitely understandable. It would be great, however, for a wildflower meadow or an area where erosion is a problem, so I’m convinced that all plants have a purpose. We just have to learn what it is.

Tiny Flowers vs. Large Flowers

Large flowers are gorgeous and showy, but large amounts of tiny flowers can be just as pretty. You simply need more of them to make a nice showing. Many wild flowers are tiny, and would be beautiful in the home garden. The drawback, though, is that they re-seed themselves and reproduce like crazy, so they can become invasive if not kept in check. See you in the garden.

 

Cold Weather – Green Bananas

Yikes! It’s expected to reach 33 degrees tonight here in central Florida — actually in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. It will be our coldest weather so far this season.  This is not terribly unusual for the time of year, but it sure is bad timing for my bananas that need a few more weeks of warm temps. So today I decided I had to cut the stalk of bananas off the plant and take them indoors to ripen. After all, bananas don’t even like to be refrigerated.

almost-ready

Thanks so much to our neighbors, Nancy and Les, who came over to help support the weight of all these bananas while I cut the stalk from the plant. Of course, I gave them some bananas. After giving bananas to Nancy and Les, and to other neighbors, I still have 75 bananas that I know will continue to ripen. I have visions of lots of banana bread and banana nut muffins.

green-bananas

One of my Meyer lemon trees had one lemon left on it, and my new volunteer grape tomato plant had only green tomatoes. These, too, had to be brought indoors. February is the month when we usually get our worst weather. I really was hoping any freezing or near-freezing weather would hold off until mid-February to give all this fruit time to ripen, but it was not to be.

fall-2016-lemons

This lemon needed to stay on the tree another week or two, but it was too risky, so it is now on my kitchen counter, along with those green tomatoes. The tomatoes, though, will be put into a dark place to ripen. Wish me luck.