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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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):

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Growing Winter Tomatoes in Florida

Yes, you really can grow tomatoes here during winter. Like many plants that are normally considered annuals, backyard tomato plants will live for a couple of years here; and they consistently re-seed themselves. I had one tomato plant and one bell pepper plant that lived three years until pests attacked them.  I now have two tomato plants that recently came up as volunteers — one in my flower bed, and the other at the edge of my compost. The one in the flower bed now has tiny green tomatoes on it. Here they are:

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Unfortunately, this nice tomato plant has come up within a couple of inches of an Easter lily (that is already about 6 inches tall) and among a group of Snow Drops. I’m wishing I had moved it while it was still very small. To move it now, may damage the roots of the Easter lily. I guess they will have to co-exist and as my mom used to say, “just get along together”.

The downside of growing them in my flower beds is that the grey water used by our sprinkler system will hit them. It’s fine for that water to hit the plant and the ground around the plant, but it’s definitely not good for it to be on fruits and vegetables. I’ll have to watch to see how high the sprinkler water goes, and I may need to remove the lowest hanging fruit.

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While it’s true your tomato plants will produce fruit year-round here in central Florida, you may need to cover them in cold weather. We usually get our coldest nights in February. I’ve never covered mine, as I was too busy covering tropical flowering plants and shrubs, as well as the hydrangea and azaleas that I brought with me when we relocated. On those rare occasions, I did lose a few tomatoes, but the plants themselves recovered nicely.

How to Save Tomatoes From Damaging Weather

No matter where you live, if freezing temperatures or an early cold snap are predicted, you can go ahead and pick green or almost-ripe tomatoes. Wrap large ones in newspaper, and place them in a cool-to-warm (not too warm) dark place such as a basement or a closet. If you have a lot of little grape or cherry tomatoes, put them in a newspaper-lined basket or box, then cover them with newspaper. Forget about all these little guys for a few weeks, and soon you will have beauties like these:

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Just for Fun

At farm stands in the South you may see signs for “Cukes, Maters, & Taters”. If you are from outside the Southern U.S., do you know what these are?

 

 

 

 

Poinsettia – How Not to Kill Them

No longer just the old familiar bright red, poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are available in a multitude of colors, from pink, white, deep rosy red, orange-red, to variegated pink and white, red and white, and now a yellowish white. I love them all, and just added three more to my collection: two of the red-and-white, and one of the pink-and-white. These are very small and still in pots until after the holidays. I sunk the two red & white ones, pot and all, into the beds leading up to our front door. The pink and white one is gracing a table on our lanai.

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After the danger of freezing temperatures has passed, probably early March, I will plant them in my garden. The pink-and-white one will add a nice splash of color to my night garden that I am still creating in our back yard. What’s a night garden? Just wait for my post on that topic coming soon.

I have lost count of the questions I’ve been asked about how not to kill these beauties, so rather than take a chance on omitting someone, I’ll not mention the names of those who asked. What I will do is to share what I have learned about caring for poinsettia.

Did You Know the colored leaves are not the blooms? They are just leaves called bracts that turn gorgeous colors when the time is right. It is the shorter days of winter that cause the leaves to change. The internal changes that trigger the color change also tell the plant to form the flower buds. The flowers are quite small, and are easily missed. Here is one of my white poinsettia with buds almost ready to open:

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Here’s a closer look at those tiny buds. They should be opening any day now.

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This white poinsettia is in my back yard, and is now about 3-4 feet tall — they’re actually flowering shrubs. I took the photo below last December (2015). It doesn’t look so good this year. Between the invasive fern I planted near it and my not being able to work in the yard for several months, my larger poinsettias really suffered this year. They are tall and leggy from being almost smothered by Boston fern that grew to about 2 feet tall all around them. Now that I have removed most of the fern — I’m still working on it — they are putting out new growth along those leggy stems.  Here’s a photo of it before “The Invasion of the Fern”.

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How to Care For Your Poinsettia:

Poinsettia, how we love them!  They are enjoyed by so many this time of year, yet so many are killed shortly after Christmas. Okay, maybe not intentionally killed– maybe loved to death by too much water or not enough light indoors. Many suffer from dry indoor heat, and are often neglected after the holidays. Could it be that we simply don’t know how to care for them? Nah, it couldn’t be that… well, maybe.

Hardiness:  Poinsettia are cold hardy in USDA Zones 9B – 11. I live in Zone 9, but will take no chances if we get below freezing temperatures, which we may get in February. They are happiest at temps above 50 F.

Light:  Poinsettia need full sun: at least 6 hours per day.

Water:  The soil should feel moist and cool when touched, but not soaking wet; too much water is as bad, if not worse than too little. If your potted poinsettia feels very lightweight when you pick it up, it probably needs water. Just feel of the soil to see if it is dry. If it needs water, take it to a sink and water it well, allowing the excess to drain away.

Be sure to remove the decorative foil that comes with most poinsettia purchased during the holidays when watering these delicate plants. This is true for any potted plant — those foil wrappers are death traps, as they allow the plant to sit in water that has escaped the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. You definitely want this water to be able to drain away completely. If you are diligent about checking for water collected in the foil wrapper, you could leave the foil on, but only if you know you will remember to check on it. Will you remember if the phone rings or the baby cries or the doorbell rings? Not me. So I remove the foil during the watering process, then replace it after I’m done. On the other hand, if I have a pretty cache pot to put the ugly plastic pot into, I trash the foil and use the pretty pot.

Enjoy your holiday flowers, and your holidays.

Merry Christmas!  and  Happy Hanukkah!

 

 

Cooler Temps Bring Out the Gerbera Daisies

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We’ve been away recently on two genealogy research trips. After the first one, we came home to a beautiful rich pink gerbera daisy blossom. We were home one week, then gone again. We returned last night from the second trip and, of course, I couldn’t wait for morning to see how my garden had fared while we were away. This time, returned to gerbera blooms in multiple colors, and to lots of white mandevilla flowers. (My mandevilla plants have suffered lately, too, but that’s another story.

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Gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) grow as mounding plants with slightly fuzzy dark green leaves. They bloom with large single flowers are on tall stems. Mine bloomed sporadically during the summer, but are performing beautifully now.

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These jewel-toned flowers are considered annuals in most areas, but in Zones 8 – 11, they are grown as perennials. They need plenty of sunlight, but suffer in the harsh afternoon sun of summer, so be sure to plant them where they will have shade or filtered light in the afternoon. When grown in the ground, they will need to be covered if the temperatures drop to freezing or below.

Gerbera’s, like geraniums, are not annuals, but are tender perennials. Tender, because they will survive winter in some milder climates only if protected from freezing temperatures. They prefer rich, well-drained soil, and should be planted with the crown of the plant slightly above ground. Burying the crown could suffocate the plant.

Be sure to deadhead the plants by removing spent blooms and their stems as soon as the flowers fade. This will prevent early seeding — early seeding will tell the plant there is no need to bloom again, as enough seed has already been produced.

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If you live in an area where gerberas are grown as annuals, you can always dig them up, and pot them for winter, and reset them outdoors in spring. My mother used to plant her geraniums (shown below) in clay pots, then sink the pots into the ground. When autumn came, she would slip a shovel under the pots, and take them indoors for the winter. She had some of the largest geraniums I have ever seen. Fortunately, here in Florida, I don’t have to do that.

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I’ve Been Away Too Long

The storms of life are gone, and it’s a beautiful new day.

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Due to ankle surgery and some back problems, I haven’t been able to do much gardening this spring and summer, but am slowly working with small plants. Previously, I thought I would be able to do a lot of writing during my recovery, but with keeping my ankle higher than my heart for a while, writing, even on my laptop, was difficult. Getting back to writing has been slow. I have tried to keep up with your e-mails, questions, and comments, but I know I wasn’t as timely as I would like to have been. Over the last few days, we’ve been preoccupied with preparing for Hurricane Matthew.

Only the outer edges of Matthew reached here, and although yesterday was a very windy and messy day, all is well here, and for that, we are so very grateful. Our prayers go out to those along the coast, who experienced severe damage.

Thank you for continuing to follow my blog even though I have been absent lately. I have a lot of gardening planned, and a lot of good garden information to share, and will be doing so over the coming weeks and months, so stay tuned.