Tag Archives: shade-loving plants

How to Prune Variegated Ginger?

Variegated Ginger - mlm

Spring Pruning of Variegated Ginger

(Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata)

On my post about foliage plants, Jennifer P. commented, telling me of her variegated ginger, and how tall it has grown. She asked the best way to prune it. I gave her a brief reply in the comment section of that post, and promised to publish more extensive information. That information is below, but first, a bit about this plant and its required growing conditions:

Is Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata Edible?

No. While it is closely related to the culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale), whose rhizomes we are all familiar with, Alpinia zerumbet variegata is NOT edible.


Sun Parched Ginger - mlm c@

This once-large variegated ginger was planted in rocks, in full sun, and probably received very little water. It is no longer there.

Sun vs. Shade:

Although it can take full sun, variegated ginger does best in, at least, partial shade; it requires rich, moist soil. It is NOT drought-tolerant, so it requires frequent watering, especially if planted in full sun. Full sun stresses the plant, and requires a lot of water.



Nutrient Requirements:

You can fertilize your variegated ginger monthly with a balanced fertilizer. I have never fertilized mine, but I do have them planted in rich, moist soil, and they are beautiful.

“Balanced” means all three numbers should be the same, for example 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. Use a liquid plant food, or dilute a water-soluble granular fertilizer to half-strength. Using hot or warm water will help to dissolve the granules, but take care not to pour hot water onto your plant or the ground around it. Always read the instructions on the package, as strengths will vary between brands. Do not expect blooms right away. New growth, as well as newly planted rhizomes will bloom in the second year.

Growth Habits:

Alpina grows 8 to 9 feet tall in the mild climates of USDA Zones 9 – 11, where it is evergreen. I am gardening in Zone 9-A. The leaves will be killed off by frost; the canes will die in extended periods of cold weather. In these zones (9 – 11), variegated ginger will send up new growth quickly when killed back to the ground by freezing weather. Watch for light-reddish spears. New leaves will emerge from these light red “sleeves”.

There Are Several Reasons to Prune Variegated Ginger:

1. When the plant grows too tall for your garden:

This evergreen plant can grow to 8 or 9 feet tall in Zones 9 – 11. Often it will become top heavy, and lean over onto other plants, or it may simply be taller than you would like. To achieve a shorter, more compact plant, remove the tallest canes at the ground. If additional canes need to be removed, cut others to the height desired, by cutting just above a leaf, as shown here.



Drought Damage 3

If you find leaves like these, that are discolored around the edges with or without spotty damage, this is likely frost damage or damage caused by a light freeze. These leaves should be removed individually, leaving the cane which will grow new leaves.

On the other hand, if you find dark brown or black leaves with mushy canes, there is severe freeze damage. In this case, the entire cane should be removed at the ground. Don’t worry. New canes will grow back quickly. Do wait a few days after a freeze before pruning, however, to see the full extent of the damage. Remember that new canes don’t bloom until their second year.

3. After damage from drought conditions:

Frost Damage

Alpinia needs a lot of water, so during a drought, be conscientious about caring for this plant, while complying with watering restrictions. After a drought, you may need to remove some brown leaves or leaves with a lot of brown spots.

If you are under severe water restrictions, save any unused coffee, tea, or water, and use it to water your plants. If rinsing out an empty milk carton, use that water on your plants – it’s a good source of calcium. If you have to let the water run very long to get hot water, catch the cold water in a container, and use it to water the plants. It could also be used to dilute strong coffee or tea before using them on plants. I do this year-round, restrictions or not.

4. For floral arrangements:


Variegated Ginger Flowers - mlmAlpinia’s pendulous orchid-like flowers provide a great addition to cut flower arrangements, as do the large green-and-yellow striped leaves. Each cane blooms only once, then dies. These canes would be good ones to remove, but be sure to enjoy the tiny flowers first. It is important to remove old canes after they have bloomed, because if they are not removed, the plant will eventually stop producing new canes — removing old canes encourages new healthy canes to emerge. When cutting a portion of the blooming cane for a floral arrangement, this would be a good time to go ahead and remove that entire cane.

When to Prune:

Remove freeze-damaged canes a few days after the freeze, allowing time for all damage to become apparent. Otherwise, always prune them after the blooming season has passed, in order to enjoy the gorgeous orchid-like flowers. Individual leaves that turn brown can often be removed with your hands.

How and Where to Cut:

Here, loppers are being used to cut the thick cane just above a healthy leaf.

Here, loppers are being used to cut the thick cane just above a healthy leaf.

Be sure to cut on a fairly steep angle, because, if the cane stands straight up, and the cut gives it a flat top, this will allow water to sit on top of the cane, and gradually seep into the stem. That will cause rot, and invite disease and pests.

You can cut the tallest canes back to the ground, if you want, or you can cut them just above a leaf, at the desired height. Again, always take out the weakest canes, or any that may be turning yellow.

What to Use:

As always, start with clean blades on your pruning shears or loppers. Some of the canes can be cut with the short, handheld pruners, but some of the older canes can be quite thick and fibrous, especially near the bottom. This may require the longer handled loppers that will give you more leverage.

Dividing Alpina

Want More Plants? Want to Share?

Variegated ginger is a vigorous plant; its clumps will spread up to 8 feet in diameter. If your garden is small, Alpina will need to be divided every couple of years. To make handling easier, the canes can be pruned off at the ground. I prefer to leave the young, healthy canes in place, as they are the next ones to bloom. It is fine, however, to remove them, leaving only the very young new shoots. This is especially helpful if taking them along when relocating. It is also fine to remove all canes, handling only the rhizomes.

When Dividing Alpina, Have a New Home Ready and Waiting

As with any plant, do not allow the roots/rhizomes to be exposed to air for any longer than absolutely necessary. I prefer no more than a few seconds. This requires having a new hole already dug and waiting, or having a pot with moist soil inside, ready and waiting to receive the newly divided plant. Water well and often, and soon you will see new your plant send up new those pretty light-red spears that will open to reveal large yellow-and-green striped leaves.

The Large, Gorgeous Leaves of Variegated Ginger

Variegated Ginger Leaf MMP x2

The leaves alone on this plant will add interest and a tropical flavor to your garden. The flowers are serendipity — “icing on the cake”. Proper care will ensure that Alpina brings you pleasure for years to come.


More Ways to Introduce Color in to Your Garden

Variegated Ginger Flower Buds - mlm

I recently chatted with a woman at my local coffee house, and of course, the topic eventually turned to gardening, and what to plant in this worthless soil. She complained of her flowers suffering in the mid-summer heat, and asked about other plants, especially foliage plants, for introducing color into her garden. It’s true, some flowers can get long and leggy during summer heat, and even the new guinea impatiens, which can take sun, may wilt and die in intense heat, with drought or near-drought conditions. This lady was fortunate. She had some of the much-coveted shade provided by huge live oaks.

I have highlighted 6 foliage plants in this post. These are the top 5 foliage plants for shade and shade-to-part sun gardens in most of the southeastern United States, plus my favorite tropical foliage plant, shown above. It’s shown as #4 below, and is the only one that will not survive in the entire southeast.

During the hottest weather, many plants grown for their flowers will struggle in the heat. It is at this time that foliage plants can shine. With their many shades of green, from yellowish-green to darkest blue-green, cream, white, even red, pink, purple, burgundy, and black, they add great interest to the garden, especially shady areas where some flowers will not grow. I filled the shady, wooded area in the yard of our former homes in Alabama and North Carolina with foliage plants, especially hosta, fern, and wild violets. I did not limit it to hosta and fern, though. I also added elephant ears and ground covers such as the chartruese Creeping Jenny.

I admit to being partial to hosta and fern, but there are so many other foliage plants, and some of the new hybrids are so colorful that it is possible to create an amazing  flower-free yet color-filled  garden. Coleus and Caladiums are also favorites of mine, and I depend on all of these for my new yard that still has very little shade, although I am trying hard to create it.

1. — Coleus

Whether you pronounce it “cole-yus”,or “col-e-us” seems to depend on where you originate. Either way, you have to agree it is one of the most colorful foliage plants we have. This plant probably comes in more color combinations, than most of the others listed here: burgundies, reds, purples, various shades of green, white, and even yellow. Coleus is easy to grow, and will add beauty to your garden. Until the last few years, coleus grew only in the shade. Today, however, there are many new varieties that do well in full sun. Oh, the wonders of hybridization!

Coleus Along Path

This plant comes in so many color combinations, it is mind-boggling:  burgundies, reds, purples, various shades of green, white, and even yellow. Coleus is easy to grow, and will add beauty to your garden.

This beauty was huge last year, and remained beautiful until January when it began to get truly cold. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of this one. Normally, it would have come back in the spring (only in very warm climates) but the hard freeze we had in February killed it. This variety is the one I had the most requests for cuttings from friends and neighbors.

Wine Dipt - mlm

This photo is of some coleus cuttings I took to root last year.  It’s called “Wine Dipt”. My blog post of August, 29, 2014,  shows how to root coleus.

When new leaves emerge on this one, they are a light green with only a tiny bit of “wine” showing. As the leaves mature, the colors spread and intensify. The colors in this one seem to become more brilliant when receiving a bit of sun. It can take full sun, but is happy in the shade, too.

Younger Wine Dipt - mlm







This photo is of some younger leaves on Wine Dipt.

To Flower or Not to Flower?

Many gardeners pinch off the flower buds of coleus, because as soon as it flowers, it begins to bolt or “go to seed”. I want my foliage plants to last the season, so I constantly pinch off those flower buds.  Coleus is really an annual, and the purpose of annuals is to flower, wilt, and produce seed for the following year. The way to get more flowers is to deadhead the plants by pinching off the spent blooms. Frustrated, the plants will continue to flower in an effort to produce seed.

The flowers of coleus are so very tiny on tall, sturdy stalks. I believe they take away from the beauty of the plant, so I always pinch off the flower buds as soon as they appear. A year or so ago, the hybridizers made me happy again by producing a type of coleus that does not flower. Meet “Wasabi”:

Coleus - Wasabi - mlm

Non-Flowering Wasabi

This one is called Wasabi. It loves the sun and shade. It has serrated edges, and is slightly corrugated. Again it’s colors are more luminescent in full sun. Although it won’t flower, it can be encouraged to bush out by pinching off the center stalk now and then. Multiple plants can be obtained by cutting or breaking off healthy stems, and rooting them.

A Truly Weird Combination of Chromosomes Must Be Inside This One

Compost Coleus 2 - mlm

Compost Coleus

I don’t know the name of this one either. Lately, I have been calling it “Compost Coleus” because it came up at the back of my very small compost bin, and has  taken over half of the area.  Yep, I should have moved it while it was still small.

Actually, it has a very interesting pattern of chartreuse and burgundy which, on most of the leaves, appears as if someone has spattered paint on it. It has a few leaves that are solid chartreuse, even fewer that are solid burgundy, and occasionally, it will have a leave that is exactly half burgundy and half chartreuse, or half solid and half speckled — split right along the middle vein or “mid-line” as shown in the two photos below. Weird, huh?

Weird Coleus - mlm Wht


Paint Brush Coleus - mlm


2. — Caladiums

Caladiums are in the same family with elephant ears (#5 below). They have always been available in green & white and green & red. Later varieties came to include red/green/pink and red/white. More and more variations on these colors seem to appear every couple of years. Here are some of mine:

Caladiums - White - mlm

“Florida Sunrise”

I have plenty of this variety to share. It’s called “Florida Sunrise”. As you can see, it is white with green and red veins. The red looks to me like watercolor “bloom”, i.e., paint that has spread or “bloomed” into adjacent wet paint or wet paper.

These guys do fine in full sun during the spring, BUT when the summer heat arrives, they won’t last long. I have some in the sun, and am gradually moving them to less sunny spots in our yard.

White Caladiums cropped - mlm


White w Speckled Red - mlm


This is one of the newest ones I have seen — white with a green border, and splashes of red. I have only one of these, but this is a plant that multiplies year after year. Soon there will be plenty to share with friends and neighbors.

It now gets morning sun, and is shaded from the harsh afternoon sun. After it multiplies, I think I will see what happens when I move one of them to a sunnier spot.




CC and Caladiums - mlm“Red Flash”

Here’s a photo of the huge, mostly red caladium. I took this photo to show how large the leaves have gotten this year. Little C.C. is a 10-pound Maltese, and the plant is at least twice her height.


3. — Hosta

Hosta was always my number one favorite foliage plant, but for whatever reason, they don’t seem to do well in this part of central Florida. I brought some with me when we moved, and they come up each spring, look beautiful until mid-summer, then shrivel up and disappear until the next spring. Go figure.

There so many different varieties and colors, there has to be one for you. Although hostas are not available in the reds, pinks purples, and blacks of other foliage plants, they are available in all shades of green, plus white, cream, and yellow. When we lived in North Carolina, I had a white one that had green edges. It was beautiful. I still wish I had taken it when we moved. Hostas are also available in sizes ranging from just a few inches across to 5 – 6 feet wide.

They do send up tall slender stalks with tiny white or lavender flowers. Some, for example, “Royal Standard” have a lovely fragrance. If you don’t want the flowers, just clip off the stalks when they first emerge. Just remember, if you do that, you won’t have any seed from the spent blossoms. I usually  clip them off, because I grow hosta for the lovely foliage. Below I show a few of those in my garden.

“Great Expectations”

Great Expectations - mlm

This is one of my favorites. Unlike some of the smooth-leaf types, this one has corrugated leaves that add even greater interest to the multi-color plant. This is a variety that grows quite large.



Hosta - Guacamole - mlm

This one is called “Guacamole”. This photo was taken in early spring — not long after it had come up and unfurled. When Guacamole reaches maturity in 3 to 5 years, it will be 4 or 5 feet across. There is a bit of a border on this one that shows a slightly darker green based on the amount of shade vs. sun received.


Hosta - June - mlm

“June” is a mid-ize hosta. Its leaves are an almost luminous chartruese with darker green edges whose color occasionally wanders toward the center. These lighter colored hostas are nice because they are still visible on a moonlit night. They can take some morning sun, but prefer dappled light, or complete shade.


Hosta - Frances Wms - mlm

Frances Williams is a common, but very popular corrugated hosta. It is similar to Great Expectations, but without the creamy white. This one can grow quite large. Most hosta enthusiasts have at least one of these.

4. — Variegated Ginger, )Alpinia Zerumbet Variegata) is One of the Tropicals

Variegated Ginger

These giant beauties will grow to 5 – 6 feet tall, and multiply over the years. They prefer shade, or at least filtered light. Mine do get the morning and early-afternoon sun, and seem to be fine.

In the warmest climates they survive year-round. Mine suffered with the hard freeze we had in February of 2015, and still show some damage, but their new growth is beautiful. This photo is one I took before the freeze. I ran out of sheets to cover them. Next winter, I will be sure to have enough to cover all my tender plants.

Variegated Ginger Flower Buds - mlm

This is not the edible type of ginger, but it really adds interest to the landscape. It does produce flowers, and mine bloomed this year for the first time. Here’s a shot of the first buds. As this stem with the flower buds emerges, it hangs over, with the buds dangling like grapes. Then they begin to open, revealing tiny but gorgeous orchid-like flowers. This photo has been enlarged. The actual flower is about the size of a quarter.

Variegated Ginger Flower - mlm


There is also a red, cream, gold and dark green variety of variegated ginger. It requires full shade, so I keep mine in a pot inside our lanai. This is it:

Red Variegated Ginger - mlm

 Here is a photo of one that was planted in full sun a couple of blocks from my home:


This plant was very pretty when first planted, but it roasted last summer with the sun bearing down on it, while its roots and lower leaves were baked by the hot rocks. You’ve probably heard the expression, “It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Well, those rocks get about that hot. The darker colored ones are even worse. I cannot stress enough — plants in the south have very shallow roots, and cannot take the heat generated by rocks used in place of real mulch.  This plant truly was “toast”. It’s owners replaced it during the hot summer with a hosta — another plant that requires mostly shade. There is a hosta that can take a lot of sun. It’s called “Sum and Substance” and grows to about 5 feet wide. It was not the one they used. The one they planted is still there, but is also struggling.

5. — Elephant Ears

These giant beauties will grow to 5 – 6 feet tall, and multiply over the years. In coastal regions and warm climates, they will survive year-round. In colder climates, they die back in late autumn or early winter, but return in the spring. If planted in the coldest climates, they may be killed by hard freezes, and should be taken indoors for the winter season, then replanted when warm weather returns. I especially enjoy them because they provide a little bit of tropical atmosphere to non-tropical regions.

Elephant Ears - Black - mlm


This purplish-black variety is called “Illustris”. I don’t have this variety in my yard, so I snapped this photo at the Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse near our former home in Alabama. This variety adds interest to any garden. I decided I must have some of these but cannot find them here. In the background some of the younger leaves that still show large green veins can be seen. Elephant ears of these colors would be beautiful with an under-planting of pink or lavender flowers, as you can see from the pink flowers sitting behind them.

Giant Green Ear - mlm

Jumbo Elephant Ears

Here is a photo I took for an art project of my green jumbo elephant ears, (botanical name: Colocasia Esculenta). They grew to almost seven feet tall last summer. Unfortunately, the hard freeze we had in February, 2015, caused them to have to start over from the ground up this spring. Here they are now with a Dwarf Sugar Palm behind them.

Backyard Foliage - mlm

6. — Fern

There are many types of ferns in a variety of shades of green. Some have a silvery coating on their fronds, and are quite beautiful.

Christmas Fern - Bud MMP x2This is Boston Fern, a.k.a., Nephrolepis exalta. It grows wild throughout central Florida, and other warm climates. It can often be seen growing on the trunks of palms where its seeds have settled into the boots of the palm. The boot is portion of the leaf stalk left behind after removal of a dead palm leaf. They are what make up the the crisscross pattern on the trunk of a palm.

Warning:  Boston fern is very, very invasive. Before I knew this, I took a couple of sprigs from a palm growing on the side of the road. I brought them home, rooted them, then planted them in my yard. They have taken over a section of my flower bed underneath my poinsettias and one of my split-leaf philodendrons. You have to love fern not to be upset by this, and I do.

Southern Wood Fern

Southern Wood Fern has a more upright growth pattern than many ferns.

Southern Wood Fern

I don’t know the correct name for this wild fern. In my home state of Alabama, it is called Southern Wood Fern. It grows wild in woodland areas throughout the southeastern United States. It is frequently called  “Christmas Fern” because of the tiny leaves that are shaped like Christmas stockings.   In the photo below, the “toe” that gives it the stocking shape can be seen.  This is the first plant we learned  to find and name when I was in Brownie Scouts.

Christmas Fern

Here the tiny “toes” can be seen on each leaf of the frond at the point where it is attached to the main stem. The ones on the bottom row are easier to see.

I took this fern from the woods behind my parents’ home near Birmingham, AL. I also took some of it to my home in North Carolina, but left it there when we relocated to the Rocky Mountain area. In NC, it died back completely in winter, but came back each spring. In Alabama, it does not die back completely in winter. If there are hard freezes, though, it will begin to look a bit ragged, but will put out new growth at the first signs of spring. This fern looks really nice planted among hostas and other shade-loving plants.

Why Won’t My Hydrangea Bloom?

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

Hydrangea Leaves 2

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

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

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

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

White Annabelles turn a lovely sage green as they dry.

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

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

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

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

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


White Lacecap and Purple Annabelle Hydrangea

Pink Annabelle Hydrangea

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