Tag Archives: tropical plants

Hard Freeze in Florida — Some Do’s and Don’ts

Variegated Ginger - mlm

We’re expecting a hard freeze tonight. In this area, a hard freeze is considered to be 4 or more hours with temperatures at or below 32 degrees. Some areas are predicted to have these temps for up to 11 hours tonight. Yikes!

Throughout our neighborhood and those nearby, I have seen covered plants in the middle of the day. Be sure to remove the coverings early in the day, even if you will need to re-cover them again that night.

The Don’ts are often more important than the Do’s, so I’m sharing the Don’ts first:

Don’ts:

Don’t use plastic bags. Everywhere the plastic touches the plant, you will have freeze damage.

Don’t leave the plants covered the next day. Remove the coverings as soon as the sun shines on the plants. If left covered on a bright, sunny day, the plants will bake.

Do’s:

Do cover your tender plants as early in the evening as you can, in order to trap warm (okay, less cold) air underneath the covering. If plants are in the shade, go ahead and cover them before temperatures drop. It will be easier on you, too.

Do use cloth coverings or cardboard boxes. If you are expecting rain, forget the cloth coverings. The wet cloth will cling to the plant and freeze, sticking to the leaves.

There are such beautiful tropical plants here, and not all landscapers will tell customers which plants are not cold hardy, and should not be planted here. For example the Queen Palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) and the Robellini Palm, a.k.a., Pygmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii).

Yes, those of you who know me, know I have Queen Palms in my front yard. We bought them before we knew any better. This area is full of them, so who knew? The guy who sold them to us, that’s who.

Good luck with your tender plants tonight. Now get out there and cover them as soon as the sun is off of them.

Red Leaf Hibiscus

At our farmers’ market last Saturday, I saw this red-leaf hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella). At first glance, I thought it was  a Japanese Maple, but then I saw it had flowers. Did I buy it? You bet I did!

New Hibiscus Flower mlm c@

This gorgeous plant can grow up to 15 feet tall, so if you love Japanese Maple, (Acer palmate) but don’t have the shade it requires, this one is for you. The the shorter days and longer nights of autumn trigger the purplish leaves to darken, and the deep red or maroon 2 – 4 inch trumpet-shaped flowers to appear. The flowers are smaller than the hibiscus most of us are familiar with, but the colors of these flowers are stunning

Now, where am I going to put it? Probably close to the house for protection in case of a freeze like the one we had in February, 2015. See you in the garden.

I Cut Down My Beloved Bougainvillea

Hot Pink - full bloom - mlm c@

I have always loved bougainvillea (pronounced “boo gan vee ah”) from afar. The first one I ever saw in person was in San Francisco. It had climbed two stories, and was rambling all over a 2nd floor terrace. I was enchanted with that beautiful vine. So, when we moved to central Florida, I knew that was the first tropical plant I would buy, and it was. Sadly, our tiny yard does not have a great place for this flowering vine to climb and roam. It needs a fence or garden wall to tumble over and sprawl to its heart’s content. We don’t have that place.

With a heavy heart, I cut down my bougainvillea this week. I have loved it and fretted over it for 2-1/2 years. When in full bloom, people walking their dogs would stop by and ask about it, or comment on it. It was absolutely gorgeous each spring, and very pretty in the fall. The rest of the year, it was very high maintenance with frequent pruning required to prevent it from hanging out over our front walk, and constant spraying with insecticidal soap in a failing effort to rid it of those pesky caterpillars.

On House - mlm c@

This photo was taken shortly after a severe pruning to remove it from the gutters, sofit, and roof. It had even wrapped around the downspout.

Bougainvillea grows rapidly here. Who am I kidding? Everything grows rapidly here. That can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a not so good thing. My bougainvillea was against the wall of our garage, which is parallel to the walk that leads to the front door of our home. Frequent pruning was required to keep the upper limbs from hanging out over that walk. I could walk under a lot of them, but most folks had to dodge the thorny branches of this prolific vine.

More Caterpillar Damage - mlm c@

It was once taller than the house, and soon would have been lying on the roof. Not good.

This fall, it has had only a few flowers because the caterpillars were eating the newest growth before it could mature. We’ve had a  hotter than normal summer, so insecticidal oils that don’t wash off when it rains, melted off in the heat. We’ve also had a very rainy summer, so after each rain I had to spray insecticidal soap again, and again, and again.

 

And then, there were those thorns. Those huge thorns.

Thorns mlm c@

 It all got to be too much trouble for this gardener.

Caterpillar Feces - mlm c@

The droppings of those caterpillars were all over our front walk, and had to be swept away daily, sometimes twice daily.

Here you see the tiny droppings on my day lilies. They are so small, they could have gotten in between our dog’s pads, or the soles of our shoes, and been tracked into the house. That presents a potential health threat. Those caterpillars had to go. Unfortunately, that meant the bougainvillea had to go, too.

Do You Know Which Part Is the Actual Flower?

Hot Pink - zoomed mlm c@

Although the showy colorful bracts everyone loves are the most dramatic part, the tiny white blossom in the center is the actual flower. They’re like poinsettias in that way.

Each bract has 3 sections with a tiny flower emerging at its base.

Hot Pink - zoomed 2 mlm c@

Will I miss the show bougainvillea puts on each spring?

Purple - mlm c@

No, I can still enjoy them in other peoples’ gardens, such as this one a couple of miles from my home.

It’s kind of like being a grandparent. You get to enjoy the kids without having to be the primary caretaker.

 

 

 

 

 

Cat’s Whiskers

Cat's Whiskers - Bloom - mlm c@

Yesterday I was shopping at Lowe’s and, of course, I had to wander into the garden shop. Whenever I walk into a garden shop or nursery my heart sings. And, boy, oh boy, was it singing. I had to force myself not to buy a lot of plants because, of course, I wanted all of them — well, okay, most of them.

One in particular was this tropical plant that is completely new to me. It’s name is Cat’s Whiskers (Tacca chantrieri). It is also often called “black bat flower” or “devil’s flower”. The leaves look much like a large peace lily, but that flower… oh my. The colors seem to change as you move around it, first appearing to be deep purple/green/brown, then looking almost black in places.

Cat's Whiskers - mlm c@

Unfortunately, I could not get a camera angle that would exclude that rack of plastic pots on this particular bloom. It was the largest flower, and the only one with one of its “budlets” partially open.

At first sight, I thought the flower was a bit creepy, but it was so exotic, so majestic, I had to stop and take a closer look. I was completely enamored. Charmed. Smitten. Bewitched. Hey, maybe it would be good to put by our front door for Halloween. You think? Here’s a closer look:

Cat's Whiskers - Zoomed - mlm c@

That Open Bud — Will It Have More Whiskers?

Cat's Whiskers - Open Bud

Near the top left of this photo,  you see one of those smaller buds about halfway open. I was curious about whether all those little balls inside it will open to produce more “whiskers” or maybe some tiny flowers, so I “googled” it The photos I found showed a cluster of tiny pinkish-purple flowers inside each of those pendulous buds.

I want it. Gotta have it, but I can’t have it right now. It needs light, but can’t handle the harshness of afternoon sun. The tag said “morning sun only”. My heart sank. I have nowhere to put it that gets only morning sun. The tag also said it blooms spring, summer, and fall. There’s another reason to add it to my expanding garden. That does  it. I have to create more shade.

 

 

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.

 

2. AFTER FREEZE DAMAGE:

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:

ginger-flower-mlm-c

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

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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.