This blog is supported by affiliate ads. When you click on an ad and purchase a product, I get a small commission on the sale. This does not increase the price of the product for you at all. You are not obligated to purchase from ads to read on this blog. Thank you for your support.

Garden Diary: 2016 - The Experimental Garden Year in Review

2016 was the first full year I had in this space, and as the year comes to an end, I'm looking back on my triumphs, tragedies and what I've learned from this tiny garden. With less than 300 sf to work with, no money to speak off, horrible soil and problems with sun and shade, the learning curve was steep, but I mucked along in my own "do or die" way and had a few triumphs.

Traditional Veggies Were a Bust, but Tropical Veggies Thrived

When I moved here, I had grand plans for growing veggies, but lack of sun quashed that idea, and I ended up getting very little by the way of traditional veggies at all. I did get a few tomatoes, but vowed never to grow them again. HA! I have tomatoes out there growing right now, and the Cherokee Purple and SuperSweet 100 have blooms and a couple of fruits, while the Everglades seedlings both in and out of the ground are doing well. I think the secret is in finding the right time of year to plant them, and moving them to a spot that gets more afternoon sun in the winter.

Some things that seemed to be doing well disappointed, like the Seminole pumpkin which grew a twenty-foot vine that only produced one fruit and died before the fruit could mature. I have it indoors now, trying to see if it will ripen in a sunny window, but I don't hold out much hope. The sweet potatoes grew beautiful vines, but when I went to dig them, I found no potatoes at all.

The big triumph so far of this year was that the banana tree bore fruit. It may turn out to be a tragedy, since the fruit is still in danger of freezing, and isn't mature enough to pick yet.

Another triumph was the pigeon pea,which gave me a decent amount of peas last year, but has grown to over 10 feet tall and  is loaded this year, along with a baby tree I planted from seed this past spring which is 6 feet tall and heavy with peas. Unfortunately, I have discovered I'm not too crazy about pigeon peas, so I'll only grow them as chop-and-drop material and to attract pollinators and give the peas away.

Non-traditional edibles, like edible hibiscus, taro, xanthasoma and Florida spinach (talinum fruticosum) grew exceptionally well, while traditional leaf vegetables like collards and lettuce struggled.

Bees and Butterflies

Last winter, a monarch decided to lay eggs on my milkweed, and one of the larvae pupated on one of the last remaining milkweed leaves. Luckily, it was in a pot, so I ended up bringing it inside during cold snaps to save it, and it finally hatched in early spring. Reading that they would return to their same breeding grounds the next year, I planted more milkweed, and sure enough, one lone monarch returned and laid her eggs. I had about a dozen or more larvae, with half already growing to maturity and going off to find a place to build their cocoons and the others still munching happily along. I don't see any cocoons yet, but I still may find one.

This year, I had many more butterflies and pollinators visit, as they discovered my little patch of flowers. Sulfur butterflies are frequent visitors, and the Cassia bicapsularis I grew from cuttings last year will be planted this year for them to eventually lay eggs on. My favorite butterfly this year, and one that did me the most good, was a tiny little long-tailed skpper who pollinated my butterfly weed so it would make seeds. I also saw a few gulf frittilaries, so I'm going to try to find a passion vine for them to breed on.

On the bee front, a couple of carpenter bees lay claim to my pigeon pea, and chased off many an intruder on their bountiful find. Native bees also loved the pigeon pea, and I had a couple of varieties of those gathering pollen. When the marigolds burst forth with bloom in early fall, there were all sorts of bees and other insects on them. In November, I made my first honeybee sighting, which thrilled me, because there are so many trees around here where they could build hives. I'm hoping to see more in 2017. There was a large cicada killer wasp that came around, but my paper wasps never built a nest, because my neighbor kept spraying them whenever they tried.

Beneficials and Baddies

My Confederate Rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) struggled this year, due to a horrible infestation of whitefly. I fought as hard as I could, but finally gave up the fight and decided to just use systemic insecticide next year. Then, one day, I noticed a ladybug on a leaf, and discovered that she had laid eggs and the larvae were munching happily on the whitefly eggs and larvae. The plant was too far gone for them to do much good, but they cleaned it up rather well, and I'm sure they will be back next year to keep it clean. Therein lies the dilemma, though. If I treat it with systemics, there will be nothing for them to eat, and they may actually be killed. Luckily, the butterfly weed has a ton of aphids, and they seem to be migrating to those, so maybe they'll be o.k.

I fought a bad infestation of army worms on my Brugmansia (angel trumpet) plants this year, going out every evening and every morning to pull them off and drown them. I'm sure they'll be back next year, so I'm prepared to do battle once again. Luckily, the brugs survived to burst forth in a glorious display of blooms in the fall.

I've learned a lot from gardening in this space this year, and although I had some failures, I know what to do and not to do in 2017 now, so the experiment continues with more flowers and a dedicated butterfly garden in the future.My plan is to strip the gardens and start all over, so Subscribe to The Consummate Gardener by Email for more adventures to come!

Preparing For the "Polar Plunge"

It's that time of year, and now we're having our first serious freeze warning. The weatherman is calling for freezing temperatures in North Florida on Thursday and Friday nights. The predicted temperatures keep fluctuating, but it seems

Garden Diary: November 30, 2016

This is a picture of me using leaves to kill grass to expand the garden last year.

 I can't believe it's almost December, and then it's 2017, and I haven't gotten half of the things done that I wanted to do. Thing is, I just got burned out trying to do too much, and now I'm going to relax and concentrate on building the soil in the beds instead of expanding them any more. I'll let all the tender plants die back and reconfigure the bulbs, etc. so they will grow and thrive.

Luckily, I have a lot of leaves around here to use for mulch and soil amendment. Today, I was racing the yard crew to get my elm leaves raked before they came through to mow. The guy who runs the mower on my side of the complex is a good ole' country boy, and if he sees me out there working, he'll just mow slowly or do other areas and come back to my tiny little strip in front of my apartment. He and I have talked, and he likes to garden too, so I was happy to see him on the mower today.

I got all the elm leaves raked today, and got most of the then-fallen oak leaves yesterday. I didn't want to really cover up the gardens yet, so I put the leaves into the courtyard. It looks really strange out there now, but it gets covered in leaves in the fall anyway, because a lot of the oak leaves blow into it. As the outer gardens die down, and there are plenty more to fall. I'll carry these out of the courtyard and put them into those beds, and of course, leave some in here too.

The leaves will keep the earthworms warm and well-fed in the winter. I'll water them tomorrow to mash them down a little. It takes awhile for them to settle in and stop blowing around, but once they mat down, they make a great ground cover.  When they're loose, I worry about spiders crawling over my feet when I walk through them.

I could get many more leaves if I wanted, because this place is full of trees. If I felt like picking out the pine cones, I could get pine straw. I should have picked up Spanish Moss after the storms this summer, but I didn't, so I'll try to get a bit now to put over the top of the leaves to make it a little more attractive. People look at me weird when I start raking and picking up moss, but I don't care. They love my flowers, so they should appreciate how I grow them.

If I won the lottery, I'd buy this place and turn it into a complex for gardeners. Not as much veggies as ornamentals, but still, I'd let them use the land around their apartments to plant whatever they wanted.That isn't going to happen, so I guess I'll just be happy with what I have.

Hope all of you are getting bountiful amounts of leaves for your gardens. Free soil amendment and compost material is never a bad thing.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Diary - November 20, 2016

Monarch on Tropical Milkweed

I don't think I'm going to get any Monarch babies this year. This butterfly has been hanging around, but I don't see any eggs or larvae yet. I can't bring the plant inside this year, so if they make chrysalises, they'll just

Garden Diary: November 10, 2016

Not much to say today. I planted some sweet potato slips this summer, just mostly for ground cover. I had a few that had come back up from the winter, which I just let grow. I don't know how to grow them up here, obviously, because

Tiny Flowers Make Me Smile

I love tiny flowers, which is why I love wildflowers so much, I guess. Any little weed that has a pretty flower catches my eye. I was walking around the garden this morning and snapped a few pics of some of the tiny flowers in my garden.

Month-by-Month in North Florida: What to Plant in November (UPDATED)

Last year's post had me grumbling about not knowing what I was doing in Gainesville, but I've learned a little since then. Plus, the IFAS/UF Vegetable Gardening Guide has been updated, so there will be some changes to what you can and cannot plant in November in North Florida.

Plants From the Spice Rack

Dill Flowers
Did you know that many of the spices you use will grow herbs, veggies or flowers? Yes, they will! Read here, then check out your own spice rack to see what you can find. Tell me if I missed anything.

Garden Diary - October 19, 2016

Hibiscus Radiatus

Well, fall is coming in fast, and whereas parts of the gardens are going to sleep, others are just waking up.  The perennial hibiscus are starting to bloom. the H. radiatus (picture above) is blooming like mad and the Confederate Rose is showing signs

Garden Diary: October 9, 2016

The final blooms of the season of the desert rose

Last year when I brought in all the plants still in containers, I only had a small path left in the LR. This year, when I took the ones inside back out, I kept looking to see if I'd missed anything. Nope. All out. Shocked at just how few I have left to

Waiting On a Hurricane

Meet hurricane Matthew. This is what it looked like at 7:00 AM ET. It's ripping the east coast of FL apart as we speak, tearing down power lines, blowing away houses and knocking down trees. Over here in Gainesville, the effects are scheduled to start rolling in about 11:00 AM ET

The good news is that Matthew is now a Category 3,

Garden Diary: October 2, 2016

Not my sweeet potatoes, but these are the kind I planted

 Oh heavens! Is it October already? I'm flabbergasted! I need to get to work on the October planting post, but right now, I'm too busy trying to get my house ready for my sons to visit me. Of course, like most kids, I have no idea when they are coming. It was going to be the end of this month, then that

48 Bananas: A Permaculture Tale

Woke up this morning to two more hands on the banana. You can see one of them poking out on the right above the bract. The top hand has opened up and I counted 12 fruits on every hand. Not sure

Garden Diary - September 21, 2016

Crocosmia Rescued From Trash Pile

I've been looking at my big "experiment" and thinking that much needs to change for next year. I stuck things here and there to see what they thrived, but once everything dies back, I'm going to be moving a lot of them.

Brugmansia - I don't need four pink angel trumpets, so I'll be

Why I Will Likely Not Grow Vegetables Any Longer

I thought this nice, sunny courtyard would be the perfect place to grow vegetables, but unfortunately, because of trees that block the sun for a good part of the day, there isn't enough direct sun to grow what I want. I don't actually like

Garden Diary - September 10, 2016

As you can see from the picture, my giant carrion plant, or starfish flower, is blooming. The flies are loving it, as it smells like rotting meat. This was one of my mother's favorite plants, and we traded cuttings back and forth for years until

Garden Diary - August 27, 2016

I've been very discouraged by trying to grow vegetables inside this courtyard. While most of what I planted outside is doing well, the things I've planted inside have largely struggled, especially tomatoes and peppers. I just pulled up the Black Cherry tomato and sterilized the soil, because despite it being planted in a pot with potting soil, it had nematodes.

I'm taking down the "potting table," and since I need to get the pots up off the ground to avoid nematodes, I'm going to fold it up and lay it down to put pots on. I'm also going to punch more holes in the pots for better drainage, and add more perlite to the soil. Then I'll start digging and amending the soil on the east side of the garden in preparation for eventual planting. I may try a few greens there this fall. Not sure yet. I have to see what I find when I dig it up.

I've already started seeds for Cherokee Purple, Supersweet 100 and Everglades tomatoes, but not sure what I'm going to do with them. Hopefully, more holes in the pots and better drainage will allow them to grow better. I may plant a few outside the courtyard to see what happens. Depends on how the seeds do. My two Cherokee Purple clones died, and I didn't save seeds, so I only had 7 seeds left to plant. Hopefully, they will sprout, but they're last year's seeds, so who knows? If they don't, I'll plant something else, like Beefsteak.

I'm going to try to grow some collards and lettuce too. I wish I had the money to put up my gutter garden, but that will have to wait awhile. The East wall is perfect for that.

On a more encouraging note, the Seminole Pumpkin vines are taking off now and growing like mad. I'll have to twist them around and about to get them to fit into the space I have, but it will be worth it, I''m sure. I have one growing up into the hibiscus bushes, which will likely drop down into the outside garden looking for sun, so we'll see what happens. I'm excited about those, and hope to get a few fruts. The sweet potato slips I stuck here and there in the courtyard are taking off too, and I hope they will eventually take over as a groundcover in here.

The banana tree is still growing like mad, as is the pigeon pea, which is 10 feet tall now. Looking forward to a great harvest from that this fall/winter. Another of the pigeon pea seedlings is about 4 feet tall, so I can count on that for a harvest too.

This place is a challenge, and no doubt it will take me a few years to figure out what will grow successfully where, but I think in the end, it will be a productive garden -- for flowers if nothing else.

Garden Diary - July 27, 2016

I never thought I'd say this, but I cannot wait until everything dies back in the winter. This entire garden has been experimental, to see what grows best where and what needs to come out. Unfortunately, with so little space, I've found that a lot of things are going to need to come out of the outside garden this winter and be moved or given away entirely.

Cannas - The yellow cannas are pretty easy to control. They clump nicely and don't cause any trouble, but the red-leaf ones are another story altogether. They don't clump, they spread, and they are getting way out of control, casting shade of things that don't need shade.  It has to be moved or taken out.

Papaya - I think my papaya is male, because it never blooms. All the blooms just drop off before they even open. Might be the heat, but at any rate, it's not doing what I had hoped, so I don't think I'll be growing papayas next year. I'll probably move it into the courtyard to provide shade and some biomass, but when it dies, it dies.

Brugmansias - What a hassle! These plants have been a nightmare of acting as candy to every pest on earth! Worms, mites, whiteflies, you name it. They love the brugs! I'm probably going to keep one and give the rest away, then move that one to somewhere else and use that bed for edibles. Just waiting for them all to bloom so I can see if I have anything other than pink. If not, I'll give them all away and buy a Charles Grimaldi, which is the one I actually wanted, and put it into a pot somewhere.

Giant native four-o'clock - This thing is HUGE! It gets to be 6 feet tall and that's not what I want. It will either be moved or taken out completely. I don't know if I have any place I can put it where it won't take up too much room and become too invasive. The flowers are pretty, but it's just too big.

Lemon grass - has to go. May plant it as a hedge along the back fence, but it takes up too much room in the outside garden.

Luna hibiscus - what a disappointment! It did nothing this year and only sent out a few spindly blooms. Maybe it will do better once I take the lemon grass out that is shading it. I'm thinking of moving it to the brug bed this winter. It's obviously very unhappy where it is.

Banana - while it's been a good shade plant, it's really too close to the building. One pup came up right against the wall, and it's going to be hard to get out. I'm thinking of moving the whole clump into the corner by the elephant ear to create a nice little shady spot there. 

I'm going to move quite a few things, actually, and reconfigure the entire outside garden, probably adding a few feet on the far end. Smaller plants are being swallowed up by ground covers and larger plants, so they will be put into their own little space where they don't have to compete.  I'd really like to turn the brugmansia bed into an edibles bed. It gets good sun, and the soil isn't bad, with lots of earthworms.

So now I'm just chomping at the bit waiting for winter. What are your winter garden plans?

Progress and Fall Plans for the Courtyard Garden

As you may recall, the courtyard garden did not live up to expectations for my original plans, so I've rethought it and decided to turn it into a permaculture "food forest" type garden. Of course, it will be very limited in its scope, due to its size, but I've already made a lot of progress. The west side, which looked like this when I moved in... looks like this. The banana is over ten feet tall and has two large pups. I planted a pigeon pea next to it which I use for biomass and it seems to be working for nitrogen fixing, don't you think? I discovered that the elephant ear is edible, so I'm letting the little sprouts, which come up everywhere, live and eating their small leaves, also letting them grow to provide shade, which is sorely lacking in the courtyard. I also have basil, ginger and albemoschus manihot growing there, and I've just planted some sweet potato slips to become next year's ground cover.

The South wall now has taro, amaranth, butterfly weed, Ceylon spinach, Seminole pumpkin and sweet potato slips planted, but it's also a work in progress which will be my spring project, and too ugly to post pictures of at this point.

For fall, I want to work on the east side of the garden, the shadier side. This is where I want to plant my greens. It's a mess right now...

...and I was using it for a holding and potting area, but all that is going to go, and I'll start using it for planting. I already have the shampoo ginger growing there, which I will never get rid of since it's grown up under the wall, so I'm just going to keep cutting that back and use it for biomass, since it has no food value and I'm not interested in using it for shampoo. I already have the angled luffa growing in the corner, where all the gravel is, and while it's growing well, I've yet to see any fruit, so that may come down and be used for biomass too.

I'll be digging out and amending the soil for planting. I'll dig in as much organic matter as I can find, although I'll be limited by budget and availability until the leaves start falling. I plan to use kitchen scraps as direct compost in the beginning. I'll also be planting a few pigeon peas there for eventual shade, nitrogen fixing and biomass. I'm not sure if that side has earthworms, but if not, I'll move them from the other gardens into this one when I add the fall leaves.

I'll string some wire across the top of the wall and tie strings to it for beans to climb. Underneath, I'll plant spinach, collards, onions, and kohlrabi. I thought about seven-top turnips, but I really like collards more. In the very front, I'll plant my lettuces and carrots. Not too sure what to plant as ground cover right now, but I've had some suggestions from the permaculture sub on reddit that I'm looking at. I might use winter squash, even though there probably isn't enough sun there for them to bear, but we'll see. I can also just let beans run across the ground instead of staking them.

Eventually, I would like to put a gutter garden on the wall for the lettuce, or tower gardens. Like I said, it's all an experiment right now.

So that's the plan so far in this experimental permaculture food forest. I'd be happy to hear your suggestions in the comments.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Diary - July 8, 2016

Well, it's been a long time since I wrote in my diary. It's been extremely hot lately, in the mid-to-upper 90s every day for awhile now. I water every morning, and sometimes in the afternoons just to cool the plants and soil off.

The outside garden (top) has filled in very nicely, but some things aren't doing as well as others.

It's hard to believe that less than one year ago, this was the original outside garden. I remember carefully planting those little slips of plants and mulching them with Spanish moss. the lantana is gone now and that tiny little slip of lemon grass on the far left has gotten so big that I had to tear some of it out this year. Luckily, my next door neighbor took it and is going to grow it in her garden.

The Confederate Rose (top far left) was horribly infested with whiteflies, so I had to remove all but the top few leaves to save it. I've been treating the whiteflies that came back daily with a spray of dish soap, oil and cayenne in water and so far, so good. I've also been fertilizing it regularly, and it's started to put out lots of nice, healthy side growth.

 On the other hand, the bulbs I found discarded in a pile of leaves next to the dumpster turned out to be crocosmia, not gladiolus, and they are blooming beautifully.

The double purple datura that I grew from seed is also blooming finally. One put out a bloom in the spring, which is now a nice seed pod for fresh seeds for next year.

The coleus are all doing exceptionally well. I especially love the Japanese Giant (left back below) that I got when a neighbor moved out last year. This thing will get about 4-5 feet tall by the time it's done growing.

Also in the above picture you'll see that the dwarf yellow poinciana planted out this spring to replace the lantana is doing well. It's grown almost a foot, and I'm counting on blooms in the fall. The sweet potatoes are taking over the garden and the Little Ruby alternanthera (front bottom left) that was one solitary sprig this spring is spreading like crazy.

Sadly, the New Zealand spinach is not doing well. I took cuttings hoping to root them, but although I had read reports of how easy they are to root in water, mine just rotted away. I've also read reports that it takes awhile to get started and will surprise me one day by growing like mad, so I just leave it there and hope that report is right, or that it at least reseeds itself for next year.

One last picture, then I really do have to go back to work. I bought some markdown plants at Lowe's last year, and while they aren't doing as well as I expected, they are still alive and growing. The Sallyfun Blue salvia is growing very slowly as is the Luna Red hibiscus next to it. The hibiscus bloomed today, which is nice, but the three spindly stems are so weak I had to stake it up so it didn't fall face-down into the ground. I'm going to be moving this in the winter, maybe putting it into a container.

That's it for now. I'll report on the inside courtyard permaculture garden soon. Happy Gardening!

I Would Have No Garden if Not For Free Plants

When I left SW Florida for the second time, I brought very few plants with me, around 12 to 15, if I recall correctly. most of them were mature plants I couldn't give up and some were pots full of cuttings from others that I gave away or sold. I also brought a bag of seeds I had saved or gathered here and there. Everything I brought was precious to me.

Along the way, some died or tried to die. I lost my beautiful pink Thanksgiving cactus, but I luckily had cuttings started, although it will take years to get it back to that size. My Clivia was almost eaten alive by snails, and is still recovering from it's near death. My beautiful pink orchid cactus died, and there was nothing I could do to save it. My yellow Thai Crown of Thorns almost died, and I still haven't planted out or potted up the remaining pieces. My staghorn fern was doing well until it got here and got sunburned and almost died -- for the fourth time. I'm keeping it indoors for the summer. My purple epidendrum orchid all but died, and is now struggling to come back from some tiny keikis that survived. Another orchid died altogether, but honestly, I didn't expect that one to live, because it was never really healthy.

I thought I would never have a beautiful garden again. I moved from here to there, never really finding my footing, picking up a few plants along the way. Now that I'm finally settled into a place that seems to love me and my plants, I decided to take an inventory and see how many plants I have and how I came about them. I was SHOCKED at the number and diversity of the plants I have which were gotten primarily for free.

So I made a list of the freebies. I have bought only a few plants since I've been back in FL; some half-price vincas from WalMart and a few 75% and 90% off plants from Lowe's. All totaled, those were about $5. This is how I got the rest:

List of free plants in my garden

From McCrorie Community Garden

  1. Lemon grass - grew from one sprig I got off a plant at the edge of the compost pile
  2. Tithonia - Dug up a volunteer plant from the pathway
  3. Mirablis logiflora (Sweet Four O'clock) - volunteer growing in my plot
  4. Sweet potatoes - volunteers in my plot
  5. Amaryllis - gift from a fellow gardener
  6. Red-leaf canna - gift from a fellow gardener
  7. NOID cherry tomato - grown from seeds from a fallen fruit
  8. Spearmint - Dug up escaped plants in pathway
  9. Red tropical sage - Grown from harvested seeds
  10. Rosemary from a cutting from a fellow gardener

From My Current Apartment Complex

From tenants moving:
  1. "Little Ruby" alternanthera
  2. "Japanese Giant" coleus
  3. Purple lantana
  4. Yellow/orange canna
  5. NOID white-leaved syngonium
  6. Red & White Amaryllis
  7. Purple wandering jew
  8. Dwarf oyster plant
  9. Kalanchoe luciae 

From around the property:

  1. Purple Queen
  2. Arrowhead syngonium
  3. Blue-eyed grass
  4. Clerodendrum bungeii
  5. Green spider plant
  6. Coral bean
  7. Loquat seedling
  8. Crocosmia
  9. Wild blue violets

In the courtyard when I moved in:

  1. Banana
  2. Giant Xanthasoma elephant ear
  3. Peppermint
  4. Red pine cone ginger
  5. Aloe greenii
  6. Asiatic dayflower
  7. Red, orange and yellow tropical hibiscus

From roadsides, vacant lots, parking lots, etc:
  1. Crinum lilies from a vacant lot
  2. Ruellia "Purple Showers" from escapee on roadside
  3. Wild Petunia - Ruellia caroliniensis from roadside
  4. Mimosa tree (seed) from roadside
  5. Agapanthus (tiny babies) from parking lot
  6. Variegated flax (babies) from parking lot
  7. African iris (seed) from parking lot
  8. Cassia bicapsularis from cuttings from city property
  9. Bulbine cuttings from parking lot
  10. Shrimp plant escapees from roadside
  11. Yellow butterfly weed escapees from roadside
  12. Florida roseling from the roadside
  13. Green wandering jew - Tradescantia fluminensis from the roadside
  14. Magenta four-o'clock (seed) from the roadside
  15. Coontie and seedlings from an abandoned lot
  16. Liriope from an abandoned lot
  17. Red and Yellow coleus cuttings from abandoned plants around a closed business

From friends, trades & free seeds:
  1. 4 NOID Brugmansias
  2. Peacock ginger
  3. Black coleus
  4. NOID Papaya (probably Miradol)
  5. Golden pothos
  6. Various bromeliads
  7. "Dart frog" caladium
  8. Taro
  9. Red stripe leaf amaranth
  10. Blue walking iris
  11. Everglades tomatoes (seed)
  12. Cayenne peppers (seed)
  13. Black cherry tomato (seed)
  14. Seminole pumpkin (seed)
  15. Angled luffa (seed)
  16. Albemoschus manihot (cutting)
  17. Various ornamental and veggie seeds not yet planted
  18. Red Thai crown of thorns
  19. Yellow dwarf poinciana (seeds brought with me)
  20. Dragon fruit (store-bought plant seeds)
  21. Talinum fruticosum - Ceylon spinach
  22. Datura inoxia (seeds brought with me)
  23. Datura "Double Purple" (seeds brought with me)

That's 75 kinds of plants I didn't have when I got here, and since some are multiples, it's probably more than 100 plants total. Some are just babies, and some were obtained by what some would consider "dubious means," but I don't ever take the whole plant, just offsets, seeds or starts, and I don't feel bad about rescuing plants from parking lots and around buildings that are going to die anyway.

Now if I can just keep the whiteflies and hornworms from killing everything, I'll be happy. 

Tomato Report

I only have a few tomato plants this year, because a) I'm not a huge tomato fan and b) I was trying to find just one good regular tomato to grow every year, since I have so little room.

I got a sample pack from Dollar Seed with 10 seeds each of ten different heirloom varieties. I bought it just for the Cherokee Purple seeds, but decided to also try Mortgage Lifter. This is my report on the tomatoes for this year to date.

Regular Tomatoes

Early Girl - I don't like this plant, other than that it is early bearing. It's way too tall and spindly and doesn't bear especially well. I didn't remove the suckers this year, and it still isn't filling out well, but it's early. I grew this year's from a sucker from last year's plant and overwintered. I don't think this is one I'm going to continue planting, but I may try the Early Girl Bush, which is supposed to be a lot more compact and easy to grow.

Cherokee Purple - Who doesn't love this tomato? It's absolutely amazing. I like its thick, sturdy stems and the fact that is is very prolific. The only thing I don't like is that the fruit tends to split, but I avoid that by picking it just as it starts to turn and ripening it on the windowsill. Beautiful, big fruit and nearly disease resistant. Awesome taste. Mine has 5 baby fruits on it right now, and is loaded with blooms.

Mortgage Lifter - This plant is pathetic, so I didn't even take a picture of it. Planted it in sterile soil, but it has picked up some sort of early blight which is killing all the leaves. It was the last one I planted, so I guess that's why it has no fruit to date, but I may have to pull it out and toss it due to the blight. The stems are weak and spindly. I may move it away from the other tomatoes just to see what it does, but I don't think I'll be planting this again.

Cherry Tomatoes

Everglades - Of course, this one is always amazing. I have planted several outside the wall, which I just let sprawl all over the ground and they put out fruits like crazy. This is my absolute favorite cherry tomato ever

NOID Cherry - grown from seeds I got from a tomato from McCrorie Garden, I have no idea what it is, but it looks a lot like Husky Cherry Red and is delicious. It's not very prolific to date, though. I planted it out in the outside garden staked to the pigeon pea, and it got a little spindly. I cut off some of the pigeon pea's lower branches to give it more light. We'll see what it does. It has an Everglades planted close by that might be stealing all its nutrients.

Black Cherry - these are seeds from a friend's tomatoes, so they may not come true. Cut worms got the first seedling I planted, so I put foil around the next one and it seems to be doing well. It will be interesting to see if it actually IS a black cherry tomato or not.


I did grow a couple of Roma seedlings, but I'm not sure I'm going to plant them. I'm running out of space, and although I had planned to put them into my neighbor's garden next door, he doesn't seem very interested in really DOING any gardening, in fact, I think he thought I was going to do it for him. No thanks. I have enough to do. I may just put these into 1-gallon pots and try to keep them going until Fall, or I may toss them. I don't want to waste a 5-gallon bucket on one of them, since they probably won't do much this summer.

So the verdict is that this fall, I will only grow Cherokee Purple and maybe try the Yellow Plum seeds I have. Of course, the Everglade stays, but the rest are pretty much history, especially the Mortgage Lifter.

Happy Gardening!

Florida Gardening 101: Planting Grafted Roses

Growing roses in Florida is a challenge, which is a lesson I learned well after killing a few. After you have chosen your grafted rose bushes, you must learn the proper way to plant and fertilize them. Except for some heirloom old garden roses (OGR), most roses will not thrive on their own roots in our native Florida soils. In order to get optimum growth and bloom from your Florida roses, you will have to plant them properly.

I learned this technique from a rose expert in South Florida, and it gets raves from everyone I've taught it to.

How to Plant Grafted Roses in Florida

Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun a day, preferably with some morning sun. Roses can't get too much sun, so don't hesitate to plant them in full sun if possible.

Nematodes are the main enemy of roses in Florida. These microscopic worms attack the roots, leaving them gnarled and knotty, unable to absorb nutrients. The best defense against nematode infestation in your roses is organic matter in the soil.

Roses need rich, loamy soil to thrive. To ensure that they have this, you have to totally replace the native Florida soil with organic peat. Organic peat is not the same as composted manure, however, you will also need composted manure when planting your grafted roses.

NOTE: Planting container roses and bareroot roses is different, and both will be explained in this article.

How to Transplant Container Grown Grafted Roses

First, you will dig a hole twice the diameter of and 3" deeper than the pot the rose bush came in (i.e., if the pot is a 10" pot, the hole should be 20" wide). Add 3 inches of composted manure into the bottom of the hole, fill the hole with water twice and let it soak in.

Remove the rose bush from the pot and cut the rootball with a box cutter or other sharp knife on four sides, going from top to bottom. This will loosen the roots so that they can spread. If the bottom roots have grown into a tight in a circle, and you cannot loosen them, you may have to slice off from 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the bottom, but if possible, just tease the bottom roots away from the rootball.

Place the rose bush in the center of the hole, spreading out the bottom roots as much as possible, and fill halfway with organic peat. Fill the hole with water, and let it soak in. This serves two purposes: to wet the soil and rootball, and to settle the soil so that there are no air holes.

Continue to add organic peat to the hole to within three inches of the top, and water again as before, letting it soak in well. Fill the rest of the hole with organic peat, making sure that the top of the rootball is approximately 1" above the top of the hole.

Sprinkle 1 cup of epsom salts around the top of the hole and water in well. This will gets your roots off to a good start, just as the composted manure in the bottom will feed your rose until it is established.

How to Plant Bare Root Grafted Roses

Dig your hole to a diameter of at least 20 inches and 3" deeper than the rootball. Fill with water twice, and let it soak completely in to moisten the soil around the hole.

Put 3 inches of composted manure into the bottom of the hole. Now, you must build a cone shaped mound in the middle of the hole with the organic peat, and spread the rose roots out over the mound as evenly as possible. Do not let the rose roots scrunch up on the bottom. If they do, build the mound higher.

Fill the hole with organic peat to within 3" of the top. Sprinkle 1 cup of epsom salts into the hole, and fill with water twice, letting it soak in between each watering. Fill the rest of the hole, making sure to leave the graft above the level where it will be mulched.

Build your watering well as outlined above and water the rose once to settle the soil down around the roots. Thereafter, water as outlined above.

Watering Newly Planted Grafted Roses

Build a dam of the soil you dug out of the hole in a circle around the bush, about 12 inches out from the trunk, and 2 inches high. This is your watering well. You will water the rose by filling the well three times every other day for 2 weeks, twice a week for two weeks, and give it at least one inch of water, twice a week thereafter. After 4 weeks, you may take down the well, fertilize and mulch the rose.

Mulching Grafted Roses

VERY IMPORTANT: Do not ever let the mulch or anything else cover the top of the graft bud (where the rose is grafted onto the rootstock). This will cause graft rot that will kill the hybrid rose on top and cause the bush to come back from the rootstock. While the rose is growing, quickly cut away any growth from below the graft.

Although it's a bit more work to plant these grafted roses properly, and provide a place where they can grow and thrive, it's well worth the effort and will pay off with lovely blooms for years to come.

The First Rule of Florida Gardening for Northern Transplants

Since a lot of people move down here in the spring and summer, thought I'd clue you in.

FLORIDA GARDENING RULE #1: Forget everything you know about gardening up north.

Honestly, just forget it. You have entered a totally different world. I moved here from SC with a degree in horticulture, and I had to relearn everything.

Soil Woes

First off, our soil SUCKS. It is either sand or marl. You can read on this blog about How to Plant in Sand and How to Plant in Marl. In some areas of the state you may find clay or even soil full of limestone rocks, but by and large, these are the main two soils.

Northern Plants That Won't Grow Here

This may not apply in the panhandle, Z8b, but by and large -- Forget about
  • lilacs
  • most spring flowering bulbs
  • cherry trees
  • hostas (they have come out with a couple for FL, but they aren't nearly as nice)
  • peonies (I miss these)
  • zoysia and centipede grass 

Florida Vegetable Gardening

We grow our "summer" veggies in the fall, winter and early spring. Forget summer vegetable gardens unless you happen to love
  • southern peas
  • okra
  • hot peppers
  • cherry tomatoes
  • eggplant

General Florida Gardening and Critters

Learn to love tropical plants and flowers, tropical fruits, tropical vegetables (for summer planting) and stuff you have never heard of before that is not sold in any supermarket, anywhere, anytime.

Learn to adjust to a multitude of animals, lizards and huge insects you thought only existed in science experiments.

ALMOST EVERYTHING grows out of control and most things can become invasive or at least peskily rampant. Get used to pruning. If you hate pruning, don't plant shrubs. Don't go into a garden center asking for something that only gets 3 feet tall and blooms all year. There is no such plant, and they will laugh at you behind your back when you leave. I know this from experience.

Organic Gardening in Florida

Organic gardening is harder down here, because of the insects that aren't killed off in the winter, the lousy soil, and because it really is the HUMIDITY, not the heat. Humidity causes fungus and mildew and all sorts of horrid diseases that you will fight constantly.

Growing Roses in Florida

Roses are labor-intensive down here. They have to be planted on special rootstocks, and many of your favorites will not grow down here no matter what you do, such as Lady Banks rose (which I also miss). Weekly spraying for insects and fungus is a must. Roses die off after a few years just because they never go dormant and grow themselves to death. There are not a lot, or maybe not any, 100 year old rose bushes in FL, except maybe in extreme N. FL. Here is some info on growing roses:

Growing Roses in Florida:  Choosing a Rose Rootstock  

Florida Gardening 101:  Planting Grafted Roses

Sun and Shade 

Full sun in the garden can be your enemy and shade is your best friend. Lots of the most beautiful and easy-to-grow tropicals require shade, such as most gingers, orchids and bromeliads, so if your first inclination is to chop down all those beautiful shade trees, you may want to think twice.

It's a lot to learn. I've been gardening here for over 20 years, and just moved from the south of FL to the north of FL; now I have to learn it all over again. May take me another 20 years.

Take it slowly and find a good local garden center that can advise you. Get in touch with your local extension service. Read, read, read on sites like Floridata and Florida Gardener.  Scour the University of FL IFAS pages, especially the Solutions for Your Life Lawn and Garden site and the Vegetable Gardening Guide. Go to the Florida Gardening forum on Gardenweb  or any number of forums on social media and ask a lot of questions. People there love to help.

And subscribe to this blog in the sidebar by email or RSS if you like. I try to post as often as possible, and feel free to ask questions. I'm also on Gardenweb.

Florida gardening is not as scary as it seems, but it is very different, so be prepared to study and learn and have failures and successes.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Diary - April 27, 2016 - Edibles

Well, it's been a very long time since I did a diary post. Things have changed quite a bit since then. I'll post pictures later, but for now, just want to catch up. Sorry this is so long.

Things are finally actually growing, and I thought they never would! We've had

The Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet) Bed Is In

So last week the yard crew decided to blow all my leaves up against the wall. They don't like my leaf piles. The week before, they mowed over the pile I had by the fence. Anyway, having a nice, clear spot in front of the bed completely devoid

Garden Diary - April 7, 2016

Spring is cranking into full gear, with all sorts of exciting things going on inside and outside the courtyard. The top picture is the outside south-facing garden, as it looks

My Miraculous Pigeon Pea Plant

I started out wanting to grow pigeon peas as a permaculture crop, and as a nitrogen fixer from which I could also get food. I read that you can use them as tomato stakes in the garden, and they fix nitrogen, so they would feed the

Garden Diary: March 16, 2016

As you can see, the outside bed has gotten larger, and this is about as far as I'm going with it. It looks scroungy right now, but once things start growing and blooming, it will be beautiful. I'll put in my three sweet potato slips

Garden Diary: March 9, 2016

Spring is springing all around me, and Accuweather says there is no chance of frost before March 15, so I'm going to start planting now. I didn't lose anything I can see, although the Luna hardy hibiscus was always iffy. Hopefully, it lived

Garden Diary: February 21, 2016

Hoping This is What My Celosia Looks Like

Well, it's been awhile, but January wasn't a good gardening month for me. We had several cold snaps, and the most gardening I did was moving plants in and out of the house and trying to

Don't Be Taken In by Hybrid Hibiscus Seed Scams on eBay

I was on eBay this morning and remembered someone talking about all the cheap seeds you can get from China. First off, I don't know of anyone who has had luck with seeds from China, and I wouldn't order any. When I look at the reviews,

Garden Diary: January 18, 2016

More plant rescues! There is a pile of leaves beside one of the dumpsters. I don't know why it's there, it just has been there since I've been here. Anyway, I was walking by it today and saw something that looked familiar, and realized it was

Garden Diary: January 10, 2016

I've been trying to get the courtyard cleaned up somewhat in preparation for seed planting. It's still not very pretty, but I'm using what I have, so it won't be perfect until I can put some more money into it. At present, it's covered mostly in cardboard, just to kill the weeds. I'll be adding raised beds in the spring, but not quite sure where yet, as the center is where most of the sun is.

I did manage to get the rain barrel moved into the corner, but not sure it will stay there. I may take my chances putting it outside the courtyard in the back under the eaves. If I leave it in the corner, I'll have to devise some method of getting the water to run down into it.

The table is one I found in the dumpster, and now that I've set it up, I know why. The leg brace on the right side is broken completely off, so I'll have to figure something out to keep it from falling down. Right now, as you can see, it slopes badly to one side, but I just wanted to get it up and see how it worked.

I stuck the old ladder back up there temporarily. It will be used as a bean trellis eventually, but don't know where yet. The table does provide a good place to stash pots underneath.

The back wall is just a holding area for now. I found a small pallet that now holds the terracotta pots to keep them up off the ground. The freebie wrought iron table is stashed there too at present.


The Early Girl tomatoes are doing pretty well, and starting to turn just a bit. I swear, waiting for tomatotes to ripen in the winter is like watching paint dry!

Just on a whim, I stuck one of the tiny NOID tomato plants into an empty pot. I have no idea what it is, but that's the fun of gardening sometimes.

The allternanthera "Little Ruby," which was a tiny piece I put in with the Papaya tree in the fall is now going to seed. I'm watching it closely so I will be able to gather some for spreading around in other places. I got this plant from a neighbor who was moving out, and there are several pieces around the yard. It died back alot, so I'm hoping it will live through the winter and come back out full force in the spring. As you can see, I stuck a tomato sucker into the pot to keep the papaya company as well.

Outside the courtyard, I can't believe how huge the red coleus is! That's a 5 foot tall pigeon pea behind it for comparison. It's actually 3 plants together, but it just won't stop growing. I have to cut it back soon, so if anyone wants cuttings, come and get 'em!

Over to the right, you can see the lemon grass that was just one lonely little sprig in July. It will be huge next year, and I'll probably have to move it to a better spot.

It's supposed to get down to 34 tonight and 32 tomorrow night, so more things will be coming inside or getting covered tonight. I don't really think it will get that cold here, because it's always a bit warmer in this high-density population area, plus the courtyard provides some protection, but better safe than sorry. I don't know what I'm going to do with the Early Girl. I'll probably try to put that close up to the house and cover it for protection, because it's too big to bring in. Oh well, we'll see in the morning how they do.

Happy Gardening!