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Featured Plants 2009

January 2009

Cabbage and broccoli grow out of bales of straw at Kerby's nursery. The part we eat of broccoli is actually the tight bud cluster, so harvest often so the buds won't bloom like this. If they do and you've had enough to eat, enjoy the flowers. If you want more bud clusters, cut off the flowers as soon as you see them.

Cabbage and the related cole crops, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, mustard, even Brussels sprouts grow well in Florida gardens all winter long. You can start them from seeds from September through February or find many of them for sale in local nurseries. They grow slowly at first, since the days are short, but once the days begin to lengthen, they grow more quickly. I like the red varieties better than the green because they have more eye appeal and fewer pest problems. These are heavy feeders, so fertilize often. You may have some problems with cabbage worms but no more in Florida during winter than elsewhere in summer. Usually insects are not too pesky, but be ready with Bt if the worms attack. Ornamental cabbage or Kale also thrives here and is edible as well as decorative.

Golden plume, Justicia aurea
A large evergreen shrub, up to 8 feet, with spectacular large yellow flowers that start blooming for me in November and continue for at least three months unless they are nipped by a freeze. They need light shade and are water wimps with their large green leaves drooping daily in too much sun. I have seen this in only one other garden, George Reigler's, from whence mine came at least ten years ago. It has spread considerably and once it stops blooming, probably sometime in February, I will be digging some out and glad to share plants via email requests.

I have two spreads of this, one in the back that I never prune and one in the front that I have pruned drastically. Both end up about the same size by bloom time. I learned to prune right after bloom the year I pruned later and missed a year of bloom. I also never water the ones in back. They always start to bloom first. My other justicias or flamingo flowers, pink, white, or red and J. carnea, are smaller and bloom intermittently all year round, but these only in winter.

February 2009

Winter bedding plants such as petunias, pansies, and Johnny-jump-ups are now available in the local nurseries. I always have to buy the first Johnny-jump-ups I find in the fall just like I buy the first torenias I find in the spring. Both will self seed for some people, but if mine do, I somehow miss them. I do sometimes happily find a Johnny, but by the time that little guy blooms, the purchased ones have had a hundred flowers, so I win both ways. These will take full winter sun but also some shade. They are considered herbs since the flowers are edible.

Carolina yellow jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens
A non-aggressive but still vigorous evergreen vine or groundcover that bloom in winter. Bill Bettison of Seffner built a trellis over his patio and planted these about four years ago. They are dripping with yellow flowers and the finest ones I have ever seen. They give shade and privacy to the patio and the entire front of the house. "We've had to trim it back some," he says. This native plant likes light shade to full sun and grows from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas. It has reddish stems that twist about a support and can go 20 feet. It prefers open woodlands, wetlands, and roadside trees and fences. It has low salt but medium drought tolerance. All parts are poisonous but not inviting to children. The fragrant flowers attract hummingbirds. It is easy to start from cuttings, seeds, or air-layering.

March 2009

Chives are great both in the garden and in the kitchen. I used to grow a the regular one, Allium schoenoparsum, among my rose bushes to repel insects. It stays low and has lovely clover-like blooms of lavender in the spring. It was not until I came to Florida that I discovered garlic chive, A. tuberosum, with wider flat leaves that grow to about 18 inches and pretty rose-scented white flowers in 2 inch flat clusters that bloom above on 2 foot stems. These have proven much longer-lived and more reliable in Florida for me. The flowers are nice enough for bouquets and there is much more production of foliage. I've had the same plants for a dozen years, through cold, heat, rain, and drought while the shorter chives only live for a year at the most for me. Both can be started from seeds or divisions but it is easiest to just buy a nice plant and let it spread. They do well in full sun to partial shade and responds to enriched soil but tolerate a good bit of neglect. Frequent watering will keep the leaf tips from yellowing. They are members or the lily family, cousins of the onion but much milder.

Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica
An evergreen shrub that grows all over but tends to be more colorful the further north you go. It likes partial to full shade but will withstand full sun. So it has enjoyed our cold winter and never looked better. It can grow to 8 ft with small shiny leaves that turn a coppery red in winter. The leaves are compound and lacy, a medium green in summer but with red new growth. The white flowers grow in upright terminal clusters and are not especially showy but the orange berries hang in clusters. There are poisonous and perhaps a bit tempting to children, so warn them. Nandina is in the barberry family and a cousin to Mahonia as well. It is native to China and Japan. This one is in son Mike's yard and full sun and has lovely color this year. There is also a very nice hedge of this in our neighborhood that shines against a fence. The foliage is good for bouquets; immerse it completely in tepid water for a few hours to make it last longer.

April 2009

Pineapple guava , Feijoa sellowiana
An evergreen shrub or small tree than can grow to 15 feet high and wide. In April to May it produces these lovely flowers, the petals of which are edible and sweet as candy. It is hardy down to 14 degrees, so the frost has never hurt it. I have at least two in my garden. It is rather common to have flowers but not to have fruit, but I have had a few. The colder the season the better the chance for fruit, so this may be the year. Watch for it in August to October. Pick when mature, take indoors to ripen, and eat fruits fresh or in jelly.

Mine is growing in partial shade through it does best in sun. Even without fruit it is an excellent ornamental shrub. It can be started from seeds or purchased as superior grafted varieties and has no pests. There is better chance of fruit with at least three different varieties growing in the area.

May 2009

Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel is a herb that is good for cut flowers, in salads, soups, as a garnish or tea, to make a yellow to brown dye, and in cosmetics and steam facials. It is also a larval host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly. The name in Greek means to grow thin and chewing the seeds, stalks, or leaves is supposed to suppress the appetite.

The plant is attractive with tall feathery foliage, much like dill, in bright green or bronze. Clumps can grow 3 to 5 feet tall, though it will stay much smaller in containers or windowboxes. The flowers are large flat umbels of yellow.

Florence fennel (shown here) grows only 2 to 3 feet tall and has a large blanched bulb called finocchio at the base of the stem. It cen be cut into sticks like fresh celery or shredded for slaw. The entire plants has a sweet, mild flavor. Fennel tastes less like licorice than it smells, more like a nuttier anise. In cooking the flavor resembles fresh tarragon. All parts are edible. Leaves can be used the moment the plant is large enough to spare them. You can also hang them in small bunches to dry and then crumble them and store them in spice jars. Fennel may or may not die out in the summer, so harvest amply before the rains come. Plants like full sun to partial shade and are drought tolerant, though they respond well to occasional watering.

Confederate jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides
After a month of orange blossoms, Floridians are treated to a month or more of the scent of Confederate jasmine. This fragrance comes from the abundant white flowers of a controllable vine or ground cover with shiny evergreen leaves that is easy to grow in sun to partial shade, cold hardy, and has medium drought tolerance. It can be started from cuttings. It needs good air circulation. In too much shade it blooms less and there or where the air is stagnant, it is subject o scale and sooty mold. Where this is a background, use plant like crotons or snowbush which will show up well against the green leaves of the jasmine.

Confederate jasmine will cover a chainlink fence, is good around a mailbox, and is trained on the arbors around the Olive Garden restaurant restaurants so that even the stems on the poles are decorative.

June 2009

Starfish cactus, Stapelia gigantea
Stapelia gigantea has neat dark green cactus like foliage but with few and short spikes. In the Sacco garden there is an extended planting thriving in the leaf mulch that surrounds the stepping stones of their entryway. They once had 17 of the huge flowers at once. Each flower starts with a bud that eventually looks like a misshapen beige balloon and then opens to be a five pointed star in yellow to beige with tiny stripes of maroon throughout. They need full sun to partial shade, and after seeing these, I think I will move mine to a little more shade. Soil must be well drained and like most succulents, they need little water. I have had mine for years now and get a few flowers now and then throughout the warms months. I've never covered them and they have never had freeze damage, but it can happen. Overwatering and too much cold are the only things that can kill them. Otherwise they will live with complete neglect. You can divide them to cover more space, and should feed them occasionally. They can be grown indoors as a houseplant in containers or brought indoors when they bloom. Flowers don't last long and once open, some people complain of their smell, but I've never noticed it outside. This plant is hard to find. If you know someone with one, ask for a piece. Otherwise, check Logee's Greenhouse on the web.

July 2009

'Nearly Wild' rose
This 'Nearly Wild' rose has been bringing color to the Webber garden for a few years now. "It is about 4 1/2 feet high and I have to trim it's width because it gets very thick and has a lot of low ground runners. It has a lot of little thorns, so a person has to be careful when pruning. I prune it back a few times through the summer and once before the cool months. It blooms all year round but in the cool months it does not produce as many blossoms. It has a slight fragrance, but then I find the Florida heat takes a lot of the fragrance out of my roses. I never have to spray it. It makes a nice area filler rose bush.

August 2009

Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea
A native plant that blooms in flushes of red all year long and that birds first planted in my garden. They need little care except to cut down the stems when all the flowers have faded. They soon send up new shoots and bloom again and butterflies love them.