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Mulch Saves Money for Symingtons

The Symington home is set off with flowers and trees.

Lori and Joseph Symington moved to their present home on an acre in Valrico just before Christmas in 2003. They have since planted 37 trees plus 40 bananas and plantains and many flowering shrubs. Though they live on the curve of a cul-de-sac, many of the neighbors drive down and turn around to see what is currently blooming. They've even built a greenhouse, and done it all without spending much money.

"We knew where a manufactured home park was going to be bulldozed and turned into a parking lot," says Joseph. "We got permission and rescued many philodendrons, palms, and other plants.

"The philodendrons in the sun have smaller leaves than the ones in the shade, and I've learned that it doesn't take a 30 inch stem to move one. 12 inches of stem is enough," he says.

They often pick up discarded plants or clippings put out for trash, but they keep all such plants in an intensive care area until they are sure there are no insects or diseases hitch-hiking that could damage their other plants.

One of the secrets of their success is a tree trimming company that is glad to be able to dump truckloads mulch at the back of the Symington's lot. They have spread about 30 of those truckloads with "one pitchfork and a wheelbarrow" [Joseph] in the last year and a half and have several more decomposing into rich soil at the back of their lot. They are definitely going to keep access to that area open.

"I don't water much," says Lori Symington, "because of the mulch." She dug down into the 12 inch band circling the nearest tree and pulled up a handful of moist mulch. Most of us don't get it that deep. When they put in their plantains, they planted them right in the top of 3 feet of mulch and they are bearing big bunches of fruit.

"You can use a green plantain any way you'd use a potato," Joseph says. He offered a sample of slices he had deep fried and then sprinkled with salt that tasted better than potato chips.

This orange hibiscus gets the water from the turtle tank.

The Symingtons don't use any poison sprays. When their three silver dollar eucalyptus trees began to look bad, Lori mixed 2 teaspoons of antibacterial dishwashing soap, a few drops of vegetable oil, and 1 to 2 cups of rubbing alcohol per gallon of water in a 5 gallon pump sprayer. Then she climbed up on a ladder and sprayed them well. She saved the largest one and new growth is covering the damage.

They feed only with mulch, rabbit manure from their pet, and epsom salts.

"We recycle everything," says Joseph. He noticed a definite difference in the size and quantity of blooms on the double orange hibiscus by the front patio when he started pouring the water from the turtle tank on it. Lori had been dipping out of that tank for quite a while to water her container plants on the porch.

They have followed the mass planting rule, turning almost any single plant into many and grouping them together for best visual impact.

They even built a 12 x 40 foot greenhouse largely from materials that would otherwise have been wasted. Lori calls it her Noah's ark and has at least two new starts of everything that might freeze or otherwise perish in the outdoors.

Joseph grows the vegetables. Lori built the dehydrator on which she dries fruits, seeds, or herbs. Her granddaughter, 5-year-old Abbie Jewel Johnson "knows more about gardening already than most grown-ups. She says her raintree is the biggest because she covers it with kisses," says Lori.

This garden is also a wildlife refuge. They have owls, a red shoulder hawk, tree frogs, three good snakes, and other birds and butterflies. Gardeners all of their lives, they take great pride and find much enjoyment in their garden "My grandmother told me to keep learning," says Lori. "I put the plants where I think they will do best, give them a good prayer and learn from my mistakes."

Now's the time to...

  • Take Lori Symington's advice and make a special compost pile for throny clippings so only that mulch might be painful. Hers is near the largest bougainvillea, made of lathe and covered much of the year with morning glories.
  • I had never heard that lady palms can be as invasive as bamboo, and wouldn't have believed it the way my one small plant is growing. But the Symingtons tried to rescue some and it was nearly impossible. And she showed me a stalk with roots that felt like iron. So if you have lady, keep this in mind.

Abbie's gynormus raintree grows on kisses.