Columns

Gardener's Grapevine 2015.09.02

By JO ERBSKORN

This past week our family returned from a vacation to Georgia and Florida. When we planned to go to Florida in August, I was prepared for unbearable tropical heat. We chose to go in August because our son Nick and his lady friend return to school in late August to finish up their undergraduate degrees.

Well, with our crazy, rainy, weird weather here, Art kept saying we have to go to Florida to have a summer, and I would laugh. He wasn’t far off, and it seemed as if we were blessed from the start. We had beautiful weather the majority of the trip. It rained once just about every day for a half hour to an hour, then the sun came out and we were back to warm, balmy and tropical.

It is not hard to see why plants do so well in the tropics. Ye,s it’s humid and watering doesn’t seem to be an issue with the daily short downpours. While it was very warm—100 degrees most days—it was not super hot due to the breeze off the Gulf that is constant.

The other plus to the weather is no mosquitos. I don’t know if they drive everyone nuts, but when it is mosquito season here I pretty much get eaten up. I find that time of year miserable, and this summer mosquitos don’t have a season—they have the entire summer season. I love the warm weather without bugs, it’s a win-win.

What I would not enjoy if I resided in Florida would be trimming the palm trees. Not just anyone can trim them, so it is necessary to have a tree trimmer on the household books. The plus side, is that you can have tons of fresh citrus and even an avocado tree in your own yard. I know that would be me—I could eat my weight in avocados, and fresh orange juice is the best.

I did notice something about the tropical growing environment that is interesting. Here we have winters that allow our trees and shrubs to go dormant. That does not happen in Florida, so eventually, after being pruned repeatedly to keep them tidy, they have to be pulled and replaced. If they are not pruned, they go crazy and get very overgrown. We saw many companies pulling palms that were huge and many shrubs that basically looked dead.

Many of the shrubs line walks and pathways. This is done for the same reasons we do it here, privacy and aesthetics. In the north we tend to use things like boxwood, rarely a flowering bush. In Florida it is quite the opposite. They use lots of flowering plants. Anything planted close to the street or walkway will eventually need trimmed no matter the setback of the plants. Trimming boxwood is not a big deal as long as one is not too over zealous. Trimming a flowering hedge can be tricky, and if it’s not done correctly it can ruin the plant.

Trimming should done when the plant sets its blooms. A good example is forsythia. In the north it must be pruned as soon as it is done blooming, since not long after it completes its bloom, it starts setting its bloom for the next spring. The same thing applies for other flowering plants; they set their blooms at different times.

In a tropical environment plants can have more than one bloom in a year and at a fast rate of growth. Repeated pruning will eventually ruin the hedge and it will need to be pulled. It will become all woody with few leaves and flowers. Also, this much trimming requires a very informed gardener. I guess that applies to our environment, also, it’s just not needed as frequently.

While I love Florida, I think my gardening, if I lived there, would be on a much smaller scale if I were to keep up with it. I have a long time before I have to worry about it, if ever, as I am nowhere near retirement age.