Sunday, April 25, 2010

It Fig-ures

I have enjoyed growing the couple of common figs that I have. Brown Turkey and Celeste. I am rooting some fourteen more varieties. Some with unusual names like Panachee, Osborn Prolific and Rattlesnake Island Fig. Talking to people about figs, they are often amazed at how many varieties there are. It is estimated that there are over 700 different varieties around the world! The fig is considered the oldest cultivated tree for food by humans. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C.
According to botanists, who break them down by the way they are pollinated, there are four main fig divisions.
Caprifig..produces pollen, but no edible fruit. This one also hosts a special type of wasp. It actually lives inside the fig.
Smyrna figs..depend on Caprifigs for pollen and the special wasp I mentioned above.
San Pedros figs..produce two crops a year, one with the assistance of Caprifigs and one without.
Common Figs..is self pollinating. Many of the edible figs fall under this category.
The different types of fig trees gave rise to frustration in cultivators for thousands of years, since people did not initially understand why sometimes figs fruited and sometimes they didn't. Flowers need to be pollinated.
Many people do not realize that the fruit of the fig is actually an inverted flower. It contains both the male and female flower parts enclosed in stem tissue. For all you major geeks out there, it is known botanically as a syconium. So when the fig reaches maturity, the interior of the fig contains only the remains of these flower structures, including the small gritty structures commonly called seeds. Those so called seeds usually are nothing more than unfertilized ovaries that failed to develop. Sounds yummy huh?
The fig grows best and produces the best quality fruit in Mediterranean and dryer warm temperate climates. It is a deciduous tree that can reach heights of 50 feet. More commonly they only attain 10-30 feet. The tree has a sap that contains copious amounts of a milky latex that is irritating to human skin.
Fig leaves have a very tropical feel to them and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.



As do their fruits, This is only a small sample of the diversity of fruit shapes, colors and sizes.



Figs require full sun all day, Early morning sun is particularly important to dry dew from the leaves. Good drainage is important, and although drought tolerant, figs need 1 inch of water per week from rainfall or irrigation. Figs require little to no fertilization, excess nitrogen encourages leaf growth at the expense of fruit production. As a general rule, fertilize fig trees if the branches grew less than a foot the previous year.
Growing zones for figs are usually 6-9. There was a story of a fig growing in a zone 5, but it was growing next to a greenhouse and was fairly sheltered. If you want to grow a fig any further north, you will need a large container and some strong friends to move it inside each Winter.
Fig plants are usual propagated by cuttings. Take an 8 to 10 inch cutting of year-old wood in early spring. Dip the end of the cuttings in a rooting hormone and allow them to callus one week. Then place them in equal parts of Sand, Peat and Perlite. Keep them in bright light with lots of humidity and heat. When the roots appear, repot in growing medium and slowly acclimate them to their final growing place.
Figs must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before they are picked. They will not ripen if picked when immature. A ripe fruit will be slightly soft and starting to bend at the neck. Birds may feed heavily on figs. Picking early in the morning will decrease bird damage. Netting can be used if this becomes a major problem.
Insects and diseases are rarely a serious problem on figs. Various wood boring insects may attack weak or dying trees. Root knot nematodes are the primary pest, particularly in sandy soils. They attack the roots, forming galls and stunting the trees. Nematode problems may go unnoticed for several years. As a heavy population builds up, the tree loses vigor and declines gradually. The nematodes are not readily noticed by the average person. To prevent root knot nematodes in figs, obtain nematode free plants and plant in nematode free soil. That is why I prefer growing mine in containers, I never have to worry about these.
There are many people out there that say figs can not be grown well in containers. Here is a picture of mine, In A Container!



Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The First Invader has Arrived

Every year it is a guessing game as to which invading pest will be the first to arrive in my yard. Some years it is Aphids, others Mealybugs....This year it's Whitefly.
There seems to be many more than I have ever seen before. They are all over the Citrus, Tomatoes, Potatoes and Peppers. I have the typical white cloud of fluttering insects when I water.
Whiteflies are not true flies as they are relatives of mealybugs, scales and aphids. All of these insects suck the life right out of your plant, literally. They are piercing insects that suck the juice from the plants tissue. They attack the leaves, buds and stems.
Adult Whiteflies are about 1/10 to 1/16 inch long and look like tiny moths.



Adult females usually lay between 200 and 400 eggs. Sometimes the eggs are deposited in a circular pattern in groups of 30 to 40 because the female will often keep her mouthparts in the plant to feed while moving her abdomen in a circle. How is THAT for lazy?!
Within about a week, the eggs hatch into flattened nymphs, called crawlers, that wander about the plant. Very soon after that, the crawlers insert their mouthparts and begin to feed. If your infestation is bad enough, you can literally have all generations present at the same time. Adults to eggs and all points in between.
It is the nymph and adult fly that cause the physical damage to the host plants. The plants can be seriously weakened and grow poorly, becoming stunted. Leaves often turn yellow, appear dry and drop prematurely, ultimately the plant can die. If this isn't bad enough, Whiteflies produce honeydew (like aphids) that can drip onto the plant encouraging the growth of sooty mold. They also can spread plant viruses. I am really NOT a fan of Whitefly.
The Silverleaf Whitefly has over 500 host plants, this is the one that has come to visit me. Many other Whitefly are more plant specific. Luckily, there are a number of natural predators. The Ladybug larvae will consume up to 1000 Whitefly eggs in its lifetime, and they also feeds on the nymphs. Green Lacewing, which is probably the most voracious, effective predator, eats them. Online, you can order the Delphastus beetle, a specific predator of Whiteflies. It has to eat them in order to reproduce. Other natural enemies are Minute Pirate Bugs, Big Eyed Bugs, and Damsel Bugs. There are also many songbirds, including swallows, that feed on Whitefly.
Some things that you can do to help your natural predators include: Use a seaweed spray to mist the leaves of your plants. Along with all the benefits plants derive from a seaweed spray it also seems to make the foliage undesirable for Whiteflies to reproduce on. Insecticidal soap is another alternative. White flies being soft-bodied insects can be successfully controlled and prevented with insect soap sprays. It basically dries them out. You can plant Marigolds around your prize plants, this may help some. I have not had much luck myself with this method, they still seem to show up. A light horticultural oil will work.There is one other safe control to try, this one really tickled me when I read about it. Use a vacuum to carefully suck up as many Whiteflies as you can. Dustbuster units are ideal for this. As a last resort, you can use Pyrethrum or Malathion sprays. The key to using these products is to directly spray the pests. Their location on the underside of the leaf makes it difficult to deliver insecticides to the site where they are found. Also, Whiteflies can rapidly develop resistance to the insecticides used against them. Always read and follow the label directions carefully.
Hopefully, you won't have to deal with this menace. At least if you do, you know how to handle them now. As for me, I am going to give Mother Nature a couple of days to take care of my little problem. If she fails, I have no problem bringing out the big guns.....Now what was the code for that nuke!?
Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, April 23, 2010

Definitely NOT Chinese Food

One of my favorite ornamental plants in my yard is my variegated Chinaberry (Melia azedarach 'Jade Snowflake') also known as the Texas umbrella tree. I have it in a 30 gallon container in the very front of my yard. It has blown through the bottom of the container and taken root right into the ground. The really neat thing about it this year, it has flowered for the first time. To me, the flowers look like little Orchids. Others say that it has lilac like flowers. Either way, they are very pretty.



They have a scent to them, to me they smell like a baby powder perfume. My wife says they stink. To each their own I guess.
I received this plant at one of my first plant swaps. My wife chose it because it was variegated, I liked the name , I figured it was another source of food.I was WRONG!
The Chinaberry is a native of Asia, it was brought to the U.S. in the late 1700’s by a French botanist. Over the years it has been used as an ornamental plant, shade tree, and fuel wood. It has traditionally been thought to bring good luck. Which is kind of funny as you will learn later on in this article. It is seen from Virginia to Florida and westward to Arizona and up into Washington State. Zones 7-10.
Chinaberry is listed as a Category I species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. This means that it is invading and disrupting natural communities in Florida. It also is reported to be invasive and disruptive in 11 other states, including Hawaii and Texas. It has all the qualities of a successful weed. It will adapt to many environmental conditions, is virtually disease and insect free. However, Scale, Whitefly and sooty mold will infest it on rare occasions. It has been known to form dense thickets in forests and marshes, displacing native vegetation as it grows.
Chinaberry is a deciduous tree with purplish, reddish bark. It is able to grow to 50 feet in height, although trees less than 30 feet in height are more common. It flowers in the Spring, and produces yellow to yellow-green round drupes after flowering. The fruits are sticky, with hard, round, marble like seeds. Birds eat the fruit and spread the seed. Because the seed is very hard, it may remain dormant in the soil for several months or years. The fruits and seeds are poisonous to humans and other mammals however.
It can be grown in everything from part shade/part sun to full sun. It can be grown in a wide range of soils, including both acidic and alkaline. It has a high tolerance to drought. It is even moderately tolerant of salt spray. This is one tough plant!
To me, the variegated leaves are very pretty.





There will be people that complain about the invasive tendencies of this plant. They will ask, "Why in the world are you growing it"? Believe it or not, you can buy seeds online for it! One of my favorite quotes I found when researching this tree is, "You will not find anyone that will recommend planting this tree, but, fine examples can be found growing in the worst soil". So, apparently it can have its place. In my little neighborhood, I don't foresee it becoming a problem. There are no forests or any real wooded areas in the area. Everybody is required to mow their yard at least once every two weeks. So there should be no way for it to get a foothold here. I enjoy the looks of my tree, it gives contrast to all my other plants. It is also one heck of a conversation starter because, nobody knows what in the world it is!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Having Fun, Experimenting

I have been known to push the envelope a little. Okay, Okay, A LOT! I want to show you that a small space for gardening is only limited to your imagination. Today's blog is going to fit into the inspiration category.
I guess I should start by letting you in on a couple of not so secret, secrets. When it comes to food, it is only the wife and myself. We don't need a huge amount of food grown, though I do enjoy canning and preserving, so I grow a little more than we really need fresh. Second, I only live on about 1/4 acre of land. I tell you this so that you understand more the actual number of plants that I grow. We like a wide variety of things, so I grow more varieties of any one particular plant. It also gives me a better idea of what works and what doesn't.
Take this first picture for instance:


There are actually 10, 15 gallon containers here. You can't see one of them in the back, more on them later. Just to give you some perspective, the brown, beige trailer on the right is my neighbor. The containers are right on the property line.
Starting on the lower right of the picture is:
Cowpeas
Pole Beans
Green Okra
Red Okra
Bush Type Beans
Corn
I know I can grow the Cowpeas in a container, I did it last year. The green Okra as well. Everything else is a pure experiment. I purposely planted everything close together, I wanted to see if it effects yield. Plus, I was not sure of the germination rate that I was going to get, some of the seeds were rather old.
The pole beans have that weird looking contraption in the container with it. That is a homemade support.


It is made out of some bamboo poles and some round support wire mesh rings, for lack of a better description. I got all of the items at one of the big box stores, Altogether,I think it cost around $5-$6.
The last grouping of pots at the end is my corn.


Raise your hand if you think this is not going to work.
There is actually five different varieties there. In case you want to know what kinds, they are:
Chihuahua 7
Yellow Sweet
Peaches and Cream
Early June
Yellow Dent

Here is my thinking on planting corn like this.
1) The soil warmed up faster and germination was quicker
2) They are grouped close together so that they pollinate each other easily
3) I tend to remember growing up, the seed package always said "plant 2 inches apart and 8 inches wide", or something like that. It never made sense to me. I was told that it was from the days of animal drawn implements, they needed the room to get down the rows. SO, I figure they really don't need all that room if I am not using my OX. He was a little tired this year anyway.
4) Have you ever been to a corn maze? They plant them like 2 inches apart and still get corn, so why not try it in a container?
I really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
That middle picture with the bean contraption also has my six different varieties of cucumber in the background.....please ignore the weeds, that is on the agenda to do this weekend.
The varieties of cucumber are:
Straight 8
Ukraine Cucumber
Hermaphrodite Cucumber from Israel
Chinese long or Mandarin Cucumber
Early Cucumber
Heishui or Black Fruit Cucumber from China

I have many contacts from around the world and get to try all kinds of neat and unusual things. I have an insatiable need for the unusual.
As time goes on, I will be showing you more of my yard and some of the unusual ways I grow things, or attempt to grow things. I really intend this to be an inspirational journey. To get you to try new things, think outside the garden box as it were. Just because things work in the past, doesn't mean you can't try new things. You never know when you are going to get put into an unusual situation that the norm isn't going to cut it. Something I learned in the Marine Corps might be relevant here, Improvise, Adapt and Overcome! I have used it in many aspects of my life, including gardening.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Ramble on Brambles

Wow, Spring has definitely sprung! If you are not crazy busy this time of year, you either don't work in anything horticultural, or are not a gardener. Work has been extremely busy as of late, which is great! When I get home in the evening, I continue the same type of work in my own yard. Everything is flushing new growth and I love it!!
This year it looks like I am going to have a bumper crop of brambles. Brambles in case you were wondering and didn't know are, Blackberries, Raspberries, Boysenberries and such.
It has been well documented by me that I like to grow everything in containers. To recap why:
1) I rent
2) If they are not happy I can move them easily to someplace to make them happy
3) I have access to all kinds of sizes of containers and potting mix from work
4) Because I can
My bramble collection is no different. I have, Thornless Blackberries, Red Raspberries, Golden Raspberries, and Boysenberries. Do not ever let anybody tell you that they can not be grown in containers. On top of that, I am told that Raspberries do not grow well here in South Carolina.
Want some proof to show them? Check out these pictures.


As you can see, they are in containers. To save room, I use a teepee type of support.


This is just a small sample of the flowers on them already. This is the Thornless Blackberry


This is some of the Golden Raspberries. Not ripe of course, but they are coming along nicely.


Growing Brambles is rather easy. Though, just like everything else in the garden, it requires a little work. All brambles prefer full sunlight and grow best in well drained, sandy loam soils, rich in organic matter. They prefer a soil pH of 5.6 to 6.2. This gives me a good chance to remind you to have your soil tested. Check with your local extension agents to find out how.
Fertilization is a little trickier in containers, but don't let that scare you from trying. The general rule of thumb is, they should be fertilized each year in the early spring. This is the recommendation for in the ground. I feed mine about once every 6 weeks or so. 10-10-10 is a good choice, I use Tomato Miracle Gro.
Most cultivars require about one inch of water per week during the growing season. Of course, this is RELATIVE! It will depend on your weather conditions. Hot, dry and windy, will require more water. Lots of sand or a very well draining soil will need more water than one with lots of peat moss. The size and type of containers. This one is kind of a no brainer, a very small terracotta container will need more water than a larger plastic one. You want to make very certain that there is ample water during fruiting time also.
Pruning is vital! It is important if you grow them in the ground and have a good amount of room, but if you don't for whatever reason, it's not the end of the world.
In containers, you could be in trouble. The canes will create an unwieldy mess and it will cut down on your fruit production. I wait until the canes just start to flush a new growth in the Spring. I then proceed to cut out anything that is dead and thin it out a little. Then I re-stake the loose canes. This is also a good time to dig up the plantlets that have started growing on the ends of canes that were touching the ground. My Red Raspberry plant was really an over achiever this year. As I was working them this Spring, I ended up with 15 new plants! They were a hit at the plant swap.
You want to make sure to keep the planting area weed free to discourage insect pests and prevent competition for water and nutrients.
All bramble fruit is extremely perishable and should be harvested frequently.
Raspberries are ready to pick when they easily separate from their core. Blackberries do not separate from the core, so ripeness should be judged by color and taste. Darn, you will have to keep taste testing them to see if/when they are ripe. You will eventually learn just by looking at them.
Birds can be a problem. Netting is the best defense for them. There are a number of other pests, including tarnished plant bugs, fruitworms, sap beetles, Japanese beetles, and cane borers. Check with your local extension agent for the best product to use in your area.
Brambles are also susceptible to many diseases, I will do an article on them in the very near future. Here are some things you can do to prevent many of these diseases in the meanwhile:
1. Select disease resistant varieties and high quality, healthy stock.
2. Plant in places not recently cultivated with tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, or strawberries.
3. Keep plantings free from weeds and plant debris.
4. Control aphids and other insects to prevent spread of diseases.
5. Remove canes that have fruited after harvest, and destroy all diseased canes.
6. Thin out plantings to allow for increased air circulation.

A well kept bramble can provide fruit for 10 to 20 years.
Hopefully, this year will be a bumper crop. My homegrown, homemade Boysenberry jam already has a backlog of orders.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tomatoes Up a Tree

In my never ending quest to find and grow exotic fruits and vegetables, I have stumbled across a doosey to introduce to you today.
Cyphomandra betacea or Tree Tomato. It is also known as the Tamarillo.
It is generally believed to be native to Peru and probably also, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia. It is a subtropical fruit that does best where the temperature remains above 50 degrees. It is hardy to 25 degrees however.
The Tamarillo is a small, attractive, half-woody, evergreen or partially deciduous, shrub or small tree. It is also brittle and shallow-rooted, growing to a height of 10 to 18 ft. In colder climates it makes an excellent container grown plant.
They have 5 lobed, pale pink or lavender, fragrant flowers that are self pollinating. Flowers are usually produced in late Summer or early Fall, but may appear at any time.
The skin is somewhat tough and unpleasant in flavor, but the pulp surrounding the seed is soft, juicy, and sweet/tart. There are red varieties and yellow ones. The yellow types are usually a little sweeter.
They grow best in full sun, except where it is very hot and windy. Afternoon shade will be a benefit.
Tamarillos need a VERY well drained soil, they can not tolerate drought and must have ample water during dry periods. This being said, Water standing for even a few days may kill the plant. Drainage is crucial.
Newly planted, they should be pruned to a height of 3 to 4 feet to encourage branching.
Propagation is from seeds, cuttings or grafting.
If you are interested in obtaining some seeds of this fascinating fruit, check out this website:
http://www.tradewindsfruit.com/tree_tomato.htm

Here is what one of the Red varieties looks like:



One of the Yellow varieties:



Don't they look yummy!?
Ripe Tamarillos can be sliced in half lengthwise, sprinkled with sugar (and chilled if you like) and served by scooping out the flesh and pulp. They are deemed ripe when they develop the yellow or red color characteristic of the particular variety.
I soon will be getting some seeds, hopefully for both colors. I am in the process of working out a seed trade. I love trading. If you love experimenting with exotic fruits and veggies, I would suggest getting some Tamarillos. If nothing else, think of the fun you can have with your neighbors. What do you think of my Tomato tree, George?
Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Warning for Pet Owners

I had a fellow Master Gardener send this to me. I have often thought how nice it would be to use this product. The smell would put me in Heaven. I am a chocoholic to the nth degree!
Cocoa Mulch is sold by many garden supply stores. It contains a lethal ingredient called 'Theobromine'. It is lethal to dogs. While it's equally toxic to cats, veterinarians say they are less likely to ingest cocoa products and therefore less at risk. I always knew cats were smarter than dogs! Sorry, I am a cat person, and I digress. It smells like chocolate and it really attracts dogs.. They will ingest this stuff and die.
Theobromine is in all chocolate, especially dark or baker's chocolate. Cocoa bean shells contain potentially toxic quantities of theobromine, a xanthine compound similar in effects to caffeine and theophylline. A dog that ingested a lethal quantity of garden mulch made from cocoa bean shells developed severe convulsions and died 17 hours later. Analysis of the stomach contents and the ingested cocoa bean shells revealed the presence of lethal amounts of theobromine.
This particular story seems to have some doubters.
The original story had to do with a dog named Calypso. The story being circulated about this young dog ingesting cocoa bean shell mulch may be true. However, Dr. Steve Hansen, Director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Animal Poison Control Center has said, the cause of the dog's death is "highly suspect." The statement that she vomited a few times is consistent with such poisoning, but not the absence of other clinical signs until the next day, when the dog is said to have had a single seizure during her morning walk and died instantly.
He also said, "You get a progression of signs,vomiting, diarrhea, more vomiting, trembling, the heart rate kicks up, then it may progress to seizures if the dose is exceptionally high, with death being uncommon. There was probably an underlying condition that caused the dogs death".

Cocoa mulch contains 300-1200 mg of Theobromine, per ounce, making it a very strong concentration. It is true that studies have shown that 50% of the dogs that eat Cocoa Mulch can suffer physical harm to a variety of degrees (depending on each individual dog). However, 98% of all dogs won't eat it. I know of a couple of dogs that actually ate Chocolate and they were fine. I am not, BY ANY MEANS, advocating this, just an observation.
There are some benefits to using this kind of mulch. It is 100% organic. Cocoa Shell Mulch contains approximately 2.5% Nitrogen, 1% Phosphate and 3% Potash. It does not act like a wood based ground cover which removes nitrogen from the soil as it breaks down. There is also some research showing that it contains a natural gum that, when activated with water, the cocoa shells bond into a loosely knit porous mat. This enables cocoa shell mulch to do a better job of slowing soil moisture loss through evaporation and retarding weed growth. The texture of cocoa shells deters slugs and snails to help prevent plant damage. It has also been discovered to discourage termites. Plus it smells like Chocolate!!
So, I guess it boils down to a couple of things. If you are always outside with your dog and can keep an eye on what it gets into, go ahead and use it. If, on the other hand, your dog is outside by itself a lot and can get into the mulch, you may want to reconsider it and use some other kind, possibly Cedar or Pine.
I personally do not use a lot of mulch, but if I did, I would love to get some of this stuff. My dog NEVER goes outside without me or the wife, and having the smell of Chocolate greet us each time we walked outside would be wonderful!!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy Summer Citrus

Spring kind of got left in the dust in some parts of the country. Summer decided it wanted to be the boss. Fine by me. So, with the very warm weather already upon us, I wanted to write an article about keeping your Citrus happy through the dog days of Summer.
Many of these will cross over from in the ground to container grown, I will specify as need be.
Timely watering is essential for proper growth and fruiting. More trees are stunted or lost by drought stress than from any other cause, except maybe over watering. Make sure there is adequate moisture in the soil before wilting occurs. To avoid over watering, excess water must drain away. Hence a well draining soil, that retains some moisture, and a good amount of drainage holes are needed in a container.
Very hot days, and hot winds, which extract water from the leaves faster than the roots can draw it up from the soil, may cause temporary wilting. Even if there is ample water present, this can happen. A cool misting of the leaves will help alleviate this. Remember, a drastic swing from moist to dry, can cause blossoms and small fruit to drop. Larger fruit may be reduced in size or drop.
Another trick to use on container grown Citrus, when the temperatures are soaring, is to paint the town white. Get some of the white spray paint that is used on plastics and spray half of the pot. The best half to paint is the side that gets the most late afternoon sun, basically speaking, the West side. The reason for this is, the root zone of plants can easily reach 120 degrees in the sun, especially if using black containers. During the late Fall, Winter and early Spring, you can just turn the painted side to the North. This way the roots will stay a little warmer.
Mulches are beneficial. They conserve moisture, control soil temperatures, prevent soil compaction, reduce water runoff and control weed growth. Keep any mulch that tends to stay wet a few inches away from the trunk. Citrus are very susceptible to bark diseases encouraged by moisture at or near the soil level. Mulches CAN be used in containers! Just remember to keep it away from the trunk, this may not be very useful in smaller containers however.
There are twelve mineral elements citrus trees need in order to be healthy. The major ones are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, and Sulfur. These are needed in larger quantities. The so called, “Micro” nutrients are Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Molybdenum, Copper and Boron. These are not needed in as large a quantity. If you are going to grow Citrus in the ground it is best to do a soil test to see if you have any deficiencies. When Citrus is grown in containers they can easily be deficient in any of the above. Make sure you look for a fertilizer that contains as many, if not all, of these vital nutrients. Again, a soil test can be done if there is any doubt. If using a water soluble fertilizer, feed every two to three weeks when grown in containers. Probably once a month will be fine when in the ground.
Fish emulsion is a nice treat for your Citrus. A foliar feeding at least once a month will add extra Nitrogen, which of course, Citrus are heavy feeders of. If you want to spoil your citrus, more often will not hurt.
Don’t be alarmed if a few small immature fruits turn yellow and fall off. Citrus will naturally shed a number of fruit a month or so after blooming. Called the June drop, it is a natural process. If your tree is in a stressed state they can drop all the fruit. Follow the above suggestions and you should have no problems getting your Citrus trees through the “Dog Days” of Summer. Boy it's hot, anybody for a lemonade?
Happy Growing!
Darren

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Look, The Cercis is in Town!

Okay, the title is really silly, I know. In case you want to know how to say it, think big tops and elephants. This past Winter has been well documented as really nasty all over the country, I don't need to remind you of this. The South is not accustomed to two solid weeks of below freezing night time temperatures and 3-7 inches of Snow. I joke around and tell anybody that even mentions snow, I will pop them with a toboggan!
However, I will admit, this Winter was good for numerous reasons. I fully believe that Mother Nature hit the reset button. There are things flowering this year that either have never flowered before or are flowering so heavy it is almost magical. Case in point is my Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud). Check out this color:




They have never been this pretty. I will also admit, these were taken a couple of weeks ago and the tree is starting to produce leaves now. But even the leaves are pretty. These are young leaves:



Eastern Redbud is a small, short lived deciduous tree (meaning it looses it's leaves) found throughout the eastern United States. It's range is from New Jersey to the panhandle of Florida and as far west as Nebraska and Texas. Zones 4-9.
It can grow on a wide range of well draining soils, though it does not like course sands. They average 20-30 feet tall, and 25-35 feet wide.
Redbuds flower in the early Spring and produce seed pods. The pods are 2 to 3", brown, and in clusters. They will contain anywhere from 4 to 10 seeds. Most seeds are dispersed during Fall and Winter by the wind and animals. Many seeds are injured by insects. Those that fall to the ground usually remain dormant for several years.
Redbuds can be propagated by seed. Dried seeds can be stored in glass jars or a metal container at 35 to 41 degrees. The seeds should then be planted in a well prepared seed bed in late April or early May.
They are used extensively as an ornamental, even though the wood is heavy, hard, and close grained. Because of it's small size and irregular shape of the tree however, it is of no commercial value as a source of lumber.
If the beauty of the tree does not convince you to grow one, there have been other documented uses. Bark of the Redbud has been used as an astringent in the treatment of dysentery. Flowers of the tree can be put into salads or fried and eaten. Cardinals have been observed feeding on the seeds, and seeds have been consumed by ring-necked pheasants and rose-breasted grosbeaks. White tailed deer and gray squirrels have also been observed feeding on the seeds. Flowers of the tree are regarded as important in the production of honey by bees.
So, as you can see the Redbud is not only a pretty tree, it can be useful as well.
Why not make some room for one, so you can say that the Cercis (circus) is in town??!!
Happy growing!
Darren

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And YET, another reason

Well, I have posted in the past about the spread of diseases and other pests being transported across state lines. Back in March, yet another reason not to bring Citrus out of Florida was discovered. Citrus Black Spot. Here is the article I received about it.
Courtesy of Florida Grower Magazine:
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) confirmed the identification of Citrus Black Spot (Guignardia citricarpa; CBS) on citrus fruit from Collier County, FL. The CBS-infected fruit samples were collected from commercial Valencia orange groves. This is the first confirmation of CBS in the U.S.
The initial identification was made by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Department of Plant Industry (DPI) on March 25. The identification was made as a result of a routine Citrus Health Response Program (CHRP) survey at the grower’s request. Following the preliminary determination by FDACS that the fruit was infected with CBS, APHIS and FDACS personnel revisited the property and collected symptomatic fruit that was sent to the APHIS laboratory in Beltsville, MD, for confirmatory testing. The commercial citrus groves where CBS was confirmed produces fruit for juicing. An Emergency Action Notification has been issued requiring that the fruit be shipped to local processing plants under tarpaulin or within closed vehicles to prevent spread of CBS. A compliance agreement has been implemented to ensure appropriate cleaning of the conveyance and approved procedures for the disposal of debris. No fruit from the affected groves was shipped out of Florida.
To date, CBS has not been detected in other parts of Florida through multipest surveys conducted by FDACS DPI as part of the Federal CHRP Program.
APHIS and FDACS DPI continue to delimit the area to determine the extent of the infestation and are implementing the necessary phytosanitary procedures to prevent the spread of CBS from the infested orchard in Collier County.
Under IPPC standards, Guignardia citricarpa is considered to be a pest that is present only in some areas, and is subject to official control in the U.S.
“This detection demonstrates the effective and collaborative nature of the citrus health response program,” said Rebecca Bech, deputy administrator for APHIS’ plant protection and quarantine. “It has not only provided the infrastructure upon which we made this early detection but also the framework for APHIS’ regulatory response.
“We are working in collaboration with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center and the citrus industry to limit the spread and impact of this disease through swift regulatory actions, education and informed compliance.”
A fungal disease marked by dark, speckled spots or blotches on the rinds of fruit, citrus black spot is an economically significant citrus disease. It causes early fruit drop, reduces crop yield and renders the highly blemished fruit unmarketable. While all commercial citrus cultivars are susceptible to citrus black spot, the most vulnerable are lemon and late-maturing citrus varieties like Valencia. Although disease symptoms are expressed clearest on the rinds of fruit, the risk of this disease spreading through fruit movement is minimal. The greatest risk of disease transmission is associated with the spores released from fallen, decomposing citrus leaves.
Citrus black spot occurs in subtropical regions of the world with summer rainfall. The disease has been found in Argentina, coastal areas of Australia, Brazil, China (mainland and Hong Kong), Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, areas of South Africa with summer rainfall, Swaziland, Taiwan, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Here is what the disease looks like:


Now it has been documented that infected fruit will not spread the disease from state to state but the disease can be spread by using infected budwood. This is why it is illegal to transport any part of the Citrus tree out of Florida. Citrus Greening can also be transmitted via budwood. This is also why it is illegal to bring any plant into the United States from other countries without a permit, not just Citrus. This is the first case of Citrus Black Spot being found in the US, How in the world do you think it got here? Somebody probably smuggled a plant in their suitcase or sent one to a friend through the mail. I am begging you, please do not bring Citrus trees, leaves, stems, budwood or any other part of the tree out of Florida. Please don't bring or send any plant into the states from another country either. If you know of anybody that has or will be, PLEASE pass this on.....I enjoy my Citrus trees too much, and the cost can be astronomical!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wisteria

I had a friend ask me last night, if I knew the difference between Native Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) and Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) or Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). I thought that this would make a good article for the blog.
They all have aggressive natures. Although their flowers are beautiful, They are definitely invasive. In fact, they run rampant throughout parts of the eastern half of the United States where they’ve escaped cultivation. In spring they’re conspicuous along roadsides, blanketing trees and shrubs with thick, heavy growth and flower clusters.
One of the best ways to tell them apart is, the pods of the two Asian Wisterias have velvety surfaces due to a thick covering of short hairs, whereas native Wisteria pods are smooth and hairless.
There are some other less obvious ways to tell them apart. The Asian varieties bloom in April and May, at least in South Carolina. You can probably figure which one you have by moving the dates around slightly. The Native variety blooms in June and July.
The Asian varieties also tend to sprawl and climb. The native will climb, but tends to grow more into shrubs and small trees.
The flowers will tell a story also, Asian varieties all bloom once, the native flowers bloom at the base and progress downward on the flower stem.
For the very observant, the Asian varieties have a pointed leaf tip, the natives, more blunted.
Now, if you really want to screw your head up, check this out. Both Chinese and American species twine counterclockwise. Japanese Wisteria, (Wisteria floribunda) twines clockwise.
Native Wisteria, also known as Atlantic Wisteria, grows naturally throughout most eastern states and several states west of the Mississippi River. The genus name, Wisteria, was established in the 18th century by renowned botanist Thomas Nuttall to honor his friend Caspar Wistar, a physician and patron of botany. Wisteria belongs to the third largest family of flowering plants, Fabaceae, also known as the bean or pea family. The beans are poisonous however on Wisteria species.
If you do want to try and grow some, they can be grown in Zones 3-9. Make sure the area that the Wisteria will be planted in has at least six hours of full sunlight. It prefers a moist, well drained soil with average nutrients in it, however it will grow well, regardless of the soil it is planted in. If you feed it too much however, it will reduce the amount of blooms. It can be grown from cuttings or seeds. Layering works well also, just lay a vine on the ground and cover part of it with soil. You will want to pin it down so it stays in place. It will form roots. Once it does, separate it from the mother plant and let it go.
Telling them apart is rather difficult from a distance.
Chinese Wisteria


Japanese Wisteria


Native Wisteria 'Amethyst Falls'


I will admit, alongside the road, it is beautiful. I am just not in the mood for it to choke out any of my trees.....though, I really am not fond of those Crape Myrtles I have growing....hmmmmm.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where did I leave those pruners?

I was scrambling around lately, trying to get some yard work done. I know I worked on it all day, but nothing seemed to get done. Let me know if this has ever happened to you.
I wanted to start by planting some more vegetable seeds. I brought my seeds out and set them on the table. I went to the Greenhouse to get some potting soil and containers. As I was walking by the onion bed, I noticed it needed to be weeded. I bent down to start weeding the bed, when I noticed some purple Basil sprouting up. My wife has been wanting some to put in salads and such, So I figured I would carefully dig it up and put it in a container. I headed over to the shed to get my little hand shovel. As I was heading over to the shed, I noticed a Holly bush that needed to be pruned. Well, as long as I was right there, I should go ahead and prune it. Where were my pruners? Oh yea, they were in the greenhouse. I proceeded to head for the Greenhouse to get them. Walking around the corner, the Tomatoes and Peppers needed to be watered. Wow, they look pretty bad, I better water right away. So, off to the faucet to turn on the water. You know, as long as the water is going to be on, I should go ahead and get those seeds planted. That way I can soak them real well and get them germinated. As I walking to the Greenhouse to plant the seeds, there was some aphids on the Citrus trees. I guess I should go get the insecticide to spray them before they cause much damage. I need water to make an insecticide solution, better go turn the water on after all.
The faucet is right by the two Okra containers. One container seems to be germinating well. The other, not so much. I probably need to reseed that one. Off to the table to get the seed box. Past the Camellia's. Look at all those petals on the ground, they need to be cleaned up so as to not spread any disease. Let me go get a bucket to put the petals in. Oh yea, I forgot about that Holly, better prune it while I am thinking about it. Where did I put those pruners?
I looked at my watch and it is almost dinner time. I wanted to get the yard mowed. No time now, it will be dark soon. Where did the day go?
For all of you that are laughing and shaking your head in confirmation, you know where I am coming from.
I think I suffer from GAD, Garden Attention Disorder. If anybody knows of a cure, please let me know.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Plant Swap Aftermath

I'm Back!! My apologies if you have been wondering where I have been. Work got very hairy for a couple of days, I had family in town and of course, The Plant Swap was held on April 10th.
I am very excited to announce that we did indeed pass all previous plant swap attendances. Final count was 75 people and at least 800 plants!! I really would like to THANK everybody that came. There was a lot of fun and plenty of food. I was going to take some pictures of the food table, I ended up so busy talking with people, I never did eat!

Here are some pictures from all the action.
My mother and I planning the course of action.

Me setting down some plants.

Checking out the goodies

More milling
Just before the go signal

If you have never been to a plant swap, I strongly encourage you to go to one. It is a great place to meet new gardening friends, and get some really interesting plants. The amount of information floating around is also a huge bonus. If you don't know where one is close to you, I have you covered.
Check out some of the following websites.

http://www.plantswap.net/
This site has a bunch of places right on their homepage where one is being held.

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/exchind/
If you go to this site, you can check out each individual state and see if they are having one near you.

If there is none to be found, consider hosting one yourself. I wrote a past blog article pertaining to how to host one. The concept is very easy and it may sound like a lot of work, it is to some extent, but I promise it will be well worth the time. Just ask the 75 people that were at mine this past Saturday. I did not receive any complaints and received many Thank You's and pats on the back. Overall it was a very satisfying day!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Citrus Quarantine...Shouting From The Rooftop!!

Okay, I know I should not be angry. It is more or less just an issue of people being ignorant to the facts. Citrus trees, leaves, stems, roots, cuttings or any other part of the tree CAN NOT be brought out of Florida. Period, end of discussion.
I got on this rant today because I was talking to a gentleman that had just brought a Meyer lemon up from Florida. He had no idea it was illegal!! I quickly told him and explained everything to him. I also told him about watching for signs of disease. I have been harping on this for what seems like eons. Please pass this on to anybody you know, help me shout it from the rooftops.

This is what the USDA has to say about all this:
The entire state of Florida is under quarantine for Citrus Greening Disease and Asian Citrus Psyllids.
It is illegal to move live citrus plants, plant parts, budwood, or cuttings from Florida. (Note: Dooryard citrus fruit cannot be moved from Florida unless the fruit is packed at a certified packinghouse and has been issued a Limited Permit by USDA. Florida gift fruit must also come from a certified packinghouse and be shipped under a Limited Permit issued by USDA. In either case, dooryard citrus or gift fruit cannot be shipped to California, Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana, American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)

If you are buying Citrus trees online, check to see where they are from. If they are in Florida, they should have some kind of warning like this on their website.
Due to the widespread occurrence of Citrus Canker and Citrus Greening (Huanglongbing), the USDA placed the entire state of Florida under quarantine. It is against the law to ship or move trees outside the state. This is an action to protect the citrus industries in California, Texas, Arizona and Louisiana. Although we have never been allowed to ship to these states, the USDA feels this action is necessary to prevent a tree from Florida being moved into a citrus state by a homeowner or dealer.

Along with the entire state of Florida, the parishes Orleans and Washington in Louisiana, and Charleston and Beaufort Counties in South Carolina, are under quarantine for Citrus Greening Disease and Asian Citrus Psyllids. You can not move Citrus trees from any of these places.

I even learned this in researching for this article, In Florida, it is unlawful for homeowners to propagate citrus plants. This according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry.

IF you are caught leaving Florida with any part of the Citrus tree, they can fine you and will confiscate and destroy the tree.
Please don't risk your neighbors Citrus trees. Buy them from a non quarantine state. Leave Florida's trees in Florida. Please, help me pass this around, it is the only way we can stop the spread of this disease until they find a cure.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wanting to Mull Over A Berry

One of my favorite plants that I grow is my White Mulberry tree. As a child in New Jersey, we had a Black Mulberry and a White one. There is also a Red cultivar, but I haven't tried that one yet. I would sit in the tree for hours just gorging myself on the fruit. What was funny back then, I knew the black one was really good. I was actually afraid of the white one for quite sometime. I thought there might have been something wrong with it, because it was white, not black. I was a child, what did I know? There was nothing even close to the internet back then. This was probably mid to late 70's. Once I tried the white one, and didn't die, I figured it was just a different kind and began eating it all the time too.
Sometime ago, maybe 3 or 4 years back, I actually found somebody online that wanted to trade a Mulberry tree for some Citrus I had, this was back when I could swap Citrus before any of the quarantines were in place. I couldn't wait to get it, childhood memories growing in my own backyard. I was shocked when it produced fruit the first time, and discovered it was a white variety.
The White Mulberry (Morus alba)is native to eastern and central China. The tree was introduced into America for silkworm culture in early colonial times and naturalized and hybridized with the native red mulberry. I lived on a very old farmland/plantation, I figure that is how it got to New Jersey.
The White Mulberry, and to a lesser extent the Red Mulberry, (Morus rubra) is quite tolerant of drought, pollution and poor soil. The White mulberry is considered a weed tree in many parts of the country including urban areas.
Mulberries need full sun and lots of room. You want or need about 15 feet between trees. Depending on the variety, they can reach anywhere from 30 to 80 feet tall. They need a well drained soil. They are considered drought resistant, but if they dry out too much during fruiting, they may abort most of the fruit.
They do not need much fertilization. With that being said, and I know there will be gasps of YUCK from some of you, the tree I use to sit in and eat that wonderful fruit from, was directly over a septic tank. Looking back at it now, I bet that thing had more fertilizer than it knew what to do with.
Pruning is not really needed, except to cut out deadwood and crossing branches. If you do need to prune it for size or shape, it is better to do it while dormant, they tend to "bleed" a lot.
Mulberries can be grown from seed, although the plants can take 10 years or more to bear. Softwood cuttings of White Mulberries root easily when taken in midsummer and treated with rooting hormone. Red Mulberries are less easily rooted. Black Mulberries (Morus nigra) are also somewhat difficult to propagate since they tend to bleed a lot. The Mulberry tree can live anywhere from 75 to hundreds of years, again depending on the variety.
They suffer from very few pests and diseases.
The fruit of the White and Red Mulberries are ripe in late Spring. The fruit of Black Mulberries ripen in Summer to late Summer.
The fruit of the White Mulberry:


The fruit of the Black Mulberry:


The fruit of the Red Mulberry:


The trees that I grew up with are long gone, plowed under for apartment complexes or some such thing. I wish I could go back in time and get some cuttings from those trees, or even bring the trees back. Being that can not happen, I will just enjoy my White Mulberry tree for the time being. It looks like it will be a very heavy crop this year. The fruit is just starting to form. Maybe someday I will get a Black one and a Red one, I would love to compare them side by side.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Monday, April 5, 2010

Over Eaters Anonymous

Should your plants be going to Over Eaters Anonymous? I know, there are people that tell me MINE should be going. There are reasons why the package directions are what they are. Just like overeating is not good for us, it's bad for plants.

One reason is of course, economics. You don't want to be spending more on feeding them than you need to. Waste not is to want not, isn't that the old saying our grandparents always said?

The next reason is salt accumulation. Many, if not most, of the chemical fertilizers today have salt content. Over time, they can rise to dangerous levels and can kill your plant. Organic fertilizers tend not to have this problem.

Another reason might be, over leafy plants. Fertilizers, especially when used in excess, may cause the plant to produce more leaves and foliage. This is important to know if you are growing say, Tomatoes. You want fruit, not leaves. Yes, the plant will look beautiful, but a beautiful plant doesn't help that BLT very much does it?

Probably the biggest reason not to over feed your plants is, over fertilization can cause plants to grow too quickly, leaving them more susceptible to disease and insects. I was reading an article in the American Vegetable Grower about just this subject. Research indicates that plants can’t grow quickly and defend themselves against insects at the same time.
The scientists wanted to determine the relationship among plant growth, how plants defend themselves against plant eaters (herbivores), and the protection plants receive from predators such as ladybugs that eat plant hungry insects.
Can plants have it all? Can they grow quickly and defend themselves against herbivores while at the same time solicit protection from ladybugs and other bodyguards? The answer is no. Remember, that new flush of growth is much more tender and tasty to a sap sucking insect.
In other words, you can be either a hard to eat, slow growing plant that doesn’t need bodyguards, or a tasty, fast growing plant that relies on outside protection.
“We can breed plants for fast growth, but if we do that, it appears we’re weakening the plants’ immunity against herbivores, making them more dependent upon protection from potentially unreliable predators,” says Kailen Mooney, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California, Irvine.
She also said, "Natural selection favors faster-growing plants and those that easily fight off insects”. “If nature hasn’t found a way to combine both, perhaps it’s something that cannot be done.”
So by overfeeding your plants, you are producing more tender foliage. That foliage is just a huge neon sign that says "Hot Donuts Now" to any of those sap sucking insects.
Make sure you follow the package directions. If in doubt, it is always better to slightly underfeed your plant than to overfeed. I always heard, It is better to leave the table still a little hungry, than to gorge yourself into oblivion, or something like that!
Happy Growing!
Darren

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Key Lime

It was some eleven years ago that I got my first Citrus tree. That fateful day will forever be etched in my wife's memory. We were at a grocery store right around the Christmas holidays. There in the floral section was a poor, sad looking little Calamondin tree. It was 50% off and still had some fruit on it. My wife said "You ought to get it", she regrets those words! Kinda.
That was back in 1999, the Calamondin was the first, second to come along was my Key Lime. I lost track after that. The Key Lime has been a sturdy little producer ever since I got it. There have been many a pie and cookies made from the fruit of this tree.


The Key Lime, also known as a Mexican lime or West Indian lime, originated in southern Asia and was carried by the Arabs across North Africa into Spain and Portugal. It was brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the early part of the sixteenth century where it escaped cultivation and became naturalized in parts of the West Indies, some Caribbean countries, and southern Florida, specifically the Keys.
It is a small, bushy tree, rarely taller than 12 feet tall and wide, with slender branches armed with short spines. Its dense foliage consists of small, pale green, blunt-pointed leaves with narrowly winged petioles. There is a thornless Key Lime, but the yields of fruit are usually much lower.
Key lime trees require full sun, and are very sensitive to cold. They are among the most frost sensitive of the Citrus family. Considering they are so sensitive to the cold and stay relatively small, they make a good container grown tree. Albeit a decent size container, but one nevertheless.
They are well adapted to a variety of soils, but require good drainage and does not tolerate wet feet. Like all other Citrus, Key Limes are heavy Nitrogen (first number on the fertilizer bag) feeders. Don't forget, this is the nutrient that leaches out of the soil the most. A very important piece of information if you are growing it in a container.
Key lime is frequently propagated from seed, they will come true to type. From seed, you can expect fruit in 4-5 years. They are one of, if not THE, earliest Citrus to fruit from seed.

What would an article about Key Limes be without a mention of the pie?



As to who made the first key lime pie, no one really knows for sure as it has never been documented. The most likely story is that William Curry (1821-1896), a ship salvager and Florida's first self-made millionaire, had a cook that was simply know as Aunt Sally. It was Aunt Sally who created the pie in the mid to late 1800s. Some historians think that Aunt Sally didn't really create the Key Lime Pie, but probably perfected a delicacy that was the creation of area fishermen.

On July 1st, 2006, Key Lime Pie became the official pie of Florida. Of course, this followed on the heels of the time in 1965, Florida State Representative Bernie Papy, Jr. introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied against anyone advertising key lime pie that is not made with key limes. The bill did not pass.

So, go out, get yourself a bag of Key Limes at your local grocery store. Use them to make an authentic Key Lime Pie, they might try to resurrect the 1965 bill and you don't want to be fined! Then plant the seeds and in a few years you will have more Key Limes than you know what to do with.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon......Fruit

I am always looking for neat and unusual plants to try and grow. If they produce food of any kind even better. I tend to lean towards fruit however, just the sweet tooth talking I guess. I learned about Dragon Fruit from my Cactus studies. They are in the genus Hylocereus.
Believe it or not, you may actually have a Dragon Fruit plant growing in your house right now! If not, you have probably seen one numerous times. Remember seeing something that looks like this?

Photo courtesy of W. Chow ( http://www.vivapitaya.com ) He has a GREAT website to learn more about this unusual fruit.
The green rootstock is Dragon Fruit or Hylocereus undatus. I have actually done this before, you can just cut the top part off.....the yellow, orange or red Cactus. Unfortunately, it will not live on its own. That cactus can not produce chlorophyll, that is why it is grafted onto something that can. Another option is to wait until the rootstock sends out a shoot and root it. This is very simple. Once the shoot is large enough to cut off, dip the cut end into a little root hormone and place in a pot with some potting mix. Keep soil barely damp. It should root in a couple of weeks.
These plants can very easily be grown in pots. Roger Washington down in Florida grows them in containers at his farm. He runs a company called Reddragonfruit.com


Dragon Fruit is native to South and Central America, it is commercially grown successfully in both Thailand and Vietnam. Southern California and parts of Florida are very good for growing Dragons. So, looking at these places, you can tell that they are not looking to live in the Sahara Desert. If you don't live in a tropical environment, they can be grown in a greenhouse.
They enjoy temperatures between 31 degrees and 100 degrees, either side of these extremes will hurt the plant. They can grow on a wide range of soil types, as long as it has good drainage. Although Dragons are members of the cactus family and may withstand dry periods, they have a fairly high water requirement. The plants should be planted in full or almost full sun (very light shade) for best growth and fruit production. An application of a 6-6-6 type fertilizer every two months is recommended.
As for many fruiting plants, the very young plants will not liberally flower or fruit at all until they have gotten much older and larger. These things need to put on quite a bit of weight, average of ten pounds worth of vines usually before they even think about flowering and fruiting. This can actually be attained in just a couple of years, depending on the size of the cutting used.
Lets say you have gotten yours to pretty good size, yet you see no flowers. It might be time to go on a midnight raid. Dragon Fruit plants bloom only at night, and unless you have a lot of bats or moths that pollinate Dragons, you are going to have to do it. I know, why not wait until morning? The flower will be gone by then, the first inkling of daybreak and the flower fades. The good news is that the plant tends to flower a couple of times a year. Even so called self pollinating Dragons will fail to produce fruit without the help of Bats, Moths or you. If you can, you need to plant a couple of them to help with cross pollination.
How is this for a beautiful flower?


It is worth growing just for the scent and beauty.
If you can get it to produce and are good at pollinating, it is not unreasonable for 3 to 4 year old plants to produce about 220 lbs of fruit per year. The average life expectancy is around 20 years.
To support your Dragon, I found this useful information from the University of Florida. Dragon Fruit plants may become quite large and spreading, and therefore individual plants should be planted 15 to 25 ft or more away from trees, structures, and electrical lines. A strong trellis should be established that may withstand several hundred pounds of stem weight. A weak trellis may buckle under the weight of a mature plant. Do not use wires on the trellis because they may cut or damage the stems. If wire is used, it should be covered by hoses. For the home landscape, consider a trellis for individual plants which should consists of a post and a structure at the top of the post to support the plant. An arbor type trellis may also be constructed. Individual plants growing on a short tree or on a pile of rocks or blocks could also be used as supports for a few plants.
I created the post with a structure on top to support mine. I am hoping for some rapid growth this year.
In case you were wondering what the fruit looked like, here it is:

There are actually a few different varieties.
Red, with white pulp like above.
Red, with red pulp:


And a Yellow, with white pulp:


To top all this off, eating Dragon fruit is good for you. It is high in Vitamin C and dietary fiber. There are also reports that it aids in type 2 diabetes glucose level control.
I hope this encourages you to go out and try to find a Dragon Fruit plant. Maybe then you can make your OWN movie of how you Trained your dragon.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Friday, April 2, 2010

Greetings Myrtle

As a gardener there are many plants that I really like. There are also many plants, though not as many as the like column, that I dislike. Then there are the plants that I can either live with or without. The Waxmyrtle (Myrica cerifera) is one of those plants. I truly have nothing against this plant, but yet, they aren't all that glamorous either.


Just looks like a common shrub, huh?

Also known as Southern Bayberry, Waxmyrtles are a native plant to the United States, that will make my brethren in the Native Plant Society cheer. It is a large shrub to small tree, able to reach a height of 25 feet and the same in width, but it is usually seen in the 10 to 20 foot range. It has olive to gray green leaves, that have a bayberry scent when crushed. Colonists made bayberry candles by boiling the berries and collecting the floating wax, then pouring it into candle molds or hand-dipping wicks. It took about five pounds of berries to make one or two candles.
Waxmyrtles are fast growing shrubs, as much as 5 feet in height and width in a single year, with evergreen foliage. They are tolerant of salt spray and wind. Their hardiness zones are 7-11, which covers the eastern coast of the United States from New Jersey to southern Florida, and through the southern part of the nation on up into Washington state.
They can grow on a wide range of soils, though they prefer good drainage and slightly acidic soils. They are moderately drought tolerant, and can grow in everything from part shade to full sun.
Waxmyrtles are usually very easy to find in their hardiness range. Propagation is by seeds, which germinate easily and rapidly, tip cuttings,or transplanting wild plants.
There are not too many problems associated with Waxmyrtles, though cankers may form on old branches and trunks and kill them. Also, a lethal wilt disease caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum has recently been noted attacking Waxmyrtle plants in central and south Florida.
The biggest problem I have seen with Waxmyrtles is their inability to handle heavy snowfalls. But then again, how often does Charleston, SC get anywhere from 3-7 inches of snow?!
This is a picture of my neighbors Waxmyrtles. They are the ones bending way down. They are/were as tall as the house before the snow came.



They were damaged so badly, they had to have most of them cut way back.
The ones I have in my yard were relatively unaffected, why, I don't know. I am using them as a screen for the West side of my house. It does keep it about 10 degrees cooler, than without.
So, overall, they are an okay plant. Again, nothing to write home about, but can be good to fill in space in your yard or act as a heat shield.
Happy Growing!
Darren

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools Day

April Fools Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I can act like myself and nobody seems to notice! One of my favorite jokes is when I place a small piece, about 1/4 of a dollar bill, taped to somebodies desk under their calendar. They see it and pull and pull, but it just won't come out. When they lift the calendar, I usually have a note taped to the dollar bill proclaiming April Fools. I also have a slight modification to this. Everything as above but put a bunch of those tiny plastic bugs under there too....especially ants. I usually get some pretty good screams from that.
One problem with April Fools Day history, nobody knows its origins. Some theorize that it was Europe's switch from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian in the 1500s, which changed New Years Day from late March to January 1st, creating an easy opportunity to play a prank on the forgetful. The major problem with this is, April Fools was mentioned back in the 14th Century in Canterbury Tales.
Even though nobody knows the origin of the jokes, they are widely played all over the world.
Here are some examples:
In Scotland, for instance, April Fool's Day is devoted to spoofs involving the buttocks and as such is called Taily Day. The origins of the "Kick Me" sign can be traced back to the Scottish observance.
In England, jokes are played only in the morning. Fools are called gobs or gobby and the victim of a joke is called a noodle. It was considered bad luck to play a practical joke on someone after noon.
In Portugal, April Fool's Day falls on the Sunday and Monday before lent. In this celebration, many people throw flour at their friends. I bet this one gets messy.
There are some jokes that are as old as time itself.....Your shoe is untied or setting your roommates clock back an hour are good ones. One of the funniest I have ever read about pertained to a British short film once shown on April Fool's Day that was a fairly detailed documentary about "spaghetti farmers" and how they harvest their crop from the spaghetti trees. I would be scared to meet the people that believed that one.
Then there is always this one I found online. Find a scrap of cloth. Place a dollar on the floor and stay nearby. When the victim comes by and bends down to pick up the dollar, rip the cloth loudly. Most people will reach back to see if they ripped their pants.
April Fools Day is an "Only for fun" observance. Nobody has to buy gifts or take anybody out to eat in a fancy restaurant. Nobody gets off from work or school. It's simply a fun little holiday, but a holiday which you better watch your back so you don't become an April Fool! I hope none of you fell for one today.
Being that this had NOTHING to do with gardening, I guess I could say April Fools??
Happy Growing!
Darren