Floridata Article

July 2001 Gardener's Journal

pink jacobinia
Pink jacobinia (Justicia spp.) is a perfect choice for adding color to shady areas. It is also available in other shades of pink and white and yellow.

Last month I was whining about the ongoing drought that we've been experiencing here in Florida. The good news is that June brought the return of our normal summer monsoon rains - ponds are beginning to fill and all things green are growing crazy. The bad news is that all of this moisture has created a plague of mosquitoes. Still this is a small price to pay for the luxury of having actual rainfall. Even plants that I don't take care of very well are thriving (like the pink Jacobinia in the picture). So around here June was a lively, lush and fertile month with much going on. We even had a blessed event! Mathilde, our Great Dane grand dame, had babies!

Great Dane puppies
John with two of Mathilde's puppies at 3 weeks of age.

Milestones: New Puppies!

After a high tech conception via uterine implant Mathilde quickly grew to humongous proportions. While she probably would have preferred the traditional method of conception, everyone was relieved that the procedure was effective. Because of her sizable dimensions we expected eight to ten puppies so we were surprised that she had only four. Sadly, one of the little fellows, a brindle male, just wasn't up for living. Although he was of good weight and appeared healthy, he kept pushing away from mom and turning cold. He was put with a hot water bottle and I let him sleep on my belly under my t-shirt but he just wouldn't warm up to life. He left the world within 24 hours of entering. It is always sad to loose a puppy. Because I am sentimental (about dogs anyway) I mark each dog's passing regardless of how long we had been acquainted. So I planted a clump of 'Heavy Metal' switchgrass above his little grave. I will think of Mathilde's little brindle boy whenever I see it waving in the breeze.

Milestone: Growing Up Big
We achieved another dog milestone last weekend when the boy, Petey, had his first lady friend come a calling. Petey performed perfectly and to everyone's satisfaction and relief the "dates" all lasted less than twenty minutes. He is now lovesick, has lost weight and pines for his beloved to return. His poor teenage dog self is trapped and tortured by the tyranny of testosterone. He has lost interest in hanging with me and no longer comes when I call. He doesn't even chase the squirrels, fetch the stick or catch the ball. Petey prefers to just patrol the places his honey previously puddled with pee. Love does strange things to all of us - you, him and me.

dead pine down
The crown of the old dead pine tree broke off years ago when it was struck by lightening. Rainwater entered at the break saturating the spongy dead wood in the upper portion of causing it to become top heavy. A slight breeze made the trunk snap near the ground and the whole damn thing came crashing down.

Milestone: The Fallen

It's my observation that Petey, and dogs in general, do not like changes in their environment. I know this because whenever I rearrange the furniture they get distraught and growl. I didn't growl but I did find myself becoming surprisingly bummed when recent stormy weather brought on a rash of windfall events. For weeks now, huge dead limbs have been falling from the heights. We have many trees here and lots of limbs are falling and even whole trees are keeling over without warning.

Many years ago a longleaf pine near the front of the house was hit by lightening and the following year it was attacked by pine borers. By the next year it was dead. It was a pretty ugly sight as the last of the bark fell from its skeletal trunk. The only reason that I didn't cut it down and burn the carcass was (is) because I'm lazy. As I procrastinated, the trunk cleared itself of limbs dropping them one by one until it towered like a totem above the yard. My laziness was rewarded when I realized that it had became a wildlife habitat. Old dead pine as it came to be called, hosted regular dinner parties for our neighborhood woodpeckers. It also served as hunting lookout for red-shouldered hawks with a taste for squirrel and a nesting site for some sort of bird that is too small for me to see with my not-very-well-corrected middle aged vision. So it was a minor tragedy for me and the local critters when old dead pine took a topple. Fortunately its fall caused little damage to surrounding vegetation. Unfortunately it missed my crappy house. Farewell old dead pine.

tupelo tree
The large granddaddy tupelo tree that lives in a small seasonally flooded sinkhole at Floridune came to unfortunate end in June when it took a header and fell across the fence into neighbor JM's yard. I plan to take advantage of this new penning in the canopy by planting some cabbage palms and and maybe a magnolia in its place.
A beautiful light pink mandevilla is now decorating my fence and should continue doing so until first frost when I will dig it up and overwinter it inside. Mandevilla (and many other tropical plants) are perfect for providing heat proof summer color in northern zones where they are not hardy. They are inexpensive enough that you can treat them as annuals and allow them to perish when winter comes. But don't do that because it is sad. I think they should be brought indoors where they will brighten the dark days and be ready for another go in the garden next summer.

Milestone: The Fallen Too

Just days after old dead pine crashed I followed Petey down to inspect the sinkhole that we call Little Cypress Sink. I immediately sensed something was amiss. After several minutes of astute observation and keen analysis I determined that the towering tupelo tree that had once vied for sinkhole dominance with a nearby giant bald cypress had bit the dust. It had crashed into the side of the sink pinning several smaller tupelos into uncomfortable configurations. As is their nature when growing in swampy areas, this titanic tupelo had rotted out leaving its base hollow and empty. This is a disastrous tendency that structurally weakens the tree that will eventually cause collapse. In addition, this rot may extend down the tupelo's long tap root. The root becomes hollow and essentially behaves like a pipe causing the host body of water to rapidly drain. This can have unfortunate results when toxins carried by surface water use this route to flow directly into the underground aquifer. For this reason tupelo is NOT recommended for planting in retention ponds intended to reduce storm water runoff from parking lots and structures - bald cypress is a much better choice.

These are the 'Evening Sun' sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) that I planted last April. I took this picture in mid-June when they were at their peak. Now at the beginning of July they are way past their prime. If I weren't so lazy and it wasn't so hot I would cut off the old flower heads, fertilize them and I would be rewarded with another round of flowers. But since I don't have to look at them all of the time I'll just let them go to seed so the local cardinals can have a special taste treat.

In Bloom at Floridune

It is mostly shades of green here at Floridune this time of year but some favorite summer bloomers are providing a few colorful highlights. Especially notable are the crape myrtles. The crapes are one of my favorite plants because they're fast growing, easy, and come in a wide selection of brilliant colors. The dependable impatiens are creating carpets of color in shady areas and the clear blue of the plumbago is cooling off the hot sunny hillside. Other plants that are putting on a show now (but I haven't got around to profiling for Floridata yet) are cigar plant (Cuphea igneae) gazania daisies, crinum lilies and scabiosa. One plant that isn't blooming, but should be, is the moss verbena. This is because they are dead. For several years in a row I have planted them. They immediately get shabby and then die from what looks like a fungus or other disease. Moss verbena thrives on roadside shoulders under the harshest conditions yet I cannot grow them - I'm really irked.

In bloom at Floridune:

I will cut the scraggly stems at the points marked by the yellow bars. When I do this petunia will once again become a big ball of beautiful blossoms.

Take Care: Cut and Come Again

As we enter dog days of summer you might notice that some of your annual and perennial plants are totally crapping out. They have become masses of scraggly bare stems with few flowers and look so nasty that you want to compost them. Much better is to rehabilitate them with tough love. Cut back the stems to within 2 inches of the crown of the plant. Give them a shot of liquid fertilizer and then in a few weeks they'll be good as new and ready to put on another show of flowers. If you're getting lots of rain you'll also want to cut back rampant growth on plants like wisteria and ivy. If you have kudzu I recommend that you use a flame thrower and a herd of goats on it (but not simultaneously).

Make compost where it is to be used. Dig shallow trenches, dump in kitchen waste, cover. Material will quickly decompose in warm moist soil. Note the mess of cantaloupe and watermelon seedlings just beyond the trench.

Take Care: Convenient Composting

If you are lazy like me and have sandy or otherwise crappy soil then you should try my conveniently carefree composting method. Essentially you dig a shallow hole in your garden, throw stuff in it and then cover it up. In the summertime the stuff will either rot or germinate very quickly, especially if the soil is moist. Many of our favorite kitchen composting wastes contain seeds so you can expect to see scores of cantaloupe, watermelon, orange and tomato seedlings spring forth. They are fresh and tender and green and full of hope so destroy them quickly by turning them under so that they too will rot into humus, the amazing organic substance that improves any type of soil.

crepemyrtle bark
A white 'Natchez' crape myrtle shed its smooth gray lichen covered skin to reveal dramatic cinnamon colored new bark beneath. Another reason we love the crapes!

Crape's Appealing!

With all the crape myrtle's fine flowery display now going on you might not notice the stunning strip show being staged on its trunk. You should take time to enjoy this sensual shedding of smooth shreds of bark as this is one of the crape's most fascinating features. And while your there enjoying your crape, take a few minutes to prune off any spent flower heads. Your tree will love you for it and give you yet another round of flowers in a few weeks. This will also keep it from reseeding itself which results in dozens, possibly hundreds, of baby crapes for you to weed out - its well worth the effort.

saucer magnolia
My saucer magnolia put forth with this inappropriate summertime display of flowers!

Freaks of Nature

This is a saucer magnolia that has become befuddled by the warm climate here in North Florida. Magnolia x soulangeana trees are deciduous hybrids that typically bloom in late winter or early spring before the foliage emerges. This one freaked and bloomed in mid-June. It put forth about a dozen blossoms and they looked very handsome against the deep green foliage! Perhaps it's trying to compete with nearby southern magnolias who are currently putting forth their big beautiful blossoms?

It is July, it is hot. It is my plan to do very little in the garden this month. I intend to sit on my lawn chair in a fog of bug repellant and think great thoughts for as long as possible while I watch for funny birds and other creatures to visit the catfish pond (the dark area just beyond the orange daylilies).

Things to Do (or not)

Because of the heat and mosquitoes I didn't spend much time out in the garden in June. I did manage to plant out a dozen Sabal minor and ten Sabal mexicana palm seedlings that I had germinated last year. Because of the nice rains of late they have happily settled into their new homes and THAT should be enough gardening effort to hold me until August. During July I expect to accomplish even less as it will be hotter, there will be even more mosquito's and I will be even lazier than ever. I resolve instead to go to the springs for many swims and to spend much quality time in the lawn chair. I hope that your July will be as enjoyable as the one that I plan to have. Thanks for enduring another rambling edition of my Gardener's Journal - you are persistent, courageous and generous with your time. Have a fun and productive month and be good and grow.

John Scheper 07/08/01

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