The snippet is taken from the book "Humming Birds and Butterflies in Tropical Florida" by Roger L. Hammer. The Book is has very rich resources for all nature enthusiasts talking about different ways of gardening, Florida tree care, attracting birds and butterflies. This book also talks about trees that grow in shade, flowering trees in Florida and ways to take care of them.
Where is Tropical Florida?
How do we define “tropical Florida,” the region covered in this book? The logical line to follow is the one already created by nature, and winter temperatures are what delineate this invisible boundary. Florida lies wholly within the temperate zone, but subtropical weather prevails in the region this book considers “tropical Florida,” which encompasses Hardiness Zones 10A, 10B, and 11 adopted by the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA). Officially it is called 55 January isotherm, where temperatures within this zone average 55 degrees Fahrenheit in January.
Prior to 1980, Zone 9B encompassed much of what is now regarded by the USDA as Zone 10A, which reflects advances in technology and the current climate-warming trend. The twenty-one Florida counties that are wholly or partly within Zones 10A, 10B, and 11 are Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota, and St. Lucie. The Florida Keys portion of Monroe country is the only region that lies within Zone 11, which is shared with the nearby Bahamas and other West Indian islands.
Be aware that even in the warmest parts of Florida, there are many tropical plants that require protection from cold; some will not even tolerate temperature in the lower 50s (Fahrenheit). Determining what to grow will to some extent depends upon your personal dedication to gardening. How badly do you want to keep your cold-sensitive plants alive through winter? Be prepared for occasional failures and losses, and then write them off as experience. There is always another botanical companion out there to fill the void.
Whether you own acres of land, a typical urban yard, or a small courtyard, you will always be able to find the right plant for the right places to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, provided you do some simple research first. The most important thing to learn is the ultimate size of the plant you are considering for your garden. If you are holding, for instance, a sapling shortleaf fig (Ficus citrifolia) in a 3-gallon pot, what you really have in your hands is a tree that can reach 50’ tall or more with a wide, spreading canopy. Remember this when you choose a location for trees that can grow large, and never consider planting a tree with the intent of severely pruning it after it matures to its natural height and spread. In this book I have attempted to give gardeners a good understanding of the ultimate size and growth habit of each species to help create an attractive and manageable garden without overcrowding. The second most important thing to remember is that a newly installed landscape looks dense and lush from the beginning, then it is already overcrowded and will require high maintenances to keep under any semblance of control. Landscape designers and installers are notorious for crowding plants together because a beautiful finished product is what “sells” to homeowners. My best advice is for you to provided plants with adequate room and ample time to grow into their allotted space. You will then inherit a beautiful, low-maintenance and functional garden that will give you pleasure for many years.
Where you place large trees influences everything else you may want to plant in the future. If you have the luxury of being able to plan an entire landscape from scratch- that is, you have fairly clean palette on which to design-decide where you want shade trees first. Where do you plan on spending the most time on your property, where you will want shade? Plan for some paths that lead to private, secluded areas. This can be accomplished even in small yards. If you want to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, it is imperative to have some open, sunny areas, so be sure to leave adequate room for sun-loving plants.
Avoid creating too much shade, because butterflies, hummingbirds, and the plants that attract them generally prefer protected, sunny areas. Large shade trees should be kept to the north or west of sun-loving plants.
If you have limited space then use tall palms instead. If you do decide to use palms, avoid royal palms (Roystonea app.) and other tall species that shed large, heavy fronds, because they will continually pummel everything beneath them. You might even consider trees with light, airy canopies that allow you to grow plants beneath them that prefer light shade. There are many sun-loving plants that prefer a break from midday sun.
Because of where we live, keep hurricanes in the back of your mind when designing your landscape. Large trees should be kept well away from your house so they don’t come visit you in the comfort of your own home if a storm topples them. If your house is on a small lot, then plant small to medium-sized trees.
If you already have large trees on your property, then take time to assess their value. If they are undesirable species, then consider having them removed. This is especially true if you have limited space. Check local ordinances to see if a tree removal permit is required before cranking up your chainsaw or hiring an arborist. Removing mature trees may seem like a drastic measure, but there are many desirable trees that can be used as replacements, and they can even increase the value of your property. In short, do not try to landscape around an existing detriment. For further guidance, consult the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s list of most invasive species. If you have a listed species on your property, make removing it a top priority.
Gardening requires lots of water, most of it in the form of perspiration.Planting seeds is the epitome of optimism, and one of the genuine pleasures of gardening is growing your own plants. Whether you are propagating plants from seeds, cuttings, or air-layers, you will discover great pleasure and endless gratification. Here is where you might also experience failures but learn from your mistakes and move on. Some plants are much easier to propagate than others, but the tough ones can be especially rewarding when you succeed. The seeds of Bahama strongback (Bourreria baccata) are notoriously difficult to germinate, whereas the seeds of tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) print like radishes. Following are some tips to help with your propagation skills.
This is the common method of propagating plants, and because a number of species in this guide are not commercially available, you will need to collect your own seeds. Be aware that collecting seeds in protected areas like parks and preserves is prohibited, so seek sources of seeds from unprotected areas, such as natural areas slated for development or areas where you have the owner’s permission. It often helps to soak hard seeds in water overnight. As general rule, seeds with hard outer coats should be scarified before planting: take a hacksaw blade or file and carefully cut through the seed coat. Scarifying seeds greatly increases the germination rate, especially for legumes. Other seeds may not need preparation before planting. Once your seeds are ready, fill a small pot or flat with a good potting mix or special seed-germination mix. Some plants have many small seeds: these can be scattered randomly across the soil surface and then covered very lightly with soil.
Larger seeds should be spaced evenly and planted one at a time. Don’t forget to label and date them, so you will know what was planted and when. To keep the sun from bleaching away your labels, place the plastic, label in the pot upside down with the plant name and date beneath the soil. And it is wise to shove the label all the way down, with just the tip showing, to keep inquisitive blue jays from pulling them all out. I speak from experience.
Some seeds germinate within several days, while others may take weeks or even months. Good soil mixes for germinating seeds can be purchased at most garden centers, but if you decide to use a seed- germinations mix, which will be composed of finely ground peat and perlite, use this only in small pots, so when the young seedlings are transplanted, you can report them in an appropriate potting mix that has better drainage. Never move seedlings or even young plants from a small pot size into a large pot. A young seedling in a 2” pot can be moved into a 4” or 6” pot but not larger. Over potting can cause root not due to the soil remaining wet for too long.
If you have problems with snails, or if you are growing larval host plants for butterflies, cover the young seedling with screen to keep them from being eaten. One snail or a single butterfly larva can consume an entire tray of seedlings.
Be advised that you should always wear rubber gloves and a face mask when working with planting mixes that contain peat. If you have skin abrasions, scratches, or puncture wounds on your hands, a fungus called Sporothrix schenckii can enter your bloodstream and cause severe skin lesions called sporotrichosis, or rose gardener’s disease. Breathing in airborne particles of peat moss can allow the fungus to infect your lungs and may result in pneumonia and tuberculosis. The bottom line is, do not let gardening be your demise.
On an environmental note, peat is the partially decomposed remains of living sphagnum moss harvested from bogs, so out of concern for the environment, we all should keep our use of peat moss products to a minimum.
Many gardeners believe that in order to successfully root cuttings you must have a sophisticated mist system with electric timers. This does help, but it is far from necessary. Success can be achieved without any mist system at all. Try this simple technique:
- Fill a 4-6” pot with a good peat-based potting mix.
- Water the peat until it is uniformly wet.
- Take a 2-6” cutting from the plant and remove most of the leaves.
- Dip the cut end into rooting hormone (available at garden supply stores), and shove the cutting into the soil to a depth of about 2-3”.
- If the cutting will not stand up on its own, then tie it to a small stick to keep it from moving (thin bamboo twigs work well).
- Place the potted cutting inside a large clear plastic bag and blow the bag up like a balloon.
- Twist the top of the bag shut and seal it tightly with a rubber band.
You have now created your own miniature greenhouse. Keep the bag under a well-lit patio or other place where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight. You may need to tie the top of the bag to something so it won’t collapse onto the cuttings inside. You will quickly notice that the bag becomes coated inside with condensation, which keeps the cuttings from drying out while they produce new roots. Leave the bag alone for 3-4 weeks; then open the top slightly and let it sit a few more days so the young plant can acclimate to the drier outside air. You should now have a rooted cutting. Treat new cuttings with care until they are firmly rooted and producing new growth; then they can be either repotted or planted directly into your garden.
An easy way to obtain a larger plant than you can with cuttings is to use a technique called air-layering. Some plants root easily in this manner, while other are impossible. Find a small branch with a diameter of about ¼ – ¾” that has a good shape. Take a sharp knife (there are such things as air-layering knives, but any sharp knife or razor blade will do), and after sterilizing it with rubbing alcohol, make a cut through the bark that encircles the branch 12-24” or so from the tip. Now make another cut about ½-1’’ below the initial cut, and finally make a vertical slit between these two cuts. Using the knife blade, peel away the bark between the two horizontal cuts. This is generally best done in spring or summer, when the bark slips away easily. Once this has been accomplished, use the knife blade to scrape the exposed area to ensure that you have entirely eliminated the connecting bark and cambium layer (the living tissue between the bark and the wood).
Next, sprinkle some rooting hormone (available at garden centers) on the cut area. Now gather some sphagnum moss, soak it in a bucket of water, and then squeeze out as much water as you can. The object is to wrap the most sphagnum moss completely around the cut on the branch. After enclosing the cut with the sphagnum moss, wrap it tightly with aluminum foil, twisting each end firmly around the branch to completely seal the moss inside the foil. As a precaution, it is also wise to wrap the aluminum foil with burlap or some other bland-looking cloth to keep inquisitive birds from pecking through it. Now simply wait about a month, then gently peel away the foil to check for roots, and if they are present, take pruning shears and cut the branch off just below the sphagnum ball and remove the foil. You can now gently pot the rooted branch with a stake to hold it firmly upright (do not remove the sphagnum moss from the roots before potting). Once you see roots at the bottom of the pot through the drain holes, it can be moved to its permanent place in your garden, or repotted.
Air-layers and cutting have the advantage of allowing you to acquire a genetically exact replica of the parent plant. If you find an exceptionally superior plant of a particular species, air-layers or cutting are the way to go. Also, if the plant is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are produced on separate plants, air-layers and cutting allow you to select the sex of your plant. This is not an option with seeds.
A common horticultural mistake is keeping woody plants in small containers for too long-this is especially true for large trees and woody shrubs. When roots grow to the bottom of a container, they are forced to follow the curvature of the container or escape through the drain holes and roots into the ground. Because most containers are round, the roots begin to grow in a circle and will eventually encircle the inside of the container several times. This process is called root-binding, and it is very difficult to remedy. The key is to never let it happen in the first place. Tree that are root-bound can be planted in a landscape and survive for years, but they will tend to remain stunted and can topple easily in strong winds. The roots may eventually constrict so tightly that the tree dies.
If you are purchasing potted plants from a nursery, remove the plant from the container and inspect the roots to ensure that large roots are not encircling the root-ball. Also avoid plants that have had large roots cut off after they have grown out of the drain holes into the ground. A containerized plant should be vigorous, with roots just reaching the outer confines of the container. Before planting, gently pull some of the main roots away from the root-ball to encourage them to grow outward once the plant has been placed in the ground.
Root-blinding does not affect herbaceous species and palms as much as it does trees, shrubs, and large woody vines, but it is always a good idea to slightly loosen the soil around the outside of the root-ball to encourage lateral root growth.
Most plants benefit from a layer of mulch over their root zone. This helps maintain soil moisture and also helps to cool the soil over the roots, controls weed, slowly leaches nutrients into the soil, and helps prevent mechanical injury to the trunk and surface roots caused by mowers and weed trimmers. When placing mulch around plants, ensure that it is not mounded against the trunk, because this can cause basal trunk rot. Spread the mulch to a depth of 2-3″ evenly over the ground to a distance equal to the canopy spread if possible.
Because cypress mulch is no longer a by-product of harvesting trees for lumber, environmentally conscious gardeners should choose another type of mulch. Mulch that has been color dyed should also be avoided if it has been derived from recycled wood or pressure- treated wood. Some brands of red mulch may leach arsenic into the soil (some of this “designer” mulch is made from pressure-treated lumber, which contains 22 percent pure arsenic derived from chromated copper arsenate used in the treatment of the wood). Because of the health hazard from arsenic, it is especially dangerous to use where children play.
Eucalyptus mulch is excellent because this tree is a sustainable crop, and it actually repels some types of insects. Commercial melaleuca mulch is another good choice because cutting down the trees for mulch helps rid Florida of this invasive pest species, also called cajeput. Its seeds will not germinate unless you spread them in a freshwater wetland. Some gardeners even choose to purchase their own chipper to help recycle small twigs and branches that are pruned from plants on their own property.
Leaf mulch breaks down into the soil most rapidly and therefore benefits the plant sooner, but it lasts the shortest amount of time. Pine bark nuggets, on the other hand, decompose very slowly, and some gardeners choose to scatter pine bark nuggets on top of mulch because of the aesthetic appeal. Chipped pine bark and pine nuggets also help acidify the soil, which may benefit some plants growing in heavy limestone soils.
There is common mistaken belief that Florida native plants do not need to be fertilized- it is more accurate to say that many Florida native plants do not become nutrient deficient a often as some exotic, non-native species. This is principally due to Florida’s native plants being better adapted to the soil types available to them within their natural habitats.
However, just as you might take vitamin supplements as a sound practice for good health, regular applications of fertilizer will benefit Florida native plants as much as they do any other plant. Waiting for a plant to become nutrient deficient before giving it fertilizer is no wiser than waiting to take vitamin C until you get scurvy. Regular applications of fertilizer help avoid nutrient deficiencies over the long term, so I recommend light applications of fertilizer on a regular basis. Top dressings of kitchen compost always is a good practice, and organic products like fish emulsion can be used for herbaceous species or potted plants. There are slow-release fertilizers suitable for potted plants as well.
Different soil types require different fertilizer mixes, so check with your local Agriculture Extension Service or a horticultural consultant for advice on the best mix for your region.
There will probably be a few winter days and nights where protection from frost or freezing temperatures is necessary. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. Most gardeners bring cold-sensitive potted plants indoors until the threat of frost has passed. If that is not possible, then crowd the plants together and cover them with a sheet or blanket. Do not use plastic sheeting unless it is held above the plants and sealed around the edges to create a greenhouse effect. Allowing the plastic to touch the plants will transfer the cold to the leaves and stems. The thin blankets that moving companies use to protect furniture work well, as do painter’s drop cloths which come in various sizes and are available from hardware stores. Old sheets and blankets from your closet work perfectly well, too.
There isn’t much you can do about protecting trees, but if you have cold-sensitive shrubs in your landscape that are too large to be covered with a blanket, then pile mulch against the trunk. If the top of the shrub is killed, then at least you will have saved the roots and lower trunk so it can resprout in springtime. If you know it’s going to freeze, another option is to run your sprinkler over shrubs all night long, which will cost them with ice. As odd as it sounds, the ice will protect the plants from exposure to temperatures below freezing.
Always wait until new growth has begun to emerge in spring before cutting off dead stems. The new growth will let you know exactly where you should prune.