Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lemon Tree - April 2011

My first batch of lemons - only 4 this year, but not bad for a first crop. I'm so pleased with my lemmon tree; it has really thrived and grown very quickly. We also have a bird building a nest in the dead center of the tree, which is pretty neat... they just better leave my lemmons alone!!
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Mango Tree - April 2011

April 2011: Updated images of my Glen Mango tree, weighted down with ripening fruit. Last year I started with about a dozen and ended with just one that reached full ripeness. My hope is that at least three or four will reach ripeness this year. They should ripen around late June or early July.
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African Lilly (Agapanthus)

April, 2011 - Updated images of my favorite African Lillies, thriving in my front garden. They are in full bloom now, and will probably be at peek around the 4th of July.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Monstera Deliciosa

Impacted by the cold and dry spell.
Monstera is a large-leaf philodendren.  I planted several as fill between some live oaks in some open beds in my back yard (hence, full sun).  Like the xanadu, they prefer indirect sun and so I am not surprised that they have not thrived, but my hope is that the oaks will soon become more full and provide more shade. Once mature and thriving, they appear to be robust; but before then, they seem to be rather delicate and impacted by cold and dry weather; they do best in the wet summer. It isn't widely known, but they produce an edible fruit that is supposed to taste similar to a pineapple; however, we have been warned that it is very difficult to gauge the ripeness... and if you eat it before it is perfectly ripe, it feels like broken glass going down your throat. If they survive and eventually thrive and produce the fruit, we will test it and post a follow-up.
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Orange Tree (Citrus spp.)

My pitiful orange tree.
I purchased my orange tree at the same time as my lemon tree, but with substantially different outcomes.  Whereas the lemon tree has doubled in size and has show rapid growth, the orange tree has been stagnant.  I admit that I am pretty disappointed in the orange tree; my expectations were much higher. Like the lemon tree, it has sharp thorns covering its trunk and limbs.
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Lemon Tree (Citrus spp.)

After several years of low availability, citrus trees became more attainable around 2009.  At that time I bought a lemon and an orange tree, both of which were about the same size… both were very small. The lemon was grafted from a fruit-bearing tree but had not produced any fruit during the first season in the ground (not surprisingly).  However, it has grown incredibly quickly, easily doubling in size since initial planting; in contrast, the orange tree has shown virtually no growth.  The lemon tree is very pretty and very fragrant; the leaves themselves have a refreshing lemon smell.  The one downside is the sharp thorns that protrude from the trunk and branches; in retrospect, I probably would have purchased a tree without the thorns.  With young kids I have considered relocating to a more remote area of the yard; in the meantime I have been cutting the thorns off.  I want to wait until after this coming fruit season in the hopes of it bearing fruit.
Look at those nasty thorns!
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Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana and cvs.)

My wife and I planted a Sweetbay Magnolia in the front swale of our yard by our mailbox.  We bought a relatively large specimen which was about 12’ tall when planted.  The Magnolia is a very pretty tree, with large leaves with hues of green, purple, and brown.  It yields beautiful, large, fragrant white flowers. It has thrived since planting and always looks good. We continue to be pleased with our Magnolia tree.

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My amazing find...

Easily the most unusual and exciting thing I have ever found in my garden was this... a 3 pound iron cannon ball.  I found it shortly after I moved into our new house when digging out the garden along our back porch.  It was literally buried about 8 inches from my patio, probably about 8 or 10 inches deep.  It was more than likely in the top soil when the builder leveled the land in preparation for sod... but it is still likely local.  I spoke to the local museum and they don't know where it may have come from.  Most likely scenario: Seminole Wars... or pirates.  The size is right for either time period - about the 1700s. 
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Paradise Tree (Simarouba glauca)

My wife discovered the paradise tree in a book of Florida native plants and hunted them down at a local native plant nursery (specifically, Plant Creations in southern Dade County). They were moderately priced - $10 for a 6’ tree.  The challenge is that we have really not been able to see what a large specimen looks like – according to the book, they can grow to be quite large, but they are so rarely used that we have never really encountered one.  They are attractive trees with small green leaves; new foliage emerges with a pretty red hue.  We had a lot of trouble when we first planted them… we started out with several, but some died very soon after planting.  Currently, we have four or five that have rooted and seem to be thriving.  Initially they were very sensitive to any kind of shock – any cold or dry spell would cause them to drop their leaves.  However, they seem to be less fickle now that they have rooted and started to thrive. I am always on the lookout for large specimens, but it is a rare tree to find outside the natural hammocks of the Everglades.

Folliage of the paradise tree.
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Japanese Fern Tree

My first introduction to the Japanese fern tree was at the Starbuck’s Coffee across from my office in Doral.  Their courtyard is lined with several of these trees, and they are absolutely beautiful; they have a sculptured appearance and provide this wonderful canopy for shade.  I cut off a branch one day and headed to the nursery in search of a specimen.  I procured a small tree for about $90; today they are much more common and popular and therefore much cheaper to purchase.  I planted my tree out by my lake about 150’ from my house.  I love the tree, but it has shown little growth after 18 months; still, I am hopeful it will eventually take off and turn into a beautiful tree.
Japanese Fern Tree - close up.
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Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)

Mahoganies, like oaks, are nice classic trees.  They are strong and hardy trees that fare well throughout the year. Also, they are relatively cheap and therefore a favorite of developers when landscaping new homes.  We have several that were planted by the builder prior to purchasing the house; we since moved them all to the swale area along the north side of our house, and they have done very well.
Mahogany folliage close up.

Seed pod of the Mahogany Tree
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Bahama Coffee

Bahama Coffee is a native shrub that I have never seen sold outside of native nurseries, but it has shown to be a hardy and robust plant ideal for low hedges.  It is full and well shaped and grows incredibly well.  We used Bahama Coffee as a low shrub lining our walkway from the driveway to the front porch. It is on the east side of the house so receives strong sun in the early hours but enjoys shade from the house in the afternoon. It has become one of my favorite plants in my garden and is a great alternative to more common shrubs like boxwood, ixora, or jasmine. They also seem cold tolerant; despite brief cold spells with freezing temperatures for the last two winters, they have not suffered.

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Fire Bush (Hamelia patens)

The red-leaf firebush... after a recent cold snap.

I have used two types of fire bush in my landscape – both the red-leafed and green-leafed fire bush.  I like them both immensely – they are beautiful when in bloom, especially in the summer months. I initially planted several red-leafed fire bushes along a barrier along my lake, hoping that they would ultimately grow to hide the unsightly barrier.  Unfortunately, I planted them before I had installed my sprinkler system and many of them succumbed to a dry spell. I did cut a few plants back to the ground and, to my surprise, they grew back and are now great specimens.  The green-leaf fire bush has done well from the beginning; I planted it at the base of live oak in the corner of my back yard.  The green leaf fire bush appears to be hardier than the red-leafed plan, particularly to cold; whenever the temperature drops into the 30s, the red-leafed fire bush tends to brown and lose its leaves, but the green-leaf tends to be less impacted. 
Berries on a firebush.

Green-leafed firebush... less impacted by cold. 
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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Banana Plant (Musa spp.)

Ripe and ready to eat.

Although often thought of as a palm, it is more appropriately referred to as a plant.  Banana plants grow thick, tall stalks with large lush green leaves that make it look like a palm.  There are several varieties, but I prefer the most common variety that are sold in most stores.  I had great success growing bananas at my prior home; they were yielding about five or six bushels per year, with each bushel bringing somewhere between 80 and 100 bananas.  As such, I have planted new banana plants at my new home as well.  I find that it takes a year or two for the banana plants to really root and thrive.  They grow more slowly at first; mine have been in the ground for more than a year and the largest stalk is only three feet tall.  However, once the plant becomes fully rooted, stalks can easily grow to 10 feet (with leaves reaching much higher) within six months. Once mature, they produce a large pod that ultimately develops into the bananas. From the first appearance of the pod, it takes 3 or 4 months for the banana to be ready for harvest.  It took some time, but I became an expert in cultivating bananas.  The first thing the novice banana farmer needs to know is that the fruit do not fully ripen on the stalk; once fully developed, you need to cut the bushel from the stalk and let them ripen off the stalk.  I used to hang them by a chain in my shed; sometimes I would hang the complete bushel, while other times I would cut off the hands and place in plastic grocery bags and hang individually from the chain. Both do fine, but dividing them before hanging makes them easier to separate when ripe.  The bananas turn reddish/brownish when ripe rather than bright yellow like you buy in the store (no chemicals, I guess)… but they are sweeter than anything you will find in the grocery. The first few batches seem to yield smaller fruit, but they gradually get bigger and rival the size of those you find at market. Be prepared to distribute to friends and family, as there is no way a single household could consume all of the bananas in the week or more when they are ripe for eating.  The plants themselves are very attractive if maintained; they require a lot of maintenance to keep the stalks clean.  I usually allow 4 or 5 stalks to grow at a time, usually at different stages so as to stagger their yields.  Once a stalk has yielded fruit, it will die; I usually cut it off at the base soon after I harvest the fruit in order to make room for the next stalks (and let the plant put its energy in new growth rather than dying stalks).  The plant will spread to consume increasingly large swaths of your garden if you do not maintain and control growth, so make sure you keep up on it… but the growing bananas is very rewarding and yields great results much sooner than most other types of fruits.

A double batch - just about ready to be cut down and hung to ripen.

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In the beginning...
Beautiful plants when maintained.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

African Lily

The African Lily, also commonly referred to as Agapanthus, is easily my favorite plant in my garden at this point; it really thrives and looks good all year around. When not in bloom, it looks like a thick ornamental grass ideal for lining flower beds… but in the summer, when in bloom, it yields big, beautiful bursts of flowers that resemble fireworks. I initially used them to line the flower bed in the front of my house and I was so pleased with them that I carried them to the back as well, replacing long struggling Xanadu along my back fence.
African Lily in bloom.

Mango Tree (Mangifera indica)

Mango Tree (Mangifera indica)
My wife and I love mangos, so we took a lot of time researching the different varieties before finally taking the plunge. We started by attending the annual fruit festival at Fruit and Spice Park in the Redland; we were able to speak to several growers and sample some of the different varieties, and we learned a lot.  For instance, bigger isn’t necessarily better; some of the biggest, most beautiful varieties are also the most bland. We decided on the Glenn variety, which is widely regarded for its taste and consistency.  It produces less fruit than the common store-sold varieties, but the fruit is a much higher quality. We then set out to find a tree that was grafted rather than grown from seed (those grown from a seed generally take much longer to fruit than those grafted from fruit-bearing trees) and that was mature enough to produce fruit during the first season.  I found a good tree at a moderate price at a fruit tree farm down off Krome Avenue and brought it home and planted it with plenty of room for growth in full sunlight. It initially produced about a dozen fruit, but only one reached full ripeness; it’s amazing how nature recognizes the limitations of a tree to sustain the number of fruit and methodically drops the lesser fruits to refocus its energy on the very best.  Even though it only produced one mango that first year, it was the best mango we had ever tasted in our lives. The tree is now more than a year in the ground and is thriving; it grows quickly and is quite easy to maintain.  It is a hardy tree and fares pretty well during our infrequent cold snaps.