Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Q & A from my St. Pete Times column in 2006

Dear John
Enjoyed your article in the St. Pete Times, could you please tell me where I might find a Barbados Cherry plant?
Thanks Judy
Oops! It looks like the source was edited out of the on-line version of my article!
Jene's Tropicals
6831 Central Avenue St. Petersburg

Subject: butterflies
Dear sir,I read somewhere that pentas would attract butterflies to my garden,I have lots of pentas but no butterflies.HELP. DG Murray
Wow I am very surprised as even butterfly pavillions grow them for that purpose! Hmm...I have only grown the old fashioned tall types, which are butterfly champs. I wonder if you are growing the newer shorter hybrids, like the Galaxy series and others, and if for some reason they are less attractive? Do keep in mind we have peak butterfly seasons here, like the end of winter. Perhaps just give them some time and do keep me posted. Happy gardening! John
Nice article, John.
Yes, don’t eat the Surinams until they are purple…you remember how they were so tempting as fully reddened orbs but really didn’t get rid of that astringent taste until they turned a deep-maroon? I spent many a day gleaning them from neighborhood hedges and bushes on the way home from school, waiting patiently (and sometimes too much in-a-hurry) for them to ripen.
We had a nice guava tree in the 60’s given to us by an older army WAC neighbor, "Miss Steve" ("Steve" Stevenhart): It did alright (though I never took to the fruit like I did the strawberry guava growing on the side of the road all over Hawaii, "The Big Island"). She was a principled woman who would come out and "take our balls" (an early dose of masculine envy?) every time they landed in her yard during a game at the next-door-neighbor’s house (it wasn’t bad as her house was across the street and comprised deep right and right-center field!). She also had other exotics like persimmon in her screened-in porch in back.
Anyway, thanks for the memories in print. I moved to Iowa 3 years ago to be with my girl. I don’t miss the summers there (except for the afternoon thunderstorms) but sure wish they were longer here. What would you rather have: 6 months of summer (FLA.) or 6 months of winter? Either way you end up spending a lot of time indoors.
Put me down for summers, will ya’?

Dear Sir,
Always enjoy your columns in the St. Pete Times, but you really brought back some memories today!
I am a fifty-something gal, raised in Miami (my Mom was even a cracker!)
Our small back yard in Miami was proud home to a huge mango tree, a very small lime tree, a large pink grapefruit tree, and my favorite as a child: a 20-30 foot hedge of Surinam cherry bushes. How I loved those things! I got to know, by trial and error, the best color cherries to eat, and those to avoid. Mary & Dave
Thanks Mary and Dave for sharing those memories...I am 50 something, and my Dad was born and raised in Coconut Grove and also feasted on Surinam Cherries (and MANY other things as he reminds me the Great Depression was raging then). Wonderful that central and south Florida can always feed us from our yards! Nothing like being a "Cracker", right?! John

Hello John,
I read your weekly column in the St. Pete Times and I have never seen anyone ask how to get rid of dollarweed in an ornamental garden. I have dollarweed in my gardens amidst my azaleas and flowers and groundcover. I have tried pulling it up by hand, but as you must know it is virtually impossible to get all of it. If only a small piece of the root, or runner I should say, is left in the ground then it will continue to spread. I cannot use any of the dollarweed poisons I have seen on the market because they say not to use on or near plants. I am at my wits' end. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Hi Marianne
I hear ya! While a good annual application of dolomite can do wonders to control dollarweed in a St. Augustine lawn, it is only partially effective in a landscape bed. Plus you should NOT use dolomite around azaleas and other acid lovers.
What has worked well for me for my clients since the mid 80's is to cover every square inch around the plants in a bed with a 1 inch thick layer of damp newspaper, each overlapping the next 6 inches, so that the soil and dollarweed are completely covered and hidden from view, right up to the edging and each plant stem so there are no escape routes for the dollarweed runners.
I then cover this with 6-8" of a heavy mulch, like the grindings from a tree trimming company. I keep that thick mulch an inch or two away from the plant stems. This usually suffocates to death 99% of the dollarweed. You can then pull the few that manage to emerge, or, if you are comfortable, spray them with a glyphosate based herbicide. (I personally will not use them and make my own formula based on glyphosate minus the controversial additives in those famous ones). This approach kills nearly all the dollarweed plus does wonders to make the soil damp and fertile and earthwormy.
Happy gardening!
Great idea! Long (looonnng) ago I went to Gorrie elementary in Tampa. The hedges alongside the front walk were (I think) Surinam cherryand I used to relish the little "treats." We are restoring a house in Seminole Heights in Tampa and will be looking for landscaping when the (ennnndless) scraping and painting and etc. and etc. and et cetera are done. I have a special eye on protecting the footings on the house, since they aren't the modern poured concrete and steel type we use today but are actually several courses of brick. So...a question:The use of the citrus trees as hedges is appealing. Since these are actually trees, even though, as you have suggested, they will be cut back hard yearly, can I expect the root system to develop pretty much the way a normal citrus tree's would? If so, and I wanted to use the trees as hedges, say, in front of the house, how far from the walls should the hedge be planted to avoid any possible disruption to the footing?We had a very modest looking hedge of Ixora beside the housewhen we moved in, low and pretty scraggly. I went to put a deck in over the site and started to pull the Ixora out. I ended up literally throwing chains around the roots and dragging them out with a Jeep because the things had been in there for probably forty years and while the tops were beat down and ragged, the roots were extremely robust and hearty and had apparentlybeen growing apace despite the fate of the foliage. Hence the question. Thanks again for the great idea. I imagine that hedges bearing fruit might also attract birds, an additional benefit, I think.John

Thanks for the kind comments sounds like a cool (but LABORIOUS!) project you are doing. I'm not sure about the citrus roots issue...I THINK you'd be okay as the ones I listed never become large trees even if never pruned as can oranges and grapefruits. I wonder if planting the citrus hedge 6 feet from the house would be prudent as regards both roots and proximity to walls for maintenance and painting? I hope this helps and happy gardening! John
Subject: shrubbery check
I live up in Dunedin fla. Its just north of Clearwater beach. My wife insists on hibiscus but I don’t want them,. They are too common and want something that will stand the heat and sun in A.M. against my house. Will those cherry bushes hold up in this locale? And what specific species should I seek out? I just want something simple and easy to raise. I will keep them hedged. Whadda ya think?
Thanks much……….. Rob
Hi Rob
I would think that with your being on the beach there, with hard frosts a rarity (right?) that you could grow any of the fruit shrubs listed in the article, perhaps even the guavas despite your being a bit north of me. Keep me posted as to the choice you end up making.
Happy Gardening!

I have followed and enjoyed your garden Q & A column in the St. Pete Times. Could you give us your opinion?
My wife and I live in Clearwater, Florida on the bay. We are in the process of putting in a pool and seawall in our backyard, which is narrow, only 75 feet wide and backs to a mangrove forest. We are trying to find a tree which will provide maximum privacy bordering the sides of our backyard and, which would be as narrow as possible in light of the limited area. From my research, I am considering using Thuja Green Giant Evergreens, which would seem perfect for the task. However, I am having difficulty determining whether these trees will do well in our tropical climate. From an internet search, one seller ( of these trees created a geographic chart of the US in where the trees can grow and it did encompass the Tampa Bay area, but barely. About 7 random calls to local nurseries was not helpful as the staff on duty had no knowledge of the tree and did not seem to think they had it in stock.
Any knowledge as to whether this narrow tall tree will live in the Tampa Bay area? If not, any alternative suggestions?
Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Gary
Thanks for your kind comments. I checked out those Thuja hybrids and when I see their breeding and where they are farmed (the Carolinas) I agree they are not likely to thrive here. My Dad in Okeechobee tried for many years to create a hedge using a similar hybrid and fought constant disease and death. After spending vast amounts of time and money, two years ago he cut the sickly survivors down. I'd choose plants that LOVE Florida.
If height more than 10 feet is not needed, the very fast growing hedge Silverthorn (Eleagnus pungens) would give you rapid privacy plus tasty berries in spring. It is a VERY tough plant that the state of Florida uses on roadsides and welcome stations. Despite the name it is thorn free, and in December and January the inconspicuous blooms fill a yard with a glorious perfume much like jasmine.
If you want greater height, consider any of the giant Bamboo species. They'd enjoy the conditions you describe, give you a tropical look, are very fast growing once established, plus would provide you lovely homegrown bamboo canes for making fences, fishing poles or furniture. Plus you can cut off the newly emerging growth tips while still tender and chop them into Asian cuisine
Happy Gardening!

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