Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ground-Breaking Soil Research

Soil science research is being turned upside down with the latest EPA studies how water flows through soils. Working with Oregon State University scientists, the EPA study with the assistance of new technology that allows scientists to "fingerprint" water, finds that plant root systems allow for greater uptake than previously thought.

The new study by scientists from Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency showed – much to the surprise of the researchers – that soil clings tenaciously to the first precipitation after a dry summer, and holds it so tightly that it almost never mixes with other water.

The finding is so significant, researchers said, that they aren't even sure yet what it may mean. But it could affect our understanding of how pollutants move through soils, how nutrients get transported from soils to streams, how streams function and even how vegetation might respond to climate change.

Jeff McDonnell, an OSU distinguished professor and holder of the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in the OSU College of Forestry quoted:

"We used to believe that when new precipitation entered the soil, it mixed well with other water and eventually moved to streams. We just found out that isn't true... This could have enormous implications for our understanding of watershed function, it challenges about 100 years of conventional thinking."

These latest studies, published in Nature GeoScience will shed new insights and possibly different stormwater engineering policies for the future. Read the entire article here.

In Your Backyard: "Winter Blooms That Thrill, Crape Murder That Chills"

I was rousted out of bed in the wee hours with a neighboring electric transformer blowing as lightning hit it as a cold front and storm cell went through Central Florida. But thankfully it provided us with 1.5" of rain. That's enough water for ten days if the temperatures hover between the 40's and low 70's this week. Looks like we are going to get another downpour on Saturday as well, so El Nino is living up to her reputation of cold, wet winters. No need for irrigation at all.

Central Florida's subtropical below freezing temperatures this winter sent chills through everyone but one plant that loves the cold and even brightens up our landscape December through February are the lovely camellias.

Camellia Japonica © 2010 Teresa Watkins, Garden With Soul

Carl Linneaus, named lovely Asian native flowers after a Jesuit Missionary, Father George Kamel who traveled to the Phillipines in the 17th century.

There are two types of camellias sold and grown in Florida: camellia sasanquas and camellia japonicas.

Camellias love acidic soils, shady conditions, and consistant fertilizing. They're easy to grow and if you have a oak trees and azaleas, camellias would be a perfect compliment.

Great links on Camellias:

A great place to see beautiful camellias as large as citrus trees is Leu Gardens. Leu Gardens has the largest collection of camellias outside of California. The beautiful estate gardens in Orlando recently had their camellia show. They are a must see for true garden afficianados.


The annual massacre continues as Crape Murder butchers are wrecking havoc in the streets. Some homeowners just don't realize or don't care that taking a chainsaw to their crape myrtles is a horrible way to manage them.

Don't commit crape murder!

Call in with your garden questions and I'll post them here after the show.

  • Ed from Bassvile Park, and Cecil from Eustis asked separately about their frozen citrus trees. The only thing to do is be patient and see if they survived. Don't prune back limbs until late May or June to see what comes back. Don't overwater the citrus trees and don't overfertilize. We still have several weeks to go before we are out of frost-danger so we don't want to encourage new growth too quickly.

  • Elaine, here's Tony Avent's Plant Delights website to request a catalog. The plant catalog cover is extremely funny and such great plants ~ I could spend more than the TARP bailout trying out all his new plant finds!

  • Georgia from Webster wanted to know if she could plant her ligustrums, yes, it's okay! Here in Florida, we can transplant most hardy species year round unless there is an extreme weather event (immenient freeze or hurricane) happening soon.

  • Mea Culpa Mea Culpa on the radio show today - Cecil also asked about pruning grapes in Florida. My multi-tasking mind (Thank goodness you can't see what's going on during the radio show!) immediately went to the Grape workshops hosted in August at the Lake County Extension and I mistakenly said to prune grapes in August. Jerry called to correct me a few minutes later and Jerry was right. You need to prune your grapes mid-January through March before the grapes flush out in April. Thank you, Jerry for keeping me straight!
Here's more on growing Muscadine grapes and Bunch grapes .
Guess I've found my topic for next week! Note to self: Correct growing techniques for grapes!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"In Your Backyard" Growing Fruits in Florida

The Sunshine State grows 75% of the oranges in the United States and produces 40% of the world's orange juce supply. With our abundant sunshine and ample rain, Florida is a cornucopia of agricultural crops. Yet, gardeners, especially our Northern transplants yearn to grow other fruits and nut trees and we are told that you can't grow the fruit trees that you grew up in the North. There's a reason why that's partly true: provenance.

Provenance is important to remember when you purchase plants out-of-state on your travels, on the Internet or from a catalog. Provenance means the original growing region of where the plant, shrub, or tree, were produced. It's important because it means that plant will do well in that original location but if you move it to a different geographical location, it won't have the same growing conditions and may not thrive or survive. For example, a native Cornus florida dogwood in Connecticut or Kentucky would not have the same growing conditions as a native Cornus florida in Florida. Roses bought from a West Coast catalog will not survive in Florida's sandy soils. Provenance could be the reason that a plant, shrub, or tree that you purchase from a catalog out of your state doesn't survive. Your yard doesn't have the same growing conditions as the catalog's nursery.

We are fortunate that here in Central Florida we have a sub-tropical climate, all the benefits of sunny tropical winters with occasional small doses of cooler temperatures that make us appreciate what the North experiences. That was extremely evident this last month with a huge three week dose of regional pockets of snow and sleet, and state wide freezes. Your tropical landscape may not feel that it was fortunate, but for those of us who love to grow apples, peaches, nectarines, and pears, it's great! Because of these low temperatures, we can grow special low-chill hour varieties of those Northern fruits we love.

A great nursery to visit and purchase fruit trees for Lake County is Chestnut Hill Tree Farm. Bob and Debbie Gaw of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua, Florida have a great catalog with many varieties low-chill fruit and wonderful nut trees that you can grow in Central Florida.

Listen to the gardening questions and answers on today's radio show this afternoon! If you would like to listen in on the Internet, go to WLBE's website and click on "Listen Live" or the shows are archived for one month. Don't miss a broadcast!

What's going on in your backyard? Call the show!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In Your Backyard: Chilly Willy, It's Supposed To Be Florida!

Robert Carrion's reality photographs from Montverde, Florida. Temperatures definitely hit the 20's, with wind chills in the teens.

For homeowners, watering your yard two to three days BEFORE a freeze will help keep it warmer than watering it during the freeze. Wet soil will generate more heat than dry soil. It also helps hydrate plants.

Wrapping them with frost blankets and adding lights underneath the plants will also add more warmth.

But if your landscape received snow and sleet, then you're probably going to see more damage to your plants than in a normal Florida winter. Here's how to check if your plants survived:
  • Delay pruning for several weeks to see what has actually died.
  • You can pull off any damaged leaves.
  • Scrape bark for green growth underneath the damage. If it's black, then cut back till you find green cambium.
  • Mushy stems are an indication of frost-damage. Cut back to ground.
  • Don't fertilize or amend soil.
  • Allow for rainfall and/or if none, irrigate once every ten days. Do not overwater.
  • Frozen plants may take longer than usual (months) to recover so be patient with any plants that are favorites before digging up and throwing away.

More information on cold protection for your ornamental plants.

Why do citrus growers use micro-irrigation on their groves?

Spring blooming Trees for Florida:

Saucer Magnolia

Chickasaw Plum


Great Spring Catalogs:

Plant Delights Nursery

Tomato Growers Supply Company

White Flower Farm

K. Van Bourgondien & Sons

We will be talking about fruit trees for Florida with Chestnut Hill Tree Farms next week! You don't want to miss the next "In Your Backyard."

Friday, January 08, 2010

It'll Be A Cold Day In...

Not a forecast you see every Florida winter. This is going to be a record breaking year for cold temperatures. I will post snow photographs if we get the white stuff!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Carrbridge In Winter

Enjoy this lovely jigsaw puzzle. The caption says that this 300-year old packhorse bridge is in Carrbridge,Scotland and it's the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands.

Click to Mix and Solve

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

UK Experiencing Heaviest Snowfall In Fifty Years

The little island empire of England and Scotland, protected by the warm Gulf Stream, seems to be out of touch with the ICCP's prediction of global climate change. The Met Office for weather issued emergency warnings for the kingdom:

Forecasters predicted that more than one foot of snow could fall in less than 24 hours in most southern areas leading to widespread chaos and disruption for millions.

The residents of Hampshire and Wiltshire were expected to be the worst hit, with as much as 16 inches likely to be dumped by the end of tomorrow. Residents and commuters in London, which ground to a halt last February following heavy falls, were warned to expect a covering of several inches by the morning rush hour.

On the roads drivers were advised not to venture out unless their journey was absolutely essential, as councils warned they could run out of grit if the conditions failed to improve.

The Met Office claimed the amount of snow forecast could be the biggest single fall since the notorious winter of 1962-63, when some areas of the country were blighted by snow and ice for more than three months.

These photos are from my sister's home in Berwick St. James outside of Wiltshire, the region expected to be one of the hardest hit. Fortunate she is a champion dog breeder and trainer, because they will definitely be experiencing a cuddly three dog night.

Feed The Birds

Previously posted on January 4, 2008
With the coldest weather occuring in 25 years, I thought you might enjoy seeing these wonderful bird photos from our 2008 Christmas trip to New England ~ Teresa.


We're up visiting family in Taunton, Massachusetts for New Year's. In typical New England winter style, we received a blanket of 8" of snow. The birds are regular diners on the patio and flew non-stop throughout the day. How many birds can you identify? Click on the title "Feed The Birds" above to see all 200+ photographs.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Rock Solid Gardens

© Stonehenge 2006 Teresa Watkins

Stones are magical. The stillness of majestic stone gardens created by man thousands of years ago is awe-inspiring. Ancient people worshipped, honored the earth, and left untold stories among the impressive pillars at Stonehenge. They feel as if they have a life of their own. Who knows? Maybe stones hold the secret to our universe? One of my favorite metaphysical books is The Nature of Thing: The Secret Life of Inaminate Objects explains their spectral powers. WebEcoist has more mystical ancient stone circles here.

I love stones in my Florida garden because we don't find many rocks in our sandy soils. That's probably a good thing when we have to dig but trying to create height with flat topographies needs imagination.

History of Rock Gardens

Reginald Ferrer, botanist, plant hunter and world traveler, (1880 - 1920) changed gardening with his rock bed creations. Ferrer was responsible for sparking interest in alpine and Japanese rock gardens. Frequently referred to as the "shotgun" gardener for his one-time seed-sowing experiment (eccentric stunt?) of loading a shotgun with alpine seeds from his travels and shooting them into crevices of the Yorkshire cliffs.

Read a downloadable version of The English Rock Garden by Reginald Ferrer.

Japanese Rock Gardens

“In order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand -- or at least to learn to understand -- the beauty of stones. Not of stones quarried by the hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only. Until you can feel, and keenly feel, that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you. Not only is every stone chosen with a view to its particular expressiveness of form, but every stone in the garden or about the premises has its separate and individual name, indicating its purpose or its decorative duty.”

My Garden

From Loch Lomand to Gooseberry Island near Cape Cod, to Franklin, NC to Seattle,WA, we bring home a rock from each adventure. Our friends bring us rocks, pebbles, even singular bricks, from their globe-trotting. I even understood completely when I heard a puzzled newscaster question why someone getting on a plane (post-911) had a brick confiscated from their bag. It wasn't going to be a weapon but a memory that could be held. Cheap souvenirs, the unknowing may think, but to me, stones are deeply personal.

© Gooseberry Island beach stones 2009 Teresa Watkins

Now this is a great rock garden at the Canadian Pavilion during 2008 International Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT. You can imagine reducing the creviced ridges and interspersing plantings of dwarf junipers, slow-growing cypresses, and draping succulents behind a bed of golden marigolds you can create the same effect in your landscape.

© EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival 2008 Teresa Watkins

Water conserving succulent rock container garden with blue rubber mulch.

© EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival 2007 Teresa Watkins

How Not To Design A Rock Garden:

The landscape company that put this parking lot obstacle in needs to be stoned.

Let your garden show its' rock-solid strength by adding a few natural stones. It can take the rough edges off an otherwise flat touch. Grounding yourself with stones in a garden can be very healing. Rock on!

More resources on rock gardens:

UPDATE: Had a reader send in this neo-modern circular formation called Puppyhenge.

In Your Backyard - "2010 New Year Resolutions"

Happy New Year! My most important New Year's resolution is to keep this blog up to date! That being said there's a few things that I want to become more serious about and a few promises to myself to nurture my gardening soul. These resolutions will not only help you save money, they will help make our world a better place without compromising our freedom.

  1. Get a Rain Gauge - Know how much rain your backyard receives. Adjust irrigation system accordingly. Using a rain gauge to water your landscape only when necessary will help save you money but also save you horticulture problems in the coming year. Most of the disease and pest problems your landscape has to endure is not their fault but the fault of the caretaker's compassionate but cruel care. Most people overwater their turf creating a short-root system. A short root system will be more susceptible to insects, more susceptible to diseases, and be less drought-tolerant. St. Augustine turf only needs 1" - 1.5" inches of water a week.

  2. I'm going to create a living fence of orchids. Hanging them in clay pots from my shaded fence. Orchids are easy to grow outside under shade in Florida. Right now I have dendrobiums hanging from beautiful dried wood and they bloom for me three times a year with only Mother Nature's help. Here's another good orchid site.

  3. I'm going to visit a Lake County Open Preserve that I have never been to or hiked. LCWA provides free canoe and kayak rentals. Great opportunity to see pristine and restored wetlands, scrub habitats, and native plants. I've been to Bourlay Historic Nature Park, Crooked River Preserve, Flat Island Preserve, Hidden Waters Preserve, Sabal Bluff Preserve, and Sawgrass Island Preserve and Wolfbranch Creek Preserve. This leaves Lake Norris Conservation Area to explore. Can't wait for spring to get here!

  4. I am resolved to educate more people to remove exotic invasives from their yards! Invaders like Brazilian Pepper and Chinaberry Trees. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council has a great brochure to download and learn about exotics.

  5. Reduce my water use by 10,000 gallons this year. Replace my toilet. Fix a leak Replace clotheswasher. Showerhead. Based on one 10-minute shower a day, an energy-efficient, low-flow showerhead can save up to 10,000 gallons of water a year, representing a $145 energy savings You can also check out The Best Low-Flow Showerhead review.

Other topics on the radio show today:

  • Cold hardy palms. Palms that won't freeze in Florida or even South Carolina!

  • February 2009 - Frozen Queen palms at a nursery in Volusia County (and this winter will be colder.)

  • Weather Underground - Check current weather and predictions, weekly, monthly, and annual rainfall.

  • Word of the Day: Humectants - A humectant is a substance used primarily in foods and cosmetic products to help retain moisture.