Monday, June 13, 2011

The Lowly Earthworm

We are having a clearance sale, and I tell people the dirt alone is worth more than we are charging. That's because our dirt is full of earthworms!
There's nothing wrong with the plants we are selling dirt cheap. A few have been burnt either from not enough water or not enough warmth, and they look a little scruffy. Others propagate a little too happily and we have a lot of them; and still others just have proven not to sell well so we are not going to carry them anymore. All these pots have been with us a few years and have received several doses of fertilizer and daily waterings so the soil is rich and dark. And the earthworms love it!

I met quite a few of these wriggly, moist and squirmy creatures this morning, so thought I'd look them up. This is what I learned:
Earthworms live all over the world, where ever soil is found
They vary greatly in length, from several inches to up to 12 feet !
Depending on where you meet them, they can be pink, tan, brown, red, or even blue or green.
They have 5 hearts, both male and female reproductive organs, lay eggs, and taste through a body covering that senses chemicals in the soil. It's possible for an earthworm to regenerate its body after it's been severed, but not in all cases. It can regrow the tail portion if the severing occured after the 13th ring of the body. Something like that. I'm not a surgeon.
They are a good omen in a garden. Their burrows help roots grab hold in the soil, their worm poop is high in nutrition, and they help water and nutrients move down to reach the plant.
At the markets where customers might be lucky enough to purchase a few in our plants, we are set up on a brick courtyard. It gets so hot I have to put my shoes back on because my feet burn. I bring water for the plants, but several times we have noticed an earthworm exodus. The poor things get so hot in the soil that they feel they have to leave and find cooler ground. My daughter and I find them wriggling on the hot bricks, of course in a worse situation, so we scurry about collecting them, pouring water on them, and telling them it'll just be for a bit longer and to hang in there. Sometimes we just have to donate them to one of the large flower pots dotting the Lakeland streets.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June's Doings

I finally finished my project of sweeping the nursery and moving the pots. The dirt leeches out the holes at the bottoms of the plant pots, so we have a nice thick layer of dirt, earthworms, leaves and fertilizer to recompost.
This project took a while - I got to it in between volunteering at the school, vending at farmer's markets twice weekly, giving knitting lessons, and sometimes being plain lazy. But it looks good

Remember my rooster, Mo? Well, he's a father this season! Hedwig, our hen, hatched two eggs in May. The little dears romp around with their mother while Mo rules the roost in his psychopathic manner. I have him sort of trained. I'll call from the back door, "Mo, chook chook!" and he'll come scampering up the steps to fly on the railing and give a triumphant crow. I'll pick him up and carry him around for a bit, and then he leaves me alone.

These are some of the lovelies that customers have been enjoying at the market lately. The above photo shows a variegated form of Peacock Ginger. It's a shade-loving ground cover that makes these darling flowers in early summer.
Below is the bloom stalk of Red Yucca. It's possible for the stalk to reach 5 feet hight!

Jim set up a large L-shaped area in the back yard where we have drip irrigation for the 3gallon shrubs and trees. My next project is to weed in this jungle!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Winter, Then Spring

This photo shows a heap of dead plants to be recycled into compost dirt

On the calendar it's been spring for a day. Here in Florida, we knew Spring had sprung a while back, because even though plants remained in a dormant stage, weeds were growing quite happily.

It was a tough winter for north central Florida. We had the coldest winter on record for December. Maybe I'm wrong about the record; I just know it got really cold. Temperatures were in the low 20's around Christmas time and stayed that way for a few days. The irony was there was no dew! So it didn't look frosty, and my kids, who have little experience with snow, were disappointed. Those of you who live in other areas may be experiencing how tough our winter was when you see that prices on strawberries and oranges have risen.
What that winter caused for us at Ridge Plants was a lot of dead plants.
In this photo you can see how much space has opened up by removing the pots. We have new 3 gallons to fill those holes.

If you read through the older posts you'll notice I touted Bulbine as a great Florida Friendly plant. The winter of 2009 had a very cold March and Bulbine flourished. Well, the Winter of 2010 killed all the Bulbine!!

Now that it is March it was time to assess the damage and realize some plants just weren't going to come back. Jim sorted the dead from the living, and now we are hauling pots to empty on a compost heap, or spreading them in our vegetable garden. Maybe it's because of all the destruction in Japan and the violent unrest in Libya, but I see it as a mass grave. Yesterday I dropped 10 wagon loads of 10 3-gallon plants onto the heap. These would have retailed for $10 each. Very sad.

On the other hand, it is Spring. And spring is when plants wake up from dormancy are are ready to expend energy and releaf, flower, and reproduce.
Jim started some veggies and herbs from seed and they are eager little growers.

Our other perennials are now releafed and flowering, like the Orange Zest Cestrum. They shall welcome the bees to collect pollen and spread fertilization. Bulb plants like Iris and Amaryllis are also blooming. These will spread by the bulb producing another bulb, and also through seeds and cross pollenization.

The lesson is Life goes on!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hummingbird Attractors

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, by taffyknits (me!)

I have a customer who likes to have hummingbirds visit her garden, and she makes sure many of her plants are nectar sources for these teeny birds, in addition to the feeders she puts out.
She stopped by and got an Ultraviolet Sage, and told me she would definitely get the Ruttya Fruticosa if I knew for sure whether or not hummingbirds like it. My husband calls it Jammy Mouth, but everywhere else I've found it, it's called Rabbit Ears.

Ruttya Fruticosa or Rabbit Ears. Large evergreen shrub in zones 8-11 that flowers year-round if there is no frost. For you snowbirds, it's a good houseplant during the winter, and you can put it outside in the summer for birds to feed on the blooms!

Well, in researching this plant, I found a whole bunch of other plants we carry that will attract hummingbirds, and I got so excited about it, it's my theme for my booth in Lakeland, this Saturday at the Curb Market.

Orange Zest Cestrum (small tree/large shrub with leaves that smell like peanut butter!)

The one plant that surprised me, though Jim already knew it, was Red Yucca. It's supposed to bloom in the summertime, but for some reason one in our nursery felt happy and it's blooming. It shoots out a 5-ft tall stalk with showers of pink flowers all over it. It's in the agave family, so aloe is another one that would be good in a hummingbird garden.

Here's what's on my list to carry:
Salvias! Jim says just about any kind will do, but I have Ultraviolet Sage, Mexican Sage, Compton's Beauty, Scarlet Pineapple Sage, Faye Chapel, and Indigo Spires.

Tacoma Stans, or Yellow Bells - another tall woody shrub that is blooming right now
Cestrum, Orange Zest
Crocossmia (a bulb, orange blooming in the spring)
Cuphea Cigar Plant
Shrimp Plant Fruit Cocktail
Rabbit Ears
Hummingbird Plant
Red Yucca
Black Adder Hyssop (any Agastache member seems to be a great one)
Orange Milkweed
Fire Bush (that's one outside my window where I have spotted Ruby-throated Hummingbirds).
Coral Honeysuckle
Other ones we have but I may or may not bring are day lilies, agapanthus, gayfeather (liatris) and Indian Paintbrush (we only have one and I'm not allowed to sell it)

I think it'll be fun. Butterfly Gardens are a hot topic of conversation, but I'll put a different twist on it with Hummingbird Gardens.

Jim will also have a booth in Lake Wales, at Pioneer Day Festival. It's a lot of fun! Who knew our little town could hold so many people. Come for the architecture tours, the pretty lake scenery and just a cheery festival atmosphere.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Busy, Busy, Busy

I have decided to compare myself with the bee.
Bees are busy and I am busy. In fact, I am as busy as a bee!
The little insect and I share space in the nursery. I often say "excuse me" to a bunch of them as I pick up a plant to move it. Their favorites seem to be the Black Adder Hyssop and the African Blue Basil. They buzz around but we have a peaceful co-existence.

If I were a bee, I'd be the worker bee. I would be female (and I am!) and my job would be to clean, collect pollen and feed the larvae. Not too different than what I do as a human, although I have to admit, I don't clean too much.

Fall is here so the bees are finalizing their pollen gathering, making honey, and preparing for winter, when they huddle together inside the hive and don't leave, eating that honey. Fall for this worker human means preparing for all the fall festivals. In days past, the fall was the harvest season. Although we are more removed from the actual gathering of the harvest, we still celebrate and prepare for the upcoming holiday season with craft festivals, pumpkin patches, and garden shows.

This weekend is Boktoberfest at Bok Tower Gardens ( Jim works there as a Head Gardener and he has our plants in the Plant Shop. The manager asked him to bring some out, and we've been filling the Great White Whale (van) and trailer with cestrums, grasses, coreopsis, stoppers, fiddle wood, sweet almond bush, just to name a few for the past two days. We have a garden wagon that we have to wheel across the front to the back, load it up with 10 3-gallon sized pots, and wheel it all the way back. There's a slight incline where the septic tank is, and you have to dig your heels into the ground to keep the momentum going.

After Boktoberfest the next weekend is the Garden Extravaganza in Munn Park in Lakeland. That will probably mean getting up at 4 to make a couple of trips back and forth. Jim has been saying we need to move half the plants in the nursery, and I really hope that after these shows that most of those plants don't come home!

Did you know that bees can see every color except red? They smell the flowers.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Let's all put on our deepest, smokiest, Barry White voices and discuss.. love.
Here in the nursery we have two kinds of love going on: the twice-yearly swarm of love bugs, and a great fall plant, Love Grass.

There's something about grasses that just says Autumn to me. Maybe it's because I've lived in the south too long and don't get to crunch my feet in leaves and have to do my oak tree raking in the spring. I think too it's the wheat-like bloom so many grasses produce in the fall and that makes me think of harvest time.

Love Grass is also known as Tallahassee Sunset or Tallahassee Skies. It's botanical name is Eragrostis Elliotti, and it's native to the Southeast of the US, as far west as Texas. It's a short grass - not more than two feet high really. But it puts out a great number of blooms and the blades take on pink and blue hues.
In our nursery in the early morning light the row of Love Grass looks like pots that have been shrouded in fog.

The other bit of love going around concerns the birds and the bees, only it's Love Bugs. They spend their larval life underground, but in May and October, they sprout wings, develop pheromones, and zoom out to find a mate. Cars wear special protection over their grills because you can't help but drive into several thousand while on a trip to the store. The splattered remains of the love bugs are supposedly harmful to a car's paint job. I've heard of people freshly waxing their cars or applying a thin spray of oil on the car to make washing them off easier.

Other than that, they are pretty harmless. I even read that the larva are beneficial to the soil and help plants find nourishment easier. They don't bite or sting, just mate. But if you're outside for a long period they land on you and tickle you, and fly in your hair and maybe in your mouth.

Nothing seems to eat love bugs, except me when one goes in my mouth by accident. Maybe a spider when one is caught in the web. My rooster doesn't seem to find them enticing. The larva are enjoyed by birds and armadillos. Imagine how many more could hatch if the larva weren't tasty!

They are really easy to catch and very fragile. Merely brushing them away because of the tickle will cause permanent harm or death to the love bug. The PE teacher at my childrens' elementary school came up with a unique game called Love Bug Tag. The students have to run out to the field, catch love bugs, and when they bring it back to the coach and it is still alive, then they get a prize. I bet she gave out a lot of prizes.

When we first moved here I had painted our porch. The railings were a bright white, and the love bugs loved it. Several hundred gathered there, and completely freaked my older daughter out. She does not enjoy love bug season at all. And she's not the only one. Just the other day a grown woman, a Master Gardener, came out to our nursery, and she really had to work hard to pretend she wasn't bothered by them.

The grasses are blooming, it's definitely fall in Florida, and it's a season we deserve after the long hot summers. Enjoy gardening!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Simpson's Stopper: Plant Highlight

I think my husband is getting to me. I was out in the nursery, looking at a plant. I read the tag, thinking to come inside and look it up. It had a botanical as well as common name listed. For the life of me, I could only remember the botanical! Can you believe I pulled Helianthus Angustifolius out of my head, and not Gold Lace or Swamp Sunflower? But more on that one next week. I had promised a profile of Simpson's Stopper, which is one of Jim's favorites.

I had thought humans were a relatively social group, but so many I meet at farmers markets have been confiding to me that they'd like a hedge to block out a neighbor. Viburnums are usually the first thing that comes to their minds. We do carry viburnums, and there is even a native variety, but I like to recommend the Simpson's Stopper because it's not an over-used plant; the hedge it creates won't look like the other hedges every other block. It has the same, if not more, nice qualities of a viburnum.

Simpson's Stopper is a fun common name, and one I remember better than Myrcianthes Fragrans (although I think I can figure out the 'fragrans' part).
Medical lore says that Simpson's Stopper, particularly the berries and bark, can be used to cure a certain stomach ailment which requires one to be stopped up. Apparently a fellow named Simpson had a bad case of diarrhea.

It's in the Myrtle family, a group of tropical shrubs and trees. Simpson's Stopper, which I'm sure you figured out by the botanical name, has a fragrant flower. It's small and fluffy and white. It then makes a red berry. The leaves are stiff and dark green, and it likes to branch out. These branches, berries and flowers make this Stopper a popular hub in the garden for butterflies and birds. It's also an evergreen, which is an important feature for a hedge, don't you think?

Down further south the Simpson's Stopper can grow quite tall. It takes pruning well and is an easy undertaking to make it a hedge, or a shaped shrub or tree.

So if you wish to block an eyesore, enjoy a plant with medicinal and culinary value, or create an obstacle near your property line, consider the Simpson's Stopper!