Fatsia japonica Provides Gorgeous Winter Blooms

Fatsia japonica Provides Gorgeous Winter Blooms

Fatsia japonica, common name Japanese aralia, provides tropical texture to your landscape.  That coarse texture is attributed to its large (nearly a foot wide) leaves that are deeply lobed (maple leaf shaped).  This shade-loving plant performs well in moist (not soggy) locations.  Upright stems originate near ground level usually near the base of older stems.  The stems grow to about eight feet tall before bending toward the ground under their own weight.

Even though the foliage of this species is enough to make you want it in your own garden, you will absolutely fall in love with its blooms.  Upright clusters of showy, creamy white flowers begin to appear in fall.  These little snowballs provide wonderful color to your garden.  The shiny, black fruits appear in winter and are prominent for several weeks.  The fruit are know to attract birds to the landscape.

Fatsia japonica Blooming

A Fatsia japonica specimen in full bloom. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Fatsia japonica thrives in the shade in slightly acidic, nutrient-rich, moist soil.  Older stems become leggy and can be cut back to encourage branching.  In the right place, Fatsia japonica is low-maintenance and not typically bothered by pests.  It is also known to perform well in coastal landscapes.  It fits well in entryways, in containers, or in mass plantings spaced three feet apart.


New Twist on an Old Favorite – Abelia

New Twist on an Old Favorite – Abelia

Clusters of tiny white flowers on abelia. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Clusters of tiny white flowers on abelia. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Abelias have been a landscape staple in the Southeastern United States for over a century. Numerous types have been used over the years, but two of the oldest forms still used in landscapes are Glossy Abelia Abelia x grandiflora and Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’, dating back to the early 1900s.

Glossy Abelia is a large informal shaped shrub with ½ – 1 inch glossy green leaves and large clusters of tiny white flowers. It can grow to 8 feet wide and tall and tolerates tough landscape sites such as full sun, low moisture (once established), acidic or slightly alkaline soils. It blooms prolifically and is attractive to butterflies and pollinators. New stems are reddish colored which contrasts nicely with dark green foliage which may be evergreen if winters are mild. After blooms are spent the pink sepals remain on the plants carrying more color through the season.

‘Edward Goucher’ Abelia does not grow quite as large and is a good performer with pink flowers. It is smaller than Glossy Abelia, but can still reach 5’x5’ when mature. It is also tolerant of hot, dry spots in the landscape.

Over the past few decades there have been many new introductions of abelia cultivars to the market. A major goal of breeders was to offer abelias that would fit into smaller landscapes and there has also been a trend towards variegated foliage color. There are dozens of abelias in production, but a few listed below are usually easy to find in local garden centers and have proven reliable in Florida landscapes.

  • Abelia x ‘Rose Creek’ Rose Creek Abelia, low mounding growth habit reaching 2-3’ tall and 3-4’ wide, green foliage, new reddish stems, large clusters of white flowers
  • Abelia x grandiflora ‘Hopley’s Lemon Zest™’ Lemon Zest Abelia or Miss Lemon™ Abelia grows 3-4’ tall and wide, has yellow and green variegated foliage, light pink flowers
  • Abelia x grandiflora ‘Confetti’ Confetti® Abelia, matures at 3’ tall and wide, new foliage has pink, white, and green variegation and mature foliage is green and white variegated, pink and white flowers
  • Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’ P.P.#16,988 Kaleidoscope Abelia, compact growth 2-3’ tall by 3-3.5’ wide, gold and pink new foliage that matures into gold and green variegation, white flowers

All abelias perform best in full sun to part shade and have low water requirements once established. They are not salt tolerant, so avoid planting in coastal landscapes or in areas where salts are an issue. Abelias have few pest problems, but aphids have been known to feed on new growth – avoid over fertilization.

Camellias in the Panhandle

Camellia flowers

White by the Gate, Magnoliaeflora, and Spellbound Camellia japonica flowers

Are you looking for an evergreen shrub with showy flowers in the fall or winter? Look no further than an old Southern favorite, the camellia.

Large camellias dot landscapes of historic homes throughout the Florida Panhandle, and although they look like they’ve been here forever camellias are not native to North America, but were originally brought here from Asia in 1797. There are many different types, but the most common camellias found in Florida are Camellia sasanqua which bloom in the fall (October – December) and Camellia japonica with larger leaves and a later bloom time of January through March. Some other types of camellias are Camellia reticulata, C. hiemalis, C. vernails and their hybrids; and Camellia sinensis is the source of tea which is made from the young leaves of this plant.

Flower colors range from a crisp white to a deep crimson and there are even some cultivars with variegated flowers! There are six recognized flower forms and they are single, semi-double, anemone, peony, formal double, and rose form double. Although most camellias have the potential to get over ten feet tall and five feet wide, there are some that grow slower and can be maintained at lower heights. Camellia sasanqua ‘Bonanza’ and C. sasanqua ‘Shishi Gashira’ have more horizontal branching habits and can be kept under five feet tall, however they will need more width than a more upright growing camellia.

Camellia sasanqua 'Bonanza' flower

Camellia sasanqua ‘Bonanza’

When choosing a site for your camellia, look for an area with light shade, good air flow, and well-drained soil. Test your soil to determine pH and fertilizer needs before planting; soil testing kits can be picked up at your local county extension office. Camellias prefer acidic soil with a target pH range of 5.0 to 6.5, and benefit from organic matter amendments in sandy soil. Plant camellias slightly higher than the natural grade; dig a hole that is wide and shallow. After planting check that the top of the root ball is one to two inches above the soil line to allow for some settling. Mulching helps to conserve moisture and regulate soil temperatures, but be careful not to cover the root ball with thick mulch layers.
For more information about camellias and their care in Florida, please see Camellias at a Glance at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP00200.pdf .

Put In Warm-Season Bedding Plants for Colorful Summer Flowering Garden

Robert C Trawick
Extension Horticulturist II
Jackson County


In May we move from the warm days and cool nights of spring and early summer to the hot days and warm nights that will be with us until, at the very least, September.

With the increasing heat, you’ll inevitably notice the decline of your cool-season bedding plants. After months of outstanding bloom, plants such as pansies, dianthus, alyssum, snapdragons and petunias are growing tired and unattractive.

But that’s OK. This change brings the opportunity to redesign and replant flower beds with bedding plants that will thrive during the hot summer season.

Don’t allow plantings of cool-season bedding plants to go too far down the road to oblivion before you decide to pull them out and replace them. Beds of colorful flowers are meant to be noticed and appreciated, and they generally are located in prominent spots in the landscape. A few lingering flowers in an otherwise disheveled bed will not contribute anything positive to your landscape’s appearance.

Once you have decided the time is right to replant, there are a few decisions you should make before you head out to the nursery.

Note the amount of light the bed receives; this is critical in selecting the right bedding plants for the area. The terms full sun (8 hours or more of direct sun), part sun (about 6 hours of direct sun), part shade (about 4 hours of direct sun), shade (about 2 hours of direct sun) and full shade (little or no direct sun) are used to distinguish various light conditions. Even bedding plants for shade generally will not do well in full shade, but fortunately areas of full shade are not terribly common in most landscapes.

Look at the size of the area to be planted, and try to estimate how many plants will need to be purchased. On average, bedding plants are spaced about 8 inches apart. Keep a record of how many plants are used in a bed from one season to the next to make this process simpler. Also, consider desired heights of the plants you will use.

Decide on a color scheme. It’s crazy that gardeners who take the time to choose which colors to combine when they get dressed will grab anything in bloom at the nursery and plant those things together in a flower bed. No one can tell you what colors you should use in your flowerbeds – you know what you like. The point is to think about it and consider which colors you think will look good together. Generally, avoid purchasing bedding plants in cell packs of mixed colors so you have control over which colors you will combine.

Prepare your beds carefully before putting in the summer bedding plants. A common mistake is to remove the faded plants, half-heartedly turn the soil and then plant the new plants. We must give back to the soil if we expect each new planting of bedding plants to do their best.

To prepare the bed, first remove any weeds or other unwanted plants from the bed. Use a herbicide, such as glyphosate, or dig them out by hand. Turn the soil to a depth of at least 8 inches. Spread a 2-inch to 4-inch layer of compost, rotted leaves, aged manure, finely ground pine bark or peat moss over the bed. Then evenly sprinkle a light application of a granular all-purpose fertilizer. Or use your favorite organic fertilizers. Thoroughly blend the organic matter and fertilizer into the bed, rake smooth and you’re ready to plant.

Of course, make sure you plant the transplants into the bed no deeper than they were growing in their original container.

Bedding plants are commonly purchased in cell packs and 4-inch pots, but these days you can even find them offered in gallon containers (for those who have the budget to indulge in instant gratification).

Transplants in cell packs are the most economical and if planted this early in the season, they have plenty of time to grow and produce spectacular results. For larger transplants, choose 4-inch pots, but expect to pay several times more per plant. Sometimes it’s worth it, especially for tender perennials grown as annuals, such as pentas, blue daze and lantana, which generally are offered only in 4-inch or larger pots.

Tender perennials grown as annuals are especially good for the summer flower garden. They have the stamina to last reliably from now until October or November – when you can replace them with cool-season bedding plants.

Warm-season bedding plants, as well as tender perennials that can be used as warm-season bedding plants, for sun to part sun include abelmoschus, ageratum, amaranthus, balsam, blue daze, celosia, cleome, coleus (sun-tolerant types), coreopsis, cosmos, dahlberg daisy, Dusty Miller, gaillardia, gomphrena, lantana, lisianthus, marigold, melampodium, narrow-leaf zinnia, ornamental pepper, periwinkle, pentas, portulaca, purslane, rudbeckia, salvia, scaevola, sunflower, tithonia, torenia, verbena (hardy perennial) and zinnia.

Some of the warm-season bedding plants and tender perennials for part-shade to shade are balsam, begonia, browallia, caladium (perennial tuber), cleome, coleus, impatiens, pentas, salvia and torenia.