I wish I had a nickel for every time in my Extension career that I’ve heard someone ask me what they can plant in a container or flower bed that will give them no-maintenance color. They just want to plant something, forget about it, and be able to enjoy flowers for months on end. My answer, every single time, is Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus), specifically any selection from the newish ‘Cora’ Series.
Often called Periwinkle in the Deep South, this native of Madagascar is the perfect warm weather flowering plant for the Panhandle for a couple of reasons. First, the flowering. Coming in a wide range of colors from white to purple to pink and all shades in between, there is a Vinca to match every garden’s look. These aren’t a one flowering flush and done type plant either, Vinca blooms nonstop. What’s more, gardeners don’t need to remove spent flowers (also called deadheading), as plants are self-cleaning and flower freely from the first warm days in April until frost ends the show. There are even several new selections in the Cora series that have a trailing habit, perfect for creating a continuous cascade of flowers from a hanging basket or tall container!
Also, as promised, the ‘Cora’ Vinca series is adaptable and nearly no-maintenance. It never outgrows its bounds, reaching only 12-18” in height and spreading about as wide. It is exceptionally drought and heat tolerant, taking 100-degree days and liking it. It has no major insect or disease pests to be concerned about if sited correctly in full sun and well-drained soil. Bottom line, the new ‘Cora’ Vinca varieties are close to bulletproof. Plant some today!
In Florida, selecting the right plant for a sometimes-shady spot can be tough. Generally, plants that can handle the stress of even a few hours of direct summer sun are considered “full-sun” plants. Many plants that are recommended for “partial shade” either don’t flower as well in shade as they would in sun or have a weak constitution and wilt with any direct sunlight. For these problematic, sometimes shady, sometimes not spots, the plant Crossandra (Crossandra infundibuliformis) can be perfect!
Crossandra is a tender perennial (or annual depending on how cold our winters get) native to India and Sri Lanka and closely related to Shrimp Plant and Mexican Petunia. Growing slowly to about 3’ in height, clad with deep, dark, glossy leaves that remind me of the Coffee plant, and flaunting vivid orange flowers, Crossandra plants certainly lend a unique, tropical look to landscapes. Like its more well-known cousins, Crossandra can grow in full shade but really thrives with 3-4 hours of direct sun daily and lots of heat and humidity. These characteristics make the species the perfect summertime Panhandle porch plant!
Adding to the list of accolades, Crossandra is also super simple to grow! Apply a slow-release starter fertilizer at planting, supplement monthly after that with a general-purpose garden fertilizer, water regularly, and enjoy stunning orange flowers all summer! As a bonus, if you’re a fan of the University of Florida, put Crossandra in a Gator blue pot and have the most festive porch around just in time for football season to kick off in a few weeks!
Purslane on a Calhoun County back porch. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
The biggest problem folks have with flowering potted plants in the heat of summer is remembering that they need water, lots of it. One way to work around having to remember to water every single day is to plant something that doesn’t like too much water but still can churn out a great daily flower show. For this job, there’s only one choice, Purslane (Portulaca oleracea).
Purslane is a super showy, low-growing, succulent-type annual that loves it hot and a little on the dry side. If planted in the ground, it will form a 6-8” tall flowering carpet over the surface of the soil, but I think it really shines when allowed to fill and then spill over the sides of a container! Individual purslane flowers close shop for the day in late afternoon, but cheerily pop back open as soon as day breaks the following day. For best results, make sure the container you plant in has ample drainage holes in the bottom and fill with a quality, quick-draining potting mix. After planting, top dress with a slow-release fertilizer according to the label rate and water only when the soil begins to dry out (every other day or so, generally). Plant a Purslane today!
The arrow-shaped leaves of the caladium can add low-maintenance color to the landscape for months. Most effective when massed together in the landscape, caladiums are available in many unique patterns and vibrant colors. A multitude of leaves emerge from a single tuber in various shades of red, white and pink. There are those with spots, ones with bright veins and others with dark green edges. Imagine a pattern, there is probably a caladium to match. Originally discovered in the Amazon River basin, these fast-growing plants can bring life to a shady spot or add drama to the edge of a sunny bed.
Caladium plants usually grow 1-2.5 feet high with leaves that measure 6-12 inches in length. Most caladiums thrive in partial shade. But, many new cultivars have been bred to grow in direct sunlight for many hours of the day. Plant breeders, including researchers at the University of Florida, release new cultivars each year. Many of them are patented.
Cultivars are broadly separated into two main categories: fancy and lance-leafed, also referred to as strap-leafed. Fancy-leafed cultivars have large heart-shaped leaves. Lance-leafed cultivars have narrow, elongated leaves. So, when choosing a caladium, there are many decisions to make: sun or shade; short, medium or tall; pattern or solid color; and leaf shape.
Some the traditional fancy-leafed caladium cultivars include: ‘Aaron’, a medium white with a large dark green edge; ‘Carolyn Whorton’, a medium pink blotched leaf; and ‘Postman Joyner’, a medium red with large veins extending into the dark green edge. These are suitable for more sunlight.
On the extreme other side are the shade-loving speckled strap-leafed cultivars like ‘Miss Muffet’, ‘Gingerland’ and ‘Sea Foam Pink’, a newer UF developed cultivar. For more information on the caladium cultivars developed at UF go to: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/caladium-cultivars.html. Keep an eye on children and pets when they are around the caladium plants. The leaves are toxic if ingested.
Plant caladium tubers in spring once the soil is at least 60-70 degrees F. Place them “eye side” up. That is the side that is all lumpy. If you want shorter, compact plants that don’t show as much stem, “de-eye” and dry the tubers for a day before planting them. That means scoop out the peak of the mound. This will force the remaining buds to sprout around it. Place the tubers in the ground 2 inches deep and 8-12 inches apart. Once they have sprouted, apply a light fertilizing once or twice over the summer. Choose a fertilizer that contains a slow-release nitrogen and is low in phosphorus. Excess nutrients will force the leaves to become greener, losing all the unique colors and patterns.
At the end of the season the leaves will decline and go dormant naturally. The tubers can be left in the ground, but if they experience a cold and/or wet winter, expect losses. Digging them will ensure that there will be tubers for next year. The tubers should be dusted with a sulfur fungicide prior to being stored in dry peat moss or vermiculite at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F.
If you want to learn more about caladiums and have an opportunity to purchase the Proven Winner new introductions from 2021 and 2022, join me at the Destin Garden Club meeting on May 10, 2022. The program will be held at the Resurrection Catholic Church, 259 Miramar Beach Dr. Miramar Beach, FL beginning at 9 a.m.
Are you “chomping at the bit” to get started gardening this year, but not sure what you can do at this point? Well, good news, there’s plenty of things that can be done whether landscaping or vegetable gardening is your passion.
“New” potatoes grown in Florida. Photo Credit: C. Hutchinson, UF/IFAS
Temperatures can drop significantly in the Panhandle this month, and with short notice. If you want to enhance your flower beds, be sure to use annual bedding plants that can withstand the chill. Dianthus, pansy, viola and dusty miller are some good suggestions to plant. It’s a good time to plant bulbs too. Dahlias, crinum and agapanthus are good choices this time of year. Be sure to provide adequate mulch and water during this cold weather month. There are plenty of trees and shrubs that are beginning to bloom this time of year also. If you’re like me, your allergies will tell you this too. Red maple and star magnolia, just to name a couple, will soon be in bloom.
As for vegetable gardening, the potato is a good choice for Florida gardens. As Americans, we consume approximately 125 pounds per person a year. Potato farming is done commercially in Florida, but mostly with “new” potatoes. These are the small, rounded immature potatoes that have a thin skin and are perfect for low country boils.
It’s February, so it’s Irish potato planting season. The planting season for this cultivar for the Panhandle is from February 1st to mid-March. Sweet potatoes can be planted beginning in late March through June. A hundred pounds of seed potatoes should yield approximately ten bushels. Buy healthy certified seed potatoes from a garden center. Avoid using table stock potatoes. Often, table stock will not sprout successfully. Store bought potatoes are often treated with sprout inhibitors too. This treatment can cause development issues if used as seed potatoes.
Raised beds, at least 6”, are the best way to grow potatoes. Be sure to fertilize the bed soil mixture and fertilize again down furrows when planting. Irish potatoes require copious amounts of fertilizer. For fertilizer, use a general, complete formulation like 10-10-10. Before planting, be sure to dust the seed potatoes with a fungicide to reduce the chance of decay. Plant seed potatoes 3” in depth, at 12” apart and allow for 36” row spacing.
Please take these gardening tips into consideration this month and the next. Spring is just around the corner. Happy gardening! For more information please contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS Publications, “ Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” by Sydney Park Brown, Danielle Treadwell, J. M. Stephens, and Susan Webb : http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf and “Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden”, by Christian T. Christensen, Joel Reyes-Cabrera, Libby R. Rens, Jeffrey E. Pack, Lincoln Zotarelli,Chad Hutchinson, Wendy J. Dahl, Doug Gergela, and James M. White: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS18300.pdf
As October gets by us and November quickly approaches, I would like to include the preparation on What to Plant? And What to Do? Some great annual plant choices are digitalis (foxglove), petunias, and Shasta daisy. There are many daffodil bulb varieties for North Florida including the following: Carlton, Fortune, Silver Charms, Thalia, and Sweetness. We will be getting into more of the cooler days, so this is a good time to start bulb onions and salad crops such as arugula, lettuce, and spinach. Dill, fennel, oregano, and sage are all herbs that can be planted throughout the fall months.
Start preparing now so your fall garden will be full of dark leafy greens, multi-colored lettuces, and root vegetables of all shapes and sizes. Photo by Molly Jameson.
In lawns there are a few key things that can be done in October. It is possible to control winter weeds before they appear. This is the time to use preemergent herbicides when nighttime temperatures are between 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit for four to five days in a row. If a green lawn is desired, you can overseed with annual ryegrass when the daytime temperatures are in the low 70s. Remember, the lawn will still need to be watered and mowed to maintain a healthy ryegrass. Watch for fungus like brown patch and large patch disease. This can become active when the soil temperature is between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hollies also attract bees to the landscape. Credit: Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
And last but not least as you prepare for winter around the corner you can plant evergreen hollies that will make it through the cold and provide a splash of color with red berries. Gather pine needles that are dropping and use as a natural mulch, and this is the last month that strawberry plants can be established in a bed or a large container.