Better Blooms at the Naples Botanical Gardens

Plant 'em high, keep 'em dry, they won't die.Thanks to Dr. Doug Caldwell, Collier County Extension Agent, for inviting me to speak about bringing out the best in your bedding plants.  On Friday, October 11th we were able to draw a crowd of nearly 70 interested gardeners.

It’s fun to encourage people to expand their horizons by considering some old-fashioned flowers in the landscape: zinnias, cosmos, nicotiana (flowering tobacco) and Four O’clocks. And think about non-flowering but colorful plants like ornamental peppers.


My friend, Jim Pugh of American Farms, Naples completed the program and offered seasoned advice about the best annuals to plant now.

Gardening Talks

High on Hibiscus

I enjoyed speaking to the James Hendry chapter of the local Hibiscus Society. These people are passionate about their plant(s)!

We met at Famous Dave’s in Fort Myers on the 13th of this month. In the past they met at Terry Park but won’t any more due to Lee County budget constraints.

hib flwr2I spoke about all the various mulches available for landscaping, then wrapped it up with a rogues gallery of sucking insects and their control.

What's bugging your plants?
What’s bugging your plants?
florida gardening Gardening

Diggin’ in the Dirt

In October there is a flurry of intense activity in the garden. Making your bed takes more time, money and perspiration than the easier step of planting.
“Plan in September, plant in October”. So before tearing open the seed packet there is soil preparation.

Over the years I have various organic fertilizers in the garden. I used to buy separate bags of bone meal. greensand, and dehydrated manures. Espoma makes a ready to use blend with those elements and more.

This year I am using Verdanta, a blended, organic granular that is homogenous and complete.

Feed the soil. Organic "Verdanta" 7-6-12.
Feed the soil. Organic “Verdanta” 7-6-12.
Prevent nematodes with Rootguard: crushed crab shells.
Prevent nematodes with Rootguard: crushed crab shells.
Broadcast evenly.
Broadcast evenly.
Incorporate thoroughly.
Incorporate thoroughly.
florida gardening In Your Face Planters planter box raised planter

In Your Face Planters

I made the first “In Your Face Planter” because the area I wanted to landscape was full of tree roots and it was below the view from a deck. So I made a 3’x3′ box, 12″ deep and mounted it on a pressure-treated 6″x6″ post, set in concrete. Problem solved; now we could see low growing plants at eye level, where no plants could grow before.

The next five planters I made were for a rocky slope where not even weeds could grow. Twice a year I change them out and plant them with seasonal bedding plants, vines and vegetables. Now these planters are popping up around my landscape like mushrooms.

Hanging baskets and window boxes serve the purpose of bringing plants closer to viewer. These planters do the same in a larger scale. Gardeners with bad knees no longer have to crawl around on the ground to tend their plants. These elevated planters are also wheelchair accessible if built at the correct height.

FNGLA Royal Palm Chapter

“I am too busy to get involved!”

That was a frequent response to our request for people to join our FNGLA Royal Palm Chapter Board of Directors. A few years ago we might have had a different response. But many companies have reduced their staff to bare acceptable minimums, forcing the most productive people into long hours with little time off. One grower of a large, woody nursery has been working seven days a week for months. He is grateful for the increased business but unable to hire new staff to pick up the slack. Two other experienced garden center principals (in Punta Gorda and Fort Myers) had the same spring flurry of business that demanded their full attention.

When asking a busy person to attend another 12 meetings per year, some people would answer “Come on. I have a family, outside commitments and if I am lucky, maybe get a vacation this summer.” Um, that describes every warm bodied horticulturist I know.

We appreciate the small group of men and women who said “Yes” to our invitation to serve and we look forward to assembling a new board for the next fiscal year.

Bob Cook, Chairman, Nomination Committee


Dr. Ed Gilman fills the auditorium

A colorful crowd admires the massive tile mural.
A colorful crowd admires the massive tile mural.

Many thanks to Robert Olinger and all the people of Forestry Resources for hosting the March FNGLA meeting. We met at the Naples Botanical Garden and the crowd was so big (over 120 people) we had to break up in two groups for the walking tour.

Over a dozen members of the American Society of Landscape Architects joined us to learn from Dr. Ed Gilman, professor at the University of Florida. The topic was Urban Tree Planting and Care.

It also looked like a family reunion of Royal Palm Board members from years gone by. In attendance were leaders from the ’80’s: Amil Villani of Sunnygrove, and Royal Palm Chapter past-Presidents: Jeff Poulton and Ed Zentz.

Ed Zentz, Michael Bernsen, Jeff Poulton (l to r)
Ed Zentz, Michael Bernsen, Jeff Poulton (l to r)

And, the future generation of leaders attended: several FCHP students and non-members responded to the invitation.

After a delicious meal and fact-filled presentation the night concluded with a promotion and giveaway of over $400.00 of Silky pruning saws.


Who would pay $60.00 to see a farm?

A busload of tourists, heading out to the farm.
A busload of tourists, heading out to the farms.

Four air-conditioned busses gathered at Collier County Extension office on Wednesday, March 20th. They filled with vacationers and home owners eager to learn about what’s growing “Beyond the Beaches”.

Once a year the extension office promotes agriculture/horticulture to the public and invites them on a day-long tour of nurseries, tomato fields, packing houses to see the size and significance of ‘ag.’ in Collier County.

I rode shotgun along with Dr.Mongi Zekri (citrus specialist) and Dr. Doug Caldwell (Collier Co. Commercial Hort. Agent) as we passed the microphone between us.

Our first stop was the most florid: 40 acres in full bloom at American Farms. Our guide there, Alex Salazar, gave detailed information about how they grow and ship hundreds of thousands of plants each year.

Alex Salazar shows off one of American Farms greenhouses.
Alex Salazar leads  us through American Farms mechanized potting area.

Other stops included an organic farm near Ave’ Maria University, lunch at a technical school in Immokalee, a shopping spree at the Farmer’s Market and concluded at Silver Strand: a 1000 acre citrus grove and nursery.

Each year the destinations change for variety. In previous years we have visited historical cattle ranch sites, tomato seed breeding greenhouses and a pineapple nursery.


Fertilizer draws a crowd?

Who would show up for a lecture about fertilizer? At 10:00 on a Thursday morning no less.

My hat is off to the Collier County Master Gardeners and the educational programs they hold for the public. This year they created a series of talks, given by local experts, to teach about horticultural topics ranging from fruits, vegetables, flowering shrubs and vines, etc. They asked me to explain the dodgy subject of fertilizer.

At Unity Church auditorium, Naples

O.K. I made a nice Power Point presentation, brought along a ripe tomato and flowers from the garden to prove that the simple rules I suggest really work here. Then I printed out a page of general recommendations and made 30 copies. I expected an echo chamber. Instead, nearly 300 people showed up!

I guess all the Florida fertilizer laws and confusing/conflicting information out there has created a strong desire for clear, current, correct advice.

Many Florida counties and some cities restrict the nitrogen and phosphorus applied during rainy season. But much of the public think they hear “fertilizer ban!” and they are afraid of feeding their plants…often when they need it most.

Gardening Pest control

Do pesticide applicators die young?

Not sure if this guy is wearing the proper Personal Protection Equipment.
Not sure if this guy is wearing the proper Personal Protection Equipment.

I have handled pesticides all my adult life and wondered if this affects my health and that of genuine handlers like pest control operators. This link answers that question.

“The pesticide applicators were consistently and significantly healthier than the general population of Florida.” That makes sense. These men work hard out in the fresh air and sunshine. The surprise is that this is a U.S. Library of Medicine report!

They studied over 33,000 pesticide applicators in Florida over an 18 year period (1975-1993). This was when we could use some hairy-scary toxins. That might explain why there was an increase in prostate cancer in this study.

Besides, the average nozzle-jockey gets safety training, wears protective gear, and reduces his exposure in every way possible. Guaranteed, none of us has worms.


Full moon, wrong month

Seasoned gardeners say that the last threat of frost in our area is the full moon in February. But last night’s (Mar. 28) full moon brought us 45 degrees in Fort Myers!

Here are our tomato plants staked and draped with frost fabric last year.

No ghosts, only tomato teepees, two days before Christmas.
No ghosts, only tomato teepees, two days before Christmas.