I’m planning a flower area in my front bed and I’d like some general pointers. It won’t be too big, about 15-by-20-feet, and it gets sun most of the day. Any ideas?

 

Flowers beautify a home and Florida is, after all, named for them. You’d think they would be the easiest thing ever here…but they can be a challenge. We can grow plenty of flowers, but we have distinct seasons here. From late February until June, it will usually be relatively warm and fairly dry. There are lots of beautiful things that grow then.

In June the humidity rolls in and with it the summer rains. The plants that flower well change then to what I consider the hardiest of the bunch. They have to endure our fall deluges and high day and night temperatures.

In October, things begin to shift again to drier and cooler weather, leading us back to this crisp, sometimes freezing weather.

A tough call for a set of plants to meet! And a front yard bed should look presentable all the time.

An old garden rose could serve as an anchor plant if you like roses. If there is sunlight and sufficient air movement, you will find a good one will tolerate diseases without spraying. My personal recommendations would be “Trinity.” “Martha Gonzalez” or “Cramoisi Superieur.” The”Drift” series of roses has also proven to be hardy in Florida. With strong sunlight, drip irrigation watering and correct fertilization, the right roses can be a trouble-free joy.

You need to plan to include green plants when planning a flower garden. While it seems illogical to include, green rests the eye. One of the plants that could be used is an ornamental grass. It offers good wind movement and is low maintenance. Check out the possibilities at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep233. In addition to the ones mentioned there, people often use liriope, African iris and mondo grass. While not grasses, they offer grass-like form and are low maintenance. Some of the dwarf hollies stay small and provide nice green contrast backgrounds for the flowers.

Now to the main attraction: the flowers. There are many that do well here. None will flower year round but all will have their season. Agapanthus, Rudbeckia hirta, Cuphea hyssopifolia (Mexican heather), zinnias planted out in the spring, perennial salvias, dwarf sunflowers, angelonias. Perhaps some milkweed for the monarchs? A new flowering perennial Terry DelValle has brought to the area is Vietnamese Hollyhock. Repeating your favorites through the garden makes a greater impression and a more cohesive design. Rain lilies are wonderful pop ups, if you don’t mind the fact that they will pop up in unexpected places later. They can be easily moved. Improving the soil before you start and putting in a soaker hose for irrigation are two steps I always recommend for success. Good luck!

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During the hurricane I pushed all my plants together in the corner on my porch. Since then I’m seeing unusual problems. When it got cold I brought in some large palms and they are dying stem by stem. A black substance has shown up at the stems at the ground level. Some of the fronds are just falling over. Is there something I can spray on them?

The wind carries lots of pathogens and hurricanes are one way problems come in. But root rots like the one your plant is suffering from are present all the time here, and everywhere. The stress of a storm certainly didn’t help, I’m sure. Watering schedules were totally disrupted. Top that with the stress of moving to the dry indoors and adapting to a new, possibly excessive watering and root rot is the result.

There isn’t much to be done for plants with root rots. Caught very early, the plant can be removed from the pot, cleaned of any soil, rotted roots removed, fresh, clean soil provided and maybe the plant will survive. But once several fronds have died, it’s best to discard the plant and pot (it is possible to sterilize nicer pots) and soil in the trash and start again.

There are fungicides available that will fight root rots. A container costs about six times the cost of a large household palm and it will only help the palm fight the disease. You will then have to nurse it back to its original size. Regrowth will probably take 9 months or more. Your best option is to cut your losses. A long time ago a grower told a friend of mine and me that if you never killed any plants you weren’t growing enough new things. I try to remember that when things go wrong…

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Becky Wern is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. and ask for a Master Gardener.