Gardening in Fla is different. Everyone knows that because of the milder winters. But it means much more than different varieties and a longer growing season. Living out in the woods is different than being in the burbs due to the encroachment of nature on your gardening space, so my particular experience is a bit different than typical Florida gardening, weather notwithstanding. So I’m going to explain some of the more significant differences to my gardening readership.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that our banana tree had fruit and we wondered how long it would take to ripen. I believe it was in June that we first noticed the micro bananas. It’s now mid August and the fruit is still deep green with no signs of ripening. The large purple flower pod at the end of the stalks that was quite visible and distinctive has long since died away but the fruit on the stalk looks about the same. I’ll let you know as that changes since the plan is for a giant banana split party when ripe.
I learned today that we now have guava trees growing in several locations. Our neighbor has a few so I’m guessing that birds seeded some starts in our yard. I had seen these bushes growing and liked the foliage so only cut them back in places where they were intrusive. I noticed today that one of the bushes is loaded with fruit, from bright red to tiny green pods. I think the red ones are ripe but need to verify that with the neighbor. Since I have been seeing this variety of what I thought was wild, natural foliage all over, I decided to take inventory. Fact is that if Mrs Smuckers decides to offer Guava jelly, she need look no farther than rancho carbono to get the inventory.
And it seems like everything grows. If you see a plant you like in your neighbor’s yard, you simply cut off a branch, stick it in the ground and oila, in a month or so it’s sprouting. I’ve started azaleas, hibiscus, and gardenias plus numerous plants you’d never recognize. My latest stick in the ground is ginger. I recently put a broom in the ground but no broomlets have appeared. More patience and fertilizer maybe.
Vege gardening is out. At least for me. We have voracious vege eating insects including a type of grasshopper that is bright yellow with red wings and grows to 6â€, not counting legs or antennae. We have great butterflies that come from huge, huge snakelike caterpillars; the type that can eat a zuccinni overnight. I thought about insecticides but am concerned that I could produce some resistant mutant that would eat people. Luckily there’s fresh produce markets on the roadsides, all over, 12 months a year. If you count mushrooms, I do have some vege’s growing. Although they look like portabello’s on steroids, I’m leaving them alone since none of the critters seem to eat them.
But the real difference is the speed with which everything grows. I can nearly denude an area of wild grape vines only to come back next month and find it stronger and longer than ever. When I mean long, these are grape vines 20+ feet long where none existed a few weeks earlier. These vines can overwhelm anything in their parth in short order and develop vines that go from pencil thick to wrist thick in a season if left unchecked. But they are nothing compared to a vine we locally call potato vine, some variety of briar for sure. Aside from the fact that these literally will grow hundreds of feet long and develop 6â€ diameter trunks, the speed of growth is amazing. Not only the speed but what’s most interesting is that they pop out of the ground and grow vertically with no support for 10’s of feet before they finally latch onto a tree or something. The vines start about the diameter of a thin pencil but can grow absolutely straight vertically – it’s mind boggling that so thin and limber a vine can support itself. It reminds you of the old Jack and the Beanstalk story. By the way, they’re called potato vines because the root is a large, potato looking tuber and unless you remove that, it will never go away. At this point after a few years of vine work, I am nearly able to keep up with new growth myself. When we started the vines were classified as one, two, or three man vines – determined by how many of us it took to pull down a grape or potato vine. We had several that stretched our manpower limit totally and those were cut off with a chain saw and left to die.
Speed is also important in another aspect of Florida gardening. When approaching an overgrown area you have to watch and carefully observe for at least a day before reaching for the cutters. Assuming you see no obvious problems, hornets and yellowjackets mostly, you swoop in, make a few cuts, and quickly back out. You check your arms, neck, and legs to be sure that no critters have attacked. It they have, you retreat to the shed for the chemical warfare gear and launch an offensive on the brush protectors first. If you came out of the first swoop with no bites, you continue in deeper with the same cut and swoop technique. Eventually you’ve cleaned out the overgrown area and ready to move on to the next. The cycle from cleaned out to totally overgrown again is maybe 6 months max. So one of the critical skills to gardening in Florida, way different than gardening in Texas or Utah, is the need for quick hand eye coodination, sharp reflexes, and good pull out leg muscles. You sure as hell don’t ever want to get trapped by a ground nest of yellow jackets or an oversized mound of fire ants – not so named because of their firey color. And while mentioning ants, you all are aware of the menous called fire ants. You know from hearing about them rather than first hand experience. They are ultra tiny and not huge as you might have guessed. But what’s really unique about them is that they have developed a communication strategy to repel attackers, like me. They are so tiny you don’t feel them at all until they bite. You would think one would crawl on you and take a bite. Not so. They crawl on you and then wait until the commander or senior biter gives the signal – at which point they all bite simultaneously and you look down to see you are covered and on fire. Hence the name fire ant. They too are very fast for having such little legs and can nail you within a few seconds. Each bite yields a welt about 100 times bigger than the ant itself.
So to summarize, whereas my previous gardening experience required a tender, thoughtful approach, Florida gardening requires a vigorous, aggressive, fearless attack mode. You gain a definite understanding that you are only borrowing the land and if you ever, ever quit working it, the flora and fauna and insecta will quickly take it back.