Creating a Front Garden

Last winter and into spring, I decided to begin creating a front garden space to plant new perennials. When one older lady is doing this work herself, it takes time. I wanted to prepare the bed by killing the grass and weeds and adding some “good” dirt.

I bought the border bricks, which I put around a few other little gardens in the yard, and my son helped me move the bricks. I bought a load of dirt from a local landscape center and put that on top of my saved newspaper.

new garden
Getting the ground ready for a new garden

In New Hampshire this newspaper trick worked pretty well. Paper plus a layer of dirt kills the stuff underneath. I used to do it so it could sit over winter. But Florida growth is a different beast. For one thing it never really stops growing. There is no ice and snow to make it dormant. The newspaper and cardboard did help but some grass and lots of dollar weed came right up through everything.

Also grass here is not the slightest like northern grass. This grass is in vine form and it’s tough stuff. You don’t want to have to dig it up.

front garden area
The weeds are thriving

A strange tall weed began to grow and I let it. I still have no idea what it was. Once it got big, it had a few pretty little yellow flowers. Eventually the whole thing died and I pulled it out. Weeds can be interesting and beautiful.

Yellow flowers on tall weed
This weed had pretty little golden yellow flowers

All in all the work I did to remove the grass worked pretty well, but I still had a lot of stuff to pull up. The dollar weed is under control. The older part of the garden, as you can see below, is full of plants. My hydrangea looks pretty bad, but it’s alive. The blooming New Guinea impatiens are some of my favorites as they last a long time and brighten the yard for months. The red bromeliad was a Christmas gift from a friend.

Front garden with extension
Front garden Spring 2020

The new garden area, in the back on the photo above, contains only two crotons which I began from cuttings, and a spiky agave plant- at least I think that is what it is. I got it from a neighbor and haven’t been able to find a spot to plant it. Finally it’s “roots” were breaking the pot apart, so I stuck it here. But it will be in the way of the sprinkler head, so it might have to go. These things get huge!

Agave plant
New croton plant
The baby crotons are doing okay

My plan for this time of year was to buy some new plants for the front garden. I hadn’t decided for sure what plants, but a trip to Pells Nursery would have helped me decide. Now that everything is closed, thanks to the Coronavirus, and we have to stay home, I can’t very well shop for plants. So… change of plans.

I’m currently planning to plant some vegetable seeds I have saved in this empty garden space.

Rubber Trees in The Florida Landscape

It all began with one indoor rubber tree plant. When it started to look gangly, I cut it back and stuck the cuttings in water to see what would happen. You can read about the rubber tree trimming here. Many of the cuttings did root and I simply planted them in the ground. A few never rooted for whatever reason.

rebber plant cuttings
Cuttings in water

I ended up with four rooted stems which I planted straight into the dirt outside. I’m finding that my rubber tree babies are growing wonderfully in my Florida yard. But is there a drawback to having rubber trees in the yard?

Continue reading “Rubber Trees in The Florida Landscape”

Update on Garden Hydrangea, Surviving Summer

Now my little hydrangea is in the ground and here is what I’ve learned. Deadheading Florida hydrangeas is a good idea. I found new growth and new flowers hidden beneath those huge, dying blooms.

blue flowers turning green
Blooms turning green and dying

Until a few weeks ago I had not tried to grow a hydrangea in my Florida yard. I kept thinking there was no way it would do well in all this heat. So the fact that my little hydrangea plant is doing so well is a nice surprise. If it has been growing in a greenhouse it would adapt well to warmth, and it does seem to be thriving this summer.

Continue reading “Update on Garden Hydrangea, Surviving Summer”

A Messy Garden Can Be a Breeding Ground For Butterflies

My vegetable garden is failing, but that may be good for the beneficials and butterflies. By letting vegetables flower and go to seed, they might attract interesting creatures. I’m becoming familiar with the bugs that visit the garden and learning the good (beneficial) from the troublemakers. Nature is the way it is for a reason and I rarely like to interfere.

Because it’s tough to grow vegetables in Florida summer months, I’ve let my cherry tomato vines grow to produce only a few little tomatoes which mostly keep the cardinals happy. They pick through the skins to get the seeds! My fennel is once again tall and I’ve found that it has become a nursery for the Swallowtail butterfly.

Fennel Flowers Become A Swallowtail Butterfly Nursery

Swallowtail larvae on fennel flowers
Many tiny worms on a fennel flower head

I’m not eating my fennel because it is often home to eggs and worms of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. I’ve seen the butterfly land to deposit eggs, but seldom spot the eggs.

As I scouted the plant (it’s taller than I am) for signs of worms, I noticed that the flower heads were full! Nearly every flowering part of the plant held larvae in some stage. And near the bottom of the plant I found one large caterpillar who has managed to avoid becoming bird food.

Swallowtail worm on fennel
Parsley worm which will become a black swallowtail butterfly

It used to be that the Swallowtail would lay eggs on my parsley. I documented the stages of the Black Swallowtail, eggs through hatching, on a previous post. Now that I have begun to grow fennel, I think the butterfly likes using it better than the parsley to deposit her eggs. This could be due to the flowers and the large size of the plant.

Who doesn’t love a butterfly? They don’t live long lives, but serve a purpose as pollinators and as a meal for birds and lizards. I really hope to see the lifecycle of these little hatchlings continue.

Update on the caterpillars

I have read that these types of crawlers don’t appeal to birds, the cardinals say otherwise. Each day I found fewer and fewer caterpillars feeding on the fennel. I first counted nearly 50 worms! But the following day I saw only about half that number. Now I find NO caterpillars at all left on this plant!

Cardinals are the birds I see most in my garden and I have witnessed their cherry tomato thievery. They are also very good about cleaning out the bugs – including butterfly larvae. But, that is nature for you. I will see no new butterflies but the birds are very well fed.

Beneficials (and Baddies) I’ve Seen

Beneficials, or good bugs, will remove unwanted pests from the garden. A year or so ago I found many aphids on my squash, hibiscus, citrus and in other places. I also saw little black and red bugs. Because I didn’t recognize the bug I looked it up online. Come to find out it was ladybug larvae. It was there because of the aphids, which are it’s food.

My next-door neighbor recently told me that she was trying to kill “black and red bugs” in her garden. I warned her that they might be beneficial ladybugs.

You want beneficials in the yard and garden. They keep things in order naturally. If my neighbor kills her “black and red” bugs she will be doing more harm than good.

ladybug larvae
After larvae eats… attaches to leaf and curls up. It will change and become an aphid-eating ladybug!

With the internet close at hand, we can easily look up insects and find out which they are, harmful or beneficial. It’s worth knowing if you want harmony in the yard.

More beneficial bugs you may encounter are the Assassin bug (this one can sting a person), bees and butterflies (as pollinators), parasitic wasps, lacewings, and many more.

The truth is that we usually must see a problem before we see a beneficial. If the aphids (or other pests) are not present, neither will the good bugs come to stay.