May 2020 In My Florida Yard

While I am hanging out at home (which I pretty much do all the time anyway) I have given the yard some attention. I thought I’d share photos of what is growing in my Florida yard.

Here in my area of Florida we’ve had a few very cool nights (ya..60’s), but I’ll take it. By May it’s usually hotter than this, but I am not compaining. I’ve still been taking walks early without sweating too badly and it’s been nice outdoors for puttering in the yard.

Garden around a tree
Tropical garden plants

I took some croton cuttings the other day and they are sitting in a pail of water waiting for roots to grow. I’ve had success with propagating crotons, and Spring is a good time to get cuttings of new growth.

One of my previous croton cuttings, gave me a new cutting… and now that first plant is shooting off new growth. It’s a beautiful little plant with dark reddish orange veins. Because this croton grows beneath an oak tree, it does not get lots of direct sun and that keeps the leaf color darker. Now it will give me a new plant!

In the back corner of the yard are some banana trees. They have grown a bunch of bananas, but I can’t reach them. I zoomed in to get this photo because they are quite high. We could probably eat them if only they were closer. We did not plant these trees.

Bananas on the tree
Bunch of bananas out of reach

I don’t go out to the store, so I haven’t bought new dirt or seeds, so I’m working with what I have. A tomato plant began growing from seeds of a tomato I used as compost. I’ll cut up vegetables and just throw them in my garden. Now I’ve picked 2 semi-large tomatoes and have some cherry tomatoes growing also.

Cherry tomato plant
Some tiny cherry tomatoes

The front garden doesn’t get much attention from me. It’s where the croton is (see it upper left) and I planted a baby bromeliad – right. Front right is the pink caladium, which disappears underground for months and comes back in Spring. I also had a white caladium, but that has not grown back this year.

Garden around a tree with pink caladium, rubber plant, croton and grass.
Tropical garden plants
Florida garden
Skittle watches as I photograph my little garden

The Azalea is doing well with lots of green leaves. And the rubber tree – also taken from a cutting, is doing quite well. The Bromeliad double, which is white and pink, was the original plant I purchased. I’ve dug out babies and planted them around the yard.

New Guinea impatiens do best with some shade. These will last a long time – sometimes over a year – with shade, water and care.

New Guinea impatiens
New Guinea impatiens

The green plants which make a low hedge across the front are filling in nicely. I had cut them back, added dirt and fertilizer and mulch. They looked very ugly and sparse, but no more. They will end up filled in and pretty. They just needed attention.

Last but not least is my hydrangea! It is alive, but very small at this point. It’s been fertilized, and watered, and I’ll watch to see what happens. It’s not at all like the hydrangeas I was used to in New England. Florida is like a completely different country.

Hydrangea in Spring
In May – the Hydrangea

I hope you are keeping busy while all this Covid virus stuff persists. Maybe it’s almost time for gardening where you are. I hope so.

Finally, Growing Tomatoes Advice For the Florida Climate

As I was searching for some other gardening advice altogether, I came across a Florida gardening blogger who seems to have very useful information to share. Unfortunately it looks as if his blogging stopped a few years ago in 2015. Maybe he moved away to a better place.

I found a post with growing tomatoes advice which would explain why I have such a difficult time with tomatoes.

First of all he starts with seeds (Plant Your Tomato Seeds). I’ve been wondering if the fact that I buy seedlings from Home Depot (there is nowhere else I’ve found) is my biggest problem. He says store bought plants “are never very good”. I already suspected this.

Start planting seeds early enough to have seedlings ready for the garden by March first. He says to buy a combination of sizes, but tomatoes won’t grow very large in this climate. I’ve found that to be true as well. I don’t have the space for a lot of plants, but I can use my fabric bags.

Which Tomato Seeds to Buy?

The blogger I am referencing plants Hybrid Tomatoes only.  I am not sure why, except that they are probably tougher than heirlooms.  A hybrid is a cross-pollinated plant.  The characteristics are better yield and disease resistance, among others.

Roma tomato seed packet
Roma tomato seed packet

In case you are interested in buying tomato seeds online:  Organic Heirloom tomato seeds can be purchased at the Tomato Fest site. These are NOT hybrids. Heirloom tomatoes give the grower the option to save seeds to plant the following year. You can’t do that with hybrids.

Buy the most disease and pest resistant varieties. Look at package labeling for letters that follow the name of the tomato. See the key list of what that lettering means on this page at Gurneys.  My packet above contains the letters VF which protects from wilt disease.

Indeterminates only – this means the tomatoes will continue to grow shooting out stems and growing tall all during the growing season. Indeterminates continue to set fruit while you pick ripe tomatoes. In other words, they just keep growing until something stops them. They need staking, whereas determinate varieties are more compact and can grow in pots.
**Note here: Indeterminates can grow to be 12 feet tall! I will need to re-think my staking. I suspect that in Florida they could easily grow to astounding heights.  I can see the raccoons climbing my stakes and destroying my crops.

Pick Tomatoes Early

Letting tomatoes ripen on the vine is my preference, but the raccoons tend to pick them before I get to.  My reference blogger picks his early and says they taste better when he lets them ripen indoors.  His blog is helpful, but not easy to navigate, so use the “search” area.

He mentions planting some tomatoes later in the season, in the shade, in a new area, and they did well.  Read about that at the bottom of this page where he “answers a question“.

I’m grateful for this info.

Spring Again, March in the Backyard Garden

Planting some vegetables in the March garden in central Florida.

Here in Central Florida we are still having “cool” weather which I love. The neighbors are wearing winter clothing (seriously?) and complaining. When I say “I love this weather”, they tell me to go back to Vermont (I’m from New Hampshire).

I guess Floridians get grumpy when it’s cold.

The weather is perfect for planting the garden, and truly I should have begun sooner. Unfortunately I still have the lack-of-dirt problem. I’ve continued to add leaves, grass, and kitchen compost to the raised bed, but need to buy bags of dirt.

Now I have the money, but need the help lugging all those bags of soil and fertilizer / compost from the store and to the backyard.

For now I am using a few fabric bags where I have planted zucchini (or summer squash, I can’t remember which), lettuce and potatoes.  All are doing very well and growing fast.

Check out my other posts to see how things are going: May in the Garden.

squash plant
Zucchini or yellow squash (can’t remember which)

Tonight I will snip off the tops of this bib lettuce for supper. It will continue to grow back unless the hot weather moves in. Lettuce likes it cool.

lettuce growing in a fabric pot
The lettuce is loving the cooler weather

Yesterday I searched the Home Depot for some decent vegetable plants. I came away with a Celebrity tomato, and something called a Bonnie Original. One is a determinate and one an indetermanent, and as I stood there in the garden center I couldn’t remember what that meant. I thought one was grown within a cage and the other was sprawling. I think I was sort of right. Read more here about the difference between the two types.

tomato plants
Little tomato plants

I have tomato-stealing raccoons, so I’m not going nuts with the tomato plants. I also have a limited amount of space to grow things. The tomatoes may end up in bags with handles so I can easily move them inside at night away from tiny raccoon paws.

Potatoes growing in fabric pot
Potato vines

I planted some red potatoes, from my kitchen, with big “eyes” and that is what is growing in one of the fabric bags. I have good luck with potatoes. Although they are usually quite small, they are delicious.

I am so excited to see this little “volunteer” pepper plant! Glad I didn’t weed it out before I recognized it. My original pepper plant is still living and growing from last Spring! Even with all the cold weather over the winter, it survived (although it has a few aphids) and is flowering now. Amazing. I trimmed off the curling leaves and will see what it does. Apparently a seed was dropped, and now a new pepper plant is growing. I’d never heard of a “volunteer” plant until I lived in New Hampshire. My preferred word for them is “free”!

little pepper plant
“Volunteer” pepper plant

On my latest trip to Pell’s Nursery in Osteen I picked up this little Navel orange tree. I have left it in it’s original pot for now, but bought that ceramic one for later use. It has a few little oranges growing which I hope don’t fall off. Sometime between October and March I should be picking an orange or two from my yard.

little navel orange tree in pot
My new Navel orange tree

I’ve had good luck with growing the Persian Lime, so thought I’d add more citrus to the yard.

The Year The Tomatoes Died

tomato blight
Tomato Blight Disease

I hate to even write about this, but it’s the unfortunate story of tomato death. This depressed me so badly that at one time over the summer I decided I would never grow tomatoes again. But of course I will. I don’t give up that easily!

I don’t plant many tomato plants because I don’t have the space. I don’t eat that many tomatoes either, but I do look forward to picking my fresh, garden crop by August. I look forward to it all summer long, from the time the little tomato seedlings are put into the ground. At one time I counted 30 tomatoes on one plant, and I had 6 plants, so I expected a nice crop.

green tomatoes on the vine
When They Looked Good

It wasn’t meant to be. In the past I’ve never had a problem with my tomatoes growing nice and big and ripe. The “Celebrity” variety is my favorite, so I grow them.  I water them when it’s dry and I rotate my planting space. I give them fertilizer and watch for bugs and tomato worms. Everything was fine. Until it wasn’t. Suddenly, it seemed like overnight, I noticed that the leaves were looking funny. They were brown and wilting. They were curling up and dying near the bottom of the plants. I had managed to pick and eat a few of the early ripe fruits, but the others ended up looking like my first picture, above.  With brown spots and weird looking markings and colors, they were inedible.

red, ripe garden tomatoes
Garden Tomatoes

There is always next year. It seems so far away.