Bougainvillea in the Landscape
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Bougainvillea 'Helen Johnson' (763x572)

Bougainvillea ‘Helen Johnson’

There is no doubt that the showy bougainvillea, bursting with profuse, colorful blooms, is the flowering star of tropical landscapes during the dry season.  The versatility of the various bougainvillea cultivars provides homeowners with many options for incorporating them into their landscapes.  The key to selecting the appropriate bougainvillea is to define its landscape function and then select a cultivar that is well-suited for that purpose.

There are dwarf and compact varieties that work well as groundcovers and border plantings.  Examples of the smaller cultivars are:  Helen Johnson, flame, Miss Alice, silhouette, and the BGI Flavored Ice® series.

The larger cultivars are grown as trained standards, clambering vines, large shrubs and/or hedges.   Examples of the larger cultivars are:  sundown orange, new river, Barbara Karst, James Walker, imperial Thai delight and Elizabeth Angus.

Bougainvilleas should be planted in full sun for optimal blooming.  They are drought tolerant and require good drainage.  Bougainvilleas are heavy feeders and will respond well to monthly fertilization during the bloom season with a high quality, controlled-release fertilizer with micro-nutrients.  They have very delicate roots which should be handled with care.  Some growers advocate planting them in their containers with the bottom removed in order to avoid disturbing the roots.  Careful tip pruning after a bloom cycle will encourage multiple new stems and more profuse blooms.

Bougainvillea 'Miss Alice' (759x571)

Bougainvillea ‘Miss Alice’

Bougainvillea 'Imperial Thai Delight' (1024x768)

Bougainvillea ‘Imperial Thai Delight’

Identify Your Toxic Plants
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Yellow Oleander 

 It seems ironic that as we behold some of the most beautiful flowers in nature, these same flowers can be toxic and harmful to us.  South Florida landscapes, with their stunning displays of foliage and flowers, frequently include plants containing substances that can irritate skin, damage eyes, cause seizures, diarrhea, vomiting or organ failure.  It is important for homeowners to be able to identify all the plants in their landscapes and to know which ones could be toxic if consumed by their children, grandchildren and pets.  The leaves, oil and/or sap from certain plants can also irritate skin and damage eyes.  Gloves should be worn while working in the garden and wash hands thoroughly after handling plants.

Angel’s trumpet and oleander have well deserved reputations for being poisonous.  A few examples of other widely used plants that are toxic to varying degrees are:  allamanda, jatropha, lantana, caladium, carissa boxwood, croton, azalea, peace lily, philodendron, agapanthus, sago palm and vinca.  Riverland Nursery’s website has an extensive list of plants grown in South Florida that could be toxic when consumed by pets.  





Angel's Trumpet

DSCN2061 (1280x960)

Allamanda Vine

Clingers, Twiners and Sprawlers
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Florida Flame Vine (2)

Florida Flame Vine

Vines are an excellent way to add color, texture and structural variety to the landscape.  Vines will generally need some type of support and are usually grown on a trellis, arbor, fence, wall, pergola or post.   They are popular not only for their aesthetic qualities but also for their capacity to quickly provide privacy and/or screening of unattractive features.  The nature of their vertical growth makes them very useful in small spaces where it is difficult to grow a bushy, outward growing plant.

Florida gardeners have an amazing variety of vines from which they can select and the vine flower is what seems to entice most people.   While the colorful and unique flower may be the primary reason for choosing a certain vine, gardeners will also select a vine for its fragrance, edible fruit or the nectar it provides for hummingbirds and butterflies. Vines such as the corky stem passion and Dutchman’s pipevine are must haves for butterfly gardeners because they provide food for the zebra longwing and pipevine swallowtail caterpillars.

There are three types of vines: clinging, twining and sprawling.  Clinging vines have small tendrils which will grab and attach to the support.  Coral, cross and passion vines are examples of clinging vines.  Twining vines climb by wrapping around the support.  Confederate jasmine, bleeding heart and coral honeysuckle are examples of twining vines.  Sprawling vines send out long runners but must be manually woven around or tied to the support.  Bougainvillea, chalice and Chinese hat are examples of sprawling vines.

Pink Petticoat Flower

Pink Petticoat Vine

When reading about the qualities of a certain vine, one will often see the term “vigorous grower”.  This should be translated into “do not turn your back on this vine”.  Most of the vines growing in our area are very vigorous growers and homeowners should be prepared to prune and train a vine several times a year to keep it in bounds.

Chalice vine (640x480)

Chalice Vine


Succulent Gardening
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Euphorbia 'firesticks'  (1024x768)

Euphorbia 'firesticks'

  The myriad of unusual leaf and stem structures of the many varieties of succulents make them an ideal plant for the garden designer who is seeking a unique ornamental.  Succulents have long been admired for their interesting forms, textures, flowers and colors.

There are over 50 plant families that are considered succulents, including agave, cactus, aloe, yucca, sedum, sempervivum, and euphorbia. Succulents are able to thrive in dry, arid climates because they have thick, fleshy leaves, stems and/or roots that allow them to retain water.

Growing succulents in Florida can be a challenge because the counterpart to our dry season is the wet season, making it difficult to sustain the dry growing conditions that succulents require.  For that reason many people prefer to grow succulents in containers that can be moved when the rainy season starts.

Whether growing succulents in containers or in the ground, they require well-drained, porous soil.  Use a soil mixture that includes mostly coarse sand or crushed lava and very little woody or organic matter.  Most succulent varieties need at least a half day to a full day of sunlight although they will appreciate shade or some protection from the hot afternoon sun.  Allow the soil to slightly dry out between watering.  Fertilize them regularly with a high quality fertilizer that contains micro-nutrients.

The euphorbia milii ‘crown of thorns’ is one of our favorite succulents, particularly the Thai hybrids with their large leaves and flowers that bloom year round.  Other favored succulents are the kalanchoe ‘fantastic’, euphorbia ‘firesticks’, senicio ‘blue chalk’, various aloes, agave, echeverias and sedums.  The many varieties within the succulent plant families are popular with collectors because each one has a unique and distinctive appearance.

Kalanchoe 'fantastic' has colorful, mottled leaves.

Kalanchoe 'fantastic'

The Thai crown of thorns blooms year round.

Euphorbia milii 'crown of thorns' Thai hybrid


Florida Winter Blooming Plants
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The expression “to everything there is a season” is never more applicable than when one is gardening.  Florida gardeners are fortunate because the winter season brings mild, dry weather that allows our gardens and landscapes to continue to flourish and bloom.  The delight of the winter garden is that there are many beautiful plants that are “winter bloomers”.  These plants tend to go unnoticed during the summer growing season; however, they prove their worthiness during the winter with displays of stunning, colorful blooms.

The cape honeysuckle with its pretty red-orange or yellow flowers is a popular winter bloomer that is also cold tolerant, performing well in the areas of east Lee County that are vulnerable to an occasional frost.

One of our favorite winter blooming shrubs is the dombeya ‘Seminole’ which is often called the Florida hydrangea because of its large, pink flowers.  The dombeya ‘Seminole’ does well in light shade to full sun.  It is a very large shrub that will require a space of about 8 feet wide and it is usually maintained at a height of 6 to 8 feet.

The brunfelsia ‘yesterday, today, tomorrow” attracts interest with its winter blooms that change daily from purple to lavender to white, hence its common name.

Additional favorite winter blooming plants are: lion’s tail, drift rose, bulbine, society garlic, Carolina Jessamine, Florida flame vine, baby sunrose, African iris, Panama rose, bush daisy, bleeding heart vine, Chinese hat vine, bottlebrush, Bahama cassia, Hawaiian sunset vine and of course the stunning assortment of bougainvilleas.

Winter blooming trees include the Hong Kong orchid, sweet acacia, bottlebrush and desert cassia.  The East Palatka holly and dahoon holly trees are favored for their bright red berries in the winter.


Plant Only Grafted Gardenias in South Florida
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Miami Supreme Gardenia

Miami Supreme Gardenia

  Gardens and landscapes designed with plants that have contrasting textures, colorful flowers and interesting shapes are appreciated because of their visual beauty.  When fragrant plants are included in the garden design they add an extra bonus because they can be enjoyed even when they are not seen.

Gardenia jasminoides is frequently one of the first plants mentioned when homeowners are interested in including fragrant plants in their landscapes. Gardenias are universally known for their heady, aromatic blooms and there are many lovely varieties that grow well in South Florida.

When selecting a gardenia jasminoides cultivar for a landscape in South Florida, it is important to know if the gardenia is growing on its own root system or if it has been grafted to a gardenia thunbergia rootstock.  

As a general rule, in order for a gardenia plant to grow and thrive in South Florida, it will need to be a plant that was grafted to a hardy, gardenia thunbergia rootstock. Gardenia root systems are extremely susceptible to nematode infestations in the landscape.  Nematodes are microscopic pests that will feed on gardenia roots.   Plants infested with nematodes will exhibit wilting of the leaves, thin canopy, low vigor, leaf and bloom drop and will likely die.  Fortunately, the gardenia thunbergia rootstock is nematode resistant and gardenia varieties that have been grafted to this rootstock will not succumb to the nematodes.

Gardenias in the garden will do well in full sun to light shade.  They will require regular irrigation, fertilization and good drainage.  They prefer soil with a higher acidity than our alkaline soil provides and will require a fertilizer formulated for acid loving plants.

There are a wide variety of lovely gardenia cultivars available in our area.  Some of our favorites are the Miami supreme, Tahitian, Vietnamese snowflake, dwarf, radicans, Tahitian gold, and Aimee Yoshioka. 

The Tahitian gold, Vietnamese snowflake, Miami supreme and Tahitian gardenia cultivars have fragrant, lovely blooms. (1280x1277)

Tahitian gold, Vietnamese snowflake and Tahitian gardenia cultivars

The Vietnamese Snowflake blooms off and on all year and has a lighter fragrance.

The Vietnamese snowflake blooms off and on all year.











Bamboo for Florida
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Bambusa vulgaris 'wamin' is called dwarf Buddha belly due to the swollen shape of the stems.

Bambusa vulgaris ‘wamin’ is called dwarf Buddha belly due to the swollen shape of the stems.

The world’s fastest growing plant is a perennial grass and you can eat it, wear it and build with it.  This remarkable, versatile plant is bamboo.  Mistakenly, many homeowners do not consider planting bamboo because it has a reputation for being aggressively invasive.   For landscaping purposes there are two categories of bamboo: the clumping variety and the running variety.  Running bamboo are invasive and have long underground stems that can sprout new shoots many feet away from the parent cane.

The clumping bamboo

cultivars are not invasive and can provide a beautiful, tropical plant choice for landscapes.   Clumping bamboo send up new canes outward from the center in tight, compact clumps and will grow to be about 6 feet wide within several years.  Clumping bamboo serve a variety of purposes in residential landscapes.  They are an excellent option for the creation of a fast growing, privacy barrier.  To create a screening hedge, the plants are usually installed about 5 to 6 feet apart , but can be planted up to 10 feet apart, depending on the species and how much time one wants to allow for the new growth to fill in the gaps between plants.

Bamboo come in an array of sizes and colors and are frequently used as ornamental specimens in landscapes.  The larger cultivars can grow up to 50 feet tall and are often used as treelike alternatives for the creation of shade.  There are also dwarf varieties that are good choices for small gardens and containers.  The leaves on the lower parts of the bamboo culms can be trimmed in order to reveal the culms’ unique colors of blue, black, yellow or green.   People are also drawn to the stately, graceful canes and the rhythmic sound they make while swaying in the wind.

Contrasting Leaf Colors, Textures and Shapes Draw the Eye
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The gray blue foliage of a silver buttonwood contrasts with the native firebush.

I love to create year round visual interest in my garden by intentional placement of plants that have contrasting leaf shape, size, color, texture, density and pattern.  By juxtaposing plants with a variety of contrasting foliages, the visual characteristics of the plants are further emphasized and the landscape becomes a composition of color and texture.  The seasonal flowers of the plants may come and go and certainly the flower color is a consideration but the visual appeal of the landscape will last year round when forethought has been given to combining plants with contrasting foliage.

When assessing possible additions to a landscape, gardeners should step back and view the landscape from a distance.  If it looks like green, green and more green, one may want to think about selecting plants that will add contrasting leaf color and texture to the design.   There are many plants with different foliage colors and shapes that can be easily incorporated into an existing design.

DSCN1144 (960x1280) Blue Vase and Thai CT (960x1280) Farfugium (960x1280)

Stars of the Summertime Garden
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The rubber vine can be trained as a small tree.

The rubber vine can be trained as a small tree.

Visitors to Riverland Nursery in June will be dazzled by the summertime inventory of unique, blooming plants which were nowhere in sight during the winter.  Many Florida gardeners like to infuse their landscapes with a variety of stunning, summer blooming plants that thrive on long hours of daylight, intense heat and rain.A personal favorite summer plant is the crape myrtle. Few summer blooming plants can compete with the colorful and lush crape myrtles that beautify landscapes across Florida and the southern states.   Crape myrtles brighten summer landscapes with beautiful clusters of flowers that can extend for 6 to 18 inches.   The flowers come in a variety of colors including shades of white, lavender, pink, red and purple.

Another plant by which you can set your calendar is the mussaenda.  Mussaenda is favored for its showy, large blooms which can be salmon, red, white or pale yellow.  This plant can be maintained at six to eight feet tall and should be located in a place where the homeowner will not mind that it has bare branches during the winter.  The dwarf variety has pale yellow flowers and can be maintained at three to four feet.

Other plants noted for their beautiful summer blooms are: rubber vine, coral vine, Rangoon creeper, dwarf Poinciana, plumeria frangipani, canna lily, cassia alata, gingers, heliconia, and several of the clerodendrums such as the musical notes, pagoda flower, and java glory bower.  Another popular summer plant is caladium, a perennial favored for its colorful, heart shaped leaves in shades of white, green, red, and pink.

Coral vine is a fantastic summer bloomer and a great source of nectar for bees.

Coral vine is a fantastic summer bloomer and a great source of nectar for bees.

The stunning dwarf poinciana will bloom until late fall.

The stunning dwarf poinciana will bloom until late fall.

Newly planted trees need periodic pruning for 15 to 25 years.
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This live oak has structural defects between the trunk and branches.

This live oak has structural defects between the trunk and branches.  

One of my current gardening obsessions is pruning the trees in my yard.  We planted numerous trees three years ago and several have grown to the extent that they require the lower branches to be removed.  Pruning the trees is an enjoyable process for me because I visualize how I want the tree to grow and I help create the tree’s future shape.  I have found it very helpful to read articles on proper pruning methods.  I encourage anyone interested in learning about how to approach the care and pruning of a tree to download the link at the end of this post.

Many people do not realize that a young tree, particularly a shade tree, will have all of its current branches removed within the course of its life.   Containerized trees purchased at nurseries are typically six to ten feet tall and when planted in the ground their lowest branches are three to four feet off the ground.  Because trees grow out from the tips of their branches, those low branches are never going to grow any higher along the trunk.  The recommended height for the lowest branch on a typical shade tree is 15 to 20 feet off the ground.  Proper and timely pruning of a young, newly planted tree will be necessary for the next 15 to 25 years in order to help the trees grow into a balanced shape and strong structure.

Pruning a tree correctly is very important for the health and structural strength of the tree.  Trees that are not properly maintained are more susceptible to wind damage and can cause damage to people and property.  Improper pruning can also make the tree more susceptible to damaging insects and disease.  For more information on how and when to prune trees, the University of Florida has published a very helpful article that can be found at

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