Getting ready for PlantX 11

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A few of the exchange plants at last year's PlantX.

A few of the exchange plants at last year's PlantX.

Will you be in Northeast Florida in early April? It is time to get ready for the 11th Annual Palatka Daily News Perennial Exchange (PlantX). This year marks 11 years of fun and free plants. Now’s the perfect time to start rooting and dividing those perennials so they’ll be ready for the exchange.



As usual, participants are asked to bring at least 10 potted — and labeled — perennials for exchange. Please refrain from bringing invasive plants such as Mexican petunia, firespike or sword fern. Consider instead bringing flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, azaleas and heirloom roses, perennials such as hybrid daylilies, perennial salvias, gingers, bulb plants such as amaryllis or lycoris, water plants such as Louisiana iris or hybrid waterlilies or perennial herbs such as lemon grass, rosemary or lavender. 

In short, you’ll want to share your favorite perennials with the group. The mix is always changing and there will be lots of diversity of plants from which to choose. And as usual, there will be door prizes as well, and the best part is that everything is free. 

To take part in the event, send a self-addressed — and stamped — envelope to: PlantX, Palatka Daily News PlantX, P.O. Box 777, Palatka Florida 32178 by March 14, and your invitation will be mailed to you. 


Starting seedlings

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flts-seedlings-jpg2Area gardeners want to get seeds started right. Most annuals, and a whole lot of vegetables do best when started in flats with good-quality potting soil, rather than sown directly into the ground. When plants are an inch or so high, carefully lift plants from the potting soil, separate and re-pot into cell-packs so that seedlings can develop healthy, robust root systems.

Seedling flats and cell-packs should be in full sun during these short winter days. Be sure to water regularly because the shallow flats dry out quickly. Use a water-soluble fertilizer solution twice a week when watering.

Then when seedlings are three or four inches tall, and have developed plenty of leaves, transplant into garden beds or containers. Even vegetables such as lettuce get a much better start and grow faster when treated in this fashion.

Rudebeckias for Florida gardens

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cappucino-rudebka5This is a great time for Florida gardeners to start Rudebeckias from seed for spring bloom. Started now, gardeners can expect most varieties to bloom by late April. ‘Cappuccino’ is a new variety from Fleuroselect. Handsome large flowers with coppery centers are produced on compact plants. Also known as brown-eyed Susans, Rudebeckias should be grown in sites with at least a half day of full sun. 

Start seeds in flats in a good-quality potting soil. Transplant seedlings into cell-packs to allow good root systems to develop before adding to landscapes or container plantings. ‘Cappuccino’ should be available in the spring as bedding plants. Rudebeckias are good cut flowers, as well as suitable for drying for everlasting arrangements.

Personalized garden gift

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Give the gift they’ll all appreciate, a personalized garden trowel. This idea comes from the clever folks at Fiskars. Take one of their new “Soft Touch” garden trowels and have the recipient’s name engraved on the trowel blade. How cool is that!

Clever holiday gift for your favorite gardener

Clever holiday gift for your favorite gardener

Gardening in Maine

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Visit “Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors” magazine Website for my column on gardening in Maine:

Fooling Mother Nature

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Tricking biennials, such as foxgloves, allows Florida gardeners to grow these plants.

Tricking biennials, such as foxgloves, allows Florida gardeners to grow these plants.

(Looks like I can add BLOGGER to my resume’. Hope everyone’s patient with me as I wade into this media. It is bound to get better as I progress.)

Yesterday, I found some annual lobelia at the local vegetable stand to add to the hanging planter with the Lothospernum that came south with us this fall. It has been looking as if it could use some company.


Flats of other annuals and the biennials: hollyhocks, Lychnis and foxgloves are coming along slowly. All are way, way out at the edge of the dock so they can get as much sun as possible, benefit from the warmth of the old St. Johns River as it flows beneath, and most important — so the #!%&!! squirrels won’t dig them up. 

One foxglove that stowed-away in another pot that traveled south with us has been moved into its own pot and is flourishing. It should be blooming by the spring. This whole business of raising biennials from seed here in Florida is new, to me at least. Others, such as Candy Pfau of Interlachen, and Maggie Ouellette of St. Augustine, have been growing hollyhocks for years. This year Candy branched out into foxgloves with great success.

Biennials are plants that produce foliage their first growing season, go dormant over the winter, and then flower and produce seeds their second growing season. Because these plants, which are usually grown in regions north of here, usually do not survive our hot and humid summer weather in Florida and consequently are not able to return for a second year. Therefore if seeds are planted according to package directions, ie. in the spring, Florida gardeners cannot get them to flower. Hollyhocks, foxgloves and Lychnis (rose campion) are all biennials.

THE TRICK: If you want to grow biennials that actually flower in Florida, you have to trick them into thinking that they have been around for two springs. Plant seeds in October, November or early December in flats of a good quality potting soil. Transplant into cell-packs when seedlings are about three inches tall, and then into beds or large pots when root systems have developed fully.

All of these biennials are quite hardy and should sail through the winter without cold damage. In late February fertilize plants regularly. They should bloom in late spring. Enjoy!

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