What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”
I have had several requests this past week to talk about small flowering trees and plants which could add additional winter color in the garden. Because most of our plants are still in dormancy and many have lost their leaves, our landscapes have lost their color. This week I want to give you a few suggestions of small flowering dooryard trees and plants that could help you add some winter color to your landscape. I have mentioned several of these plants before but I think they are worth mentioning again. I also want to briefly tell you about which plants you will need to prune now in order to have beautiful blossoms in the spring. Let’s get started.
My favorite flowering dooryard tree is called the Tabebuia. Tabebuias’ are small trees which are used in areas where homeowners’ have limited space. You may have seen many of these trees planted along the entranceways of highways or in medium strips along busy streets. Their small stature and amazing color give these trees beauty while not impeding the flow of traffic. You will be relieved to hear that this tree has a limited root structure and I have never heard of a problem resulting from the use of these trees near a foundation. The individual cultivars of these trees can give you a range of locations to use them. The medium sized pink tabebuia grows to a height of ten to fifteen feet and can be used in a rear corner of the property or as a small specimen tree in the front yard. The yellow or hard to find red tabebuias grow from six to ten feet and will fit nicely in any small corner of the yard.
The Tabebuia impetiginosa or “ipe” has pink tulip shaped flower and blooms in the late winter and early spring. Many of these trees are in bloom now. The “ipe” is also very cold tolerant and can be used in landscapes throughout northern Florida without the risk of cold damage. The Tabebuia chrysotricha or yellow Tabebuia produces copious amounts of yellow tulip shaped flowers. Just as the “ipe” begins to loose its blooms, the chrysotricha starts its bloom cycle. If you grow both cultivars in your landscape, then you can extend your flowering season for an extra month or so. The hard to find red flowering Tabebuia is also available by special order at some garden centers. This Tabebuia blooms the same time as the “ipe”. For those of you interested in few other cultivars of the Tabebuia, there is a light pink/white variety which blooms several times a year called the Tabebuia pallida and another yellow flowering tabebuia called the Tree of Gold or Tabebuia caraiba. Both of these trees are taller than the ones I mentioned earlier but each has their own individual characteristics. All of these trees will put on spectaculars shows of color.
Tabebuia trees are deciduous trees meaning they will lose their leaves in the fall and winter. After the leaves fall off, the tree goes dormant for a few months then begins to put on its show of blossoms either pink or yellow depending on the cultivar you have purchased. This flower show is fantastic as there are very few trees which bloom this time of year. Unfortunately, some people do not like deciduous trees because they worry they will have to rake up the leaves. Tabebuias are not very messy and I have never had to rake the leaves as they fall gradually over time. The loss of leaves in the fall can also be a benefit to some homeowners as they want the light in the winter time to warm their home and shade in the summer time to cool their home. I like to plant small flowering plants or bulbs beneath these trees for additional color in both the summer and the winter.
I would plant the pink variety of the Tabebuia tree in the front of the home for the best effect. A stand alone tree in a front yard can be a show stopper (photo enclosed). Tabebuias like to be planted in the full sun and will be slow to moderate grower. The yellow varieties do better on the sides of the home or to add color in the rear of the home. The yellow varieties can be used singly as a specimen plant or to provide color in the winter to a garden or patio. �
Cassias are another small plant which can add color to the landscape during the winter months. Cassias also come in many varieties both tree and shrub form. I prefer the cassia bicapsularis for its small stature and winter color. As an added bonus, they help attract butterflies to the garden. Cassias bloom best in full sun and produce small yellow flowers in abundance. Another plant I like for the winter is the Azalea. Azaleas are just going into bloom now and will last for another few months. Depending on your individual color preferences, you can pick just one color for a mass planting or several colors which will mingle together. Because azaleas prefer a shady place such as under an oak or pine tree or on the northern side of the home, everyone should be able to plant at least a few of these plants in their landscape.
Roses are another favorite of mine. Everyone can and should grow at least one variety of a rose and there are many varieties to choose from. Whether used in containers, as hedges, flowing on arbors, or planted in mass, roses can be a delight in the garden. If you chose a cultivar that does not do well in your garden then you probably have a cultivar that is not suited for your garden. With over two thousand cultivars available, I am sure I can help you find one or two that will grow well. �
Pruning roses is an essential part of growing quality roses. I recommend pruning your roses in mid February. All remaining one year old wood should be pruned back by one third. All lateral branches should be cut back to six or seven inches and you should limit lateral branches to only two or three per branch. Remember, cutting too much from your plant will make your plant thin and weak. Some people like to cut back some stems hard and others lightly to encourage a longer bloom time. This is up to you. Always remove suckers which originate below the graft or on the roots. These growths need to be cut off as soon as they are detected.
Now is also the time to prune your Crepe Myrtles. Crepe Myrtles should not be cut back to the main stem, rather remove all branches smaller than the thickness of your thumb. Limit your crepe myrtles to just three or four main stems. Any new branches forming at the base of the plant should be removed. All pruning cuts should be made with sharp pruning shears and your cuts should be made to eliminate any inward pointing, dead, or diseased growth. Next, you need to remove any stems which rub against each other or look weak. Next, prune into wood that looks healthy. Make your final cut at an angle with an outward pointing bud one quarter inch near the high point of the cut. Azaleas should not be pruned until after they finish blooming. At that time you can remove several of the older stems at the ground level to encourage new growth. If your plants are very tall you can remove up to one third of the plant. Remember to fertilize after.
You do not have to have a dull yard or garden during the winter months. Try some of my suggestions above to add color to your landscape. Make sure that after pruning your plants to lightly fertilize your plants with a quality 8-10-10 fertilizer to help your plants recover and put on blooms for spring. I love my flowering plants and hope you will enjoy these too. Good luck and remember, without plants we would not be here.