What to do this week –
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening“
As a garden enthusiast, I frequently tour homeowner gardens to see what types of plants they grow and how they perform in our area. Many of the plants I see, remind me of plants I have grown in the past, which you could be using in your landscape. In this article, I want to share with you some of these plants, which can be used as foundation plants for your home, but can also add fruit to your table. These dual-use plants are attractive in their appearance and may help you fill in bare areas of your landscape. Let’s get started.
Guavas, or Psidium guajave, can be an excellent choice for use as a small tree or filler plant for hot dry areas of the yard. Guavas produce several crops of fruit each year and can be a delectable treat for homeowners. The major fruiting time begins in the spring, but the summer bloom can also bring loads of fresh fruit. The most common guavas produce fruit the size of a plum, however; some varieties can produce fruit, which is the size of a small grapefruit.
Guava flowers are small, about the size of a penny with several stamens protruding from the center of the flowers. Fruits appear shortly after flowering and look similar to a small orange. As they grow, they take on an oblong shape but retain their dark-green color. As the fruits begin to mature, in about ninety to one hundred and twenty days, you will notice a slight color loss. The best time to pick the guava is once the fruit has lost its dark-green color and begins to show some yellowing. At this stage, you may be able to smell the guava as it starts ripening. Please do not wait until the fruit becomes soft to the touch or birds and rodents will beat you to them. I like to pick the fruit just as the color starts to fade, but before they become soft. Even if you pick them a little early, they will ripen on their own.
Before eating the ripened fruit, make sure they are thoroughly washed to remove any dirt or pests, and then slice them in half. At this point, you may just want to scoop out the pulp and enjoy it or you can slice the guava into sections. Many people eat the entire fruit with the skin attached. I usually eat just the interior portions of the fruit which includes the seeds. You can try the fruit both ways and see which way you prefer. Most of the larger guavas have a creamy-white interior, but there is another guava you may also enjoy called the Strawberry Guava or Cattley guava.
Cattley guavas are my favorite as the color of the interior fruit is a tropical pink or watermelon color. Although the size of the fruits is smaller than the white variety, the taste seems sweeter to me. Another drawback of the strawberry guava is that the seeds are larger than the white cultivar, and I usually discard them. If you find that you enjoy these fruits, then you might want to consider trying your hand in making strawberry guava jam or ice cream. Several of my friends regularly make the jam which is delicious.
In south Florida, guavas can be considered an invasive plant as the seeds from the fruit are scattered by wildlife. In our area of central Florida, this does not seem to be a problem. Another benefit of the strawberry guava is that this plant normally only grows to a height of about five feet or so. With regular pruning, you can make this plant a great foundation plant. There is one more cultivar of the guava I need to tell you about, the Pineapple Guava.
The Pineapple Guava or Feijoa, is a great landscape plant that you can use as either a hedge or foundation plant. In fact, the pineapple guava was named the Florida garden Select Plant in 2009 by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape association. Just like the guavas I have listed above, the pineapple guava can be planted in the full sun directly into our native soils. Even though I always like to improve the soil around of all my plants, this is not a requirement. Those of you, who own homes along the coast where salt spray is common, will be happy to hear that you can also plant the pineapple guava directly into the soil. Once established, the pineapple guava can be pruned into a dense hedge or a small single trunked tree. Best of all, guavas do not need additional watering in order to produce.
Pineapple guavas begin their flowering during the months of April to May. The flowers range in size of one to two inches and are fleshy in texture. The stamens are a bright burgundy. One of the really interesting things about their flowers is that the petals are edible. I like to take my friends over to my plants and pick off a few of the petals and give them a little taste. These petals can also be used in fresh salads or other dishes. I think the best description of what the petals taste like is cotton candy. As long as you do not eat all the flowers, the plant will set a lot of fruit, which will be ready around August.
The fruit of the pineapple guava looks egg-shaped and appears green with a hint of grey around the fruit. As the fruit matures, you will notice a color change to a reddish-brown. Some of the fruits will fall off of the plant letting you know that they are ready for picking. Most of the fruit will range in size from an inch and a half to two and a half inches. To eat the fruit, you should always wash them first, and then cut them in half to scoop out the pulp. You can also make them into a jam. If you are looking for these in a nursery, then try to find the cultivar “Coolidge” which seems to do very well in our area of Florida. Another great addition to any garden would be the Grumichama Cherry.
Grumichama cherries or Eugenia brasiliensis, are probably a plant you have never heard about although I have been growing them for almost twenty years. This bountiful evergreen shrub (up to 6 feet) can be trained into a small tree that has waxy, dark-green foliage and blooms starting in March. As the plant pushes up new growth, the leaves take on a burgundy-red color until they gradually change to a dark-green. Flowers appear white with many yellow anthers.
Once the fruit form, you will see clusters of many small cherries, which are born on individual stems originating from a single source. The new fruit appears green at first, eventually turning to red, then finally to a dark purple when ripe. When eaten fresh, the fruit will taste like a Bing cherry. Each fruit contains one large seed, however; the plant will produce copious amounts of these for your enjoyment. Several flowerings each year will give you fruit season long, but the main fruiting season are in the springtime. Some people like to make jams and jellies out of the immature fruit which are tart. You may also want to try another plant in the Eugenia family called the Surinam cherry.
Surinam cherries or Eugenia uniflora, can be used as a clipped hedge that will remain dense from top to bottom of the plant as long as you prune it wider at the bottom than at the top. Best of all, the plant produces fragrant white flowers followed by one-inch diameter succulent red-ribbed berries, which are also high in vitamin C. Surinam cherries are excellent choices for full-sun areas of the landscape. Most garden centers carry one to three-gallon sizes for easy planting.
Each of the plants I have listed above will complement any landscape with beautiful foliage and a bounty for the kitchen. Because these plants are all well suited to our climate and the fact they are drought tolerant, you should be able to establish them relatively easy. Adding fruiting plants to the landscape can help supplement your grocery bills and give you something to talk about with neighbors while nibbling away in the garden. Good luck and remember, without plants, we would not be here!