Winter Blooms – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Each of us knows someone who travels to Floridaeach year during the winter to evade the cool temperatures up north. Who can blame them? All I need to do is see pictures of three or four foot snow drifts and cars stuck on the side of the road to reinsure me that Florida is a much better place to be during the winter months. Even though our returning friends enjoy themselves down in our warm climate, there are two recurring themes that I seem to hear. The first is, they tell me they love the weather but would sure like to see more flowering plants during the winter months. The second question is what plants should I plant to give me blossoms while I am in Florida? They do not care what the plants do while they are away; they just want blooms while they are here. Well, this article is dedicated to all our friends who want to plant flowers and trees which will be in bloom while they are here and have an opportunity to enjoy them.

            There are several trees I like which are not too big and can be used as a dooryard tree. My favorite is the Tabebuia impetiginosa or “Ipe”. This tree is one of the first trees to bloom in late winter or early spring. The blossoms are trumpet shaped and are pink with a yellow throat. This tree should be used more often because of its cold tolerance well into north Florida. The growth habit is moderate but the tree will only grow to a height of fifteen feet with a spread of eight to ten feet. This can be a perfect specimen tree in any landscape. When this tree is in bloom, it is indeed stunning in the landscape. As the blossoms fall around the tree they form a colorful ring under the tree adding to its beauty. Tabebuia trees are easy to grow and can easily fit into any landscape.

            There is another tree in the same species I also recommend called the Tabebuia chrysotricha or Golden Trumpet Tree. This marvelous tree is slightly smaller and slower growing then the Pink Trumpet Tree mentioned above but again is a great addition to any landscape. Because of its small stature this tree can be used in many more locations in the garden. A three gallon tree will eventually reach a height of ten feet with a five foot spread in about seven to ten years. The thing I like about this tree is that this tree will begin blooming about the time the pink tabebuia peaks its blooming schedule, giving you another focal point of the garden for several more weeks. I have used this small tree in my garden and when it begins to bloom, the bright yellow trumpet flowers are magnificent.

            One other tree which deserves mention is the Orchid Tree or Bauhinia variegata. Orchid trees have been a favorite of mine for many years. Most people grow this tree for the delicate orchid like flowers which blanket the tree in the early spring. Most of these trees produce copious amounts of seed so if you have a friend or neighbor that has a tree with seeds, you can easily propagate this tree yourself. Orchid trees grown from seed can produce many different colors of flowers each distinct to the tree which you grow. However, there is one variety of this species that is not propagated from seed. The true Hong Kong Orchid Tree or Bauhinia blakeana is a sterile tree which does not produce seeds and must be propagated through air layers or cuttings. This tree is superior to the seedlings in that the flowers are larger and more fragrant plus you do not have to deal with all the seeds hanging down from the tree.

            Annuals are another good source for color in the late winter. Most nurseries carry a large selection of small plants for purchase but you have to replace them each year. Most of my friends do not want the hassle of planting annuals each year, they just want the plants to keep growing and be in bloom while they are here. That is why you need to plant perennials which will bloom for you in the late winter and give you the color you want. The best way to figure out which plants you may want in your garden is to visit the local nursery or garden center and look for perennials which are currently in bloom and are the specific color you are looking for. Do this early in the year once you arrive in Florida and be sure to ask for assistance from the nursery professional in picking out plants which will suit you. Now you can plant your perennials one time and enjoy them year after year as you return to the sunshine state.

            If I can make a few suggestions for you to use in shady areas, I like Begonias, Bromeliads, Echinacea, Blood Lilies, Peacock Gingers, and Justicia. In sunny locations I like Gazanias, Amaryllis, Louisiana Iris, Shrimp Plants, Daylilies, Bush Daisy, and Gaillardia. You should look at these plants in the nursery and make your own decisions on which ones to use in your yard. Remember, there are limitless varieties of plants you can choose from and have fun when making selections. Now, lets talk about a few flowering shrubs you can use for extended color.

            Shrubs can offer you a longer bloom time with little effort. If you enjoy fragrant gardening then I would highly recommend the Gardenias. Gardenias are well proven in this area and can bloom for extended periods of time. If you like the smaller plants look for a Dwarf Gardenia veitchii. This cultivar will only grow about three feet tall and will give you ample blossoms in early spring. If you would like a larger plant, or one that will grow to a height of six feet or so then you should try the cultivar Belmont. Make sure you purchase the grafted variety of gardenias. Grafted varieties will have a single stem and are resistant to nematodes in our Florida soils. Gardenias purchased in local grocery stores that are in bloom and then planted in our soils, rarely last for over a year in our soil so do not waste your money. One nursery I would recommend to purchase these cultivars from is located in St. Petersburg and their name is Carroll’s Nursery.

            Another plant I like is the hibiscus. Hibiscus comes in many colors and textures and can be grown in the full sun. As long as new growth is emerging from the plant, the new flowers will not be far behind. Because this plant does bloom on new growth, you will need to fertilize this plant when you arrive in the winter and within a few short weeks your plant should reward you with a lot of blossoms. Blooms do not last long but the plant normally produces many blossoms each day. Garden centers carry many varieties of hibiscus which come in a rainbow of colors and there are hibiscus societies which specialize in rare varieties which also do very well in this area. Look for cultivars in the “Dinner Plate” category as these blossoms are especially large and colorful.

            The last plant I want to talk about is the bougainvillea. Bougainvilleas are used for full sun areas to add stunning color to the landscape. When picking out a variety from the local garden center you can pick out large running varieties or small containerized plants. I like to grow my plants in a container or to countersink the pot my plant comes in into the ground to check the growth of the plant. Ones planted in the ground directly tend not to bloom as often as ones left in containers which restrict their root systems. This will also let you maintain your plant much easier. One thing you must remember is that bougainvilleas thrive on neglect and under watering so do not baby your plants. After the bloom cycle is complete you should cut off unwanted foliage, fertilize the plant, and then leave the plant alone.

            Each of the plants listed above will give you plenty of color in the landscape during our winter months when most other plants are still recovering from winters grasp. Those of you who spend only this short time with us will have plenty of flowering plants and color in your landscape to give you cheer and happiness. If you have not planted any new plants yet, you still have time to add some of these plants to your garden before you leave for the north. I promise you if you add these plants before you leave you will have a bright surprise waiting for you next year. I hope you enjoyed this section on color in the winter garden. Good Luck with your garden and remember, without plants we would not be here!

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