Blogger's Note July 2008: There is an edit/update to this post here. It appears that this post receives many google hits with folks inquiring about mexican petunia. You will want to read the follow-up if you are curious about mexican petunia habits.
Who doesn't enjoy watching the transformation of people, gardens, homes - whatever the case may be?
Hoe and Shovel has been steadily gardening through the winter months. Typically nothing dies here (due to freezing, at least) - including the weeds -BIG sigh- so we are constant gardeners. As I looked through my photos for 2008 I came across several I haven't posted yet which has turned this post into a 'before and after' series. I've also gotten some questions from readers about the care of certain plants and shrubs grown in my garden which I will try to answer along the way. Again, my answers aren't based on any formal training - only what I've discovered while getting my hands in the dirt over the years.
Photo from May 2007 featuring Mexican Petunia in the center of a backyard flower bed. If you look closely you can see the 4-5 foot stalks are being held up by decorative fencing placed strategically to keep them upright. Otherwise they would curve toward the ground. Everywhere a stalk touches the ground it will root and develop more plants. This is good only if you could remove every other desired vegetation from your garden and harvest this perennial for lots of money. Unfortunately harvests of Mexican Petunia is not big business so it must be snipped and pulled up on a regular basis.
Mexican Petunia, Ruellia Brittoniana isn’t even a cousin (as far as I know) to the two common classes of grandiflora and multiflora petunias. The Mexican Petunia flowers enthusiastically on vertical semi-woody stalks that grow 3-4 feet in height typically. As an evergreen perennial displaying trumpet shaped blossoms at the tips, it is easily grown in most southern gardens and virtually free from disease or pests. I have found it to be happy throughout the hottest seasons here. It grows best in full sun with moist soil but also maintain their flowering habits (in my experience) in part shade. Once they are established they will adapt/tolerate drought conditions which we experienced last summer and continue to hold to those conditions at this point in our year.
I’ve seen many an admiring butterfly swarming the blue/purple flowers when in full bloom which makes for quite a showy garden spot.
So with all the accolades they should be highly recommended in Zones 8-10 where they are hardy. Except for one slight problem. Mexican Petunia has been listed on the invasive plant list for all of Florida. I can certainly see that if one does not stay persistent in keeping the runners clipped these otherwise hardy growers could easily make a weekend gardener more frustrated than pleased.
I've planted Mexican Petunia in two separate beds. One at the back side of the garden where there is plenty of room for plants to randomly meander more than in the contained beds. The other is featured here in the photo above. This bed is just beyond the screened lanai and more visible on first notice.
In the second week of February I trimmed the Mexican Petunia (shown above) to 2 feet --cutting back a good 3 feet of green growth and then pulled up every runner beyond its borders. It was severe and even though in past years I managed to only trimmed it about a foot I felt it was due for a good pruning. I did the same to the other planting in my back bed.
Now that the Mexican petunia is nice and tidy, what do you think about that variegated schefflera? What started out as an accent and a border to a short pathway across the bed has become a focal point I'm not particularly pleased to have. Typically I only trim it to keep it from looking spindly. In Florida the variegated Schefflera is used in landscaping as a hedge or row. I'm not fond of it used in this way when the stalky base of the plant is visible. But I am fond of it for its colored foliage used as an accent in a grouping of other plants. So I always plant it in places where the eye sees the top of the foliage in mass which makes more of a subtle statement rather than asking it to carry off a center stage performance planted individually.
My answer was to severely cut back the branches which eliminated almost all the foliage. If I had not been this strict it would have returned as a focal point in a few short weeks. As a side note: I was tempted for a moment not to trim it at all just from my observance of the yellow cloudless sulphurs making the underside of the leaves their resting place. I reasoned the Schefflera is planted in numerous other places in my garden so I was counting on them to find those if they hadn't already.
This is a closer photo taken just yesterday of the same area 5 weeks later. That (poor) Schefflera is just now starting to bud new growth on its stalky branches. There are four mature plants closely planted in a 3 x 3 space as an example to my theory of mass planting verses a line or row. This design makes the difference between a "scraggly-something's-missing-feel" or a full bushy appearance.
My theory is rather than trying to spread your landscaping thin-- focus on one area and put all your dollars into that area to create a lush planting. When one area is complete - move on to the next as finances are available. In Florida all too often folks get discouraged by the many oppositions to gardening in the heat and humidity once they've planted. By starting out slowly and making certain you like what you are doing, you will end up with a garden you love and one that appears finished rather than the sprawled out -sort of here and there plantings often seen here.
Well, I have to say in this case the before photos are lots more fun than the after photos. Patience is the virtue employed this month as I wait for my garden to fill out from their winter make over. I know too well actually, it won't be very long until the nights will turn warmer than you thought possible which in turn makes every plant and flower shout loudly for constant attention to keep them kempt and tidy.
Next in the 'before and after series' we'll look at some additions to Hoe & Shovel.
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