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Hardy Tropicals Blog.

Grow a tropical garden anywhere... don't let your zone stop you!

Our blog is meant to share our experiences through the year with our own garden in central, SC. While not nearly as cold as some northern climates, we love pushing the boundaries on what we can grow here. We've seen folks far north of us achieving the same results. We hope you find our blog informative and perhaps even a little entertaining and we go through the trials and tribulations of tropical gardening well beyond the limits of the tropics.

My thoughts on FreezePruf

March 20, 2011 | 25461 Views | 2 Comments

FreezePruf

As we end winter today and begin a new Spring, I wanted to do a quick review on a product I've invested in the last two years - FreezePruf. When I first heard about FreezePruf a couple of years ago I, like many other people, got very excited about it. Now that I've used it for two years, I have a pretty good idea of how well it works - or doesn't - for select Hardy Tropicals. Here's my quick thoughts on the product and what it both can and cannot do well.

First, let's look at what FreezePruf says it can do. According to one website selling the product, it says, " It’s like anti-freeze, for your plants. A scientific-breakthrough – this eco-safe spray actually improves healthy plants’ natural cold tolerance by approximately 2° to 9° F, depending on the variety of plant and the duration/intensity of frost or freeze event. Developed by botanists, FreezePruf protects the plant externally and internally by enhancing both its natural “anti-freeze” like properties and its ability to survive ice crystal damage. The biodegradable formula is designed to resist washing away by rain or snow and application lasts up to 4 weeks with normal precipitation. It’s like moving your temperature zone 200 miles south! FreezePruf’s easy-to-use, biodegradable formulation and mode of action adds a half-USDA Zone equivalent or more to the cold tolerance range of all major ornamentals and crops. So, a plant that is hardy to the low-to-mid teens Fahrenheit (Zone 8a) can be grown with little or no damage in Zone 7b."



Snow for 49 states…
Testing our hardiness levels

January 13, 2011 | 5609 Views | 4 Comments

Back Yard

For the second winter in a row we've received two snows to date here in central South Carolina, and the last one this past Monday was another significant one at around 5 inches. Last February we had a good snow with around 9 inches, and then again received a good dusting in March. All of this really has put our hardy plants to the test of sustaining snow and ice (including the weight of the snow), which resulted in the loss of several plants last year, particularly the bananas we were experimenting with. A lot of our Basjoo bananas have even folded in half this year, with significant loss to the pseudo-stems height. This is likely because of the frigid teen temperatures we experienced in early and mid-December 2010. Overall it has been a very cold winter for us thus far, and as we head into the coldest part of the year, I'm a little concerned about my plants that were left outdoors this year. We made the assumption we'd not have two bad winters in a row and did some experimenting again, but so far it has been another rough year.


Prepping for the winter months ahead
Getting a jump start on protecting non-hardy tropicals

October 08, 2010 | 4669 Views | 0 Comments

OK, so we know this site is mainly devoted to Hardy Tropicals, but let's be honest... we all grow plants that don't belong in our zones. They need some love (and winter protection) too. It's getting close to that time of year that most of us gardener dread - the arrival of Jack Frost. Here in central South Carolina we've already seen temperature dip into the low 40's, which means it's probably not going to be long before the first frost is forecast in the coming weeks. This is a good time to get a jump start on your winter prepping for your non-hardy tropicals.

Here's a few simple and very basic things we do to prep for winter.

1.) We take inventory of everything in the yard that will have to come indoors for the winter. In our case, that's our garage - where we utilize Metal Halide lights to keep the plants alive. We try and record pot sizes as well so we know how much space we're going to need. It seems like every year the inventory list gets bigger doesn't it?

2.) We clean up and trim up the plants that will come indoors. Removal of dead leaves, insects, and other debris helps get our plants ready for the indoor months.


Army Worms: Are you aware of them?

September 24, 2010 | 9005 Views | 1 Comments

Army Worm

Not sure if you've heard of these little pests, but these guys do not mess around.

Life Cycle & Damage
The adults are night-flying moths often referred to as “millers.” These moths lay eggs in masses at the crowns of grass plants and on the leaves of other plants. Some armyworm egg masses look like tiny cotton balls. The eggs hatch into a smooth, greasy-looking gray to brown caterpillars. The markings on young armyworms are indistinct, making identification of the different types of armyworms difficult. As they mature, they develop distinct lengthwise stripes. The pattern and color of these stripes identify the specific type of armyworm. After the caterpillars reach maturity, they spin their cocoon or “pupa.” Depending on the type of armyworm, there may be one or more generations during the growing season. They spend the winter in the ground as a pupa. Why are they called armyworms? It’s because they feed together and move as a group or “army” to find new sources of food. Most types, except for the Bertha armyworm, feed at night or on cloudy days, hiding under plant debris or in lawn thatch when it’s sunny out. Armyworms like to feed on grass leaves and crowns. They have a preference for the more succulent, longer grass of shady areas, but that doesn’t stop them from feeding elsewhere too. The lawn develops a ragged appearance and can start to turn brown in patches. Look for circular spots or depressed areas. Damaging infestations are more likely to occur when the lawn borders crop land or large untended pastures.



Metal Halide Systems Indoors for the winter

September 01, 2010 | 4929 Views | 0 Comments

Metal Halide Bulb and HoodThis entry is meant to introduce you to the idea of Metal Halide H.I.D. lighting systems and how they open new doors for growing ornamental plants indoors. Where I live I am not allowed to have any type of Greenhouse behind my house (thanks to my Home Owners Association). Thus I’ve had to get creative and use an alternative means of keeping my vast array of Tropical Plants alive, especially those of the non-hardy variety.

To do this I’ve had to make an investment in H.I.D. bulbs, ballasts, and hoods; and in doing so I can grow just about anything I could in a greenhouse from within the comfort of m own garage. Most of the information in this article comes from specialty-lights.com, a source we trust and buy from regularly to meet our needs for HID systems.


Ladybug army

August 21, 2010 | 2266 Views | 3 Comments

Lady BugsI've been thinking ahead to this winter and am strongly considering the use of ladybugs for the control of both aphids and spider mites in my garage this winter.

I don't like using all the sprays in the garage, plus they rarely seem to be very effective for me. I've tried Neem and Soaps, it's just hard to fully cover the plants adequately because of their large size. I have a lot of palms I bring in for the winter and the spider mites always seem to feast on them. The aphids always attack my softer tissue plants like the bananas and such. I also have had a lot of problems with mealy bugs lately.

I have been reading and I think I may give the ladybugs a shot. I know they won't eliminate insets, but figured they might keep them in check. Has anyone ever tried them? I was thinking of ordering 500-1500 and releasing them about a handful a week at night when the halides were off. Hoping maybe they'll feast on the aphids/mealy bugs/spider mites and finally give my plants some relief.

I'll report back this winter on how this has worked, but I'm hoping this will prove quite effective if I release them in proper intervals.


Hot and Dry

July 07, 2010 | 2144 Views | 1 Comments

If it's hot enough to blog about it, it's pretty hot isn't it? Lately we've had our second stint of days this year in the low 100's - and our plants have really suffered in this weather. It's bad enough to have the hot weather, but when it's so dry as well - it makes any chance of keeping a lush garden growing almost an impossibility without significant irrigation. And this year fiscally speaking, I can't afford to keep the sprinklers or soaker hoses running long enough to satisfy the thirst of my large tropical garden. The long term forecast shows some relief in the next week or so, but this is getting ridiculous. Spring came in quietly this year with our last frost well back in March, and for a long time we enjoyed 70-degree weather. Then, suddenly our first hint of summer arrived with a bang, pushing us well up into the high 90's and eventually into the low 100's. It seems we're destined to repeat that pattern this year, and it's not even August yet.

The elephant ears (Colocasia especially) have suffered the most in this intense heat. Most all of them have wilted save one taro variety that I'm pretty sure would survive a good spray with a good weed killer; it's a tough Colocasia. The bananas are terribly wilted as well though and many that were transplanted this year are struggling to establish themselves - which worries me because of our past winter. Many of my bananas did not survive the harsher winter we had last year. It was a rough winter (compared to the last few years), still well within our 7b/8a climate, but it was too much for the Cavendish, Orinoco's, Pisang Ceylon's, Ice Creams, and several other varieties I had in the ground. With a record snow though, I guess I shouldn't have expected too much this spring. Apparently we're destined to have extreme weather in both winter and summer.

Here's hoping the heat and dry weather isn't too bad for everyone else and their garden this year. Hopefully we'll see some relief soon... if not, my garden might not amount to much this fall like it usually does. Think cooler weather thoughts!


Overwintering ginger rhizomes
How to protect your ginger rhizomes during the winter

June 26, 2010 | 5353 Views | 0 Comments

Gingers are one of the easiest and most beautiful tropical flowers you can grow in the garden. In some cases, they are also the most fragrant; such as with butterfly ginger. But how can you protect these beautiful plants if you live in northern climates? Here's a few tips.

You an choose to either dig up the entire rhizome in the fall or just take a piece of it, it's really up to you. If you want more than one plant the following spring, you can break the rhizome up into several pieces and then store it for the winter using one of the two methods below. Just be aware that dividing the rhizome will often delay blooming in some varieties (like Shampoo Ginger). More aggressive gingers may still bloom after division (like Butterfly and Kahili). More on page 2...



Tropi-scaping with non-hardy plants

May 10, 2010 | 4541 Views | 3 Comments

There is perhaps one question I get asked more than any other when it comes to, what I call, Tropi-scaping; "How on earth do you grow that in the ground here?"

Well... I don't, at least not all of it. Today I'm blogging about all the things that we'd love to be able to grow but can't. Yes, I know this site is about Hardy Gardening, but let's all admit we like to buy plants that wouldn't survive one night outside in the winter where we live. I'm sure I'm not the only one with that guilty pleasure. So today I'm breaking the rules and talking about what we can't usually grow outdoors.

Over the years I've built up a pretty large collection of Palms, Elephant Ears, Bananas, Bird of Paradise, Traveler's Palms, Hibiscus, and other non-hardy plants that I love to make part of my landscape. So how do I do it? How do I turn the first photo seen below (winter 2009) into the second one (summer 2009)? On the next page, we'll go into the details of just how simple this is.

 
Winter 2009   Summer 2009


Pot sizes - inches to gallon conversion

May 01, 2010 | 57189 Views | 3 Comments

Pot SizesToday was one of those days I wish there was something "standardized" about pot sizes. One catalog uses one set of measurements, another catalog uses something else. Stores use inches, nurseries use gallons. Ahhhh...

Trying to figure out pot sizes is often quite a headache. You've got some in inches, some in gallons, and yes, even some in fluid ounces; the later we're still trying to figure out. They do make this confusing, don't they? There's a theory going around that this purposely confusing system is a way for the mass market industry to charge more for plants, by container size, not necessarily Plant Size!

So let's try and break down these various sizes and measurements and set some general "accepted standards" for pot sizes. Please remember these are rough estimates and not a science. Some of the larger sizes especially are prone to variances in height, width, and depth of the pot. We've also attached two photos that we hope will help allow you to visualize the differences; click to enlarge them.
Smaller pot sizes in inches
4" pot= pint (0.5 quart)
5-6" pot = quart (0.25 gallon)
7-8" pot= 1 gallon
8.5" pot = 2 gallon
10" pot = 3 gallon
12" pot = 5 gallon
14" pot= 7 gallon
16" pot= 10 gallon
18" pot = 15 gallon
24" pot = 25 gal
30" pot= 30 gal

Image sources are LewisBamboo.com and BayNatives.com


Harvesting Seeds from Colocasia Gigantea - Thailand Giant Strain

April 30, 2010 | 15498 Views | 3 Comments

Colocasia Gigantea Seed PodThis plant will produce seed pods pretty regularly as it grows large enough. Gigantea can commonly self pollinate, though it seems to not breed with others such like Fallax and Affinis. Once mature, beneath the spath (bloom), you should see the pod. In fact, many will have 5 or so spath flowers, each with a pod beneath it, all from a single leaf node. It will likely take several weeks for the pod to ripen and burst - but when it bursts open it's ready. It will look like it has exploded from the inside out (note the photo here).

On the following pages we'll go over the steps to harvesting, soaking, and sowing seeds from the Colocasia Gigantea - Thailand Giant Strain.


Installing a Bamboo Rhizome Barrier to control bamboo

April 28, 2010 | 12301 Views | 7 Comments

Barrier While it is possible to control the spread of bamboo with easier methods, a bamboo barrier is the longest lasting and lowest maintenance method of containing aggressive forms of bamboo. Bamboo rhizomes can be very strong, and they have a sharp tip when growing. Concrete will crack over time and allow the bamboo to escape. Metal will eventually rust through, and poses a hazard where it must stick up above ground. For best results, only a true HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) barrier of at least 40 mil thickness will suffice for the long term control of bamboo. Thicker plastics like 60 mil and 80 mil are also available for additional protection. You'll also need to determine the height (or width) of the barrier. In hard clay soil, some professionals say it is okay to use only a 24 inch wide barrier. However, a 30 wide barrier is safer for most soils. For areas where the soil is sandy and loose, a 36 inch wide barrier may be required. Remember, the greater the width, or height, of the barrier, the deeper you'll have to dig. Only the last two inches of the barrier will be present above the ground. Because we live in an area that has sandy soils, we selected a barrier that was 30 inches wide and 60 mil in thickness. The 60 mil may have been overkill, but it never hurts to be safe with bamboo. You can find these plastics online from several sources, or you may be able to find it locally at a nursery or garden center. On the following pages we will go over the steps to install a bamboo rhizome barrier.


What exactly is Cold Hardy Gardening?

April 28, 2010 | 2410 Views | 0 Comments

A cold hardy tropical garden makes use of plants that recreates the look of the tropics. Many people believe it's impossible to grow tropical plants anywhere north of Florida or Southern California, but this is simply not true. But you too can create a look of the tropics in your yard by selecting cold-hardy varieties of bananas, elephant ears, palms, cannas, bamboo, and other tropical-looking plants. The best part, even the most surprising part, is that you can create a tropical garden look and feel in almost any climate in the Lower 48 states. Some refer to this method of gardening as exotic gardening. Our website, combined with Plantabase, will help you create your own tropical garden where you live - don't let your zone hold you back.


Growing Tips - Bamboo
Growing and Overwintering Hardy Bamboo

April 27, 2010 | 4546 Views | 1 Comments

Typically speaking, bamboos need quite a bit of water to thrive. Just make sure the ground isn't soggy wet as that may actually do them harm. When actively growing, they should be watered thoroughly on a weekly basis. An occasional watering during the winter, especially during dry spells, will help prevent defoliation.

Bamboo should typically not be fertilized (artificially) during its first year in the ground. After that, there are a variety of methods used to fertilize bamboo. Many lawn fertilizer high in nitrogen will suffice, while some experts recommend top-dressing with a slow-release organic fertilizer, such as composted manure. We've also heard of balanced fertilizers like 'Osmocote' being used with great success.

During the first year, perhaps two, you will probably see very little top growth in your bamboo. It is developing its root (rhizome) system and storing food for future above-ground growth. Any culms (shoots) that do appear during the first two years are likely going to be very small - so don't expect much, and don't let small culms get your hopes down after planting bamboo. Rest assured, it'll be growing strong soon. A popular saying about bamboo states that, "The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps!"

Be sure to also check our article about insalling a bamboo rhizome barrier.


Splitting banana pups
This article quickly goes over how to split banana pups from the mother corm

April 25, 2010 | 30569 Views | 4 Comments

Digging bar banana splitIf you've ever grown bananas then you've come to realize pretty quickly they are going to multiply... sometimes quite rapidly. No, bananas are not related to bamboo, but sometimes you might think it. This blog entry it meant to quickly show you just how easy it is to split bananas from one another and away from the "mother corm."

First, you need to select the right tool; and it's not your shovel. Your shovel is too wide to get into the narrow space you're probably digging in and will likely do more damage than not. It also cannot give you the proper leverage you'll need. The best tool we've found and that has been hailed by others as, "perfect for the job," is the digging bar. You can pick one up at your local hardware store for $10-$20 tops. You're looking for a bar that has a broad flat tip, not a sharp one; see the photo on the right.

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