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Good rains come and go in Lee County

July 15, 2011
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS, Garden Club of Cape Coral

Yeah, for our inches and inches of rain all around Lee County. It seems finally everyone in the county got a fair share last month.

I know people out in the Lehigh and Buckingham areas received more than a fair share some days - a mixed blessing for sure.

Even with all the sultry heat and extra rain, right now it is a good time to plant a tree or two, or a hot tropical bush. Try something with color and with a beautiful scent.

My hope is for everyone to plant the easy care tree called plumeria. This tree

is tropical/subtropical in nature, salt tolerant and drought tolerant. It is also called a frangipani or a pagoda tree - a perfect tree for our area, especially west of I 75. It is growing well on the east side, but it gets pretty cold over there in the winter nowadays and a temp of 33 or less for too long can be a problem.

Visitors to Hawaii will remember the beautifully scented lai of flowers at the

airport. Those beautiful neckpieces are crafted from the beautiful waxy blooms of the plumeria trees.

I have a full-grown tree on the north side of the house and it did not suffer any damage the last two winters. It is approximately 8 years old and it tolerated the cold north wind that blows across that lake.

It has not been in that place for its entire 8 years. It lived in the black plastic pot that I received it in, a gift from a fellow gardener, for almost 4 years before I could decide just where it should go - a guessing game because I never looked for any information about the tree.

I made a great choice, planting it at the northeast corner between a mature queen palm and the lanai screen. It is at least 8 feet tall and has a wide squat canopy that can be seen from any point of the lania.

While in the pot, it sat in afternoon sum with nice green foliage and received rain water and sprinkler water. It could drain well and I never feed it much - it thrived on my neglect. My friend had said do not look for blooms for a couple of years, so I was not worrying about that. The first early spring I planted it there were flowers - scented and very beautiful golden yellow with a trim of white.

Every year it just kept growing, faster in the soil than in the pot, and more and more flowers.

Picking one flower is like picking a little bouquet. I hardly ever pick more than one at a time for a slender glass vase. They seem to last about 3 days, inside or outside.

There is one feature that may dismay some people. It does drop all of the unpicked blooms and its large green leaves. The leaves become brown and crispy and they are clipped up well by the lawn mower. Some people consider this a messy habit.

The leaves will look unsightly for awhile as the major bloom times declines and the tree gets ready for its dormant period. Mine starts blooming in late March and the blooms are easy to pick, until this month, there are still blooms but they are way up near the top where I cannot reach.

The leaves are not showing any rust spots as yet, but they will. I just ignore them because they will soon be slowly falling off. The tree will become completely naked until next spring.

I do not consider a naked, (deciduous) tree in my landscape a problem. I would not like a whole lot of this bare look, however it gives the landscape an artistic look and it does allow the winter sun to shine upon a bed of cannas and a couple of other bedding spots.

I have not fed the tree for years, the roots are way down in soil and it evidently gets what it needs from lawn fertilizer or from other things nearby that get spread around.

I would mention that in the winter, and growing in a pot, you do not need to fertilize the tree. It does like moist soil, very well drained. As a dormant pot tree, it does just fine left alone in the sun.

When do you plant your potted tree into soil? You do not have to but it will be

necessary to give it food, preferably something with a 15-30-15 granular type.

Remember this is for a potted tree, which gets nothing from the soil. The tree growing happily out in soil really does not need any fertilizer help.

I know someone will have some terrible sandy soil and the tree will not do well, but for all intent and purposes, this is a carefree tree. The only way to really kill it seems to be with too much water and not enough sun.

The really fun thing to do with the plumeria is to cut off a branch of your tree and lay it on down and let the bottom dry off for a week or so. I let some lay around for a month and when I potted them up they started growing nicely.

It is really fun and very surprising to people to find out they can take a stick of wood and place it in some damp soil and it will grow into a beautiful tree.

You have probably been at plant sales and seen them being sold. It does work too. Just take it home and plant it in a pot, larger than 10 inches, and let it be.

If you receive a limb from a friend, and it is not potted, clip off the leaves that might be growing. They will soon sprout again, but you want the new root system to get started and growing its own family.

I attended a plumeria seminar at the Lee county Extension Service this past week. It was a great experience. Alan Bunch, a plumeria grower of many years, from Seffner, Fla., presented a great program about his trips to Hawaii to purchase his plumeria cuttings and trees.

He also explained that pollination is by a spider, or a butterfly or a moth.

I am not going to get into the plumeria species and sex life of the over 100 kinds of plumeria, however, of interest in buying a tree is to check the name of the tree and make sure, if fragrance is important to you, that particular tree does have a fragrance. The fragrance will be very sweet with a tree by the name of "Singapore," exceptionally sweet. It is best to buy a young plant with more than one tip (stem) because it will bear flowers on each tip. It may cost more but if you see a bud on one with a flower, that is the one to buy if you want flowers right away.

There is also a new patio plumeria. It's scented, and will grow no taller than 5 feet, at it's highest.

The plumeria, pudica is becoming popular. It is also called the bridal bouquet. With white flowers, it is not scented but grows as a straight up tree and may fit into the landscape as an accent tree for a small space, or along a driveway.

The colors of the plumeria are fantastic. Plain red, golden, all manner of pinks and white with yellow centers and more.

It may be hard to find a good supply of these trees in Lee County. The Extension Service office can give you further information about Mr. Bunch and his offerings.

The least expensive way is to have a friend with a plumeria tree. They will have to trim it sometimes and every single branch can become a beautiful tree, in time.

When you get a branch and forget which end is up, look for the smiley face on the limb. You want that to be up when you plant it. The sticks started upside down will grow but take a long time for the bottom to get to the top.

Even though this tree thrives on sun and water, remember it will never get too much sun but water must come and then go.

Keep cool and happy gardening until we meet again.

H. I. Jean Shields is past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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