Plant Installation and Propagation

With spring here, I figured I’d share with you a booklet I made about Planting and Propagation. It’s great for a beginner and has some information that some gardeners might have forgotten or never heard about.  I hope you like it.

Plant installation would seem to be so easy that instructions shouldn’t be needed.  Just dig a hole, plop in the plant, and water.  Unfortunately, this process causes more problems for owners than they know.  By focusing on the how, they forget the where, when, and the why behind it.  This leads to trees being planted right next to the house, roots invading plumbing, or the plant simply dying “mysteriously”.

Before planting anything, some questions need to be answered:

  • What are the soil requirements?
  • How much sun does it need?
  • How is the drainage in the area?
  • How big will the plant be when fully grown?
  • How will this plant affect other plants around it?
  • What obstacles are in the way?

All of these factor in how well the plant will survive after installation.

Soil requirements:  The PH of the soil needs to match he needs of the plant.  If it doesn’t the plant will not produce the flowers or fruit you want, become weak, have sickly yellow leaves instead of green, and be more susceptible to pests and diseases.



Most plants prefer a neutral PH but some (Azalea, Gardenia, Blueberry) prefer acidic soil while others (Juniper, Austrailian Pine, Iris) prefer alkaline soils.

To acidify the soil, add sulfur.  Add lime to make it more alkaline.

Sun requirements:  It’s important to make sure that the sunlight hitting the area matches the needs of the plant.  Too much sunlight can wash out the leaves, giving them a faded/whitish look.  Too little can mute the colors of variegated leaves.  Luckily, plants come with tags that point out how much sun they need.

Drainage:  The soils ability to drain excess water can help or kill a plant.  Too much drainage will raise the maintenance level of the plant and reduce the effects of liquid fertilizer, while too little drainage will drown the plant.  The average amount of time for water to drain in good soil is roughly a half hour.

You can add clay to soil that drains too fast and sand to soil that drains too slow.

You can also install a plant half way in the ground and mound up soil around it to counter act poor drainage.

Size aka The Clifford syndrome:  One of the biggest problems I’ve encountered is a huge plant in a tiny spot.   I call this “The Clifford Syndrome”.  People see a young plant at the garden center, think it’s cute, and bring it home without realizing that the plant is going to grow into a giant.  (This is why you see Plumbago growing up against the walls of houses.)


When deciding on where to plant you need to take into account not only the height when fully grown, but the spread, and the depth and width of the root system.  (As seen by all the cracked and raised sidewalks around town.)

Effects on other plants:  The new plant can affect the lives of other plants around it by limiting their exposure to sunlight, changing the PH of the soil through leaf drop, and stealing the nutrients through over aggressive root systems.  Some plants are so extreme they can choke out a plant by reproducing offspring that clumps around them.

Obstacles:  Buried electrical lines can ruin you day as well buried gas and water lines.  You should always have the utility company mark where these lines are if you aren’t sure.  Also keep in mind of past hardscapes that became buried.  Nothing’s worse than digging three inches into the ground and hitting a slab of concrete.

Once all of these are taken into consideration, its dig time!

When it comes to digging, you don’t want the hole to evenly match the shape of the pot.  No.  You want the hole twice as wide as the pot holding the plant and about a quarter deeper that the height of the pot.  This will give the plant loose soil to grow into as it establishes itself into the landscape.  After digging to the proper depth, fill in the bottom until the top of the root ball is even with the ground around it.


The extra width of the hole also allows you to mix the good nursery/potting soil with the native soil.  This helps the roots transition into the native soil.  You also get more room for roots after teasing them from the ball.

Teasing is the term used when unwrapping tight roots that have grown around the inner circumference of the pot.  If left alone the roots will girdle and stunt the growth of the plant.  The girdled roots will also severely limit the plants ability to anchor itself against wind and storms as well as limit the area it can get food from.

To tease the roots, you pull them away from the ring shape they grew into.  Sometimes there are so many roots that the plant has become pot bound.  At this point, cutting the roots is required to encourage proper spreading.


After teasing the roots, and setting the plant in its bed, its best if you add a layer of soil around it, water it thoroughly, add more soil, and water again, like a layer cake until the soil reaches the level of the ground around it.  Planting this way will eliminate air pockets that will damage the roots system.


After all this is done, you can add encapsulated, slow release fertilizer if you want.  Any other fertilizer is not recommended until the plant is established because the root ends are tender and the plant itself is stressed from all the teasing, and moving, and soil change.  Regular fertilizer should be added after the plant is established firmly in the bed.

After the installation, the plant needs to be watered every day for the first two weeks, every other day for the next week, every third day for the week after, and so on until it reaches the standard once a week rule.  Building a ring around the plant will help retain the water where the roots are while this happens.  The ring can then be broken and blended in with the top of the soil after a month.

It may seem like a lot of extra work, but following these steps will ensure a healthy, long lived plant in your yard.


You can propagate plants through seed, or cloning.  Seed will give you offspring similar to the parent plant while cloning will give you the exact same plant.

Planting a seed is like planting a plant, but on a smaller scale.

Cloning can be done in many different ways.

Division:  Plants such as areca palms, ginger, mother-in-law tongue, and aloe can all be reproduced just by digging them up, cutting them in half between clumps and then replanting or repotting.  It’s one of the easiest ways to clone.


Layering:  This is done with plants that have long, flexible branches. You scrape off the outer layer of the branch revealing the cambium layer (The light green area sometimes called the inner bark)and bury it under a mound of soil.  By watering this mound you are encouraging roots to grow.  After the roots are formed, you can cut the baby off the parent plant, creating a clone.  (Using rooting hormone – Rootone- helps)


Air layering:  This is done when the branches are too stiff or too high to bend into the ground.  As in layering, you cut the bark or outer layer off the branch to be cloned, you then dust the cambium layer with rooting hormone, take roughly a one liter bottle sized amount of sphagnum peat moss that has been soaked in water and wrap it around the branch. Finally, take some cling wrap or saran wrap and wrap the moss firmly around the moss and the ends of the parent plant and cone to be.  You want the wrap to be tight enough so that air doesn’t escape, but not so tight that you crush the mound of moss.  Once you see roots growing around on the inside of the wrap, you can cut it off the parent plant, unwrap it, and plant in a pot until the roots are strong enough for the outdoors.


Gardening is a great way to get outdoors and help something grow.  It can be both fun and challenging. I hope these steps inspire you to try it out for yourself.

Food hedges, an addition to veggie gardening.

With winter going on strong, I thought it’d be a good idea to talk about gardens and food hedges.

No.  I’m not out of my mind.  I know there’s tons of snow out there, but now is a great time to get planning on your spring garden.   Even if you don’t start planting until late March to mid-April, planning your garden now will help push the cold away; even if for just a little while.

The one think I’ve found with my every changing garden is that I prefer perennials over annuals when it comes to plants.  I do enjoy planting tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans and the like for my veggie garden; but I also like to incorporate plants that only need to be planted once that will bring me years of food without all the work involved that annual planting brings.  In short, I love the plants but hate the digging.

One way of doing this is a food hedge or “Fedge”.  A food hedge is nothing more than a row of bushes that produce either a fruit or a nut.  The fruit versions are easy enough.  Blue berry, black berry, or raspberry plants all make great hedges.  You could even mix the latter two up without changing the texture of the hedge.  If you live in the seep south or Florida like I do, you can plant different plants like Surinam Cherry or even Sea Grape.  Both produce fruit and will make for a great hedge.  (I’ve made three hedges out of Surinam Cherry and it holds up very well to shaping and continuous trimming.)

Nuts are a little trickier.   Yes you can make hedges out of what would normally be a nut tree.   What you have to do is first find the nut trees that grow best in your area and then buy small saplings of them.  When the start getting roughly ¾ the size you want, cut out the central leader (The main branch in the middle) so that the side branches take over.  You’ll probably have to “train” your new “bush” for the next five years, but it will grow into a hedge if you do your part.

If you think you’ll get more berries or nuts than you’ll ever use, don’t worry, the birds and squirrels will help you with that.  Come harvest time, those critters will be more than happy to help you with any extras.  (They’ll also inspire you to harvest the fruit or nuts when it’s time as well.)

If you’re just going to plant fruit or nut hedges for the wildlife, I recommend asking for any “white” or alba versions (cultivars).  That way any, um… residue will not stain either your driveway or car.

Food hedges are a great way to expand the “outdoor fridge” of your garden.  Once established, they take little maintenance.  And kids love them.

Gardening tip: Chop and drop for fall harvest and winter prep

It’s mid-September and if you’re like me, you have harvested or are planning to harvest your summer crops from the garden.

For the light planting we did I was fairly pleased with the results.  Our tomatoes lasted until mid-July and the Peppers did great all summer.  The few peanuts I grew did fantastic even with the competition from multiple weeds.  (An experiment on my part.)

What did disappoint me were the sweet potatoes.  Planted in late June, few grew and those that did were far deeper in the soil than my friends.  His potatoes grew near the surface and would “peek out” when ready to be harvested.  I suspect the heaviness of our soil had something to do with it.

Since I live in Florida where the sun hits frequently, I took all the plant debris, cut it up into eight inch pieces and threw it into the composter for the winter.  It does fairly well during the winter and I bet it would be more efficient if I painted the thing flat black to absorb even more heat.  (Or that could just bake the beneficial microbes and insects that break down the plant material into soil)

But if I was living further north where I had only the summer for a good planting season, I’d go way with my plant debris.  I’d use a variation of the Chop and Drop.

Chop and drop is exactly as it sounds.  You grow specific plants that can either draw up nutrients from deep in the soil or those that help fix the nutrients in the soil.  Comfry and Clover can be used for this, but so can a wide variety of plants.  Bean plants are a great choice.  Not only do they provide food for you, but the leaves absorb nitrogen from the air and store it in their root system.  By cutting the tops of them at the end of the season, you release the nitrogen back into the soil as the roots rot while the leaves and branches add to the soil as they break down on top.  The goal of Chop and Drop is to recreate what happens in the forest.  If you ever take a walk in the woods on a beautiful fall day, you will see all the leaves piling up upon the ground with the bottom layer soggy and composting back into the earth.  That is the exact same effect we are creating with the chop and Drop method.


You could also add in some of those pesky leaves you have to rake up every year.  A layer about six inches should do.  Just be careful when using oak leaves or pine needles as they are acidic and can change the ph of your soil.

Let the winter snow cover them in its white blanket and don’t worry about it.

So what happens when spring comes and the leaves and debris are still there?  You celebrate.  Maybe not all of the leaves and branches have decomposed into the gardens soil, but some of it has.  Leave the debris on to catch as much of the April showers as possible, then when you are ready to plant your summer crops, turn over the soil and mix the leaves and branches into the soil.  You’ve now aerated the soil and added organic slow release fertilizer and moisture “banks” that hold and release water slowly, allowing you to use less from the hose.

Don’t want the hassle of mixing in the leftover debris into the soil?  Then don’t.  Just push way the leaves in the spots where you want to plant the seeds and leave the rest alone.  You will have an established mulch system that will prevent most weed seeds while allowing water to enter the soil and help protect it from evaporation.

In my mind, this process has taken out my concern with proper composting.  No longer do I care if everything in the tumbler is breaking down completely.  If it doesn’t, I just dump in in my garden beds and till it in with my shovel.  There the nutrients and moisture control contents blend into the soil and help the next set of crops.  Last year’s plant debris are chock full of the fertilizer nutrients I put in last season, who says I can’t use them again.

If you’d like to learn more of the Chop and Drop method of soil enhancement, check out Geoff Lawton, Permaculture consultant, designer, and teacher.

Not from Geoff Lawton, but a great vid showing how to do it.


Gardening Tip: Amending the soil

While congress might be on vacation from a rigorous session of doing nothing, you can follow in the footsteps of our nation’s founding fathers by creating your own amendments… to the soil that is.

After finding your soil’s composition and PH, you want to decide if it needs any supplemental ingredients in the form of amendments.

Amendments can help one or multiple jobs of the soil.

They can help hold in moisture.

Help soil aeration

Provide a better hold for young roots.

Provide long term, slow release nutrient availability.

So how do you know if you need any amendments?  By sight and feel.

Look at the soil in your planting area.  How does it look?  Is it nice and dark or does it seem dusty and ashy like campfire residue?

Grab a handful.  How does it feel?  Does it feel moist and crumbly like a crumbly cupcake, or is it dusty like flour?

If you think your soil leans to ashy flour, then it’s a good idea to amend the soil.

Amending the soil is a very simple process.  The hardest part is deciding what to amend it with.

Here are some basic choices:

I’ll also add in salad fixings and egg shells.

Perlite and Vermiculite will resemble either clean or dirty Styrofoam shavings.  Both are made from rock and hold moisture very well.  Their multiple “pockets” slowly release the moisture into the soil and provide oxygen to the plants.  Bought in bags, it is quickly spread and easily tilled into the soil.

Tree bark, Pine needles, and Sphagnum moss will give young roots a better hold into the soil while providing wither better moisture or aeration to the soil as well.  Be careful though as they are all acidic to some degree and can change the PH of your soil.  Being plant material all three offer a very slow release of nutrients.






Wood ash adds nitrogen to your soil and will help break up clay intensive soil mixes.

Egg shells add calcium and salad fixings add organic matter as well as nutrients into the soil as they rot.  It may sound silly to say this, but make sure when burying the salad fixings that you don’t bury any seeds.  If it’s in a flower area, you just planted weed seeds and if in the vegetable garden, you’ve most likely planted a competing plant that doesn’t produce as well.  (unless your salad is created from heirloom vegetables)

Egg shells should be crushed up as small as possible to help release the calcium into the soil.

I like to amend the soil after the harvest.  I’m already disturbing the soil and it gives the amendments time to “settle” before the next planting season.

Also, don’t be afraid to chop up the rest of the plants and till them into the soil as well.  They create great compost to the soil and recycle some of the nutrients they took out while growing.

Gardening tip: Getting down and dirty with soil

Next to weather and climate, the biggest influence on your plants is the soil they are planted in.  How your plant lives and thrives is pretty much determined by the soil.

Does it hold enough water?

Does it hold too much?

Is it the right PH for the plant?

Will hit hold it up right?

Are there enough nutrients in it?

These questions are really easy to answer and will help boost your plants potential.

When it comes to moisture control and the ability to hold the plant, a single test can determine both for you.

It’s called the ribbon test.

All you do is take a handful of soil from the area you want to put the plant and get it wet.  Not sloshy wet, but moist wet. You want that handful of soil to be like cookie dough or play dough.

Roll it up into your palm like you would with clay, so that it’s tubular, reminding you of a large Tootsie roll.

Then hold it in your hand and use your thumb to squeeze it against the middle of your first finger.

If the soil falls apart immediately upon squeezing, you have sandy or silty soil.  This soil will not retain water well and is less able to hold the plant correctly.  You want to add clay to it.

If it makes a ribbon about three inches long or longer, then you have clay soil.  This soil will hold water very well, but won’t let enough oxygen in, nor will it let roots grow.  Also, when dry, it will actually wick away moisture from the plant and act like a mini oven in the heat.  You’ll want to mix in some sand.

If the ribbon reaches an inch or two, then the soil is a good mix and considered a loam.  It will hold moisture well, hold the plant up right, and provide enough room for roots and oxygen.

What about PH?  What is PH?

PH is the acid or alkaline amount in the soil.

Why is it important?

Remember those Secret deodorant commercials?  “Strong enough for a man, PH balanced for a woman”?

Your plants are the same way.  They all want the strength of the soil to hold them against the wind, but they also want the PH to be personally adjusted for them.

So how do find this mysterious ingredient in your soil?

Well, you could go dig up soil from different areas and drive down to an agricultural extension agent and have them test it.


You can buy a test kit at your local garden/hardware/home improvement store.

After you buy the test, just follow the instructions and it will tell you the PH of your soil by color spectrum or number.

PH of 1 through 7 is acidic, 7 through 14 is alkaline.   6.5 to 7.5 are considered neutral.

“Great!”  You say, “I now know the PH of my soil, but it won’t work for the plant I want.  Now what?”

That’s easy.  Change it.

If the soil is too acidic, add lime.  If it’s too alkaline, add sulfur.  The instructions on the bag will tell you how much to use and the plant itself will tell you if it needs a little more and when.

These basic tests will help you know your soil and give your plants the best chance for a good start and great life.  Given the amount of money and time you’ll spend on plants alone, this little bit will  help make sure it’s spent well.

Thoughts of: Hibiscus

Hibiscus shrubs are the most popular plant in Southern Florida.  With their quick-growing rate; their lush, green foliage; and their bright, showy flowers blooming almost year round is it any wonder why they’re so popular?  Planted as a hedge or high border, you’ll have a cacophony of color.

There is a downside though.  Along with the continuous blooms of color come with it the continuous assaults from myriads of pests.

Thrips, Mealy Bugs, Aphids, White Fly, and Spider Mites are just the most common of pests you will see dinning on the prized plants.

Never fear for there is a safe, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive way to treat these vermin.

Soap.  Liquid dish soap to be exact.  Dawn, Palmolive, Ivory, etc…  Just add two ounces of your standard liquid dish soap into a spray bottle, fill the rest with water and you are ready to go.  Just spray the undersides of the leave and flowers and you will kill all the insects invading your plants.

The liquid dish soap also has another benefit.  When used in the spring and summer months, the concoction will also act as a fungicide.  Just as soap dries out your hands, It will also dry the skin of the plant protecting it from the dense fog and high humidity common to the Southern Florida region during these seasons.

If you feel that the soap is too harsh and is causing leaf drop, just gently spray the plant down with water one hour after administering the home-made insecticide.

Hibiscus plants and their flowers are a treasured piece of Florida’s heritage and with just a little bit of work you can ensure their health so everyone can enjoy their beauty.

Here’s some more for you.

(This post brought to you for the Trifecta Challenge.)

Ramblings on: An orange tree

An orange tree grows in an empty lot.  It wasn’t always empty.  Not too long ago it was accompanied by a little house.  The house was new.  A model for a construction company to showcase its ability to put detail into affordable homes.  Detailed it was with floor molding and a dusting of gingerbread on the outside.  Its first owners were a couple that showed their love for the house by adding to it.  They attached to it a large lanai in the back and a shed for their equipment.  Heavy railroad ties were meticulously cut and stacked to make a raised bed for a row of roses.  Ground was dug for various small ponds and trees were planted for their beauty.

After a few years, they sold the house and moved away.  A new couple moved in.  Blessed with children this couple didn’t have the money to expand or redecorate the house.  Instead, they showed their love by maintaining it.  They mowed and vacuumed and dusted and polished every weekend.  And when they found a little extra money, they did something to put their mark on the little house.  They planted an orange tree.

The tree was small, but held promise.  The father of the family took care and showed his children the right way of planting the tree so that it would grow strong and live well.

Then one day, they lost the house.  Not to the market crashing or loss of a job.  No the economy was in a boom when it happened.  For some reason the chairman of the county commissioners got the idea that the whole neighborhood and those surrounding it would be an ideal place to turn into a metropolis.  Never mind that nobody was asking for one.  So with a great pitch of jobs, money, and better economy coming into the county; the board of commissioners agreed with his plan and voted to get the land by Eminent Domain.

There was nothing the family could do.  They took the money that was offered and moved away.  Soon after other’s came in to strip the house of what items could be salvaged and given to Goodwill.  The ponds, the shed, the light fixtures, even the proverbial kitchen sink were all stripped from the house until all that remained was a windowless shell of a house.  Then the bulldozers came.  It didn’t take them long to finish up what the strippers started.  By the time they were done, all that was left was the driveway.  A week later that was gone.  Nothing survived, but that little orange tree.  There had been no fruit on it at the time and it was so small that nobody could be bothered with it.  It stood there silently through all the commotion and was left in silence.

The deleopment never happend.  After hearing about the eminent domain of houses, the people turned on the commissioners.  The chairman quit and moved away.  Various companies came with plans but all quickly resinded them upon hearing the how the land was aquired and the disapproval that came with it.  Finally the husing market crashed and no words of builing or development have been uttered since.

It didn’t take long for nature to take back what was once hers.  Oblivious to it all, nature continued on her way.  First with the weeds and then the grass, and finally some shrubs.  Without  as  much as a peep, nature remade the land.  Through it all the little orange tree grew.  It grew strong, tall and full.  And now the tree planted with love provides the food and shelter to those creatures great and small that know where to look.