Monday, January 5, 2009

The first contact

In this picture you'll see my first attempt against the fence. The new bed with small plants was accomplished by laying out the shape with my garden hose, then spraying the grass with roundup. It takes up to 2 weeks for the grass to die, sometimes I had to respray areas that I missed. The nice color is from grass clippings that I piled up every time I mowed the rest of the lawn, starting at one end and covering it with about 10 inches of fresh cuttings. This worked well, as it smothered weeds and any grass that may have survived the roundup, but the cuttings disintegrates very quickly and if it rains before they're entirely dry, it forms a tough almost impenetrable mat. Another problem I encountered with the cuttings is that beetle's love to lay their eggs in/under it - developing into those ugly white grubs and that in turn draws raccoons, who come at night, almost by magic they know I've laid down a fresh load of clippings and they will turn it over making a huge mess. They also love to turn it over once it has settled down and formed a mat and that creates an even bigger mess - will I stop using my cuttings as mulch, no, first of all because its environmentally friendly, 2 nd its a cheap form of intermediate mulch. The small plants in the front new bed, were all bought at Home Depot, these are Florida friendly plants, known to do well in this location. Check your surroundings, see what other people are growing, see whats growing in the median between streets, in the middle of the boulevards, you can almost bet those to be robust plants as the municipality doesn't want to spent too much maintaining and replacing them. Here in South Florida, coco plums and sea grapes, nerium oleander are everywhere and they are very low maintenance plants, the first two are natives. I will post a picture of this new bed later and show you how unbelievable it looks now, just 1 year later. Moral of the story is, buy small plants on sale, buy plants native or well adapted to your area and give father time, the time to grow them into a beautiful medley. Note the mature sizes of your plants and make sure you plant them far enough apart, measure the distance, you WILL have the tendency to plant them too close together and regret it when you have to move them later.

We moved in on November 21st 2006, just before the burst of the real estate bubble.

My "new" ten year old 1/3 acre backyard consisted of St. Augustine grass, 2 dilapidated gardenia bushes, 4 Christmas Palms and one Traveller's Palm. It really was nothing short of a green desert, no life whatsoever.

My first task was to remove the badly nematode damaged gardenia bushes, this was easily done as the roots were so damaged that you could almost just pull them out. They were clearly not doing well in this hot humid climate with alkaline sand for soil. Gardenias require an acid soil, thus my 7.5 pH alkaline soil was causing nutrient deficiency and weakened the plants. Since I figured they are not well adapted to growing here, I opted to remove them altogether since they were not in my overall plan in any way.

I now had an almost clean slate to begin with. I spent many sleepless nights trying to decide how to best divide this pie shaped odd lot into different areas or garden rooms. I wanted to introduce a path with curves and other features. My very first goal was to reduce the size of the lawn to a more manageable size, to reduce the water usage and effort required to mow it.

I decided to frame the border of my yard with large sub-tropical fruit trees and started trying to find a source for these fruit trees. This proved very difficult, I searched the web in vain. In late December 2006, I visited our local Walmart store and luck would have it that they were selling off some large root bound citrus trees. I picked the last Persian lime tree, a beautiful looking specimen in a 10 gal container, the original price $250, marked down to $50. At the checkout the lady scanned it and announced I owed a whopping $12 ! My very first tree, the largest in my yard was bought for a mere $12 ! Its 2 years later and that same lime tree is only now showing signs of vigorous growth, in addition to the myriad of pests attacking it - but that's a story for another day.

I also found some dwarf bananas on sale at Walmart for $3.97 each, so I bought two containers and searched for containers that had already made suckers or had more than one plant in them, one container had 3 suckers, the other had 2.

So now I had 2 banana's and one lime tree, and a huge empty backyard and no idea where to plant them.

Around this time I bought some solo papayas at Costco and saved the seeds and started growing some plants. They grew very quickly and by spring 2007, I planted some of them next to the bananas. They quickly grew very tall, fruited in 9 months, but sadly all the fruit were ridden with fruit fly larvae. I lost the largest papaya tree to some raccoons, they tried to climb it and broke the top right off, now it was half the size of the others and looked strange, I left it and it quickly grew two stems instead of the normal one.

I decided to plant the lime tree close to the kitchen and planted it far enough from the patio so that it would have space to grow, but close enough so you could just quickly pop out to pick a fresh lime for my Corona. Let me tell you, my first encounter with 10 year old St. Augustine grass about a foot thick was not pleasant. To remove that ring of sod for the lime tree, took me a couple of hours of back breaking work. Luckily digging the hole was a breeze as we have sand for soil. I dug up the previous owners pet dog's bracelet in the process.

Now I had two bananas left and nowhere to plant them. So I decided this is it, time to start my first "mixed shrub" bed. I opted for the northern side of the house, next to the fence on my neighbours zero lot line (see picture above). I quickly discovered that removing a large area of St. Augustine grass is back breaking work. Over the course of various weekends, I enlarged this area to about a size of 40 feet by about 10 feet. I used a garden hose to make nice curves and planned the curves all the way to the back of the lot. I planted my two "dwarf" bananas close to each other since the label on the container said max height 3 feet - yeah right, those bananas grew to 10 feet and turned out to be Cavendish dwarfs, but definitely not 3 feet tall. I've had 3 bunches of bananas already. I have also divided some of the suckers by simply digging in with my spade and cutting them off from the parent plant, potting them into some well rotten manure, keeping them in shade and then planting or giving some away.

This was the first and only time I manually removed the St. Augustine grass. Even me, the great environmentalist finally gave in and I bought some roundup and killed sections of lawn as I was ready to landscape it (see new curved bed in picture above).

I joined the home depot garden club and every now and then I get a 10% coupon or buy one get one free or half off plant. I also scour the plant sections always on the lookout for sales. I bought a few small perennials at about $4 each.

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