Ladybugs, Monocultures and Biodiversity!

I first got into rose gardening when my mother brought me a small, unlabeled polyantha rose in a pot as a gift when I bought my first house (and had my first garden). I later found out this trusty rose was The Fairy. It grew easily, flowered often and was no fuss. No wonder I fell in love with roses. I thought I would have the same success with all roses. Little did I know the battle I was headed for.

That one little rose bush brought the first ladybugs into my new, emerging garden. I knew very little about gardening back then, and even less about roses, but the gardening bug had bitten me and I was soon buying all sorts of potted plants and was obsessed with anything that bloomed. Soon, I not only had beautiful blooms; I had many of the pests that came along for the ride. The first insects I remember fighting with were aphids. These little green men where attacking the buds on my hibiscus blooms. I remember asking a fella at the Home Depot why my flowers were deformed and he recommended I use a Bayer All In One granule product to get rid of the aphids that were causing the issue. Of course looking back I have to laugh! That’s like using an atomic bomb to try to get rid of a mouse living in the wall. But unfortunately, that’s what I did, and before I knew it. I had more pests and more problems. I added more pesticide, and the cycle kept repeating itself. I had fewer bees, fewer butterflies and no birds visiting my garden. Yet the pests seemed out of control.

I wasn’t until years later, that I realized what I was doing. By using these pesticides, not only was I getting rid of the aphids, I was getting rid of their natural predators in the garden. This was also getting rid of the birds that ate these predators and any other insects. I was ruining the entire ecosystem! I remember going to a new home improvement store that opened up in my neighborhood and being really excited about checking out their new garden section, only to find the entire “gardening” section consisted mostly of pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers. “When did gardening become about killing insects?” I thought to myself. I was horribly disappointed that this is what most people focused on when growing ornamentals. It was what I had done too, and it was sad. I decided to try something new.

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Roses are surrounded by other plants such as mums, dahlias, and Four O’clocks in order to bring diversity to the garden.

The English have always insisted that we as Americans grew roses in an odd way. Recently on the April 2nd issue of the Rose Chat Podcast and interview with British rosarian Michael Marriott brought up the issue of how we in America tend to grow roses by themselves in beds spread far apart (for good air circulation, I’m sure) and usually with no other companion plants. This creates a monoculture of just one species of plant, which is problematic. Disease and pests spread quickly through a monoculture in this manner and its only asking for trouble. You need diversity in the beds to bring a variety of beneficial insects into your garden. I could not agree more with Mr. Marriott. When he mentioned the term, monoculture, my brain screamed, “YES”, this is exactly what we DON’T want to do.

Ever since I started combining my roses with other annual and perennial plants, I have noticed a much healthier, well-rounded and more diverse garden. At first I thought it was just my imagination because the ‘legginess’ of the rose bushes were naturally covered up and it just gave the garden more appeal. But it’s more than just aesthetics. The diversity brings variety to the garden. It brings a variety of insects, pollinators and predators as well as helping fend off disease. Stronger plants defend themselves from disease better and the over all affect is a healthier garden.

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Beneficial insects such as this dragonfly are now common visitors to the garden.

If you leave them, they will come…

I would not have believed it myself had I not seen it with my own two eyes. I always thought, “well that might very well work up north, but here in Florida we have too many insetcts, too much disease pressure, etc”. Yet when I finally stopped the madness of the pesticides, and brought in some variety into the garden beds, it happened.

First I had an infestation of aphids. Oh no! But guess what? The aphids were strictly on the Black Eye Susans and NOT on my roses. Not one aphid was on a single rose bush. I had hundreds of aphids on the tough and sturdy Black Eyed Susans, but none on my roses. I let them be. I didn’t even bother to spray them with the hose. Let them suck on the Susans I thought. At least it keeps them away from my roses. Even then, they were only on the stems and not on the flowers.

Black Eyed Susans bring lady bugs

Black Eyed Susan brings lady bugs to the garden.

Within a couple of weeks I saw an amazing site! Those same aphid-covered Susans were now covered in ladybugs. LADYBUGS! I had not seen a ladybug in my garden in years and now I had 2, 3, no 4, 5, 6 ladybugs of all shapes and sizes crawling all over the Black Eyed Susans. They were on the roses too! And I saw other predatory insects! Dragonflies were everywhere. I even saw a couple of predatory stinkbugs.

I’ve seen more butterflies, bees and beneficial insects in my garden than I have ever seen in all my years of gardening. I also have birds. I have never had birds before, yet now I have birds all over my garden.

I am done with the pesticides and hope that when the chili thrip season comes, I have armed my garden with enough friendly insects to keep them to a minimum. Gardening is not about perfection, nor is it about spraying every insect that comes near your flowerbeds. It is about beauty and diversity, and keeping a good ecosystem going in your garden is key to a healthy, beautiful and wondrous place full of life. And in the end, isn’t that what we want to surround ourselves with when we garden?

See what nature brings to your garden!
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Snapdragons In South Florida

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Snapdragons are tall beautiful flowers that are wonderful for cutting and come in a variety of colors. Yet they are usually grown in cooler climates, most of which are not well suited for South Florida. There are however certain hybrids of snapdragons that do quite well here and will produce blooms for a long season. You just need to know the right ones to grow.

The first thing you need to know about growing snapdragons in our area is that the tall ones never do well here. Tall varieties of snapdragons need cool temperatures for a long time to reach their heights of up to 4 feet. This is something we cannot provide for them, even in our coolest winters. However, dwarf and trailing types do well here and many are well worth growing.

Garden centers and nurseries usually offer a few snapdragons for the South Florida gardener in mid winter, but the choices are very limited so learning to grow them from seed is a great way to bring more variety to the garden. The key is knowing what varieties to sow.

As mentioned before, most tall Snaps wont do well here in South Florida. Warm days and nights causes them to be weak-stemmed and floppy; and even if they do bloom, the flowers are stunted and short. Look for the dwarf or knew-high snaps. These come to bloom faster and some are quite heat tolerant allowing for a longer bloom season. Swallowtail Garden Seeds offers a large variety of dwarf and knee high-snaps that are sure to be successful in your garden.

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The Aromas Series: These above all have performed the best for me. They are easy to grow and have a uniform bloom (meaning they all bloom at the same time) to create a beautiful show. They are particularly heat tolerant blooming well into June and sometimes even surviving the summer and blooming again in the fall. These are by far the best snapdragons we have ever grown and they are well worth the extra price for premium seed. As an added bonus, they are exquisitely fragrant and, like all snapdragons, can last well over a week in the vase. Available at Swallowtail Garden Seeds.

Twinny Snapdragons

The Twinny Series: Here is another winner. These may not be a suitable for cutting but they make excellent bedding plants that bloom profusely and cover themselves in 2-inch, uniquely-double blooms. These are not the traditional tall flower but have more of a ground-cover habit that is attractive along borders or in planters. They are available in softer shades of pink, peach, apricot and white as well as ‘apple blossom’ and ‘bronze’. Available at Park Seed.

Arrow Snapdragons, Snapdragons

The Arrow Series: This is another great choice, especially if you are looking to add a wider color palate to your snapdragon bed. These are a little less heat tolerant than the Aroma series however so you may want to time them so that they get their start in the coolest weeks of the year. And be sure they have adequate water until well established. Arrow seeds can be found at Stokes Seed Co. and come in a variety of lovely colors.

Sowing Snapdragon Seeds:

Snapdragon seeds need light to germinate so place the seed on pre-moistened growing medium and do not cover them or spray them with water. They also need temperatures in the mid 70s to get going so you’ll need to wait until the weather cools a bit to sow them. To get an early start on the season, start them in an air-conditioned closet where they can be kept relatively cool. You’ll need a florescent light spaced just a few inches over the seedlings in order to get them growing happy and avoid legginess and dampening off. You will also need to cover your seeds with clear plastic to allow light in and keep humidity high. Learn more about seed starting here (coming soon!).

Happy Growing!

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Petunia, Delphinium & Angelonia

Some of the petunias I started from seed began blooming today. Here you will see some standard purple petunias, a few double petunias (Double Cascade Mix from Park Seed Co.) and a Lavender Tie-dye series. Two new delphinium plants that I recently added to the garden and a new variety of Angelonia which has very large flowers called Angle Face by Proven Winners. Click through the gallery for more info on each plant.