Native vegetation evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and animals. This long process brings us several gardening advantages. Native plants provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife, while contributing greatly to healthy soil and water in urban and rural areas. Native plants attract a variety of birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by providing diverse habitats and food sources.
In the U.S., approximately 20 million acres of lawn are cultivated, covering more land than any single crop. Unfortunately, there are very few benefits to native wildlife from a manicured lawn. Likewise, gardens that mostly feature non-native species of plants are often of little benefit to wildlife.
Natural landscaping is an opportunity to reestablish diverse native plants, thereby inviting the birds and butterflies back home. By creating a native plant garden, each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.
A native plant garden or large planting with a diversity of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses provides food and shelter for insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals throughout the growing season.
Leaving seed heads and plant structure throughout winter provides continuing food and shelter for many creatures and provides opportunities to observe nature up close. To underscore the importance of native plants to birds, virtually all terrestrial birds feed their young insects. Native plants provide food for insects, and insects provide food for birds. With no insects, we would have no birds.
Native wildflowers, flowering vines, shrubs, and trees offer a wide range of colors, textures and forms to create dynamic seasonal displays. Grasses and sedges have interesting flowers and seed heads and yellow–orange fall color. Shrubs and trees have fall color and berries that persist into the winter. Choosing a wide assortment of plants ensures seasonal interest, with the bonus of attracting colorful birds, butterflies and insects.
Some of the many benefits of native plantings are:
Save Water: Once established, many native plants need minimal irrigation beyond normal rainfall.
Low Maintenance: Low maintenance landscaping methods are a natural fit with native plants that are already adapted to the local environment. Look forward to using less water, little to no fertilizer, little to no pesticides, less pruning, and less of your time.
Pesticide Freedom: Native plants have developed their own defenses against many pests and diseases. Since most pesticides kill indiscriminately, beneficial insects become secondary targets in the fight against pests. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use lets natural pest control take over and keeps garden toxins out of our creeks and watersheds.
Wildlife Viewing: Native plants, birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and interesting critters are “made for each other.” Research shows that native wildlife prefers native plants.
Support Local Ecology: As development replaces natural habitats, planting gardens, parks, and roadsides with native plantings can provide a “bridge” to nearby remaining wild lands and wetlands.
Learn more by coming back to DeltonaGardenClub.com
But did you know it may also be good for the garden? Using milk as fertilizer has been an old-time remedy in the garden for many generations. In addition to helping with plant growth, feeding plants with milk can also alleviate many issues in the garden, from calcium deficiencies to viruses and powdery mildew.
Let’s find out how to take advantage of the beneficial fertilizer components in milk.
Milk Fertilizer Benefits
Milk is a good source of calcium, not only for humans, but for plants as well. Raw, or unpasteurized, cow’s milk has some of the same nourishing properties for plants that it has for animals and people. It contains beneficial proteins, vitamin B and sugars that are good for plants, improving their overall health and crop yields. The microbes that feed on the fertilizer components of milk are also beneficial to the soil. Like us, plants use calcium for growth.
A lack of calcium is indicated when plants look stunted and don’t grow to their full potential. Blossom end rot, which is commonly seen in squash, tomatoes and peppers, is caused by a calcium deficiency. Feeding plants with milk ensures they will get enough moisture and calcium.
Feeding plants with milk has been used with varying effectiveness in pesticide applications, especially with aphids. Perhaps the best use of milk has been in reducing the transmission of mosaic leaf viruses such as tobacco mosaic.
Milk has been used as an effective antifungal agent, specifically in the prevention of powdery mildew.
Drawbacks to Feeding Plants with Milk
Along with the benefits of using milk fertilizer, one must include its drawbacks.
•Using too much milk isn’t a good idea since the bacteria in it will spoil, resulting in a foul odor and wilty, poor growth.
•The fat in milk can produce unpleasant odors as it breaks down as well.
•The benign fungal organisms that colonize leaves and break down milk can be aesthetically unattractive.
Dried skim milk has been reported to induce black rot, soft rot, and Alternaria leaf spot on treated cruciferous crops.
Even with these few drawbacks, it’s plain to see that the benefits far outweigh any downsides.
Using Milk Fertilizer on Plants
So what type of milk can be used as milk fertilizer in the garden?
I like to use milk that is past its date (great way to recycle), but you can use fresh milk, evaporated milk, or even powdered milk as well. It is important that you dilute the milk with water.
Mix a solution of 50 percent milk and 50 percent water. When using milk fertilizer as a foliar spray, add the solution to a spray bottle and apply to plant leaves. The leaves will absorb the milk solution. However, keep in mind that some plants, like tomatoes, are prone to developing fungal diseases if the fertilizer remains on the leaves too long.
If the solution is not being absorbed adequately, you can gently wipe down the leaves with a wet cloth or spray them with water.
Less milk can be used if you have a lot of plants to feed, as with a large garden area. Using a garden hose sprayer is a common method for feeding plants with milk in large gardens, as the flowing water keeps it diluted. Continue spraying until the entire area is coated.
Distribute about 5 gallons of milk per acre or about 1 quart of milk per 20-by-20-foot patch of garden. Allow the milk to soak into the ground. Repeat every few months, or spray once at the beginning of the growing season and again during mid-season.
Alternatively, you can pour the milk mixture around the base of the plants where the roots will gradually absorb the milk. This works well in smaller gardens. You can place the top portion of a 2-liter bottle (upside down) in the soil next to new plants at the beginning of the season. This makes an excellent reservoir for both watering and feeding plants with milk.
Do not treat the area with any form of chemical pesticide or fertilizer after applying milk fertilizer. This can affect the main fertilizer components in milk that actually help the plants—bacteria. While there may be some odor from the decaying bacteria, the aroma should subside after a few days.
If you’re looking for an unusual plant to fill an empty pot, consider Billbergia nutans. Also known as queen’s tears or the friendship plant, this member of the Bromeliaceae family grows almost anywhere in common soil or no soil and with little care. The plant’s nearly indestructible foliage and unusual blooms provide an exotic accent to a deck, doorway or flowerbed.
History and habitat
Billbergia nutans was named for the Swedish botanist, zoologist and anatomist Gustaf Johan Billberg (1772-1844). Nutans means “nodding,” a description for its undulating blooms.
A native of Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, this bromeliad is also found in Mexico and Central America, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina. Generally an epiphytic in its native habitat, flourishing on rocks and trees, Queen’s tears also thrives on the subtropical forest floor and in the well-drained soil of gardens or containers. As a ground cover, the plant spreads quickly growing outward from the original rhizome.
This monocot’s thick grasslike grey-green leaves with saw tooth edges and pointed tips present themselves in funnel-shaped rosettes. Each rosette, approximately 12 to 15 leaves, can reach heights of over 15 inches. Once a year, in springtime, a long arching pink stem emerges from the rosette’s center bearing one of the most striking of floral color combinations I’ve ever seen.
Imagine this long arching pink stem topped with day-glo reddish pink pendant bracts bursting with flowers.
And that’s not all.
The blooms hang in clusters, tubular in form, with three backward curved pink sepals with violet-blue margins, three reflexed lime-green petals outlined in navy blue to purple, and six protruding stamens one inch long with bright yellow anthers.
The blooms exude nectar. Sticky and clear, these visible droplets are often described as “weeping,” which occurs when the plant is touched or moved. These “tears” in combination with the purple color of royalty that outlines the lime-green petals, is the reason for its common name queen’s tears. Since this bromeliad readily produces new offsets called “pups” that are dividable from the original plant and easily shared. If you are fortunate to receive “a start” from a friend, remember that most Billbergia nutans need two to three years to mature before flowering.
Tolerant of drought, queen’s tears can survive months without water. This plant obtains moisture and nutrients from rain or overhead watering or misting, not from the roots. If you place your plant in a pot with a saucer, do not allow water to accumulate in the saucer, which leads to root rot. Use regular garden soil or planting soil and keep the soil slightly dry. Repot and/or divide when the rosettes overgrow their container. Billbergia nutans prefers partial shade and can scorch in full sun. A location beneath an overhang or tree is best.
Queen’s tears is hardy for USDA Zones 8-11. My plant, which I obtained as an offset from a friend, grows outdoors in a pot – a sturdy survivor of several Vacaville winters.
Launa Herrmann is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, call the Master Gardener’s office at 784-1322.
When planning your USDA zone 9b garden, begin with the trees that love mild winters and hot summers.
The time to plant trees is now 🌳
Consider your garden’s “microclimates”, whether warmer or colder than the average within your hardiness zone, sun exposure, space available and soil type. Always check the recommended hardiness zone for the species and cultivar before making a final selection for your home orchard.
Native to Central America, the avocado (Persea americana) has been cultivated since at least 500 B.C. This subtropical tree grows in zones 8 through 11. The three different types of avocados vary in their cold tolerance. The Mexican cultivars tolerate frosts down to 16 degrees Fahrenheit, Guatemalan down to 24 degrees and West Indian down to 32 degrees. Avocado trees can grow to over 60 feet tall under ideal conditions.
The lush fruits of citrus trees (Citrus spp.) make them a desirable addition to your zone 9b garden. In general, the many cultivars of lemon, lime, orange and mandarin thrive in zones 9 and 10. A few, such as pummelo and grapefruit, need extra protection if frost threatens.
Grown in climates from temperate to tropical, the fig (Ficus carica) grows in zones 5 through 10, depending on the cultivar. Native to western Asia, figs have been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean since at least 5000 B.C. The Spanish brought figs to Mexico in 1560 and to California’s San Diego Mission in 1769. ‘Chicago Hardy’ is the hardiest of the figs, grown in zones 5 through 10. Other fig cultivars, such as ‘LSU Gold’ and ‘LSU Purple,’ prefer the warmer temperatures of zones 7 through 10. Most figs are self-fertile but produce a larger crop when a second tree is planted nearby.
Plant loquat trees (Eriobotrya japonica) in zone 8 through 10 gardens. You can prune the 10- to 25-foot tall evergreen trees to a shrub or tree form. The small orange fruits are described as a combination of a plum and kumquat. Loquats do well in full sun and partial shade.
Persimmon trees are native to Asia (Diospyros kaki) and North America (Diospyros virginiana). The Asian species thrive in zones 6 through 10, while the native trees are more cold tolerant, growing in zones 4 through 10. The cold and heat tolerance of both species depend on the particular cultivar. The fruits of native persimmons, and some of the Asian cultivars, are lip-puckeringly astringent until fully ripened.
The pomegranate (Punica granatum), a native of southern Europe and middle to western Asia, thrives in zones 8 through 10. It attracts hummingbirds and bees to its orange-red flowers and produces rounded fruits filled with juicy sacs that contain its edible seeds.
New Cultivars of Old Favorites
In general, many favorite fruit tree species have minimum chilling requirements. The winter chilling requirement is a range of hours each year that hover just above freezing, between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The three basic ranges are high at 1,000 chilling hours or more, medium at 700 to 1,000 chilling hours and low at less than 700 chilling hours. There are a few cultivars that require few or no winter chilling hours, which are suitable for USDA plant hardiness zone 9b.
Planting your own apple (Malus domestica) orchard in zone 9b requires heat-tolerant and low-chill varieties. Among the apple trees that thrive in the mild winters and hot summers of zone 9b are ‘Golden Delicious’ (zones 4-9); ‘Anna,’ ‘Ginger Gold’ and ‘Granny Smith’ (zones 5-9); ‘Ein Shemer’ (zones 6-9) and ‘Cinnamon Spice’ and ‘Dorsett Golden’ (zones 5-10).
Like apples, most apricots (Prunus armeniaca) require more chilling hours than zone 9b can provide. There are a few low-chill varieties, including ‘Garden Annie’ and ‘Tropic Gold’ (zones 6-9). There are also a variety of apricot hybrids (Prunas salicina or Prunas cerasifera x Prunus armenica) available. Of these, ‘Cot-N-Candy’ and ‘Summer Delight’ apriums (zones 7-10) and ‘Candy Stripe’ and ‘Flavor Supreme’ pluots (zones 6-9) will all produce a good harvest in your zone 9b garden.
Natives of Asia, the Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia and Pyrus ussuriensis) thrive in a wide range of climates, from zones 4 through 10. There are thousands of cultivars available in Asia and several dozen in North America. The crisp, apple-like fruits smell and taste like pears. Add two different cultivars to your garden to ensure a good crop. ‘New Century’ (zones 4-9) and ‘Hosui’ and ‘Korean Giant’ (zones 7-10) are among the cultivars that will produce fruit in zone 9b.
European-Asian pear hybrids (Pyrus communis x Pyrus pyrifolia) will grow and produce fruit in your garden. ‘Flordahome’ (zones 8-10), ‘Leconte’ (zones 8-9), ‘Hood’ and ‘Spaulding’ (zones 6a-9), and ‘Maxie’ (zones 5-9) are among the possibilities. Some cultivars are self-fertile; plant two to ensure a good harvest.
Though sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) require more chilling hours than your zone 9b garden can provide, you can still grow a few sweet cherry (Prunus avium) cultivars. Your cherry orchard might include sweet and juicy ‘Lapins,’ ‘Sam Sweet’ and ‘Starking Hardy Giant’ (zones 5-9). When selecting cherry trees, consider your available space. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are suitable for most home gardens. Standard trees grow up to 30 feet tall with an equally wide canopy.
Most North American native pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) prefer the colder winters of zones 4 through 8. Low-chill cultivars include ‘Mango,’ ‘Shenandoah’ or ‘Wabash’ (zones 5-9). Pawpaw trees grow from 12 to 25 feet tall and equally wide, depending on the amount of sunlight they receive. The trees tolerate partial shade, making them a good choice in gardens that are shaded by walls, buildings or larger trees in the afternoon. Two different cultivars are needed for pollination and fruit production.
Peaches (Prunus persica) and nectarines (Prunus persica nectarina) are essentially the same species. Nectarines are a smooth-skinned subspecies of the peach. Peaches ‘Desertgold,’ ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Newhaven’ (zones 5-9), as well as nectarines ‘Crimson Gold’ and ‘Flavortop’ (zones 5-9), are among the better choices for home gardens in zones 9b.
From ‘Burbank’ to ‘Santa Rosa,’ Japanese plum trees (Prunus salicina) offer a wide range of cultivars suitable for zones 5 through 9. European plums (Prunus domestica) also grow in zones 4 through 9, with a few cultivars suitable for zone 9b.
Protect Your Trees From Freezing Temperatures
To successfully grow subtropical and tropical fruit trees in zone 9b, monitor weather forecasts. When a frost is predicted, protect your trees by covering them with fabric or plastic sheeting “suspended on poles”.
Weigh the edges down with bricks, rocks or boards to prevent cold air from seeping under the coverings. A heavy layer of mulch, at least 4 to 5 inches, placed over the root ball and thorough watering before the temperatures drop also help protect the tender roots of cold-sensitive trees.
Be sure to remove plastic off your tree as soon as the sun rises. The sun will heat up inside the plastic and do more harm than good. Use plastic as a last choice.
Over the years, i stopped covering plants. I found they were capable of survival on their own. It became exhausting and now I only keep choices suited for 9b growing!!