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Welcome to CN's Fit After Fifty Column by Betty Thomas

On This Page: 

ē Gene Joyner, Horticultural Consultant,

Serving Florida Since 1960


Gene Joyner

Horticultural Consultant

Gardening Tips For Condominiums

Growing Your Own Produce

Cold damage to most major suppliers of vegetables and fruits locally have resulted in very high prices for some vegetables and fruits. It will probably be 4-6 weeks before some replanted fields are back in limited production and prices will then start to come down. 

To save money you can grow many vegetables and herbs on your porch or screen room. Having fresh produce right in your yard is something almost anyone can do. Seeds and small starter plants are available from retail garden centers. 

To be successful make sure vegetables get lots of light and enough fertilizer applied regularly to push optimum growth and fruiting. Also make sure the container used for all vegetables or herbs is large enough to allow the plant to get as big in your pot as it would be if planted in the ground outside. Stunting a plant's size or growth always results in less production. 

Leafy vegetables which have smaller root systems can be grown in window boxes or planters and hanging baskets. 

If you are inexperienced with growing your own vegetables or fruits you can get some helpful advice from the Palm Beach County Extension Service at 561-233-1750 or South County at 561-276-1260. To see beautiful plants, visit Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information.

Check Plants for Cold Damage and Prepare Them for the Growing Season

In about three weeks most chances of more severe cold weather should be over and it will be time to welcome our warm spring growing season. Plants that suffered damage from the January freeze should be well on their way to recovery.

If you havenít done so yet apply some fertilizer to get plants growing back faster. Any remaining damaged leaves or flowers can be pinched off and this will encourage plants to put out new growth more quickly. If you lost any tender flowers or vegetables earlier retail garden stores now are well stocked with replacements and seeds so you can restock any lost plants.

One good thing caused by the freeze was that the cold killed most harmful insects and it will be well into the spring before you should have any major pests to attack your plants.

Make sure all new plants are watered regularly now that we are getting warmer temperatures and drier conditions. With container plants most small pots dry out quickly and this may require watering several times a week if they are outside rather than inside.

If you have plant questions you can get free advice by calling The Palm Beach County Extension Hotline at 561-233-1750 or South County at 561-276-1260.

To enjoy beautiful Botanical Gardens visit Unbelievable Acres in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1286 for tour information.

Hanging Baskets

Hanging baskets can be an attractive part of your landscape plants in porches, patios or hung from ceilings. Any large garden center has numerous choices of plant types, basket sizes and colors. If you donít find what you want, you can create your own hanging basket. Pick out the size, color and type of basket to use. Then select a perfect plant for that container and buy some potting soil or mix. Next carefully remove your plant from itís container, place into your new hanging basket and add your potting soil mix to fill up the space around the plant root ball. Once packed water lightly to settle the soil and hang up in the selected area to display your new addition. Some leaf loss or flower loss may occur in the first 2-3 weeks due to the shock of replanting until the plant gets used to its new home. After 4-6 weeks, start a regular fertilizing program to keep your hanging plant happy.

If you have plant problems or questions you can call the Palm Beach County Extension Service free horticultural hotline at 561-233-1750 or the South County 561-276-1260. If you need ideas for plants for hanging baskets visit Unbelievable Acres Botanical Gardens in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for directions and tour information.

Protect Potted Plants from Freezing

This part of the winter can be cold enough to cause some damage to plants on outside terraces or screen porches but rarely do the plants die. Another thing you find during cooler weather is an increase in pests that might come in from the outdoors to keep warm inside. You might find ants, millipedes, frogs, lizards and other wildlife hiding in your potted plants, foliage or soil. Most of these uninvited pests do no damage but most people would rather not have to deal with them. Ants or millipedes can be discouraged by applying insecticide to the soil surface. Frogs, lizards or other bigger pests usually will go into other parts of the outside landscape where they came from as soon as warmer weather returns. It is a good idea to check for cracks or openings around doors, windows or screen rooms that allow bigger pests like frogs and lizards to gain easy entry inside. Fix any openings found and you will have a lot less uninvited winter visitors.

If you have problems or questions about winter care of your plants you can call the Palm Beach County Extension Service at 561-233-1750 or South County at 561-276-1260. For plant ideas or relaxation visit Unbelievable Acres Botanical Gardens in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information and directions.

Caring for Flowering Plants

Flowering plants are pretty as house plants but most do not flower all the time. Many of us have used mums, azaleas or gardenias for a burst of color and some stay in flower for several weeks. Orchids, bromeliads, African violets and begonias also make good flowering plants. For the best flowering, keep these plants in bright light and do not allow them to get dried out. Some flowering plants need the old spent blooms removed on a regular schedule. Plants that bloom over a long period like African violets or begonias will need regular fertilizing to encourage flower production.

If the plant is outside this time of year, we can get temperatures below 45 degrees which can injure some tropical plants or flowers. Bring cold sensitive plants indoors on cold nights below 50 degrees or you could get chilling damage to leaves or flowers. As soon as warm conditions return you can put plants back outside again. If you forget to protect plants some leaf burn or discoloration may occur. Badly damaged leaves will turn brown or yellow and drop off within a short time after the damage occurs. If you have any gardening problems, you can get free advice from the Palm Beach County Extension Service horticulture hotline at 561-233-1750, or South County at 561-276-1260. To see many beautiful flowering plants grown in south Florida visit Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens. For tour information and directions call 561-242-1686.

Plants for Small Spaces

Many people have small houses or apartments and this limits the size and number of plants one can have. If you visit any large garden shop there should be something that will work in your situation. Many people choose small plants like cactus, succulents, small orchids or bromeliads or small foliage plants. Try to pick things that donít require a lot of regular attention. If the plant needs a lot of water, fertilizer or pest control it may not be the right plant for you. Make sure too that the light levels are adequate for your plant to flower properly. If the plant is outside it will dry out faster and may attract pests more than a plant kept indoors.

If you travel a lot remember to get someone to check on your plants if you are gone more than 2 or 3 days. If you canít get a plant sitter you can put your plants in a shallow try of water to ensure they donít dry out until you return. There are also self watering pots available in large garden stores and these are great for people that are gone frequently. If you have any questions you can get free answers from by calling the Palm Beach County Extension Service Horticulture Hotline at 561-233-1750 or South County 561-276-1260. Visit Unbelievable Acres in West Palm Beach to get ideas on the types of plants that grow best in our area. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information and directions.


 Planting them After the Holidays

Holiday season is here and stores are stocking holiday plants like Poinsettias. Poinsettias are praised for their large colored leaves and although red or pink are the most common colors, you can also get ones with yellow, white or mottled pink and red leaves. Keep poinsettias in a well lighted area at home, otherwise they quickly lose large numbers of leaves. They can take full sun if you want to plant them as landscape plants. Water poinsettias only 1-2 times a week, too much water will cause large numbers of lower leaves to drop off leaving only a few leaves on the tip of each stem. Donít make the mistake of leaving them sitting in saucers of water either, since this will harm the roots and cause drop-leaf.

If poinsettias are kept outside after Christmas, temperatures may drop low enough to cause cold injury. You can cover plants up to protect them when temperatures fall below 40 degrees. Plants can also be moved indoors for cold protection.

Poinsettias should be fertilized monthly with an indoor plant type fertilizer to keep them growing well. Poinsettias grown outside may get occasional insects or diseases. Caterpillars may chew leaves but donít kill plants. Picking off pests is faster than applying pesticides. If diseases cause spots on the leaves simply pick off infected leaves. Try to avoid keeping leaves wet to slow up diseases. If leaves get a dusty appearance and start to get light green this could be spider mites. Use of water in a spray bottle can rinse off these tiny pests off. If you have any question about holiday plant care call the Palm Beach County Extension Service Master Gardener line at: 561-233-1750 or 561-276-1260 in the South County. If you enjoy seeing beautiful flowers and foliage plants visit Gene Joynerís Unbelievable Acres Botancial Garden in West Palm Beach. Call 561-686-6687 for tour information.

Growing Orchids

Orchids are a Showy Tropical Flower that can be grown inside homes, outside on patios, screen rooms or hung from trees. Orchid flowers can be almost any color so you can always find your favorite shade. Some orchids have flowers that last only 2-3 days while others may last over a month. Different orchids have different bloom seasons, but most of the more popular types bloom in the late winter and spring.

If you like fragrance there are some types of orchids that smell like coconut, chocolate other familiar smells. Orchids can be purchased at most large garden centers or orchid nurseries. Get detailed instructions for your orchid plant when you buy it since different plants may have slightly different water and light requirements. Orchids are grown in a very different growing mix than other plants. This material is well drained and requires watering frequently. Frequent fertilizing also helps make better growth and more flowers. Some people fertilize weekly with special orchid fertilizer.

Another way to grow and display orchids is to grow them on a piece of drift wood or piece of tree branch. Orchids in the wild usually grow on trees or rocks, so this is a very easy way to grow them at home. After a number of years, the wood will rot and the orchid then has to be reattached to a new piece of wood. You can also attach orchids to outside trees or palms and, once they are rooted on, need little attention as they grow under natural conditions.

If you like cut flowers, many orchids are grown commercially. You can cut your own flowers and use them as you like in your home.

If you want to attend free meetings of local orchid societies or to learn more about growing orchids, call the Palm Beach County Extension Service @561-233-1750 for times and dates of orchid society meetings.

If you want to see hundreds of orchids growing outdoors in a tropical rain forest setting, visit Gene Joynerís Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information.

Growing Herbs and Vegetables in Containers

If you enjoy eating at home and growing some of your own vegetables and herbs, you already know how great it is to be able to pick fresh things for the table. Herbs in particular are easy to grow and add flavor and nutrition to many types of meals. If you havenít grown herbs before, it isnít that difficult. Most people grow herbs in containers or hanging baskets and some garden centers have beautiful plants in attractive containers.

Remember that most herbs donít have to be in full sun to grow well and most are OK in screen rooms or even inside the home if they get enough light. Fertilize herbs with soluble or grandular dry fertilizer every 2-4 weeks. Water herbs regularly enough that they donít wilt or drop leaves. A 5-8 day watering schedule is average, but overgown plants in small pots may need more frequent watering. Herbs and vegetables can also be grown in outside beds. Purchase seeds or plants and plant in well drained soil. Water 2-3 times a week and apply fertilizer every 2-3 weeks. If weeds are a major threat, mulch can be used as a weed barrier, and it will also slow water loss.

Check plants every day or two for pests or disease which can show up any time. Picking off problem pests or removing diseased leaves is better than spraying chemicals. If you do this regularly, plants will still produce plenty for you to enjoy or share with friends.

If you have vegetable or herb growing questions, call the Palm Beach County Extension Service Master Gardner Hotline @ 561-233-1750 or 561-276-1260. To see herbs, tropical vegetables and many beautiful plants visit: Gene Joynerís Unbelievable Acres Botanic Garden in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information.

Time To Plant Fall Annuals

This is the time fall annuals are readily available and flowers in the home or on the patio are popular. Typically flowers planted now will last until April and then are replaced with other more heat tolerant types for summer season.

Annuals and bedding plants can be planted outside or kept in containers or hanging baskets. Favorite flowers for this time of year are impatiens, begonia, petunia, salvia, alyssum, celosia, marigold and many others. Most garden centers have both seeds and young plants of many of your favorites so its not hard to have color in your home or patio. Flowers do best in bright light and need a well drained soil.

Fertilize every few weeks if outside or every 2 weeks if in a container. Some slow release fertilizers are also available that only have to be applied every 2-3 months and this saves labor. Some types of flowers may get attacked by insects or disease so check plants regularly for damage. If you need to spray most garden centers have products to control most common problems. If you donít like to use chemicals then pinch off insect or diseased plant parts and throw them away.

Some flowers can be cut and used for cut flowers and that is a bonus. Some fast growing flowers may get too big too quickly and require regular pruning to limit plant size. Pruning can be done at any time but will take several weeks for the plant to grow back to flowering again after pruning. During the winter months some flowers outside may experience cold damage and have discolored leaves. These will usually drop of and be replaced with the return of warmer temperatures. Bring tender potted flowers inside on cold nights for protection. Most cold fronts are gone after 2-3 days and you can return your potted plants outside.

If you need free advice on flowers or foliage plants call The Palm Beach County Extension Service Master Gardener hotline at 561-233-1700 or 233-276-1260. To see flowers and plants suitable for our area visit: Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information.

Vegetable Gardens in Containers

Fall is the best time many people like to put in a vegetable garden and this a very nice way to save money on food. Many garden centers already have a wide assortment of your favorite vegetables, herbs and flower seeds.

You can grow most vegetables in containers on a patio or terrace and it doesnít take an expert. Pick a pot of an appropriate size with drainage holes, some bagged potting mix or topsoil and your favorite vegetable seeds. Plant the seeds barely under the soil in the container for best results. Water slightly everyday until seeds sprout. With few exceptions you will get more plants than you need if you get high germination.

Thin out plants to only 1-4 per pot depending on pot size. For best results keep vegetables in a bright sunny location not deep shade. Once sprouted, water every
few days as required to keep plants from wilting.

Fertilizer is also needed and most garden stores have several types for vegetables. Some are liquid, some soluble powders and others are dry pellets. All should be ok to use if label directions are followed closely.

Some larger growing vegetables like tomato or pepper may need to be staked to support the plant. Vines like squash or cucumber may need a small trellis since they can grow many feet if left alone. If you are growing leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach or mustard etc. these can be grown in smaller containers.

Monitor vegetables several times a week for insects or disease. Many people simply break off infested plant parts rather than spray but if you need to spray, garden centers have products for use on vegetable plants.

Our garden season starts now and goes into May, so you have plenty of time to get started. For advice on gardening, contact: The Palm Beach County Extension Service. 561-233-1700 or 561-276-1260.

You can also see vegetables grown in a tropical setting at: Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens, West Palm Beach, FL. Call 561-6-242-1686 for tour information

Flowering Plants 

for your 

Home or Patio

Flowering plants can really brighten up the inside of a home or patio area. Most large retail garden stores offer dozens of flowering plants that can tempt you if you have enough room to enjoy many of your favorite flowers. 

Remember that the plant you buy was probably grown by a large wholesale nursery under very controlled light and water conditions for it to reach its peak quality and sales appeal. When you buy the plant and take it home, it will take several weeks to completely adjust to its new environment in your home.

Some flowering plants during this adjustment period may lose some of their older leaves, abort flowers or wilt frequently if not watered enough. If their new location is not too heavily shaded, newly purchased flowering plants will adjust to their new areas in 2-4 weeks and be fine after that. If the plant continues to decline after 2-4 weeks, you may have to place it in more light or adjust the watering schedule.

If you see insects injuring your plants, you can get safe insecticides from most garden centers and spray them on your plants. You can also use sprays of dish washing liquid and water to help control many small pests like mites, aphids or scale. As plants grow too big for their original pots or containers, they should be repotted into slightly larger containers so they will not become pot bound and stunted. Soil mixes can be purchased at any garden center and used for the repotting of overgrown plants. If plants need staking to keep them from leaning over, you can buy small plant stakes at local garden centers and use a soft tie or tape to secure the plant to the stake. This allows plants to grow straight and maintain a better shape.

If you have plant questions or problems, call the Palm Beach County Extension Service for free plant advice. Their phone number is 561-233-1750, or in the South County area, call 561-276-1260.

To see plants that do well in shaded areas, visit Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens in West Palm Beach. Call 561-242-1686 for tour information.

   Container Gardening 

Many people love plants and spend large amounts of money on them, only to lose them because they are put in the wrong place or not given correct watering, light or proper fertilizing. If you buy a fantastic plant you aren't already familiar with, always ask the nurseryman or salesperson how you should best care for it when you get it home. To insure the best and proper care for your newly purchased plant, here are some basic rules for keeping house plants and patio plants happy and healthy.

1. Don't over water. Plants can decline or die by giving them too much water causing root rot or leaf diseases. Once or twice a week watering is all most plants need and cactus and succulents might be happy watering only every 2-3 weeks.

2. Keep plants in areas that have enough light for normal growth. Even shade loving plants need bright indirect light to grow well. Plants placed in extremely shaded dark areas will soon decline or die over time.

3. Plants in containers over time use up all the available fertilizer in the soil. This requires you to apply fertilizer to sustain normal growth and flowering. You can use liquid or dry granular type fertilizer and always follow label directions exactly to avoid burning your plants.

Any time you need expert help diagnosing plant problems. You can get free advice from the Palm Beach County Extension Service at 561-233-1750 or in South County at 561-276-1260.

If you would like to see examples of tropical plants that would grow well for you, visit South Florida's only Tropical Rain Forest/Botanical Garden, Unbelievable Acres with thousands of beautiful plants from around the world. Unbelievable Acres is open by appointment only. Please call 561-242-1686 for tour information.



Gene Joyner conducts tours of his  Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens every 2nd Saturday.


Entrance to the tour path.

Tropical rain forest plants 

along the tour path.


Tropical garden setting. 

Unbelievable Acres garden nursery.

Salvia, Purple Shield and Variegated Coleus are among the hundreds of plants grown at Unbelievable Acres and available for purchase at their nursery.

Photos by Jimmy Shirley

For tour information or directions to 

Unbelievable Acres please call 561-242-1686.

Gene Joyner is director of Unbelievable Acres Botanical Garden, the only working rain forest in the U.S., in West Palm Beach. A graduate of the University of Florida Gainesville, he represented the Palm Beach County Extension Service as Extension Agent Extraordinaire for 35 years and taught their Master Gardener program before retiring in 2008. For information or directions to Unbelievable Acres, please call 561-242-1686.

Unbelievable Acres Botanic Gardens, Inc. is a 501-C(3) not-for-profit corporation.


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