Coffee Grounds – Mosquito Repellent or Just Gardener’s Gold

There’s a lot of things flying by on the internet these days.

Facebook is adding to it.

But some of it is true, some of it is false, and some of it has a bit of both in it.

I may have stumbled onto something here.

When I moved to South Florida, I ended up with a lot of really fascinating people around me.

My godmother was fresh from being one of the people directly responsible for having pig production being protected so that they do not end up in crates on factory farms.   She’s a gardener and her husband was into making some amazing Bonsai trees.  I’m fortunate to have her and two of those trees in my yard today.

I have other friends here who amaze me just as much as my own godmother.

Some are teaching appreciation for the environment by their own hands.  Others have a strong hand in creating ecological parks.  More are directly involved in horticultural pursuits.

I find life greatly improved as a result.

I do my own part to give back.  I’ve got a pot farm.  Well not THAT kind of pot.  A farm of pots with gardening plants in the back yard.  One after another is growing and taking root to later go into the garden.

The yard is so chock full of plants that I have a lot of trouble finding room for them.

Meanwhile I am trying to figure out how to grow more.  Our hedge is dying back so I am pre-growing Podocarpus for the next hedge.  May as well, I have the time!

I go out in the morning with coffee mug in hand and look for things to improve the yard.

But that coffee.  I was told never to throw the grounds in the garbage.  It’s “Rich Organic Material – Gardener’s Gold”.  May as well just toss it in the gardens, right?

We had gotten a few pots for the front porch, Lemongrass.  It was bought to keep down pests, mosquitoes primarily.  I would splash water on it when I go to wash the dog’s feet off before going into the house, and didn’t think too much more about the lemongrass.

At one point I was having a discussion of how there seemed to be fewer mosquitoes out front as a result.  The problem was that out back where there was another plant, I had a much worse problem with mosquitoes.  It wasn’t working.

But out front was tolerable.  I just would spray a fog of poison out the back door before going onto the Lanai

to cut back the mosquitoes.

There was something different about out front and one of those annoying Internet Memes gave me the answer.

That gardener’s gold – Coffee Grounds seemed to be having its own effect.

You see, to the one side of the lemongrass, I would throw the morning’s coffee grounds onto the top of the soil.  It was right under the bathroom window and the soil was visibly just a sheen of soil over some stones put there over the years.  It was getting thicker.

The picture in the meme said to toss the grounds near where you have a problem spot with mosquitoes, drain your pots.  This was because “Mosquitoes Hate The Smell of Coffee Grounds”.

We may be onto something.

My backyard was a fog of little tiger mosquitoes that I would literally run away from to get out to work in the yard.

My front yard and porch I could work on the windows, even rest my coffee mug on Aunt Betty’s table and not get bit badly.

It’s all relative.

So I got a lightbulb go off in my head.

Why not try coffee grounds in the plant pots out back.  I have more than 30 of them.  Orchids, Podocarpus,

Hibiscus, and Banana Trees.

So I did.  Started on the Lanai, worked my way out.  When I got to the end, repeat as needed.  I even put a stripe of the stuff over by the pool equipment which is a corridor about the same width as my own armspan.  I can touch fence and wall and it collected a cloud of the nasty little blood suckers.

I won’t say that the mosquitoes are all gone.  I would need a dome over the property and then pump it full of pesticides.  That would be no fun because I would never be able to use the thing.

But…

I have to say that since I started doing this, there is a definite difference.

Much fewer mosquitoes.

Much less of a panic.

I can use the lanai out back and my front porch.

Yes there are mosquitoes, but they are the exception and not the rule

My Lanai does not smell like a combination of Brazilian Cerrado and Pumpkin Spice at all.

And I can actually use it!

This is kind of a “Chicken Soup” thing – It couldn’t hurt.  May not work for you, but couldn’t work

But…
I will keep doing it since it IS working for me.

While those folks up North won’t need to think about this since it is getting colder and they’re going into winter, down here we wont’ see 60F/15C for another two months.  By then I will have a nice coating of brown over all my plants and much fewer mosquitoes.

I guess once in a while, those memes have something to them.  At least in my eyes.

Your mileage may vary.

Urban Gardening and Help From Little Friends

Somewhere in the city of San Juan, in Costa Rica, there is a man.

He was out in his yard pulling weeds.  He looked up and said something to the effect of:

Estamos en los tropicos.  Si tu pones unas semillas en la tierra, ellos van a viver.

If my memory and my Spanish serve me correctly, it means or should mean that “We are in the tropics.  If you put some seeds in the ground, they are going to live.”.

Bueno.  Great way to kill time.  Seeds.  Ground.  Water.  Sun.

Estamos en los tropicos, indeed.  We are in the tropics here in South Florida.

As we do our weekend shopping, I see plenty of plants on offer at the big box stores.  This happens everywhere, in planting seasons.  Not exactly every time seeing that some areas have something called Winter.  Ours is blissfully short at two weeks long.  We schedule it for the first two weeks of February and are invaded by something called Snowbirds that will clog our skies and our roads and our hotels.  They pay our taxes so I can’t complain too much, just as long as they stay out of my way.

Well never mind that.  I did “Go Into Production” here.  You see, instead of buying those plants in black plastic pots that are designed to break on the way home, I make my own.  I have my own irrigation chain out back that was designed with prominent citizens with parks named after them and people who work in something called Code Enforcement.  We designed my one irrigation chain to be a drip feed waterer that could be used any given day to mist the orchids.

Now under the orchids that hang on the fence are small muddy patches where the water drips.  May as well use that water too.  In some spots, I have three pots deep.  One pot watering the next and so forth until you eventually hit the deck.

All that nonsense gives me the opportunity to plan ahead.

I take cuttings from plants that I like, and follow my friend’s advice.  Stick them in that wet soil and hope they “take”.

It is possible that I am over-watering things in the yard.  My Night Blooming Jasmine is dying off in one spot so I am starting something that is a temporary hedge made of Hibiscus.

If the big hotels can do it, so can I.

Between the Hibiscus and the Podocarpus cuttings I have in pots and in that bare area in the back of the yard, I have easily 50 plants growing that are destined to be moved.

Great.  I have made myself work.

Every morning between 7AM and 7:30AM, I am inspecting that zone.  Making sure that the orchids are getting watered.  Making sure the Podocarpus and Hibiscus cuttings are getting dripped on with the excess.  Inspecting the Rosemary shrub in the corner.  My In Ground area of Podocarpus and Hibiscus way out back.

I am also being a bit overly productive.  My Condo Mango now has its own cutting to create a tree for a good friend in Key West.  That in itself is like taking Coal to Newcastle, but he liked the idea of a 15 foot maximum mango tree.  The last four mango pits from Mango Season, it is an event after all, were dropped into a pot and have all sprouted.

I will have three trees I have to find homes for since the Mother Plant is currently over 40 feet tall – Think 13 meters for the metrically endowed.

Anyone need a Mango Tree Seedling?

But it is a nice hobby and it does attract attention.  My McNab SuperDog (TM), Rack, will come out with me and water the palm trees writing strings of “M’s” on their side.  It gives me a chance to be watched by the creatures in the yard, my friends the wee little Lizards.

In the case of some of them, they seem to enjoy being watched.  I have been followed rather than being avoided more than once.   The little “Cuban Browns” are harmless and seem to hang out catching rays and insects while watching me watch them.  The worst that a Brown has done to me was to once get surprised and climb up my leg.  Luckily I was in the back yard so I dropped Trowel as well as my Shorts and let the little creature have its freedom.

Just can’t hurt them, they’re too comical.

So if you are fortunate enough to have the room, and the need, you may as well start some seedlings.  After all, they don’t all “take” but many do.  Why not, you’ll have the time!

Podocarpus, Ladybugs, and The Farm

Lately I have been rattling around in my back yard.

I have been rattling around there so much that I have an area I have taken to calling The Farm.

At least that is what The Internet has started.

About a year or so ago, I got the bright idea to start propagating plants.  I have an irrigation chain on the lawn that is perfect for this.  Each sprinkler head puts out a gallon of water or less an hour.  Think of it as what you would do with a watering can.

On a farm, this would be considered Drip Feed Irrigation.

There are about 10 pots on that chain, plus the orchids.  It saves me from pretending that I have it in me at dawn to be out there with a hose every day.  I may be up at 5AM, but I am not that crazy.

Mind you, plants in pots don’t have a long lifespan.  Sometimes the pots just “up and die”.  Other times, they’re helped by critters.  Snakes don’t bother them, but Iguanas, Opossums, and domestic animals may.  Like my Damn Neighbor’s Damn Cat.  Not only have I caught it on my Jeep and inside it, I have caught it inside the pots.

Never mind that blasted cat, I had pots to fill.

I went through a number of iterations of Mexican Petunia, or Ruellia.  I planted so many that I had to stop.  It filled in the border next to the fence on the East side of the property nicely and I have deep green leaves and purple flowers every day.

I then stopped and thought, what would help?  My hedge on the West side was dying.  It needed things to fill in the gaps.  At that point, I had about four pots to start, so I filled one with Podocarpus.  Japanese Yew.  I’d snip off about a six inch portion, dip it in rooting hormone, and stick it in the pot.

While they grow slowly under that condition, they did grow.  I was surprised to find that I got about 3/4 of them rooting.   I would lose another quarter when they got transplanted, and another quarter after that.  Apparently they didn’t like the area that the hedge was in either.

Then, months later, I got The Bright Idea.  Why not just stick them in the ground at the hedge?  Why bother with the pot?   That drip feed irrigation line is under the hedge as well, but is mainly turned off.  Lets try.

Remember that I call this The Farm – I planted 100 Podocarpus cuttings under the existing hedge.  Densely packed.  I did it over three days.

The third day of Cut/Dip/Stick, I noticed something.  The Podocarpus had visitors.  There was a bit of a white dusting of mites over the newer pieces, exactly what I needed to plant.  But feeding on the white dusting were dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of Ladybugs.

My hedge was covered with hundreds of miniature Volkswagen Beetle looking creatures all happily gorging themselves on much less beneficial mites.

Cooooool!

So I merely cut around the Ladybugs.   They would get disturbed and flutter off, sometimes landing back on the plant, other times on me.  No problem there.  I knew how helpful they can be, since they love to dine on Aphids, and if you ever tried to grow ornamental Hibiscus, you know that you will eventually end up with Aphids.

As for my Hedge?  Well I’m about a month into the whole Farm thing.  I’m finding that about 3/4 of the hundred cuttings look like they’re still alive.  I’ll leave them be.  Since the Ladybugs cleaned off the parent plants, I have healthy Podocarpus in the yard.  I will give the Ladybugs the credit for that.  I always thought that Podocarpus were about as close to “Carefree Plants” as I could get in South Florida’s bizarre conditions, and I suspect that as long as they’re found by the beneficial insects, I’m right.

Since the area that I am planting created an empty zone, I’m having a bit of a victory.  More accurately, a Victory Garden.  You see, one of those Internet memes was if you cut the tops off your carrots, you can stick them in the ground and get more carrots.  They’re growing out there too, right in front of the Podocarpus and the dying Jasmine Hedge.

Just keep the critters away.

Cut Leaf Philodendron In Bloom

There is a certain finesse that you need to garden here in South Florida.

I’m not sure exactly what that finesse is.

After we hacked back the undergrowth in the yard, cut the 30 foot tall Sea Grape tree to 20 foot sticks, lopped the head off of the Podocarpus and bougainvilleas, we held our breaths.

After a bit things came back with a vengeance.

Now the Podocarpus have brilliant chartreuse growths on them.  The Bougainvilleas are growing new pointy bits and putting out shocks of magenta blooms.  The palm trees have been sending out more of those seed pods we have to cut off or else the seeds get stuck in the pool filter.

And then this happened.

The flower is actually about 2 feet tall.  Call it 60 CM.  A massive thing that looks like a lily came popping up in the middle of a green firework of leaves back in the back of the yard.  It has a trunk on it that is easily as thick as your forearm and as long as you are.  We keep pushing it back in place but it insists on growing out toward the pool where the light is.

I found it when I was looking for a place to do some strategic planting.  My dog, Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) insists on privacy.  I know, a dog that demands privacy to do His Business is a bit out of the ordinary.  What he does is run around looking for a spot but if he sees anyone nearby, he will move away to where you can’t see him in order to squat.

If he can’t see you, you aren’t there.

Since he found that the gap between the fences and the hedges is Dog Friendly, I have been putting plants in there.  My pot of Ruellia and the other one of Hibiscus had matured and it was time to put them back into the ground to start over.  Ruellia takes about 2 months to go from droopy sad cuttings to a root bound mass that is looking to be planted.  The Hibiscus takes more water and more time but it was just about as root bound as you could get.

Both of those went into the ground near Rack’s Private Room.  Blocked off one of the entries with dark green leaves and little purple flowers.  The Ruellia didn’t even notice that it had been pulled up and dropped unceremoniously on the top of the ground in front of the Hibiscus.

Where the finesse comes in was that I found a little emerald jewel there.  Apparently there was a Monarch that had decided to put a chrysalis there on or near the lone Milkweed that took in that crowded pot.

I placed it somewhere safe, in the crook of some other plants where it will grow unmolested.

But that is why it takes finesse to garden here.  You never know what you will disturb.

Killing the Night Blooming Jasmine With Kindness

When we moved in here in 2006, the first thing that caught my eye was the Bougainvillea Hedge.

I looked through the front window, to the backyard.  It was blocked by a wall of magenta colored flowers against the windows. 

I took in my breath, walked through the house, then out back.  Confronted by the reality of living in Florida, and the giant wall of flowering hedges that were here, I realized I was sold.

There was a hedge on the west side of the property.  Pure white flowers from one end of it to the other that were perfuming the yard with a sweet fragrance that was wafting on the warm breezes.

Night Blooming Jasmine, I was told.

They never grew fast.  Every six months I would go out and hack the thing back.  I would also take note that the plant wasn’t growing back as well as I expected it to.

Neighbors have either Podocarpus or Ficus hedges that were impervious.  Complete block of any view corridor through those.  They were shaped into unnatural, but pleasing, rectangles with sharp corners. 

Just no flowers.

Over the years, the hedge has thinned.  There are gaps. 

I think we’re overwatering it.  It gets it twice a week, as is legal, on the irrigation system.  7AM I believe.  It also gets a little bit more at 7:45 when the drip feed comes on to water the pots. 

The orchids love it.  Skip one day and you can get away with it.  Skip two and you lose all your flowers.  That happened this year when I forgot and left it on Manual Water.  The whole system is computer controlled so we don’t drain the water table and run the well dry.  But if you leave it on Manual, it won’t go back on until you test or reset it. 

You do have to test these things.  The drip feed bubblers are fed by neoprene rubber tubes that are quite small.  About as thick as a piece of elbow macaroni, they clog frequently and you end up having to “blow out the lines” two or three times a week.

Just don’t forget to put it back on Automatic.

So we’ll be reprogramming the two separate zones back a little bit.  Hopefully the orchids will forgive us.  More importantly I’m hoping the Jasmine comes back.

Between the leak we had on the city water line that was in the back corner of the hedge that dumped a couple car payments worth of water into the roots at a slow leak, and the two zones, that hedge is almost gone back in that corner.  The palm tree that marks the end of the yard must have grown until it pinched the pipe back there, and Charlie at the City called us to warn us that we’ve sprung a leak.

Thankfully we don’t go back that far too often.

While I can propagate the Podocarpus in a pot on the chain that I purposely keep most of the drain holes plugged to help it root, I haven’t found a way to propagate the Jasmine.

That’s a shame, it’s a beautiful hedge.  Or at least it was.

The Rescue Pot

When you’re in a colder climate you have a cold frame. 

They always looked to me as if it were a window into the dirt.  A small box with a glass window on top where you plant your next year’s garden underneath.  The extra warmth would give slow growers time to get started before the season officially starts for them in March or April.

Bell Peppers were always the ones I’d hear about from Mrs Alderfer when I was growing up.  I never liked the green ones but we have to buy extra Red Bell Peppers here whenever a recipe calls for them because  the snack monster attacks them.

Voraciously.

Since I am an indifferent gardener and not really that good at keeping things growing in pots for long periods of time, I have a different approach.  The original blush of gardening has mostly faded.  The row of fruit trees and flowers in the pots that we bought when we first moved here have either gotten too leggy, overly potbound and need to be placed in the actual soil, or just gave up and died.

Instead of having a row of pots with nothing in them but weeds, why not put them to use.  But what to do?

The theory of “If a Seed Falls, It Shall Grow” is all over my yard.  I’m constantly using a weed eater to kill off dozens of palm tree seedlings because they not only grow in the garden, but in the mulch under the trees.

The pots gathered a healthy coating of seedlings at one point and one particular palm tree grew so large so quickly that it’s now in the “island” in front of my house.  A year or so later, it’s taller than the Bottlebrush tree that is threatening to die that it is next to.

I decided to turn these pots into a rescue.  We don’t need a cold frame here, it doesn’t get below 34F.  Just stick cuttings in the very wet soil and see what happens. 

Everything I stick in these pots takes.

Every Single Thing.

I don’t necessarily have a green thumb, I’m just lucky.

What happened was I noticed that Lisa’s Pentas had begun to die back.  I mistakenly put a green Spider plant in there and it overgrew the pot.  There’s more Spider than Penta.  Reaching into the pot, some of the Penta snapped off.   I stuck it into the Rescue Pot and thought it’s up to you.

It liked it and grew.

When I finally got off my lazy butt and went at the hedges, I whacked back the Podocarpus to a more manageable size.  Grabbing a cutting, it went in there too.

It is taking as well.  This pot is a month afterwords.

This is also pot 1 of 5.  I ripped out the Hibiscus that was in a rescue pot that had liked it so well back there it grew through the pot and into the soil underneath. 

Successful yes, but a bit much.

The same landscaping trip saw me hacking two feet off the top of the Night Blooming Jasmine.  Taking some of the fresher cuttings of new growth, I stuck a row of cuttings where the Hibiscus once bloomed.  It now has a row of these plants, tightly packed.  I figure they’ll soak up the drip feed water from my Orchids and eventually grow into something that will need some more landscaping.

It’s the Circle of Gardening.  You cut, plant, root, grow, and eventually repeat.

Why not?  If you like what you have, simply fill in with more.  Not every cutting will take, but if you get one in three you’re golden. 

I’m getting 9 in 10 for now.  Luckily, I have some spots in the hedge that need filling in.  I can see through to the neighbor’s yard and if I can see in, so can they.

Better cover up next time we’re outside in the pool!

Northern Mockingbird Chicks in my Podocarpus

I should have known that when I had strange birds hanging around the house, I’d eventually have them move in.

I don’t have a problem with that at all.

A while back I had a bird come out and stare at me when I was out in the yard taking random pictures.  After I found that there was a bird roosting in my Podocarpus, I knew that there was a picture in store.

I was out untangling the flag from the pole in front of the house.  Struggling with the new flag pole mount on the house, it’s a little too tight and a little too high for me to just reach up and grab it like I did on the old one, I was getting some attitude from a bird.

Now I have the entire story.  It was the Momma Bird that I saw on the tree near the house.  In this case, Momma Bird is a Northern Mockingbird which is ironic since most of their range is in the South.  Actually, Momma Bird was perched next to the fake plastic Owl that we have there to scare noisy birds away.

They.
Don’t.
Work.

I went about my business, removing the plastic eagle on the end of the pipe and went back in the house to get my camera.  Sticking my nose in the Podocarpus, I saw these four little gems.  Mouth open, eyes barely open, I fired off six pictures then left them alone.

Typical photography, this was the only one in focus.  I really need a Digital SLR, so if you have one gathering dust, write me.

But begging for old hardware aside, my trusty old digital camera did a nice job of this.

This isn’t the first time I have had this experience.  When I went up to Deltona to get my dog Rack last year from the Dog Liberator’s shelter, we stopped off at Harvey’s Groves fruit stand at the end of their season.  Walking into the shop, we flushed out a bird from their podocarpus.  They make for a great place for birds to nest, very thickly limbed and leaved, the plants are quite common here in South Florida as hedges and accent plants.

Having these creatures growing in my yard, I now am in this mode where I’m feeling protective.  So far, they’ve been quiet and Momma Bird hasn’t felt threatened by me.  I discovered them while going out and pulling weeds from my grass.  These weird daisy looking weeds that take root and grow from a tuber in the lawn if you don’t pull them are all over the place here, and my gardening is as uneven as my housekeeping is.   I was within a few feet of that particular podocarpus and Momma Bird flew out over my head, perched on top of the flag I had just replaced, and scolded me with a racket.

Tough, Momma Bird, you don’t pay my bills or my mortgage, but you’re welcome to stay put while you need the space.  Just let me get this weed ball out to the trash bin for tomorrow.


I guess after all this time, my own little mystery is solved.   I have been watched over by some Northern Mockingbirds for a while, and with the Ducks, snakes, and various lizards I have here, I’m in good company.