The Square Pot, Or How Eric’s Planter is Becoming A Herb Farm

A while back, a local friend, Eric, gave me a bunch of planters.

He was moving from his apartment only a few blocks away to another one a little further out.  That old place had a patio area where he could have his planters, and raised an interesting collection of flowers and milkweed.

I also got most of his milkweed and it’s out in my backyard under various cover so that some gets eaten to sticks by hungry Monarch Butterflies, but not all of it.

He did have this one nicer planter.  It is a square on top, almost a cube.  He wanted it back once he landed and since I have the room, I was going to hang onto it for him when he came calling for it.

I did wait a while, but he never asked for it back after settling in.

Typical to my own quirky behavior, if I have a spare planter, it will get used.

I moved it out to my front porch and clipped a few cuttings off my Ruellia.  I have rather a lot of Ruellia, and it does spread somewhat, so there’s a small background noise of me cutting plants and debating Throw Or Cut.

This was one of those days.  Smiling I said “Lets make a planter for Eric”.

Ruellia Cuttings will mope and look dead or dying for a month but almost always snap back alive with generous watering.  Just snip the cutting below a knuckle where the leaves come out and you’re golden.  The Ruellia was only planted on one half of the planter and I was going to put something else in there.

Basil.  I have a lot of the stuff, and as a result I also have a lot of seeds.  Two weeks later the Basil has started to sprout.

Mind you, I wandered out there looking over the pot a morning later and was having breakfast.  Some Canteloupe with seeds fell out of the bowl and landed in a corner.  Weirdly, the Canteloupe sprouted.

I really have no idea if I will manage to get anything out of the Canteloupe but this weird little garden will be in that spot for a while.   If the vines do grow up and out of the pot, I can let them grow into my garden in front of it.

This all comes from the theory of when something nice happens, even for a small while, do something nice in return.

The other day I contacted Eric and told him this story and he generously told me to keep it as he doesn’t have space.

It’s taken root here I guess, purple flowers blooming every single day and the Basil that was meant to go into someone else’s tomato sauce will go into mine.

Who doesn’t like Fresh Basil!?

So Thanks, Eric, I’m out to put more cuttings in that pot.

Dragonfly on Ruellia Stem

This certainly isn’t the largest one I have ever seen.  That one was on Cape Cod, MA, and had a wingspan of about six inches, the length of your hand and fingers.

But it was a beautiful one.

You see I was out in the yard committing the unforgivable crime of gardening.  Actually I had just taken an electric hedge clipper and hacked the daylights out of my Ruellia.  Ruellia is Mexican Petunias and it has the habit of being rather fast growing.  Beautiful purple flowers that don’t show up well on a digital photograph, they tend to grow on semi woody stems.

They also tend to grow through my fence, my hedges, and my borders.

They are very easy to propagate also, just stick them in wet soil and keep it wet for about a month.  I was starting pot after pot of the stuff to fill in some gaps in the ground cover in the yard on the East side, and they are just too easy to grow.

As a result, they spread over top of the roof tiles I use to define the garden.  I completely lost my roof tiles and went looking for them that day and decided I had had enough.  Starting at one end of the yard, I cut a pile of the stuff that ended up being a full trash can.  4 feet tall,  2 feet square.  16 cubic feet of nothing but Ruellia by my count.

I could easily have used that to re-flower the neighborhood, but instead I hefted that mass into the city supplied trash cans and sent it on its way to generate electricity.  Trash to Electricity in the incinerator here.

Having gathered up all that “salad” I was trying to straighten my back out and catch my breath when I saw this little shiny object.  It really did not care that I was there.  It may have been staying there watching me and waiting for me to do something stupid.

Instead, I took a picture.  I liked the picture so much that I have saved it off.

A complex looking little creature, I can understand why so many pieces of Jewelry are made to look like them.

Plus they eat mosquitoes so they’re welcome here any time, usually two days after a solid rain.

Propagating Ruellia, The Mexican Petunia

Mexican Petunia.

Whether you think they are invasive, or a nice ground cover, they’re really quite simple to grow.

I’d say that they’re easy to grow because they can be mildly invasive.  I have a hedge of them, about 75 feet long.  They grow about knee high, taller if they are undisturbed, so the word “hedge” is a bit of an exaggeration.

Why I am spending time on this subject is that there are people who hit this blog for the subject on a daily basis.  I am not sure how I became an expert on them, but… Hello!

The reality is that they are like Hostas are up North.  Ruellia are dead easy to grow in South Florida and other warm climates, used as ornamentals everywhere here, and will grow from cuttings.  They will take the cold down to freezing without too much notice (Zone 8), and will die back to the ground if it gets into the 20s returning next year (Zone 7).

Oh, I could be done with that right now but anyone who reads my blog on a daily basis will tell you I’ve got a story behind it all.

That wilted pot of weeds above will turn into a healthy looking pot in a month, probably be pot bound and ready for planting in two.

Simply put, I have about 6 to 12 inches of potting soil in there.  I keep the soil quite wet until they “take” in about a week.  The planting was as dense as you see it – a vase full of cuttings would do the job as well.

In April, knowing a friend was coming down for a visit at the end of May, I started the pot.  By his visit, the pot had a healthy and lush growth of deeply purple flowers and one random Mexican Milkweed growing in the center.

My friend went back home to Atlanta, and that next day I went out and tested to see if the pot was ready.  Giving a handful of the plants a tug, it lifted the soil loose from the rocks that I have as a layer for drainage.

They came up as a mat.

Great!  Lets plant.

The beauty of these things is that they don’t require a lot of water, only when you’re getting them started for the first week or so.    The normal soil moisture they get from the irrigation twice weekly is what they’re happy with, and they’re in a dry spot in the yard.

I dug a hole as deep as the root ball I had in a dry spot that needed something put in it.  I set that root ball in the little hole I dug, then watered it and walked away.  That’s about it.  It “took” immediately and you wouldn’t know that it was just recently planted.

I then started the next pot.  At this point, about a week later, the wilted plants are beginning to “lift their heads” and grow upright.  I’ll be pulling that auxiliary hose out today since they just don’t seem to need it to root.

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.

Monarchs in the Ruellia Rescue Pot

The easiest plant I have found to propagate is the Ruellia.

Mexican Petunia.

They are also considered invasive weeds by some. 

One of those things I guess, the butterflies and bees love the flowers, but the plants get out of control and will grow just about anywhere in the South.  Zone 8 to 11 if you’re taking notes.

I guess I shouldn’t propagate them, but since my entire property line on the East side is covered with them, they aren’t going anywhere.  I get an almost 100 percent propagation rate from cuttings stuck in damp soil, and they make for a rather nice display in a pot.

Like I said, the butterflies like them and I’m all about making the butterflies happy.

I had this pot, one of my Rescue Pots where I was planting all sorts of stuff to see if it takes.   When I got a care package of some Mexican Milkweeds, I tossed the seeds into this pot and waited.

Nothing.  Nothing took.  That was back in March. 

Shrugging, since I needed to trim back the Mexican Petunia a couple of lawn mowings ago, I simply saved the cuttings and stuck them into the soil of that pot, densely.  Now the pot has this giant tuft of purple flowers and green leaves.

In the middle of that pot there was one odd ball Mexican Milkweed.  I could tell it was that because the leaves were not as dark as the Ruellia.  The leaves are almost identical, but it looked faded.

With my puttering in the garden each day, I thought it odd that my Milkweed had grown back healthy after being eaten back to sticks by all the Monarch Butterflies we have here.

Then it happened.

Momma Butterfly found my lone plant in the strawberry pot.  She missed the one in the Ruellia.

I shortly had three little baby Monarch caterpillars munching my plant to sticks.  “Oh Well, That Is What It’s There For!” I said, promising myself to watch after my tiger striped pets.

A couple days later, they grew so big that they ate themselves low on food.  One of the caterpillars got hungry enough to try to escape the strawberry pot.  I saw it on the outside of the pot looking lost.  It immediately climbed onto an offered Sea Grape leaf that I picked up from the ground.

You guessed it, it went into the pot with the Ruellia.

So now I have caterpillar number 3 getting fat and happy with the Ruellia, which it seems to have a taste for too, as well as the other two back on the lone Mexican Milkweed that now is almost leafless.  

Good luck creatures, long may you fly!

Ruellia Flower for the Last Day of Autumn

I’m still playing “Remote Navigator” today.  I got a phone call from someone on I-95 in Woodbridge VA complaining about the weather.  It was 55F there.  He’s used to Florida Temps and at 9 in the morning, that would be “high winter” here.  Probably would be the weather here in Late January.

So I said I’d share a little color.  Apparently the winter up North has just been wet, and for the next couple days the Big Cities of the Northeast will be under a lot of rain.   Don’t forget your umbrellas folks.

So was my back yard, but it was artificial.  I grabbed this picture of the Ruellia blossom after it was watered on Irrigation Day.  Since I liked how it turned out after a gentle crop and resize, I thought I would share it here.

Yes, tomorrow is the first day of Winter.  The sun at its peak will be the lowest in the sky it is all year.  But cheer up folks, the days will get longer from here on out.

After all, it’s going to be in the low 80s here in South Florida.

Mexican Petunia In Bloom Picture

Perhaps this blog has been a bit heavy on pictures lately, I’m not sure.  On the other hand, I’ve got a lot to take pictures of.   I live in a land named after flowers and people do seem to enjoy looking at them.

When you have a blog or any web site, you can find out what people like to read about by looking at your analytics and web page “hits” and fill in the blanks.  In the case of this site, people seem to hit my posting on propagation of Mexican Petunias.  These Ruellias are all over the neighborhood.  Here they are as common as Hosta are up North. 

I was walking past the neighbor’s house the other day and these three purple beauties were lined in a row.  Once I allowed the wind to die down, They lined up and smiled at me as such. 

I am considering my options with these plants.  In front of my house I have a small garden.  I had pulled out all the ferns that grew there as they were climbing up the Japanese Yew that I have on the corners of the windows and would grow outside of the flower box.  Ferns have their own charm but they are only green.  They have no other colour.  In the case of the Mexican Petunias, I’d get that same dark green and a welcome touch of purple to add to it.

Since I am a fan of propagating your own plants, I could go through that box with a weed eater and get rid of what is left and have a nice clean bit of sand that is under irrigation.  That is all one needs when you are trying to propagate Ruellia.  Irrigated soil.   I know this because that was all I had done for a pot of the stuff before.   Cuttings from the garden that climbed inside the fence got stuck into a pot and almost all of them rooted and bloomed.  It looked rather nice for a while until that irrigation line got cut and we went into the dry season.   It took a while before I noticed and now that pot has a trumpet flower tree in it and some other odds and ends like Poinsettia.

So if you’re looking for Propagation of Mexican Petunia, take a cutting, stick it in a hole, water well.  The plant should take.   If you have patience that would be about all you need.