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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A few Late November Photos around the Yard

Although winter is certainly knocking on the door there are still some interesting plants to see in my yard. My Loquat gets lost under over tropical plants during the summer but it really shines this time of the year. The leathery leaves and fragrant blooms are a big hit in the yard in November. The blooms smell a bit like honey.

Not sure what cultivar of ivy this is but it is a beauty. The leaves are huge and the coloration is consistent and unusual. It is a slow grower though. 

Mahonias are great for adding some complex foliage to the winter landscape.

Soft Caress Mahonias are definitely not hardy to New York City long term. I covered them with blankets and even christmas lights on one night. Both survived but with some defoliation. It is a beautiful plant with palm - like foliage so worth a try in zone 7 but certainly a plant for 8a and up! 

Mahonia Japconia is a much hardier species of the genus and quite beautiful! Mine is thriving in nearly complete shade and blooms when the yard NEEDS the color most. If you want winter blooms and nice winter foliage, this plant just might be the most reliable for a zone 7! Mine bloomed much of last winter even in the snow. The yellow flowers contrast snow beautifully. In early summer the flowers change into blue berries which also looks very nice. All around a great plant and hardy through zone 6! 

And a wide shot with the livistonas and farfugiums

All these photos are from my phone so sorry for the lower quality. Thanks for looking!

Monday, November 21, 2016

7 years of Trachycarpus fortunei (windmill palm) in New York City zone 7

If growing a tropical garden in a climate with four seasons had a symbol that symbol would be a windmill palm. Windmill palms can pack a punch, are easy to protect, and can grow long and slender trunks. Walking underneath palm fronds all year long can suddenly become a possibility for so many more people thanks to windmill palms.

----------------- Cold tolerance ------------------

Now as much as I would love to say that you can grow a windmill palm without protection here in New York City, USDA zone 7b, the reality is that you can't long term. You could be the exception if you have an incredible microclimate, but I have seen so many people try and while they can sail through a mild winter and get by during our average winters, anything a little colder than usual always knocks them out. They can handle more cold in southern states where the sun angle is a bit higher and the days are warmer. But anyway if you have any questions leave a comment below. I want to get into the positives because anyone serious about this hobby whether you are in a zone 5 or a zone 8, should have a windmill palm because they are beautiful and very tough.

I give mine pretty minor protection during the winter. Protection goes on when a bad storm is coming (to keep moisture away from the growing crown), when nighttime temperatures drop below 18F, and when days fail to get above freezing. And my protection method is very basic since I am not too handy when it comes to building things. Just some lights, a frost cloth, and a plastic garbage bin gets the job done. Just make sure not to use LED lights since those do not generate heat. I use c7 or c9 light strings since the bulbs are nice and large and they emit a lot of heat.

----------------- Growth Rate ------------------

I've been growing my oldest trachycarpus since 2009. They were just baby 3 gallon palms when I planted them out. Now they are taller than me and are the proudest thing I grow. I know people who live in colder climates who have had even faster growth than this, but here is what can be achieved here in New York City in 7 years. There is an expression that goes the 1st year a plant sleeps, the 2nd year it creeps, then the 3rd year it leaps. I found this to be very true with windmill palms. It grew very little the first 2 years in the ground but after that took off! The first two years I had it, they actually looked very unhealthy. Now I think they look as healthy as they would in a mild climate.

In the middle of these 2 trachycarpus is a Livistona palm which I've had in the ground since 2010. It's only hardy to zone 8b and usually defoliates completely with temperatures in the low 20s, but it always comes back with some protection. A great perennial palm. As you can see it really has not grown much in the past 6 years unlike my trachys!

July 2009 (planted: 3 months ago)

December 2010 (planted: 1 year, 9 months ago)

November 2016 (planted: 6 years, 8 months ago)

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Well last night's cold front came in and guys and girls, it was a real doozy! After some cold rain and wind, it started to sleet very heavily, which many forecasts did not exactly anticipate. The sleet occurred at a pretty warm temperature, but as hard as mother nature tried to hang on to the mildish weather, eventually the combination of the front and the evaporative cooling from the rain (sorry my meteorology degree is being put to work with this post!) led to some wet snowflakes at 2am.

So of course being the weather geek and tropical plant geek that I am I HAD to stay up until 3am so I could take photos of the snow before it melted. The overnight low was 33F, too warm for the snow to stay on surfaces for more than a very brief period of time. Some of the ginger flowers did not take well to the snow but believe it or not still no freeze damage to anything else. Mandevillas are blooming, and the cannas and bananas look good!

But what looks even better than some tender perennials clinging onto life are some PALM TREES COVERED IN SNOW (yes I am shouting!). Isn't that the fun in growing hardy palm trees. Maybe being able to live in a climate where palm trees can be covered in snow has its perks? It sure is beautiful.

Farfugium is still blooming despite the snowy weather. 

This subtropical cat palm can only handle brief dips into the 20sF, but fortunately we stayed above freezing last night.

Of course here are my trachycarpus loving life in the snow!

The ginger was not as pleased

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Look Back to Summertime

This week I tried something a bit different and made a video. I tried to pick a relaxing soundtrack. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fall Foliage Season is Here

It is not very common to ever see fall foliage reach its peak here in New York City. You'd think that would have to do with the lack of trees available to watch the colors, but there are actually plenty of beautiful spots to watch the trees show their colors. The biggest issue is the weather. Nor'easter season is upon us and the wind and rain usually knock down leaves prematurely this time of the year. But this Autumn has been extremely calm and perfect for the trees to put on an incredible show before winter. The drought and heat in late summer was horrible for gardens but a perfect set up to incite some stress in the trees which led to some nice fall color. More warm and sunny weather followed for the next few months leading up to now. We still have yet to see a heavy rain or wind event since early summer in my neck of the woods.

So the trees has held onto their leaves like never before even as they change into brilliant shades of reds, yellows, and oranges. Here are some photos of the awesome sight (which was even more awesome out in the mountains away from the city by the way!)

Thanks for looking. Sorry this was not a "tropical" post. I'll make up for it! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November Plant of the Month: Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum'

With winter fast approaching, I think it is so important to honor the plants that are helping chase away the winter mood while most other plants are quickly embracing it. For November, Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum' is the CLEAR winner! Although the name doesn't quite roll off the tongue, I promise you will not want to forget it.

Farfugium japonicum is a shade loving plant known for its beautiful foliage. I can best describe the leaves as a robust big leafed begonia cultivar with the texture of plastic. During most of the year the requirements for this plant are similar to hostas - partial to full shade, a good amount of water, and kept away from extreme heat. Farfugiums are not nearly as cold hardy as hostas, but they are all around so much more spectacular and interesting than anything most people are growing here. When I saw beautiful Farfugiums at the Rutgers Gardens Annual Plant Sale (if you are a gardener in the area you have to visit this plant sale at least once!), I was so excited because it is a plant NO one offers here.

The foliage is very exotic although the plant is low growing so you'll want to keep it either in a pot or on the edge of gardening beds so it can be enjoyed. 'Aureomaculatum' is an especially nice cultivar for its foliage because it is spotted with golden flecks all over its leaves. I also like 'Gigantea' which has very large and glossy leaves. That cultivar is especially nice for tropical gardens.

In the fall when the weather cools down this plant kicks into overdrive and throws up beautiful, cheery bright blooms. The flowers look similar to dandelions or mums but are held up on very ornate delicate stems. The bees LOVE these blooms. Maybe it's just the lack of other flowers to enjoy, but my farfugiums are swarmed by honeybees all day long even in the chilly and short days of November. And the foliage still looks as healthy, full, and spectacular as ever. If anything it seems like the cooler weather has only benefited this plant. For these reasons Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum' is the plant of the month in my yard!

Here is the photographic proof!

For winter storage here in New York, both my farfugium 'Aureomaculatum' and 'Gigantea' will be kept inside my unheated garage when temperatures start to dip below 30F in the overnight. Farfugiums are generally considered root hardy to at least zone 7, but if I learned anything from my cast iron plants (which survive my winters but almost always have complete dieback), it is sometimes it's worth the extra work of bringing a plant inside than to risk it in the ground and have it never reach its fullest potential. Farfugiums actually look nicer in pots than in the ground where they would get lost among fast growing vines and tropicals in my yard. I recommend this plant to anyone in zone 8 and up for use in the yard and anyone at all as a potted plant, especially if you have long, frost free falls like we tend to have in New York City. Average first frost here is about mid November.

As always thanks for looking. I would love to hear your experiences with Farfugiums and if you have any other plants that bring some energy to an autumn yard.