Turn unlikely plants into hedges

A downy jasmine scrambles up a cabbage palm. Doug Caldwell

A downy jasmine scrambles up a cabbage palm. Doug Caldwell

Wax jasmine throws wild hairs and tends to get leggy as a hedge. Doug Caldwell

Wax jasmine throws wild hairs and tends to get leggy as a hedge. Doug Caldwell

A magnificent bougainvillea vine takes over some cabbage palms in the Carribean Gardens parking lot. Doug Caldwell

A magnificent bougainvillea vine takes over some cabbage palms in the Carribean Gardens parking lot. Doug Caldwell

If you’ve lived in southwest Florida for a year or so and have been obligated to look after your landscape with your very own sweat, blisters and time, you’ve probably arrived at the same conclusion I have: Plants grow year-round here and grow vigorously. So the less genetic “inclination” they have to grow and hence, the less pruning they need, the more likely I am to use that plant.

This was especially driven home when I moved to a residence with the typical jasmine hedges used to frame the corner plantings around the house. When one looks around town, there is an abundance of jasmine hedges. They always look like a tight nice square hedge (as if it had been squeezed out of one of those large cake icing decorator cones), about 3 to 4 feet tall which sporadically bears small white flowers.

There are several species of jasmine used in this manner and they include: Jasminum nitidum (shining or star jasmine); J. multiflorum (downy jasmine) and J. volubile (wax jasmine).

Well, my shining and downy jasmine hedges were ignored for a few months and, lo and behold, I found them twining up into the pygmy date palms and then 20 feet up into the cabbage palms. (OK, maybe the neglect was 6 months…or so)

Wow — turns out these jasmines are not shrubs, but vines! The descriptions for these species often read, “A vining species often trained as a shrub.” I don’t mind “training” a real shrub and shaping it into a “real hedge” with hand shears. Real shrubs — arboricola, firebush, cocoplum, Jamaican caper and others — tend to remain full at the base, from top to bottom and don’t sneak up into the tree tops where it is a struggle to remove them. Using these jasmine species for shrubs is akin to using a skinny marathon runner when you need a big offensive lineman.

Anyway, I don’t want to put landscape maintenance people out of work, but these Jasminum, I feel — please send in your comments to the NDN website — are really a silly choice for a shrub unless you can baby-sit them before they crawl up into nearby trees.

Bougainvilleas — vines or shrubs?

Another mystery to me was why would anyone plant bougainvilleas in roadway medians and prune the heck out of them to keep them at a 3-foot height? Everyone knows they grow to a rambling 40 foot vine, right? There are some prime examples in the trees at the Naples Zoo (Carribean Gardens) parking lot. I’d heard of a supposed dwarf variety called “Helen Johnson,” but many in the industry would wink when they said “dwarf.” Fernando Aguado (president of Bougainvilleas.com, inc in Miami), however, confirmed that “Helen Johnson is a “classic dwarf bougainvillea, the best for ground cover. They do not grow more than 3 feet.

“But,” he told me, “on the west coast of Florida, we have found that they produce a ‘Helen Johnson’ variety that is bigger and some people believe that it is a degeneration of the plant. It is possible that they are actually growing another variety called ‘Temple Fire’. ...

“As far as the real ‘Helen Johnson’ variety, it should be trimmed in the summer to make it more compact and it should be planted with some soil elevation to allow proper drainage and avoid chlorosis.”

Aguado also mention another dwarf: “Tropical Bouquet,” that are “very pretty in the summer but in the winter they are affected. They grow about 3 feet.”

The trick is to get accurately labeled plant material from the supplier.

Getting an eyeful

A nice reference is a 98-page booklet, “Brighten up Your Life with Bougainvillea,” by Eric Simon. Although much of the booklet is about foreign “bougies” and Malaysian soils, it is worth the price ($10; available online) for the pictures (especially the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Gardens, a 600-acre preserve near Pattaya, Thailand, and the info on ways to grow this variable species as: trees, (pages 61,63-wow ), bushes, bonsai, trellis, topiary and as road dividers!

In fact, there are 8 species of bougainvillea; but most of the varieties’ heritage is from 3 species:

B. spectabilis (hairy leaves, canes, bracts and prefers a cool dry season before it can flower well)

B. glabra (no pubescence and flowers year-long in the tropics)

B. peruviana.

After looking at this booklet, one cannot help but be dazzled by the by the brilliance of the bougainvilleas — the more the better. Just watch out for those thorns.

Doug Caldwell, Ph.D., is the commercial landscape horticulture extension agent and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service. E-mail dougbug@ufl.edu; phone, 353-4244 x203; or visit: collier.ifas.ufl.edu

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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