It’s May in our Garden

January 20, 2022

Spring is Here and The Weather is Turning

We talked about weather changes in April. Well, now it’s May in the South Florida Garden, and substantial changes are coming, This month the rains start. Plants we grew last month are gone. I ripped out my tasty tomatoes two weeks ago, and the Petunias are among the missing. On the other hand, the Gardenias are sweet, the Caladiums sway in today’s breeze, and Bougainvillea is lush.

What Will We Do This Month?

We will admire what we have. The grassy areas will be fresh and green, the ponds will be full and the fish will jump. We will be eating fresh vegetables from Georgia and then New Jersey like everybody else on the east coast. Our extensive nearby farming communities are out of business and we all hope that Coronavirus did not make it permanent.

We are a beachfront, resort community but the farmlands are close. This disease has made life hard for all of us but when the restaurants closed people who produced the food we eat suffered the most.

What’s In Bloom?

Vanilla Orchid

May is a blooming month. A friend gave us one foot of Vanilla Orchid, saying “stick it in the ground next to a palm tree and forget it”. We did. Now it has climbed up the palm trunk, leaving the earth behind and becoming aerial. This month it has long pale green tubular flowers up and down the palm trunk. It is a little bit of magic.


Often called Bangkok Roses, the Mussaenda is a tropical plant that charms us transplanted yanks! It is related to Gardenia, Penta, and Ixora, and butterflies love it too.

The shrub appears to have huge pastel-colored blooms. What we see are actually sepals that surround the tiny yellow flowers. They are lovely, however, the pink one is about 8-9′ in height and covered in salmon pink curved sepals. The newest one is creamy white with a hint of yellow. It was cold damaged in late January but has recovered.

Philippine Violet (Barleria cristala)

This herbaceous perennial is native to China, India, and Myanmar. its maximum height is about 48″ and has a dense array of dark green leaves that pucker around their veins. In a lengthy spring and fall period, it displays vivid blue/purple tubular flowers. It attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. It suffered minor cold damage from very few cold nights this winter in our zone 10b garden. As far north as zone 8b it dies back in winter and reblooms;


This is not in bloom. It is a foliage plant with large leaves of white, pink, red and green. They are almost translucent. Several hundred of them surround the house and some boring foundation plantings. We are rethinking these dull areas. Along one side we removed the green plantings from the areas between some windows and added tree form Gardenia.

What Gets Done This Month

Category of PlantsTo DoTo PlantReferences
HerbsI like to cook and always keep plenty of herbs and so far the heat has done no harm. Basil, Lemongrass, Rosemary, Mexican Tarragon, Ginger, Mint
VegetablesVegetables that are starting in northern gardens are finishing for us. We would love to try the historic Everglades Tomato, tiny and sweet but it is a spreader and we can’t find a place. Sweet Potato, Hot peppers, Cherry tomato
AnnualsMost annuals are doing well so far. Petunias have failed but not Calabrachoa (which looks like very small Petunia) We have removed one Geranium. Annual salvia is now on its third year, rigorous cutting back seems helpful.Angelonia, Wax Begonia, Salvia, Penta, Vinca. Torenia, Zinnia
Bulbs /PerrenialsMost of our spring bulbs are up and visible. We are actively dividing older plantings of perennials. Tropical lilies, Amazon, Aztec, Clicia
Shrubs and TreesCheck palms for environmental and nutritional disorders.

Palm trees are not actually trees but are grasses. They are susceptible to a variety of diseases. Most have symptoms that are visible if you are observant. Potassium (K) deficiencies are the most common in palms everywhere. The symptoms are visible on the oldest leaves and vary by species. This article describes them in detail

Reference Material- The links I have given are all to University publications from our state agricultural college. They are excellent sources and are kept updated.

The Pollinators and Wildlife

Two butterfly host plants are doing business in the small backyard. Milkweed for the Monarchs and Passion vine for the Zebra Longwing, our state butterfly. The Monarchs are large butterflies and like the Cosmos flowers which are large and flat and perfect to land on.

It is good to have nectar plants which the butterflies drink from in a good variety of colors and shapes. They will stop at the yard for the nectar plants but it is the host plants they need for egg-laying. When we bought the house a few years ago we were told by expert birders that hummingbirds were never seen. We have learned that what attracts butterflies works for them also.

Littoral Pond Planting

The edge of our freshwater pond is a challenge. The slope is quite steep and any planting material used must live in both wet and dry seasons. (Irrigation is available.) Our first plantings did not survive Hurricane Irma. The current plantings have survived a hurricane season.

The plantings consist of Canna flaccida, a yellow water canna with long pale green foliage and lily like butter yellow flowers. We added Duck Potato a popular water plant with white blossoms and Florida’s native blue Iris. Behind them is an ornamental grass called Muhlenburgia which turns magenta in the fall.

We get a lot of pleasure from this pondside planting and while it is hard to quantify, we think we are seeing more waterbirds also. Altogether a good outcome!

Summary, Preparing For A Florida Summer

The pool is great this time of year but the summer will be long, humid and stormy. It is important that the pruning be done and any signs of pests or diseases are dealt with. Hurricane Season is only a month away!

Florida hurricanes-

Hurricane season lasts from June to November, in Florida and it important to us. Our unique location, with a warm ocean around 3 sides of the state makes us a place subject to significant damage. This year should be doubly risky. Experts anticipate a great er than average amount of storm activity and the pandemic, Covid 19 adds to the risk.

This is a state whose emergency management service is experienced but the virus makes things like keeping people safe very complicated. People are taking measures to shelter at home. We have shutters and generators. Who wants to wind up in a shelter, a hotel doesn’t seem desirable.

We have always been conscious of preparation were all getting ready. If you live in a place with hurricane risk this piece might be helpful.

Enjoying the Summer

When it is not storming we will enjoy the tropical plants that thrive in our wet summer and nowhere else. happy summer gardening.