Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One Piece at a Time

It's been unseasonably warm here in My Florida Backyard, and we haven't been getting as much outside time as we might like. We're getting all the moist heat of the summer with very little of the beneficial afternoon rain. Temps are running 5-7 degrees among normal, with days approaching record highs of near or at 90. Still, it beats snow, sleet, and nasty north winds, so we're trying not to complain - much.

Still, I try to get out each day for at least a little stroll around the yard, to check on everyone and plan maintenance and improvements for when the weather finally cools off. Today, I was pleased to notice that the new Mexican Petunia plants I started a few weeks ago are doing well.

I've written my thoughts about Mexican Petunia before - the only way it belongs in a Florida-Friendly yard is if you use a sterile cultivar. That is, of course, what we have, so the plants don't spread unless we want them to. You might think that means that when I want new plants, I have to buy them, since these plants produce no seeds. Fortunately, Mexican Petunia has to be one of the absolute easiest plants to start from cuttings.

In fact, "start from cuttings" makes the process sound more complicated than it is. All I did to start this new set of plants was to break off a piece of an existing plant at a joint, where it forms a sort of square. Then, I used a stake to make a narrow deep hole and shoved the "cutting" down into the soil. I watered them in well, and watered them once a week or so - when I remembered.

They looked a little wilty for the first day or two, but now they're beginning to establish roots and starting to thrive. By this time next year, my new plants should be reaching the heights of the older ones, creating a nice border between our property and the neighbors - all at no additional cost to me.

Mexican Petunias (Ruellia brittoniana) are both a blessing and a curse to Florida gardeners. They're easy to grow, produce flowers during much of the year, and are readily available at any local nursery - that's good. But the non-sterile cultivars produce seeds and spread at a prodigious rate; they can easily choke out other plantings and become impossible to eradicate - that's bad. So once again, I have to say - if you want them, look for those marked "sterile cultivar". It's the only responsible thing to do.

P.S. There is a similar native plant out there, by the way. Just this weekend, I was able to buy a very healthy looking Wild Petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis) at my favorite native plant nursery. It only grows to about 12 inches, as opposed to the 5-6 foot range of the Mexican Petunia, and the purple flowers are a bit smaller. They are just as attractive to butterflies, if not more so, and serve as a host plant for Buckeye butterfly caterpillars. If you have the chance to buy Wild Petunia instead of Mexican Petunia, you should certainly do so.

1 comment:

  1. I just stick my Mexican petunia cuttings in water and soon I have roots. Pop them in the ground and soon they are flowering. Too bad all plants aren't that easy to propagate.

    Have been on vacation for 2 weeks...can't wait to get home Thurs. morning to see how my plants are.