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Ask Dr. Hort: Go native for colorful, salt-tolerant plants

Considerations when choosing crape myrtle

Q: I would like to plant some mature crape myrtle trees, similar to the trees planted in the median strip on Park Boulevard by 66th Street N in Pinellas Park. Would you know what specific type crape myrtle that is (basically single trunk), and where I can purchase a couple of those trees?

Dave Cadoret

A: There are four major criteria in choosing crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica): size, color, exfoliating bark (peeling, cinnamon-colored bark) and disease resistance. When ordering, you also want to specify multiple trunk or standard (single trunk). The size you admire is in the category of more than 20 feet. The cultivars that I chose for you all have beautiful bark and very good disease resistance: "Biloxi" is pale pink, "Choctaw" is bright pink, "Miami" is dark pink, "Wichita" is lavender, and the ones on Park Boulevard, "Natchez," are white.

Raised beds are best choice for gardening

Q: We are not having any luck with our vine crops, cucumbers, zucchini or melons. The leaves turn yellow as does the produce and the ends of the produce turn soft. Our first year we had great luck, but not since then. We don't know if the soil needs something or if it's caused by pests. We would appreciate any help.

George Vogel, Sun City Center

A: The best way to garden in our area is with raised beds. Get some 2 by 10s, pressure-treated and cut to size. Then go to a nursery and get a good quality growing mix. Begin your garden now, especially your melons, and let them run out of your beds. Grow your cukes vertically on chicken wire to save room and space your squash based on variety. Make sure to irrigate, using a drip system, to keep water off of the foliage. Cucumbers, melons and squash are prone to fungus problems. Also, make sure your cucumbers get plenty of water or they will taste bitter. These little pearls of wisdom should have you rolling in produce.

Go native for colorful, salt-tolerant plants

Q: I live on the Intracoastal Waterway in Harbor Bluffs/Largo, with the back of the house facing a western exposure. Can you direct me with any options for salt-tolerant plants I can put near the seawall, though somewhat protected by a Schilling hedge? I need some color, preferably low maintenance as far as constant trimming, and low height (less than 2 feet) so as not to obstruct the view. We had ixora there, but the winter has made them unhappy and I'm not sure they'll recover.

Suzanne Hinote, Largo

A: This would be a perfect location to go native. A great seaside plant, with a suckering growth habit that helps to stabilize beach sand, is sea-oxeye daisy (Borrichia arborescens), pictured. It flowers all year, forming a little colony of plants that need no care. Yellowtop (Flaveria linearis) is a colorful perennial with bright asterlike flowers mainly in fall and winter. It is a great nectar plant for butterflies and is attractive even when not in bloom. Seaside gentian (Eustoma exaltatum) is one of Florida's showiest wildflowers. A relative of the Texas bluebell and the commercial lisianthus, it blooms lavender most of the year and is native to the beach community, but may be hard to find. Dune sunflower (Helianthus debilis) is an indispensable part of the coastal landscape. Blooming yellow all year and forming small thickets as it continually reseeds itself, it is maintenance-free. For an annual, consider blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella). Zinnia-like flowers are usually maroon with yellow tips appearing all year. It is a tough little plant that reseeds prolifically, attracts butterflies and can be used as a cut flower.

Dig in

Did you know that you have to sharpen your shovel, even if new? To put an edge on a shovel, use a bench grinder or a 10- to 12-inch mill file. You will be amazed at how easily it goes through the soil — and also PVC pipe, so be careful.

Need help?

Enter Greg "Dr. Hort" Charles, who for more than 30 years educated gardeners through the Pinellas Technical Education Centers. He answers questions about landscape and garden pests. E-mail your questions to drhort@

tampabay.rr.com or to features@sptimes.com (put Dr. Hort in the subject line). Mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe your problem in full, and include your name and contact information. If possible, include a photo. We will print his advice on Saturdays in HomeLink.

Ask Dr. Hort: Go native for colorful, salt-tolerant plants 04/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 15, 2010 4:11pm]

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