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Diggin' Florida Dirt : Spring's new plants, products, opportunities

Whether it's household cleansers, garden supplies or good friends, I tend to stick with old favorites. • But I'm also a sucker for sparkly newcomers. And when it comes to the garden, we get those in spades every spring. • This year, I've seen new plants, products and opportunities that make me say, "Want it now!" Here's a sampling:

Diggin' new plants

I'm cranking up the color with heat-loving "Little Ruby" Alternanthea, which has been wowing Deep South trial gardens since 2010 — Louisiana State University declared it a super plant.

Grown as a border plant or ground cover, Little Ruby sports inchlong leaves with rich, colors: mostly burgundy, but also lavender, forest green and pops of fuschia.

It's available now at many Home Depot garden centers.

The Alternanthea genus includes some of my favorite, easy-to-grow, outrageously multihued foliage plants. Several of them you may know as Joseph's coat (as in the biblical outerwear of many colors).

"Little Ruby" gets about a foot tall and sprawls 2 to 3 feet in a dense mound. I planted a couple in my sunny garden three weeks ago and they've been happy as lizards.

Home Depot also has a limited roll-out of two new impatiens varieties, Bounce and Big Bounce.

The headline: They're not susceptible to downy mildew, the fungus wiping out Florida's favorite Impatiens walleriana. The Bounces are also said to thrive on less water than walleriana and take more sun.

I'm testing a couple and I've learned "more sun" doesn't mean "full sun." Thank goodness their name comes from their remarkable ability to bounce back after collapsing from thirst.

Yeah, I moved mine.

Still life with a twist

Steve Asbell's new book, Plant by Numbers: 50 Houseplant Combinations to Decorate Your Space, (Cool Springs Press), makes creating conversation-piece container combos a snap with step-by-step directions, full-color photos, and plant-by-number diagrams.

I've been professionally acquainted with Steve, a 31-year-old Jacksonville artist and gardener, for several years. He's insanely creative and curious, so I opened his book ready to rock some crazy new combos. Most of my houseplants came from funerals. Could Steve breathe new life into my dusty parlor palms and peace lilies?

Hallelujah, yes!

His "Satin and Sage" arrangement combines parlor palms (Chamaedorea eleans), satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus 'Argyraeus') and lemon lime Dracaenas in an elegant display that tolerates low light.

Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum wallisii) pump up their personality with the cheery striped foliage of peacock plant (Calathea makoyana) and subdued marble pothos (Epipremnum aureum 'Marble Queen) in "Back in Style."

The book includes lots of care tips, container recommendations and shopping resources.

Steve dove into gardening several years ago to give his late mom a better view from her windows after she developed a crippling illness. She didn't live to see him publish his first book, but I'm sure she would have been proud. Like Steve, it's original, colorful and detail-oriented.

Row by precise row

If you like your lettuce and pepper plants marching in soldier-like precision through the veggie bed, your life just got easier.

With the new Garda Dibble, you can quickly create up to 16 evenly spaced holes for seeds. It's as easy as using an ink stamp.

The dibble is 6 by 6 inches and made of heavy-duty plastic with a handle on top and 16 pegs, 3/4-inch long and spaced an inch apart, on the bottom. The pegs pop off to change spacing or to create a naturalized pattern for flower seeds.

It's great for small gardens and reduces the need for thinning seedlings, a task I abhor. Who likes pulling up babies?

"I wanted a tool that would save time and space," says inventor Shannon Roxborough, who uses his Garda Dibble in his own New York garden.

Single-hole dibbles have been around for centuries. Shannon had "an idea in mind" for a multipegged board and started researching. He found 19th- and 20th-century gardeners made their own — and still do today.

For those of us without woodworking skills, the Garda Dibble is a handy solution. It's $19.99 plus shipping at gardadibble.com and comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Free money buzzer!

Got a great idea for a project that will sow the seeds of gardening love, preserve green space, or teach us about environmental concerns?

If you're a Hillsborough County nonprofit or school, civic- or faith-based organization that's been around for more than a year, you can apply for up to $1,000 in grant money from the Tampa Garden Club.

But hurry — the deadline is June 1.

The Community Growth Grant is new and it's starting with a $2,000 pot, says club president Kitty Wallace.

For details, rules and to apply, visit TampaGardenClub.com and click the "Branching Out in the Community" tab.

Reach Penny Carnathan at pcarnathan49@gmail.com; visit her blog, digginfladirt.com, join in the chat on Facebook at Diggin Florida Dirt, and follow her on Twitter, @DigginPenny.

Diggin' Florida Dirt : Spring's new plants, products, opportunities 05/15/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 15, 2014 4:28pm]
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