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How to do a Florida plant swap — garden tips from garden experts

I'm excited about our plant swap on Sunday (and yes, football fans, you'll be home in plenty of time to order chicken wings for the Super Bowl. As for me? I'll be salivating over all my new goodies.)

I organized my first prespring swap after the freezes of January 2010. There was nothing else to do! We couldn't cut back, couldn't plant, couldn't even buy new plants because who knew what would bounce back in the spring? At least at a swap, we could get together, talk dirty and plan for sunny days ahead.

Many of the hardiest, most prolific and unusual plants in my garden come from swaps. Add to that, I get a nice glow knowing someone took the time to lovingly cut, root and haul them to me — a stranger. Or they're from seeds someone carefully collected, stored and shared. Plants we find at swaps are ones that did so well for those gardeners, they just have to pass them along, like a delicious secret.

This year, Wes and Fay Miller of Seminole Heights generously agreed to host the 2012 Diggin' Florida Dirt Swap at their home. I met the Millers a few years ago when I was writing for another area publication. Wes creates budget-minded garden boxes similar to EarthBoxes and teaches gardening classes. Fay keeps Wes in line and does a lot of gardening herself. I enjoyed bumping into them at gardening events all over the county and, while massaging our bruises, we became friends.

This will be my first visit to their garden. Can't wait!

Our swap is 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at 7310 Park Drive in Tampa's Seminole Heights. If you've never been to one of these, know that it's a very informal, totally free get-together where gardeners trade plants and seeds. It's an opportunity to get plants that you often can't find in nurseries or garden centers. Why? I have no idea.

If you have nothing to bring, no worries. There's always more than enough to go around and gardeners like nothing better than to heap seeds and cuttings upon newbies. It's how we roll.

Whether you're a swapping first-timer or a veteran, you may benefit from these tips, tricks and tales from fellow gardeners:

From Virginia Overstreet, master gardener, Tampa:

•Tag your plants with the name. It helps if you also add the light and water requirements and mature size. Knowing the mature size is important since most plants at swaps are babies.

•Have a blanket or extra bags to protect your car. Boxes or milk crates will prevent your plants from falling over.

•Don't bring plants that have been assessed as invasive. Visit plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/conclusions.html to be sure.

Favorite swaps in Virginia's garden? Orange Holmskioldia sanguinea (Chinese hat plant) and Clerodendrum wallichii (bridal veil).

From Nanette O'Hara, Tampa Bay National Estuary Program, Tampa:

•Include bloom time, if applicable, to the label information.

•Make tags from old aluminum blinds and other castoffs with one end cut to a point to insert in the pot and information written with a Sharpie marker. You can also stick a shipping label on the pot.

Favorite swaps in Nanette's garden? Belamcanda chinensis (Blackberry lily) and Eucharis grandiflora (Amazon lily).

From Janna Begole, Citrus Park gardener:

"My favorite seed from a swap was desert cassia. Or, that's what I thought it was. I carefully planted it, gave it plenty of water and it wasn't long before I saw a sprout … a stem … leaves … WOW … BIG leaves. Big leaves that looked nothing like a desert cassia!"

"Wondering if I'd been nurturing weedus giganticus, I posted a picture begging for an ID. Rick Brown, owner of Riverview Flower Farms, told me it was a Vietnamese hollyhock. I've been enjoying big, beautiful blooms ever since. Yeah — surprises are nice, too!"

From Tanja Hardin, Tampa gardener:

•If you don't have seeds or cuttings, bring food and plastic bags to share.

•What I love about hosting is that you get all the things that everyone leaves behind.

Favorite swap in Tanja's garden? Orangeberry tree. YUM!

And on another note

I don't usually share emails readers send in response to columns, but I've gotten some recently that I just have to pass along:

On butterflies

Thank you for providing security and life to your monarch butterflies. Monarchs are having a hard time now with so much of the habitat used in their migration being lost, plus several plagues of viruses, so every one released is needed.

Please don't mourn the one that flew to a tree and just hung there without moving. They will hang for hours and Zelda just felt the need of resting overnight before she went looking for that special male and then started her search for a milkweed on which to lay eggs.

Richard Wiggins, New Port Richey

I have taken many caterpillars off of my milkweed plants and nursed them to butterflies. When the weather turns bad and I don't want to release a butterfly, I have put the butterfly in an envelope and put it in the refrigerator until the weather changes and I'm ready to release it. When I take it out of the envelope, it looks like it is stiff, frozen and dead. After a little bit, it warms up and is ready to resume its normal life.

I choose to think Zelda got along just fine. Nature is pretty strong when it comes to such things.

Stan Allen, New Port Richey

On African blue basil

It's everywhere at our house and with our cooking friends! When Bryce Whittlesey opened Chez Bryce on Davis Islands, a friend asked what his favorite herb was. He said African blue basil. Apparently, all chefs prefer it.

I found an organic farm in northern Alabama that sells it online. Before long we had starter plants for friends. We had two giant pots for Bryce, and almost weekly I would take him an armload of fresh herbs.

Bryce closed the restaurant about two years ago but he has loads of African blue in pots on his patio that he uses in his private chef business.

If you haven't eaten the flowers, you are in for a treat. They are beautiful on a chilled pea soup!

The flowering stems are so abundant they are hard to keep pinched back but your plants will be thicker and not get so leggy. I recommend it.

Jill Solomon, Tampa

There's more garden chat with Penny at facebook.com/DigginFloridaDirt.

>>If you go

Plant swap

It's not too late to RSVP for the Diggin' Florida Dirt 2012 Plant Swap — we just want a head count. Email

penlyn1@tampabay.rr.com to let us know you're coming; call (813) 244-3893 for directions. There's no charge and if you've got nothin', we don't care. Come get your Florida-friendly landscape started with help from Florida-friendly gardeners from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday.

How to do a Florida plant swap — garden tips from garden experts 02/02/12 [Last modified: Thursday, February 2, 2012 3:30am]

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