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Even just to look, Sarasota's Tropiflora festival worth trip

If you've never been to Tropiflora in Sarasota, or even if you have, you'll want to mark Oct. 7 and 8 on your calendar. The nursery is hosting its Fall Festival Open House and Sale. It's definitely worth the trip.

The nursery specializes in orchids, bromeliads, succulents, cycads and assorted plant oddities. Their 1.5-million plants are displayed in six acres of greenhouses. They are promising many rare and specimen plants not usually for sale. Several shipments of orchids and bromeliads will be specially imported for the sale from Ecuador, Venezuela and Costa Rica, with many excellent species and hybrids available at bare-root prices. Bare-root succulents and caudiciforms give the novice grower the opportunity to try a number of different plants at minimum cost.

There are landscape bromeliads, tillandsias, and collectors' items by the hundreds. We're promised a large selection of $1 stock closeouts also. Supplies and books are also sale priced. Hourly door prizes will be given along with raffles of plants and supplies.

A silent auction to benefit the Bromeliad Identification Center at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is planned. The auction is Saturday, Oct. 7, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Auction items include rare bromeliads, orchids, succulents and other plants.

Food, drinks and snacks are available. Parking is free. Saturday's hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday's hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The nursery is located at 3530 Tallevast Road in Sarasota. Travel I-75 South, exiting at exit 40. Turn right onto University Parkway and then right on Tuttle Avenue. After turning left on Tallevast Road, Tropiflora will be on your right side.

The web site www.tropiflora.com lists inventory. If you visit the nursery, request a copy of Tropiflora Cargo Report, a catalog-journal. This publication contains articles, plant information, photographs and an order form.

On my last visit there, which was over a year ago, I purchased a number of small bromeliads. I used hot glue to attach them to a piece of driftwood, which sits on my lanai table. Although the plants are basically neglected (receiving a spray of water when I think about it) they have flourished and reward me with blooms. You'll find all the Tropiflora staff very knowledgeable and willing to help you make appropriate choices for your garden situation. Even if you purchase nothing (oh, what willpower!) you'll have an educational and enjoyable experience at the nursery.

Before you travel to Tropiflora you may want to take a walk around your garden and decide where you will put all your wonderful purchases. This is a good time to recognize those plant materials that need to be removed, whether they aren't thriving or it's just something you don't care for. Clean out your beds, removing weeds and other debris, and think about adding more beds. Remember, grass is a high-maintenance item. Plants that are appropriately placed and cared for on a regular basis will be less expensive and time consuming in the long run.

Look for spots in your beds to tuck a few fall vegetables. You don't have to prepare a separate bed; many are happy living among your ornamentals. Some that do well in the ornamental garden include lettuce, radishes, carrots, bush beans, onions, and tomatoes. Just about any vegetable you might enjoy will probably flourish among the flowers. Some of the spreading vegetables like squash or cucumber may take up too much room to be practical, but many of these traditional space hogs have more compact varieties available now.

If you had annuals that made it through the hot summer months they may be past their prime. Think about replacing them with fresh annuals or a few perennials. My beds have been rather "green" for a while now and I'm looking forward to planting some color spots of petunias to liven them up.

Some of my container plantings are looking tired, so I will take a look at Tropiflora and see if what I can come up with. Although it is commonly done, I haven't grown bromeliads in containers, but with their interesting foliage and brightly colored and unusual blooms they should be eye catchers. They're also very hardy and will survive the regular neglect that my containers receive.

I also have to prune my peach trees just to open up the middle and spray them with a horticultural oil. I need to cut back my blueberry bushes to force some new growth. My crop was smaller this past season than it had been in the past. I'll use a good acid fertilizer to force some new growth.

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