Friday, October 23, 2009

October and time to plant

The best time of the year to set out plants, at least on our side of the island, is October. I say "our side" because on the West side the storms (known as "Northers") come in harder and everything comes to a standstill over there. On the East side we may get the same amount of rain but while the seas are rocking and rolling on the West side, they are generally more subdued on the East side.

With this in mind, and knowing that rains will start about mid-October, I prepared to do some much needed landscaping. We had recently returned from La Ceiba where I purchased 20 good-sized plants to plant on either side of our walkway. This area is shaded and being on a 30-35 degree angle, it is hard to get water to absorb into the clay base it runs down hill quickly in a downpour and little goes into the ground. Lighter rains are more effective but with the huge trees lining both sides of the walkway, light rains do not give sufficient moisture to the plants.

The garden center I chose in La Ceiba was Plantas Tropicales, located on Calle 19 in Barrio Alvarado and it was a neatly arranged, well-stocked center. The young man working there, Jose, was very helpful and showed me the variety of plants that do best in shaded areas. I informed him that they must be somewhat drought tolerant. With his suggestions, we managed to pick out plants that, hopefully, will stand the rigors of our environment at home.

Among the plants was a Split Leaf Philodendron, some lovely Anthurium Andraeanums which produce a heart-shaped pink flower, some Dracaena Deremensis, and a plant I have yet to discover a name for as I was unable to read the writing on my invoice!

This is a photo of the unnamed plant which, I was told, will get bushy and possibly about 1-2 feet tall.

Planting on the island can be very, very time consuming and difficult. You see, where I live I have no water source other than a creek at the back of the property which, after your reach the 65' crest of the hill behind the house, you must walk down hill about 600 feet to reach the creek, which is at sea level. We use a pump to pump water up to three 55 gallon barrels along with a large 500 gallon tank we have in back of the house. This we use during the dry season to water plants. However, water pressure is slight (being gravity fed) and the hose does not reach to most of the plants in the front yard. Therefore, I must fill water cans (4-5 gallon ones) and walk all the water I wish to use down to the planting area when preparing to plant.

Also, the clay is very hard and holds the water for a long time. Most plants need loose soil to aerate the roots so I mix the clay with bit of sand. I then add fertilizer as the clay has almost nothing in it for feeding and producing a better plant.

Digging is another problem in that the clay is hard and their are many rocks embedded in the soil. This task I leave to my worker. I mean, after all, he must earn his pay! He generally likes to make a hole that a plant will just fit into and is never happy when I make him dig a much larger hole that I can fill it with looser soil to allow the roots to spread and pick up the nutrients easier. Also, it took years for me to train him that when you transplant plants they should 1) be well watered first, 2) fill the hole at least halfway with water before placing the plant in, 3) tap down the earth around the root ball thus eliminating any air pockets, and 4) water the plants to settle the dirt to again eliminate any air pockets. When he first started working for me, he would just pull up a plant not paying any attention to handling it carefully so that dirt remained on the roots, thrusting it into a small, dry hole, placing dirt around it and walking away. The theory was that eventually some plants might make it!

He has now seen that more plants live planting with my method, even though it requires work. I even get him to water plants when they are starting to droop as he always feels Nature should take care of that task without any help from him. Pulling weeds is something he puzzles at regarding the rationale behind this task. In his mind, they are just going to grow back!

When I plant, I also try to use driftwood, stone or some other type of natural product to produce an area pleasing to the eye. I am working on laying various pieces of driftwood on the gravel pathway from the dock to the base of the concrete walk leading to the house and, at the top of the walk, I have managed to mount a huge tree trunk and decorate it with plants and orchids.

All 20 plants were put in and I added some crotons that I had started from cuttings to the base of the sidewalk hoping for some color when coming off the gravel path. I want to plant some succulent plants in the sunny areas as fillers. I also have a lovely green ground cover which has small yellow flowers to fill in the "dirt" areas between the sidewalk and the new plants.

In my vast variety of plants I have purchased very few, only about 6 while building our home. Instead I was lucky to receive cuttings from friends. I have Aloe, Allamanda, Elephant Ear, Red and White Ginger, Pineapple, Bamboo, Bougainvillea, Rubber plant, Poinciana tree, Spanish flag, two types of wild Orchid, Australian Pine, Cactus, Lime tree, Autograph tree, Tamarond tree, various Hibiscus, Coconut palms, several varieties of Crotons,Ti plants, Dumbcane, Lobster claw, Heliconias, Spider Lily, Minature Ixora, Crepe Myrtle, Banana plants, Frangipani, Traveler's Palm, Moses-in-a-Cradle, Sugar cane, Mother-in-law's-tongue, Starfish flower, various un-named flowering plants used for boarders, Spider plants, Kalanchoe, Areca Palm, asparagus fern and other plants I have not identified here, all of which I planted while building our home. This is the first time I have made a major purchase of plants! So, all in all, I've been very lucky.

The next project will be in back of the house going up to the top of hill where we have cleared all the brush and excess trees and started planting last year. I had to wait until the rains returned and now is the time to get started. Busy months ahead!

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