EDITOR’S NOTE: University of Florida/IFAS Extension Director for Nassau County and Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi, addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is also a University of Florida faculty member.
__GARDEN TALK Q & A ___
QUESTION: Can I grow mint here? I see it in all the stores and I would love to have some for cooking. JL
JORDI: The mints are some of the most easy-to-grow perennial herbs for Florida gardens. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (M. piperita) are two of the more popular along with apple and orange mints. I have seen chocolate mint and several variegated forms – all beautiful plants. The flowers of the mint family are small and are white, pink, blue, or violet.
Mint should be started in moist soil, using surface or underground runners as sprigs for new plants. In Florida, many of the mints grow profusely in shade or full sun. The leaves and flowering tops are the useful parts, both fresh and dried. We would suggest you consider planting the mint of your choice in containers. If you plant them in the soil, they have a tendency to become weedy and grow where you do know want them to grow. Do not be afraid to pinch off new leaves as these provide the best flavor.
QUESTION: I have heard if you give hummingbirds sugar water it will cause liver disease. Is it true? SS
JORDI: I called the Audubon Society about this question just to be sure no new problems had cropped up of which I was unaware. I was particularly interested in your question as I know many gardeners supplement our landscapes with hummingbird feeders.
The University of Florida would suggest you always have trees, shrubs and flowers in your yard to attract hummingbirds and provide them with sufficient nutrient sources. Planting a red buckeye or wild azaleas in a shaded site in your landscape will provide nectar in the early spring as these native plants are the first to put out nectar flowers in Northeast Florida.
A sugar solution can be made for feeders using 4 parts clean water, and 1 part white, granulated sugar. Use warm water so the sugar will dissolve easily but be sure to stir the solution sufficiently so all sugar particles dissolve. Allow the water to cool before pouring it into the feeders. 1) Never use artificial sweeteners or honey as these can be toxic to the birds. 2) Never add red food coloring as the bird’s kidneys cannot process the dyes. These two important factoids, regarding the sugar water, may be where the rumor of sugar feeders being lethal got their start. If you use multiple feeders, keep them about 10 feet from each other to avoid fights between the birds as hummers are very territorial. Change out the water every 3-5 days as it can become rancid. Wash the feeders when changing out new sugar solutions. Do not use soap or chlorine to clean the hummingbird feeders – just warm water. Bottlebrush trees, butterfly bush, firespike, plumbago, and coral vine are easy care plants to attract hummers to your yard. For more information on hummingbirds check out the University of Florida publication.
QUESTION: Can we grow the sweet clove here? MG
JORDI: Clove tree, Carophyllus aromaticus, is small evergreen tree. The pink-peach colored flowers appear at the beginning of the rainy season and grow in bunches at end of branches. The calyces, with the embryo seed, are beaten from the tree and when dried form the cloves sold in markets. Calyces are actually the sepals of a flower. They enclose the petals and form a protective layer around a flower in bud. The flowers have a strong refreshing odor. If the seeds are allowed to mature, most of the pungency is lost. Each berry has only one seed.
It takes about 8-9 years after planting before the tree produces any fruit. The whole tree is highly aromatic – including the bark. The spice was introduced into Europe from the fourth to the sixth century. The finest cloves come from Molucca and Pemba, where the trees grow better than anywhere else, but they are also imported from the East and West Indies, Mauritius and Brazil. We do not have similar climates to these areas so I suspect the plant would not be productive here.
Rebecca L. Jordi
County Extension Director
UF/IFAS Environmental Horticulture
Nassau County Extension
543350 U.S. Highway #1
Callahan, FL 32011
904 491-7340 or 904 879-1019