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Monday, Sep 15, 2014
South Shore News

He takes his orchids to work


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Dwight Eppler of Valrico has to be away from his garden much of the time because of his work. He says if God didn’t take care of his plants they’d all be dead. A sprinkler system and helpful wife help God along.

But Dwight doesn’t want to miss seeing his plants in bloom so he takes some of his orchids and hangs them in his office.

His wife Debbie tattled that sometimes he even takes them on vacations. It was obvious that she wasn’t complaining, just proud.

Before the orchids, Debbie was worried when Dwight started turning their yard into a butterfly garden. What if the butterflies didn’t come and he would be disappointed? Plant it and they will come, Dwight thought and said. While planting one of the plants, still in his hands, butterflies arrived.

He has tried to keep both larvae and nectar plants for as many kinds of butterflies as he can. I will never forget his pipevine. It’s in almost deep shade, in the back corner of the yard under his neighbor’s oak tree. It seems quite happy there and the butterflies find and use it. Dwight built a trellis at least 8-feet tall, from which the vine climbed into the tree and now grows at least 30-feet high. His neighbor was concerned until he learned that it was the source of all the butterflies. Sometimes they see as many as 80 gold rim swallowtails at a time.

That back corner is now a large outdoor room with a white fence on two sides and white bird of paradise plants that make a tall wall on an other side. Many of his plants are in containers, and his frost-sensitive bromeliads winter in this spot. At the other side of the yard is a potting shed that becomes a greenhouse for the orchids in the winter.

Dwight has so much milkweed for the monarchs that he had to cut it back. He has one giant milkweed that is about 4-feet tall, wide and thriving. Another trellis has a corky-stemmed passionvine and other passionvine species for the Julia, gulf fritillary and zebra longwing butterflies, and a sweet bay tree for the tiger swallowtails.

His brother started him on orchids, and he had great success with many, but only problems with yellow dancing ladies. He didn’t give up, but learned to plant them in an open-weave plastic container with orchid moss and some slow-release fertilizer. They like more light than most orchids and some air movement and will even take a little morning or afternoon sun. Now he has them lighting up the garden.

This man is very creative in his display. Besides those trellises, he has built three hangers that are attached to his tallest tree trunks and each one holds many orchids. He also had blooming hoyas, stephanotis or Madagascar jasmine, lily of the Nile next to trimark plumerias; more kinds of desert roses than I knew existed; three trees-of-gold that bloom in the spring; and a floss silk tree that blooms in late summer. There were at least three citrus trees that looked very good.

I guess I won’t be so worried about leaving my garden after this.

Today’s pick is the Tisllandia cyanea, a colorful bromeliad that’s easy to grow. Also called the pink quill plant, an epiphyte that can grow in a fast-raining soil mix. The grass-like foliage is attractive yet tough. Purple flowers forming out of the pink quill buds do not appear on any kind of a regular basis. It takes a while for them to bloom, so it’s best to buy one with the quills and/or flowers already on it – if that’s what you want.

Morning sun is all it should get. It will burn in hot, sunny conditions. Just make sure the center always is filled three quarters or so to the top with water. Keep the roots moist, keeping in mind that this plant’s roots are primarily for attachment and securing the plant instead of collecting nutrients like most other plants. It gets it nutrients from its thin leaf blades. It’s recommended to use a liquid organic fertilizer (20-20-20) at one half strength and spray the blades lightly with a mist once every two weeks for best growth.

Now’s the time to...transplant any of your plants that would do better in another place or to add some color with annual bedding plants. Water if needed, but you won’t need too much if the rains continue. Prune back anything that’s overgrowing and keep your paths wide. I have to keep most of mine wide enough for the wheelbarrow. Put invasive, seedy or sickly material in the trash and the rest of your prunings under a bush or banana tree for mulch or on a compost pile.

Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 12 gardening books who can be reached at monicabrandies@yahoo.com. Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.

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