August Q & A

By William Moss

If your dumb cane (also known as dieffenbachia) flowers, you're doing lots of things right.
If your dumb cane (also known as dieffenbachia) flowers, you're doing lots of things right.

Question: Hi, good afternoon. I am from Sonora Mexico, I don't speak too much English but my mother and I had a question. Does the dumb cane flower? Because she has a dumb cane from more than 20 years and we are surprised with its flowers. This plant is a son from the older one and is the first time we see a flower from this plant.

Answer: Hola. Hace viente anos que yo escribo Espanol. I'd better stick to English. Yes, dumb canes have a flower. They are in the arum family and produce a fascinating spathe and spadix inflorescence. The flower is similar to a calla lily, a close relative. If your dumb cane were pollinated, the white spathe would fall back, and after a few months the spadix would be crowded with decorative reddish berries. Many arum family members are typically grown as foliage plants, including elephant ears, pothos, monstera, eternity plants, and caladiums. Your mother must a good gardener because they only flower when they are happy.

For more information on spathe and spadix structures, check out William's Web.

Question: In rooftop gardening, what consideration do you need to make for water drainage? Do you have to strengthen the roof in any way?

Answer: Last month's "Up on the Roof" article has generated many positive comments and queries. If you have any question about the integrity of your roof, have a city inspector examine it before setting up containers. If you can, contact the developer. They should be able to supply the roof specifications.

Never sit anything directly on blacktop or reflective roofing. Place the containers on decking. Most buildings have a drain on the roof, and all water should run into that drain. Pooling water is a bad sign and can damage the roof.

Question: I am a librarian in an inner city, adult vocational school. We have a big, empty field that is not being used. What can I plant that does not need water? We do not have a sprinkler system and it gets very hot in Miami, Florida. I would love to have some trees or something easy to help out the environment. Benjamin ficus trees grow well and have good shade, but a hurricane would knock them down.

Answer: You have many choices because many plants will thrive in Miami. If you want something that requires little maintenance and can withstand hurricanes, choose plants native to the area, such as sumac, or tough heat lovers like crape myrtle. Some good resources are your local Cooperative Extension Service and National Gardening Association's Regional Reports for the Coastal and Tropical South.

Question: Aloha from Disney's Polynesian Resort. I have a beautiful fig tree with quite a few figs so far. It's almost 4 feet tall and I want to make sure that it will keep thriving for me. When I visited Italy, I saw fig trees growing out of cement wall crevices. They were gorgeous. Is there a certain fertilizer I should be using? The fruits, although very sweet, are very tiny. Any information you can send my way would be greatly appreciated!

Answer: My grandfather grew tasty figs on his farm in South Carolina, and that has spoiled me. If I can't pick it off the tree, I don't want it! As you probably already know, fig trees require a lot of heat and sun to produce well. Your Hawaiian climate provides both of those conditions. However, if you are close to the ocean, those cool ocean breezes might stress the tree. Figs prefer a good baking. In fact, it is quite common to grow them against south-facing walls, which reflect the sun and provide additional heat.

Figs like a lean, rocky, sandy, well-drained soil. Too much fertilizer or moisture can cause poor growth and limit fruit production. If the soil is fertile, you don't need to fertilize. If you are growing in sand or in a container, then fertilize three times a year (early spring, mid-spring, midsummer) when the tree is young. Mature trees need only one application in spring. As a rule, mature trees should grow less than 12 inches a year.

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