TREES _ FLOWERING 

The flowering trees that bloom in summer are some of our most brilliant and beautiful. Skeptical? Just take a look at the royal poinciana, a large tree with showy clusters of flowers ranging in color from bright orange to red. Known as the `Flamboyant' in most tropical countries, it typically blooms in South Florida in June and July, but some years by the middle of May. Tthe royal poinciana's flowers appear on bare branches after a two-to three-month resting stage that is caused by the dry season. Individual flowers can be 4 to 5 inches across and are produced in large clusters that smother the crown of the tree. The big, umbrella-shaped crown is beautiful if adequate space is available to accommodate it. This is a tree for big lots, parks and boulevards. In confined situations, the beautiful, wide-spreading top may be butchered to make the tree fit the space. That's a shame because trimming minimizes the tree's greatest charms. Besides producing the most brilliant floral show of all Florida trees, it stands up against hurricane winds. But despite its beauty and strength, it has distinct disadvantages, such as a shallow root system that can lift sidewalks, long periods of bareness during the winter and a proclivity for dropping large seed pods and branches throughout the year. Tiny leaves also can clog pool filters and stain. The full brilliance of the plant can be enjoyed in conditions replicating its native Madagascar. They produce their best flower show on unirrigated sites. Trees under irrigation can bloom until September or October but are never as showy and are more prone to root rot. 

The peltophorum, also known as the yellow poinciana or copperpod, can reach 70 feet or more if conditions are right. It likes a sunny, dry location and quickly produces good shade and a reliable flower display. The erect clusters of golden yellow blooms are produced from May to August. These are followed by coppery-red pods that are also decorative. The deep-green compound leaves are a perfect background for the flower display. The tree is semi-evergreen, dropping leaves in the spring. It may drop all foliage if we have a freeze. This tree is also good for large properties, parks and schools where there is room for growth.



Hail to the Queen

The queen crape myrtle is another spectacular summer bloomer with its foot-long panicles of bloom that range from purple through mauve to brilliant pink. It starts flowering in late May and continues until August. The tree can grow 30 to 40 feet and can be bushy unless trimmed. The large, simple leaves hold on until February and then turn red and drop off. The tree may remain bare for a month or so before new leaves emerge. A close relative is the regular crape myrtle, which is found in much of the South. A single or multistemmed small tree, it is bare for several months in winter. Large panicles in red, purple, pink, mauve or white occur in the summer. The best plants in this group have Indian tribe names and are resistant to powdery mildew, a major problem with this species.. 

Showers of cassias

Cassias add beauty to the summer landscape with their big clusters of yellow or pink flowers. Cassia fistula, also known as golden shower, is remarkable for the long wisteria-like, drooping bunches of pale to golden yellow blooms, which can reach a foot or more in length. The yellow blooms are fragrant in the morning and can be seen in May and June. Golden shower can reach 30 feet high and sometimes shows chlorosis in the foliage in alkaline conditions. A good ixora/gardenia fertilizer applied in March, June and October will correct this problem. This cassia is an upright grower and can be useful in a narrow space. The pink shower is a wide-spreading tree with a drooping crown like a poinciana. Reaching about 20-25 feet in height and 30 feet in spread, it's deciduous in winter but produces new leaves and pink flowers from April until August. Like the poinciana, the flower show is heavier and shorter in duration if the tree is not under irrigation. All cassias need full sun and dry conditions to do their best. 


Jacaranda blues 

Jacaranda is a large tree that normally blooms better near Orlando than in south Florida. Its blue-purple blooms are spectacular; individual trees vary considerably in time of bloom and flower color. Some trees bloom in March but the big show comes April-June. Jacaranda normally is deciduous for one to two months in the spring before new growth and flowers appear. The trees under irrigation do not seem to lose their foliage completely, but the flower display is scattered over a longer period. Jacaranda can reach 50 to 60 feet tall in central Florida. 

Q. Each year my royal poinciana is trimmed in October-November. The tree is pruned high up on the trunks and looks bare until it blooms in May and June. It is 35-40 feet high and 40 feet wide. What is the proper way to do the trimming? 

A. A properly located poinciana with adequate growing space looks like a giant open umbrella with weeping branch ends. This growth pattern is very attractive if there is space for it. Your tree sounds like it has been "liontail" pruned all the growth is removed except for the end of the branches, leaving a tuft of foliage resembling a lion's tail. The tree should be allowed to grow and develop properly if there is room. Poinciana has soft wood that is subject to decay, so you need to hire a good tree company to remove all the decayed or rotten wood, along with inward growing, crossing, rubbing limbs, dead wood, stubs as well as branches. 

Q. I am growing a seedling of dwarf poinciana. It's thorny, but the poinciana I want is not thorny. Should I keep it? 

A. Keep the poinciana. Dwarf seedlings are thorny, and adult trees may have few thorns on vigorous growth. 

Q. My bottlebrush has funny woody growths all over it. The board of directors says the tree is fine and I want it replaced. What do you think? 

A. I think you are right. The tree has bacterial gall, which produces woody growths throughout the tree and eventually kills it. Pruning shears that are used from one bottlebrush to another spreads the gall. Shears should be dipped in alcohol between each tree to keep them sterile. A similar bacterial gall affects oleander. Ask for a replacement tree, but stay away from bottlebrush and oleander. Few maintenance companies will dip shears in alcohol between plants, so both these plants are probably doomed if used in a condominium setting. 


Q. Can you recommend a small flowering tree that will give yellow flowers for our front yard? 

A. Senna polyphylla has yellow blossoms. It likes full sun and dry conditions. It normally blooms in the dry season from October to May. (March Plant of the Month) 

Q. Where can we locate a jacaranda tree? We saw beautiful ones in St. Petersburg. We would like a 3-4 inch caliber trunk. 

A. Your landscaper or retail nursery could install a 10-12 foot jacaranda for you.. Jacarandas bigger than 12 feet are difficult to find. They grow quickly although they are very open when initially planted. They quickly fill out so do not be tempted to prune them to make a denser tree. 

Q. When will my Hong Kong orchid tree bloom?

A. Hong Kong orchid should bloom from October through March if it receives a good acid type fertilizer. Orchid trees often have chlorotic foliage if they do not receive iron and manganese. Fertilize in March, June and October. The products labeled for azaleas, gardenias and ixoras will work fine. 

Q. I have a six-month old seedling poinciana in a 5-gallon container. The trunk is the size of a pencil, but it is 6 feet tall. Will the trunk get heavier if I top the plant? How do you branch this tree? 

A. Plant your tree in the ground as soon as possible. Do not cut it back because it is naturally leggy when it is young and will branch out when it is three to four years old. The tree cannot survive much longer in the pot without dying back. 

Q. What are your recommendations on good small flowering trees for a 20-foot-20 foot swale?

A. Small flowering trees would include jatropha, yellow tabebuia, ligustrum, crape myrtle, orange jessamine standards and `Super-King' ixora standards.


Q. There is a tree near the ocean that has yellow flowers in the morning that change to deep red by nightfall. What is it? 

A. This is the Portia tree (Thespesia populnea), a hibiscus relative. Portia trees grow well along the oceanfront and are good for dune stabilization. The seed capsules are somewhat prominent and make the tree look untidy. Portia tree likes sun and reaches 20-25 feet in height. A similar plant is the mahoe. It is big and rambling and can cover an acre or more. It is shallow and blows over easily. The flowers last only a day, then fall off. Mahoe is salt-tolerant and can tolerate beach conditions. 

Q. My frangipani has yellow leaves. I gave it plenty of fertilizer. What should I do now? 

A. Your frangipani was probably over- fertilized which caused leaf yellowing and should recover after a period of months. You might run the hose around the tree for an hour or so to flush the excess fertilizer past the roots. Frangipani do not need much water or fertilizer. They do well with little care. If you want to fertilize, use an azalea/gardenia acid fertilizer to stimulate flowers. The frangipani loses its leaves during the winter months. 

Q. When should frangipani cuttings be planted? 

A. Frangipani cuttings can be planted at anytime. Let cuttings harden off for a few days before putting them into the ground. Choose a sunny spot and allow enough room for the tree to grow to 20 feet tall and wide. The bark is very soft so plant it in a landscape bed or put liriope around the base so the weed trimmer will not girdle it. 

Q. Will a dogwood seedling grow in South Florida? 

A. Dogwood's southern limit in Florida is near Orlando. 

Q. Can you give me some information about the geiger tree? I want a tree for the center of the front yard. 

A. The tree will grow to about 25 feet tall and has orange flowers most of the year. The geiger tree has two problems. It is extremely sensitive to cold and can be frozen to the ground in severe freezes. The geiger beetle often chews holes in the leaves, which can make the tree unsightly. I would plant the tree but not as a centerpiece in the front lawn as the disadvantages are major. Use it more as a background plant where the flowers can be enjoyed but the chewed leaves would not be too obvious. The white geiger would be a better choice as it does not have bug problems and has white flowers all year. It grows to about 20 feet. 


Q. The orange geiger trees in my front yard appear to be infested. Two years ago they had lush foliage and a cluster of healthy blooms that produced viable seeds. Now most of the new leaves turn brown and shrivel and the wood at the end of the branches looks stressed. I understand there is a beetle that infests geigers, but I cannot find any remedy. I do not want to blast the trees with chemicals. 

A. Normally geigers are pretty tough trees, but they don't like damp or wet conditions. The geiger beetle infests the tree; it chews the leaves and can be controlled by Sevin. But leaves that dry and branches that die back are more serious. Check for evidence of borers _ a hole with sap oozing out. If you see them, clean off the area with a cloth, poke into the hole with a wire and try to impale the borrer. Then, wearing gloves, apply Dursban full strength with a paint brush. Apply 1 foot above and 1 foot below all around the trunk. 

Q. Can I eat the fruit of the sausage tree? 

A. Sausage tree (Kigelia pinnata) is a curiosity often found at botanical gardens, zoos and other tourist attractions. It has 3-inch claret red flowers and big green gourd-like fruit. The green seed pods get much larger and become tan or brown when the pods are ripe. They can reach 2 feet in length and are not edible. Sausage tree reaches about 30 feet in height and makes an interesting small shade tree. Sausage tree likes sun to part shade and is not a fussy plant. 

Q. I want to plant an angel trumpet tree. What can you tell me about it? 

A. I have two angel trumpet trees, a white and a peach colored form. These are large-leafed plants that do well in sun or part shade. The peach type is a much better bloomer than the white. It cycles in and out of bloom faster and the flowers are more heavily produced. Angel trumpet trees have large leaves and are not very drought tolerant, so give them water when they start to wilt. Liquid fertilizer applied monthly between March and October hastens growth and flowering. They are subject to nematodes so grow them in an organic soil condition to repel these pests. Add 50% peat moss mixed with your existing soil to the planting hole for good results. Mulch will also repel nematodes. Keep mulch 2 inches away from the plant stems so the bark can breathe.