Now that the rigours of the vegetable growing season are largely over we can turn our attention to those plants that make or break the beauty of a garden. In all of the Abaco communities from Crown Haven to Sandy Point – and especially the cays – there is great use of flowering shrubs to enhance properties ranging from small wooden villas to beachside mansions. A great feature of these shrubs is they do not demand much maintenance but they do need their share of TLC in order to be at their best.
Hibiscus flowers anew every day and is one of the toughest of plants. That said, many of the newer hybrids with floppy flower petals and pastel colours are not as hardy as the old-fashioned single red, pink and yellow that grace the oldest properties. Hybrids are more susceptible to attack from insects and need more maintenance.
Much the same applies to bougainvillea. The old-fashioned strong-coloured vines seem close to indestructible and are a nightmare to prune. The newer varieties with pastel bracts do not seem to have the same vigour and growth rate. The best bet for most gardens is thornless bougainvillea, easier to prune and keep compact.
If you only have sprawling bougainvillea there are two ways to grow them so you see them at their best. One is to plant a well-rooted bougainvillea beside a tree that has insignificant flowers and train the vine up the trunk and into the bower. The ideal tree for this purpose is almond. The tree branches give the bougainvillea support and when all the leaves fall the vine gives a remarkable display of colour.
The other way to do justice to bougainvillea is to plant a specimen in the centre of a large area (such as a lawn) and never prune it. Within two years the bougainvillea will have formed a large hemispherical mass of cascading branches, definitely bougainvillea at its best.
So many people plant oleander then cut the shrubs back just as they flower. It is better to allow oleander to grow to full size and only trim away dead growth. Perhaps once a year – springtime would be good – the shrubs could be pruned back by 30%, but never hat rack them. Dispose of your oleander waste judiciously as it is poisonous and the smoke from burning it is noxious.
Crepe myrtle, yellow elder, clerodendrum, cape honeysuckle and frangipani are all popular flowering shrubs on Abaco and are being joined by Mussaenda, a plant developed in the Philippines that has enlarged sepals which are as colourful as bracts on poinsettias.
Although flowering shrubs seem to be able to survive without much attention they definitely do so much better if fed well and pruned when necessary. Fertilize regularly and whenever you give your citrus trees a spray of minor nutrients include your flowering shrubs in the fun.
Most flowering shrubs are ‘sweet’ and attract insects, particularly scale insects. These tiny limpet-like creatures attach themselves to the bark of shrubs and feed from the green layers beneath the bark. If allowed to remain for a long time they will kill the twigs they are on, then the branches, then the whole tree. Fortunately flowering shrubs are easier to deal with than fruit trees. Drenches are available that contain systemic insecticides that enter the plant and kill any scale insects that suck from it.
Although dormant oil can also be used to kill scale it is better used in winter when the ambient temperature is much lower. Follow the directions on the systemic drench bottle because two or three applications are often needed to eradicate the scale insect problem.