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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Brandes: Recent trip to Sebring was a little bit of paradise

When we first moved to Brandon, there were quite a few commercial orange groves in and around our unincorporated area. The whole month when orange blossoms were in bloom, you could smell them everywhere, even where you couldn’t see a tree.

That has all passed here, except for in my yard and others that have citrus trees.

But there is good news. The Florida citrus industry, while challenged by recent diseases such as greening, still has much of its paradise in Florida.

My youngest sister, Carolyn, and her husband, Bob, stayed in Sebring all winter. They came here to visit us a few times, so we decided go visit them March 1 before they headed back to Wisconsin.

It’s good for a gardener to get away now and then. We planned a lunch date. Of course, I was looking at gardens all the way. It was only by the grace of God we took U.S. 17 south out of Bartow and U.S. 98 east from Fort Meade. The last was a largely deserted road but lined with well-tended groves in full bloom on each side for many miles. We opened the windows and breathed in the perfume.

They disappeared for awhile on State Road 27, but much of Sebring is still surrounded by groves. Many of the oranges had been picked, but the Valencias and grapefruit will last into May. We also passed many a semi-truck full from a picking. I find the very thought of the citrus lifts my spirit.

We saw many fields full of cattle, too, which are always a treat for me as an almost-farmer in my youth. The cattle industry in Florida has always been larger than most of us realize.

The gardens of Sebring were also amazing. It was greener there; they seem to get more rain.

“I like living in a town that has a lake in the center,” my sister said. Just walking around her neighborhood fascinated me. Some things were blooming at the same time as here, but the caladiums were as full as ours in summer. They’re just coming up from their winter rest here. Sebring is very close to Lake Placid, the caladium capital of the world, and now I see why.

Many of the homes had lovely gardens and all of them smelled like orange blossoms. It was definitely a day to remember.

Today’s pick is the caladium, popular tuberous plants that can stay in the ground all year round in our area. They will grow in full sun if there is enough water but are mostly found in partial to full shade. Most grow about 18-inches tall and come in a wide range of many combinations of colored foliage from white, pink, green, red and purple. They also come in various shapes, from lance to strap to heart-shaped. Last year I had a few large clumps of stems coming up and decided to try dividing them. From each I cut away two shovels for two new plants, splitting the bulbs, and left the middle of the clump alone. I did this just as the first leaves began to unwind. I was thrilled they thrived and made new large clumps that I will probably divide again this year or certainly by next. But if the clumps are small, they need no division.

Now’s the time to... get the garden in good order before the full heat of summer settles in. Mow or pull weeds before they set seed and control those nasty vines. Water plants well before you fertilize since feeding dry plants can burn them. Also water plants well before and after transplanting. These days I put pots upside down over new plants and remove them a little longer each day until the plant settles in.

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