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Plumeria, Grubs, Guara & Bay Laurel

Starting a small plant business is not all it may appear (!); When to apply Merit for grub control; Pruning Gaura; Western Red Cedar needles as a mulch; and How hardy is Sweet Bay Laurel?
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

October 28, 2007

Above, just one of many Plumeria flowers one sees in Hawaii; below, a general shot of Mike Kartuz’ prop-agating area, and a superb example of a tiny, delicate begonia (B. prismatocarpa) at his greenhouses. It must be grown in constant humidity. Author photos.

Lee Ann Catling of Barrie wrote with a ‘different type of question’ on October 19th: “I'm like most people, I wish for you to answer my email message. I am looking into starting a business selling plants that you can't get from WalMart, Bradford Greenhouse and others. Tropical plants in general. I am wondering if you have had in your collection Plumerias? If so, how did they do in the climate? Yes I know they can go outside for the summer and part of the fall and then the go dormant and have to be protected from frost. Please help me. Thank you.”

You have a good idea Lee Ann, but I think you need to consider all of the implications before you spend any great amount of money. A couple of decades ago I worked fairly closely with Leni Forsdyke who owned The Plant Room in Hornby Ontario (near Milton) who grew and sold a fairly wide range of small indoor plants such as orchids, begonias, African violets and other Gesneriads such as Columnea, Kohleria, Aeschynanthus and Episcia. As I recall she did have some Plumeria at one time.

She had a vast selection and we often went on ‘buying trips’ to various eastern seaboard cities for the newest introductions.

One of our favourite destinations was (Mike) Kartuz Greenhouses in a suburb of Boston. Mike specialized in all of the plants mentioned, except orchids. He later moved to the much warmer climate of Vista, California, just south of San Diego. I visited him there just once. In case you should be interested, he does not ship into Canada. You can see the type of thing he does on his Website at

Certainly Leni Forsdyke never became rich from the proceeds of the business, I can tell you that!

Plumeria can be grown from seed (which you need to collect yourself or obtain from another grower, generally it is not available commercially) or from cuttings. Obviously growing them in containers is advised so that they can be moved indoors for the winter. Unless that is what you want, they do not necessarily have to go dormant for any long period. But, they do need fairly high light levels as well as humidity. I would suggest you go to one of the many Websites which contain much valuable information about their growth ( for example).

Judy Chanda, from somewhere in Zone 6a, wrote last Saturday with regard to Grub control: “Please advise as to what is the best time to apply Merit for grub control both spring & fall. Thanks.”

As far as I am aware, Merit (Imidacloprid), is only available to pesticide applicators in Ontario, and is not sold domestically. It is an excellent control for grubs and other insects including leather jackets and Japanese beetles. It only needs to be applied once per year; likely the optimum time is early August each year when the grubs are in their most immature stage and are easily killed.

From the ‘Forum’ section of the site, I noted several questions that had received no answer by Fri-day of the past week. For example, on October 18th from zone 5, Mary Ellen wrote: “I planted two of these (Gaura) by our pond in our Xeriscape yard. This is our first year gardening here. These plants were wonderful until recently when we had a lot of rain (and) the branch's have all fallen and broken. I cut some off but the branches continue to fall and break. Can I prune it? Next year it will have to get some support of some kind. It didn't grow very tall about 24 inches but got real bushy.”

Whirling butterflies or Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) is a fairly ‘new’ perennial to Canadian gardens. Most are native to the southern states, such as Louisiana. Several of the even newer cultivars were bred in Australia. It prefers a sunny growing location, and generally may require some pruning both in late summer/autumn as well as in the spring--basically prune back all of the older stems. Mary Ellen should not be afraid to cut the plant back now, and prune it well again in the spring, which may eliminate the need to stake her plants next year. Incidentally, Gaura is not a perennial which likes transplanting, so try to get it in the right place when first planted!

On October 22nd Trish, gardening in zone 8 as I do, wrote: “Can I use the fallen (Western Red) Cedar needles as mulch? I have tons!”

Certainly Trish, no problem, except keep in mind that they will (further) acidify your garden soil, which may be good or not so!

Then on October 23rd, Rosalie, also from zone 8, wrote: “I live near Courtenay on Vancouver Island and am wondering if I can grow my sweet bay laurel outside (and leave in the ground through the winter). I've always had it in a container. Now it's about two feet tall and I wonder if it's big enough to survive the winters outdoors. Any suggestions? Thanks.”

Well Rosalie, the answer to that is likely “No”, but there is a slight possibility depending on your own individual mi-cro-climate there in Courtenay. Even though it is only an hour from here in Parksville, it is a slightly colder climate. For example, generally Madrona trees (Arbutus menziesii) though they grow extensively here, Qualicum Beach just north of here, is about their limit. Helen Chestnut, garden writer for the Victoria Times-Colonist grows her bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) successfully in the ground of her garden in Qualicum Beach, but it is a very protected garden indeed. I am also quite sure I could grow one here as well, also due to the nature of the garden and the slightly higher temperatures experienced in the winters due to our location on the Strait of Georgia.

Bottom line, you won’t know until you try. If you do try it, you might want to consider protecting the plant with a wrapping of burlap or equivalent for the months of December to February.

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