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Fun of growing your own Pepper

By Onika Amell, tropical plant specialist

Q: Can you grow your own black pepper plants in the USA?

A: Who does not love the smell of freshly ground pepper, especially that lovely combination of white, green, black and red peppercorns, which are so much more interesting than just plain black corns. Yes, you can absolutely grow your own pepper! Peppercorns come from the plant Piper nigrum.

Growing Pepper Plant

Black pepper plants are actually vigorous vines, although they are pretty slow growing and can be kept in a pot as a compact plant. But they will need a strong support to climb over. Indoors, you can provide this support by installing a trellis in a large pot. Some gardeners prefer to grow them as a hanging plant instead. In warm climates, you can plant them directly outdoors in a protected location with partial shade. These plants need rich, moist, well-draining soil and warm, humid conditions. Peppers do not like temperatures below sixty degrees, although they can survive some cold spells. It is very important to bring these plants indoors or wrap them in a blanket if colder weather arrives.
If you live in colder parts of the country, you can certainly grow peppercorns in large pots. Grow them outdoors during the summer and move them indoors during the winter, or grow them year-round in your greenhouse. Houseplants will need bright light and consistent moisture. Spray the leaves regularly with a bottle of water to increase humidity. Do not allow room temperatures to fall below sixty degrees.
Besides the benefit of being able to grow your own gourmet pepper corns, the foliage, as well as the flowers on this plant, are beautiful in its own right. Off-white flowers appear from spring through summer, followed by slow fruit production. The berries will appear on spikes, with 50 to 60 berries per spike.

Fertilize this vine in the spring before new vigorous growth emerges. We recommend:
Tropical Greenhouse Plus - Plant Booster
Tropical Allure - Smart-Release Booster

You may be surprised to learn that black, white, green and red peppercorns are all the same seed on the same plant in the various stages of development and processing.

Black peppercorns are the most familiar and come from the corns that have reached their full size but are still green and not quite ripe. They are picked and allowed to dry in the sun. Enzymes in the berries cause the skin to turn black during the drying process. They are the strongest in flavor.

White peppercorns are the mature berries that ripen to a red color before being picked. After harvesting, they are soaked and rubbed free of the outer skin down to the smooth white underlayer, then dried and bleached by the sun. They are slightly milder than black pepper.

Green peppercorns are the unripe peppercorns picked at the same stage of ripeness as black peppercorns, but not allowed to dry. They can be pickled in vinegar or brine. They are the least pungent.

Red peppercorns are the mature, but unshelled version of the peppercorn. One can usually find them in some gourmet and health food stores. They can be quite expensive.

Ground pepper will only stay fresh for about three months, but peppercorns will last indefinitely. To make the most of your pepper harvest, store the peppercorns in an airtight container in a cool, dark location. Grind them immediately before use for the best flavor.
There is nothing like freshly ground black pepper simply combined with a good quality olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. This makes a wonderful dipping sauce for fresh bread. Simple, yet elegant. All the better if the pepper was grown in your very own garden!


Meet PeopleCats of TopTropicals. Cat of the Day: James Coconuts

Winning a Lucky Ticket for a Croissant

Many of you have already met James Coconuts who has been in charge of our Customer Service Team for a long time. After many years of hard work, Coconuts is now finally retired in a comfortable home but still does some consulting for Anna Banana and other office team members. So you will hear from him again in our Blog, helping with planting, and organizing holiday events.
Originally, Coconuts came from the Middle-of-Nowhere (what a surprise). Tenants from our old property in Punta Gorda left him behind when they moved out... So Coconuts lived in woods for a month and, considering being deaf (but not dumb!) from birth, living in the wild was quite a challenge for him. When he saw our car, he jumped right into the open trunk and never regretted that decision. We left us no choice but to take him into our big CatFamily. He had starved so much that he ate a whole croissant... as we had nothing else to offer at the moment... Since then, Coconuts went through lots of troubles including a minor stroke, being run over by a truck, lost in woods again for a month, and surviving a wild animal fight followed by a life-threatening abscess. Finally, he decided to stay away from trouble and happily landed on his couch with Margaritas and Nachos, getting chubby, singing his favorite opera songs, and writing poetry.


Fertilizing in Winter?

Q: I'm a bit confused about what winter fertilization schedule I should follow in South Florida. For blooming plants, usually, I use a monthly granular bloom booster fertilizer as well as a liquid fertilizer every 10 days or so. Should I continue that schedule in the winter as well? Should I stop fertilizing altogether in the winter? How about fruit trees? What fertilization schedule should I follow in the winter?

A: Here is a general fertilizing schedule for established plants that we follow here in SW Florida.
The rule of thumb is, do not fertilize (with macro- NPK elements) when minimum temperatures drop below 65F and stay at that level for more than 7 days. At this temperature point, most of the tropical and subtropical plants slow down their metabolism and some of them going into dormancy. This means, nutrients are not consumed as much as during active growth period, and built-up nutrient supply within a plant plus whatever is available in the soil is just enough to get by through the winter. So additional fertilizing is not necessary. You may continue micro-element supplements and bio-stimulants throughout the year. In fact, it is highly recommended to do so, to help the plant survive cold spells. These are very effective tropical plant protectors:
SUNSHINE-Epi - Brassinosteroid plant hormone
SUNSHINE-Power-Si - Advanced plant protector with Silicon
SUNSHINE SuperFood - Complex microelement supplement

This rule is applied to both flowering and fruiting plants, in general. However, some species are winter-flowering and winter-fruiting. For those, you can make an exception and provide extra nutrients for flowering and fruiting, as long as the weather stays warm. During cold spells, avoid any NPK fertilizers and use only bio-stimulants and micro-elements. If you apply NPK during cold, it won't be consumed by a plant, build up in the soil, and may create a root burn situation.

In simple words, fertilize from March to October. Give plants some rest from November to February.


Meet PeopleCats of TopTropicals. Cat of the Day: Wesley (Vasiliy)

Vasiliy is Russian Blue. Everybody calls him Wesley. Wesley is Marco's twin brother. They both were found as little kittens in a box that someone dropped off... right, under TopTropicals car.
Marco is long hair, and Wes is short hair, so Wes doesn't get a haircut like his bro. Although Wes is much bigger and fatter, he is not as brave as skinny Marco who fearlessly spends his days at the front gate. Wes is afraid of Thunder, Rain, and a Doorbell. So he is mostly hiding behind the scene... unless food is on the table!

In the photo: Wesley Roll - bikini shot


Gardenia flowers: how to prevent bud-drop

Q: My gardenia looks beautiful, but the flowers fall off of it before they even open up, the majority of them get this brown color at their base. Can you point me in the right direction.

A: There are 3 possible problems, either one, or a combination:

  1. Lack of light
  2. Too much water
  3. Lack of micro-nutrients in soil

Try the following treatments:
- micro-elements SUNSHINE-SuperFood as foliar spray + drench rootball, once a month, it will improve quality of the flowers.
- Silicon protection: SUNSHINE-Power-Si. This supplement has Silicon as an active element (Si). Adding it to soil or/and over foliar spray can immensely enhance plants' resistance to external factors and boost their growth and health.
Make sure the soil is not soggy, reduce watering especially during fall/winter.


Meet PeopleCats of TopTropicals. Cat of the Day: Lil-S*

You know how it is, cats are like potato chips, they can't be just one. And they come to you, they adopt you. They always pick the right people. Every one of them has a story of their appearance.
Lil-S* came from a car engine. One cold winter morning of 2013 when we were about to start a car... lil "meow" squeaked as a warning... Thank God the engine wasn't started. She was hiding from cold under the hood right on the engine, probably still catching some warmth from it... She was 4" size kitten that fit in a palm of your hand... And she always has been a handful! That's why we named her Little Sh*t.

Lil-S* likes to hang out with Marco in front of TopTropicals gate, greeting the customers.


Fragrance of Angel Hair Jasmine

Q: I got angel hair jasmine, it started flowering, but it does not have any smell. What can be done?

A: Jasminum pubescens - Angel Hair Jasmine has very fine fragrance. It is not as strong as some other jasmines like Sambac for example. However flowers do have a sweet scent especially in the early morning hours, as long as the plant is well-established, grows in a warm and humid environment. Keep in mind that flowers on young small plants that do not have a developed root system, may not be as fragrant as on mature vigorous specimens. Also, this jasmine needs a full sun location and regular fertilizer for profuse flowering.
We recommend the following fertilizers to boost flowering energy:
- Pink N Good Daily Plant Food - Flower Booster
- Plumeria Top Dress - Smart-Release Booster
Use microelements at least once a month to improve plant vigor and quality of flowers


Meet PeopleCats of TopTropicals. Cat of the Day: Marco

Cat of the Day: Marco

When you visit TopTropicals Garden Center, the first Purrrrson that greets you will probably be Marco. He likes to chill out right at the parking lot under the shady oak!

Marco is a long-hair Russian Blue, and it is too hot for him in Florida. So he gets a fashionable Lion Cut every couple of months!

See more PeopleCats of TopTropicals


How to fertilize a bamboo?

Q: When do you fertilize new bamboo trees and can you use the same fertilizer you use for mango trees?

A: Bamboo is a tropical to subtropical plant with growing season year-round. You can start fertilizing it right away with the exception of colder months when temperatures drop below 65F.
Mango fertilizer is formulated for fruit trees, so bamboo won't benefit from it. Bamboo is not a fruiting plant and is not even cultivated for flowers. Its beauty is in healthy green foliage and beautiful stems. So you will need foliage-type of fertilizers for it.

We recommend the following fertilizers for bamboo plants:
Tropical Greenhouse Plus - Plant Booster
Tropical Allure - Smart-Release Booster

Remember to always use micro-elements that are essential for every green plant.


PeopleCats of TopTropicals: Shipping Department cat - Lady Bug

We have been getting many messages from customers saying they really love the postings of our Cats and Dobi Duck... and they want more updates. So we decided to open this new section for the animal fans.

As you well know, TopTropicals is not just a plant Nursery. Like most of the gardeners and all Cool Plant People, we love our pets and we have many of them here, enjoying the Garden. Our cats and the Duck are members of TopTropicals Team. They help customers, participate in packing plants, and of course keep the nursery mice-free. As employees of the marketing department, they get their paychecks, free lunches, and other company benefits like full healthcare coverage and stuff... They are taken care of by TopTropicals Shipping Crew every day: whether its a meal or taking a medicine, it's all scheduled in our daily task list!

This First Issue of PeopleCats Fan Club is dedicated to our Shipping Department cat - Lady Bug. Originally she came to our nursery 3 years ago in a box with her other 3 baby brother-sisters and they just opened their eyes. Someone dropped the box with the litter at our gate... guessing this is the Good Place! When Lady Bug grew up, she became a Shipping Department Supervisor, helping Chief the Cat to manage plant shipments.

Lady Bug went missing a few days ago and all our team is crying for her. We are praying she is OK. We miss you, Lady Bug! Please come back and bug us again!

As a friendly reminder to our local walk-in customers: you are welcome to visit TopTropicals ZOO, just please do not feed or pick up the animals! Some of them are of old age, have special needs or special diet. All our pets are friendly, however, we ask you to please do NOT pet them. They work hard all day long and may have their own rules and emotions.