Tropical Gardening: Old Kona Airport plant sale features airplants to xerophytes

  • The clumping genus Dendrocalamus has some of the tallest bamboos in the world. Some have been recorded growing 2 to 3 feet in one day. They have edible shoots and are valuable for construction. Many species may be seen at Quindembo nursery in north Kohala. (Photo courtesy of Voltaire Moise)

Mark your calendar for next Saturday (Feb. 8) from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. to check out the People Plant Road Show at the Old Kona Airport. Twelve local nurseries are cooperating to share their plants and expertise. Peter and Kay Demello specialize in airplants and succulents. Chitose and Tsuyoshi Tsumura will have a unique collection of rare anthurium available, Phoenicia and Bob Zeller along with Sean Spellicy and Iris Viacrusis will be there to answer all your plant questions as well. Quindembo nursery will bring their best bamboos, so don’t miss this fun event. Speaking of bamboos they can be especially good for the wet and windy areas of North Kohala and Waimea. They add a tropical Asia look and do well in Kona where rainfall and irrigation are adequate. Susan Ruskin and Peter Berg are responsible for introducing more than 100 species of elite bamboos from all over the world. They specialize in the clumping types that tend not to spread like some of the running types. Some species are small and fit well into mini gardens. Others may reach 80 feet in height and can make quite a statement in larger gardens. Many bamboos have edible shoots and are valuable for construction or crafts. Many species are also ideal as windbreaks.

With Valentines Day just around the corner, now is a great time to buy your loved ones a Valentine gift.


As the days get longer, mainland folks like to brighten up their home with bouquets of colorful cut flowers, but for most kamaaina, flowering plants are the best option. Instead of lasting a few days, many flowering plants can last for months or even years. If you like interior or exterior gardening the easy way, then you might consider a group of easy care plants referred to as air plants.

This group of unusual tropicals is technically referred to as epiphytes. The group includes many ferns, orchids, bromeliads and even some cacti. Although epiphytes grow attached to shrubs and trees, they are not parasites, since they do not take their nutrients from the plants on which they grow. Air plants have some of the most beautiful flowers and unique foliage in the plant kingdom. They generally require less care than most other ornamentals. Many folks think air plants are difficult to grow but this is not the case. Our tropical climate is ideal for air plants that are virtually impossible to grow outdoors anywhere else in the United States except in the warmest parts of California and Florida. Here, many grow with almost no care.

Orchids and bromeliads are probably the most well known of the epiphytes. Many species have been introduced. If you have a tree or lanai in which to hang pots, you can have flowers the year round. All it takes is common sense, water and fertilizer.

When buying orchids and bromeliads, it is important to get healthy plants. Ask the grower or nurserymen about the particular species and its care. When grown in containers, they will require repotting every 2 or 3 years. To avoid the problem of repotting, many gardeners remove the plants from the pot and attach them to the branches of a tree. Rough barked trees like paperbark, monkeypod, calabash and African tulip are usually best.

The epiphytic ferns and cacti may be also grown in pots or on trees.

The secret of success is to be sure they have good drainage. Fertilize lightly every 2 to 3 months to keep plants in active growth. But if plants are attached to trees, this is not required. Several brands of orchid fertilizer are available. They are satisfactory for other air plants as well. These are specially formulated and when used according to directions will give excellent results. Disease and insect problems are few. If they do occur, our local garden supply dealers have fungicides and insecticides to quickly control the situation.

Give the air plants a try in your garden. Start with easy types such as bromeliads, like Tillandias, Billbergias, and Aechmeas. Staghorn and Resurrection Ferns are easy. Dendrobiums, Epidendrum and Oncidium orchids will thrive on a minimum of care. From there, go to the more exotic Cattleya and Moth orchids. Growers at the Show can give you quite a few ideas on the types best for you and ways to grow them.

Bromeliads, cactus and succulents may do with very little water or fertilizer. Ferns and orchids should be watered every few days and fertilized about once a month.

Some folks worry that insects may breed in the center of bromeliads, especially mosquitos. That is why natural insect control with lizards, amphibians and birds makes good sense. It also makes the garden more interesting.

Anole lizards, Jackson’s chameleons, geckos, especially the gold dust day gecko and frogs like our little greenhouse frog add to the tropical magic of our gardens. Many common birds feed on insects, so including a bird feeder in the garden to attract them also adds benefit and beauty.


To keep your bromeliads free of mosquitos, use a biological control that kills only the larvae. The tongue twister name is Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis. The easiest is granule form and sprinkling a few grains in the center every few weeks to eliminate those pesky buggers. Flushing with water every two weeks or using natural insecticides like neem will also help keep your garden free of mosquitos.

For further information, contact the UHCTAHR Master gardeners in Kona at 322-4893 or Hilo at 981-5199.

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