Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pietro's Paw Paws, an extremely focused native nursery

As I traveled to the various Florida garden festivals this spring, the one vendor I encountered the most was Terri Pietroburgo, with her baseball hat, her wagons filled with paw paws, and her enthusiastic spiel on her favorite native plant, the paw paw. She apologizes, in advance, to the vendors stationed near her for the repetition.

She was at Heathcote Botanical Gardens, Vero Beach Garden Fest, Marion County Spring Fest, the Wildflower Festival in Deland, the EPIC Garden Fest in St. Augustine, the Spring Fest in Winter Garden, and at our own FNPS meeting in Tallahassee. I'm sure there were more events that she attended, that I did not.

She takes great care to explain how important paw paws are as the only larval food source for the zebra swallowtail butterflies. She describes how the fruits taste (It's one of our few native fruits.), how large the plants will get, and most importantly how to plant them so that they'll survive.

She started looking for paw paws to buy in 2004 when she was building a butterfly garden with her daughter. Unable to find a good source and after a great deal of research, she decided that she would grow them herself. Paw paws have very long taproot and the "normal" nursery pots are not deep enough to accommodate the taproot, so she found a source for the tall pots in Oregon. She plants two seeds in sandy soil in each pot and sells them when they are two or three years old.

Terri gives detailed planting instructions with each sale. Dig the hole in a sandy spot as deep as the pot. Slice the bottom of the pot off and make a slice down opposite sides of the pot, hold the pot together, lower it into the hole, and then pull the two sides of the pot from the hole. Water thoroughly each day for several weeks and then gradually reduce the watering as the plants become adjusted.  As with any newly planted tree or shrub, you may need to augment the irrigation during droughts for two years or more.

Terri will also wholesale her paw paws to other native nurseries. You can contact her at 1bushwoman@embarqmail.com.

Ginny Stibolt

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