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RSW Living Magazine

Professional Landscape Architect at RS Walsh Provides Gardening Tips for Spring Season & Beyond

Apr 02, 2018 03:00PM ● By Kevin
Spring is upon us, and for those in Southwest Florida with a green thumb, that means more gardening opportunities to really make your property pop! We caught up with Mariah Bakke, a professional landscape architect at RS Walsh Landscaping, Inc., who provided us with some tips for preparing your garden and plants for the spring and summer seasons.

First, residents should be aware of the fertilization restriction that will go into effect this June 1 through Sept. 30. The Lee County mandate is in place due to excessive rain and runoff it could cause. Due to Southwest Florida's torrential summer downpours, fertilization could run into other water bodies and move around. This is why the county restricts residents to fertilizing only in the dryer months.

If you're looking to add annual plants to your garden, Bakke suggested planting Pentas and Caladiums in April and May due to the upcoming heat.

"A lot of people use annuals to get that different pop of color," Bakke said. "The Caladiums are an opportunity to give a lower-level color and interest. These are more low maintenance plants to have in your yard. It's another area of your yard where you don't have to worry about sod or mowing."

According to, Caladium is a genus of flowering plants in the family Araceae. They are often known by the common name elephant ear. There are more than 1,000 named cultivars of Caladium bicolor from the original South American plant. They typically grow in open areas of the forest and on the banks of rivers and go dormant during the dry season. The wild plants grow to 15–35 inches tall, with leaves mostly 6-18 inches long and broad. reports that the Pentas is a genus of flowering plants in the Rubiaceae family. "The genus is found in tropical and southern Africa, the Comoros, Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula. The plants have hairy green leaves and clusters of flowers in shades of red, white, pink, and purple. Pentas are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Some species are commonly cultivated and can be grown in pots and baskets."

"Walking into a house or entryway, it gives you a pop that's human scale," Bakke said. "There are trees and things like that on the property, but bringing that lower layer into the garden helps bring out the entry of the home. You can even add potted plants, which can add color and interest."

Snowbirds and year-round residents alike are also known to plant orchids and Bromeliads in their gardens. Bakke suggested converting those into trees by using moss along with different ties.

"Over the summer, they'll take care of themselves, because they'll be getting all that rain," she said. "They'll start to plant themselves into the trees. If people are gone for the season and want something maintenance free, they can come back to an interesting tree that is different."

This can be accomplished by placing moss at the bottom of the orchid and attaching the plant to a nearby tree.

As the weather gets warmer and the sun shines longer, Bakke recommends bringing potted, outdoor herbs into sun shade spots where they cannot burn in the heat of the day. Herb gardens are a big trend in Southwest Florida right now, Bakke said, so having them both indoors and outdoors can help with decor. Other trends include succulents and citrus plants, such as lemon, lime, mango, or avocado.

"We like having that produce in our clients' yards," Bakke said. "Sun and shade are the main things to consider. You want to make sure they're in the right spot and not in spots that are too wet. That's why a lot of times the herbs and succulents should be kept in pots to maintain how wet or dry they are. Citrus should be in good enough soil to grow if they're put in the landscape. They need be fertilized regularly to produce fruit."

Bakke grew up in Iowa and eventually studied landscape architecture at Iowa State. In her last year of study, she visited Brazil for a few weeks and fell in love with the tropical and vibrant landscape. When she graduated, she made the decision to work in a lush, vibrant atmosphere. After investigating, she found RS Walsh, which appealed to her in that RS Walsh is a family owned business in Florida's beautiful atmosphere. She's now been working for the company for two and a half years and has since earned her license to be a registered landscape architect, which gives her the authority to sign off on waterfront properties, community- and code-based projects, and more. She works with RS Walsh to service the islands' and Fort Myers' residential properties, along with a few commercial and resort projects throughout the year.

RS Walsh is a full-service company and has been in business since owner Bob Walsh founded the company 35 years ago. The team at RS Walsh is involved from initial consultation to project completion.

"Someone sees a job we're doing or visits our website, they call in, and right away they talk to a designer to meet them on site," Bakke said. "We install with our own installation crews. We have subcontractors that work for us in irrigation, hardscape, pools, pavers, etc. We work directly with them to make sure our clients' jobs are exactly what they want. We have a maintenance company to maintain our properties out there to make sure it's what our clients want, as well. The entire process is designed to guide people through all of their landscaping needs."

Walsh tries to involve his crews in community efforts. The company works with Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) Visitor Education Center, F.I.S.H. of Sanibel-Captiva, Inc., Habitat for Humanity, chambers of commerce, and other organizations to service the community. RS Walsh will donate plants for decoration/setup, as well as to be raffled off, at many events year round.

"Bob is born and raised here, and he really promotes us being a part of the community, being a friendly face," Bakke said. "A face that you know when you call, because you saw them at an event. People know who we are, because we stay involved."

Any and all of the tips in this article can be further explained by a designer or manager at RS Walsh Garden Center on Sanibel Island. The team can also implement the work for you as a service.

The Fort Myers location is at 8050 Penzance Blvd. in Fort Myers, while the garden center is at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Drive. For more information, visit