The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2018

Although it’s still a couple weeks away, we’d like to wish our U.S. readers a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Purple bottle brush like flower spikeLiatris Looks Luscious in the Landscape – Liatris is tough and beautiful at the same time; it’s native, drought tolerant, and has dramatic bottle-brush shaped flowers. There are at least 13 species of liatris and several hybrids that can be grown in zones 8 to 10B, so finding the right liatris for your landscape shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, pollinators love these plants! (Photo: Beverly Turner; Jackson Minnesota; Bugwood.org)

A two tier window box filled with impatiens and geraniumsWindow Box Basics – Window boxes add charm, character, and curb appeal to your house. The plant combinations are truly endless; no matter if your style is modern-minimalist, cottage, or artistic, you can likely find a window box and plants to match your aesthetic. When looking for plants, select low growing, colorful, cascading plants. Keep plant height in mind — you want to be able to see attractive plants out your window, but you don’t want them to obscure your view. (Photo: Jenny Trello)

Dried round black seeds still attached to stems in an envelopeSeed Saving — Collecting seeds is one way to take your passion for gardening to the next level. You can collect seeds from annuals, perennials, vegetables, and fruits in your garden with varying degrees of ease. Just be aware that not all plants grown from seed will look exactly like the plants they are gathered from (their parent plants). Part of the fun of collecting seeds is growing your own low-cost plants and having extras to share with friends.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Oaks, elms, crapemyrtles, maples, and many other deciduous trees will soon be dropping their leaves on our lawns and landscapes. If you don’t know where your rake is you might want to locate it. Some gardeners see fallen leaves as a chore and others see them as free mulch, compost, and soil amendment. One of the 9 Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles is recycling so if you are stuffing leaves into a bag and setting them on the curb think about what you can do with those leaves to make your landscape more Florida-Friendly.

Fan shaped green palm frondPlant of the Month: European Fan Palm — Looking for a cold-hardy palm? Maybe something multi-trunked and compact? Well look no further than European fan palm, Chamaerops humilis. Its palmate leaves can add a tropical look to your landscape in a variety of ways, perhaps for poolside ambiance or as a landscape accent piece. And North Florida gardeners can rejoice at the hardiness of these palms which grow in zones 8 to 11.

Woman adjusting sprinkler head as it sprays water on a lush green lawnCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Irrigation Edition — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. Proper irrigation plays a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Curly leafed kale plantNovember in Your Garden — With the growth of some plants slowing down, it’s time to cut back on your irrigation. Your plants may do best with watering only once a week during these (hopefully) cooler months. Consider brightening your planting beds with cool-season annuals like pansies, and of course there are many cool-season vegetables to plant this month.

Read the full November issue.

Or subscribe today, and receive it directly by e-mail.

Frightening Friday Flower: Bat Flower

With dramatic “whiskers” and ghostly bracts that look like wings, the bat flower is a unique addition to any home gardener’s collection. This plant is considered a collector’s item and can be difficult to find in garden centers, but is sometimes sold as a specialty item around Halloween.

Bat flower (Tacca spp.) has shiny, bright green leaves. It blooms on a stem with a cluster of purple flowers in the center. Above these flowers are two bracts (leaves that resemble flower petals) that look like bat wings. Numerous threadlike bracteoles hang from the flowers resembling 8-10 inch long whiskers.

Bat flower can be grown in similar conditions that orchids are grown in: ample humidity, strong airflow, and low to moderate light.

Learn more about this unusual plant at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/bat-flower.html

(Photo: A white bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) at Leu Gardens in Orlando, FL. UF/IFAS.)

Strange looking tropical plant with two creamy white flower-like bracts, an odd purple flower, and long "whiskers"
Photo: A white bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) at Leu Gardens in Orlando, FL. UF/IFAS

The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2018

Yellow flower with brown center

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-leafed plant and feathery grassAdd a Thrilling Porch Planter for Fall – Fall is a fabulous time to add some porch planters or to re-design the ones you have. Couple the staples of good planters—“thrillers, spillers, and fillers”—with trendy colors for fall like orange and purple and you have the makings of an attention-grabbing container. We’ll even take you beyond the trusty mums to bring you plants that shine in the (hopefully) cooler season.

A small furry brown bat with comically large earsCavity Dwellers – Halloween is right around the corner and images of dead trees are a favorite for decorating. But dead trees in your landscape are nothing to be frightened of — wildlife actually find dead wood extremely useful. Birds, bats, small mammals, and even some surprising creatures make their homes in dead wood. Learn more about how you can safely incorporate dead wood into your landscape and who may come to call it home. (Photo: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station; USDA Forest Service; SRS; Bugwood.org)

Two spiky, neon green caterpillars on a leafStinging and Venomous Caterpillars — Creepy crawlies are on our minds this October, so we’re looking at some stinging and venomous caterpillars found in Florida. Did you know that stinging caterpillars don’t sting with a stinger the way wasps or bees do? They have barbed, stinging hairs called urticating hairs that easily break off the caterpillar’s body when you brush against them. We’ve listed caterpillars to look out for, and when to look but not touch a caterpillar in your landscape.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — If you love all things “pumpkin spice” or have moved to Florida from a state further north you just you might find yourself missing fall color. I have lived in Florida since before man landed on the moon, so this “fall color” concept is a little foreign to me. Postcards of colorful mountains with oranges, reds, and yellow trees look beautiful but they are not part of my Florida picture. Instead I see the fall colors in Florida native plants in landscapes and natural areas.

Plant with large, glossy, deep green leaves shaped like lily padsPlant of the Month: Farfugium — It’s not often you find a wow-worthy plant that thrives in shade and blooms, but farfugium checks those boxes. When fall arrives, farfugium really begins to shine. It sends up clusters of yellow flowers that hover over its glossy foliage, making for a very interesting combination of daisy-like blooms and tropical leaves. It can transform a shaded area into a lush oasis. Also called leopard plant, farfugium grows in zones 7–10.

Large tree planted in a small green spot in a parking lot, its roots extended out and cracking through the pavementCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Plant Placement Edition — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. In our second in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how planting location plays a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Two red strawberries up closeOctober in Your Garden — It’s truly, finally gardening season in Florida. October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a great month for planting vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And don’t forget the strawberries—this is Florida’s short window for planting.

Read the full October issue.

Or subscribe today, and receive it directly by e-mail.

Friday Flowers: Swamp Sunflower

Yellow flower with brown center

If you had to choose only one flower to herald the approach of autumn in Florida, the swamp sunflower would surely be at the top of the list.

This native plant is also called narrowleaf sunflower, for its thin, rough leaves. For much of the year, swamp sunflower appears unremarkable, if not unattractive. But beginning in late September and continuing into November, the plants begin producing golden yellow flowers in an explosion of color.

A mass of yellow daisy like flowers growing curbside.
Not the most artistic shot, but taken to show just how many blossoms swamp sunflower plants can produce. This photo was taken in northwest Gainesville in October 2017. UF/IFAS.

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), like most sunflowers, does best in full sun, and can be planted throughout the state. It will grow in dappled shade, but won’t produce as many flowers and will get leggy. True to its name, it can handle soggy soil, but does well in typical garden soil as well; it might appreciate some irrigation during hot, dry periods.

The plants can get quite tall — up to 6 feet. They will often fall over with the weight of the flowers. Trimming it back in June will help it grow fuller, and it can be trimmed down after flowering in the winter. This perennial spreads by rhizomes and forms clumps that can be divided in the spring.

Yellow flower with brown center
A closer look at swamp sunflower’s beautifully golden, daisy-like flowers. UF/IFAS.

Friday Flowers: Thryallis

While it’s the leaves that turn color in the northern parts of the country, Florida has flowers that shine like gold in the fall.

Thryallis is a medium to large shrub that produces hundreds of small, sunshine-yellow flowers, giving it its other common name, rain-of-gold. It’s fully coming into bloom here in North Central Florida, but can bloom year-round in points further south.

Small, bright yellow flowers in a cluster each with five distinct petals
Thryallis flowers are small, but numerous. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Native to Mexico and Central America, this low-maintenance plant has an airy growth habit and in frost-free zones it can reach 7-8 feet. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in partial shade; expect less flowers and a less-compact growth habit (it might get leggy). Freezing temperatures can kill it down to the roots, but it will return in spring.

Thryallis (Galphinia glauca) likes well-drained soil, is drought tolerant, and needs little irrigation after establishment. Pruning in the spring can keep it neat, but will lessen its flower power. It’s propagated by seed and by summer cuttings.

Plant your thryallis shrub as a backdrop for plants in complementary colors like blue and purple, or plant en masse as a taller groundcover.

A large shrub covered in small yellow flowers in front of a brick building with tufts of ornamental grass in front of it.
This thryallis shrub is part of a Florida-Friendly landscape on the UF main campus in Gainesville. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Get Ready for Fall Gardening

In Florida, fall is an excellent time to start a vegetable garden. Cool-season vegetables to plant in October include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and radishes.

If you’re planting in an area already used for spring and summer crops, be careful to remove all dead or diseased plant matter, including roots.

You may want to have your soil tested to check the pH level and to determine what nutrients you might need to add. Till your soil a few weeks before planting, and then add organic matter, such as cow manure or compost. Make sure your garden gets at least six hours of full sun, and is close to a water supply.

For more ideas, see the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions article, Five Fall Vegetables for the Home Garden.

(Photo: Lettuce in a square foot garden, by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS. All rights reserved.)

Green leafy vegetable in dark soil in a raised wooden bed

Fall for Beautyberry

If you’re looking for a dazzling plant to attract birds to your yard, look no further than beautyberry. This Florida native is scientifically known as Callicarpa americana, and its bright purple fruits are some of the most striking around.

Pale lavender-pink flowers appear along the branches from spring to summer and then mature into jewel-like fruits by September. The showy clusters of shiny purple fruits are densely packed and encircle the woody stems. If not devoured first by birds, the fruits will persist for several weeks after the plant drops its leaves. There’s also a variety of C. americana called ‘Lactea’ that has white, pearlescent fruit.

Fun fact — the fruits on beautyberry are called drupes; drupes contain one to several seeds with each seed enclosed in a hard endocarp. Berries, on the other hand, contain numerous seeds that are not enclosed in a hard endocarp.

You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established. Beautyberry prefers rich soils, but will also grow in poor, sandy soils.

Read the full article on UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

Three photos showing the progression from flowering to fruit that starts all pale lavender to bright purple.
Beautyberry’s progression from small, insignificant flowers in spring to jewel-like fruits in fall. Photo: UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions. (Please don’t use without attribution.)

Open, Sesame

For a new plant in your garden, how about something really old? Sesame has been cultivated for a very long time; 4,000 years ago it was a highly prized oil crop in Babylon and Assyria.

Sesame plants (Sesamum indicum) usually grow to 2 feet tall, although they can reach heights of 4 feet. Tubular, bell-shaped flowers are light purple, rose, or white in color. Grooved seedpods develop after the flowers and each pod can contain more than 100 seeds. Once they mature, the seedpods burst open and spill the seeds.

As a drought-tolerant crop, sesame doesn’t perform well when soils are too moist. When selecting cultivars for planting be aware that the most drought-tolerant cultivars fair poorest in Florida’s humid climate. Sesame is planted from seed and grows best in full sun.

Sesame is often planted as a cover crop between other plantings. Not only does sesame help break the cycle of pests of other crops, it also provides a food source for pollinators.

Learn more at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

(Photo: Sesame plant being grown at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, FL. UF/IFAS.)

Green plant with long narrow leaves and white bell shaped flowers
This sesame plant is part of a large plot in Citra, at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research & Education Unit.

The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright purple fruits of beautyberry on stemBeautyberry – If you’re looking for a dazzling plant to attract birds to your yard, look no further than beautyberry. This Florida native is scientifically known as Callicarpa americana, and its bright purple fruits are some of the most striking around. Fun fact: the fruits on beautyberry are actually drupes, not berries. You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established.

Sesame plant with narrow green leaves and white bell shaped flowersSesame – Sesame is ancient crop; growing it in your home garden allows you to explore new flavors and ideas in your cooking while connecting with the past. Plus, we can’t forget the aesthetics; this plant is good-looking with its upright growth habit and showy bell-shaped flowers. Sesame also attracts a wide range of pollinators, making it a favorite plant for bumble bees and other insects.

Black and white adult chinch bugChinch Bugs — Southern chinch bugs are a major pest of St. Augustinegrass, and can rapidly cause serious damage. Damaged areas appear as yellow to brown patches and injury typically occurs first in grass that’s water-stressed or in full sun. It’s important to remember that not all brown grass indicates a chinch bug infestation. If you suspect you have chinch bugs, inspect the border between the brown and green grass for the tiny, black-and-white adults or orange nymphs.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Mid-September is the peak of hurricane season; you only need to look at a weather forecast to be reminded of that. The mere word hurricane strikes fear in our hearts and sends us running in preparation mode. The words hurricane pruning would strike fear in a palm tree’s heart if it had one.

Green cilantro leaf on cutting boardPlant of the Month: Cilantro — Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a bright green annual plant with many culinary applications. This flat, feathery-leafed herb is often used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cooking. It can add a fresh flavor to many dishes, including salsa. Of course, this herb may be less exciting to grow if you’re one of the people that finds the taste of cilantro closer to soap. Read more about how to grow this herb, and how you can get coriander from the same plant in the spring.

Healthy shrub with green leaves and red flowersCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Soils Edition — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. In our first in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how characteristics of your soil, like pH and compaction, play a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Flame-like flowers of celosiaSeptember in Your Garden — It’s still hot out, but September brings the promise of cooler temperatures. As such, it’s time to start some of your cool season edibles and herbs. You can also start evaluating your annual beds and determining which plants have peaked and need replacing.

Read the full September issue.

Or subscribe today, and receive it directly by e-mail.

This ‘Little Volcano’ Has Big Color

Florida has a lot more fall color than people think! We’ll be sharing some examples over the next few weeks. One fall bloomer is the little volcano bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Little Volcano’).

This Florida-Friendly shrub starts producing lavender flowers that resemble pea blossoms in mid-September and will be covered in purple by October; it will bloom again in spring. It typically grows up to 6 feet tall and can get as wide as 12 feet. Its arching branches are covered in small, oval-shaped leaves that will drop as the temperature does.

Appropriate for zones 6-10, ‘Little Volcano’ is a low-maintenance shrub. Give it a sunny spot in the landscape for the best blooms. It likes well-draining soil, and is remarkably drought-tolerant once established. It can die back with hard freezes, but will return in spring. While there are members of the Lespedeza family that are weedy and even one or two that are invasive, little volcano bush clover does not produce seed and therefore won’t spread. Gardeners have had propagation success with cuttings, however.

Pinkish purple flowers resembling pea blossoms on branch with green oval leaves
‘Little Volcano’ bush clover in bloom, in the Mehrhof building’s garden on campus in Gainesville. (CC-BY-NC, UF/IFAS.)

You may occasionally see this plant’s name as Lespedeza liukiuensis. This is a synonym—an older name that’s no longer accepted.

Shrub with long arching branches covered in small green leaves and purple flowers.
A ‘Little Volcano’ bush clover shrub in the Ficke Gardens at the Baughman Center on the UF campus in Gainesville. (CC-BY-NC, UF/IFAS.)