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.)

 

Friday Flowers: Giant Ironweed

Friday Flowers: giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is a butterfly magnet!

This native wildflower has purple flowers with nectar that draws many pollinators. (We’ve been seeing swallowtail butterflies and bumblebees.) Flowering occurs in summer and fall, with peak blooming in July. As you might guess from the name, it can get pretty tall — up to 8 feet, but it usually stays in the 3′-5′ range. Hardy in zones 7-10, this deciduous perennial will die back in winter. It’s thought that the common name, ironweed, comes from the toughness of the stems.

Giant ironweed is ideal for the butterfly or pollinator garden, although you might want to plant it towards the back of the bed due to its height.

The Florida Museum of Natural History has additional information on giant ironweed.

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The purple flowers of giant ironweed. UF/IFAS

 

Friday Flowers: Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower, also called echinacea, produces daisy‐like flowers, with a fuzzy-looking cone center surrounded by horizontal or drooping petals in shades of pink, lavender, and purple.

Purple coneflower does best with light shade in summer, where protection from afternoon sun enhances flower and foliage color. It is fairly tolerant of drought in the partial shade, less so in full sun.

While many cultivars have been bred in a rainbow of colors (with wild names like ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’!), many gardeners prefer the native purple species to attract and feed butterflies.

Learn more about purple coneflower at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

(And yes, this is the same echinacea that some people take to ward off or recover more quickly from colds, but according to the National Institutes of Health, the jury is still out on that…)

(Photo: purple coneflower, UF/IFAS.)

Purple daisy-like flowers
Purple coneflower, UF/IFAS.

Longing for Longans? They’re Here!

It’s peak longan season in Florida! What’s a longan, you ask? It’s a subtropical fruit, related to the lychee.

This sweet fruit has a tan peel that’s easy to remove, white flesh, and a single large seed in the center. Native to Asia, longan fruit are also referred to as dragon’s eyes, as the dark seed in the center of the white pulp can resemble a large eye (that’s either really cool or a little off-putting, depending on your viewpoint). The flavor has been compared to that of a peeled grape.

South Florida gardeners can grow longan trees in their landscapes; that’s where most of Florida’s longans are produced. The most popular and successful variety is ‘Kohala’.

Learn more about this fruit and how to plant it at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Are you in Miami-Dade County? They’re having a workshop on tropical and sub-tropical fruit trees this Saturday! Learn more at their Eventbrite page.

Longan fruit
‘Kohala’ variety longan. Ian Maguire, UF/IFAS.

10 Years of the Neighborhood Gardener – August 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Three balloons, two orange and one blueTen Years of the Neighborhood Gardeners – This month marks ten years of our newsletter. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our articles as much as we have loved putting the newsletter together. We look forward to many more years of bringing you fun and helpful research-based gardening information.

Bee on pink pentas flowerPerfect Pollinator Plants – Pollinators receive a lot of love from gardeners; many people love to incorporate plants for them in to the landscape. A garden that attracts pollinators will include a mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, and trees that will bloom throughout the year and provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar for many pollinator species. We’ve compiled a list of some Florida-Friendly plants you can use in your landscape to bring pollinators to your garden.

The hop cone like fruit of the hophornbeam treeUnderappreciated Shade Trees — By August most Floridians are tired of the summer heat. The cooling effect of shade trees is much appreciated in the Sunshine State. Planting the right trees in the right place can even help reduce energy use in your home. We have a few native trees that might not come to mind first when looking for a shade tree, but could be a good choice for your landscape.
(Photo of hophornbeam foliage and fruit by John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In the Florida summer it is easy to realize some of the benefits of trees. The shade trees of my youth were mango, lychee, and royal poinciana trees. These tropical trees provided loads of shade, fruit, and flowers. My shade trees of today are live oaks and crapemyrtles—certainly not as exotic as the ones I grew up with but shady just the same.

Light green palmetto fronds in sunlightPlant of the Month: Saw Palmetto — Saw palmetto grows wild in Florida’s natural areas, but it’s also a useful plant for home landscapes throughout the state. This native plant tolerates a range of conditions and provides wonderful textural interest. It’s highly salt-tolerant, making it ideal for coastal gardening. Saw palmetto prefers full sun but will grow in almost any light conditions. It will benefit from regular waterings at first, but will be very drought tolerant once established. Plants can be purchased in pots at many nurseries and can be planted year-round in Florida.

Polka-dot plant with pink leaves mottled with greenClassroom Plants — For many, August means back to school. Why not spruce up the classroom up with an indoor plant or two? We have some plants for classrooms that are good-looking (like the polka-dot plant pictured) and many of them offer educational opportunities. Plus they’re non-toxic, which is great for any place with small children or pets.

Royal palm tree photo by Dr. Timothy BroschatAugust in Your Garden — The hottest days of summer limit planting now to heat-tolerant annuals like coleus and vinca. Vegetables to plant this month include eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Check the older fronds of palms for yellowing as it may indicate a magnesium or potassium deficiency. Apply an appropriate palm fertilizer.

Detail of hexagon shaped window at new labHoney Bee Lab Update — In June, UF’s new honey bee lab was completed. “The Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory is a series of three buildings — it’s a mini bee campus. One of the buildings, the Amy E. Lohman Apiculture Center, will house the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Apiary Inspection team, a beekeeping museum, a honey extraction and processing facility, and workshop space,” said professor Jamie Ellis, who heads the honey bee lab. There will be an open house event on Saturday, August 25 in Gainesville.

Read the full August issue.

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

It’s Time to Start Planning

For the organized gardener, now is the time to start planning that fall vegetable garden! If you were growing spring or summer crops, remove any dead or diseased plants. Consider having your soil retested. And be sure to check with your local UF/IFAS Extension office — many will be holding workshops on fall vegetable gardening soon. Or perhaps, just stay cool in the air conditioning and browse the plant catalogs and nursery websites.

The Gardening Calendar publications on the UF/IFAS Solutions for Your Life website give Florida gardeners a monthly guide for what to plant and do in their gardens, all based on University of Florida research and expertise. Three different editions of the calendar provide specific tips for each of Florida’s climate zones—North, Central, and South.

North Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep451
Central Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep450
South Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep452

(Photo of red bell peppers by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

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A Full Recovery

This Princess Caroline fountain grass in our office landscape was completely devastated by the freezing temperatures North Florida experienced earlier this year (the first photo). But as you can see in the second photo, it and much of the surrounding landscape has come back to life. Landscapers did eventually cut down the dead foliage, and beautiful purple foliage sprung from the ground.

frozen_princess_caroline_grass
The clumps of Princess Caroline grass are dead, brown, and shriveled from the freezing temperatures of January 2018 (Photo: Jennifer Sykes, UF/IFAS)
recovered_princess_caroline_grass
But six months later, it’s as if nothing happened – they are tall and healthy, with dark purple arching leaves in July 2018 (Photo: Jennifer Sykes, UF/IFAS)

Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ is an easy-to-grow, moderate- to fast-growing ornamental grass that features intense purple-maroon foliage. This is a sterile cultivar, so gardeners needn’t worry about it spreading. Many Pennisetum varieties are invasive – always purchase plants from licensed nurseries and check the labels.

Plant your Princess Caroline in well-drained soil and full sun for the best color. Once established, this ornamental grass is drought-tolerant and very low-maintenance. It can handle some salt spray as well.

Florida Hops

Two light green hops cones on the vine

Hops (Humulus lupulus) are perennial, herbaceous climbing plants commonly cultivated for their strobiles (cones). The cones are often used for flavoring and aroma in food and tea, but most people know that hops are used in brewing beer.

Did you know that you can grow your own hops in Florida? It’s true!

While the plant typically prefers USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, recent research by Dr. Brian Pearson with UF/IFAS has shown that hops can tolerate zones outside of this range, into Zone 9b. Dr. Pearson and other UF/IFAS researchers are working with Florida’s growing craft beer industry to discover hops varieties that will thrive in our state’s unique conditions. You can read more about their efforts here.

Hops can make a unique addition to a home garden or landscape. Humulus lupulus rhizomes can be purchased from online and mail order vendors from mid-March through May.

They grow best in well-drained, humus-rich soil with full sun. Hops grow rapidly in the early spring to late summer. Plants reach a mature height of 18–25 feet in one year and produce cones from mid-summer to early fall.

Dr. Pearson has written a UF/IFAS publication, “Florida Edible Garden Plants: Hops (Humulus lupulus)” with all the details to get a gardener growing.

On Thursday, July 26, the UF/IFAS and USDA Hops Field Day will feature UF/IFAS hops research at the Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce. The event will include a tour of a hops field located at the USDA farm along with an overview of the Florida Hop industry and presentations on establishment and growing of hops, approximate costs to establish a hops yard, and common pests and diseases of hops.

Two light green hops cones on the vine
Hops growing on the vine. UF/IFAS Photo by Camila Guillen.