The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2020

Saturday, June 20 is the summer solstice, marking the first official day of summer.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Satellite image of Hurricane Irma courtesy of NOAA

Hurricane Landscaping — Hurricane season began June 1 and will last until November 30, with August and September being the most active months. While the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season was expected to be near-normal, it was actually above average. The forecasters at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center believe 2020 will be an above-normal hurricane season. Most important during a hurricane is your family’s safety. One thing you can do to protect your family and home is to hurricane-proof your landscape. We have tips to get you started.

 
Cover image of book Pollinator Friendly Gardening with a photo of a bee on a flower

Florida MGV Book Club: Pollinator Friendly Gardening – This May, the book club dove in to pollinator-friendly gardening. We’ve learned so much that we’re going to need some time to apply it all! Join us this month for a month of hands-on activities, pollinator features, tutorials, and ways to apply the principles of “Pollinator Friendly Gardening.”

 
A leaf footed bug with leaf-shaped flaps on its back legs

Tomato Insect Pest Management — Tomatoes are a staple in gardens across the county. In Florida, however, year-round high temperatures present a unique problem: year-round tomato pests. Even worse, there’s quite a number of insects pests bedeviling Florida garden tomatoes. While no garden will ever be pest free, with integrated pest management (IPM), you can enjoy your harvest and still protect the pollinators that service your garden.

 
State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy Wilber

Wendy’s Wanderings — The gyms may still be closed but your garden and landscape are open for exercise. You know the old saying, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes”? Well gardening is also like a gym membership and you get edibles and a good-looking yard. Many standard gardening chores are great for your physical fitness as well as your mental fitness.

 
A tight cluster of tiny orange flowers on a butterflyweed plant

Plant of the Month: Milkweed — Milkweed is the poster plant for pollinator gardens. Not only is it attractive, it’s also well known for attracting butterflies and serving as a host plant for their caterpillars. Perhaps most famously, milkweed species serve as the host plant for the monarch butterfly. Florida is home to more than twenty species of milkweed, almost all of which are native. Two milkweed species are commonly offered for sale as “butterfly garden plants.” Which should you choose for your garden?

 
Tiny purple flowers and tiny green leaves of thyme plant

Preserving Herbs — In vegetable gardening, harvest time can feel like a tidal wave. Herbs, on the other hand, can be harvested as needed during their growing season. It’s easy to enjoy their fresh flavor after their season is over, too. If you’re interested in preserving your herbs, drying is probably the first method that comes to mind, but there are other ways to preserve and enjoy your garden’s flavors throughout the year.

 
A potato-like boniato tuber cut open to show it's white starchy flesh

June in Your Garden — Working in the garden during the summer can put Florida gardeners at risk from the unforgiving heat. Be sure to take the necessary precautions. Plant heat-loving annuals like vinca and portulaca, and tropical vegetables, such as boniato, calabaza, and chayote. Summer’s warm, rainy weather is the perfect time to plant palms. Check the lawn frequently for damaged areas and keep insects in check with early treatment. Take time to determine the cause so your remedy is effective.

 

Read the full June issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2020

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 10. A bouquet of warm wishes to all the gardening moms!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Cover of Pollinator Friendly Gardening book featuring a bee visiting a yellow flowerFlorida MGV Book Club: Pollinator Friendly Gardening — We are excited to announce the next book choice of the Florida MGV Book Club! This May you’re invited to a community reading of “Pollinator Friendly Gardening,” by Rhonda Fleming Hayes. Hayes is a Minnesota Extension Master Gardener, and as enthusiastic about research-based solutions as we are. Whether you are out to save the bees, hoping to avoid hand-pollinating squash, or just looking for a good read, we hope you will join us.

Raised wooden bed filled with leafy green strawberry plantsBuilding Raised Beds – Vegetable gardening is a great way to grow your own food and live a more sustainable lifestyle. Unfortunately, Florida’s soils don’t always lend themselves to growing vegetables. If this is true of your landscape, try gardening in raised beds instead. This article will walk you through the materials, construction tips, and cautions you need to get started. We’ll also share some tips on site selection and bed orientation to help you maximize your harvest.

Fuzzy white baby owlsMore Webinars to Keep You Growing — For our Master Gardener Volunteers and community of Florida gardeners, continuing education is a priority. Last month’s article, “Webinars to Keep You Growing,” was so popular that we’re adding more highlights from our archive of webinars. This month you can enjoy learning about olives, roses, alternatives to turfgrass, refuges for wildlife, things that make us say “ouch,” and so much more.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Many Floridians are discovering or rediscovering the joys of gardening as we stay home and stay healthy. Did you know that gardening is actually really good for your health in addition to growing fresh produce? Gardening activities such as raking, weeding, and pruning provide moderate exercise to keep gardeners healthy and fit. An analysis in 2016 researchers found that gardening and being in nature reduced symptoms of anxiety. Other reports have seen a decrease in reported stress and mood disturbances in gardeners when compared to other populations.

Large flat green leaves of collards laying on a black backgroundPlant(s) of the Month: Greens — “Greens” are a staple in traditional Southern cooking. But this terms covers a number of plants, including spinach, collards, kale, mustard, turnip greens, and Swiss chard. Most of these nutritious vegetables are cool-season crops, but Swiss chard can be planted as late as May (March in South Florida). Two lesser known greens, New Zealand spinach and Malabar spinach, also grow well during warm months in Florida.

Color hand drawn illustration of sedge weedSedges — Sedges are grass-like plants and considered one of the world’s most pernicious weeds. They invade gardens and turf across the planet. Even Antarctica is host to an invasive sedge species! With an introduction like that, it’s no surprise that sedges are a problem in Florida’s turf and gardens. Water management and early identification are the keys to keeping this weed at bay.

Tender green leaves of basilMay in Your Garden — Now’s the time for summer annuals like salvia, torenia, wax begonia, and ornamental peppers. Plant heat-loving herbs like basil, oregano, Mexican tarragon, and rosemary. May is also a good time to prepare for hurricane season by checking trees for damaged or weak branches and pruning if needed. Consider hiring an ISA-certified arborist for bigger jobs.

Read the full May issue.

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[Stay safe, gardeners! Get reliable information on COVID-19 from the Florida Department of Health]

The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2020

April is National Volunteer Month, when we celebrate the work that volunteers do year-round. Volunteer Month recognizes and promotes the spirit of service, and raises awareness about how volunteering changes lives and strengthens communities. Learn more about our volunteers.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Green edible kale and colorful ornamental coleusFoodscaping: Creating an Edible Landscape — Many gardeners live for blooming flowers and stately shrubs. Others prefer rows of juicy vegetables and fruit trees. Some gardeners bring both to their landscape. But how often do you see ornamentals and edibles growing in the same bed? Enter: foodscaping, the perfect marriage of form and function for your garden. It’s a growing trend in gardening, an easy entry point for edibles, and a fresh challenge for veteran vegetable growers.
Photo: Edible kale and ornamental coleus, courtesy of Brie Arthur.

Cover of the book Foodscape Revolution by Brie ArthurJoin Our New Book Club – We are excited to announce the beginning of the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Book Club! In these unprecedented times, many of us are faced with more free time and fewer diversions than we might like. Whether you’re interested in home food production, or just looking for a new way to connect, you’re invited to join us for a community reading of “The Foodscape Revolution” by Brie Arthur. We’re looking forward to continuing in growing together, as communities and as a statewide program.

Blueberries on the bushWebinars to Keep You Growing — For many volunteers and other friends of our program, continuing education is a high priority. In unprecedented seasons of life, a gardener may find themselves stuck inside and searching for a new source of engagement. Here at the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, we support lifelong learning. If a move, illness, or change in lifestyle leaves you with a new normal, don’t let it stop you from expanding your horizons. Whether or not you’re a volunteer, this spring we’re inviting you to enjoy our archive of garden-related webinars.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — When I am stressed and can’t shake the worries of the world, I head to the garden, or my landscape. The urge to work the soil, to plant and tend is not something I want to do, it is simply what I must do. Based on the requests of Floridians contacting their Extension offices for gardening advice, I am not the only one who is being drawn to garden. These isolating times have people thinking about a better way. The reality is you can grow food in your yard.

Lavender flowers of agapanthusPlant of the Month: Agapanthus — This summer-flowering bulb is ideal for Southern gardens in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. Depending on the cultivar, the flowers may be blue, lavender, purple, or even white. Don’t let its delicate flowers deceive you; it’s a deceptively tough plant. Native to South Africa, agapanthus performs well in partial shade or full sun, drought, and even our sandy loam soil. For the best blooms, however, plant in full sun and moist, amended soil. These blooms are perfect for highly visible spaces in a landscape.

Tomatoes on the vineApril in Your Garden — Heat-loving annuals like colorful coleus are good plants for April, as are bulbs like cannas and daylily. Divide clumps of bulbs, ornamental grasses, or herbaceous perennials to expand or rejuvenate garden beds or to pass along to friends. In the vegetable garden, it’s time for warm-season edibles like sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes.

Read the full April issue.

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[Stay safe, gardeners! Get reliable information on COVID-19 from the Florida Department of Health]

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2020

Happy spring, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Cluster of small red berry-like fruitSpring Cleaning: Are these still cluttering up your yard? — This month we’re encouraging gardeners to do some spring cleaning. Your garden should be a place of peace and quiet in a busy world. Unfortunately, there may be trouble in paradise. Hundreds of invasive species are hiding in our otherwise Florida-Friendly landscapes. We have a list of the most common landscape invaders for you, as well as a three-step plan to restoring your garden’s natural tranquility.
Photo: fruit of invasive coral ardisia, UF/IFAS

Multicolored cluster of tiny flowers that make up what we call a lantana flowerLantana – One of the most popular landscape plants on the market, lantana is heat, salt, and drought tolerant. It’s pollinator friendly. It’s easy to grow and low maintenance. But did you know most varieties of Lantana camara are invasive throughout Florida? Thankfully, there are many sterile varieties and a couple of native species also on the market. In this article, learn about these alternatives to invasive lantana and follow Dr. Deng as he produces sterile varieties with UF/IFAS.

A pile of shiny green zucchini squashSuccession Planting in Your Vegetable Garden — Have you ever visited a gardener during zucchini harvest? Aren’t they just the most generous people? “Too many fresh veggies” is a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. If you’re tired of trying to find a home for all your garden’s extra vegetables, you may want to try succession planting. Instead of the tidal wave of harvesting, you’ll enjoy a slow trickle of fresh produce. In this article, we outline three different ways to plant “successively” in your home garden.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — The days are longer and the sun is shining here in the Sunshine State. For those gardeners with a sunny yard the grass is greening and the flowers are popping. But if you have a shady yard or a shady spot in the landscape you may feel a little green with envy. Covet not shade gardeners, your shade is a desirable condition in our Florida yards — remember what that August sun feels like. If your yard has shady spots you can still create a beautiful and Florida-Friendly landscape.

A bright yellow puffball flowerPlant of the Month: Sweet Acacia — Sweet acacia is not a particularly common landscape plant, likely because of its sharp spines. But gardeners willing to give this plant a try will be rewarded with fragrant, bright, yellow blooms. This native tree is low maintenance, highly drought tolerant, and an excellent replacement for the invasive mimosa tree. For best results plant your tree in an area where it will receive full sun. Sweet acacia will grow well year-round in South and Central Florida. Gardeners in northern parts of the state should protect the tree from frost during the winter.

Tiny baby fig leaf practically glowing in the sunlightMarch in Your Garden — March 19 is the first official day of spring! It’s time to start planting that warm season garden. Edibles to plant include tomatoes, peppers, mustard greens, and sweet corn. March is also a good time to prune shrubs and trees, but be sure to prune before any new buds form. Check your sprinkler system for leaks or broken heads.

Read the full March issue.

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[Stay safe, gardeners! Get reliable information on COVID-19 from the Florida Department of Health]

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2020

Happy Valentine’s Day, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

White planter containing several different foliage plantsIndoor Gardening — For green thumbs living in apartments, traditional gardening may be impossible. Thankfully, the houseplant trend is back! And for “plant parents” looking for something new, creating an indoor garden can be a fun challenge. An indoor garden is a contained, garden-like landscape created from houseplants. They thrive year-round in the climate-controlled environment inside your home. In this article, you will learn how to build your own indoor garden. But before you begin, carefully consider which plants belong together. No matter how beautiful they look, not all plants are compatible.

Smiling woman holding a plaque with happy people around her2019 Awards of Excellence Winners – On October 20-23, 2019, Master Gardener Volunteers from all over Florida gathered in Kissimmee for advanced training and networking at the 36th Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Continued Training Conference. A number of them left the conference with an Award of Excellence. These Master Gardener Volunteers have accomplished spectacular projects, from building a butterfly garden to leading landscape design classes.

Pale green orchid flower of vanilla plantVanilla in Florida? Yes! — Vanilla is native to the Americas, but today the source of this familiar flavor is exotic. Today, Madagascar and Indonesia produce most of our planet’s authentic vanilla. There, growers cut, cure, and ship the beans around the world. The cost of shipping is part of what makes this edible so expensive. This does not mean that vanilla must be left to the pros, however. South Florida’s hot and humid weather is perfect for orchids.
(Photo: the flower of Vanilla planifolia. Credit: Alan Chambers, UF/IFAS.)

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In February we think of love and passion when we see Valentine’s Day on the calendar. When I think of valentines, I think about all the passionate gardeners I know. Passion can be thought of in two ways — harmonious passion is when people do something because they love it in a controllable and manageable way and it has a positive outcome. Obsessive passion is when people have an uncontrollable urge to participate in an activity and the outcome might not be favorable. Most of the gardeners I know walk this edge of harmonious passion and obsessive passion when it comes to the plants they favor.

A mass of hot pink bougainvilla flowers which technically are called bractsPlant of the Month: Bougainvillea — This tropical, vining shrub comes in a pallet of bright pinks, purples, oranges, and yellows. It thrives in arid, sunny climates; the more sun, the better! Bougainvillea can be trained into a stand-alone shrub or allowed to grow naturally as a vine. It will climb fences, stairs, and even small trees, adding a splash of color to your landscape. This article also answers the pressing question, “Why won’t my bougainvillea bloom?”

Dark pink rose with many tightly packed petalsFebruary in Your Garden — Prune roses this month to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form. After pruning, you can fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch. Blooming will begin 8–9 weeks after pruning. Now’s the time to plant watermelon, plus many other edibles. Annuals to plant now in North and Central Florida gardens include dianthus and pansies, while South Florida gardeners can plant impatiens, verbena, strawflower, and lobelia.

Read the full February issue.

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[Header photo: Chickasaw plum (Prunus angustifolia) at the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, Seminole County, FL, February 2017. Photo by Mary Keim, licensed under Creative Commons, cc-by-nc-sa.]

The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2020

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Green broccoli floretCole Crop Confusion — In Florida, January is cole crop season. These cold-hearty plants are some of the most familiar in our gardens and grocery stores. But did you know that kale, collards, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are all considered one species? There is a lot more to these classic crops than meets the eye.

White container with the word compost on it, sitting on a cutting board with color vegetablesComposting – This year’s gardening trends include sustainability, minimizing waste, and bringing together communities. Composting falls happily in the center of these three goals. But for gardeners with less time, energy, or yard than they’d like, backyard composting is impractical. Thankfully several alternatives to traditional composting exist. Whether you live on acres or in an apartment there is a composting method to fit your needs. Some approaches are so sanitary that they can even operate inside your home!

People standing in a vegetable gardenMaster Gardener Volunteer Legacy Award — The 2019 recipients of the Legacy Fund Award Grant are the UF/IFAS Broward County Master Gardener Volunteers, for their demonstration vegetable garden showing homeowners how to grow edibles in their yards and community spaces. They plan to use the award funds to expand the demonstration garden to include alternate growing methodologies for small or “difficult to plant” spaces, like patios or rocky soil. The Master Gardener Legacy Fund was created to provide financial support to Master Gardener programs throughout Florida.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I have been thinking about that Benjamin Franklin quote, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Nowadays, when I ask an expert about the name of a plant or other horticulture fact, if I don’t write it down I forget. My plant brain used to be a vault of plant facts, now if it I don’t jot it down on paper or put it in my phone it is gone. I am going to work on this for 2020.

Bulbous, light green kohlrabi growing in soilPlant of the Month: Kohlrabi — Kohlrabi is a plant that is not just new to the U.S., it’s new to the planet. This strange, sputnik-shaped vegetable has no historical record before 1554 AD. It was uncommon in this country until the 1880s and was rarely grown in the South. Recently, however, its popularity has skyrocketed. Once rare, this versatile vegetable is now stocked in most supermarkets. And with fewer than sixty days from sowing to harvest, you should stock your garden, too.

Woman planting small tree in the groundJanuary in Your Garden — Winter is a great time to plant bulbs like crinum and agapanthus. You can prune shrubs and trees, but not those that flower in the spring. Florida Arbor Day is the third Friday in January; celebrate by planting a tree. Contact your county Extension office for species recommended in your area.

Read the full January issue.

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A Year in Review

This year we celebrated the 40-year anniversary of Florida’s Master Gardener Volunteer Program. That’s forty years, thousands of volunteers, and millions of hours devoted to supporting Extension and the residents of Florida. To all our Master Gardener Volunteers, thank you!

As 2019 draws to a close we thought we’d take a look back 12 of our most popular social media posts from these last 12 months. Florida gardeners were interested in a wide range of topics this year. Common themes included adding edibles, protecting threatened species, planting the right trees and shrubs (in the right places), and adding fragrance to our gardens. If your missed these posts, you can find the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Program on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and begin following today.

Left: Green treefrog (Hyla cinerea). Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org
Right: A mature mahogany tree in Fort Myers Florida. Photo: Stephen H. Brown, UF/IFAS. All rights reserved.

Social Media Top Twelve of 2019

  1. Florida’s Native Frogs – Florida is home to a large number of native frogs—27 species to be exact. They vary in appearance and what type of habitat they call home. Get the link to the frog call gallery and learn more about Florida frogs in this article from UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.
  2. Mahogany – Mahogany isn’t just a beautiful hardwood used for furniture, it’s also a beautiful South Florida tree. Mahogany is native to southernmost Dade and Monroe counties and is currently listed as a threatened species in Florida due to logging. However, it is readily available for purchase at many native nurseries in South Florida and is commonly planted as a street and shade tree.
  3. Banana Shrub – Banana shrub has smaller flowers, but the fruity scent is BIG.
  4. Sabal Palm – Did you know that the sabal palm is Florida’s state tree? And did you know that our state tree isn’t really a tree at all? Palms are more closely related to grass than they are to trees.
  5. Master Gardener Volunteer Program 40th Anniversary – We started with 58 volunteers — and now we’re 4,600 strong. The Florida Master Gardener program is fabulous and 40!
  6. Beautyberry – Nothing says “Autumn in Florida” like the jewel-like fruit of beautyberry. This native is loved by gardeners and wildlife alike.
  7. Fragrance Gardens  – You can easily create a garden devoted to fragrance, as Florida is blessed with hundreds of divinely-scented plants — the trouble will be choosing which ones you want to plant!
  8. National Moth Week  – July 20-28 is National Moth Week. Why celebrate these gentle, unassuming creatures? Why, because they’re unsung pollinating heroes! After the sun sets and butterflies and other pollinators retired for the evening, moths (and bats) take over the night shift of visiting flowers for nectar. (Bonus pollinator article: Pollinator-Friendly Cover Crops)
  9. Hibiscus – Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is what’s commonly seen in garden centers and yards, but there are many hibiscus species native to Florida, including H. coccineus, which goes by many names, including scarlet rosemallow, marsh hibiscus, and swamp mallow.
  10. Disaster Preparation & Recovery – The University of Florida IFAS Extension is in every county in Florida and online. The UF/IFAS Disaster Preparation & Recovery website offers resources to help Floridians prepare for and deal with natural disasters.
  11. Florida’s Water Resources – Most Floridians agree that water is an important state resource, but do you know how your landscape practices affect our water quality? There are steps you can take to protect Florida’s water.
  12. Caring for Poinsettias – Poinsettias bring fresh color to landscapes and tablescapes. But these holiday decorations require a little more upkeep than plastic garlands. UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions has tips to keep your poinsettias going into the new year.

Not included in this list were our posts highlighting edibles. Edibles to Plant in January is posted below for your convenience. These infographics are so popular that, had we not saved the best for last, 10 of the 12 would have made it into this list! For more information on vegetable gardening by season, you can visit our website, Gardening Solutions.

We’re looking forward to another 12 months with all our Florida gardeners. Happy New Year!

The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2019

Happy holidays from the staff of the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer and Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ programs!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Red poinsettia plantsFive Facts About the Poinsettia — The poinsettia is native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it is referred to as flor de nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). It is the most popular holiday plant in the U.S. and for good reason; its botanical name (Euphorbia pulcherrima) literally means “very beautiful.” But there might still be a few things you don’t know about poinsettias. UF/IFAS Extension Botanist Marc Frank has the details.

tiny purple flowers and small green leaves of thymeFive Herbs to Plant in December – With the holiday season in full swing, it’s easy to forget about updating the garden. The Neighborhood Gardener is here for you. These five herbs (like thyme, in photo) are easy to plant and they thrive in cool weather. Better still they make delicious additions to your holiday recipes. If you sow them this week you could have seedlings by 2020.

Evergreen swag with purple beautyberry on a doorEvergreen Arrangements Tutorial — Are your holiday decorations still a work in progress? Save money and go green this year by decking the halls with these Florida-Friendly evergreen swags. This DIY article will help you choose plants from your landscape and construct beautiful arrangements. Simply layer branches and sprigs, tie a bow, and you’re finished. Hang your arrangement wherever your home needs a pop of color.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In a recent conversation with a farmer, he said to me, “The less I spray, the less I have to.” He was speaking about insect control on his fruit trees. It took me a second or two to catch his drift, but once I did we shared the concept of protecting beneficial insects so they can control the pest insects. In the landscape and vegetable garden you can use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control pests responsibly.

Clusters of small purple flowers arranged in spikesPlant of the Month: Chastetree — Found in gardens across the country, chastetree, or vitex, (Vitex agnus-castus) is a large, deciduous, flowering shrub. It puts on a show from late spring through fall with its beautiful bluish-purple flowers clustered along tall spikes. Although not itself a Florida native species, chastetree is very attractive to native Florida wildlife. Native butterflies, hummingbirds, birds, and bees come from miles around to enjoy chastetree’s nectar and seeds. This plant’s curious name finds its roots in the oldest surviving natural history text, Naturalis Historia.

Reddish orange trumpet-shaped amaryllis flowerDecember in Your Garden — Cool-season vegetable gardening is under way in Florida: beets, broccoli, greens, carrots, and celery are just a few edibles to plant throughout the state this month. Amaryllis is a popular holiday plant. It can be forced to bloom now or planted outdoors for spring blooms.

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2019

We are so thankful for you, our readers!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright orange flowers with many petalsEdible Flowers — Growing edible flowers is a fun way to get the best of two aspects of gardening, beautiful blooms and tasty edibles. Fall is a great time for growing edible flowers like calendula, and when it’s even cooler, dianthus or nasturtium. Be sure to plant from seed; flowering plants from nurseries and garden centers are usually grown for their looks and are often treated for pests and with fertilizer. Beth Bolles, horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County wrote an in-depth post on edible flowers; it’s worth reading.
(Photo of calendula by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra.)

Brown sign with the words don't guess, get a soil test in tan letterIFAS Soil Test is Changing — The UF/IFAS Extension Soil Testing Lab has changed the way they do soil tests. In September the tests for micronutrients and macronutrients were combined. This newly combined test costs $10; previously the separate tests cost $7 for the micronutrient and $5 for the macronutrient test. Why test your soil? Florida’s native soils often lack the nutrients necessary for good plant growth, and knowing what nutrients your soil might be low on (if any) can help with landscape planning. Visit the Extension Soil Testing Lab’s website for details.

A lady bug with many black spots on the red shellThe Good, the Bad, and the Bugly — In gardening circles, the fact that most bugs we encounter are “good” is common knowledge. But for some people there are bugs that just aren’t desirable, even if harmless. What exactly is a “good” bug? Or a “bad” bug for that matter? Can a bug be both good and bad? Sarasota County Extension Agent Carol Watt-Evens examines the complexity of our relationship with these very necessary creatures.
(Photo of Asian lady beetle by Jon Yuschock, Bugwood.org)

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Spanish needles (Bidens alba) has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can surely remember pulling the seeds from my bobby socks after walking through the grove on my way to the school bus stop or pulling this perennial weed from my first vegetable garden. Suffice to say the ill feelings go way back.

A flat of young plants covered in pink or white tiny flowers so much so as to cover any leavesPlant of the Month: Sweet Alyssum — Looking for a fall-to-winter plant that offers flowers and fragrance? Sweet alyssum checks both of those boxes. This annual grows low to the ground in a mounding form, up to about 12 inches tall and wide. Sweet alyssum can be planted in your garden or used in a container, where its spreading habit spills nicely. Clusters of tiny white, pink, or purple flowers bloom continuously from winter through spring. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the carpet of flowers. Sweet alyssum can be planted throughout Florida from October into spring.

A bunch of orange carrots freshly pulled from the groundNovember in Your Garden — Now’s the time to start your bulbs. Bulbs like amaryllis, daylily, and spider lily thrive when started in cool weather. November is also a great time to divide and replant overgrown perennials. Edibles to plant include carrots, broccoli, kale, and spinach. Turn off automated irrigation systems and water only if needed. Plants need less supplemental watering in cooler weather.

Read the full November issue.

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

Neighborhood Gardener – October 2019

Yellow flower with brown center

Happy fall, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

White, tall, vase-shaped flower with long spadex insideVoodoo Lily – With Halloween soon upon us, creepy plants come to mind. In years past, we’ve discussed ghost plants and bat flowers; this year we draw your attention to the voodoo lily. These plants are often first noticed for their aroma—stench, really. Some species in this genus (Amorphophallus) are called corpse flower for the terrible smell they use to attract flies, their pollinator partners. But if you are interested in adding this interesting specimen to your landscape, fear not—they only really smell around sunrise or sunset. Scare up more about voodoo lily in this piece by Ralph Mitchell, UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Director.
(Photo of voodoo lily, Amorphophallus bulbifer, by John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)

A pine forest in flamesFirewise Landscaping – Wildfire is a risk in Florida any time of year, but dry periods make fires even more likely, especially in wooded or rural areas. Don’t wait for this winter dry season to make sure your landscape is safe. Firewise landscaping incorporates fire safety into landscape design to help ensure your home is safe even if the flames come close. Learn steps you can take to create a safe landscape that is still beautiful and Florida-Friendly.

Tropical plant with brown and drooping leavesMinimize Gardening Trial and Error with FFL — One of the toughest parts of gardening is when a plant doesn’t thrive the way you had hoped. Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Principle #1: Right Plant, Right Place is a great start for minimizing garden trial and error. Knowing the specifics of both your location and what kind of plants will thrive in those conditions is the first step to a successful landscaping plan. We start you out with some questions you should be asking about your landscape and potential plants.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Many gardeners are concerned about pollinator protection in their garden. In fact, a recent survey of Master Gardener Volunteers showed that 84% were interested in learning more on bees and plants that support pollinators in the landscape. We need bees, be it honey bees, bumble bees, mason bees, or the host of many native bees. They pollinate our plants and crops and support life. Is what we do in our home landscape that important to their survival? It most certainly is. There are some steps you can take that will help support bee populations in your area.

Bright pink trumpet shaped flower with five petalsPlant of the Month: Desert Rose — This flowering succulent will add a fabulous flash of color to a container, with dozens of trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of pink, rose, or white. Desert rose makes a dramatic specimen for a deck or patio but since it’s sensitive to temperatures below 40 degrees, it’s usually grown in containers that can be brought inside for winter. South Florida gardeners can grow this as a small shrub. Like many succulents, desert rose needs conditions that are bright, warm, and dry.

Broccoli plant as seen from aboveOctober in Your Garden — The time for planting cool-season vegetables has arrived. Crops like broccoli, carrots, collards, lettuces, radishes, and spinach can be started throughout the state this month. The season has also changed for herb plantings: dill, fennel, parsley, and cilantro do well in the milder temperatures we may be seeing.

Read the full October issue.

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Header top photo: swamp sunflower, UF/IFAS