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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

peanutsPeanuts – Peanuts, also known as groundnuts or goobers, have a long history of cultivation dating back 3,500 years. Most likely originating in ancient South America, Spanish conquistadors took them back to Europe, where their popularity spread across the globe, eventually making their way to the United States. They remain a popular snack throughout much of the world. But did you know that North and Central Florida gardeners can grow them at home?

containers collecting irrigation water photo by Michael Gutierrez, UF/IFASCalibrating Your Irrigation System
With your lawn coming out of its dormant season, you’re likely back to using your irrigation system. Calibrating your system regularly is an important bit of landscape maintenance. A properly calibrated system will save you money and protect your turf and plants from pests and diseases. And all you’ll need is some tuna fish cans (actually, any straight-sided cans will do).

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — I started keeping books in the car—not to read in traffic, but to have quick references for the world around me. Behind my driver’s seat you will find a Florida Wildflower ID book (Taylor), a bird book (Sibley), and since October of 2015, the book “Trees: North and Central Florida,” by Koeser, Hasing, Friedman, and Irving. We have needed a good Florida tree ID book that covers native and non-native species for a long time. This purse-sized field guide will help you identify trees in your neighborhood, parks, and natural areas.

Garden sign drawn by childManatee Gardens Win Award of Excellence — The Manatee County Master Gardeners’ Educational Gardens and Greenhouse is the fruition of years of plant sales and other fundraising activity. These gardens were created with the purpose of teaching residents about Florida-friendly gardening principles and providing them with tactile examples of those conceptual principles. There are gardens that feature vegetables, butterflies, and wetlands, a state-of-the art greenhouse, orchard, goldfish pond, sensory garden, and a large garden sundial. There’s also a children’s garden, complete with a kids’ maze and teaching area.

Starburst clerodendrum flowerPlant of the Month: Starburst Clerodendrum — Fast-growing starburst clerodendrum grows well in zones 9b to 11 and can be used as a shrub or tree. Also known as shooting star clerodendrum, this plant is so named for its flowers that resemble delicate white stars shooting forth with a lovely pink tail trailing in their wake. Hummingbirds and long-tongued butterflies love to visit these tubular flowers for their sweet energizing nectar. For the best flowering results, choose a location with full sun. This shrub prefers moist, well-drained soil; however, once established it’s quite drought tolerant.

Yellow okra flowerMay in Your Garden – May is a great time to get into the garden and plant heat-loving ornamentals like coleus, salvia, and ornamental peppers. In the vegetable garden, it’s time for Southern favorites like okra and sweet potato. Think about which plants in your garden will make it through the hot summer, and which plants will need to be changed out with more heat-tolerant options.

Female Southern yellowjacketYellow Jackets — While yellow jackets do perform an important ecological role as predators of landscape pests, it’s understandable that people don’t want to live and play near a colony. You may discover a nest when you notice a few yellow jackets flying low to the ground; a far less lucky way to discover a nest is to run it over with your lawnmower, likely angering the inhabitants. These stinging insects can be aggressively defensive when there’s a disturbance of their colony, so the safest removal option is generally to hire a professional.

Read the full May issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

UF2000 peachPeaches Don’t Have to Come from a Can – Georgia may be known for its peaches, but here in Florida we can also grow these tender stone fruits. Well, at least all gardeners north of Fort Meyers can give it a try. While you will need a variety that requires fewer chill hours (in the 300-hours range), there are still plenty of options for those interested in growing peaches in the Sunshine State

Australian shepherd photo by Jennifer SykesPetscaping
“Landscaping” is a common term, but have you heard of “petscaping”? This new term is being batted around by businesses interested in reaching out to the 60 percent of Americans who own pets. “Petscaping” looks at creating a landscape that is both beautiful to look at and safe for our furry family members

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — In my gardening classes I often ask, “Who has really good soil?” Most times the silence tells the truth about Florida’s soils. Other times, one or two hands will go up and I can tell by their faces that these are gardeners that work on building their soil all year round. Organic matter helps to increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil, as well as the nutrient-hold ability of the soil. A great garden starts with great soil; that is truly where it all begins.

Partial look at the tree plateSupport Tree Research with a Specialty Tag — The Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture has a specialty license plate that supports tree research, such as the work by UF/IFAS researchers on the urban tree-planting program. And, for a limited time, if you purchase a new Trees Are Cool license plate, you can get a voucher for a free seminar.

Pink loropetalum flowersPlant of the Month: Loropetalum — A long way from its native home in the Himalayas, loropetalum is a Florida-Friendly shrub that blooms in spectacular fashion come springtime. Most often found with reddish-bronze foliage, this evergreen (or perhaps “everbronze”) usually sports pink frilly flowers this time of year. Loropetalum will grow best in full sun, but can also be grown in partial shade. This eye-catching shrub prefers acidic and well-drained soils.

the beneficial air potato beetleApril in Your Garden – While you continue to plant warm season vegetables, be on the lookout for pests. It’s important to protect the beneficial insects in your landscape, so before applying pesticides, be sure to identify the culprit behind your plant damage and use the proper treatment method.

Bag of fertilizerFertilizer — It’s around this time of year that people start thinking about and applying fertilizer. Fertilizer provides specific nutrients for your plants, and it’s available in a variety of forms. Inorganic fertilizers are mined or synthesized, while organic fertilizers are derived from living organisms. Remember, the best fertilizer is the one that provides your plants with what they need, so getting a soil test is really the ideal first step. Either way you start, make sure you look for a slow-release fertilizer with low phosphorous.

Read the full April issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Student preparing garden soil with teacherSchool Garden Wins Award of Excellence for Bay County – The Florida Master Gardener Award of Excellence for Service to 4-H and/or Other Youth recognizes volunteers who make outstanding contributions to youth through horticulture. The 2015 award went to the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Master Gardeners, for their work as part of a community-wide partnership to develop and maintain a horticultural therapy garden at Margaret K. Lewis School for children with disabilities.

Hummingbird approaching feeder photo by Annkatrin RoseHummingbird Feeders
While the best source of food for hummingbirds is one of the many nectar-producing plants they love, a hummingbird feeder can be a great way to provide extra sustenance to these fast-moving little birds. Hummingbirds need to eat a third to half of their body weight each day in order to keep those rapidly beating wings moving. When looking for a hummingbird feeder, choose one in red plastic with multiple feeding stations, and only put an unaltered sugar and water solution—no dye—into the feeder.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — As a gardener, I am always looking for inspiration for what to plant next. I’m constantly on the lookout for fresh plant varieties, fresh plant combinations, new ways of growing plants, and new ways of communicating with people about plants. When it is spring, I look forward to attending the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World. Their world-class horticulturalists plan far in advance to blow gardeners’ boots off and this year is no exception. The theme is “Epcot Fresh” and there are plenty of fresh ideas there to inspire you.

Olives on the treeOlives — Think of olive trees and you may think of the Mediterranean, but did you know that you can grow olives in Florida? If you’re looking for something different, an olive tree may be a great choice. Grown in small numbers here for years, commercial production of olives in Florida is still new and subject to ongoing research. While not suitable for consumption right off the tree, olives can be cured and eaten, or pressed for oil, and the tree’s silvery foliage makes it an attractive addition to the landscape.

Yellow trumpet treePlant of the Month: Trumpet Trees — Trumpet trees are loved for their dazzling display of blossoms that burst forth ahead of their leaves in spring. The common name refers to the elongated flowers that resemble trumpets; depending on the tree, the flowers can be white, yellow, pink or even lavender. Traditionally known as Tabebuia, some of these trees are now recognized with a different botanical name. These Florida-friendly plants grow best in full sun and make a stunning addition to landscapes in Central and South Florida.

TomatoesMarch in Your Garden – We’re heading into spring, which is a great time to try a vegetable garden. Warm season crops can be planted this month throughout the state, like corn, pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

two mosquitoesZika Mosquito Update — Zika has been getting a lot of attention in the media recently, as outbreaks of this mosquito-transmitted virus become evermore present in Central and South America. While much is still unknown about the Zika virus, one thing is for sure—limiting mosquito habitats and preventing bites are important precautions in mosquito-prone climates like Florida’s.

Read the full March issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Florida Fresh app iconFlorida Fresh App – For those who love the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, guess what? There’s an app for that! Florida Fresh is a new mobile app that provides a list of fruits and vegetables available fresh in stores and markets at this time of year based on your zip code. There’s also a list of what edibles you can plant in your garden right now. Detailed information on each fruit and vegetable is provided, along with links to other educational resources. The app is free and available at the iTunes app store and Google Play.

Leafy vegetable with dark red leavesRed Leafy Vegetables
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Lettuce is green
But it is red too!

Yes, even your greens come in different colors.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — When it’s too cold to garden, Wendy peruses garden catalogs and books about landscape plants. This month, she curls up with a book that’s sure to educate and entertain any gardener. Beatrix Potter is well-known for such children’s books as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and “The Tale of Tom Kitten,” but did you know that she was also an accomplished botanist?

An uprooted clump of crabgrassDon’t Let Crabgrass Make You Crabby — As cooler temperatures arrive, have you found brown patches of lawn where there was green and healthy turf just a few months ago? If so, you may have a crabgrass problem, but don’t let it get you down. Now is the time to do something about this pesky lawn weed, before it grows back in the spring.

a Mrs. B.R. Cant rosePlant of the Month: Roses for Florida — Roses are an iconic (and expensive) symbol of Valentine’s Day, but you don’t have to settle for pricey roses in a vase. Not everyone knows it, but you can actually grow roses in Florida! Of course, as with so many plants, what works everywhere else doesn’t always work for Florida gardeners. Researchers at UF/IFAS have been looking into which roses strike the perfect balance of tough and beautiful for growing in Florida.

Pink crinum flowerFebruary in Your Garden – While we’re talking about roses, don’t forget that now is the time to prune any you have growing in your landscape. Many bulbs can be planted now; some to try are crinum and agapanthus.

Hands planting baby lettuce in pot“Harvest as Your Grow” Container Gardening — Growing your own vegetables is becoming quite the popular hobby across the country. Container gardening allows anyone—from those with acres of land to apartment dwellers with no more than a tiny balcony—to try their hand at growing their own produce. It’s also a great project for the beginning gardener. This tutorial will walk you through the basics of creating your own “harvest as you grow” leafy greens container.

New Look for the e-Newsletter
Starting in March, we’ll be moving the email version of the Neighborhood Gardener into a more mobile-friendly template. This won’t change the content we provide, but it will make reading easier for nearly half of our subscribers that are reading the newsletter on a mobile device.

Read the full February issue.

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

Florida’s Arbor Day is January 15th

While National Arbor Day falls on the last Friday in April, many states observe their own Arbor Day depending on the best tree-planting times for the region. Florida celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday of January, the 15th this year.

You can celebrate Arbor Day by planting a young tree in your landscape or helping with tree plantings in your community. Trees can reduce home energy costs and raise the value of your property, while adding shade and visual interest to your landscape.

Learn more about planting and establishing trees at UF/IFAS Extension’s Gardening Solutions.

Local Extension offices and other community program often hold tree giveaway events for Arbor Day; check with your local Extension office to find out.

The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2016

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Luke ConnorAnd the Winner is… – Congratulations to the 2015 Outstanding Master Gardener, Luke Connor of Marion County. In only six years of service, Luke has already volunteered nearly 1,000 hours, served in multiple leadership roles, and even taught agriculture to soldiers in the U.S. Army Reserve.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — This is the month that we resolve to make changes in our lives for the better. For a happier and healthier 2016, why not make some landscaping and gardening resolutions? I always look for some easy things to quickly mark off my list, so for my first “Wanderings” column of 2016, I thought I might share a few simple landscaping resolutions.

Packaged suet with cageSuet is for the Birds — Suet cakes are a great source of high-energy animal fat and protein for the birds in your landscape. While they’re widely available for purchase and not that expensive, making your own allows you to customize the flavors and have some fun in the process.

Head of cabbageCrazy for Cabbage — Get your new year gardening off to a healthy and productive start by planting a little cabbage this January. A member of the Brasicaeae family, cabbage is related to broccoli, collards, and Brussels sprouts. These winter veggies thrive in the cold; in fact, they require cool temperatures in order to grow. Cabbage can be eaten raw in cole slaw, pickled in sauerkraut, or cooked into a variety of dishes. Plus it’s high in vitamins, particularly vitamin C.

Pink camelliaPlant of the Month: Camellia — Camellias flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. During the remainder of the year, their evergreen foliage and relatively slow growth make camellias excellent landscape plants. Many Florida gardeners aren’t aware of the sheer number of camellia varieties available. Most camellias will perform best if you plant them in a sheltered location where they receive partial shade, in a well-drained, preferably acidic soil. Any pruning should be done before late summer when the flower buds form.

woman planting a treeJanuary in Your Garden – Florida observes Arbor Day on the third Friday of January. To celebrate, plant a tree in your yard or community. Consider a hurricane resistant tree such as live oak, bald cypress, cabbage palm, or crapemyrtle.

Closeup of a river birch's barkWinter Interest: Bark Appeal — It can be a challenge to add interest to your landscape for winter. Choosing trees that have unusual or interesting bark can bring dashes of texture and even color to your landscape during the less spectacular gardening months.

Read the full January issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2015

Happy holidays, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Sydney Park BrownLifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award – Sydney Park Brown, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Horticulturist and Associate Professor Emeritus, was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award at the 34th Annual State Master Gardner Conference in October. “The effects of Sydney’s dedication to the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program will be felt for decades to come,” says Wendy Wilber, statewide program coordinator. “Her vision helped to shape the program into one of the best in the country.”

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — If you are anything like me, you are still rushing to finish your holiday shopping. Some people are impossible to shop for and other people are gardeners. You might be lucky enough to have a gardener on your “to buy for” list. If you do, I have some great gift ideas for the gardener in your life.

Rosemary topiariesRosemary Topiary Trees — A useful and delicious holiday gift, rosemary plants shaped to look like Christmas trees require minimal care and will continue to reward you long after the holidays pass. A topiary can be used as a table centerpiece, mantle decoration, or even a decoration in a child’s room—you can feel safe knowing if a bit of the topiary ends up ingested it’s no problem at all. After the holidays, your rosemary can be planted outside in an area with full sun and good drainage.

Yaupon holly foliageYaupon Holly Tea — The days are getting shorter and there is a chill in the air. A nice warm cup of tea or coffee may be just what you need to warm up after a nice outside gardening session. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to brew tea with leaves from your own garden? Yaupon holly is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Firethorn berriesPlant of the Month: Firethorn — Looking to add some color to your winter landscape? Firethorn is an evergreen shrub known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Not only are they attractive, the berries also serve as an important food source for wildlife. The branches hold up well in cut arrangements and make a festive accent in holiday centerpieces. This thorny shrub performs best in north and central parts of Florida, and will thrive when planted in well-drained soil and full sun.

pink snapdragonsDecember in Your Garden – With cooler temperatures outside many people will be bringing plants indoors for the winter. Be on the lookout for houseplant damage from pests or disease. In North and Central Florida, add color with winter annuals like petunias and snapdragons. In South Florida, plant begonias or geraniums.

fungus gnatFriend or Foe? Foe: Fungus Gnat — Fungus gnats are a common pest of indoor plants. The larvae of these tiny flying pests can be found in the soil, feeding on rotting vegetation and plant roots. They’re drawn to plants that are overwatered, so one way to control these flies is to let the soil dry out between waterings. You can also use yellow “sticky traps,” placed near light to attract the adults. Coat a piece of yellow plastic (like that from a Solo cup) with petroleum jelly and stick it in the soil of your infected houseplant to attract the gnats.

Read the full December issue.

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

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