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)

red_bell_peppers800

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.

Friday Flowers: Firebush

Firebush is a native perennial shrub that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with its red-orange tubular flowers. In the cooler months, berries attract song birds. Heat- and drought-tolerant, firebush can be grown throughout Florida. While frost might knock it down, it will return (ask us how we know).

Both zebra longwings and gulf fritillary butterflies swarm to this flowering shrub.

It will grow and flower best if planted in full sun, but it can also be planted in partial shade. Firebush is also moderately tolerant of salt spray, which can be helpful for gardeners in coastal areas.

Firebush can be planted in any well-drained soil and will do best if it is watered regularly until it is established.firebush_butterfly

 

Learn more about this Florida-Friendly native at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/firebush.html

 

The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-red tubular flowers of firebushFloral Fire – Florida gardens are certainly full of heat in July; and that inspired us to discuss some of the “fiery” flowers that flourish in Florida landscapes. Firebush, firecracker plant, firespike, and firethorn — they all have fire in the name but each bring something different to your garden.

Bright red peppers hanging from plantHot Peppers for Hot Weather – The heat is rising outside and for some, a little heat in your foods and beverages can offer relief from the rising mercury outdoors. Pepper heat is not the same between different varieties; from the heat-free bell peppers to the world’s third-hottest pepper, the bhut jolokia, there is surely a pepper for any taste. We list some of the peppers that grow well in Florida by heat.

Rectangles of sheet metal laid on a lawn at interesting angles to serve as a walkwayModern Landscape Design — A modern design aesthetic appeals to those who favor clean lines, open spaces, and repetition of a few choice plants. We have a few suggestions to help make your modern landscape look magnificent.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It is nearly impossible to keep up with the landscaping chores during this year’s rainy season. You can sneak out to prune plants or dump the rain gauge, but keeping up with the mega lawn is nearly impossible. Just when you have it mowed to the proper height, four days later it is almost ready to mow again, and it’s raining when you try, so you just wait another day.

Close view of deep green fern frondsPlant of the Month: Australian Tree Fern — Also known in its native country as the lacy tree fern because of its delicate fronds, the Australian tree fern is a tropical giant whose trunk can reach a height of 15 or even 30 feet. The long, large leaves form a handsome canopy and give a tropical feel to the landscape. Australian tree fern grows best in areas with high humidity and very warm temperatures. In South and Central Florida, it can be grown outside; farther north it should be grown in an area where it is protected from the cold.

A gray and white mottled moth on green leavesSphingidae Moths — Moths often don’t receive the same love as their day-time counterparts, butterflies. But the number of moth species world-wide far outnumbers the number of butterfly species. Some of the largest moths belong to the Sphingid family. While some are considered to be beneficial pollinators, their larval stage of caterpillars can be a destructive garden pest. Learn more about these large and interesting moths.
(Tetrio sphinx moth photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International, Bugwood.org)

Delicate red flower of royal poinciana treeJuly in Your Garden — While it may be too hot to start herbs from seed in your garden, some like oregano and mint will do well when started from small plants. Some bulbs can be planted now as well, including butterfly lily, gladiolus, and society garlic. Some municipalities prohibit the application of fertilizer to lawns and/or landscape plants during the summer rainy season. See if such an ordinance exists in your area.

Read the full July issue.

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

Plant of the Month: Australian Tree Fern

July’s featured plant is the Australian tree fern:

A shrub sized green fern outside a campus building
This Australian tree fern is growing outside one of the UF campus buildings in Gainesville.

Also known in its native country as the lacy tree fern because of its delicate fronds, the Australian tree fern is a tropical giant whose trunk can reach a height of 15 or even 30 feet. The long, large leaves form a handsome canopy and give a tropical feel to the landscape.

Other than an occasional irrigation during dry times and the removal of spent, lower fronds, Australian tree fern should be regarded as a low-maintenance plant worth a place in Florida landscapes.

Read the full article at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Happy July 4th, gardeners!

From all of us at the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener program,  a happy Independence Day to all the gardeners in the USA.

Let’s celebrate with a firecracker…plant!

Red tubular flowers of the firecracker plant. Photo by John Tann.

Firecracker plant attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with a profusion of red, tubular flowers. Its narrow, soft leaves give it a fine texture in the landscape, making it a great contrast to broad-leaf plants.

Read more about firecracker plant at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Mosquito Control and Bees

Honey bee on orange blossomThere are some bugs you just don’t want around, like mosquitoes. Mosquito control protects the public from disease outbreaks, reduces nuisance mosquitoes, and protects Florida’s economy.

But then there are the bugs you do want around, like bees. It’s no exaggeration to say that almost everyone who eats food benefits from the honey bee. A common estimate is that one in three U.S. crops is pollinated by bees, but in Florida the ratio is three out of four.

So, how do mosquito control efforts affect our honey bees? The UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education (PIE Center) addresses that in a new campaign to educate Floridians on mosquito control:

While insecticides used on mosquitoes can kill bees outside of their hives, treatment that is applied before dawn or after dusk can reduce impact because bees are usually inside their hives. However, it is not always appropriate to treat before dawn or after dusk for certain mosquito species. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show that honey production between hives in treated and untreated sites did not show significantly different quantities of honey over the course of a season. Beekeepers and concerned citizens should work with their local mosquito control program to determine when and where they treat for mosquitoes.

They’ve created a very helpful fact sheet that you can download and print:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/mosquito_control_bee_impact_piecenter.pdf

Impact of Mosquito Control on Honey Bees
An infographic with some of the information from the PIE Center’s fact sheet titled, “Impact of Mosquito Control on Honey Bees,” in an illustrated format.

And you can read more about honey bees in Florida in this excellent article written for UF/IFAS Extension Bug Week 2018.