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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright yellow cactus flowerPrickly Pear – Prickly pear cactus may not give up easily to being eaten, but if you put in the work the payoff is worth the effort. Both the pads (nopales) and the red fruits can be eaten. The pads are said to taste a bit like green beans while the fruits are sweet. The flowers come in a range of warm-hued colors like orange, yellow, red, and pink, depending on the species and variety. Best yet, it thrives in sandy soil and requires little to no maintenance.
(Photo: Gary Knox, UF/IFAS. Used with permission, all rights reserved.)

Two strips of cloth dyed yellowCoreopsis Dye — Egg-dying season may have passed but fiber-dying season could just be starting depending on what you have growing. We were interested in the prospect of using flowers from the garden to dye fabric, and the plethora of coreopsis blooming right now got us inspired. You can check out our tutorial on creating dye from these cheerful wildflowers.

A window lit from within framed by delicate bamboo and fernPlanting Around Your Windows — Breaking your landscape up into different areas can help you develop a design aesthetic. This can make an entire landscape overhaul seem less daunting. You can keep costs down by chunking it out and working on one area at a time, or you can just make changes to one area that has needed some attention. This month we discuss some tricks to making sure the landscaping around your windows is picture perfect.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — June is here and while most of the country is celebrating graduation and preparing for summer vacation, Floridians are preparing for hurricane season. My battery and flashlight drawers are ready and I will be thinking about my “go bag” contents later, because the phrase “sheltering in place” is equal to “riding the storm out” and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that again. Luckily for us the season doesn’t usually heat up until a little later in the summer, so now is a perfect time to take stock of your trees and landscape and to get a plan together.

Yellow daisy like flower with brown centerPlant of the Month: Beach Sunflower — Beach sunflower is a butterfly-attracting Florida native that’s perfect for hot, dry sites, including coastal areas. Fun fact: the flower heads always follow the sun throughout the day. Beach sunflower can be grown throughout most of the state; it works well as a groundcover and is great for borders, mass plantings, and even cascading down a wall. Plant your beach sunflower in a full-sun location, ideally with sandy or well-drained soil. Growing to a height and spread of 2 to 4 feet, this plant can quickly cover its growing area.

A gopher tortoise peering at usGopher Tortoise — Gopher tortoises may have been around for millions of years, but these days they are threatened by human development that keeps encroaching on their native habitat. Not only are these animals important in their own right, they are a keystone species, meaning that many other creatures in the environment rely on them for survival. If you have a gopher tortoise on your property, keep pets or children away from its burrow. Since they’re a threatened species, both the tortoises and their burrows are protected under state law and must be left alone.

Pale pink oleander flowerJune in Your Garden — Hurricane season begins, so check around your landscape and make any preparations now. Summer’s warm, rainy months are perfect for planting palms. Summer-flowering shrubs like hibiscus, oleander, crapemyrtle, and ixora can be lightly pruned now as they bloom on new growth. Azaleas can still be pruned without harming next season’s budding.

Non-descript green leaves and small white flowersGopher Apple — Gopher apple is a native evergreen groundcover that is a favorite food source of wildlife, including gopher tortoises, thus its common name. Little white flowers appear in the summer and are followed by the fruits that animals devour. Salt, drought, and fire tolerant, gopher apple is ideal for stabilizing sandy banks; its tolerance of harsh conditions makes it an almost indestructible groundcover. It’s an especially great choice for gardeners along the coast.
(Photo of gopher apple by Scott Zona. Some rights reserved.)

Read the full June issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Vivid purple and green foliage of Persian shield plantPurple Plants – Pantone’s 2018 color of the year is ultra violet. Pantone describes this as an inventive and imaginative color, a color that inspires creativity. You can bring a little bit of creative and inspirational energy into your own garden or living space by adding plants with pops of purple. From flowers to berries and even foliage, we have a number of purple plants that could inspire you.

Rain barrel painted with an outdoor sceneWhat to Do with Your Rainwater — Clean, fresh water is one of our most precious resources. Rain barrels are a great way to capture fresh rain water and preserve it for use during drier times of the year. They capture a significant amount of water and can have a tangible effect on your water bill. Best of all, they’re fairly easy to find in stores and to make! But once you have a barrel full of water what can you do with that water?

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We have had a beautiful spring this year, the finest I can recall for some time. My recent wanderings around Florida did give me the opportunity to take a minute and stop to smell the roses, or in this case, the pitcher plants and wild orchids of the Apalachicola National Forest. And it got me to wondering… why are we so drawn to nature and the outdoors?

Purple cluster of flowersPlant of the Month: Evergreen Wisteria — Millettia, also called evergreen wisteria, is a wow-worthy evergreen vine with gorgeous, fragrant flowers. This plant is beautiful on its own and is a wonderful alternative to the commonly seen and invasive Chinese wisteria. These gorgeous vines can reach up to 30 feet, but they can easily be kept shorter with pruning.

small white flowers overshadowed by their bright red stamensPineapple Guava — This attractive evergreen shrub has it all: silvery foliage, unusual flowers, and edible fruits. Pineapple guava are also well suited for coastal gardens because they can tolerate salt spray. Edible flowers bloom in April and May; if left to ripen, egg-shaped fruits will begin to mature between August and October.

Purple flower of toreniaMay in Your Garden — As temperatures rise you’ll want to plant annuals that can take the heat: salvia, coleus, wax begonia, and torenia are just a few. Summer also means insects will become more active, so keep an eye out for thrips, scales, and mites on ornamental plants.

Big yellow and black grasshopperEastern Lubber Grasshoppers — Colorful, colossal, and unwelcome in the landscape, eastern lubber grasshoppers are an unmistakable pest in the garden. Lubbers wander about feasting on a wide variety of plants, and in large numbers, they can do significant damage. In flower beds, lubbers commonly defoliate amaryllis, Amazon lily, crinum, narcissus, and related plants, as well as oleander, butterfly weed, canna, Mexican petunia, and lantana.

Read the full May issue.

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

May Brings the Heat

Happy May, gardeners! As temperatures rise, thoughts turn to summer vegetable gardening. Southern favorites to plant now in North and Central Florida include Swiss chard, okra, and sweet potatoes. In addition to sweet potatoes, South Florida gardeners might consider boniato, hot peppers, and tropical “spinach” such as Sisso, Malabar, and New Zealand.

 

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May is also a good time to start preparing for hurricane season. Start by checking trees for damaged or weak branches and prune if needed. If you’re looking for a pro, hire an ISA-certified arborist.

For more information and resources, visit the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website.

Volunteers are the heart of the Master Gardener program

As we near the end of April, National Volunteer Month, we’d like to share the stories we’ve received from UF/IFAS Extension offices around the state.

Like the story of Lynda, an Okaloosa County Master Gardener. Her program leader writes, “When describing the study group that Lynda helped start, one of the other Master Gardeners said, ‘It is fun learning and it works.’” This former educator has kept her passion for teaching — and now children, adult gardeners, and even other Master Gardeners are benefiting from her knowledge.

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Lynda is far right in this photo, winning an award for Outstanding Service to Youth with Jennifer Yelverton (far left) and Haley Worley (center).

Or the story of Ann, a Sumter County Master Gardener that helped her new program leader settle into the position. Lisa Sanderson writes, “As a relatively new agent with UF/IFAS Extension in Sumter County, I appreciate Ann’s professionalism and attention to detail in all her volunteer efforts — co-chairing the “Ask the Master Gardener” plant clinics, focusing on improving technology available to the Master Gardeners who volunteer at the clinics, and coordinating continuing education especially focused on plant clinic technology and skills.”

That’s just two of the stories, and of course agents couldn’t name every wonderful Master Gardener that has given their time to her or his county Extension program. But you can read all the stories we did gather at the Florida Master Gardener website.

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.

Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day

In the time it takes to order a cup of coffee, you can help scientists document life on Earth! The Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) is calling all citizen scientists to pitch in by completing one “Note from Nature” on Earth Day.

What is a Note from Nature? Many items in museums have handwritten or hand-typed labels about a plant or animal in a collection. These labels contain valuable biological information, but they can’t be used to solve big research questions unless they’re digitized. By typing the information you see, you’re helping create a global database that scientists can use to track life on Earth, detect species in danger, gain insights into climate change and more.

Post on social media with the hashtags #TakeANote for #EarthDay.

Learn more about the Notes from Nature project at its website:
https://www.notesfromnature.org

FLMNH is also inviting people to visit their “Take a Note” table in the museum on Sunday the 22nd. Their in-person event info is here:
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/event/earth-day-2018/

flmnh_earthday18

We love our Master Gardener volunteers

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.

We’ve featured some Master Gardeners from different county Extension programs throughout the state on our website, like Charlie Reynolds in Highlands County. His program coordinator David Austin had so much to say about Charlie:

“Charlie Reynolds has been a Highlands County Master Gardener for 12 years. In the five years that I have worked with him, Charlie never told me no. He never waited for me to give him directions on what to do, either. He jumped in when a local Housing Authority needed help with their community garden. He visited that garden weekly and worked with the tenants. He started his Dream Chaser’s 4-H club before I even caught wind of the idea.”

You can read all of Charlie’s story and more on the Florida Master Gardener website:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/features/index.html

Master Gardener Charlie Reynolds

The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

April is National Volunteer Month, and we’d like to thank our Master Gardener volunteers throughout Florida — thank you for your time and effort!

Orange-red tubular flowers of soap aloeTough Plants – Many gardeners enjoy tenderly caring for plants. But any gardener can appreciate a plant that requires little care and still looks great in the landscape. From groundcovers to flowering plants, to colorful foliage, and even some herbs, we’ve compiled a list of rock-star resilient plants that will shine in your landscape and thrive—even with a good helping of neglect.

Purple-blue flower of blue-eyed grass with yellow centerWildflowers — Spring time in Florida is a great time for viewing roadside wildflowers. Florida has a number of wildflower species, and while many appear along roadsides, some work great in the garden. There are even a few that you may already have in your landscape! From bright pink phlox to small blue-eyed grass (pictured) to Florida’s official state flower, coreopsis, you’re bound to find a wildflower that you love.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Cruise control, autopilot, muscle memory—we often do things in our lives and yards without barely a thought. There are gardening chores or tasks that we do because we always have done it that way. This spring season take a look at your gardening habits and think which ones you can change to be more Florida-Friendly and have a positive impact on your environment.

Deep burgundy foliage of a coleus cultivarPlant of the Month: Coleus — Who needs flowers, when coleus can bring an amazing array of colors to your landscape? Coleus is a heat-tolerant, durable annual that has very few disease or insect problems. Native to Malaysia and parts of Asia, coleus can really thrive in your Florida landscape during the summer while providing you with interesting foliage. And while most coleus plants have traditionally grown best in partial shade, there are now many new varieties that thrive in full, hot sun.

PomegranatesPomegranates — Pomegranates get a lot of attention as a “super-fruit,” lauded for their health benefits. Truthfully, pomegranates can do some wonderful things for your health. Research has shown that they have antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Pomegranates can be grown as an attractive deciduous shrub or as a tree throughout the state. Florida gardeners are lucky to be able to grow these super fruits in their own backyards.

Deep orange flower of edible nasturtiumApril in Your Garden — April is a good time to get out in your landscape before the Florida heat starts creeping in. Warm-season vegetables like beans and peas can be planted; consider planting a flowering edible like nasturtium. Divide any clumping bulbs, ornamental grasses, or herbaceous perennials to expand or rejuvenate garden beds or to pass along to friends.

Two black and red lovebugs attached at the rearLovebugs — Lovebugs may be a familiar summer and fall sight to many people in the South, but these nuisance insects don’t get a lot of love. Lovebugs don’t bite or sting, but their swarming presence is at best an annoying occurrence and at worst a mess all over your car. What are these bugs, where do they come from, and really, what role do they play in the ecosystem?

Read the full April issue.

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