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The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The staff of the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener program wish to thank all veterans for their service to our country.

hydroponic plantHydroponic Vegetable Gardening – A hydroponic garden is a fun way to grow your own herbs and vegetables. Hydroponic systems use nutrient-enriched water instead of soil, avoiding weeds and other pest problems common to soil-grown vegetables. Leafy crops like lettuce, Swiss chard, mint, and kale usually do quite well in hydroponic gardens. Building a simple one for your home garden is easier than you think. And it all starts with a kiddie pool.

Yellow flowers of Mexican tarragonMexican Tarragon – Mexican tarragon is an excellent choice for Florida gardeners. With a flavor similar to traditional French tarragon, but a better tolerance for drought, heat, and humidity, Mexican tarragon is a winner in the Southern herb garden. The leaves have a complex flavor and fragrance: similar to anise/tarragon, coupled with notes of mint, cinnamon, and a touch of sweetness. The bright yellow flowers can be used in salads. A popular method for storing Mexican tarragon is to preserve the leaves in vinegar.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings – Years back I was cleaning out my container and pot pile and had to ask myself, “Where did all these pots come from?” Had I really planted all the plants that grew in these pots, and if so, where were they? I remembered the advice of my Master Gardener friend Bill, who had encouraged me to keep a garden journal. If I wrote this stuff down, I would know what was going on in my landscape and garden.

Red berries of coral ardisiaCoral Ardisia — Coral ardisia was promoted in Florida as a landscape ornamental for many years. It is a compact shrub, with attractive, glossy foliage, and bright red berries. Unfortunately, it also forms dense colonies in natural habitats, smothering the seedlings of native species and producing copious amounts of fruit, which are readily dispersed by wildlife. Coral ardisia has been added to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ noxious weed list, making it illegal to possess, propagate, transport, or sell this species within the state. Extension botanist Marc Frank writes in depth about coral ardisia and how Master Gardeners can identify it.

Red berries of Simpson's stopperPlant of the Month: Simpson’s Stopper – Simpson’s stopper is a versatile Florida native with springtime flowering, colorful berries, and evergreen leaves. The fragrant white flowers attract butterflies and bees, while birds flock to the shrub for shelter and its fruit. Found growing naturally in seaside hammocks, Simpson’s stopper is a great choice for coastal gardeners looking for a plant that’s tolerant of salt and alkaline growing conditions. Recommended for Zones 8b to 11, Simpson’s stopper is cold hardy down to 25°F, and can function as a shrub or a small tree depending on the cultivar and how you prune it.

Dark pink crinum flowerNovember in Your Garden – November finally brings cooler weather, and winter annuals like pansies can be planted to freshen up flowerbeds. This is an excellent time to plant bulbs like amaryllis and crinum, and there are many cool-season vegetables you can plant now: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and greens, as well as radishes and turnips.

Read the full November issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Jim DavisMaster Gardener Professorship – The Master Gardener Professorship is a faculty-recognition program named in honor of Florida Master Gardeners. The winner has been selected for 2016 and we would like to congratulate Jim Davis! As Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Sumter County, Jim oversees the residential horticulture program, teaching county residents about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles with a particular focus on irrigation. Learn more about the good work Jim’s doing.

Seminole pumpkinSeminole Pumpkins – Pumpkins get top billing this time of year, but did you know there is one particular pumpkin that does quite well in Florida? Seminole pumpkins can hold up through Florida’s relentless summer heat and come out the other side producing delicious fruits for harvest.

Photo courtesy of Miranda Castro, Edible Plant Project

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings – Is ignorance bliss? Sometimes I think so when it comes to spotting horticultural horrors. When we go through Master Gardener training, we learn so much about good horticultural practices. Sometimes, we learn that things we once thought were just fine are actually terribly wrong.

Yellow crotalaria flowerToxic Plants — The spooky and the sinister come out to play this time of year—even in the garden. Some popular landscape plants and pasture flowers have a dark side, too. UF/IFAS Extension provides an infographic that gives a bit of information on the toxic elements of some common plants like azaleas, lantana, the currently blooming crotalaria (pictured), and other dangerous beauties.

Photo by John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org

Bright orange flowers of flame vinePlant of the Month: Flame Vine – Flame vine is quite the show-stopper with its numerous, fiery orange blooms. This fast-growing plant can be a dazzling sight to behold, but take care to control its aggressive growth. Flame vine will climb anything that offers decent support, so while it’s great for fences, trellises, and archways, it’s best to avoid planting near trees that could be strangled. The work is worth the effort; hummingbirds love the tubular flowers for their nectar. Hardy in USDA Zones 9–11, flame vine can sometimes be found flowering as far north as Zone 8b.

strawberriesOctober in Your Garden – October is a great time to prepare and start planting strawberries. If you’re worried you don’t have enough space in the garden, strawberries do quite well when planted in containers. All parts of the state can plant these colorful, tasty berries this month.

Eastern diamondback rattle snakeSnakes — Snakes may send some gardeners running scared, but they’re actually an important part of a Florida-Friendly landscape. Snakes play an important ecological role and will generally keep to themselves. Of the many species found in Florida, only six are venomous. It’s best to never approach any snake, but approaching a venomous snake can be dangerous. If you think a snake may be venomous, call a professional.

Read the full October issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Head of broccoli growing in gardenBroccoli – Broccoli is a great cool-season vegetable for Florida gardeners, and hopefully, cool weather is just around the corner. Did you know that it also has an interesting history of cultivation? Read on for more information on how to grow this crunchy cruciferous vegetable and a look at the history of it and its closest relatives.

Toilet paper, flour paste, and seedsSeed Tape DIY – Ready to get a head start on your fall garden, but not quite ready to plant seeds in the ground? Why not make your own seed tape? Pre-purchased seed tape can be expensive, but making your own is inexpensive, quick, and easy—seriously, we were surprised at how quick and easy it was! Our picture tutorial shows just how simple it is.

preserved specimen of Maling bambooInternet Resources for Plant Names – This month, Marc Frank, Extension Botanist with the UF/IFAS Plant Identification and Information Service, writes a guest column on Internet resources for checking plant names. “Unfortunately, there is no single website that is good for checking all plant names,” he writes. But there are a few that he can recommend.

WendyPlant of the Month: Turk’s Cap Mallow — A wonderful Florida shrub that provides a pop of color, Turk’s cap mallow is a Florida-Friendly shrub related to hibiscus. Well, actually “Turk’s cap mallow” is the common name used for two different hibiscus relatives. Both Malvaviscus penduliflorus and Malvaviscus arboreus are sometimes referred to as Turk’s cap mallow and are both in bloom this time of year.

Wax begonia flowerSeptember in Your Garden – September is a good time to plant and divide bulbs in your garden. Refresh summer beds with annuals like celosia and wax begonia. Prepare the fall vegetable garden if not done in August. Using transplants from your local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start, but seeds provide a wider variety from which to choose.

pond feature set in patioDragonflies — Dragonflies may have a fierce namesake, but these insects are wonderful predators of annoying garden pests like mosquitoes and flies. Florida is home to over 100 species; some are found throughout the state while others are limited to a few regions. And did you know dragonflies are migratory? There is so much to learn about these exciting flying sensations.

Read the full September issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright pink flower of shaving brush treePlant ID Service – Do you have a burning plant identification question, but wonder who to ask for help? Well, wonder no more: for the first time in nearly three decades, the UF/IFAS Plant Identification and Information Service has a full-time extension botanist! Marc Frank joined the service on July 1, 2016 and has extensive experience in identifying a wide variety of plant materials.

Turmeric rhizome cut in halfTurmeric – Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a beautiful and healthy addition to your Florida garden. Turmeric has been used in dishes for thousands of years and is a major component in curry. Researchers are also looking at the possible health benefits related to turmeric, including potentially anti-inflammatory properties.

Charlotte County Master Gardeners in gardenCharlotte County FFL Training a Success – Each year, Tom Becker with the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service conducts Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) training for all the county’s Master Gardener trainees. Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a key, overarching concept that guides not only horticultural decision-making, but also recommendations to the public. After a test to determine the 14 trainees’ understanding of FFL concepts and practices, it was clear that the training was a success.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — As Master Gardener Volunteers and gardening enthusiasts, we are often faced with plant problems in the garden or landscape that need to be solved. If you are a Master Gardener working the horticulture hot line or at a plant clinic, people bring plant problems directly to you. Where do you even begin to start on the unsolved mysteries of the horticulture world?

Staghorn fern mounted to wallPlant of the Month: Staghorn Fern — Once an uncommon plant find, staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are now quite popular and widely available. These plants are great for beginners or easily distracted gardeners. Staghorn ferns have beautiful and unusual foliage and are found throughout much of the tropical world. They thrive in South Florida and can be grown in North and Central Florida as long as they’re protected from frost or freezes. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, meaning they get moisture and nutrients from the air— they’re found growing harmlessly on tree trunks, branches, or rocks.

Tomatoes on the vineAugust in Your Garden – August is a great time to start planning your fall garden. While it’s still a little too warm to start cool-season vegetables, North and Central Florida gardeners may be able to plant a second crop of warm-season vegetables like tomato and eggplant. All Florida gardeners can start preparing for cool-season planting. Have your soil tested so you can add the proper amendments before planting, and plan out what you want to grow and where you’ll plant it.

pond feature set in patioWater Gardens — Adding a water garden is a great way to introduce new textures to your landscape; even a gentle fountain can add relaxing sounds to your backyard oasis. Just make sure that your water garden isn’t providing mosquitoes with a breeding ground. Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) is safe for plants and animals; added to any permanent water feature in the landscape, it will prevent mosquitoes from becoming a problem.

Dog vomit slime mold on ground under shrubSlime Molds — Slime molds can be a shocking sight in the garden, but they are relatively harmless and usually dissipate on their own. Slime mold is caused by the fruiting bodies of Myxomycetes, a type of fungi regularly present in soil. It’s during these humid summer days that you may see slime mold develop. It may look like your lawn has been spray painted with black or grey paint. Or, in the case of “dog vomit” slime mold (Fuligo septica), you may see what looks like yellow foam in your landscape. There are no fungicides to treat slime mold, but you can lightly mow, rake, or use a forceful stream of water to break it up and restore your landscape to its aesthetic glory.

Read the full August issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Service Award Reminder – Master Gardener Coordinators, don’t forget to submit the names of your Master Gardeners for service awards. Florida Master Gardeners who have donated 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, or 35 years of continuous service will be recognized and receive a service award.

A variegated form of Cuban oreganoCuban Oregano – Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) is an herb of ambiguous origin and many names. Mexican mint, Spanish thyme, and Indian borage are just a few; some people even call it “Vicks plant,” because its camphor and menthol aroma is similar to the cough salve.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — For most Florida gardeners, vegetable gardening season is coming to a close. Hopefully your harvest has been bountiful. If you are holding on to those last tomato plants that are trying to ripen a couple more fruit, let me encourage you to let it go.

Hands working a clay mixture in bowlDIY Seed Balls — Making clay seed balls can be a fun summer project that will help keep you connected to your gardening when the temperatures make working outside difficult. This DIY tutorial will walk you through the steps for constructing seed balls. This is a great summer project for kids and adults alike. Not only is this an interesting and effective way of preserving seeds for your garden, the finished seed balls can make a unique and fun gardening gift!

Fruit of mulberry treePlant of the Month: Mulberry — Mulberry (Moras spp.) is a fruit producing tree that can provide gardeners tasty fruits and a rich history. Native red mulberry trees (M. rubra) have been enjoyed by people in North America for centuries; however there are also introduced white and black mulberry trees. The quality of fruit varies between trees with black mulberry trees producing the best fruits. Black mulberry trees have another quality that home gardeners often prefer—their mature height is much more appropriate for a home landscape than the quite tall native red mulberry tree.

Coleus plantsJuly in Your Garden – Plant heat-loving annuals like coleus and ornamental pepper, and be sure to water regularly. Continue planting palms while the rainy season is in full swing. Support large palms with braces for 6-8 months after planting. Nails should not be driven directly into a palm trunk.

watering container plants with watering canVacation Plant Care — Getting ready for a trip involves a fair bit of preparation, and considering the needs of your plants while you’re away is part of that. Whether you’re taking a summer sojourn to the beach or a long cross-country trek, your plants can be kept happy and healthy while you’re away.

whiteflies photo by Lance OsborneNew Whitefly — While the B-biotype whitefly has been in Florida since the mid-1980s, the Q-biotype whitefly was recently discovered in Palm Beach County. This new whitefly biotype is likely to cause problems for growers and even gardeners in Florida. If you suspect an infestation contact your local Extension office, but NEVER bring insects or affected plants to the Extension office. For more information on whiteflies, visit the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center’s website.

Read the full July issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

figsFig Trees – Native to the Mediterranean, the edible fig (Ficus carica) has been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. Figs ripen on the tree and don’t ship well, so the best way to truly enjoy a fresh fig is from your local market, or better yet, your own fig tree. Luckily, Florida offers the right growing conditions and figs are fairly easy to grow in north and central Florida.

A rocky landscape, photo courtesy of Kim GableLandscaping on the Rocks – Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, presents some unique gardening challenges, even by Florida standards. While gardeners there have to deal with the heat, humidity, and the threat of hurricanes like the rest of the state, their location presents its own issues and opportunities.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — With the concerns about Zika virus all over the news, we’ve been recommending that you regularly scout your landscape for possible water-gathering sites and eliminating them. I decided to take a quick survey of my landscape to see if I had any mosquito-breeding containers in the yard. I want to keep the mosquito population as low as possible, for my health and the health of my neighbors.

Photo of rubber mulch by Phasmatisnox at English WikipediaRubber Mulch: Not a Florida-Friendly Choice — Choosing the right mulch for your landscape can be a bit overwhelming; so many organic and inorganic options exist that it can be difficult to know where to start. While you may be tempted to give rubber mulch a try, there are some facts about this option that need to be carefully considered. As you decide which mulch belongs in your landscape beds, consider passing on the rubber mulch. Organic mulches, while not long lasting, are great for improving your soil quality.

pickerel weed flowerPlant of the Month: Pickerel Weed — Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is an aquatic native plant found throughout Florida. This perennial is usually found in shallow wetland areas or around the edges of lakes and ponds. Purple-blue flower spikes can be seen several weeks after the appearance of the shiny, lance-shaped foliage. Individual flowers last only a day, but this repeat bloomer can be enjoyed from spring through fall. Pickerel weed is usually purchased in containers and should be planted in full-sun locations with about a foot of water.

Uprooted treeJune in Your Garden – Hurricane season kicked off on June 1, and with three named storms already this year, now is the time to make sure that your landscape is hurricane ready. The 2016 season is expected to be pretty active, so take a look at your trees and see if pruning is necessary. Always prune appropriately—that means not over-pruning.

mole cricketMole Crickets — An easy way to determine whether there are mole crickets in your yard is to mix liquid dishwashing soap into water and pour the mixture over turf. You should be able to see mole crickets not long after your soapy water application. See this quick demonstration video from Adam Dale, assistant professor of turfgrass and ornamental entomology at the University of Florida, on his Twitter feed (may not play on all browsers).

Read the full June issue.

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

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.

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