The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2019

Earth Day is Monday, April 22. Happy spring, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The smiling face of Daisy Thompson, a 36-year volunteerForty Years of Memories – April is National Volunteer Month, and as we continue to celebrate 40 years of the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, we’ve chosen to highlight five long-serving volunteers from around the state. Between these five there is more than a century of volunteer experience! Read more about these wonderful volunteers, all the work they have done, and their favorite Master Gardener Volunteer memories.

A white clover flower with a tiny beePollinator Cover Crops – Cover crops can really make a difference in the quality of the soil in your edible garden. They have the potential to improve the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil, supply nitrogen, reduce leaching of nutrients and pesticides, reduce erosion, mitigate damage from plant pests and/or reduce their population densities, and attract beneficial insects. It’s that last benefit—attracting beneficial insects—that many gardeners choose to focus on. Learn about cover crops that pollinators love to visit, like buckwheat, clover, vetch, and lupin.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — April is national volunteer’s month and this week in April is volunteer’s week. This provides me with the platform to stand up and proclaim that the Florida Master Gardener Volunteers are doing amazing volunteer work. Volunteering has its benefits to the person who gives back, too. Research demonstrates that volunteering leads to better health. In fact, the more you volunteer the happier you are. We know that Master Gardener Volunteers are life-long learners and continuing their education is one of the biggest benefits that Florida MGVs enjoy.

Small red cone with tiny yellow flower emerging from its sidePlant of the Month: Spiral Gingers — Gingers are typically low-maintenance plants with attractive foliage and long-lasting, colorful blooms that make great cut flowers. Plants in the Costus genus are often referred to as spiral gingers although the family (Costaceae) has been segregated from the true gingers (Zingiberaceae). Flower appearance with spiral gingers can vary; some form a rigid tube that is usually red to yellow in color, or they can be more open and spreading, in colors from white to pale pink. Learn more about this plant that adds a splash of tropical color to the Florida garden.

Posterboard display with the words Power to Pollinators on itGirl Scout Wins Gold with Pollinator Plan — The Girl Scout Gold Award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Emily Mayo with Troop 673 in Fort Myers is being recognized with the Gold Award for a project close to the hearts of many gardeners — advocating the importance of pollinators. She developed a lesson plan called “Power to Pollinators,” with help from UF/IFAS Extension Collier County and their Master Gardener volunteers.

A coleus plant with dark red foliageApril in Your Garden — April is the time to plant heat-tolerant annuals like coleus, while continuing to plant warm season edibles like sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, Southern peas, and beans.

Read the full April issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2019

Spring is right around the corner, gardeners! (The first official day of Spring is March 20th.)

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Pine straw mulch with bright green leaves of a plant peeking into the frameMulch Madness – Mulch is a magnificent addition to any landscape; it helps planting beds conserve moisture while also providing a beautiful texture and a bit of weed barrier. With so many types of mulch, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which to choose. We help you decide which mulch is best—and which mulches may not be good—for your landscape. Learn which mulch is best to fill in your garden brackets.

A head of cabbage still in the groundCabbage – Did you know that St. Johns County leads the state in production of cabbage? Farmers call their busiest production time right before the holiday the “St. Paddy’s Day Push”! While it isn’t a good time for planting cabbage in Florida, it’s a great time for harvesting it in your garden or finding it freshly harvested from Florida farmers. Learn more about this vegetable so closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program is celebrating 40 years of service in 2019 and I will be highlighting several long-serving counties in this column. Brevard County on Florida’s Space Coast is home to Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, and the UF/IFAS Brevard County Master Gardener Volunteers. Brevard is one of the original three counties that started their Master Gardener Volunteer program in 1979.

Three small white pinwheel-shaped flowersPlant of the Month: Crepe Jasmine — Crepe jasmine has abundant white flowers that are shaped much like a pinwheel. The flowers are particularly prominent in the warmer months of the year, but they stand out against the dark green, glossy evergreen leaves in any season. Forming a moderately dense, rounded, evergreen shrub that flowers even in filtered shade, this plant is a great addition to many gardens. Crepe jasmine plants thrive in Zones 9B to 11.

Sandhill crane's head and long curved neckFlorida Snowbirds — Quite a few birds can be seen migrating through Florida, and some even call our state home for the winter. While the term “snowbirds” can have more than one meaning, we’re referring to the feathered friends who flock to the state to enjoy a little warmth in the winter. Learn more about migratory birds who overwinter in Florida: sandhill cranes, cedar waxwings, and American robins.

Striped watermelon in the fieldMarch in Your Garden — North Florida gardeners are still experiencing winter, so hold off on planting those summer annuals just yet. Bulbs can be planted this month. In Central Florida, you can start replacing those declining winter plants with angelonia and gazania. Gardeners throughout the state can plant beans, squash, corn, and watermelon.

Read the full March issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2019

Happy birthday…to us! The Florida Master Gardener program turns 40 this year.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Banana shrub flower is creamy white with waxy petalsGardening for Fragrance – Floral and herbal scents have been distilled and enjoyed indoors for centuries, and they can be equally delighting in the garden. Scent is one of the strongest human senses, and fragrant plants can add a new dimension to your landscape. With thoughtful planning and design, it’s not hard to create a pleasant fragrance garden. We have some plant suggestions for adding fragrance to your landscape.

Crabgrass uprooted and on concreteCrabgrass – As winter stretches on, you may find yourself with brown lawn areas that you swear were healthy green turf a few months ago. If so, the culprit is likely crabgrass. An important part of preventing crabgrass and other weeds from taking over your lawn is maintaining healthy turf. Unfortunately, once crabgrass has germinated and begins to grow, there are very few or no herbicides available to homeowners or commercial applicators that can kill it without harming most types of turfgrass grown in Florida.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program is celebrating 40 years of service in 2019 and I will be highlighting several long-serving counties in this column. The UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Master Gardener program was started in 1980 by the beloved Dr. Sydney Park Brown, and has been going strong ever since. More than 100 active Master Gardeners in Hillsborough County have created a beautiful demonstration garden, introduced thousands of children to agriculture, and so much more.

Frilly green parsley leafPlant of the Month: Parsley — Parsley is a bright green, versatile herb that looks good growing and tastes good too. Parsley contains vitamins A, C, and K as well as several B vitamins, calcium, and iron. You don’t need much space to grow parsley; it even grows well in containers. One idea would be to grow it in a container with other herbs. And here’s a fun fact you may not know about this herb — it’s a host plant for caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly.

Green palm frondPalm Leaf Morphology — Palms are an iconic Florida plant, and there are many species and varieties of these tropical emblems. As you admire these trees and shrubs, have you ever wanted to know the difference between the types of palm leaves? Learn more about pinnate, palmate, and costapalmate leaves.

Red rose blossomFebruary in Your Garden — Prune roses this month to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form. After pruning, fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch. Blooming will begin 8–9 weeks after pruning. Plant winter annuals like dianthus and verbena. Many bulbs can be planted now as well, like agapanthus and crinum. Continue planting cool-season vegetables, including potatoes.

Read the full February issue.

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

World Wetlands Day

Florida wetlands

Today is World Wetlands Day. February 2 marks the 1971 date when 18 nations signed the Convention on Wetlands in the Iranian city of Ramsar (thus references to the “Ramsar convention” that usually accompany discussion about wetlands and their conservation). World Wetlands Day’s purpose is to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and the planet.

The theme this year is Wetlands and Climate Change, drawing attention to wetlands as a natural solution to cope with climate change.

Chris Bird is the director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department. He described the importance of Florida’s wetlands: “In addition to functioning as nature’s kidneys by filtering water, wetlands are helping to make our landscapes more resilient to the effects of climate change such as extreme flooding and extended droughts.”

Since Florida became a state, we have lost 44% of our wetlands to draining and development. Wetlands provide many environmental, social, and economic benefits. These benefits include floodwater storage, protection from weather events, pollution control, drinking water recharge, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and tourism.

Florida has different types of wetlands. On the coast there tidal salt marshes and mangrove swamps; inland there are cypress swamps, freshwater marshes, and areas close to river and stream systems called riparian wetlands. The most well known wetlands in Florida, and perhaps the world, are the Everglades, 1.5 million acres of wetland in South Florida.

The base of cypress trees growing in water.
Cypress trees in a wetland swamp. UF/IFAS Photo by Camila Guillen.

To be classified as a wetland, an area of land must have water on the ground’s surface or in the root zone for at least a portion of the growing season. This seasonal fluctuation of the water period (known as a hydroperiod), is continually affected by the weather, the season, water feeding into and draining from nearby streams, the surrounding watershed and other nearby bodies of water.

Jennifer Weeks with The Conversation shares some important resources about World Wetlands Day in her article “Protecting the world’s wetlands: Five essential reads.”

UF/IFAS has an incredibly informative (albeit outdated) website that goes into more detail about Florida’s wetland systems (and we do mean outdated; the last update was in 2009).

For a truly international viewpoint, visit the Ramsar Convention website, https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/.

The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2019

White frangipani blooms this month in South Florida

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

pink and white turnip emerging from soilTurnip the Fun in Your Garden – Turnips are quick-growing, cool weather vegetables that are very nutritious. Some turnip varieties produce delicious roots, while others produce delightful greens. If you are hoping to start your new year off on a sustainable note, you can cultivate one of the turnip varieties that produces both enjoyable roots and greens, cutting down on vegetable waste. However you eat them, turnips are a great way to “turn up” the fun in your garden.

White flowerNighttime Gardens – Gardening for the day is common. Deliberately gardening for the night can take a little reframing, but is well worth it. White and silver plants can really shine in the moonlight. Some flowers are only fragrant at night, adding another sensory dimension to your evening garden experience. The final element to bring your nighttime garden together is the lighting; whether you consult a professional or carefully string your own fairy lights, additional illumination is an important part of making your night garden glow.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — What does a Mississippi paddleboat have to do with one of the most successful horticulture programs in Florida? Many Master Gardener Volunteers know that the MG program began in Florida in 1979, but they might not know how the idea was introduced. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Florida Master Gardener program, Wendy takes a look back.

Huge tree towering over housesPlant of the Month: Mahogany — Mahogany is best known as a hardwood, but it’s a beautiful tree in South Florida too! Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) casts a light, dappled shade on the ground below, making it a great shade tree for landscapes with enough room for it to thrive. Mahogany is native to southernmost Dade and Monroe counties and is currently listed as a state threatened species due to logging. However, it is readily available for purchase at many native nurseries in South Florida.

Leafy green peace lily plant with tropical white flowersIndoor Gardening Resolutions — With the start of 2019 we’re focusing on the resolutions gardeners can make for their indoor gardening. Maybe this is the year you bring a plant inside to grow. Perhaps you’re just hoping to maintain the plants you cultivated in the past. Or maybe you’re ready to diversify and try something new or a little more challenging in your indoor garden. Whatever your indoor gardening resolution, we have some guidance to offer to help your future be a little greener.

Small broccoli floret on the plantJanuary in Your Garden — Planting cool-weather vegetables and herbs is a great way to start out the new year. Vegetables like Irish potatoes, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, and turnips can all be planted. Additionally herbs like tarragon, thyme, dill, fennel, and any mints will thrive in the cooler temperatures of the season.

Read the full January issue.

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

A Look Towards the New Year

Happy New Year, gardeners! Here in Florida, we’re fortunate to have all 12 months to garden; there’s something to grow every month. But first, let’s take a look at the whole of 2019. What will the new year bring to us in terms of trends and new interests?

We gardeners are already pretty in tune with nature, but it looks like more people are finally getting the message. According to Garden Media Group, a marketing and public relations firm, people are turning their attention outwards. Last year was all about “self-care,” but 2019 will find people looking for external fulfillment, especially when it comes to the environment. Their Garden Trends Report 2019 is titled “Rooted Together – Reconnecting with the Natural World.”

planting_treeOne statistic in the report stood out – a return to volunteerism. More than a quarter of people between the ages of 18-34 volunteer, exceeding the national average, according to the Corporation for National and Community Services. If they’re interested in gardening, potential volunteers should consider the Master Gardener program. The Florida Master Gardener program has been assisting UF/IFAS Extension agents in providing research-based horticultural education to Florida residents for 40 years (yes, this year is our 40th anniversary! More on that in an upcoming post.).

Other gardening trends reflect our changing world in respect to technology and the environment.

Indoor Gardening – Reports show that Americans spend approximately 93% of their time either indoors or in a car. And with so many of us tied to our desks at work, interest in houseplants has soared. And for good reason – houseplants can make an indoor environment healthier.

A Focus on Flying Insects – or rather, the lack thereof. In “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson warned us of bird die-offs due to the overuse of aerial pesticide sprays. Today, another “voice” is being silenced: pollinators and other flying insects. A recent German study shocked many when it reported a 75% drop in the number of flying insects in nature preserves over 30 years. Gardeners can fight this in their own backyards with insect gardens (not just attracting pollinators like butterflies), using native plants to encourage native insects, and to “go wild” – that is, let parts of your landscape naturalize to attract wildlife.

A toy dump truck with succulents planted in the backRoot to Stem – Gardeners are becoming interested in ways to produce less waste, and not just with composting (although that’s an excellent example). Instead of sending your trash off to be “recycled,” which uses a lot of energy in of itself, try “upcycling,” which is just a term for creative re-use of things you’d otherwise throw away. A good example would be using empty egg cartons as seed-starting containers.

Robo-gardening – scientists are using drones to assess crop damage, while soil-moisture sensors can reduce over-watering. Wireless plant monitoring systems are in development. And many gardeners are already using apps on their phones to help with plant choices and to tell them when certain foods are in season.

There were also less-serious trends, like the color mint becoming popular, and “moon gardening,” which we’ll actually be talking about in the upcoming Neighborhood Gardener newsletter.

Like many trends, these may be things you’ve been doing for years, but it’s always fun to guess what will be “hot” for the coming year. We’ll see if these trends bear out.

If you’re more interested in what you should be doing in the garden, the Gardening Calendar publications on the UF/IFAS Solutions for Your Life website gives Florida gardeners a monthly guide for what to plant and do in their gardens and includes links to useful gardening websites, 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.

A Year in Review

Say what you will about 2018, at least you can’t say it was boring.

In gardening, it was an interesting year, too. We thought we’d look back at the top ten articles from the UF/IFAS gardening website, Gardening Solutions. Florida gardeners were interested in a range of subjects, but edible gardening and native plants stood out.

firebush_butterfly500
Zebra longwing butterfly on native firebush. UF/IFAS.

The top articles, in order of page views, for January 1 through December 20:

  1. Vegetable Gardening by Season – An overview of what to plant when in the vegetable garden, plus timely chores by season.
  2. Landscaping in the Shade – Advice on how and what to plant in those parts of your yard that don’t receive the necessary six hours of sunlight that most flowering and edible plants require.
  3. Firebush – This native shrub blooms throughout much of the year, attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds with its tubular red flowers. Plus, it’s practically indestructible once established.
  4. Asiatic Jasmine – A low-maintenance groundcover that tolerates a wide range of conditions, including coastal areas (P.S. – not actually jasmine).
  5. Native Plants – Basically a list of the plants covered in Gardening Solutions that are native to Florida.
  6. Tomatoes – We’re actually surprised this one isn’t ranked higher. Perhaps we’re all getting the hang of growing tomatoes?
  7. Citrus – An overview of all types of citrus in Florida and how to grow it in the home landscape. Alas, harder than it used to be…
  8. Native Trees – Another list of natives, this time it’s the big guys.
  9. Ixora – This old South Florida favorite flowers throughout the year with plenty of sunlight.
  10. Different Pests, Different Damage – A breakdown of pests by the way they ruin your plants.

 

persian_shield
Beautiful, shade-loving Persian shield. UF/IFAS.

A White Christmas for South Florida

Sometimes the common name of a plant can give you a hint of when flowering occurs. For most of the year, Euphorbia leucocephala is a rather ordinary shrub. But as the holiday season approaches, its common name, little Christmas flower, makes perfect sense.

From early November, through December into the New Year, the shrub transforms into an airy white cloud of delicate, sweet fragrance. Like the poinsettia, to which it is related, the “flower” in little Christmas flower are actually bracts.

Once the bracts have all dropped, you can prune the shrub which can grow up to 10 feet until August, but not after that, or you’ll have no blooming the coming season. Wear gloves when pruning; the milky sap can be irritating. Native to Mexico, little Christmas flower is best for zones 10a-11. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid planting it under street lights, as it needs darkness to bloom just like its poinsettia cousins.

pascuita (Euphorbia leucocephala) Lotsy
Little Christmas flower, covered in white flower-like bracts. Forest and Kim Starr; Starr Environmental; Bugwood.org

For more ideas, UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County has a great article by John McLaughlin called “Holiday Color for Miami-Dade Landscapes.”

Euphorbia leucocephala, Little Christmas Flower
A closer view of the white bract of little Christmas flower. Its small yellow flowers are barely visible, but they are the source of the shrub’s lovely fragrance. Forest and Kim Starr; Starr Environmental; Bugwood.org

Neighborhood Gardener – December 2018

All-white poinsettia cultivar called 'Polar Bear'

Happy holidays, from the staff of the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener and Florida Yards and Neighborhoods programs.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Red bird with black around its beakCardinals Add a Splash of Winter Color – Bright colors are always a great addition to the landscape, but the color doesn’t always have to come from flowers or foliage; sometimes birds can bring on the color. Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are some of the most easily recognized birds. In winter cardinals stand out against the evergreens or leafless trees and in the summer their whistles are one of the sweet sounds of morning.
(Photo: Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org)

Yellow butterflyWhite and Yellow Butterflies – Whites and yellows provide some of the more delicate hues of the season. For more garden color that comes from creatures, we have a sampling of white and yellow butterflies found in our state. Whether you prefer the subtle markings of the checkered white butterfly or the bold colors of the tiger swallowtail, when planning to attract butterflies remember to plant both caterpillar host plants and nectar plants for adults.

Pale pink camellia flowerCamellia Problems — Camellias are a favorite cool-season bloomer, but while you are enjoying their beauty keep an eye out for signs of damage. This month we’re featuring a condensed version of the UF/IFAS publication, Key Plant, Key Pests: Camellia, covering some of the common diseases, pests, and deficiencies that afflict camellia plants. Knowing what exactly ails your camellia may help you treat the problem more effectively.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It is the gift-giving season and if I could give gifts to all my gardening friends it would be for agreeable weather, fertile soil, and plenty of time to work in the garden and landscape. When folks find out you garden they love to give gardening gifts, but do they give garden gifts you love? Here are some of my favorite suggestions for useful tools for the gardener, and if you don’t find these under the tree maybe you will take yourself shopping with a gift card.

Small round green shrubPlant of the Month: Dwarf Hollies — Hollies are well known for their evergreen leaves and bright red winter fruits. They come in many forms and low maintenance. For smaller spaces and even containers, consider a dwarf holly. These smaller shrubs can also be used as hedges and foundation plantings, and there is a dwarf holly for all areas of Florida. ‘Bordeaux’, ‘Nana’, ‘Schillings Dwarf’ (pictured at left), and ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’ are just a few of the available cultivars.

A coleus plant with bright gold leaves edged in red in a plastic potCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Selecting Plants for Purchase — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. Starting out with quality plants plays a huge role in the long-term well-being of your plants.

Bright yellow cassia flowers against a blue skyChristmas Cassia Causes Confusion — As winter approaches in Florida, plant lovers cannot help but notice the golden spectacle of the Christmas cassia (also known as Christmas senna, climbing cassia, or valamuerto). This shrub or small tree bears clusters of showy, bright yellow blossoms, on often-arching branches. Flowering begins as early as mid to late October and in frost-free parts of the state may extend through April, but in most areas peak bloom coincides with the holiday season. Extension botanist Marc Frank explains that your Christmas cassia is likely an invasive plant.

Poinsettia with pink and cream bractsDecember in Your Garden — Reliable cool-season vegetables to plant this month include cabbage, collards, kale, and broccoli. Enjoy one of the most popular indoor holiday plants, poinsettia. Protect it from cold until spring, and then plant it in the garden for next year. Inspect regularly for pests on indoor plants. Keep in mind that plant-specific temperature, light, and humidity are key to ensuring that indoor plants thrive.

Read the full December issue.

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

Friday Flowers: Powderpuff Tree

powderpuff_calliandra500
This powderpuff was photographed in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. UF/IFAS.

Powderpuff tree is a reliable magnet for hummingbirds, and easy to grow.  Its main attraction are flowers that appear in late fall and persist into the winter, giving it the South Florida nickname of “snowbird tree.”

Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala) is native to Bolivia, but has been cultivated widely. It is evergreen, with fine, delicate foliage that starts a copper color before maturing to dark green. When flower buds appear, they resemble raspberries, before expanding into puffs of silky stamens. Typically red (“haematocephala” refers to blood), there are some powderpuffs with watermelon-pink and even white flowers.

Trained as a tree, it has an arching, graceful habit, creating a canopy suitable for patios and even containers. It’s easily kept to a desired size with hand pruning.

Powderpuff can be grown as a large shrub or small tree in zones 9-11. In zone 9, frost can kill it back, but shoots will appear from the base in spring. With rapid growth in sandy soils and full sun, powderpuff will respond favorably to regular watering while young but should require no special care once established. Once established, it’s drought tolerant, but has also been reported to survive the occasional standing water from heavy rain as well.

For gardeners who miss their beautiful-but-invasive mimosa trees, powderpuff is an ideal alternative. It has been evaluated using the UF/IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and is not considered a problem species.

There is (of course) a popular dwarf cultivar, Calliandra haematocephala ‘Nana’. While it doesn’t flower quite as spectacularly as the larger powderpuff, it does flower year-round.