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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 – 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Happy New Year! The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2014

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

tree plantingJanuary 17 is Florida’s State Arbor Day — 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 17th 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.

Charles ReynoldsOutstanding Master Gardener Nominee — Each year Master Gardeners from around the state are nominated to receive the Outstanding Master Gardener Award at the annual state conference. This award recognizes an individual who has made outstanding efforts in several Master Gardener projects and activities. The 2013 Outstanding Master Gardener Award went to Linda Krausnick of Marion County. There were a number of wonderful nominees this year, and this month we would like to focus on Charles Reynolds of Highlands County.

KalePlant of the Month: Kale — Kale is a dark-green leafy vegetable that can be grown during the winter months in Florida. It’s often referred to as a “superfood” because it’s rich in iron, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and K. Kale (Brassica oleracea L.) can be started from seed anytime from September through January or February. Be sure to plant it in a sunny spot and water regularly. To ensure success, pick Florida-friendly varieties like ‘Vates Dwarf Blue Curled’, ‘Tuscan’, ‘Winterbor’, and ‘Redbor’.

January in Your Garden – January is the last month in most areas of the state to plant cool season crops like beets, broccoli, cabbage, and turnips. Now is also a great time to prune non-spring flowering shrubs and trees to improve their form.

Tea scale on leafFriend or Foe? Foe: Tea Scale — Tea scale is a major camellia and holly pest in Florida. It appears as a fuzzy whitish coating on the bottom of leaves and causes yellow speckling on top. Tea scale is a difficult pest to control due to its habit of primarily infesting the underside of leaves, making spray coverage difficult. You can manage the tea scale problems in your landscape with horticultural oil products or choose a systemic product for season long protection.

Read the full January issue.

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