Open, Sesame

For a new plant in your garden, how about something really old? Sesame has been cultivated for a very long time; 4,000 years ago it was a highly prized oil crop in Babylon and Assyria.

Sesame plants (Sesamum indicum) usually grow to 2 feet tall, although they can reach heights of 4 feet. Tubular, bell-shaped flowers are light purple, rose, or white in color. Grooved seedpods develop after the flowers and each pod can contain more than 100 seeds. Once they mature, the seedpods burst open and spill the seeds.

As a drought-tolerant crop, sesame doesn’t perform well when soils are too moist. When selecting cultivars for planting be aware that the most drought-tolerant cultivars fair poorest in Florida’s humid climate. Sesame is planted from seed and grows best in full sun.

Sesame is often planted as a cover crop between other plantings. Not only does sesame help break the cycle of pests of other crops, it also provides a food source for pollinators.

Learn more at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

(Photo: Sesame plant being grown at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, FL. UF/IFAS.)

Green plant with long narrow leaves and white bell shaped flowers
This sesame plant is part of a large plot in Citra, at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research & Education Unit.

The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright purple fruits of beautyberry on stemBeautyberry – If you’re looking for a dazzling plant to attract birds to your yard, look no further than beautyberry. This Florida native is scientifically known as Callicarpa americana, and its bright purple fruits are some of the most striking around. Fun fact: the fruits on beautyberry are actually drupes, not berries. You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established.

Sesame plant with narrow green leaves and white bell shaped flowersSesame – Sesame is ancient crop; growing it in your home garden allows you to explore new flavors and ideas in your cooking while connecting with the past. Plus, we can’t forget the aesthetics; this plant is good-looking with its upright growth habit and showy bell-shaped flowers. Sesame also attracts a wide range of pollinators, making it a favorite plant for bumble bees and other insects.

Black and white adult chinch bugChinch Bugs — Southern chinch bugs are a major pest of St. Augustinegrass, and can rapidly cause serious damage. Damaged areas appear as yellow to brown patches and injury typically occurs first in grass that’s water-stressed or in full sun. It’s important to remember that not all brown grass indicates a chinch bug infestation. If you suspect you have chinch bugs, inspect the border between the brown and green grass for the tiny, black-and-white adults or orange nymphs.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Mid-September is the peak of hurricane season; you only need to look at a weather forecast to be reminded of that. The mere word hurricane strikes fear in our hearts and sends us running in preparation mode. The words hurricane pruning would strike fear in a palm tree’s heart if it had one.

Green cilantro leaf on cutting boardPlant of the Month: Cilantro — Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a bright green annual plant with many culinary applications. This flat, feathery-leafed herb is often used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cooking. It can add a fresh flavor to many dishes, including salsa. Of course, this herb may be less exciting to grow if you’re one of the people that finds the taste of cilantro closer to soap. Read more about how to grow this herb, and how you can get coriander from the same plant in the spring.

Healthy shrub with green leaves and red flowersCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Soils Edition — 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. In our first in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how characteristics of your soil, like pH and compaction, play a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Flame-like flowers of celosiaSeptember in Your Garden — It’s still hot out, but September brings the promise of cooler temperatures. As such, it’s time to start some of your cool season edibles and herbs. You can also start evaluating your annual beds and determining which plants have peaked and need replacing.

Read the full September issue.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2018

Many yellow coreopsis flowers growing in a field

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.

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.

 

edibles_may

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.

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.

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The first day of spring is March 20th – happy gardening!

Yellow squashSummer Squash – Despite the name, summer squashes don’t actually grow in Florida during the heat of the summer. Zucchini, yellow squash, crookneck, and pattypan are all summer squashes, and all have tender flesh and a thin, edible skin. These vegetables can be great fun to grow in your vegetable garden. Summer squash work well for cooking or eating raw, and recently have gained popularity as vegetable noodles or “zoodles”.

A very large staghorn fern mounted to the outside wall of a buildingStaghorn Remounting Tutorial — Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are tropical plants that, despite their exotic appearance, are not too intimidating to casual gardeners since they are easy to grow and require little care. Did you know that large mature staghorn ferns can be divided into separate plants? We have a tutorial that will walk you through the steps to divide your staghorn and then mount it to a wooden board or set in a hanging basket.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We are amending soil, picking the right plants, watering, fertilizing, scouting insects, and weeding in our landscape beds—and no food crops are allowed in. What if you slipped some edibles in those landscaped beds? Start with herbs, advance to leafy greens, and then grow tomatoes, eggplants, and squash in plain sight. There are lots of places to grow food even in a way your HOA will approve of. This is the philosophy behind Brie Arthur’s book, “The Foodscape Revolution.”

A large clump of green ornamental grassPlant of the Month: Fakahatchee Grass — MFakahatchee grass brings a touch of native Florida into your landscape and adds texture to any yard. Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) has tall, green, grass-like foliage rising upright to form large clumps—there is also a dwarf cultivar if you are limited by space constraints. For those who like the plants in their landscape to benefit wildlife, Fakahatchee grass is the larval food plant for the Byssus Skipper butterfly.

A creepy-looking but beneficial lacewing larvaLacewings — Beneficial insects are an important part of integrated pest management in your Florida-Friendly landscape. One such beneficial insect is the green lacewing. In its larval form, it is proficient at attacking pests like aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and others. Lacewing larvae resemble small caterpillars, but move more quickly and have longer legs and mouthparts. Adult lacewings are less than an inch long and light green, with two pairs wings that have a netted appearance.

Bush beansMarch in Your Garden — March is a good month to replace cool season annuals with plants that will thrive as temperatures rise, such as angelonia in North and Central Florida. Gardeners in South Florida can plant heat-tolerant annuals. Many warm season edibles like beans and squash can be planted this month as well. Just remember in some areas of the state there is still a risk that temperatures may dip, so keep an eye on the forecast.

Read the full March issue.

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