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 – 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.

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.

What to Plant in December – Infographic

Curly leafed kale in a mulched bed, by Caraline Stephens, UF/IFAS

Happy December’s eve, gardeners! Since the cool season is Florida’s busiest vegetable gardening time, we wanted to share “What to Plant in December” as soon as possible.

There’s so much to plant this month! Leafy greens like arugula, collards, mustard, and Swiss chard; cruciferous vegetables along broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. In South Florida, there’s so much you can plant, it would almost be easier to list what you can’t plant (strawberries, for example).

Illustration listing what edibles to plant in December for Florida

For detailed, text-based information, you can rely on our UF/IFAS gardening publications. These publications are on the UF/IFAS Solutions for Your Life website, and give Florida gardeners a monthly guide for what to plant and do in their gardens; they include links to even more of our gardening resources, 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.

If you would like a printable version of this infographic, you can download it here:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/planting_december_graphic.pdf

Happy winter gardening! (Or perhaps we should say, “winter” gardening.)

The featured header photo is curly kale, by Caraline Stephens, UF/IFAS.

 

 

 

Get Ready for Fall Gardening

In Florida, fall is an excellent time to start a vegetable garden. Cool-season vegetables to plant in October include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and radishes.

If you’re planting in an area already used for spring and summer crops, be careful to remove all dead or diseased plant matter, including roots.

You may want to have your soil tested to check the pH level and to determine what nutrients you might need to add. Till your soil a few weeks before planting, and then add organic matter, such as cow manure or compost. Make sure your garden gets at least six hours of full sun, and is close to a water supply.

For more ideas, see the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions article, Five Fall Vegetables for the Home Garden.

(Photo: Lettuce in a square foot garden, by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS. All rights reserved.)

Green leafy vegetable in dark soil in a raised wooden bed

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.