May the Fourth Be… Orange Juice?

Oranges, photo by Tyler Jones UF/IFAS 2018. All rights reserved.

It’s May the Fourth and that means…

It’s National OJ Day!

And why not celebrate orange juice? It’s delicious and a good source of nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, folate and thiamin.

Florida citrus is a centuries-old, multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

Something that important has a lot of research going on to support it. The UF IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center​ (CREC) is unique among research centers in that it focuses entirely on one commodity, citrus.

These days, most research is focused on greening, a disease devastating the state’s citrus industry. Since greening – or huanglongbing (HLB) — was first reported in here in 2005, Florida’s citrus production has shrunk by more than 70 percent, according to UF/IFAS research. Researchers at the CREC study ways to help growers cope with the disease, including research on artificial intelligence to detect psyllids, the tiny insects that carry the disease.

You can learn more about that research at UF/IFAS News:

(Image: Orange juice being poured into a cup, with the words “Follow UF Citrus Research and Education Center on social media as we celebrate National OJ Day” and includes their Twitter account name, @UFIFASCitrusREC )


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.

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,

Poinsettias for the Holidays

pink and white poinsettiaVery few plants are as closely associated with a holiday as poinsettias are with Christmas. The poinsettia, native to South America, was given the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima, which literally means “very beautiful.” Its popular name honors Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant here.

Poinsettias make great holiday decorations and they’re often given as gifts in late November and throughout December. The showy portions of the poinsettia, which most people think of as the flower, are actually colorful leaves called bracts.

If you are in North Central Florida, you have a unique opportunity to see (and buy) poinsettias in other colors besides red and white. On December 6th and 7th (Thursday and Friday), the University of Florida’s Environmental Horticulture Club is holding their 22nd Annual Poinsettia sale.

Over 40 varieties will be offered for sale including traditional reds and novelties such as Peppermint Ruffles and Orange Spice.

Get the details at their website:

If you’ve purchased a poinsettia, or perhaps received one as a gift, you may have some questions on how to properly care for it. Your local UF/IFAS Extension office has agents and volunteer Master Gardeners that can answer questions on how to care for your plant beyond the holidays. They may even be holding classes or workshops, like UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County. Their class, Caring for Holiday Plants, will be held January 2nd (get details here). Don’t know where you county Extension office is? Find it on this UF/IFAS map.

You can read more about poinsettias on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website, too. 

Pink poinsettia called 'Love You Pink'

(Photo: Love You Pink poinsettia variety, by Dawn McKinstry. UF/IFAS)

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.

10 Years of the Neighborhood Gardener – August 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Three balloons, two orange and one blueTen Years of the Neighborhood Gardeners – This month marks ten years of our newsletter. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our articles as much as we have loved putting the newsletter together. We look forward to many more years of bringing you fun and helpful research-based gardening information.

Bee on pink pentas flowerPerfect Pollinator Plants – Pollinators receive a lot of love from gardeners; many people love to incorporate plants for them in to the landscape. A garden that attracts pollinators will include a mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, and trees that will bloom throughout the year and provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar for many pollinator species. We’ve compiled a list of some Florida-Friendly plants you can use in your landscape to bring pollinators to your garden.

The hop cone like fruit of the hophornbeam treeUnderappreciated Shade Trees — By August most Floridians are tired of the summer heat. The cooling effect of shade trees is much appreciated in the Sunshine State. Planting the right trees in the right place can even help reduce energy use in your home. We have a few native trees that might not come to mind first when looking for a shade tree, but could be a good choice for your landscape.
(Photo of hophornbeam foliage and fruit by John Ruter, University of Georgia,

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In the Florida summer it is easy to realize some of the benefits of trees. The shade trees of my youth were mango, lychee, and royal poinciana trees. These tropical trees provided loads of shade, fruit, and flowers. My shade trees of today are live oaks and crapemyrtles—certainly not as exotic as the ones I grew up with but shady just the same.

Light green palmetto fronds in sunlightPlant of the Month: Saw Palmetto — Saw palmetto grows wild in Florida’s natural areas, but it’s also a useful plant for home landscapes throughout the state. This native plant tolerates a range of conditions and provides wonderful textural interest. It’s highly salt-tolerant, making it ideal for coastal gardening. Saw palmetto prefers full sun but will grow in almost any light conditions. It will benefit from regular waterings at first, but will be very drought tolerant once established. Plants can be purchased in pots at many nurseries and can be planted year-round in Florida.

Polka-dot plant with pink leaves mottled with greenClassroom Plants — For many, August means back to school. Why not spruce up the classroom up with an indoor plant or two? We have some plants for classrooms that are good-looking (like the polka-dot plant pictured) and many of them offer educational opportunities. Plus they’re non-toxic, which is great for any place with small children or pets.

Royal palm tree photo by Dr. Timothy BroschatAugust in Your Garden — The hottest days of summer limit planting now to heat-tolerant annuals like coleus and vinca. Vegetables to plant this month include eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Check the older fronds of palms for yellowing as it may indicate a magnesium or potassium deficiency. Apply an appropriate palm fertilizer.

Detail of hexagon shaped window at new labHoney Bee Lab Update — In June, UF’s new honey bee lab was completed. “The Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory is a series of three buildings — it’s a mini bee campus. One of the buildings, the Amy E. Lohman Apiculture Center, will house the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Apiary Inspection team, a beekeeping museum, a honey extraction and processing facility, and workshop space,” said professor Jamie Ellis, who heads the honey bee lab. There will be an open house event on Saturday, August 25 in Gainesville.

Read the full August issue.

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

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.

Happy July 4th, gardeners!

From all of us at the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener program,  a happy Independence Day to all the gardeners in the USA.

Let’s celebrate with a firecracker…plant!

Red tubular flowers of the firecracker plant. Photo by John Tann.

Firecracker plant attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with a profusion of red, tubular flowers. Its narrow, soft leaves give it a fine texture in the landscape, making it a great contrast to broad-leaf plants.

Read more about firecracker plant at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day

In the time it takes to order a cup of coffee, you can help scientists document life on Earth! The Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) is calling all citizen scientists to pitch in by completing one “Note from Nature” on Earth Day.

What is a Note from Nature? Many items in museums have handwritten or hand-typed labels about a plant or animal in a collection. These labels contain valuable biological information, but they can’t be used to solve big research questions unless they’re digitized. By typing the information you see, you’re helping create a global database that scientists can use to track life on Earth, detect species in danger, gain insights into climate change and more.

Post on social media with the hashtags #TakeANote for #EarthDay.

Learn more about the Notes from Nature project at its website:

FLMNH is also inviting people to visit their “Take a Note” table in the museum on Sunday the 22nd. Their in-person event info is here:


Postponed: September Neighborhood Gardener

Hurricane Irma is approaching.

Most Florida gardeners are busy today, preparing for Hurricane Irma, including those of us at the University of Florida. In light of this, the September issue of the Neighborhood Gardener is being postponed. We expect to send it out next Friday.

All Hurricane Irma updates from UF/IFAS Extension are posted on their website.

You should check with your local authorities more for immediate updates.

Check with the Florida Division of Emergency Management at for important hurricane updates.

Read Wendy’s message to gardeners for hurricane prep tips.

Most importantly, gardeners, be safe and take care of yourself and your loved ones.


The Communications Staff of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology