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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Hello, gardeners!

Much of Florida has seen plenty of rain in the last few days, and you can thank us—this month’s Neighborhood Gardener focuses on Florida’s drought (as of June 6, much of central and north-central Florida is still considered to be in moderate or extreme drought, even with the rain).

Potted African violet being handwateredTen Ways to Save Water – There are many ways to save water in your landscape; we walk you through the basics. From choosing the right plant for the right place to calibrating your irrigation system and everything in between, we give you ten ways to save water in your landscape.

Tree standing in drought-stricken fieldTree Care During a Drought – During a drought it can be easy to spend your time worrying about your lawn and smaller landscape plants—and forget about your mature trees. But an extended drought can actually cause decline and even death in both young and old trees. Drought damage occurs first in the middle of the tree canopy, often far out of sight, so the best way to protect your trees during a drought is to water them before they show signs of drought stress.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It was with best intentions that we pulled together the “drought edition” of the Neighborhood Gardener newsletter for June 2017. The drought had reached critical levels in a couple areas of Florida and the rest of the state just plain needed the rain. Wildfires were popping up across the peninsula and lawns were turning a crispy shade of brown. Educating our readers on drought-proofing their landscapes seemed like a great idea. The best laid plans of mice and men…

Large exotic century plant on the UF campus looks like a giant aloePlant of the Month: Century Plant – With bold, succulent leaves that can be up to 6 feet long and a towering flower spike that can reach 20 feet, the century plant is certainly a show-stopping landscape addition. “Century plant” is a misleading name, though. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t actually take 100 years to mature or flower; it’s more between 8 to 30 years. While century plant (Agave americana) and the equally eye-catching variegated variety are lovely to look at in the landscape, they are both sharply spined and thus should be planted well away from where people or pets may run afoul of the leaves. Or you can try the spineless, smaller Agave attenuata, aptly named spineless century plant.

Raging wildfire in pine forestAssessing Your Home’s Wildfire Risk – Two of the factors that contribute to the wildfire risk to your home are how the land is used or developed in your area, coupled with the kind of vegetation surrounding your dwelling. There are a few immediate actions you can take to protect your home, including clearing debris from your roof and structures, and planting low-flammability plants. You can also take a look around your home and determine what risk factors exist on your specific site.

A Florida-Friendly Landscape, trademarked phraseA Better Lawn on Less Water – An automatic irrigation system can be a great tool for keeping your landscape watered, but it’s important to use it correctly. Your irrigation system should never operate on a fixed schedule, the controller should be set to the “off” setting and you should be only watering as needed. When does your lawn need to be watered? When 30 or 50 percent of your lawn shows at least one of the three signs of wilt—folding leaf blades, blue-gray color, or footprints remaining visible in the grass—it’s time to activate your irrigation system.

A large tree uprooted by stormJune in Your Garden – With the official start of hurricane season beginning in June, this is a great time to take a look at your landscape and be sure you are hurricane ready before a storm is headed your way. Tree pruning and maintenance are an especially important part of preparing for a hurricane. Train young trees so they develop a sturdy, well-spaced framework of healthy branches along a dominant trunk. For trees larger than about 15 feet tall, hire a certified arborist to prune your trees before the hurricane season.

Ornate concrete birdbath with duck statues at the baseProviding Water for Wildlife – Surface water sources such as puddles, raindrops on leaves, and dew on grass provide much of the water used by wildlife. Animals also get water from the foods they eat. But clean, fresh water that’s accessible to wildlife can often be hard to find, especially during a drought. You can do your part to help sustain thirsty creatures in your backyard by maintaining birdbaths, butterfly watering stations, and even small ponds and fountains.

Read the full June issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Oranges cut into chunksNatural Pest Control with Oils – Growing interest in organic gardening, coupled with risks associated with traditional synthetic products, has increased attention to natural products that can manage landscape and garden pests. Plant- and petroleum-derived oils are one group of natural pest control products that can be successfully used in your garden. They’re typically used to target soft-bodied pests like caterpillars or aphids. We go through the options, how they’re used, and what to watch out for.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalEpcot Flower and Garden Festival – Spring is in full swing and the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival blooms on. Running now through May 29th, the festival features fun Disney-themed topiaries, gorgeous gardens, and special events in the Festival Center on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, including instructional seminars from University of Florida experts.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — My grandmother always made sure she had her trusty Farmers’ Almanac close at hand whenever she was making any gardening decision. To make their forecasts, the authors of the Farmers’ Almanac claim to use a “secret formula that is locked in a black box.” I prefer to use more updated forecast projections that are based on transparent science by meteorologists, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Small red tomatoesPlant of the Month: Cherry Tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes are ideal for the hot and steamy Florida garden. While large tomatoes have a brief planting season here, cherry tomatoes can provide you with fruit throughout the heat of summer. Cherry tomatoes have the same growing requirements as their larger cousins: four to six hours of sunlight per day, regular fertilization, and one to two inches of water a week. There are quite a few varieties which grow well in Florida gardens including ‘BHN 268’, ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Yellow Pear’, and ‘Sun Gold’ to name a few.

Yellow male cloudless sulphur butterflyCloudless Sulphur Butterfly – A pretty butterfly with an odd name, the cloudless sulphur is one of Florida’s most common. These small yellow butterflies have long tongues, perfect for sipping nectar from the tubular flowers of plants like scarlet creeper and scarlet sage. Cloudless sulphur caterpillars are usually green with yellow and blue markings; their host plants include several “sensitive plant” species and shrubs in the Senna group, such as candlestick plant.

Coleus plant with deep red leavesApril in Your Garden – April is a great time to plant heat-tolerant annuals like coleus and bulbs like cannas. This is also a good time to divide large clumps of ornamental grasses and bulbing plants. Edibles that can be planted throughout the state this month include sweet potatoes, southern peas, and beans (bush, pole, and lima).

Yellow flower of coreopsisGrow Your Own Dyes – Growing plants that can be used for the ancient art of creating natural dyes at home is suddenly trending again. For thousands of years, people have looked to plants for color: for clothing, art materials, and more. Luckily, Florida gardeners have a number of colorful options for providing dye-making materials that can also add beauty and even food to the landscape. Of course, many plants can be used to make green dye, but there’s much more color in the garden.

Read the full April issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Man working on the underside of a mowerSpring into Action for a Healthy Lawn – Warmer weather means Florida gardeners will be spending more time keeping their lawns looking lovely. Now is the perfect time to check out equipment, do your research, and create a landscape plan before heading outside. We have four steps that can help you get ready for your lawn’s active growing season.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalEpcot Flower and Garden Festival – There’s a special event that heralds the arrival of spring in Florida—the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Running now through May 29th, the festival features gorgeous gardens, world-famous topiaries, and special events. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, our very own Master Gardener volunteers will be answering questions at the garden information desk, and Master Gardener Coordinators will give instructional seminars on topics such as hummingbird gardens and orchids.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I never know how spring fever is going to hit me. Sometimes it’s the pleasant shock of finding my shopping cart full of beautiful perennial plants—when I only went to the big box store for light bulbs. Or waking up on Saturday with a full-blown panic attack realizing that if I don’t get to the nursery immediately they will be sold out of my favorite tomatoes, and if they are sold out, I won’t have my favorites and I will suffer with lesser tomatoes all spring omg where are my keys?

Purple blossom of queen's wreathPlant of the Month: Queen’s Wreath – Queen’s wreath is a tropical flowering vine that looks wonderful this time of year. With drooping lavender flowers, this plant resembles wisteria—without that plant’s invasive issues. While usually found growing as a woody vine, queen’s wreath can be maintained as a shrub or a small, single- or multiple-trunked tree. Left to its own devices, queen’s wreath can reach 40 feet tall, but you can keep it much smaller with occasional pruning. Gardeners in zones 9B and further south can plant this long-flowering vine and enjoy blossoms for many months.

Logo for FruitScapes website over a photo of papayaFruitScapes – State Master Gardener Coordinator Wendy Wilber thinks growing fruit trees is a fabulous idea. They provide nutritious food to eat and share with both friends and wildlife, they provide shade, and are an attractive addition to home landscapes. But with so many fruit tree (and shrub) options available to Florida gardeners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Enter FruitScapes, the UF/IFAS website that offers you information on planting and growing over 50 different fruit plants in Florida.

Red zinnia flowersMarch in Your Garden – Spring is one of the busiest seasons for Florida gardeners. There are many edibles that can be planted in your garden this month and we have an updated Edibles to Plant this Month infographic that gives you a glance at what can be planted across the state. Now is also the time to start planting heat-tolerant annuals like angelonia and zinnia in your landscape.

Photo of a doe, mostly her headPlant Damage? Oh, Deer! – Spotting deer in your backyard can be a sweet treat; spotting damaged plants that have been chewed up by deer can sour your joy. While there are no guaranteed deer-proof plants, there are plants that are resistant to deer damage, as well as steps you can take to protect your garden and landscape.

Read the full March issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy gardening!

Bouquet of red roses with white baby's breath flowersCut Flower Care – Cut flowers are a popular gift, particularly for the biggest gift-giving day in February, Valentine’s Day. From Asiatic lilies to zinnias, proper care is the key to a long-lasting arrangement, and UF/IFAS Extension has some helpful tips. To keep your thoughtful floral present looking its best, treat your bouquet to a few simple steps. With some fresh water, a sharp pair of kitchen shears, and that handy little packet that’s typically included, your arrangement will last much longer.

Yellow flowers of the invasive cat's claw vineInvasive Plant Awareness – National Invasive Species Awareness Week is generally at the end of February; this year, it’s February 27 – March 3. This is a national event intended to raise awareness and identify solutions to invasive species issues at local, state, tribal, regional, national, and international scales. Invasive species have a negative impact on the economy, environment, or humans where they are introduced. Sometimes, the terms we use to describe problematic plants can become conflated and confusing. (Cat’s claw vine photo by Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org)

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We are in between seasons here in Florida. It doesn’t feel like winter, but we don’t trust the weather enough to think that it is officially spring. This is the time when we find ourselves dreaming about bountiful spring gardens and a yard full of blooms. It is in this time that we gardeners are most vulnerable—suggestible, actually—to spending money on crazy plants and inappropriate varieties that we see in catalogs or on the internet.

Three red strawberriesPlant of the Month: Strawberries – February and March are peak months for fresh strawberries in Florida and to celebrate, strawberry festivals are happening around the state. Florida consistently ranks second in the U.S. in the commercial production of strawberries behind California. And almost all of our strawberries are grown in Hillsborough and Manatee counties (approximately 95 percent). While it’s not time to plant these tasty fruits—that happens in the early fall—you’re likely to find Florida strawberries in grocery stores and farmers markets throughout the state now.

Kent Perkins in UF herbariumHerbariums – Have you ever wondered what exactly a herbarium is? It’s a collection of plant specimens preserved, labeled, and stored in an organized manner that facilitates access. Established in 1891, the University of Florida Herbarium (FLAS) is the oldest and most comprehensive herbarium in Florida. Marc Frank, Extension Botanist with the University of Florida Herbarium, gives us some history on herbariums and their scientific importance. (Photo: Kent Perkins, collection manager at the UF Herbarium)

Citrus on the tree in a groveFebruary in Your Garden – Now is the time to fertilize your citrus and other fruit trees. Fertilizer requirements will vary between different fruits so be sure to check the recommendations for your specific trees. See the UF/IFAS publications, “Citrus Culture in the Home Landscape” and the “Temperate Fruit for the Home Landscape” series for more information.

Read the full February issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy New Year!

Cupcake with candlesCelebrating 100 – The December issue was our 100th edition of the Neighborhood Gardener. The first Neighborhood Gardener newsletter went out in August 2008. Since then our subscribership has flourished, we have sent out hundreds of informational pieces, and promoted as many local and state gardening events. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared and we look forward to sharing another 100 newsletters with you in the coming years.

Peach on the treePruning Mature Deciduous Fruit Trees – Pruning is an important part of deciduous fruit tree maintenance. There are two training systems that will depend on the type of tree you’re growing and will dictate how you need to prune. Now is the time to plan for pruning and possibly make cuts to your tree, assuming the danger of a freeze has passed for your area. Check out our piece and the linked EDIS articles for the information you need to prune your tree properly for the best crop yield.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated every year on the third Friday of January. This month it is January 20th, so mark your calendar to plant a tree or to help someone else plant a tree. Florida’s Arbor Day is held a little earlier than the national day—celebrated in April—because January is a great time to plant a tree in Florida and our soil isn’t frozen like many other states.

Creamy white pinwheel shaped frangipani flower with yellow centerWinter-flowering Trees and Shrubs — The start of a new year brings flowers to many trees in the Sunshine State. January, and February for that matter, see many trees and shrubs flowering in the coldest parts of the year and on into the spring. Our monthly “What’s Flowering in Florida” infographics tell you what is in bloom each month; this piece will give you a little more information on the featured plants for January and February.

Foliage of Fortune's mahoniaPlant of the Month: Mahonia – Mahonia is the name of an entire genus of woody, evergreen shrubs with dozens of different species. A few of those species will grow well in north and central Florida gardens. Mahonia plants thrive in the shade and are drought tolerant once established. Both their yellow flowers in winter and blue-purple berries in the spring will add some unusual interest to the landscape. Foliage varies with each species, from holly-like and spiky to delicate and feathery.

Male green anole with dewflap showingAnoles – A competition for shelter and food is raging across Florida, and two related lizard species have been adapting to the presence of each other for decades. The native green anoles found themselves in competition with the Cuban brown anoles over a century ago. While not much can be done to eradicate brown anoles, having tall shrubs and trees in your landscape offers refuge for green anoles, as they move vertically in habitats when brown anoles are present.

Purple flowers of agapanthusJanuary in Your Garden – While it may be cold out, there are still many bulbs or annuals to plant. Bulbs like crinum and agapanthus can be planted throughout the state. Gardeners in North and Central Florida can also plant gloriosa lily bulbs, and those in South Florida can plant clivia lily this month. In North and Central Florida, annuals like pansy, viola, petunia, and snapdragon are great for planting this time of year. South Florida gardeners can plant begonia, browallia, lobelia, dianthus, dusty miller, and nicotiana.

Read the full January issue.

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

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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