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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.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright pink flower of shaving brush treePlant ID Service – Do you have a burning plant identification question, but wonder who to ask for help? Well, wonder no more: for the first time in nearly three decades, the UF/IFAS Plant Identification and Information Service has a full-time extension botanist! Marc Frank joined the service on July 1, 2016 and has extensive experience in identifying a wide variety of plant materials.

Turmeric rhizome cut in halfTurmeric – Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a beautiful and healthy addition to your Florida garden. Turmeric has been used in dishes for thousands of years and is a major component in curry. Researchers are also looking at the possible health benefits related to turmeric, including potentially anti-inflammatory properties.

Charlotte County Master Gardeners in gardenCharlotte County FFL Training a Success – Each year, Tom Becker with the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service conducts Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) training for all the county’s Master Gardener trainees. Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a key, overarching concept that guides not only horticultural decision-making, but also recommendations to the public. After a test to determine the 14 trainees’ understanding of FFL concepts and practices, it was clear that the training was a success.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — As Master Gardener Volunteers and gardening enthusiasts, we are often faced with plant problems in the garden or landscape that need to be solved. If you are a Master Gardener working the horticulture hot line or at a plant clinic, people bring plant problems directly to you. Where do you even begin to start on the unsolved mysteries of the horticulture world?

Staghorn fern mounted to wallPlant of the Month: Staghorn Fern — Once an uncommon plant find, staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are now quite popular and widely available. These plants are great for beginners or easily distracted gardeners. Staghorn ferns have beautiful and unusual foliage and are found throughout much of the tropical world. They thrive in South Florida and can be grown in North and Central Florida as long as they’re protected from frost or freezes. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, meaning they get moisture and nutrients from the air— they’re found growing harmlessly on tree trunks, branches, or rocks.

Tomatoes on the vineAugust in Your Garden – August is a great time to start planning your fall garden. While it’s still a little too warm to start cool-season vegetables, North and Central Florida gardeners may be able to plant a second crop of warm-season vegetables like tomato and eggplant. All Florida gardeners can start preparing for cool-season planting. Have your soil tested so you can add the proper amendments before planting, and plan out what you want to grow and where you’ll plant it.

pond feature set in patioWater Gardens — Adding a water garden is a great way to introduce new textures to your landscape; even a gentle fountain can add relaxing sounds to your backyard oasis. Just make sure that your water garden isn’t providing mosquitoes with a breeding ground. Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) is safe for plants and animals; added to any permanent water feature in the landscape, it will prevent mosquitoes from becoming a problem.

Dog vomit slime mold on ground under shrubSlime Molds — Slime molds can be a shocking sight in the garden, but they are relatively harmless and usually dissipate on their own. Slime mold is caused by the fruiting bodies of Myxomycetes, a type of fungi regularly present in soil. It’s during these humid summer days that you may see slime mold develop. It may look like your lawn has been spray painted with black or grey paint. Or, in the case of “dog vomit” slime mold (Fuligo septica), you may see what looks like yellow foam in your landscape. There are no fungicides to treat slime mold, but you can lightly mow, rake, or use a forceful stream of water to break it up and restore your landscape to its aesthetic glory.

Read the full August 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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