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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.

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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.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy gardening!

sprouts in a clear mason jarSprouts Tutorial – Sprouts can make a crispy addition to sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. They can be eaten cooked or raw, and they’re incredibly easy to grow! Growing sprouts is a great winter project and a fun activity for kids. We have a quick and simple tutorial that should have you growing your own sprouts in just about a week’s time.

Top view of a tiny wasp with clear wingsTiny Wasps to Fight Citrus Greening — Greening is a devastating citrus disease which results in decreased crop yields and the eventual death of infected trees. Globally called Huanglongbing (HLB), greening is transmitted by the Asian citrus psyllid. Since 1999, biological control wasps, Tamarixia radiata, have been released in commercial and research groves as a means of controlling populations of the Asian citrus psyllids. These beneficial insects are now available to home gardeners!

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I don’t know about you, but many of my plants got completely destroyed during this last prolonged cold snap. My gingers are toast, the plumbago is all brown and my butterfly garden is unrecognizable. I know that I should, if at all possible, delay pruning until the new growth appears. But since the plants affected are in a high maintenance area (like right by my front door) it is hard to resist pruning. But resist I must.

Both green and red maple leaves on the same branchPlant of the Month: Maples for Florida — Maples are often thought of as a northern tree, loved for their spectacular displays of changing leaves in the fall. Did you know that there are two species of maple trees that will actually grow well here in Florida? The native red maple (Acer rubrum) is found growing throughout the state, and Florida maple (Acer saccharum subsp. floridanum) is much more heat tolerant than its northern cousins.

Vultures perched in a leafless dead treeDead Wood is a Wildlife Delight — Dead wood can be extremely useful to wildlife in your landscape, so before clearing it all away consider trying to incorporate it. Wildlife in Florida struggle to find habitat with our growing human population. It’s important to offer small natural spaces in our backyards as shelter for birds, small mammals, and even insects. Brush piles are the most common types of dead wood used by wildlife. If you still have a natural Christmas tree hanging around these are great for starting a brush pile in your yard.

Young canna leaf growing out of a mound of freeze-killed plantsFebruary in Your Garden — With the recent cold weather we’ve experienced, many plants in the garden may be looking a little sad these days. It’s important to remember though that you should hold off on any major pruning or clean-up until the chance of frost has passed completely. Be sure to check when the anticipated last frost date is for your area before cutting.

Read the full February issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy New Year, gardeners!

Cut away view of microgreens in dark soilMicrogreens – Relatively easy to grow and bursting with nutrients, microgreens can be a fun growing project for the New Year. Microgreens are harvested when the first true leaves emerge; both the stems and leaves are eaten. They are great for use in soups, stews, salads, sandwiches, main dishes, and as garnishes. The kitchen window is a good place to grow them. There are dozens of microgreens you can choose from offering a variety of flavors and colors to add to your dishes.

Curly leafed kale in mulched bedKale Varieties — Say “kale yeah” to healthy eating and a lovely garden in 2018! Kale is good for you, easy-to-grow, and good looking — it has it all. However, all kale is not exactly the same; there are a number of varieties with differing growth and leaf forms, colors, and edible or ornamental qualities. Check out our piece on some of the delicious varieties to grow in your Florida garden.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Was choosing a healthier lifestyle on the list? I hope so! Your gardening habit is one you don’t want to break because it is beneficial to your mental and physical health. Gardening activities are known to be associated with mental clarity as well as with reduced stress levels.

Tiny dark purple fruit of flatwoods plumPlant of the Month: Flatwoods Plum — Flatwoods plum can be a beautiful and interesting sight when it blooms in the spring. Like its relative the Chickasaw plum, it flowers before leaves appear, leaving you with a tree adorned with nothing but blossoms. The flatwoods plum produces small edible fruit that range from very tart to very sweet. This Florida-friendly tree is a great choice for growing in North and Central Florida. (Photo by James H. Miller and Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org)

A healthy green Florida-Friendly lawn in front of a stucco homeHealthy Yards with FFL Principle #3 — The third principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is to fertilize appropriately. Here in Florida that generally means passing on the seemingly convenient—but actually potentially harmful—”weed and feed.” Learn more about why “weed and feed” products are best avoided in your Florida lawn.

Woman kneeling to plant tree in holeJanuary in Your Garden — With our recent cold weather some plants may not be looking their best in your landscape. While it may be tempting to start pruning, it’s best to wait until spring. It may not look great, but this will benefit the plant in the long-term. And you could celebrate Florida Arbor Day (the third Friday of January) by planting a tree in your yard or community.

Read the full January issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’d like to wish you all a happy and fruitful holiday season.

Blue-purple flowers of plumbagoBlue Flowers – While no one wants a blue Christmas, you might be interested in some blue for your garden. Cool blue hues can help your garden become a calming and tranquil place. Of course, there aren’t many truly blue flowering plants to be found, but we’ve come up with a few that could help you “bring on the blue,” like plumbago, hydrangea, and more.

Tiny blue and gray butterflyBlue Butterflies — Whether in butterfly gardens or appreciated in nature, butterflies are arguably the gardener’s favorite insect. There are many beautiful butterflies you can find throughout Florida at various times of the year. Blue butterflies are particularly striking, and Florida is home to several. From those commonly seen to the critically endangered, we’ve compiled a sampling of blue butterflies found in our state.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Florida gardeners are known for their butterfly gardens. We plant plenty of beautiful nectar plants for the adult butterflies and provide lots of larval host plants for the caterpillars. I have even seen Master Gardeners bring a group of caterpillars devouring their last stem of milkweed or parsley into a meeting in hopes of finding adoptive “parents” for their caterpillars. So for all you enthusiasts out there I would like to make you aware of a program hosted in part by the Florida Museum of Natural History called the Wings Over Florida.

The tops of several Christmas palms with blue skyPlant of the Month: Christmas Palm — Palms are one of those iconic Florida plants. They are great for adding tropical flare to the landscape, but if you have a small planting area, finding a palm to fit can be a challenge. Christmas palm is one of the few palm species that will do well in a small South Florida landscape. The common name, “Christmas palm,” comes from the clusters of bright red fruits that adorn these trees in late fall and winter, giving the plants the appearance of being decorated for the holidays. (Photo by Scott Zona, some rights reserved.)

A saw cutting into a branchPruning in Three Steps: A Pictorial — Pruning is an important part of keeping your trees healthy and looking their best, and using proper technique is an integral part of making this happen. An improperly done pruning job can actually harm your tree and leave it vulnerable to disease or decay. The three-cut pruning method is a great technique to make sure your pruning cuts are clean and where you want them. Our photo tutorial leads you through the process.

FAWN title with the W resembling a lightning boltFAWN — Gardeners in Florida are lucky to have the UF/IFAS Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN). FAWN is a weather network of 42 monitoring stations across Florida from the north in Jay to the south in Homestead. Weather data is collected and compiled every 15 minutes.

Brussels sprouts look like tiny cabbagesDecember in Your Garden — Add some color to the winter garden with annuals; gardeners in North and Central Florida might try petunias, pansies, or snapdragons, while South Florida gardeners could plant begonias, impatiens, or geraniums. In the vegetable garden, make sure that seeds and transplants are properly spaced for good development. December is a good time to consider performing a soil test.

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’d like to thank our veterans for their service, and we wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.

View of home landscape from the streetCurb Appeal – Your front yard is the first impression visitors get of your home. It’s the first thing you see after a long day at work. Why not make this part of your home a fabulous reflection of your personality and design aesthetic? Your landscape can be anything you dream of, but there are a few guiding tips to help make sure that you have a lovely and welcoming look to the front of your home.

A cute gopher tortoiseWho Made That Hole? — Gardeners are generally pretty attentive to any disturbances in “the force,” and holes in the yard can be quite disturbing to some. For most homeowners, a few holes here and there are not a huge issue. But where some gardeners welcome the signs of wildlife in their landscape, others find the disturbances a nuisance. Whatever your stance on the digging of critters, almost everyone wants to know who made that hole.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — As a former county Master Gardener coordinator, I recall the frustration of hearing great MG ideas, but having no funds to support them. Now, as state coordinator, I see this occurring in many counties: Master Gardeners diverting valuable time and energy towards project fundraising rather than community service. This was further brought home as I read the county entries for the 2017 Search for Excellence awards. I thought, “How much further could this project have gone if there was money to enhance their efforts?”

Several bright orange carrots being held in a fieldPlant of the Month: Carrots — Originating in central Asia, carrots have been cultivated for centuries. But this cold-hardy plant still deserves a spot in the modern fall vegetable garden. Carrots are a root vegetable well-loved by many and heralded as an excellent source of vitamin A. This healthy vegetable is pretty easy to grow and doesn’t require a lot of room. And carrots are wonderful to grow with kids—they love being able to pull something out of the ground and eat it (after washing, of course).

A cluster of tan mushrooms growing on a lawnMushroom Root Rot — Have you noticed a wilting tree or shrub in your landscape? Perhaps it has very little foliage and what leaves do remain look dry and shriveled. This often happens in a hedge row, where you’ll notice only one plant with symptoms while the rest look healthy. Loquat, ligustrum, and azalea are a few plants you might have seen with these symptoms, but many other trees and shrubs are susceptible. But susceptible to what? If what we’ve described has happened in your landscape, mushroom root rot may be to blame. (Photo: David Stephens, Bugwood.org)

Head of broccoli in a gardenNovember in Your Garden — This month is prime vegetable gardening time. Plant some winter annuals like pansies for great fall color. A wide variety of herbs like cilantro, parsley, sage, and thyme thrive in cooler, drier weather. Turn off systems and water only if needed; plants need less supplemental watering in cooler weather.

Read the full November issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy October, gardeners! Be sure to check out our events calendar — there are many plant sales going on this weekend!

Pale gray oyster mushroomsGrowing Mushrooms – Being able to grow their own food is a big motivation for many gardeners, and they’re always looking to grow new things. Fungi are generally something gardeners try to avoid—but why not try growing them? Two edible mushrooms that are great for beginners are Shiitake and oyster. These savory eats can be grown right in your own home. We offer advice on taking the first step on your mushroom growing journey.

A coyote facing the cameraCoyotes — What’s that spooky noise? You may be listening for howls around Halloween, but coyotes howl year-round here in Florida. This member of the dog family is found in every county throughout the state, but generally doesn’t interact with people much. What’s more, they’re a predator of small nuisance animals like rats. There’s much to learn more about these loud, yet often unseen, critters.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In our Master Gardener trainings we have been taught to recognize hazardous trees and to wage an educated guess on whether a tree will fail. Often times we can identify hazardous trees with a casual glance. If we look with more attention to the canopy, we might see decline and dead or dying branches; that is also an indication of poor tree health. Prior to the latest hurricane, I felt that I knew which of my neighborhood trees would fail and which trees would remain standing strong.

The fuchsia-red flowers of jatropha with a black and yellow butterflyPlant of the Month: Jatropha — Jatropha is a wonderful shrub for South Florida plant lovers. This tropical evergreen has slender stems, multiple trunks, and bright red or pink flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Jatropha grows best in zones 10 to 11, and thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. There are two species of Jatropha that grow quite well in South and Central Florida, Jatropha integerrima and Jatropha multifidi. With plentiful flowers and few maintenance needs, what’s not to love?

UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener logoWe Want to Hear from You (Again) — What do you think about the newsletter? Is the information relevant to you? Is there something you wish we would cover more or less? Well, we want to hear what you have to say! We appreciated all the wonderful feedback we received from our survey last year and would like to hear from you again. Keep an eye out for the survey link which will be coming in the next few weeks.

Yellow sunn hemp flower resembles a pea blossomAllelopathy — Perhaps you’ve heard that you’re not supposed to plant a black walnut tree in your garden. Have you ever wondered why, exactly? Allelopathy is a challenging and interesting topic that looks at how one plant can suppress the growth of other plants nearby. Wade into the basics of this topic with us as we explore what allelopathy is and some examples to keep in mind for your landscape.

A strawberryOctober in Your Garden — It may not feel like fall yet, but October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a good time to plant herbs like basil, chives, fennel, dill, thyme, and oregano, as well as vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And it’s practically the only time we can plant strawberries in Florida.

Read the full October issue.

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