The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2018

Although it’s still a couple weeks away, we’d like to wish our U.S. readers a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Purple bottle brush like flower spikeLiatris Looks Luscious in the Landscape – Liatris is tough and beautiful at the same time; it’s native, drought tolerant, and has dramatic bottle-brush shaped flowers. There are at least 13 species of liatris and several hybrids that can be grown in zones 8 to 10B, so finding the right liatris for your landscape shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, pollinators love these plants! (Photo: Beverly Turner; Jackson Minnesota; Bugwood.org)

A two tier window box filled with impatiens and geraniumsWindow Box Basics – Window boxes add charm, character, and curb appeal to your house. The plant combinations are truly endless; no matter if your style is modern-minimalist, cottage, or artistic, you can likely find a window box and plants to match your aesthetic. When looking for plants, select low growing, colorful, cascading plants. Keep plant height in mind — you want to be able to see attractive plants out your window, but you don’t want them to obscure your view. (Photo: Jenny Trello)

Dried round black seeds still attached to stems in an envelopeSeed Saving — Collecting seeds is one way to take your passion for gardening to the next level. You can collect seeds from annuals, perennials, vegetables, and fruits in your garden with varying degrees of ease. Just be aware that not all plants grown from seed will look exactly like the plants they are gathered from (their parent plants). Part of the fun of collecting seeds is growing your own low-cost plants and having extras to share with friends.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Oaks, elms, crapemyrtles, maples, and many other deciduous trees will soon be dropping their leaves on our lawns and landscapes. If you don’t know where your rake is you might want to locate it. Some gardeners see fallen leaves as a chore and others see them as free mulch, compost, and soil amendment. One of the 9 Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles is recycling so if you are stuffing leaves into a bag and setting them on the curb think about what you can do with those leaves to make your landscape more Florida-Friendly.

Fan shaped green palm frondPlant of the Month: European Fan Palm — Looking for a cold-hardy palm? Maybe something multi-trunked and compact? Well look no further than European fan palm, Chamaerops humilis. Its palmate leaves can add a tropical look to your landscape in a variety of ways, perhaps for poolside ambiance or as a landscape accent piece. And North Florida gardeners can rejoice at the hardiness of these palms which grow in zones 8 to 11.

Woman adjusting sprinkler head as it sprays water on a lush green lawnCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Irrigation Edition — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. Proper irrigation plays a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Curly leafed kale plantNovember in Your Garden — With the growth of some plants slowing down, it’s time to cut back on your irrigation. Your plants may do best with watering only once a week during these (hopefully) cooler months. Consider brightening your planting beds with cool-season annuals like pansies, and of course there are many cool-season vegetables to plant this month.

Read the full November issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright purple fruits of beautyberry on stemBeautyberry – If you’re looking for a dazzling plant to attract birds to your yard, look no further than beautyberry. This Florida native is scientifically known as Callicarpa americana, and its bright purple fruits are some of the most striking around. Fun fact: the fruits on beautyberry are actually drupes, not berries. You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established.

Sesame plant with narrow green leaves and white bell shaped flowersSesame – Sesame is ancient crop; growing it in your home garden allows you to explore new flavors and ideas in your cooking while connecting with the past. Plus, we can’t forget the aesthetics; this plant is good-looking with its upright growth habit and showy bell-shaped flowers. Sesame also attracts a wide range of pollinators, making it a favorite plant for bumble bees and other insects.

Black and white adult chinch bugChinch Bugs — Southern chinch bugs are a major pest of St. Augustinegrass, and can rapidly cause serious damage. Damaged areas appear as yellow to brown patches and injury typically occurs first in grass that’s water-stressed or in full sun. It’s important to remember that not all brown grass indicates a chinch bug infestation. If you suspect you have chinch bugs, inspect the border between the brown and green grass for the tiny, black-and-white adults or orange nymphs.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Mid-September is the peak of hurricane season; you only need to look at a weather forecast to be reminded of that. The mere word hurricane strikes fear in our hearts and sends us running in preparation mode. The words hurricane pruning would strike fear in a palm tree’s heart if it had one.

Green cilantro leaf on cutting boardPlant of the Month: Cilantro — Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a bright green annual plant with many culinary applications. This flat, feathery-leafed herb is often used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cooking. It can add a fresh flavor to many dishes, including salsa. Of course, this herb may be less exciting to grow if you’re one of the people that finds the taste of cilantro closer to soap. Read more about how to grow this herb, and how you can get coriander from the same plant in the spring.

Healthy shrub with green leaves and red flowersCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Soils Edition — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. In our first in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how characteristics of your soil, like pH and compaction, play a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Flame-like flowers of celosiaSeptember in Your Garden — It’s still hot out, but September brings the promise of cooler temperatures. As such, it’s time to start some of your cool season edibles and herbs. You can also start evaluating your annual beds and determining which plants have peaked and need replacing.

Read the full September issue.

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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, Bugwood.org)

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.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-red tubular flowers of firebushFloral Fire – Florida gardens are certainly full of heat in July; and that inspired us to discuss some of the “fiery” flowers that flourish in Florida landscapes. Firebush, firecracker plant, firespike, and firethorn — they all have fire in the name but each bring something different to your garden.

Bright red peppers hanging from plantHot Peppers for Hot Weather – The heat is rising outside and for some, a little heat in your foods and beverages can offer relief from the rising mercury outdoors. Pepper heat is not the same between different varieties; from the heat-free bell peppers to the world’s third-hottest pepper, the bhut jolokia, there is surely a pepper for any taste. We list some of the peppers that grow well in Florida by heat.

Rectangles of sheet metal laid on a lawn at interesting angles to serve as a walkwayModern Landscape Design — A modern design aesthetic appeals to those who favor clean lines, open spaces, and repetition of a few choice plants. We have a few suggestions to help make your modern landscape look magnificent.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It is nearly impossible to keep up with the landscaping chores during this year’s rainy season. You can sneak out to prune plants or dump the rain gauge, but keeping up with the mega lawn is nearly impossible. Just when you have it mowed to the proper height, four days later it is almost ready to mow again, and it’s raining when you try, so you just wait another day.

Close view of deep green fern frondsPlant of the Month: Australian Tree Fern — Also known in its native country as the lacy tree fern because of its delicate fronds, the Australian tree fern is a tropical giant whose trunk can reach a height of 15 or even 30 feet. The long, large leaves form a handsome canopy and give a tropical feel to the landscape. Australian tree fern grows best in areas with high humidity and very warm temperatures. In South and Central Florida, it can be grown outside; farther north it should be grown in an area where it is protected from the cold.

A gray and white mottled moth on green leavesSphingidae Moths — Moths often don’t receive the same love as their day-time counterparts, butterflies. But the number of moth species world-wide far outnumbers the number of butterfly species. Some of the largest moths belong to the Sphingid family. While some are considered to be beneficial pollinators, their larval stage of caterpillars can be a destructive garden pest. Learn more about these large and interesting moths.
(Tetrio sphinx moth photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International, Bugwood.org)

Delicate red flower of royal poinciana treeJuly in Your Garden — While it may be too hot to start herbs from seed in your garden, some like oregano and mint will do well when started from small plants. Some bulbs can be planted now as well, including butterfly lily, gladiolus, and society garlic. Some municipalities prohibit the application of fertilizer to lawns and/or landscape plants during the summer rainy season. See if such an ordinance exists in your area.

Read the full July issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Vivid purple and green foliage of Persian shield plantPurple Plants – Pantone’s 2018 color of the year is ultra violet. Pantone describes this as an inventive and imaginative color, a color that inspires creativity. You can bring a little bit of creative and inspirational energy into your own garden or living space by adding plants with pops of purple. From flowers to berries and even foliage, we have a number of purple plants that could inspire you.

Rain barrel painted with an outdoor sceneWhat to Do with Your Rainwater — Clean, fresh water is one of our most precious resources. Rain barrels are a great way to capture fresh rain water and preserve it for use during drier times of the year. They capture a significant amount of water and can have a tangible effect on your water bill. Best of all, they’re fairly easy to find in stores and to make! But once you have a barrel full of water what can you do with that water?

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We have had a beautiful spring this year, the finest I can recall for some time. My recent wanderings around Florida did give me the opportunity to take a minute and stop to smell the roses, or in this case, the pitcher plants and wild orchids of the Apalachicola National Forest. And it got me to wondering… why are we so drawn to nature and the outdoors?

Purple cluster of flowersPlant of the Month: Evergreen Wisteria — Millettia, also called evergreen wisteria, is a wow-worthy evergreen vine with gorgeous, fragrant flowers. This plant is beautiful on its own and is a wonderful alternative to the commonly seen and invasive Chinese wisteria. These gorgeous vines can reach up to 30 feet, but they can easily be kept shorter with pruning.

small white flowers overshadowed by their bright red stamensPineapple Guava — This attractive evergreen shrub has it all: silvery foliage, unusual flowers, and edible fruits. Pineapple guava are also well suited for coastal gardens because they can tolerate salt spray. Edible flowers bloom in April and May; if left to ripen, egg-shaped fruits will begin to mature between August and October.

Purple flower of toreniaMay in Your Garden — As temperatures rise you’ll want to plant annuals that can take the heat: salvia, coleus, wax begonia, and torenia are just a few. Summer also means insects will become more active, so keep an eye out for thrips, scales, and mites on ornamental plants.

Big yellow and black grasshopperEastern Lubber Grasshoppers — Colorful, colossal, and unwelcome in the landscape, eastern lubber grasshoppers are an unmistakable pest in the garden. Lubbers wander about feasting on a wide variety of plants, and in large numbers, they can do significant damage. In flower beds, lubbers commonly defoliate amaryllis, Amazon lily, crinum, narcissus, and related plants, as well as oleander, butterfly weed, canna, Mexican petunia, and lantana.

Read the full May issue.

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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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