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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 – June 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

figsFig Trees – Native to the Mediterranean, the edible fig (Ficus carica) has been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. Figs ripen on the tree and don’t ship well, so the best way to truly enjoy a fresh fig is from your local market, or better yet, your own fig tree. Luckily, Florida offers the right growing conditions and figs are fairly easy to grow in north and central Florida.

A rocky landscape, photo courtesy of Kim GableLandscaping on the Rocks – Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, presents some unique gardening challenges, even by Florida standards. While gardeners there have to deal with the heat, humidity, and the threat of hurricanes like the rest of the state, their location presents its own issues and opportunities.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — With the concerns about Zika virus all over the news, we’ve been recommending that you regularly scout your landscape for possible water-gathering sites and eliminating them. I decided to take a quick survey of my landscape to see if I had any mosquito-breeding containers in the yard. I want to keep the mosquito population as low as possible, for my health and the health of my neighbors.

Photo of rubber mulch by Phasmatisnox at English WikipediaRubber Mulch: Not a Florida-Friendly Choice — Choosing the right mulch for your landscape can be a bit overwhelming; so many organic and inorganic options exist that it can be difficult to know where to start. While you may be tempted to give rubber mulch a try, there are some facts about this option that need to be carefully considered. As you decide which mulch belongs in your landscape beds, consider passing on the rubber mulch. Organic mulches, while not long lasting, are great for improving your soil quality.

pickerel weed flowerPlant of the Month: Pickerel Weed — Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is an aquatic native plant found throughout Florida. This perennial is usually found in shallow wetland areas or around the edges of lakes and ponds. Purple-blue flower spikes can be seen several weeks after the appearance of the shiny, lance-shaped foliage. Individual flowers last only a day, but this repeat bloomer can be enjoyed from spring through fall. Pickerel weed is usually purchased in containers and should be planted in full-sun locations with about a foot of water.

Uprooted treeJune in Your Garden – Hurricane season kicked off on June 1, and with three named storms already this year, now is the time to make sure that your landscape is hurricane ready. The 2016 season is expected to be pretty active, so take a look at your trees and see if pruning is necessary. Always prune appropriately—that means not over-pruning.

mole cricketMole Crickets — An easy way to determine whether there are mole crickets in your yard is to mix liquid dishwashing soap into water and pour the mixture over turf. You should be able to see mole crickets not long after your soapy water application. See this quick demonstration video from Adam Dale, assistant professor of turfgrass and ornamental entomology at the University of Florida, on his Twitter feed (may not play on all browsers).

Read the full June 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 – December 2015

Happy holidays, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Sydney Park BrownLifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award – Sydney Park Brown, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Horticulturist and Associate Professor Emeritus, was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award at the 34th Annual State Master Gardner Conference in October. “The effects of Sydney’s dedication to the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program will be felt for decades to come,” says Wendy Wilber, statewide program coordinator. “Her vision helped to shape the program into one of the best in the country.”

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — If you are anything like me, you are still rushing to finish your holiday shopping. Some people are impossible to shop for and other people are gardeners. You might be lucky enough to have a gardener on your “to buy for” list. If you do, I have some great gift ideas for the gardener in your life.

Rosemary topiariesRosemary Topiary Trees — A useful and delicious holiday gift, rosemary plants shaped to look like Christmas trees require minimal care and will continue to reward you long after the holidays pass. A topiary can be used as a table centerpiece, mantle decoration, or even a decoration in a child’s room—you can feel safe knowing if a bit of the topiary ends up ingested it’s no problem at all. After the holidays, your rosemary can be planted outside in an area with full sun and good drainage.

Yaupon holly foliageYaupon Holly Tea — The days are getting shorter and there is a chill in the air. A nice warm cup of tea or coffee may be just what you need to warm up after a nice outside gardening session. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to brew tea with leaves from your own garden? Yaupon holly is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Firethorn berriesPlant of the Month: Firethorn — Looking to add some color to your winter landscape? Firethorn is an evergreen shrub known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Not only are they attractive, the berries also serve as an important food source for wildlife. The branches hold up well in cut arrangements and make a festive accent in holiday centerpieces. This thorny shrub performs best in north and central parts of Florida, and will thrive when planted in well-drained soil and full sun.

pink snapdragonsDecember in Your Garden – With cooler temperatures outside many people will be bringing plants indoors for the winter. Be on the lookout for houseplant damage from pests or disease. In North and Central Florida, add color with winter annuals like petunias and snapdragons. In South Florida, plant begonias or geraniums.

fungus gnatFriend or Foe? Foe: Fungus Gnat — Fungus gnats are a common pest of indoor plants. The larvae of these tiny flying pests can be found in the soil, feeding on rotting vegetation and plant roots. They’re drawn to plants that are overwatered, so one way to control these flies is to let the soil dry out between waterings. You can also use yellow “sticky traps,” placed near light to attract the adults. Coat a piece of yellow plastic (like that from a Solo cup) with petroleum jelly and stick it in the soil of your infected houseplant to attract the gnats.

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2015

Happy Gardening!

The deadline is approaching; you only have one more week to register for the 34th State Master Gardener Conference at the early bird rate. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to hear our keynote speaker from the Florida Wildlife Corridor or attend some of the 24 concurrent educational sessions.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Chinese evergreen plantPlants That Clean the Air – With summer ending and school back in session, people are spending more time indoors and thinking about how that is affecting them. While many people know that having a houseplant in their home or office can cheer up the space, they may not know that it can also help clean the air. Many popular houseplants are actually quite good at removing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteers that work with school gardens have a special place in my heart. It takes a huge amount of planning, planting, and heart to work with students and teachers in their school gardens, but payoffs are more than worth it. I understand just how much hard work and fun it can be helping young gardeners nurture a love of growing their own food.

calico flowerPlant of the Month: Calico Flower — Named for the mottled pattern on its blossoms, calico flower is native to Brazil. This vining plant climbs and covers chain link and wire structures well, transforming plain structures into a lovely green screen. It’s ideal for butterfly gardens, serving as the larval host plant to two types of swallowtail butterflies. Gardeners should plant this vine in a sunny location with well-drained soil.

September in Your Garden – September is a great time to divide and replant your perennials, such as daylilies and amaryllis, which have grown too large or need a little rejuvenation. Be sure to add organic matter to your new planting areas and keep weeds in check while the plants establish themselves.

web in treeFriend or Foe? Neither: Fall Webworm — While the fall webworm isn’t really a garden friend, neither is it a true pest. The nests these caterpillars build on the ends of tree branches may be unsightly, but they won’t last long in your landscape. Trying to rid your trees of these caterpillars can often cause more harm than leaving them be.

Read the full September issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2015

Wasp on flower

A pollinator wasp visits a partridge pea flower.

Happy Summer Gardening!

Master Gardeners, don’t forget to register for the 34th Annual State Master Gardener Conference to be held this October.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Cute pollinator hotelPollinator Hotels – While some may run for the hills when anything with a stinger flies by, gardeners know that it might be a helpful pollinator. Having pollinators like bees and wasps set up their home right in your garden can be great for your plants. And while you can’t tell a bee where to nest, you can provide pollinators with an ideal structure should they decide to move in—a pollinator hotel.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — Whew! Is it too hot to garden? Floridian gardeners have to be as heat tolerant as our plants and come up with our own summertime coping techniques. We sneak out early or venture out once the sun goes down.

Dr. David ShiblesDavid Shibles Retires as Polk MG Coordinator — Dr. David Shibles retired last month after 15 years as the Master Gardener Coordinator for Polk County. Dr. Shibles took a program with only two members when he arrived and turned it into an active organization with more than 100 members. As Lakeland’s Ledger.com reports, he leaves behind a “green legacy.”

Red royal Poinciana flowerPlant of the Month: Royal Poinciana — Royal poinciana (Delonix regia) provides South Florida landscapes with dappled shade in summer with wide, spreading branches and brilliantly-colored flowers. It prefers frost-free areas and will grow in a variety of soil conditions. With a potential height of 40 feet and a canopy as wide or even wider, many find that royal poinciana is best for larger landscapes.

July in Your Garden – While some may find it too hot to work in the garden right now, you can put the climbing temperatures to use and solarize your garden. Effective solarization takes 4 to 6 weeks, so start now to get your garden ready for fall planting.

foamy spittlebug massFriend or Foe? Foe: Spittlebugs — Named for the frothy mass they produce as nymphs, spittlebugs can surge in numbers during rainy, warm months, feeding on plants and turfgrass, especially centipedegrass. On ornamental plants, these pests can be managed by spraying the plant with a good, strong stream of water. If your lawn is being damaged by these bugs, reduce thatch in your lawn and avoid overwatering as spittlebugs can’t survive a dry environment.

Read the full July issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2015

Happy Summer Gardening!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The 34th Annual State Master Gardener Conference – The highly anticipated State Master Gardener Conference will take place October 18-21, 2015. Whether this year’s conference will be your first or fifteenth, there will be something for all of Florida’s Master Gardeners. In addition to 24 educational sessions, there will be exciting keynote speakers including John Moran, one of Florida’s best landscape photographers.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — This month marks the beginning of summer. For Floridians, there are a lot of markers to the month of June—hurricane season, the end of the school year, the rainy season starting, and reaping the harvest of our spring gardens.

Uprooted treeRisky (Tree) Business — Making sure the trees surrounding your home are healthy is always important. Not only are unhealthy trees unattractive, they can be a serious safety hazard. But it’s equally important to remember that not all trees are a risk; they play a vital role in your landscape. The best way to determine if your trees are healthy is to contact a professional. But you can do some scouting in your own landscape and determine if some of your trees are a risk and should be looked at.

OleanderPlant of the Month: Oleander — Oleander (Nerium oleander) may have a bit of a bad-girl reputation, but it is a truly beautiful addition to the Florida landscape. All parts of the plant are toxic, so be sure to plant it far from small children and curious pets. Oleander will grow best in zones 9a-11 and can handle even the poorest of soils. Plant yours in full sunlight for ideal flowering, and while it is very drought-resistant, supplemental irrigation in the driest months will help your oleander thrive.

June in Your Garden – Many gardeners are wrapping up their spring garden harvests as temperatures start to climb. Cover crops are a great way to control weeds and add nutrients to the soil while you take a break from tending to your vegetable patch. Cowpeas, sunhemp, and sorghum are some popular annual summer cover crops.

caterpillarFriend or Foe? Foe: Oleander Caterpillars — Oleander moths are quite beautiful.They’re sometimes called polka-dot moths due to the spots on their bodies and wings. But it’s the larval stage you should keep an eye out for. Oleander caterpillars are voracious eaters and can quickly defoliate a plant. Removing larvae-infested foliage is the most environmentally friendly method of control.

Read the full June issue.

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