Longing for Longans? They’re Here!

It’s peak longan season in Florida! What’s a longan, you ask? It’s a subtropical fruit, related to the lychee.

This sweet fruit has a tan peel that’s easy to remove, white flesh, and a single large seed in the center. Native to Asia, longan fruit are also referred to as dragon’s eyes, as the dark seed in the center of the white pulp can resemble a large eye (that’s either really cool or a little off-putting, depending on your viewpoint). The flavor has been compared to that of a peeled grape.

South Florida gardeners can grow longan trees in their landscapes; that’s where most of Florida’s longans are produced. The most popular and successful variety is ‘Kohala’.

Learn more about this fruit and how to plant it at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Are you in Miami-Dade County? They’re having a workshop on tropical and sub-tropical fruit trees this Saturday! Learn more at their Eventbrite page.

Longan fruit
‘Kohala’ variety longan. Ian Maguire, UF/IFAS.

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.

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

A Full Recovery

This Princess Caroline fountain grass in our office landscape was completely devastated by the freezing temperatures North Florida experienced earlier this year (the first photo). But as you can see in the second photo, it and much of the surrounding landscape has come back to life. Landscapers did eventually cut down the dead foliage, and beautiful purple foliage sprung from the ground.

frozen_princess_caroline_grass
The clumps of Princess Caroline grass are dead, brown, and shriveled from the freezing temperatures of January 2018 (Photo: Jennifer Sykes, UF/IFAS)
recovered_princess_caroline_grass
But six months later, it’s as if nothing happened – they are tall and healthy, with dark purple arching leaves in July 2018 (Photo: Jennifer Sykes, UF/IFAS)

Pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline’ is an easy-to-grow, moderate- to fast-growing ornamental grass that features intense purple-maroon foliage. This is a sterile cultivar, so gardeners needn’t worry about it spreading. Many Pennisetum varieties are invasive – always purchase plants from licensed nurseries and check the labels.

Plant your Princess Caroline in well-drained soil and full sun for the best color. Once established, this ornamental grass is drought-tolerant and very low-maintenance. It can handle some salt spray as well.

Friday Flowers: Firebush

Firebush is a native perennial shrub that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with its red-orange tubular flowers. In the cooler months, berries attract song birds. Heat- and drought-tolerant, firebush can be grown throughout Florida. While frost might knock it down, it will return (ask us how we know).

Both zebra longwings and gulf fritillary butterflies swarm to this flowering shrub.

It will grow and flower best if planted in full sun, but it can also be planted in partial shade. Firebush is also moderately tolerant of salt spray, which can be helpful for gardeners in coastal areas.

Firebush can be planted in any well-drained soil and will do best if it is watered regularly until it is established.firebush_butterfly

 

Learn more about this Florida-Friendly native at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/firebush.html

 

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.

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

Plant of the Month: Australian Tree Fern

July’s featured plant is the Australian tree fern:

A shrub sized green fern outside a campus building
This Australian tree fern is growing outside one of the UF campus buildings in Gainesville.

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.

Other than an occasional irrigation during dry times and the removal of spent, lower fronds, Australian tree fern should be regarded as a low-maintenance plant worth a place in Florida landscapes.

Read the full article at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Happy July 4th, gardeners!

From all of us at the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener program,  a happy Independence Day to all the gardeners in the USA.

Let’s celebrate with a firecracker…plant!

Red tubular flowers of the firecracker plant. Photo by John Tann.

Firecracker plant attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with a profusion of red, tubular flowers. Its narrow, soft leaves give it a fine texture in the landscape, making it a great contrast to broad-leaf plants.

Read more about firecracker plant at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

Friday Flowers: Hairy Leafcup

Take a walk in natural areas of North Central Florida or the panhandle, and you might find these bright yellow flowers “staring” right back at you. Hairy leafcup (Smallanthus uvedalia) is in the daisy family. This native wildflower has deeply lobed leaves, which gave it another common name, bear’s foot. It typically blooms in summer and attracts a variety of bees and other pollinators. It can get quite large, as tall as ten feet, but dies back in the winter. In the early 1900s, a tincture was made from the plant’s roots and used to treat rheumatism and in hair tonics. It’s not terribly common, so count yourself lucky if you spot it.

 

 

 

The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2018

Many yellow coreopsis flowers growing in a field

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright yellow cactus flowerPrickly Pear – Prickly pear cactus may not give up easily to being eaten, but if you put in the work the payoff is worth the effort. Both the pads (nopales) and the red fruits can be eaten. The pads are said to taste a bit like green beans while the fruits are sweet. The flowers come in a range of warm-hued colors like orange, yellow, red, and pink, depending on the species and variety. Best yet, it thrives in sandy soil and requires little to no maintenance.
(Photo: Gary Knox, UF/IFAS. Used with permission, all rights reserved.)

Two strips of cloth dyed yellowCoreopsis Dye — Egg-dying season may have passed but fiber-dying season could just be starting depending on what you have growing. We were interested in the prospect of using flowers from the garden to dye fabric, and the plethora of coreopsis blooming right now got us inspired. You can check out our tutorial on creating dye from these cheerful wildflowers.

A window lit from within framed by delicate bamboo and fernPlanting Around Your Windows — Breaking your landscape up into different areas can help you develop a design aesthetic. This can make an entire landscape overhaul seem less daunting. You can keep costs down by chunking it out and working on one area at a time, or you can just make changes to one area that has needed some attention. This month we discuss some tricks to making sure the landscaping around your windows is picture perfect.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — June is here and while most of the country is celebrating graduation and preparing for summer vacation, Floridians are preparing for hurricane season. My battery and flashlight drawers are ready and I will be thinking about my “go bag” contents later, because the phrase “sheltering in place” is equal to “riding the storm out” and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that again. Luckily for us the season doesn’t usually heat up until a little later in the summer, so now is a perfect time to take stock of your trees and landscape and to get a plan together.

Yellow daisy like flower with brown centerPlant of the Month: Beach Sunflower — Beach sunflower is a butterfly-attracting Florida native that’s perfect for hot, dry sites, including coastal areas. Fun fact: the flower heads always follow the sun throughout the day. Beach sunflower can be grown throughout most of the state; it works well as a groundcover and is great for borders, mass plantings, and even cascading down a wall. Plant your beach sunflower in a full-sun location, ideally with sandy or well-drained soil. Growing to a height and spread of 2 to 4 feet, this plant can quickly cover its growing area.

A gopher tortoise peering at usGopher Tortoise — Gopher tortoises may have been around for millions of years, but these days they are threatened by human development that keeps encroaching on their native habitat. Not only are these animals important in their own right, they are a keystone species, meaning that many other creatures in the environment rely on them for survival. If you have a gopher tortoise on your property, keep pets or children away from its burrow. Since they’re a threatened species, both the tortoises and their burrows are protected under state law and must be left alone.

Pale pink oleander flowerJune in Your Garden — Hurricane season begins, so check around your landscape and make any preparations now. Summer’s warm, rainy months are perfect for planting palms. Summer-flowering shrubs like hibiscus, oleander, crapemyrtle, and ixora can be lightly pruned now as they bloom on new growth. Azaleas can still be pruned without harming next season’s budding.

Non-descript green leaves and small white flowersGopher Apple — Gopher apple is a native evergreen groundcover that is a favorite food source of wildlife, including gopher tortoises, thus its common name. Little white flowers appear in the summer and are followed by the fruits that animals devour. Salt, drought, and fire tolerant, gopher apple is ideal for stabilizing sandy banks; its tolerance of harsh conditions makes it an almost indestructible groundcover. It’s an especially great choice for gardeners along the coast.
(Photo of gopher apple by Scott Zona. Some rights reserved.)

Read the full June issue.

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

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.

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