The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2019

Earth Day is Monday, April 22. Happy spring, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The smiling face of Daisy Thompson, a 36-year volunteerForty Years of Memories – April is National Volunteer Month, and as we continue to celebrate 40 years of the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, we’ve chosen to highlight five long-serving volunteers from around the state. Between these five there is more than a century of volunteer experience! Read more about these wonderful volunteers, all the work they have done, and their favorite Master Gardener Volunteer memories.

A white clover flower with a tiny beePollinator Cover Crops – Cover crops can really make a difference in the quality of the soil in your edible garden. They have the potential to improve the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil, supply nitrogen, reduce leaching of nutrients and pesticides, reduce erosion, mitigate damage from plant pests and/or reduce their population densities, and attract beneficial insects. It’s that last benefit—attracting beneficial insects—that many gardeners choose to focus on. Learn about cover crops that pollinators love to visit, like buckwheat, clover, vetch, and lupin.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — April is national volunteer’s month and this week in April is volunteer’s week. This provides me with the platform to stand up and proclaim that the Florida Master Gardener Volunteers are doing amazing volunteer work. Volunteering has its benefits to the person who gives back, too. Research demonstrates that volunteering leads to better health. In fact, the more you volunteer the happier you are. We know that Master Gardener Volunteers are life-long learners and continuing their education is one of the biggest benefits that Florida MGVs enjoy.

Small red cone with tiny yellow flower emerging from its sidePlant of the Month: Spiral Gingers — Gingers are typically low-maintenance plants with attractive foliage and long-lasting, colorful blooms that make great cut flowers. Plants in the Costus genus are often referred to as spiral gingers although the family (Costaceae) has been segregated from the true gingers (Zingiberaceae). Flower appearance with spiral gingers can vary; some form a rigid tube that is usually red to yellow in color, or they can be more open and spreading, in colors from white to pale pink. Learn more about this plant that adds a splash of tropical color to the Florida garden.

Posterboard display with the words Power to Pollinators on itGirl Scout Wins Gold with Pollinator Plan — The Girl Scout Gold Award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Emily Mayo with Troop 673 in Fort Myers is being recognized with the Gold Award for a project close to the hearts of many gardeners — advocating the importance of pollinators. She developed a lesson plan called “Power to Pollinators,” with help from UF/IFAS Extension Collier County and their Master Gardener volunteers.

A coleus plant with dark red foliageApril in Your Garden — April is the time to plant heat-tolerant annuals like coleus, while continuing to plant warm season edibles like sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, Southern peas, and beans.

Read the full April issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2019

Spring is right around the corner, gardeners! (The first official day of Spring is March 20th.)

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Pine straw mulch with bright green leaves of a plant peeking into the frameMulch Madness – Mulch is a magnificent addition to any landscape; it helps planting beds conserve moisture while also providing a beautiful texture and a bit of weed barrier. With so many types of mulch, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which to choose. We help you decide which mulch is best—and which mulches may not be good—for your landscape. Learn which mulch is best to fill in your garden brackets.

A head of cabbage still in the groundCabbage – Did you know that St. Johns County leads the state in production of cabbage? Farmers call their busiest production time right before the holiday the “St. Paddy’s Day Push”! While it isn’t a good time for planting cabbage in Florida, it’s a great time for harvesting it in your garden or finding it freshly harvested from Florida farmers. Learn more about this vegetable so closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program is celebrating 40 years of service in 2019 and I will be highlighting several long-serving counties in this column. Brevard County on Florida’s Space Coast is home to Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, and the UF/IFAS Brevard County Master Gardener Volunteers. Brevard is one of the original three counties that started their Master Gardener Volunteer program in 1979.

Three small white pinwheel-shaped flowersPlant of the Month: Crepe Jasmine — Crepe jasmine has abundant white flowers that are shaped much like a pinwheel. The flowers are particularly prominent in the warmer months of the year, but they stand out against the dark green, glossy evergreen leaves in any season. Forming a moderately dense, rounded, evergreen shrub that flowers even in filtered shade, this plant is a great addition to many gardens. Crepe jasmine plants thrive in Zones 9B to 11.

Sandhill crane's head and long curved neckFlorida Snowbirds — Quite a few birds can be seen migrating through Florida, and some even call our state home for the winter. While the term “snowbirds” can have more than one meaning, we’re referring to the feathered friends who flock to the state to enjoy a little warmth in the winter. Learn more about migratory birds who overwinter in Florida: sandhill cranes, cedar waxwings, and American robins.

Striped watermelon in the fieldMarch in Your Garden — North Florida gardeners are still experiencing winter, so hold off on planting those summer annuals just yet. Bulbs can be planted this month. In Central Florida, you can start replacing those declining winter plants with angelonia and gazania. Gardeners throughout the state can plant beans, squash, corn, and watermelon.

Read the full March issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2019

Happy birthday…to us! The Florida Master Gardener program turns 40 this year.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Banana shrub flower is creamy white with waxy petalsGardening for Fragrance – Floral and herbal scents have been distilled and enjoyed indoors for centuries, and they can be equally delighting in the garden. Scent is one of the strongest human senses, and fragrant plants can add a new dimension to your landscape. With thoughtful planning and design, it’s not hard to create a pleasant fragrance garden. We have some plant suggestions for adding fragrance to your landscape.

Crabgrass uprooted and on concreteCrabgrass – As winter stretches on, you may find yourself with brown lawn areas that you swear were healthy green turf a few months ago. If so, the culprit is likely crabgrass. An important part of preventing crabgrass and other weeds from taking over your lawn is maintaining healthy turf. Unfortunately, once crabgrass has germinated and begins to grow, there are very few or no herbicides available to homeowners or commercial applicators that can kill it without harming most types of turfgrass grown in Florida.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program is celebrating 40 years of service in 2019 and I will be highlighting several long-serving counties in this column. The UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Master Gardener program was started in 1980 by the beloved Dr. Sydney Park Brown, and has been going strong ever since. More than 100 active Master Gardeners in Hillsborough County have created a beautiful demonstration garden, introduced thousands of children to agriculture, and so much more.

Frilly green parsley leafPlant of the Month: Parsley — Parsley is a bright green, versatile herb that looks good growing and tastes good too. Parsley contains vitamins A, C, and K as well as several B vitamins, calcium, and iron. You don’t need much space to grow parsley; it even grows well in containers. One idea would be to grow it in a container with other herbs. And here’s a fun fact you may not know about this herb — it’s a host plant for caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly.

Green palm frondPalm Leaf Morphology — Palms are an iconic Florida plant, and there are many species and varieties of these tropical emblems. As you admire these trees and shrubs, have you ever wanted to know the difference between the types of palm leaves? Learn more about pinnate, palmate, and costapalmate leaves.

Red rose blossomFebruary in Your Garden — Prune roses this month to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form. After pruning, fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch. Blooming will begin 8–9 weeks after pruning. Plant winter annuals like dianthus and verbena. Many bulbs can be planted now as well, like agapanthus and crinum. Continue planting cool-season vegetables, including potatoes.

Read the full February issue.

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

A Year in Review

Say what you will about 2018, at least you can’t say it was boring.

In gardening, it was an interesting year, too. We thought we’d look back at the top ten articles from the UF/IFAS gardening website, Gardening Solutions. Florida gardeners were interested in a range of subjects, but edible gardening and native plants stood out.

firebush_butterfly500
Zebra longwing butterfly on native firebush. UF/IFAS.

The top articles, in order of page views, for January 1 through December 20:

  1. Vegetable Gardening by Season – An overview of what to plant when in the vegetable garden, plus timely chores by season.
  2. Landscaping in the Shade – Advice on how and what to plant in those parts of your yard that don’t receive the necessary six hours of sunlight that most flowering and edible plants require.
  3. Firebush – This native shrub blooms throughout much of the year, attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds with its tubular red flowers. Plus, it’s practically indestructible once established.
  4. Asiatic Jasmine – A low-maintenance groundcover that tolerates a wide range of conditions, including coastal areas (P.S. – not actually jasmine).
  5. Native Plants – Basically a list of the plants covered in Gardening Solutions that are native to Florida.
  6. Tomatoes – We’re actually surprised this one isn’t ranked higher. Perhaps we’re all getting the hang of growing tomatoes?
  7. Citrus – An overview of all types of citrus in Florida and how to grow it in the home landscape. Alas, harder than it used to be…
  8. Native Trees – Another list of natives, this time it’s the big guys.
  9. Ixora – This old South Florida favorite flowers throughout the year with plenty of sunlight.
  10. Different Pests, Different Damage – A breakdown of pests by the way they ruin your plants.

 

persian_shield
Beautiful, shade-loving Persian shield. UF/IFAS.

A White Christmas for South Florida

Sometimes the common name of a plant can give you a hint of when flowering occurs. For most of the year, Euphorbia leucocephala is a rather ordinary shrub. But as the holiday season approaches, its common name, little Christmas flower, makes perfect sense.

From early November, through December into the New Year, the shrub transforms into an airy white cloud of delicate, sweet fragrance. Like the poinsettia, to which it is related, the “flower” in little Christmas flower are actually bracts.

Once the bracts have all dropped, you can prune the shrub which can grow up to 10 feet until August, but not after that, or you’ll have no blooming the coming season. Wear gloves when pruning; the milky sap can be irritating. Native to Mexico, little Christmas flower is best for zones 10a-11. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid planting it under street lights, as it needs darkness to bloom just like its poinsettia cousins.

pascuita (Euphorbia leucocephala) Lotsy
Little Christmas flower, covered in white flower-like bracts. Forest and Kim Starr; Starr Environmental; Bugwood.org

For more ideas, UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County has a great article by John McLaughlin called “Holiday Color for Miami-Dade Landscapes.”

Euphorbia leucocephala, Little Christmas Flower
A closer view of the white bract of little Christmas flower. Its small yellow flowers are barely visible, but they are the source of the shrub’s lovely fragrance. Forest and Kim Starr; Starr Environmental; Bugwood.org

Neighborhood Gardener – December 2018

All-white poinsettia cultivar called 'Polar Bear'

Happy holidays, from the staff of the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener and Florida Yards and Neighborhoods programs.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Red bird with black around its beakCardinals Add a Splash of Winter Color – Bright colors are always a great addition to the landscape, but the color doesn’t always have to come from flowers or foliage; sometimes birds can bring on the color. Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are some of the most easily recognized birds. In winter cardinals stand out against the evergreens or leafless trees and in the summer their whistles are one of the sweet sounds of morning.
(Photo: Johnny N. Dell, Bugwood.org)

Yellow butterflyWhite and Yellow Butterflies – Whites and yellows provide some of the more delicate hues of the season. For more garden color that comes from creatures, we have a sampling of white and yellow butterflies found in our state. Whether you prefer the subtle markings of the checkered white butterfly or the bold colors of the tiger swallowtail, when planning to attract butterflies remember to plant both caterpillar host plants and nectar plants for adults.

Pale pink camellia flowerCamellia Problems — Camellias are a favorite cool-season bloomer, but while you are enjoying their beauty keep an eye out for signs of damage. This month we’re featuring a condensed version of the UF/IFAS publication, Key Plant, Key Pests: Camellia, covering some of the common diseases, pests, and deficiencies that afflict camellia plants. Knowing what exactly ails your camellia may help you treat the problem more effectively.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It is the gift-giving season and if I could give gifts to all my gardening friends it would be for agreeable weather, fertile soil, and plenty of time to work in the garden and landscape. When folks find out you garden they love to give gardening gifts, but do they give garden gifts you love? Here are some of my favorite suggestions for useful tools for the gardener, and if you don’t find these under the tree maybe you will take yourself shopping with a gift card.

Small round green shrubPlant of the Month: Dwarf Hollies — Hollies are well known for their evergreen leaves and bright red winter fruits. They come in many forms and low maintenance. For smaller spaces and even containers, consider a dwarf holly. These smaller shrubs can also be used as hedges and foundation plantings, and there is a dwarf holly for all areas of Florida. ‘Bordeaux’, ‘Nana’, ‘Schillings Dwarf’ (pictured at left), and ‘Taylor’s Rudolph’ are just a few of the available cultivars.

A coleus plant with bright gold leaves edged in red in a plastic potCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Selecting Plants for Purchase — 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. Starting out with quality plants plays a huge role in the long-term well-being of your plants.

Bright yellow cassia flowers against a blue skyChristmas Cassia Causes Confusion — As winter approaches in Florida, plant lovers cannot help but notice the golden spectacle of the Christmas cassia (also known as Christmas senna, climbing cassia, or valamuerto). This shrub or small tree bears clusters of showy, bright yellow blossoms, on often-arching branches. Flowering begins as early as mid to late October and in frost-free parts of the state may extend through April, but in most areas peak bloom coincides with the holiday season. Extension botanist Marc Frank explains that your Christmas cassia is likely an invasive plant.

Poinsettia with pink and cream bractsDecember in Your Garden — Reliable cool-season vegetables to plant this month include cabbage, collards, kale, and broccoli. Enjoy one of the most popular indoor holiday plants, poinsettia. Protect it from cold until spring, and then plant it in the garden for next year. Inspect regularly for pests on indoor plants. Keep in mind that plant-specific temperature, light, and humidity are key to ensuring that indoor plants thrive.

Read the full December issue.

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

Friday Flowers: Powderpuff Tree

powderpuff_calliandra500
This powderpuff was photographed in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. UF/IFAS.

Powderpuff tree is a reliable magnet for hummingbirds, and easy to grow.  Its main attraction are flowers that appear in late fall and persist into the winter, giving it the South Florida nickname of “snowbird tree.”

Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala) is native to Bolivia, but has been cultivated widely. It is evergreen, with fine, delicate foliage that starts a copper color before maturing to dark green. When flower buds appear, they resemble raspberries, before expanding into puffs of silky stamens. Typically red (“haematocephala” refers to blood), there are some powderpuffs with watermelon-pink and even white flowers.

Trained as a tree, it has an arching, graceful habit, creating a canopy suitable for patios and even containers. It’s easily kept to a desired size with hand pruning.

Powderpuff can be grown as a large shrub or small tree in zones 9-11. In zone 9, frost can kill it back, but shoots will appear from the base in spring. With rapid growth in sandy soils and full sun, powderpuff will respond favorably to regular watering while young but should require no special care once established. Once established, it’s drought tolerant, but has also been reported to survive the occasional standing water from heavy rain as well.

For gardeners who miss their beautiful-but-invasive mimosa trees, powderpuff is an ideal alternative. It has been evaluated using the UF/IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and is not considered a problem species.

There is (of course) a popular dwarf cultivar, Calliandra haematocephala ‘Nana’. While it doesn’t flower quite as spectacularly as the larger powderpuff, it does flower year-round.

Poinsettias for the Holidays

pink and white poinsettiaVery few plants are as closely associated with a holiday as poinsettias are with Christmas. The poinsettia, native to South America, was given the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima, which literally means “very beautiful.” Its popular name honors Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant here.

Poinsettias make great holiday decorations and they’re often given as gifts in late November and throughout December. The showy portions of the poinsettia, which most people think of as the flower, are actually colorful leaves called bracts.

If you are in North Central Florida, you have a unique opportunity to see (and buy) poinsettias in other colors besides red and white. On December 6th and 7th (Thursday and Friday), the University of Florida’s Environmental Horticulture Club is holding their 22nd Annual Poinsettia sale.

Over 40 varieties will be offered for sale including traditional reds and novelties such as Peppermint Ruffles and Orange Spice.

Get the details at their website: https://sites.google.com/site/ufhortclub/poinsettia-sale

If you’ve purchased a poinsettia, or perhaps received one as a gift, you may have some questions on how to properly care for it. Your local UF/IFAS Extension office has agents and volunteer Master Gardeners that can answer questions on how to care for your plant beyond the holidays. They may even be holding classes or workshops, like UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County. Their class, Caring for Holiday Plants, will be held January 2nd (get details here). Don’t know where you county Extension office is? Find it on this UF/IFAS map.

You can read more about poinsettias on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website, too. 

Pink poinsettia called 'Love You Pink'

(Photo: Love You Pink poinsettia variety, by Dawn McKinstry. UF/IFAS)

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.

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

Frightening Friday Flower: Bat Flower

With dramatic “whiskers” and ghostly bracts that look like wings, the bat flower is a unique addition to any home gardener’s collection. This plant is considered a collector’s item and can be difficult to find in garden centers, but is sometimes sold as a specialty item around Halloween.

Bat flower (Tacca spp.) has shiny, bright green leaves. It blooms on a stem with a cluster of purple flowers in the center. Above these flowers are two bracts (leaves that resemble flower petals) that look like bat wings. Numerous threadlike bracteoles hang from the flowers resembling 8-10 inch long whiskers.

Bat flower can be grown in similar conditions that orchids are grown in: ample humidity, strong airflow, and low to moderate light.

Learn more about this unusual plant at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/bat-flower.html

(Photo: A white bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) at Leu Gardens in Orlando, FL. UF/IFAS.)

Strange looking tropical plant with two creamy white flower-like bracts, an odd purple flower, and long "whiskers"
Photo: A white bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) at Leu Gardens in Orlando, FL. UF/IFAS