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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 – December 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full October issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’re seeing RED in the garden!

Red coleus plantRed Foliage, Flowers, and Berries – A color theme can be a fun way to give your landscape a cohesive look. Red is a bold and energizing color that can give a sense of drama, elegance, or even excitement to the garden. There are plenty of flowering plants that boast red blossoms, but incorporating red foliage and berries allows you to use the color in different ways.

A red Florida maple leafRed Trees Take your sizzling red color scheme to new heights, like the tree canopy! An excellent addition to home landscapes, trees provide both beauty and shade, and increase property values. Read on for a selection of Florida-Friendly trees that offer either red foliage, like Florida maples, or red flowers, like the iconic South Florida royal poinciana.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I hope you are enjoying the “Red” issue of the Neighborhood Gardener. The color red is associated with heat, activity, passion, anger, love, and joy. I think every gardener has run the gamut of those experiences—sometimes all in one day in the garden. Red is considered a warm color in the landscape and it draws the viewer’s eye. I know the first thing I see when I come around the block to my house is my red Knock Out® rose when it is in full bloom.

The red-orange flower cluster of ixoraPlant of the Month: Ixora – What would a newsletter featuring red be without a fabulous red featured plant? Ixora is an old South Florida favorite that never goes out of style. With year-round blooming and low-maintenance needs, this plant is a winner in the garden. Moderately drought- and salt-tolerant, ixora is adapted to South and Central Florida; zone 9B seems to be its northern-most limit, as frosts or freezes will injure it. If you really want to grow ixora farther north, consider keeping it in a container where it can be moved indoors when temperatures drop.

Three small red tomatoes on the vineRed Edibles – Continuing on with our red theme we’ve got some tasty red edibles sure to add a pop of color to any garden. Red fruits and vegetables usually contain anthocyanins and lycopene. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties and may also lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Lycopene may help lower your risk for cancer and heart disease¹. Two of the obvious red choices, peppers and tomatoes, can be planted this month throughout Florida.

A deep pink vinca flower with a white centerAugust in Your Garden – August means we can finally start planning for fall, and even do some planting. If you have been disappointed in the edibles that could be planted the past few months, our infographic of what to plant for August should cheer you back up. This month is also a good time to start thinking about any annual planting changes you’ll be making as we head towards fall—which technically arrives next month.

Read the full August issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Hello, gardeners!

Dark green leaves of Algerian ivy, wet with rainGroundcovers for Shade – Everyone associates Florida with sun; after all, we are the Sunshine State. Despite all the talk of our sensational sunshine, we can’t forget about the challenges growing in the shade presents. Finding the right groundcover for a shady area can seem like a struggle but never fear—there are many options, from dense, low-growing plants to taller, more dimensional options.

Small leaf turned over to show dusty coating of powdery mildewDowny or Powdery Mildew? Mildew isn’t usually something you want to think about, but when you have it in your garden you may find it consumes your thoughts. As when treating any disease in the garden, it’s important to know exactly what you’re working against before selecting a course of treatment. A potential spot for further confusion is when plant diseases have similar names, like downy mildew and powdery mildew. Learn the differences between these two mildews, as well as how they can be treated, and better yet, prevented.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — While it has been said that “the best stories are found between the pages of your passport,” some of your best plants can be found on the road, too. Most gardeners know their local nurseries and garden centers like the back of their hand, so when they’re traveling, they look for cool nurseries to visit. Florida has many garden centers that can broaden your horticulture horizons beyond the big box stores.

White flowers of a wax begoniaPlant of the Month: Begonia – Begonias are a popular bedding plant that can provide striking color in the landscape throughout the year, and handle shade quite well. The begonia family contains more than 1,300 species and hybrids, but the begonias that do best in the landscape generally fall into three groups: wax begonias, cane or angel-wing begonias, and rhizomatous begonias. These tropical plants can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 8b to 11. If you live in a cooler part of the state, be sure to protect your outdoor begonias from frost.

small green worm in the roots of turgrassTropical Sod Webworm – Florida lawns can face challenges from a variety of sources, including tropical sod webworms. These pests are most active from spring to fall, so we’re right in the middle of the time of their potential damage. Find out more about these hungry caterpillars, as well as how active Master Gardeners can help a UF graduate student conducting research on tropical sod webworms.

A square of light green with a hint of yellow reading Color of the Year 2017 Pantone Greenery 15-0343A Better Lawn on Less Water – Deep in the midst of summer is the perfect time to sing the wonders of greenery, but it was back in winter when Pantone announced the Color of the Year as Greenery. Gardeners are well aware that greenery is, as Pantone put it, “nature’s neutral.” Greenery in the garden can create the perfect backdrop for your statement plants, or it can shine on its own as a delightful and inspirational force.

A palm tree in an attractive yardJuly in Your Garden – It’s not too late to use summer heat to solarize your vegetable garden soil in preparation for fall planting. Solarization takes 4 to 6 weeks and is a great way to kill weeds, diseases, and nematodes, giving you a fresh start for your fall vegetable garden. Continue planting palms while rainy season is in full swing. North and Central Florida gardeners can start their Halloween pumpkins from seed, but watch out for mildew diseases.

Read the full July issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Boniato tuber cut open to reveal speckled white fleshBoniato – As the temperatures rise, many gardeners seek out ways to avoid working in their gardens, but for others, there’s no end to the gardening season. And this type of gardener laments the lack of edibles that can be grown in Florida’s warmest months. If you happen to be one such gardener, consider growing boniato. A member of the morning glory family, boniato is a tuber with the appearance and taste somewhere between a sweet potato and a baking potato.

Brightly colored flowering plants in a hanging basketHangin’ Out in a Basket – Hanging baskets are a great way to elevate the colors in your garden to new heights—eye level, to be specific. They’re ideal for people living in condos, apartments, or any place with limited to no gardening space. Pam Brown, a retired urban horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County shares her “secrets to success” on gardening with hanging baskets.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I was only going to work in the yard for a few minutes; that’s why I was wearing flip flops. Three hours later, an unproductive fig tree had been pruned to the ground and my brand-new folding saw had been properly broken in. I stepped away from the project satisfied that the fig was going to come back in a few months and maybe have a new outlook on life. What I didn’t know was that within 24 hours, I would experience the fig’s wrath.

Fringy petaled, lavender flower of Stokes' asterPlant of the Month: Stokes’ Aster – Stokes’ aster is a lovely flowering native that requires almost no maintenance. For your lack of work tending this plant you’ll find yourself rewarded with showy flowers and evergreen foliage. Who doesn’t love a plant that looks fabulous with little effort? Attractive to both bees and butterflies, Stokes’ aster flowers are normally blue-lilac, but cultivars in other colors are available. This perennial does best in Zones 8 through 9A.

Close view of a rusty patched bumblebeeBumblebee in Peril – We’re all concerned about the declining honey bee populations, but let’s not forget about the bumblebees. January saw a first for a species of bumblebee in the United States, and not a good first. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the once-common rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is now endangered. They cite a number of factors leading to the staggering 87 percent decline in population, including loss of habitat, diseases and parasites, pesticides, and climate change. Read more at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalLast Month for the Flower and Garden Festival – Even the heat can’t stop the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival! 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. May’s seminars include Beautiful and Easy Houseplants, Bee Abodes and Florida-Friendly Landscapes, and Orchids. Visit the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival website.

Close look of lush green basil leavesMay in Your Garden – While summer may not officially come until the middle of June, in Florida May is the month to prepare for the heat (and hopefully the rain). Plant heat-loving herbs—there are quite a few to choose from! Mexican tarragon, basil, ginger, cumin, summer savory, and rosemary make aromatic and flavorful additions to your garden.

Eastern cottontail rabbitRabbits – Most people love seeing bunnies in the landscape, but they may not realize that rabbits could be responsible for damaged or missing plants in the garden. While you may welcome their cute little tails and twitchy ears, their voracious feeding can really take a toll on your plants. Rabbits feed on the tender shoots of young plants, and can even eat whole seedlings, leaving you wondering, “Didn’t I plant a whole row of veggies?” The best management is deterrence, and we’ve got a few suggestions on making your garden less attractive to these adorable little pests.

Read the full May issue.

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

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.

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