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.

 

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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

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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

The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2018

Yellow flower with brown center

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-leafed plant and feathery grassAdd a Thrilling Porch Planter for Fall – Fall is a fabulous time to add some porch planters or to re-design the ones you have. Couple the staples of good planters—“thrillers, spillers, and fillers”—with trendy colors for fall like orange and purple and you have the makings of an attention-grabbing container. We’ll even take you beyond the trusty mums to bring you plants that shine in the (hopefully) cooler season.

A small furry brown bat with comically large earsCavity Dwellers – Halloween is right around the corner and images of dead trees are a favorite for decorating. But dead trees in your landscape are nothing to be frightened of — wildlife actually find dead wood extremely useful. Birds, bats, small mammals, and even some surprising creatures make their homes in dead wood. Learn more about how you can safely incorporate dead wood into your landscape and who may come to call it home. (Photo: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station; USDA Forest Service; SRS; Bugwood.org)

Two spiky, neon green caterpillars on a leafStinging and Venomous Caterpillars — Creepy crawlies are on our minds this October, so we’re looking at some stinging and venomous caterpillars found in Florida. Did you know that stinging caterpillars don’t sting with a stinger the way wasps or bees do? They have barbed, stinging hairs called urticating hairs that easily break off the caterpillar’s body when you brush against them. We’ve listed caterpillars to look out for, and when to look but not touch a caterpillar in your landscape.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — If you love all things “pumpkin spice” or have moved to Florida from a state further north you just you might find yourself missing fall color. I have lived in Florida since before man landed on the moon, so this “fall color” concept is a little foreign to me. Postcards of colorful mountains with oranges, reds, and yellow trees look beautiful but they are not part of my Florida picture. Instead I see the fall colors in Florida native plants in landscapes and natural areas.

Plant with large, glossy, deep green leaves shaped like lily padsPlant of the Month: Farfugium — It’s not often you find a wow-worthy plant that thrives in shade and blooms, but farfugium checks those boxes. When fall arrives, farfugium really begins to shine. It sends up clusters of yellow flowers that hover over its glossy foliage, making for a very interesting combination of daisy-like blooms and tropical leaves. It can transform a shaded area into a lush oasis. Also called leopard plant, farfugium grows in zones 7–10.

Large tree planted in a small green spot in a parking lot, its roots extended out and cracking through the pavementCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Plant Placement Edition — Landscapes with plants that match their preferred growing conditions require less water, fertilizer, pesticides, and maintenance than landscapes with plants growing in the wrong locations. When choosing the right plant for the right place, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure a long-lived, healthy landscape. In our second in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how planting location plays a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Two red strawberries up closeOctober in Your Garden — It’s truly, finally gardening season in Florida. October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a great month for planting vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And don’t forget the strawberries—this is Florida’s short window for planting.

Read the full October issue.

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

Friday Flowers: Swamp Sunflower

Yellow flower with brown center

If you had to choose only one flower to herald the approach of autumn in Florida, the swamp sunflower would surely be at the top of the list.

This native plant is also called narrowleaf sunflower, for its thin, rough leaves. For much of the year, swamp sunflower appears unremarkable, if not unattractive. But beginning in late September and continuing into November, the plants begin producing golden yellow flowers in an explosion of color.

A mass of yellow daisy like flowers growing curbside.
Not the most artistic shot, but taken to show just how many blossoms swamp sunflower plants can produce. This photo was taken in northwest Gainesville in October 2017. UF/IFAS.

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), like most sunflowers, does best in full sun, and can be planted throughout the state. It will grow in dappled shade, but won’t produce as many flowers and will get leggy. True to its name, it can handle soggy soil, but does well in typical garden soil as well; it might appreciate some irrigation during hot, dry periods.

The plants can get quite tall — up to 6 feet. They will often fall over with the weight of the flowers. Trimming it back in June will help it grow fuller, and it can be trimmed down after flowering in the winter. This perennial spreads by rhizomes and forms clumps that can be divided in the spring.

Yellow flower with brown center
A closer look at swamp sunflower’s beautifully golden, daisy-like flowers. UF/IFAS.

Friday Flowers: Thryallis

While it’s the leaves that turn color in the northern parts of the country, Florida has flowers that shine like gold in the fall.

Thryallis is a medium to large shrub that produces hundreds of small, sunshine-yellow flowers, giving it its other common name, rain-of-gold. It’s fully coming into bloom here in North Central Florida, but can bloom year-round in points further south.

Small, bright yellow flowers in a cluster each with five distinct petals
Thryallis flowers are small, but numerous. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Native to Mexico and Central America, this low-maintenance plant has an airy growth habit and in frost-free zones it can reach 7-8 feet. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in partial shade; expect less flowers and a less-compact growth habit (it might get leggy). Freezing temperatures can kill it down to the roots, but it will return in spring.

Thryallis (Galphinia glauca) likes well-drained soil, is drought tolerant, and needs little irrigation after establishment. Pruning in the spring can keep it neat, but will lessen its flower power. It’s propagated by seed and by summer cuttings.

Plant your thryallis shrub as a backdrop for plants in complementary colors like blue and purple, or plant en masse as a taller groundcover.

A large shrub covered in small yellow flowers in front of a brick building with tufts of ornamental grass in front of it.
This thryallis shrub is part of a Florida-Friendly landscape on the UF main campus in Gainesville. Photo: UF/IFAS.