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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2018

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.

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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.

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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.