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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 – March 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The first day of spring is March 20th – happy gardening!

Yellow squashSummer Squash – Despite the name, summer squashes don’t actually grow in Florida during the heat of the summer. Zucchini, yellow squash, crookneck, and pattypan are all summer squashes, and all have tender flesh and a thin, edible skin. These vegetables can be great fun to grow in your vegetable garden. Summer squash work well for cooking or eating raw, and recently have gained popularity as vegetable noodles or “zoodles”.

A very large staghorn fern mounted to the outside wall of a buildingStaghorn Remounting Tutorial — Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are tropical plants that, despite their exotic appearance, are not too intimidating to casual gardeners since they are easy to grow and require little care. Did you know that large mature staghorn ferns can be divided into separate plants? We have a tutorial that will walk you through the steps to divide your staghorn and then mount it to a wooden board or set in a hanging basket.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We are amending soil, picking the right plants, watering, fertilizing, scouting insects, and weeding in our landscape beds—and no food crops are allowed in. What if you slipped some edibles in those landscaped beds? Start with herbs, advance to leafy greens, and then grow tomatoes, eggplants, and squash in plain sight. There are lots of places to grow food even in a way your HOA will approve of. This is the philosophy behind Brie Arthur’s book, “The Foodscape Revolution.”

A large clump of green ornamental grassPlant of the Month: Fakahatchee Grass — MFakahatchee grass brings a touch of native Florida into your landscape and adds texture to any yard. Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) has tall, green, grass-like foliage rising upright to form large clumps—there is also a dwarf cultivar if you are limited by space constraints. For those who like the plants in their landscape to benefit wildlife, Fakahatchee grass is the larval food plant for the Byssus Skipper butterfly.

A creepy-looking but beneficial lacewing larvaLacewings — Beneficial insects are an important part of integrated pest management in your Florida-Friendly landscape. One such beneficial insect is the green lacewing. In its larval form, it is proficient at attacking pests like aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and others. Lacewing larvae resemble small caterpillars, but move more quickly and have longer legs and mouthparts. Adult lacewings are less than an inch long and light green, with two pairs wings that have a netted appearance.

Bush beansMarch in Your Garden — March is a good month to replace cool season annuals with plants that will thrive as temperatures rise, such as angelonia in North and Central Florida. Gardeners in South Florida can plant heat-tolerant annuals. Many warm season edibles like beans and squash can be planted this month as well. Just remember in some areas of the state there is still a risk that temperatures may dip, so keep an eye on the forecast.

Read the full March issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We hope this month’s issue finds you safe and well.

Satellite image of Hurricane IrmaAfter the Storm: Hurricane Cleanup – Hurricane Irma has devastated communities in Florida and the Caribbean. For those fortunate enough to have their houses spared, the first step is usually to check out the landscape. Clean-up after a storm is often a massive undertaking. Many jobs should be left to professionals, but if you do take on smaller jobs yourself, make sure you have the right tools and safety gear. For more tips, read “Cleaning Up After a Hurricane” on Gardening Solutions.

Small succulent planted in a ceramic mug resembling a fox's headSucculents — Succulents are unique and low-maintenance plants with fleshy leaves and stems. They are generally found in arid or semi-arid climates and other harsh environments. Echeveria, Sedum, Sempervivum, and Kalanchoe are four genera of succulents popular for growing both indoors and out. There are literally thousands of succulent cultivars, varying widely in form, size, color, and shape, so we’ll only scratch the surface of options in this article.

Five different succulent plants in a terracotta containerSucculent Garden DIY — Got the urge to try growing succulents? We’ve got a fun little tutorial for setting up your own succulent container. With just a few supplies—even a container you might have laying around—you can create a unique plant focal point for your home or landscape.

Two smooth-skinned bright green avocados hanging from treePlant of the Month: Avocado — Trendy and nutritious avocados can be grown in South Florida! There are many avocado varieties; the ones best for growing in Florida are green-skinned and are lower in fat and calories than their Hass counterparts. And while laurel wilt is a disease that has the potential to really hurt Florida’s avocado industry, it may still be worth it for you to try growing an avocado tree in your yard depending on where you live.

Immature poison oak plant clearly showing the three leaftletsIrritating Plants — Do you know which plants in your area might have the potential to leave you itching and uncomfortable? Four native plants—poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and poisonwood—are known for the severe skin rash they cause in those who come into contact with them. Be sure you know where these plants can be found, and what they look like, in order to keep yourself out of an unfortunate spot.

Bright orange and yellow spikes of celosia, resembling flamesSeptember in Your Garden — September can be an exciting time in the garden. Perhaps you’re starting your fall vegetable seeds, or making the transition in the annual planting beds from warm season to cool weather selections. Now’s the time to plant fall herbs that can still handle Florida’s warm September temperatures, like Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.

Read the full August issue.

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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.

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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 – June 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Hello, gardeners!

Much of Florida has seen plenty of rain in the last few days, and you can thank us—this month’s Neighborhood Gardener focuses on Florida’s drought (as of June 6, much of central and north-central Florida is still considered to be in moderate or extreme drought, even with the rain).

Potted African violet being handwateredTen Ways to Save Water – There are many ways to save water in your landscape; we walk you through the basics. From choosing the right plant for the right place to calibrating your irrigation system and everything in between, we give you ten ways to save water in your landscape.

Tree standing in drought-stricken fieldTree Care During a Drought – During a drought it can be easy to spend your time worrying about your lawn and smaller landscape plants—and forget about your mature trees. But an extended drought can actually cause decline and even death in both young and old trees. Drought damage occurs first in the middle of the tree canopy, often far out of sight, so the best way to protect your trees during a drought is to water them before they show signs of drought stress.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It was with best intentions that we pulled together the “drought edition” of the Neighborhood Gardener newsletter for June 2017. The drought had reached critical levels in a couple areas of Florida and the rest of the state just plain needed the rain. Wildfires were popping up across the peninsula and lawns were turning a crispy shade of brown. Educating our readers on drought-proofing their landscapes seemed like a great idea. The best laid plans of mice and men…

Large exotic century plant on the UF campus looks like a giant aloePlant of the Month: Century Plant – With bold, succulent leaves that can be up to 6 feet long and a towering flower spike that can reach 20 feet, the century plant is certainly a show-stopping landscape addition. “Century plant” is a misleading name, though. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t actually take 100 years to mature or flower; it’s more between 8 to 30 years. While century plant (Agave americana) and the equally eye-catching variegated variety are lovely to look at in the landscape, they are both sharply spined and thus should be planted well away from where people or pets may run afoul of the leaves. Or you can try the spineless, smaller Agave attenuata, aptly named spineless century plant.

Raging wildfire in pine forestAssessing Your Home’s Wildfire Risk – Two of the factors that contribute to the wildfire risk to your home are how the land is used or developed in your area, coupled with the kind of vegetation surrounding your dwelling. There are a few immediate actions you can take to protect your home, including clearing debris from your roof and structures, and planting low-flammability plants. You can also take a look around your home and determine what risk factors exist on your specific site.

A Florida-Friendly Landscape, trademarked phraseA Better Lawn on Less Water – An automatic irrigation system can be a great tool for keeping your landscape watered, but it’s important to use it correctly. Your irrigation system should never operate on a fixed schedule, the controller should be set to the “off” setting and you should be only watering as needed. When does your lawn need to be watered? When 30 or 50 percent of your lawn shows at least one of the three signs of wilt—folding leaf blades, blue-gray color, or footprints remaining visible in the grass—it’s time to activate your irrigation system.

A large tree uprooted by stormJune in Your Garden – With the official start of hurricane season beginning in June, this is a great time to take a look at your landscape and be sure you are hurricane ready before a storm is headed your way. Tree pruning and maintenance are an especially important part of preparing for a hurricane. Train young trees so they develop a sturdy, well-spaced framework of healthy branches along a dominant trunk. For trees larger than about 15 feet tall, hire a certified arborist to prune your trees before the hurricane season.

Ornate concrete birdbath with duck statues at the baseProviding Water for Wildlife – Surface water sources such as puddles, raindrops on leaves, and dew on grass provide much of the water used by wildlife. Animals also get water from the foods they eat. But clean, fresh water that’s accessible to wildlife can often be hard to find, especially during a drought. You can do your part to help sustain thirsty creatures in your backyard by maintaining birdbaths, butterfly watering stations, and even small ponds and fountains.

Read the full June issue.

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