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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Man working on the underside of a mowerSpring into Action for a Healthy Lawn – Warmer weather means Florida gardeners will be spending more time keeping their lawns looking lovely. Now is the perfect time to check out equipment, do your research, and create a landscape plan before heading outside. We have four steps that can help you get ready for your lawn’s active growing season.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalEpcot Flower and Garden Festival – There’s a special event that heralds the arrival of spring in Florida—the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Running now through May 29th, the festival features gorgeous gardens, world-famous topiaries, and special events. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, our very own Master Gardener volunteers will be answering questions at the garden information desk, and Master Gardener Coordinators will give instructional seminars on topics such as hummingbird gardens and orchids.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I never know how spring fever is going to hit me. Sometimes it’s the pleasant shock of finding my shopping cart full of beautiful perennial plants—when I only went to the big box store for light bulbs. Or waking up on Saturday with a full-blown panic attack realizing that if I don’t get to the nursery immediately they will be sold out of my favorite tomatoes, and if they are sold out, I won’t have my favorites and I will suffer with lesser tomatoes all spring omg where are my keys?

Purple blossom of queen's wreathPlant of the Month: Queen’s Wreath – Queen’s wreath is a tropical flowering vine that looks wonderful this time of year. With drooping lavender flowers, this plant resembles wisteria—without that plant’s invasive issues. While usually found growing as a woody vine, queen’s wreath can be maintained as a shrub or a small, single- or multiple-trunked tree. Left to its own devices, queen’s wreath can reach 40 feet tall, but you can keep it much smaller with occasional pruning. Gardeners in zones 9B and further south can plant this long-flowering vine and enjoy blossoms for many months.

Logo for FruitScapes website over a photo of papayaFruitScapes – State Master Gardener Coordinator Wendy Wilber thinks growing fruit trees is a fabulous idea. They provide nutritious food to eat and share with both friends and wildlife, they provide shade, and are an attractive addition to home landscapes. But with so many fruit tree (and shrub) options available to Florida gardeners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Enter FruitScapes, the UF/IFAS website that offers you information on planting and growing over 50 different fruit plants in Florida.

Red zinnia flowersMarch in Your Garden – Spring is one of the busiest seasons for Florida gardeners. There are many edibles that can be planted in your garden this month and we have an updated Edibles to Plant this Month infographic that gives you a glance at what can be planted across the state. Now is also the time to start planting heat-tolerant annuals like angelonia and zinnia in your landscape.

Photo of a doe, mostly her headPlant Damage? Oh, Deer! – Spotting deer in your backyard can be a sweet treat; spotting damaged plants that have been chewed up by deer can sour your joy. While there are no guaranteed deer-proof plants, there are plants that are resistant to deer damage, as well as steps you can take to protect your garden and landscape.

Read the full March issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy gardening!

Bouquet of red roses with white baby's breath flowersCut Flower Care – Cut flowers are a popular gift, particularly for the biggest gift-giving day in February, Valentine’s Day. From Asiatic lilies to zinnias, proper care is the key to a long-lasting arrangement, and UF/IFAS Extension has some helpful tips. To keep your thoughtful floral present looking its best, treat your bouquet to a few simple steps. With some fresh water, a sharp pair of kitchen shears, and that handy little packet that’s typically included, your arrangement will last much longer.

Yellow flowers of the invasive cat's claw vineInvasive Plant Awareness – National Invasive Species Awareness Week is generally at the end of February; this year, it’s February 27 – March 3. This is a national event intended to raise awareness and identify solutions to invasive species issues at local, state, tribal, regional, national, and international scales. Invasive species have a negative impact on the economy, environment, or humans where they are introduced. Sometimes, the terms we use to describe problematic plants can become conflated and confusing. (Cat’s claw vine photo by Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org)

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We are in between seasons here in Florida. It doesn’t feel like winter, but we don’t trust the weather enough to think that it is officially spring. This is the time when we find ourselves dreaming about bountiful spring gardens and a yard full of blooms. It is in this time that we gardeners are most vulnerable—suggestible, actually—to spending money on crazy plants and inappropriate varieties that we see in catalogs or on the internet.

Three red strawberriesPlant of the Month: Strawberries – February and March are peak months for fresh strawberries in Florida and to celebrate, strawberry festivals are happening around the state. Florida consistently ranks second in the U.S. in the commercial production of strawberries behind California. And almost all of our strawberries are grown in Hillsborough and Manatee counties (approximately 95 percent). While it’s not time to plant these tasty fruits—that happens in the early fall—you’re likely to find Florida strawberries in grocery stores and farmers markets throughout the state now.

Kent Perkins in UF herbariumHerbariums – Have you ever wondered what exactly a herbarium is? It’s a collection of plant specimens preserved, labeled, and stored in an organized manner that facilitates access. Established in 1891, the University of Florida Herbarium (FLAS) is the oldest and most comprehensive herbarium in Florida. Marc Frank, Extension Botanist with the University of Florida Herbarium, gives us some history on herbariums and their scientific importance. (Photo: Kent Perkins, collection manager at the UF Herbarium)

Citrus on the tree in a groveFebruary in Your Garden – Now is the time to fertilize your citrus and other fruit trees. Fertilizer requirements will vary between different fruits so be sure to check the recommendations for your specific trees. See the UF/IFAS publications, “Citrus Culture in the Home Landscape” and the “Temperate Fruit for the Home Landscape” series for more information.

Read the full February issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy New Year!

Cupcake with candlesCelebrating 100 – The December issue was our 100th edition of the Neighborhood Gardener. The first Neighborhood Gardener newsletter went out in August 2008. Since then our subscribership has flourished, we have sent out hundreds of informational pieces, and promoted as many local and state gardening events. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared and we look forward to sharing another 100 newsletters with you in the coming years.

Peach on the treePruning Mature Deciduous Fruit Trees – Pruning is an important part of deciduous fruit tree maintenance. There are two training systems that will depend on the type of tree you’re growing and will dictate how you need to prune. Now is the time to plan for pruning and possibly make cuts to your tree, assuming the danger of a freeze has passed for your area. Check out our piece and the linked EDIS articles for the information you need to prune your tree properly for the best crop yield.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated every year on the third Friday of January. This month it is January 20th, so mark your calendar to plant a tree or to help someone else plant a tree. Florida’s Arbor Day is held a little earlier than the national day—celebrated in April—because January is a great time to plant a tree in Florida and our soil isn’t frozen like many other states.

Creamy white pinwheel shaped frangipani flower with yellow centerWinter-flowering Trees and Shrubs — The start of a new year brings flowers to many trees in the Sunshine State. January, and February for that matter, see many trees and shrubs flowering in the coldest parts of the year and on into the spring. Our monthly “What’s Flowering in Florida” infographics tell you what is in bloom each month; this piece will give you a little more information on the featured plants for January and February.

Foliage of Fortune's mahoniaPlant of the Month: Mahonia – Mahonia is the name of an entire genus of woody, evergreen shrubs with dozens of different species. A few of those species will grow well in north and central Florida gardens. Mahonia plants thrive in the shade and are drought tolerant once established. Both their yellow flowers in winter and blue-purple berries in the spring will add some unusual interest to the landscape. Foliage varies with each species, from holly-like and spiky to delicate and feathery.

Male green anole with dewflap showingAnoles – A competition for shelter and food is raging across Florida, and two related lizard species have been adapting to the presence of each other for decades. The native green anoles found themselves in competition with the Cuban brown anoles over a century ago. While not much can be done to eradicate brown anoles, having tall shrubs and trees in your landscape offers refuge for green anoles, as they move vertically in habitats when brown anoles are present.

Purple flowers of agapanthusJanuary in Your Garden – While it may be cold out, there are still many bulbs or annuals to plant. Bulbs like crinum and agapanthus can be planted throughout the state. Gardeners in North and Central Florida can also plant gloriosa lily bulbs, and those in South Florida can plant clivia lily this month. In North and Central Florida, annuals like pansy, viola, petunia, and snapdragon are great for planting this time of year. South Florida gardeners can plant begonia, browallia, lobelia, dianthus, dusty miller, and nicotiana.

Read the full January issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy holidays from the staff of the Florida Master Gardener program!

White flowerThe Top 8 Gift Plants – It’s the holiday season, and plants are an ever-popular gift. While amaryllis and Christmas cactus get a lot of attention this time of year, there are many other great gift plants if you’re looking to give something a bit different. Paperwhite narcissus is a great alternative to amaryllis. Norfolk Island pines and rosemary plants are often festively adorned to resemble miniature Christmas trees. Learn more about these and other holiday plant options.

Two carambola fruit hanging from treeCarambola – In South Florida, carambola is currently in season and a great tropical tree for growers in some parts of Florida. Also called star fruit, carambola is one of the more cold-hardy tropical fruit trees, making it a possibility for those north of the Keys. Older varieties of carambola tend to be quite tart, but new, sweeter cultivars have been selected. Star fruit are a good source of vitamins C and A, phosphorus, and potassium. Slices of the fruit look like stars—hence the celestial name.

View of the Fairchild Tropical Botanical GardenGarden Field Trips — With hectic holiday schedules it can be difficult to find time in the garden; add in travel and visitors and you might start feeling a plant void this time of year. Why not take this time to visit a garden and get “green inspiration” to start out the new year? Seek out a garden during your trip, or take your holiday guests to one in your city. We’ve compiled a list of just a few of the spectacular gardens throughout the state if you need some destination ideas.

Blue fruit of the female red cedarPlant of the Month: Red Cedar – Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a Florida-Friendly tree that adds year-round greenery and texture to your landscape. With attractive, dense foliage, it’s often used as a wind break or a screen. It also has a high salt tolerance, making it great for coastal areas. Its pleasing form makes red cedar also popular as a cut or living Christmas tree; it’s one of several evergreen species grown on Florida Christmas tree farms. Red cedar goes by many common names, including southern red cedar, eastern red cedar, and even pencil cedar (more on that later).

Spider plant in hanging macrame basketDecember in Your Garden – While the rest of the country may consider December to be a slow time of year for the garden, here in Florida it’s the ideal time for planting edibles like cruciferous vegetables, carrots, onions, turnips, and many more. Now is a good time to check out the health of your houseplants, too.

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

UF2000 peachPeaches Don’t Have to Come from a Can – Georgia may be known for its peaches, but here in Florida we can also grow these tender stone fruits. Well, at least all gardeners north of Fort Meyers can give it a try. While you will need a variety that requires fewer chill hours (in the 300-hours range), there are still plenty of options for those interested in growing peaches in the Sunshine State

Australian shepherd photo by Jennifer SykesPetscaping
“Landscaping” is a common term, but have you heard of “petscaping”? This new term is being batted around by businesses interested in reaching out to the 60 percent of Americans who own pets. “Petscaping” looks at creating a landscape that is both beautiful to look at and safe for our furry family members

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — In my gardening classes I often ask, “Who has really good soil?” Most times the silence tells the truth about Florida’s soils. Other times, one or two hands will go up and I can tell by their faces that these are gardeners that work on building their soil all year round. Organic matter helps to increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil, as well as the nutrient-hold ability of the soil. A great garden starts with great soil; that is truly where it all begins.

Partial look at the tree plateSupport Tree Research with a Specialty Tag — The Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture has a specialty license plate that supports tree research, such as the work by UF/IFAS researchers on the urban tree-planting program. And, for a limited time, if you purchase a new Trees Are Cool license plate, you can get a voucher for a free seminar.

Pink loropetalum flowersPlant of the Month: Loropetalum — A long way from its native home in the Himalayas, loropetalum is a Florida-Friendly shrub that blooms in spectacular fashion come springtime. Most often found with reddish-bronze foliage, this evergreen (or perhaps “everbronze”) usually sports pink frilly flowers this time of year. Loropetalum will grow best in full sun, but can also be grown in partial shade. This eye-catching shrub prefers acidic and well-drained soils.

the beneficial air potato beetleApril in Your Garden – While you continue to plant warm season vegetables, be on the lookout for pests. It’s important to protect the beneficial insects in your landscape, so before applying pesticides, be sure to identify the culprit behind your plant damage and use the proper treatment method.

Bag of fertilizerFertilizer — It’s around this time of year that people start thinking about and applying fertilizer. Fertilizer provides specific nutrients for your plants, and it’s available in a variety of forms. Inorganic fertilizers are mined or synthesized, while organic fertilizers are derived from living organisms. Remember, the best fertilizer is the one that provides your plants with what they need, so getting a soil test is really the ideal first step. Either way you start, make sure you look for a slow-release fertilizer with low phosphorous.

Read the full April issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Student preparing garden soil with teacherSchool Garden Wins Award of Excellence for Bay County – The Florida Master Gardener Award of Excellence for Service to 4-H and/or Other Youth recognizes volunteers who make outstanding contributions to youth through horticulture. The 2015 award went to the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Master Gardeners, for their work as part of a community-wide partnership to develop and maintain a horticultural therapy garden at Margaret K. Lewis School for children with disabilities.

Hummingbird approaching feeder photo by Annkatrin RoseHummingbird Feeders
While the best source of food for hummingbirds is one of the many nectar-producing plants they love, a hummingbird feeder can be a great way to provide extra sustenance to these fast-moving little birds. Hummingbirds need to eat a third to half of their body weight each day in order to keep those rapidly beating wings moving. When looking for a hummingbird feeder, choose one in red plastic with multiple feeding stations, and only put an unaltered sugar and water solution—no dye—into the feeder.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — As a gardener, I am always looking for inspiration for what to plant next. I’m constantly on the lookout for fresh plant varieties, fresh plant combinations, new ways of growing plants, and new ways of communicating with people about plants. When it is spring, I look forward to attending the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World. Their world-class horticulturalists plan far in advance to blow gardeners’ boots off and this year is no exception. The theme is “Epcot Fresh” and there are plenty of fresh ideas there to inspire you.

Olives on the treeOlives — Think of olive trees and you may think of the Mediterranean, but did you know that you can grow olives in Florida? If you’re looking for something different, an olive tree may be a great choice. Grown in small numbers here for years, commercial production of olives in Florida is still new and subject to ongoing research. While not suitable for consumption right off the tree, olives can be cured and eaten, or pressed for oil, and the tree’s silvery foliage makes it an attractive addition to the landscape.

Yellow trumpet treePlant of the Month: Trumpet Trees — Trumpet trees are loved for their dazzling display of blossoms that burst forth ahead of their leaves in spring. The common name refers to the elongated flowers that resemble trumpets; depending on the tree, the flowers can be white, yellow, pink or even lavender. Traditionally known as Tabebuia, some of these trees are now recognized with a different botanical name. These Florida-friendly plants grow best in full sun and make a stunning addition to landscapes in Central and South Florida.

TomatoesMarch in Your Garden – We’re heading into spring, which is a great time to try a vegetable garden. Warm season crops can be planted this month throughout the state, like corn, pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

two mosquitoesZika Mosquito Update — Zika has been getting a lot of attention in the media recently, as outbreaks of this mosquito-transmitted virus become evermore present in Central and South America. While much is still unknown about the Zika virus, one thing is for sure—limiting mosquito habitats and preventing bites are important precautions in mosquito-prone climates like Florida’s.

Read the full March issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2015

Happy Summer Gardening!

Master Gardeners, don’t forget to register for the 34th Annual State Master Gardener Conference to be held this October.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Fresh soil in raised bedSquare Foot Gardening – August is a great time to start planning your fall garden. There are so many ways to grow edible plants in your landscape. While many people are familiar with traditional rows of edible plants, square-foot gardening offers something a little different. Square-foot gardening allows you to make your vegetable garden more of a landscape feature.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — I have often joked with new Master Gardener classes that the MG program is a support group for plant addicts. We love trying new plants and seeing what boundaries we can push with them. I find myself going to the nursery just to see what is new to try. On a recent visit to a nursery in St. Johns County I bought a plant that is meant for zone 9B and I live in 8B. I guess like many gardeners I have “zone envy.”

Dr. Jack PayneUF Leader Writes About Wendy Wilber — Recently, Jack Payne wrote a great piece about our new State Master Gardener Coordinator, Wendy Wilber for an industry publication. Jack Payne is the Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and the administrative head of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida. You can follow him on Twitter at @JackPayneIFAS, where he shares horticulture news, his thoughts on the state’s agriculture industry, photos of Florida’s natural resources, and more.

watermelonPlant of the Month: Watermelon — With winding vines and large ripe fruits, watermelon can take up quite a bit of room in the garden. If you have the space, it can be well worth the opportunity to have these delicious fruit treats right in your own back yard. If you missed planting your watermelon at the beginning of the year, August gives gardeners across the state another chance. Those in South Florida can even continue to plant through September.

August in Your Garden – Keep track of rainfall and be sure to adjust your irrigation accordingly. UF/IFAS even has an app to help you figure out how much water your lawn really needs.

moleFriend or Foe? Neither: Moles — Moles are really more of a nuisance animal than a true garden foe. While their tunneling is unsightly to many gardeners, the damage is usually aesthetic. Moles themselves do not intentionally harm plants. These tiny mammals tunnel through landscapes to find the soil insects and invertebrates that make up their diets. If you can learn to live with their tunnels, moles may actually do you a favor by eating potentially harmful insects like mole crickets, grubs, ants, and slugs.

Read the full August issue.

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