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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 – December 2015

Happy holidays, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Sydney Park BrownLifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award – Sydney Park Brown, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Horticulturist and Associate Professor Emeritus, was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award at the 34th Annual State Master Gardner Conference in October. “The effects of Sydney’s dedication to the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program will be felt for decades to come,” says Wendy Wilber, statewide program coordinator. “Her vision helped to shape the program into one of the best in the country.”

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — If you are anything like me, you are still rushing to finish your holiday shopping. Some people are impossible to shop for and other people are gardeners. You might be lucky enough to have a gardener on your “to buy for” list. If you do, I have some great gift ideas for the gardener in your life.

Rosemary topiariesRosemary Topiary Trees — A useful and delicious holiday gift, rosemary plants shaped to look like Christmas trees require minimal care and will continue to reward you long after the holidays pass. A topiary can be used as a table centerpiece, mantle decoration, or even a decoration in a child’s room—you can feel safe knowing if a bit of the topiary ends up ingested it’s no problem at all. After the holidays, your rosemary can be planted outside in an area with full sun and good drainage.

Yaupon holly foliageYaupon Holly Tea — The days are getting shorter and there is a chill in the air. A nice warm cup of tea or coffee may be just what you need to warm up after a nice outside gardening session. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to brew tea with leaves from your own garden? Yaupon holly is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Firethorn berriesPlant of the Month: Firethorn — Looking to add some color to your winter landscape? Firethorn is an evergreen shrub known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Not only are they attractive, the berries also serve as an important food source for wildlife. The branches hold up well in cut arrangements and make a festive accent in holiday centerpieces. This thorny shrub performs best in north and central parts of Florida, and will thrive when planted in well-drained soil and full sun.

pink snapdragonsDecember in Your Garden – With cooler temperatures outside many people will be bringing plants indoors for the winter. Be on the lookout for houseplant damage from pests or disease. In North and Central Florida, add color with winter annuals like petunias and snapdragons. In South Florida, plant begonias or geraniums.

fungus gnatFriend or Foe? Foe: Fungus Gnat — Fungus gnats are a common pest of indoor plants. The larvae of these tiny flying pests can be found in the soil, feeding on rotting vegetation and plant roots. They’re drawn to plants that are overwatered, so one way to control these flies is to let the soil dry out between waterings. You can also use yellow “sticky traps,” placed near light to attract the adults. Coat a piece of yellow plastic (like that from a Solo cup) with petroleum jelly and stick it in the soil of your infected houseplant to attract the gnats.

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2015

Happy Gardening!

The deadline is approaching; you only have one more week to register for the 34th State Master Gardener Conference at the early bird rate. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to hear our keynote speaker from the Florida Wildlife Corridor or attend some of the 24 concurrent educational sessions.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Chinese evergreen plantPlants That Clean the Air – With summer ending and school back in session, people are spending more time indoors and thinking about how that is affecting them. While many people know that having a houseplant in their home or office can cheer up the space, they may not know that it can also help clean the air. Many popular houseplants are actually quite good at removing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteers that work with school gardens have a special place in my heart. It takes a huge amount of planning, planting, and heart to work with students and teachers in their school gardens, but payoffs are more than worth it. I understand just how much hard work and fun it can be helping young gardeners nurture a love of growing their own food.

calico flowerPlant of the Month: Calico Flower — Named for the mottled pattern on its blossoms, calico flower is native to Brazil. This vining plant climbs and covers chain link and wire structures well, transforming plain structures into a lovely green screen. It’s ideal for butterfly gardens, serving as the larval host plant to two types of swallowtail butterflies. Gardeners should plant this vine in a sunny location with well-drained soil.

September in Your Garden – September is a great time to divide and replant your perennials, such as daylilies and amaryllis, which have grown too large or need a little rejuvenation. Be sure to add organic matter to your new planting areas and keep weeds in check while the plants establish themselves.

web in treeFriend or Foe? Neither: Fall Webworm — While the fall webworm isn’t really a garden friend, neither is it a true pest. The nests these caterpillars build on the ends of tree branches may be unsightly, but they won’t last long in your landscape. Trying to rid your trees of these caterpillars can often cause more harm than leaving them be.

Read the full September issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2015

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Cold Weather Protection – The cold weather is here, and if you haven’t already, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll protect your plants this winter. Be ready to move tender potted plants to warmer sheltered areas if a freeze or frost is predicted. Also, check your inventory of plant covers and frost blankets so that you’ll be prepared when the time comes.

 

concrete birdbathBirdbaths — You can kick off the New Year by adding a splash of color and water to your landscape with a birdbath! While you’ll find lots of birdbaths made of gray concrete, many are made today in bright colors and interesting designs. When selecting your birdbath remember, birds prefer those with textured bottoms, gently sloping sides, and water no deeper than two to three inches in the middle.

 

air plantPlant of the Month: Air Plant — When people use the term “air plant,” they’re usually referring to Tillandsia spp. Most species of Tillandsia have thin, stiff leaves covered in scales, often giving them a fuzzy, gray-green appearance. Since they anchor themselves to something other than soil, air plants can grow on or in a variety of creative surfaces like glass globes, shells, or laid on a bed of dry pebbles in a shallow dish. Air plants are incredibly low-maintenance, requiring only light, air circulation, and an occasional light mist of water.

 

January in Your Garden – The third Friday in January is Arbor Day for Florida. You can celebrate by planting a tree in your landscape or community. Consider planting a hurricane-resistant tree like live oak, bald cypress, cabbage palm, or crapemyrtle, ensuring you’ll have a tree to enjoy for years to come.

wolf spiderFriend or Foe? Friend: Carolina Wolf Spider — The sight of a Carolina wolf spider (Lycosa carolinensis) may startle you, but these eight legged critters are actually great hunters and feed on insects in your home or landscape. These spiders are between 1 and 1½ inches long and are one of the largest spiders in the US. Their size is just one reason these spiders sometimes cause alarm; the other reason people fear them is a case of mistaken identity. Carolina wolf spiders are often confused with the brown recluse, a much smaller spider (between ¼ and ¾ inch long), rarely found in Florida.

Read the full January issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2014

Happy October, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

bat houseBat Houses – Bats are an important part of Florida’s ecology. A single bat can eat thousands of insects each night. Unfortunately, bat populations are declining due to loss of habitat. You help address that loss with a bat house, providing these unique flying animals with a cozy place to roost and reproduce.

 

FFL houseFlorida-Friendly Really Does Save Water – New research has demonstrated that the claims that Florida-Friendly landscapes really do use less water than traditionally landscaped yards really do well, hold water. The analysis indicated that FFL homes used at least 50 percent less irrigation than homes with more traditional landscaping. You can read more about this research on the UF/IFAS IrriGator blog.

 

ghost plantPlant of the Month: Ghost Plant — Ghost plant is a cold-hardy succulent with pale gray or whitish leaves on sprawling stems. This low-maintenance plant will stand out in your landscape as an unusual groundcover, cascading down a container, or even as a houseplant. As with most succulents, when planting your ghost plant in a container, make sure the pot has drainage holes and use a well-drained potting media. Ghost plant is one of the easiest succulents to propagate, making it a great pass-along plant for friends and relatives.

October in Your Garden – Even though temperatures are still warm, begin planting for the cooler months ahead. Alyssum, dianthus, and petunia are good plants for the fall garden. Many vegetables that will produce through the winter can be planted now like beets, carrots, and onions.

batFriend or Foe? Friend: Bats — Bats get a bad reputation—after all, they dart about silently through the night and hang out in small, dark places. But these amazing little creatures—the only mammals capable of true flight—are an incredibly important part of Florida’s ecology. All resident bats in Florida eat insects, although a few species that eat fruit, nectar, or pollen show up in South Florida occasionally. Many bat species eat human or agricultural pests.

Read the full October issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2014

Hello, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Fruit affected by citrus greeningCitrus Greening — It seems news agencies everywhere are discussing citrus greening and the effect it’s having on Florida’s citrus industry. While many people know that it’s ravaging citrus trees, there is some confusion as to what citrus greening actually is. Citrus greening, or huanglongbing (HLB), is caused by a bacterium that causes trees to deteriorate and eventually die. Learn more about this disease and what researchers are doing to fight it in our Citrus Greening FAQ.

An illustrated garden layoutPlan Your Garden — Spring is just around the corner and that means it’s time to start thinking about changes you might want to make to your landscape. Whether you’re interested in a complete redesign or simply making a few improvements, there are some important factors to consider before you start planting. Check out “10 Important Things to Consider when Planning your Landscape Design.” These tips will help you develop a plan and put you on the road to creating a beautiful home landscape.

Potted philodendronPlant of the Month: Heart-leaf Philodendron — If you’re looking for a fool-proof house plant, you couldn’t do much better than a heart-leaf philodendron. These easy-growing foliage plants thrive with indirect light and very little maintenance. They’re often grown in hanging baskets which allow the thin stems and heart-shaped leaves to beautifully spill out of their container. While philodendrons are easy to maintain, too much water or too little light can cause yellowing leaves, and too much fertilizer can cause the leaf tips of your plant to brown and curl.

February in Your Garden – February is a good time to plant bulbs like crinum and agapanthus. It’s also the perfect time for pruning roses to encourage new growth. Remove any dead, dying, or crossing branches, and shorten the mature canes by one-third to one-half.

Rose plant affected by virusFriend or Foe? Foe: Rose Rosette Virus — Rose rosette virus (RRV) has infected Knock Out® roses in three counties in Florida. Spread by a microscopic mite, RRV causes bizarre symptoms, including severe thorn proliferation, rapid elongation of branches, and unusual reddening of leaves. Plants infected with RRV usually die within one to two years. However, confirming the disease is difficult, as it is often confused with other ailments, such as herbicide damage.

Read the full February issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2013

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

box of produceHarvesting and Storing Vegetables — Harvesting your vegetables at the right time is an important part of gardening success. It can be tricky to determine when vegetables are ready to be picked. Harvesting too late or too early is a common problem for vegetable growers, which results in poor quality produce. A little research will help.

Taking UF/IFAS Online Gardening Resources in a New Direction – The new UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website blossoms into a full resource in mid-October. The site is based on the retiring “Gardening in a Minute” radio program and will feature a wealth of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ and gardening information. More detail, larger photographs, how-to videos, and easier navigation will be featured as part of UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

white bat flowerPlant of the Month: Bat Flower — With ghostly bracts that look like wings, the bat flower is a unique addition to any home. This conversation starter 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. Most common is the black bat flower; its wing-like bracts are a deep purple. A more recently introduced species, white bat flower has pale “wings.” Bat flower can be grown in similar conditions that orchids are grown in: ample humidity, strong airflow, and low to moderate light.

October in Your Garden – You can start to sow cool-season annual seeds such as pansies, dianthus, snapdragons, and hollyhocks. Tomatoes, corn, and squash will be producing this month and you can begin to plant carrots, beets, and turnip. Now is also the time to apply a pre-emergent herbicides on your lawn if needed. It’s a good time to add new shrubs to your yard because the milder weather lets the root system grow out into the surrounding soil without putting stress on the plant. This is the last month of the year to fertilize underperforming plants. Controlled-release fertilizers can help by providing nutrients over a longer period of time.

twospotted spider mitesFriend or Foe? Foe: Twospotted Spider Mite — The twospotted spider mite is a tiny feeder that infest a wide variety of plants. This mite feeds on the underside of foliage and can easily go undetected. Twospotted spider mites can be a greenish rust color, red, orange, or yellow. Mites cause the plants to look chlorotic, mottled, and yellow in color; the plant will eventually die if heavily infested. Controlling a mite infestation can be somewhat difficult. Biological control can aid as reinforcement; predatory mites, lady beetles, and other predators will help naturally control the spider mite population. Forceful sprays of water to the undersides of leaves can dislodge the mites, or try insecticidal soaps and oils.

Read the full October issue.

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