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.

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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 – November 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The staff of the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener program wish to thank all veterans for their service to our country.

hydroponic plantHydroponic Vegetable Gardening – A hydroponic garden is a fun way to grow your own herbs and vegetables. Hydroponic systems use nutrient-enriched water instead of soil, avoiding weeds and other pest problems common to soil-grown vegetables. Leafy crops like lettuce, Swiss chard, mint, and kale usually do quite well in hydroponic gardens. Building a simple one for your home garden is easier than you think. And it all starts with a kiddie pool.

Yellow flowers of Mexican tarragonMexican Tarragon – Mexican tarragon is an excellent choice for Florida gardeners. With a flavor similar to traditional French tarragon, but a better tolerance for drought, heat, and humidity, Mexican tarragon is a winner in the Southern herb garden. The leaves have a complex flavor and fragrance: similar to anise/tarragon, coupled with notes of mint, cinnamon, and a touch of sweetness. The bright yellow flowers can be used in salads. A popular method for storing Mexican tarragon is to preserve the leaves in vinegar.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings – Years back I was cleaning out my container and pot pile and had to ask myself, “Where did all these pots come from?” Had I really planted all the plants that grew in these pots, and if so, where were they? I remembered the advice of my Master Gardener friend Bill, who had encouraged me to keep a garden journal. If I wrote this stuff down, I would know what was going on in my landscape and garden.

Red berries of coral ardisiaCoral Ardisia — Coral ardisia was promoted in Florida as a landscape ornamental for many years. It is a compact shrub, with attractive, glossy foliage, and bright red berries. Unfortunately, it also forms dense colonies in natural habitats, smothering the seedlings of native species and producing copious amounts of fruit, which are readily dispersed by wildlife. Coral ardisia has been added to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ noxious weed list, making it illegal to possess, propagate, transport, or sell this species within the state. Extension botanist Marc Frank writes in depth about coral ardisia and how Master Gardeners can identify it.

Red berries of Simpson's stopperPlant of the Month: Simpson’s Stopper – Simpson’s stopper is a versatile Florida native with springtime flowering, colorful berries, and evergreen leaves. The fragrant white flowers attract butterflies and bees, while birds flock to the shrub for shelter and its fruit. Found growing naturally in seaside hammocks, Simpson’s stopper is a great choice for coastal gardeners looking for a plant that’s tolerant of salt and alkaline growing conditions. Recommended for Zones 8b to 11, Simpson’s stopper is cold hardy down to 25°F, and can function as a shrub or a small tree depending on the cultivar and how you prune it.

Dark pink crinum flowerNovember in Your Garden – November finally brings cooler weather, and winter annuals like pansies can be planted to freshen up flowerbeds. This is an excellent time to plant bulbs like amaryllis and crinum, and there are many cool-season vegetables you can plant now: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and greens, as well as radishes and turnips.

Read the full November issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2015

Pink Muhly grass

Happy autumn gardening!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Roselle calycesFlorida “Cranberries” – Wouldn’t it be great if your Thanksgiving cranberry sauce could come from ingredients grown in your own back yard? Ever heard of Florida cranberries? Well if you haven’t, the first thing you should know is they aren’t really cranberries at all. But don’t let that turn you off roselle, the plant that could provide you with the main ingredient to make your own tangy red, locally sourced holiday dressing.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — “That plant is invasive,” a gardener friend recently said to me. I asked her to be more specific, because I knew the plant she was referring to was a Florida native. “It just takes over everything!” She was right about the plant growing aggressively, but wrong in her use of the word “invasive.”

Master Gardener logoNew Master Gardener Website — We are happy to announce that the new Master Gardener website went live at the beginning of this month. The new site features beautiful and larger photos, easier navigation, and an updated design that may remind you a bit of the Gardening Solutions website.

SaltbushPlant of the Month: Saltbush — Saltbush, also called groundsel tree or sea myrtle, looks like a cloud of white flowers where you least expect it, hovering about 8 feet off the ground. Currently in bloom, you may have seen these often-overlooked shrubs blooming along roadsides and in ditches. While not commonly used in home landscapes, this native woody shrub is perfectly suited to Florida gardens.

November in Your Garden – With a rainier winter than average predicted this year, be on the lookout for plant disease and fungal problems in your landscape. For fall color, try some cool season annuals. North and Central Florida gardeners should try pansies and violas, while those further south should try strawflower and cape daisies.

Monarch on purple flowerFriend or Foe? Friend: Monarch Butterfly — The Monarch migration is underway! Many gardeners have heard by now that planting milkweed in their landscape is important to helping the Monarch butterflies survive, but many aren’t aware that the particular species you plant matters, as not all are Monarch host plants.

Read the full October issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2015

Potted chrysanthemums

Master Gardeners,

There’s still time to register for the 34th State Master Gardener Conference, October 18-21 in Kissimmee. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to hear our keynote speaker, photographer John Moran, or attend some of the 24 concurrent educational sessions.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Pink dianthus flowerCut Flowers for Cool Weather – While thinking about all the yummy veggies you can grow and harvest in the fall, don’t forget about flowers! While most won’t be destined for your plate (although the pansies could be), flowers can still be harvested—for vases around your home. Bring some floral autumnal fun indoors with cool season bedding plants like dianthus (pictured), calendula, and more.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — This month we’re reporting on the Oriental fruit fly and the state of emergency associated with the insect in South Florida. You may think, “This doesn’t impact my garden or my landscape personally, so why should I care?” But as Floridians I think we should always care when there is a threat to our agriculture industry and our Florida farmers.

Map showing heavy rain for FloridaEl Niño — You may have heard that El Niño is back in the tropical Pacific Ocean, but what does that mean for your garden? El Niño events bring Florida a cooler and wetter winter, meaning you may find yourself dealing with more fungal diseases on plants, increased nutrient loss in the garden, and changes in the production of deciduous fruits, among other things

Yellow mumsPlant of the Month: Chrysanthemums — While the leaves of most Florida trees won’t give us those traditional autumnal colors, we can still paint our landscape with the colors of fall. Chrysanthemums, or mums, are easy to grow and come in a range of warm, welcoming hues. When buying potted mums, look for healthy, well-shaped plants with many flower buds. These perennials are cold hardy and prefer full sun, but can also thrive with just morning or afternoon sun.

October in Your Garden – October is a great time to be planting in the vegetable garden. Many herbs and vegetables thrive during Florida’s mild winter. What better way to know what to plant this and every month than with a handy-dandy infographic. See what vegetables to plant, broken down by area of the state.

Oriental fruit flyFriend or Foe? Foe: Oriental Fruit Fly — The Oriental fruit fly infestation in Miami-Dade County has become a problem warranting the declaration of a state of agricultural emergency. While this may not directly impact your home garden at the moment, an infestation here in Florida could be devastating. Read more about the Oriental fruit fly and what is being done to keep this aggressive pest in check by visiting Fresh from Florida.

Read the full October issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2014

Happy August, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

seedlingsPlanning Your Fall Garden – The oppressive heat of August can make getting out in the garden difficult. All that extra time indoors gives you a great chance to plan your fall garden. If you’re planting an autumn vegetable garden, think about what you like to eat when you are planning. A soil test is always a good idea too. Willing to brave the heat? There are some vegetables you can plant in August—see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide for planting dates.

Mosquito Control – We’re seeing a number of cases of mosquito-borne diseases throughout Florida this summer. With wet weather and warm temperatures these sucking bugs flourish. Vigilance in your landscape can help cut down on the places mosquitoes breed. And remember, an FDA approved insect repellant containing DEET is the best way to keep mosquitoes off your body. Get more tips from this UF/IFAS infographic, “Essential Mosquito Control Tips for Homeowners.”

IrisPlant of the Month: Walking Iris — Walking iris (Neomarica sp.) is a clumping perennial with long, glossy leaves and small, iris-like flowers. The flower color will vary depending on the species; they can be white, yellow, or blue-purple. The plant is suited to Zones 9 through 11. It can be grown in the northern parts of the state; just note that it will likely freeze to the ground, returning in the spring. Walking iris can be grown in full or partial shade, can tolerate a range of soil types, and will thrive in moist locations.

August in Your Garden – Check older fronds of palms for yellowing as this may indicate a magnesium or potassium deficiency. If your palm has a deficiency, apply an appropriate palm fertilizer.

kudzuFriend or Foe? Foe: Kudzu — While kudzu may seem as Southern as Georgia peaches or Florida oranges, this invasive vine was actually introduced to the United States from Asia. Today kudzu covers about two million acres in the South and has been found throughout Florida. Removal can take time for full eradication, but it is possible to remove this choking vine and take back your landscape.

Read the full August issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2014

Happy May, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

ZinniasSummer Annuals – Even during the oppressive heat of summer, your Florida landscape can still be home to colorful annuals. If you like plants with cool-colored blooms, try torenia, also called the wishbone flower. Zinnias come in an array of colors and are great cut flowers. If you’re looking for colorful foliage, try coleus or caladium. Learn more about annuals—and perennials—for the summer in “Summer Bedding Plants.”

Junior Master Fun in Hillsborough — Students at LaVoy Exceptional Center recently participated in a Junior Master Gardener activity that coupled education, creativity, and fun. With help from Hillsborough County Master Gardener Lesley Fleming, students created sombreros using newspaper and then decorated them with paints and ribbons. The activity comes from the Junior Master Gardener curriculum and teaches students about recycling and sun protection.

Gerbera daisyPlant of the Month: Gerbera Daisy — Unlike the rest of the country, Florida gardeners can enjoy Gerbera daisies throughout the year. Native to South Africa, these plants have long-lasting flowers that come in many colors. Gerbera daisies do well in containers and flower beds that receive morning sun. In areas where prolonged freezes are likely, they should be treated as annuals or over-wintered indoors.

May in Your Garden – Harmful insects become more active as the weather warms; keep an eye out for pests in the garden to stay ahead of potential infestations. Plant heat-loving herbs like basil, Mexican tarragon, and rosemary.

Mimosa flowersFriend or Foe? Foe: Mimosa Tree — Commonly known as the mimosa tree or silk tree, Albizia julibrissin has long been popular in the landscape for its fragrant pink flowers and feathery, fern-like foliage. However, this tree has a bad habit of taking over native Florida landscapes. The mimosa tree is considered an invasive plant and not recommended for any use by the IFAS Assessment. If you want something that looks similar to mimosa without the invasive qualities, try sweet acacia, red bottlebrush, or dwarf powderpuff.

Read the full May issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2013

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

groundcoverTurfgrass Alternatives — Turfgrass provides benefits such as providing a place to play and reducing storm water pollutants. But a spacious lawn is not always the practical choice. Most homeowners want an appealing landscape, but there are other options besides turfgrass that provide equal beauty. And many of these alternatives don’t require difficult maintenance and unnecessary expenses.

Bees and Pesticides – The declining bee population is a growing problem. Honey bees provide a critical service to agriculture, pollinating one-third of our food supply. But across the U.S., beekeepers are reporting losses of up to a million colonies of bees. There are many possible causes being studied, but one factor that gardeners can take action on is the use of pesticides. We list a few precautions that can benefit the health of pollinating bees.

caladiumsPlant of the Month: Caladium — This tropical foliage plant is known for its spectacular, multicolored leaves. Caladiums are easy to grow in Florida’s warm, humid climate. Although there are new cultivars which have been bred to grow in direct sunlight, minimal morning sun is ideal for caladiums and then shade for the remainder of the day. Plant in soil with high moisture and adequate drainage.

April in Your Garden – April is the best time to plant warm-season annuals like coleus, as well as herbs. Herbs have similar growing conditions to vegetables and require similar amounts of sun and soil moisture. If you didn’t plant your tomatoes in March you should plant them now; start from transplants, not seeds.

fernFriend or Foe? Foe: Old World Climbing Fern — Although attractive and delicate in appearance, Old World climbing fern is one of Florida’s most serious natural threats. It covers over 300,000 acres in central and south Florida alone, smothering entire forests with vines that can grow up to 100 feet long. It can also make wildfires much worse by acting as a conduit for the flames. Small patches can be pulled out by the root, and larger areas can be treated with glyphosate-containing herbicide.

Read the full April issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2013

Happy New Year!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

moth orchidCaring for Your New Orchid – Q: I have a beautiful orchid that was a gift. The label says it is a Phalaenopsis orchid. The flowers are gone now, but the plant is really healthy. Is it OK to leave it inside, and how do I get it to bloom again?
A: Phalaenopsis, or the moth orchid, is a favorite orchid to grow as a houseplant. Read Wendy’s advice.

awardJunior Master Gardener Book Award Winners – Each year, the “Growing Good Kids: Excellence in Children’s Literature Awards” program recognizes children’s books that promote an understanding of and appreciation for gardening and the environment. This year’s books are: “The Mangrove Tree,” by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore; “Meadowlands: A Wetland Survival Story,” by Thomas F. Yezerski; and “Planting the Wild Garden,” by Kathryn O. Galbraith.

lettucePlant of the Month: Lettuce — Winter is the best time to grow lettuce. Good leaf lettuce selections for Florida include ‘Black-seeded Simpson’ and ‘Red Sails’; many others are listed in the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. Lettuce seeds are unusual in that they need light to germinate, so simply press or lightly rake them into the soil surface.

January in Your Garden – Planting deciduous fruit trees now gives their roots time to develop before the warm, dry spring months. This is also a good time to prune and fertilize existing trees. While crapemyrtles do not require pruning, removing seed pods, crossing branches, and small twiggy growth improves the appearance and form of the plant.

Air potato vine on treeFriend or Foe? Foe: Air Potato — This non-native, invasive plant spreads faster than kudzu! Air potato is a vigorously twining vine, which grows from an underground tuber. It produces large numbers of potato-like growths which drop off to form new plants. The stems can rapidly grow to 60 feet in length. To prevent the plant from spreading, in January or February, pick up all of the “potatoes” that have fallen to the ground.

Read the full January issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2012

oakleaf hydrangeaThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Pest Alert: Downy Mildew on Impatiens — In late 2011, the downy mildew disease of garden impatiens was found in Palm Beach County. The disease has the potential for widespread and rapid destruction of this very popular bedding and potted plant. At this time only New Guinea impatiens and Sunpatiens show resistance.
  • Home Canning and Food Presentation – Ever have extra food from your garden or farmers market? Save it for a later date by canning your extras at home. Just make sure that you do it safely and correctly so that you don’t end up with food safety issues.
  • Plant of the Month: Oakleaf Hydrangea — If you need a shrub that can shine in the shade, this native shrub could be just what you’re looking for. Each spring, oakleaf hydrangea puts up huge cone-shaped clusters of white flowers that will stay on the plant for months, eventually changing to a light pink or purple. Oakleaf hydrangea will perform best if planted in a fertile, well-drained soil, but it will also tolerate other conditions.
  • March in Your Garden – This is a good time to prune many trees and shrubs. Cold damaged shrubs can be pruned back to where new growth appears. Fertilize lawns after all chance of frost is past since fertilizing too early can damage the lawn. Choose one with little or no phosphorus unless a soil test indicates the need for it, and avoid “weed and feed” products. A fertilizer with controlled release nitrogen will give longer lasting results.
  • Friend or Foe? Foe: Mile-a-Minute — Commonly called mile-a-minute, climbing hempweed, Chinese creeper, or bittervine, Mikania micrantha is on both the Federal and Florida state noxious weed lists. As a rapidly growing climbing vine, it has been observed to grow almost two feet per week under optimal conditions, smothering small plants and even large trees. Mile-a-minute was recently found in Miami-Dade County.

Read the full March issue.

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