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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 – January 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy New Year, gardeners!

Cut away view of microgreens in dark soilMicrogreens – Relatively easy to grow and bursting with nutrients, microgreens can be a fun growing project for the New Year. Microgreens are harvested when the first true leaves emerge; both the stems and leaves are eaten. They are great for use in soups, stews, salads, sandwiches, main dishes, and as garnishes. The kitchen window is a good place to grow them. There are dozens of microgreens you can choose from offering a variety of flavors and colors to add to your dishes.

Curly leafed kale in mulched bedKale Varieties — Say “kale yeah” to healthy eating and a lovely garden in 2018! Kale is good for you, easy-to-grow, and good looking — it has it all. However, all kale is not exactly the same; there are a number of varieties with differing growth and leaf forms, colors, and edible or ornamental qualities. Check out our piece on some of the delicious varieties to grow in your Florida garden.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Was choosing a healthier lifestyle on the list? I hope so! Your gardening habit is one you don’t want to break because it is beneficial to your mental and physical health. Gardening activities are known to be associated with mental clarity as well as with reduced stress levels.

Tiny dark purple fruit of flatwoods plumPlant of the Month: Flatwoods Plum — Flatwoods plum can be a beautiful and interesting sight when it blooms in the spring. Like its relative the Chickasaw plum, it flowers before leaves appear, leaving you with a tree adorned with nothing but blossoms. The flatwoods plum produces small edible fruit that range from very tart to very sweet. This Florida-friendly tree is a great choice for growing in North and Central Florida. (Photo by James H. Miller and Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org)

A healthy green Florida-Friendly lawn in front of a stucco homeHealthy Yards with FFL Principle #3 — The third principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is to fertilize appropriately. Here in Florida that generally means passing on the seemingly convenient—but actually potentially harmful—”weed and feed.” Learn more about why “weed and feed” products are best avoided in your Florida lawn.

Woman kneeling to plant tree in holeJanuary in Your Garden — With our recent cold weather some plants may not be looking their best in your landscape. While it may be tempting to start pruning, it’s best to wait until spring. It may not look great, but this will benefit the plant in the long-term. And you could celebrate Florida Arbor Day (the third Friday of January) by planting a tree in your yard or community.

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.

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

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

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 – 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.

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