The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2018

Yellow flower with brown center

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-leafed plant and feathery grassAdd a Thrilling Porch Planter for Fall – Fall is a fabulous time to add some porch planters or to re-design the ones you have. Couple the staples of good planters—“thrillers, spillers, and fillers”—with trendy colors for fall like orange and purple and you have the makings of an attention-grabbing container. We’ll even take you beyond the trusty mums to bring you plants that shine in the (hopefully) cooler season.

A small furry brown bat with comically large earsCavity Dwellers – Halloween is right around the corner and images of dead trees are a favorite for decorating. But dead trees in your landscape are nothing to be frightened of — wildlife actually find dead wood extremely useful. Birds, bats, small mammals, and even some surprising creatures make their homes in dead wood. Learn more about how you can safely incorporate dead wood into your landscape and who may come to call it home. (Photo: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station; USDA Forest Service; SRS; Bugwood.org)

Two spiky, neon green caterpillars on a leafStinging and Venomous Caterpillars — Creepy crawlies are on our minds this October, so we’re looking at some stinging and venomous caterpillars found in Florida. Did you know that stinging caterpillars don’t sting with a stinger the way wasps or bees do? They have barbed, stinging hairs called urticating hairs that easily break off the caterpillar’s body when you brush against them. We’ve listed caterpillars to look out for, and when to look but not touch a caterpillar in your landscape.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — If you love all things “pumpkin spice” or have moved to Florida from a state further north you just you might find yourself missing fall color. I have lived in Florida since before man landed on the moon, so this “fall color” concept is a little foreign to me. Postcards of colorful mountains with oranges, reds, and yellow trees look beautiful but they are not part of my Florida picture. Instead I see the fall colors in Florida native plants in landscapes and natural areas.

Plant with large, glossy, deep green leaves shaped like lily padsPlant of the Month: Farfugium — It’s not often you find a wow-worthy plant that thrives in shade and blooms, but farfugium checks those boxes. When fall arrives, farfugium really begins to shine. It sends up clusters of yellow flowers that hover over its glossy foliage, making for a very interesting combination of daisy-like blooms and tropical leaves. It can transform a shaded area into a lush oasis. Also called leopard plant, farfugium grows in zones 7–10.

Large tree planted in a small green spot in a parking lot, its roots extended out and cracking through the pavementCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Plant Placement Edition — 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. In our second in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how planting location plays a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Two red strawberries up closeOctober in Your Garden — It’s truly, finally gardening season in Florida. October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a great month for planting vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And don’t forget the strawberries—this is Florida’s short window for planting.

Read the full October issue.

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Friday Flowers: Swamp Sunflower

Yellow flower with brown center

If you had to choose only one flower to herald the approach of autumn in Florida, the swamp sunflower would surely be at the top of the list.

This native plant is also called narrowleaf sunflower, for its thin, rough leaves. For much of the year, swamp sunflower appears unremarkable, if not unattractive. But beginning in late September and continuing into November, the plants begin producing golden yellow flowers in an explosion of color.

A mass of yellow daisy like flowers growing curbside.
Not the most artistic shot, but taken to show just how many blossoms swamp sunflower plants can produce. This photo was taken in northwest Gainesville in October 2017. UF/IFAS.

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), like most sunflowers, does best in full sun, and can be planted throughout the state. It will grow in dappled shade, but won’t produce as many flowers and will get leggy. True to its name, it can handle soggy soil, but does well in typical garden soil as well; it might appreciate some irrigation during hot, dry periods.

The plants can get quite tall — up to 6 feet. They will often fall over with the weight of the flowers. Trimming it back in June will help it grow fuller, and it can be trimmed down after flowering in the winter. This perennial spreads by rhizomes and forms clumps that can be divided in the spring.

Yellow flower with brown center
A closer look at swamp sunflower’s beautifully golden, daisy-like flowers. UF/IFAS.

Fall for Beautyberry

If you’re looking for a dazzling plant to attract birds to your yard, look no further than beautyberry. This Florida native is scientifically known as Callicarpa americana, and its bright purple fruits are some of the most striking around.

Pale lavender-pink flowers appear along the branches from spring to summer and then mature into jewel-like fruits by September. The showy clusters of shiny purple fruits are densely packed and encircle the woody stems. If not devoured first by birds, the fruits will persist for several weeks after the plant drops its leaves. There’s also a variety of C. americana called ‘Lactea’ that has white, pearlescent fruit.

Fun fact — the fruits on beautyberry are called drupes; drupes contain one to several seeds with each seed enclosed in a hard endocarp. Berries, on the other hand, contain numerous seeds that are not enclosed in a hard endocarp.

You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established. Beautyberry prefers rich soils, but will also grow in poor, sandy soils.

Read the full article on UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

Three photos showing the progression from flowering to fruit that starts all pale lavender to bright purple.
Beautyberry’s progression from small, insignificant flowers in spring to jewel-like fruits in fall. Photo: UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions. (Please don’t use without attribution.)

The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright purple fruits of beautyberry on stemBeautyberry – If you’re looking for a dazzling plant to attract birds to your yard, look no further than beautyberry. This Florida native is scientifically known as Callicarpa americana, and its bright purple fruits are some of the most striking around. Fun fact: the fruits on beautyberry are actually drupes, not berries. You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established.

Sesame plant with narrow green leaves and white bell shaped flowersSesame – Sesame is ancient crop; growing it in your home garden allows you to explore new flavors and ideas in your cooking while connecting with the past. Plus, we can’t forget the aesthetics; this plant is good-looking with its upright growth habit and showy bell-shaped flowers. Sesame also attracts a wide range of pollinators, making it a favorite plant for bumble bees and other insects.

Black and white adult chinch bugChinch Bugs — Southern chinch bugs are a major pest of St. Augustinegrass, and can rapidly cause serious damage. Damaged areas appear as yellow to brown patches and injury typically occurs first in grass that’s water-stressed or in full sun. It’s important to remember that not all brown grass indicates a chinch bug infestation. If you suspect you have chinch bugs, inspect the border between the brown and green grass for the tiny, black-and-white adults or orange nymphs.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Mid-September is the peak of hurricane season; you only need to look at a weather forecast to be reminded of that. The mere word hurricane strikes fear in our hearts and sends us running in preparation mode. The words hurricane pruning would strike fear in a palm tree’s heart if it had one.

Green cilantro leaf on cutting boardPlant of the Month: Cilantro — Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a bright green annual plant with many culinary applications. This flat, feathery-leafed herb is often used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cooking. It can add a fresh flavor to many dishes, including salsa. Of course, this herb may be less exciting to grow if you’re one of the people that finds the taste of cilantro closer to soap. Read more about how to grow this herb, and how you can get coriander from the same plant in the spring.

Healthy shrub with green leaves and red flowersCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Soils Edition — 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. In our first in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how characteristics of your soil, like pH and compaction, play a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Flame-like flowers of celosiaSeptember in Your Garden — It’s still hot out, but September brings the promise of cooler temperatures. As such, it’s time to start some of your cool season edibles and herbs. You can also start evaluating your annual beds and determining which plants have peaked and need replacing.

Read the full September issue.

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

Friday Flowers: Giant Ironweed

Friday Flowers: giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is a butterfly magnet!

This native wildflower has purple flowers with nectar that draws many pollinators. (We’ve been seeing swallowtail butterflies and bumblebees.) Flowering occurs in summer and fall, with peak blooming in July. As you might guess from the name, it can get pretty tall — up to 8 feet, but it usually stays in the 3′-5′ range. Hardy in zones 7-10, this deciduous perennial will die back in winter. It’s thought that the common name, ironweed, comes from the toughness of the stems.

Giant ironweed is ideal for the butterfly or pollinator garden, although you might want to plant it towards the back of the bed due to its height.

The Florida Museum of Natural History has additional information on giant ironweed.

giant_ironweed700
The purple flowers of giant ironweed. UF/IFAS

 

Friday Flowers: Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower, also called echinacea, produces daisy‐like flowers, with a fuzzy-looking cone center surrounded by horizontal or drooping petals in shades of pink, lavender, and purple.

Purple coneflower does best with light shade in summer, where protection from afternoon sun enhances flower and foliage color. It is fairly tolerant of drought in the partial shade, less so in full sun.

While many cultivars have been bred in a rainbow of colors (with wild names like ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’!), many gardeners prefer the native purple species to attract and feed butterflies.

Learn more about purple coneflower at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

(And yes, this is the same echinacea that some people take to ward off or recover more quickly from colds, but according to the National Institutes of Health, the jury is still out on that…)

(Photo: purple coneflower, UF/IFAS.)

Purple daisy-like flowers
Purple coneflower, UF/IFAS.

10 Years of the Neighborhood Gardener – August 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Three balloons, two orange and one blueTen Years of the Neighborhood Gardeners – This month marks ten years of our newsletter. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our articles as much as we have loved putting the newsletter together. We look forward to many more years of bringing you fun and helpful research-based gardening information.

Bee on pink pentas flowerPerfect Pollinator Plants – Pollinators receive a lot of love from gardeners; many people love to incorporate plants for them in to the landscape. A garden that attracts pollinators will include a mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, and trees that will bloom throughout the year and provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar for many pollinator species. We’ve compiled a list of some Florida-Friendly plants you can use in your landscape to bring pollinators to your garden.

The hop cone like fruit of the hophornbeam treeUnderappreciated Shade Trees — By August most Floridians are tired of the summer heat. The cooling effect of shade trees is much appreciated in the Sunshine State. Planting the right trees in the right place can even help reduce energy use in your home. We have a few native trees that might not come to mind first when looking for a shade tree, but could be a good choice for your landscape.
(Photo of hophornbeam foliage and fruit by John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In the Florida summer it is easy to realize some of the benefits of trees. The shade trees of my youth were mango, lychee, and royal poinciana trees. These tropical trees provided loads of shade, fruit, and flowers. My shade trees of today are live oaks and crapemyrtles—certainly not as exotic as the ones I grew up with but shady just the same.

Light green palmetto fronds in sunlightPlant of the Month: Saw Palmetto — Saw palmetto grows wild in Florida’s natural areas, but it’s also a useful plant for home landscapes throughout the state. This native plant tolerates a range of conditions and provides wonderful textural interest. It’s highly salt-tolerant, making it ideal for coastal gardening. Saw palmetto prefers full sun but will grow in almost any light conditions. It will benefit from regular waterings at first, but will be very drought tolerant once established. Plants can be purchased in pots at many nurseries and can be planted year-round in Florida.

Polka-dot plant with pink leaves mottled with greenClassroom Plants — For many, August means back to school. Why not spruce up the classroom up with an indoor plant or two? We have some plants for classrooms that are good-looking (like the polka-dot plant pictured) and many of them offer educational opportunities. Plus they’re non-toxic, which is great for any place with small children or pets.

Royal palm tree photo by Dr. Timothy BroschatAugust in Your Garden — The hottest days of summer limit planting now to heat-tolerant annuals like coleus and vinca. Vegetables to plant this month include eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Check the older fronds of palms for yellowing as it may indicate a magnesium or potassium deficiency. Apply an appropriate palm fertilizer.

Detail of hexagon shaped window at new labHoney Bee Lab Update — In June, UF’s new honey bee lab was completed. “The Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory is a series of three buildings — it’s a mini bee campus. One of the buildings, the Amy E. Lohman Apiculture Center, will house the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Apiary Inspection team, a beekeeping museum, a honey extraction and processing facility, and workshop space,” said professor Jamie Ellis, who heads the honey bee lab. There will be an open house event on Saturday, August 25 in Gainesville.

Read the full August issue.

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

Friday Flowers: Firebush

Firebush is a native perennial shrub that attracts hummingbirds and butterflies with its red-orange tubular flowers. In the cooler months, berries attract song birds. Heat- and drought-tolerant, firebush can be grown throughout Florida. While frost might knock it down, it will return (ask us how we know).

Both zebra longwings and gulf fritillary butterflies swarm to this flowering shrub.

It will grow and flower best if planted in full sun, but it can also be planted in partial shade. Firebush is also moderately tolerant of salt spray, which can be helpful for gardeners in coastal areas.

Firebush can be planted in any well-drained soil and will do best if it is watered regularly until it is established.firebush_butterfly

 

Learn more about this Florida-Friendly native at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/firebush.html

 

Friday Flowers: Hairy Leafcup

Take a walk in natural areas of North Central Florida or the panhandle, and you might find these bright yellow flowers “staring” right back at you. Hairy leafcup (Smallanthus uvedalia) is in the daisy family. This native wildflower has deeply lobed leaves, which gave it another common name, bear’s foot. It typically blooms in summer and attracts a variety of bees and other pollinators. It can get quite large, as tall as ten feet, but dies back in the winter. In the early 1900s, a tincture was made from the plant’s roots and used to treat rheumatism and in hair tonics. It’s not terribly common, so count yourself lucky if you spot it.

 

 

 

The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2018

Many yellow coreopsis flowers growing in a field

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright yellow cactus flowerPrickly Pear – Prickly pear cactus may not give up easily to being eaten, but if you put in the work the payoff is worth the effort. Both the pads (nopales) and the red fruits can be eaten. The pads are said to taste a bit like green beans while the fruits are sweet. The flowers come in a range of warm-hued colors like orange, yellow, red, and pink, depending on the species and variety. Best yet, it thrives in sandy soil and requires little to no maintenance.
(Photo: Gary Knox, UF/IFAS. Used with permission, all rights reserved.)

Two strips of cloth dyed yellowCoreopsis Dye — Egg-dying season may have passed but fiber-dying season could just be starting depending on what you have growing. We were interested in the prospect of using flowers from the garden to dye fabric, and the plethora of coreopsis blooming right now got us inspired. You can check out our tutorial on creating dye from these cheerful wildflowers.

A window lit from within framed by delicate bamboo and fernPlanting Around Your Windows — Breaking your landscape up into different areas can help you develop a design aesthetic. This can make an entire landscape overhaul seem less daunting. You can keep costs down by chunking it out and working on one area at a time, or you can just make changes to one area that has needed some attention. This month we discuss some tricks to making sure the landscaping around your windows is picture perfect.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — June is here and while most of the country is celebrating graduation and preparing for summer vacation, Floridians are preparing for hurricane season. My battery and flashlight drawers are ready and I will be thinking about my “go bag” contents later, because the phrase “sheltering in place” is equal to “riding the storm out” and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that again. Luckily for us the season doesn’t usually heat up until a little later in the summer, so now is a perfect time to take stock of your trees and landscape and to get a plan together.

Yellow daisy like flower with brown centerPlant of the Month: Beach Sunflower — Beach sunflower is a butterfly-attracting Florida native that’s perfect for hot, dry sites, including coastal areas. Fun fact: the flower heads always follow the sun throughout the day. Beach sunflower can be grown throughout most of the state; it works well as a groundcover and is great for borders, mass plantings, and even cascading down a wall. Plant your beach sunflower in a full-sun location, ideally with sandy or well-drained soil. Growing to a height and spread of 2 to 4 feet, this plant can quickly cover its growing area.

A gopher tortoise peering at usGopher Tortoise — Gopher tortoises may have been around for millions of years, but these days they are threatened by human development that keeps encroaching on their native habitat. Not only are these animals important in their own right, they are a keystone species, meaning that many other creatures in the environment rely on them for survival. If you have a gopher tortoise on your property, keep pets or children away from its burrow. Since they’re a threatened species, both the tortoises and their burrows are protected under state law and must be left alone.

Pale pink oleander flowerJune in Your Garden — Hurricane season begins, so check around your landscape and make any preparations now. Summer’s warm, rainy months are perfect for planting palms. Summer-flowering shrubs like hibiscus, oleander, crapemyrtle, and ixora can be lightly pruned now as they bloom on new growth. Azaleas can still be pruned without harming next season’s budding.

Non-descript green leaves and small white flowersGopher Apple — Gopher apple is a native evergreen groundcover that is a favorite food source of wildlife, including gopher tortoises, thus its common name. Little white flowers appear in the summer and are followed by the fruits that animals devour. Salt, drought, and fire tolerant, gopher apple is ideal for stabilizing sandy banks; its tolerance of harsh conditions makes it an almost indestructible groundcover. It’s an especially great choice for gardeners along the coast.
(Photo of gopher apple by Scott Zona. Some rights reserved.)

Read the full June issue.

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