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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 – 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.

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

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.

The Neighborhood Gardener – December

Red weeping yaupon holly berriesHappy holidays! This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Helping Cavity-Nesting Birds — Gardeners love to have birds and other wildlife in their yards. More than 25 bird species in Florida require cavities in trees as nesting sites, including woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, brown-headed nuthatches, and American kestrels. Read the full December issue for steps you can take to attract birds like these to your yard.
  • Planting Blueberries – Blueberries are a wonderful edible addition to your landscape. The best time to plant them is from mid-December to mid-February. You can either plant bare-root or container-grown plants. Usually, blueberry plants benefit from incorporating ¼ to ½ cubic foot of acidic sphagnum peat moss into the planting hole. Pine bark mulch also aids in blueberry plant establishment. Make sure to plant in a sunny area away from tree roots.
  • Plant of the Month: Weeping Yaupon Holly — Add color and whimsy to your yard with weeping yaupon holly, an interesting tree that bears clusters of bright berries each winter along its cascading branches. Native to Florida, weeping yaupon hollies should be planted in a spot where they’ll receive full or partial sun. They’ll tolerate a range of soils and conditions.
  • December in Your Garden – Poinsettias are one of the most popular holiday plants. Enjoy them indoors and then plant them in the garden for re-blooming next year. While cooler weather generally means fewer pests, some populations increase at this time of year. Continue monitoring and treat as needed.
  • Friend or Foe? Neither: Velvet Ant — The velvet ant, also called “cow killer,” is actually neither an ant nor a cow killer. The velvet ant belongs to the wasp family. The name “cow killer” comes from the pain inflicted by the sting of the velvet ant, which has been said to be strong enough to “kill a cow.” Only female velvet ants have the capacity to sting. Unlike their cousins the bees, velvet ants are solitary creatures. These “ants” do not cause plant or property damage and should be left alone.
  • Deer Damage in the Garden – If you’ve ever had problems with deer in your garden, it may seem like they’ll eat everything they find. However, they do prefer some plants over others. Read the full December issue ot learn whether the shrubs and trees in your yard are among their favorites.

Read the full December issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – October

Christmas cactus flowerThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Christmas Cactus Prep — The holidays are coming up on us and it’s time to start getting your Christmas cactus ready to bloom. Many people have these plants for years, but it can be tricky getting them to bloom when you want.
  • Plant of the Month: Muhly Grass — In fall, muhly grass produces fluffy pink to purple flower stalks that can reach up to 5 feet tall and give the plant a distinctive and attractive appearance. This native ornamental grass can be grown throughout Florida and will perform best if it’s planted in a sunny area.
  • October in Your Garden – Plant evergreen hollies now. Their bright berries add color to the landscape when other plants are dormant or have died back for the winter. Water well when planting and mulch to minimize weeds.
  • Pest Alert: Giant African Land Snails — The giant African land snail is considered one of the most damaging snails in the world. It’s known to consume at least 500 different types of plants, and can pose a serious health risk to humans. These invasive pests have recently been found in Miami-Dade County. These snails could be devastating to Florida agriculture and natural areas.
  • It’s Time for ButterflyFest – Celebrate wings and backyard things at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s sixth annual ButterflyFest, Oct. 22 and 23, 2011. ButterflyFest is dedicated to increasing awareness of Florida’s butterflies as fun, fascinating ambassadors to the natural world. There will be speakers, fun activites, a plant sale, and musical performances.
  • Master Gardener Conference – There’s still time to register for the 2011 Florida Master Gardener Continued Training Conference. The conference will be held October 24-26 at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Lake Buena Vista. Don’t miss out on tours, enlightening seminars, the plant ID competition, and so much more.

Read the full October issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – February

plumsThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • 4th Annual Bee College – The most extensive educational honeybee event in Florida will be held March 11–12, 2011, in Marineland, Florida. There are classes for beekeepers of all ages and experience levels.
  • The Florida School Garden Competition is Underway –  Cash prizes will be awarded for first-, second- and third-place winners in three categories: single class garden, multiple class/grade garden, and entire school garden. Deadline for entries is March 30.
  • Plant of the Month: Chickasaw Plum – This native shrub or small tree makes an attractive Florida-friendly addition to any yard. Each spring, the trees are covered with clusters of tiny, fragrant, white flowers.
  • February in Your Garden – Now is a good time to check citrus trees for scab disease. Apply a copper fungicide when new leaves appear and again when two-thirds of the flower blossoms have fallen. If citrus trees weren’t fertilized January, do so now. Frequency and amount of fertilization depends on the age of the tree.
  • Training Opportunity: Invasive Reptiles – "Introduced Reptile Early Detection & Documentation," also known as REDDy, is a free, online course that will teach you how to recognize and report large, invasive reptiles.
  • Friend or Foe? Foe: Clothes Moth – Clothes moths, or more specifically, clothes moth larvae, are major pests of fabric and other items made of natural fibers. Learn how to prevent these pests from getting into your closet.

Read the February issue.

Or subscribe today, and received directly by e-mail.