A White Christmas for South Florida

Sometimes the common name of a plant can give you a hint of when flowering occurs. For most of the year, Euphorbia leucocephala is a rather ordinary shrub. But as the holiday season approaches, its common name, little Christmas flower, makes perfect sense.

From early November, through December into the New Year, the shrub transforms into an airy white cloud of delicate, sweet fragrance. Like the poinsettia, to which it is related, the “flower” in little Christmas flower are actually bracts.

Once the bracts have all dropped, you can prune the shrub which can grow up to 10 feet until August, but not after that, or you’ll have no blooming the coming season. Wear gloves when pruning; the milky sap can be irritating. Native to Mexico, little Christmas flower is best for zones 10a-11. It grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid planting it under street lights, as it needs darkness to bloom just like its poinsettia cousins.

pascuita (Euphorbia leucocephala) Lotsy
Little Christmas flower, covered in white flower-like bracts. Forest and Kim Starr; Starr Environmental; Bugwood.org

For more ideas, UF/IFAS Extension Miami-Dade County has a great article by John McLaughlin called “Holiday Color for Miami-Dade Landscapes.”

Euphorbia leucocephala, Little Christmas Flower
A closer view of the white bract of little Christmas flower. Its small yellow flowers are barely visible, but they are the source of the shrub’s lovely fragrance. Forest and Kim Starr; Starr Environmental; Bugwood.org

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.

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

Friday Flowers: Powderpuff Tree

powderpuff_calliandra500
This powderpuff was photographed in Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. UF/IFAS.

Powderpuff tree is a reliable magnet for hummingbirds, and easy to grow.  Its main attraction are flowers that appear in late fall and persist into the winter, giving it the South Florida nickname of “snowbird tree.”

Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala) is native to Bolivia, but has been cultivated widely. It is evergreen, with fine, delicate foliage that starts a copper color before maturing to dark green. When flower buds appear, they resemble raspberries, before expanding into puffs of silky stamens. Typically red (“haematocephala” refers to blood), there are some powderpuffs with watermelon-pink and even white flowers.

Trained as a tree, it has an arching, graceful habit, creating a canopy suitable for patios and even containers. It’s easily kept to a desired size with hand pruning.

Powderpuff can be grown as a large shrub or small tree in zones 9-11. In zone 9, frost can kill it back, but shoots will appear from the base in spring. With rapid growth in sandy soils and full sun, powderpuff will respond favorably to regular watering while young but should require no special care once established. Once established, it’s drought tolerant, but has also been reported to survive the occasional standing water from heavy rain as well.

For gardeners who miss their beautiful-but-invasive mimosa trees, powderpuff is an ideal alternative. It has been evaluated using the UF/IFAS Assessment of the Status of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas and is not considered a problem species.

There is (of course) a popular dwarf cultivar, Calliandra haematocephala ‘Nana’. While it doesn’t flower quite as spectacularly as the larger powderpuff, it does flower year-round.

Friday Flowers: Thryallis

While it’s the leaves that turn color in the northern parts of the country, Florida has flowers that shine like gold in the fall.

Thryallis is a medium to large shrub that produces hundreds of small, sunshine-yellow flowers, giving it its other common name, rain-of-gold. It’s fully coming into bloom here in North Central Florida, but can bloom year-round in points further south.

Small, bright yellow flowers in a cluster each with five distinct petals
Thryallis flowers are small, but numerous. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Native to Mexico and Central America, this low-maintenance plant has an airy growth habit and in frost-free zones it can reach 7-8 feet. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in partial shade; expect less flowers and a less-compact growth habit (it might get leggy). Freezing temperatures can kill it down to the roots, but it will return in spring.

Thryallis (Galphinia glauca) likes well-drained soil, is drought tolerant, and needs little irrigation after establishment. Pruning in the spring can keep it neat, but will lessen its flower power. It’s propagated by seed and by summer cuttings.

Plant your thryallis shrub as a backdrop for plants in complementary colors like blue and purple, or plant en masse as a taller groundcover.

A large shrub covered in small yellow flowers in front of a brick building with tufts of ornamental grass in front of it.
This thryallis shrub is part of a Florida-Friendly landscape on the UF main campus in Gainesville. Photo: 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.

This ‘Little Volcano’ Has Big Color

Florida has a lot more fall color than people think! We’ll be sharing some examples over the next few weeks. One fall bloomer is the little volcano bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Little Volcano’).

This Florida-Friendly shrub starts producing lavender flowers that resemble pea blossoms in mid-September and will be covered in purple by October; it will bloom again in spring. It typically grows up to 6 feet tall and can get as wide as 12 feet. Its arching branches are covered in small, oval-shaped leaves that will drop as the temperature does.

Appropriate for zones 6-10, ‘Little Volcano’ is a low-maintenance shrub. Give it a sunny spot in the landscape for the best blooms. It likes well-draining soil, and is remarkably drought-tolerant once established. It can die back with hard freezes, but will return in spring. While there are members of the Lespedeza family that are weedy and even one or two that are invasive, little volcano bush clover does not produce seed and therefore won’t spread. Gardeners have had propagation success with cuttings, however.

Pinkish purple flowers resembling pea blossoms on branch with green oval leaves
‘Little Volcano’ bush clover in bloom, in the Mehrhof building’s garden on campus in Gainesville. (CC-BY-NC, UF/IFAS.)

You may occasionally see this plant’s name as Lespedeza liukiuensis. This is a synonym—an older name that’s no longer accepted.

Shrub with long arching branches covered in small green leaves and purple flowers.
A ‘Little Volcano’ bush clover shrub in the Ficke Gardens at the Baughman Center on the UF campus in Gainesville. (CC-BY-NC, UF/IFAS.)

 

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

 

The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy October, gardeners! Be sure to check out our events calendar — there are many plant sales going on this weekend!

Pale gray oyster mushroomsGrowing Mushrooms – Being able to grow their own food is a big motivation for many gardeners, and they’re always looking to grow new things. Fungi are generally something gardeners try to avoid—but why not try growing them? Two edible mushrooms that are great for beginners are Shiitake and oyster. These savory eats can be grown right in your own home. We offer advice on taking the first step on your mushroom growing journey.

A coyote facing the cameraCoyotes — What’s that spooky noise? You may be listening for howls around Halloween, but coyotes howl year-round here in Florida. This member of the dog family is found in every county throughout the state, but generally doesn’t interact with people much. What’s more, they’re a predator of small nuisance animals like rats. There’s much to learn more about these loud, yet often unseen, critters.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In our Master Gardener trainings we have been taught to recognize hazardous trees and to wage an educated guess on whether a tree will fail. Often times we can identify hazardous trees with a casual glance. If we look with more attention to the canopy, we might see decline and dead or dying branches; that is also an indication of poor tree health. Prior to the latest hurricane, I felt that I knew which of my neighborhood trees would fail and which trees would remain standing strong.

The fuchsia-red flowers of jatropha with a black and yellow butterflyPlant of the Month: Jatropha — Jatropha is a wonderful shrub for South Florida plant lovers. This tropical evergreen has slender stems, multiple trunks, and bright red or pink flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Jatropha grows best in zones 10 to 11, and thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. There are two species of Jatropha that grow quite well in South and Central Florida, Jatropha integerrima and Jatropha multifidi. With plentiful flowers and few maintenance needs, what’s not to love?

UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener logoWe Want to Hear from You (Again) — What do you think about the newsletter? Is the information relevant to you? Is there something you wish we would cover more or less? Well, we want to hear what you have to say! We appreciated all the wonderful feedback we received from our survey last year and would like to hear from you again. Keep an eye out for the survey link which will be coming in the next few weeks.

Yellow sunn hemp flower resembles a pea blossomAllelopathy — Perhaps you’ve heard that you’re not supposed to plant a black walnut tree in your garden. Have you ever wondered why, exactly? Allelopathy is a challenging and interesting topic that looks at how one plant can suppress the growth of other plants nearby. Wade into the basics of this topic with us as we explore what allelopathy is and some examples to keep in mind for your landscape.

A strawberryOctober in Your Garden — It may not feel like fall yet, but October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a good time to plant herbs like basil, chives, fennel, dill, thyme, and oregano, as well as vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And it’s practically the only time we can plant strawberries in Florida.

Read the full October issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’re seeing RED in the garden!

Red coleus plantRed Foliage, Flowers, and Berries – A color theme can be a fun way to give your landscape a cohesive look. Red is a bold and energizing color that can give a sense of drama, elegance, or even excitement to the garden. There are plenty of flowering plants that boast red blossoms, but incorporating red foliage and berries allows you to use the color in different ways.

A red Florida maple leafRed Trees Take your sizzling red color scheme to new heights, like the tree canopy! An excellent addition to home landscapes, trees provide both beauty and shade, and increase property values. Read on for a selection of Florida-Friendly trees that offer either red foliage, like Florida maples, or red flowers, like the iconic South Florida royal poinciana.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I hope you are enjoying the “Red” issue of the Neighborhood Gardener. The color red is associated with heat, activity, passion, anger, love, and joy. I think every gardener has run the gamut of those experiences—sometimes all in one day in the garden. Red is considered a warm color in the landscape and it draws the viewer’s eye. I know the first thing I see when I come around the block to my house is my red Knock Out® rose when it is in full bloom.

The red-orange flower cluster of ixoraPlant of the Month: Ixora – What would a newsletter featuring red be without a fabulous red featured plant? Ixora is an old South Florida favorite that never goes out of style. With year-round blooming and low-maintenance needs, this plant is a winner in the garden. Moderately drought- and salt-tolerant, ixora is adapted to South and Central Florida; zone 9B seems to be its northern-most limit, as frosts or freezes will injure it. If you really want to grow ixora farther north, consider keeping it in a container where it can be moved indoors when temperatures drop.

Three small red tomatoes on the vineRed Edibles – Continuing on with our red theme we’ve got some tasty red edibles sure to add a pop of color to any garden. Red fruits and vegetables usually contain anthocyanins and lycopene. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties and may also lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Lycopene may help lower your risk for cancer and heart disease¹. Two of the obvious red choices, peppers and tomatoes, can be planted this month throughout Florida.

A deep pink vinca flower with a white centerAugust in Your Garden – August means we can finally start planning for fall, and even do some planting. If you have been disappointed in the edibles that could be planted the past few months, our infographic of what to plant for August should cheer you back up. This month is also a good time to start thinking about any annual planting changes you’ll be making as we head towards fall—which technically arrives next month.

Read the full August issue.

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