The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2019

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Purple and white eggplantsSummer Vegetables, Part Deux – As far as the more common edible garden plants go, there isn’t much that can be planted in the heat of Florida’s summers. August is when the number of edible plants you can start growing begins to kick off again. For some plants you can start a second crop, like eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. Gardeners in Central and South Florida can start growing okra in August. In North and Central Florida, August marks the time you can plant squash again. Check out the infographic on UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions for more information on the edible plants that can be planted in August.

Wide shallow planter filled with colorful plantsSucculent Garden DIY – We’ve created a fast and fun video tutorial on creating a succulent garden. You can use practically any container, just be sure it has drainage holes. Next add your soil; either use a mix intended for succulents or mix soil and sand in equal proportion. Then get to adding plants. For the best-looking planter, vary colors and textures. Don’t forget to include some succulents that will spill nicely over the edge of your container. Once you’re done, admire your efforts and be sure to give your newly planted succulents some water. Watch our video on YouTube.

Hand saw cutting at a small tree branchHurricane Pre-pruning — Hurricane season started in June, but as the summer progresses it starts to kick up more. Healthy trees are a key part of making sure your home and landscape are ready should a hurricane head your way. When in doubt, look for a certified arborist to prune your trees. As far as palms go, avoid anything called “hurricane pruning” as this will do more harm than help to your tree.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Why did I ever plant these vines in my landscape? Have you ever asked yourself this question? It rang in my ears again this past week when I was cutting and pulling sky vine (Thunbergia grandiflora) off my citrus trees. “It looks pretty,” they said. “It’ll jazz up the back fence with purple flowers,” they promised. “It’s not too bad to control.” File these under: fibs that plant friends have told me about vines.

Small deep wine-red fruits in a cluster on branch of green plantPlant of the Month: Wild Coffee — Wild coffee is a Florida native shrub that gets its name from the small red fruits it produces which resemble true coffee beans, the difference being that wild coffee’s fruits contain no caffeine. This shrub thrives in shade and is best grown in zones 9-11, as it is not cold-hardy. Aside from being attractive, wild coffee’s berries also attract birds and other wildlife, while the flowers are one of the nectar sources for the rare Atala butterfly found primarily in southeast Florida.

Very close view of a fire antFire Ants — Fire ants are notoriously painful pests. They build large nests, aggressively defend their areas, and are hard to get rid of. There are a variety of treatment options you can employ, and what is best for one landscape may not work well for another. Your local county Extension office can offer you the most individualized help. ((Photo of red imported fire ant by Pest and Diseases Image Library, Bugwood.org))

Orange flowers of crossandraAugust in Your Garden — With the heat of summer reaching its peak, the promise of more pleasant outdoor weather is just around the corner. You have a few options in terms of gardening; one is to continue planting your heat-tolerant flowers and herbs. Alternatively, you can wistfully admire your garden from the temperature-controlled comfort of your home, while planning for your fall garden when the temperatures truly begin to drop.

Read the full August issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2019

Spring is right around the corner, gardeners! (The first official day of Spring is March 20th.)

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Pine straw mulch with bright green leaves of a plant peeking into the frameMulch Madness – Mulch is a magnificent addition to any landscape; it helps planting beds conserve moisture while also providing a beautiful texture and a bit of weed barrier. With so many types of mulch, it can be a bit overwhelming to decide which to choose. We help you decide which mulch is best—and which mulches may not be good—for your landscape. Learn which mulch is best to fill in your garden brackets.

A head of cabbage still in the groundCabbage – Did you know that St. Johns County leads the state in production of cabbage? Farmers call their busiest production time right before the holiday the “St. Paddy’s Day Push”! While it isn’t a good time for planting cabbage in Florida, it’s a great time for harvesting it in your garden or finding it freshly harvested from Florida farmers. Learn more about this vegetable so closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program is celebrating 40 years of service in 2019 and I will be highlighting several long-serving counties in this column. Brevard County on Florida’s Space Coast is home to Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, and the UF/IFAS Brevard County Master Gardener Volunteers. Brevard is one of the original three counties that started their Master Gardener Volunteer program in 1979.

Three small white pinwheel-shaped flowersPlant of the Month: Crepe Jasmine — Crepe jasmine has abundant white flowers that are shaped much like a pinwheel. The flowers are particularly prominent in the warmer months of the year, but they stand out against the dark green, glossy evergreen leaves in any season. Forming a moderately dense, rounded, evergreen shrub that flowers even in filtered shade, this plant is a great addition to many gardens. Crepe jasmine plants thrive in Zones 9B to 11.

Sandhill crane's head and long curved neckFlorida Snowbirds — Quite a few birds can be seen migrating through Florida, and some even call our state home for the winter. While the term “snowbirds” can have more than one meaning, we’re referring to the feathered friends who flock to the state to enjoy a little warmth in the winter. Learn more about migratory birds who overwinter in Florida: sandhill cranes, cedar waxwings, and American robins.

Striped watermelon in the fieldMarch in Your Garden — North Florida gardeners are still experiencing winter, so hold off on planting those summer annuals just yet. Bulbs can be planted this month. In Central Florida, you can start replacing those declining winter plants with angelonia and gazania. Gardeners throughout the state can plant beans, squash, corn, and watermelon.

Read the full March issue.

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

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