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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Boniato tuber cut open to reveal speckled white fleshBoniato – As the temperatures rise, many gardeners seek out ways to avoid working in their gardens, but for others, there’s no end to the gardening season. And this type of gardener laments the lack of edibles that can be grown in Florida’s warmest months. If you happen to be one such gardener, consider growing boniato. A member of the morning glory family, boniato is a tuber with the appearance and taste somewhere between a sweet potato and a baking potato.

Brightly colored flowering plants in a hanging basketHangin’ Out in a Basket – Hanging baskets are a great way to elevate the colors in your garden to new heights—eye level, to be specific. They’re ideal for people living in condos, apartments, or any place with limited to no gardening space. Pam Brown, a retired urban horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County shares her “secrets to success” on gardening with hanging baskets.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I was only going to work in the yard for a few minutes; that’s why I was wearing flip flops. Three hours later, an unproductive fig tree had been pruned to the ground and my brand-new folding saw had been properly broken in. I stepped away from the project satisfied that the fig was going to come back in a few months and maybe have a new outlook on life. What I didn’t know was that within 24 hours, I would experience the fig’s wrath.

Fringy petaled, lavender flower of Stokes' asterPlant of the Month: Stokes’ Aster – Stokes’ aster is a lovely flowering native that requires almost no maintenance. For your lack of work tending this plant you’ll find yourself rewarded with showy flowers and evergreen foliage. Who doesn’t love a plant that looks fabulous with little effort? Attractive to both bees and butterflies, Stokes’ aster flowers are normally blue-lilac, but cultivars in other colors are available. This perennial does best in Zones 8 through 9A.

Close view of a rusty patched bumblebeeBumblebee in Peril – We’re all concerned about the declining honey bee populations, but let’s not forget about the bumblebees. January saw a first for a species of bumblebee in the United States, and not a good first. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the once-common rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is now endangered. They cite a number of factors leading to the staggering 87 percent decline in population, including loss of habitat, diseases and parasites, pesticides, and climate change. Read more at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalLast Month for the Flower and Garden Festival – Even the heat can’t stop the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival! The festival features fun Disney-themed topiaries, gorgeous gardens, and special events in the Festival Center on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, including instructional seminars from University of Florida experts. May’s seminars include Beautiful and Easy Houseplants, Bee Abodes and Florida-Friendly Landscapes, and Orchids. Visit the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival website.

Close look of lush green basil leavesMay in Your Garden – While summer may not officially come until the middle of June, in Florida May is the month to prepare for the heat (and hopefully the rain). Plant heat-loving herbs—there are quite a few to choose from! Mexican tarragon, basil, ginger, cumin, summer savory, and rosemary make aromatic and flavorful additions to your garden.

Eastern cottontail rabbitRabbits – Most people love seeing bunnies in the landscape, but they may not realize that rabbits could be responsible for damaged or missing plants in the garden. While you may welcome their cute little tails and twitchy ears, their voracious feeding can really take a toll on your plants. Rabbits feed on the tender shoots of young plants, and can even eat whole seedlings, leaving you wondering, “Didn’t I plant a whole row of veggies?” The best management is deterrence, and we’ve got a few suggestions on making your garden less attractive to these adorable little pests.

Read the full May issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Oranges cut into chunksNatural Pest Control with Oils – Growing interest in organic gardening, coupled with risks associated with traditional synthetic products, has increased attention to natural products that can manage landscape and garden pests. Plant- and petroleum-derived oils are one group of natural pest control products that can be successfully used in your garden. They’re typically used to target soft-bodied pests like caterpillars or aphids. We go through the options, how they’re used, and what to watch out for.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalEpcot Flower and Garden Festival – Spring is in full swing and the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival blooms on. Running now through May 29th, the festival features fun Disney-themed topiaries, gorgeous gardens, and special events in the Festival Center on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, including instructional seminars from University of Florida experts.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — My grandmother always made sure she had her trusty Farmers’ Almanac close at hand whenever she was making any gardening decision. To make their forecasts, the authors of the Farmers’ Almanac claim to use a “secret formula that is locked in a black box.” I prefer to use more updated forecast projections that are based on transparent science by meteorologists, and I would encourage you to do the same.

Small red tomatoesPlant of the Month: Cherry Tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes are ideal for the hot and steamy Florida garden. While large tomatoes have a brief planting season here, cherry tomatoes can provide you with fruit throughout the heat of summer. Cherry tomatoes have the same growing requirements as their larger cousins: four to six hours of sunlight per day, regular fertilization, and one to two inches of water a week. There are quite a few varieties which grow well in Florida gardens including ‘BHN 268’, ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Yellow Pear’, and ‘Sun Gold’ to name a few.

Yellow male cloudless sulphur butterflyCloudless Sulphur Butterfly – A pretty butterfly with an odd name, the cloudless sulphur is one of Florida’s most common. These small yellow butterflies have long tongues, perfect for sipping nectar from the tubular flowers of plants like scarlet creeper and scarlet sage. Cloudless sulphur caterpillars are usually green with yellow and blue markings; their host plants include several “sensitive plant” species and shrubs in the Senna group, such as candlestick plant.

Coleus plant with deep red leavesApril in Your Garden – April is a great time to plant heat-tolerant annuals like coleus and bulbs like cannas. This is also a good time to divide large clumps of ornamental grasses and bulbing plants. Edibles that can be planted throughout the state this month include sweet potatoes, southern peas, and beans (bush, pole, and lima).

Yellow flower of coreopsisGrow Your Own Dyes – Growing plants that can be used for the ancient art of creating natural dyes at home is suddenly trending again. For thousands of years, people have looked to plants for color: for clothing, art materials, and more. Luckily, Florida gardeners have a number of colorful options for providing dye-making materials that can also add beauty and even food to the landscape. Of course, many plants can be used to make green dye, but there’s much more color in the garden.

Read the full April issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Man working on the underside of a mowerSpring into Action for a Healthy Lawn – Warmer weather means Florida gardeners will be spending more time keeping their lawns looking lovely. Now is the perfect time to check out equipment, do your research, and create a landscape plan before heading outside. We have four steps that can help you get ready for your lawn’s active growing season.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalEpcot Flower and Garden Festival – There’s a special event that heralds the arrival of spring in Florida—the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Running now through May 29th, the festival features gorgeous gardens, world-famous topiaries, and special events. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, our very own Master Gardener volunteers will be answering questions at the garden information desk, and Master Gardener Coordinators will give instructional seminars on topics such as hummingbird gardens and orchids.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I never know how spring fever is going to hit me. Sometimes it’s the pleasant shock of finding my shopping cart full of beautiful perennial plants—when I only went to the big box store for light bulbs. Or waking up on Saturday with a full-blown panic attack realizing that if I don’t get to the nursery immediately they will be sold out of my favorite tomatoes, and if they are sold out, I won’t have my favorites and I will suffer with lesser tomatoes all spring omg where are my keys?

Purple blossom of queen's wreathPlant of the Month: Queen’s Wreath – Queen’s wreath is a tropical flowering vine that looks wonderful this time of year. With drooping lavender flowers, this plant resembles wisteria—without that plant’s invasive issues. While usually found growing as a woody vine, queen’s wreath can be maintained as a shrub or a small, single- or multiple-trunked tree. Left to its own devices, queen’s wreath can reach 40 feet tall, but you can keep it much smaller with occasional pruning. Gardeners in zones 9B and further south can plant this long-flowering vine and enjoy blossoms for many months.

Logo for FruitScapes website over a photo of papayaFruitScapes – State Master Gardener Coordinator Wendy Wilber thinks growing fruit trees is a fabulous idea. They provide nutritious food to eat and share with both friends and wildlife, they provide shade, and are an attractive addition to home landscapes. But with so many fruit tree (and shrub) options available to Florida gardeners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Enter FruitScapes, the UF/IFAS website that offers you information on planting and growing over 50 different fruit plants in Florida.

Red zinnia flowersMarch in Your Garden – Spring is one of the busiest seasons for Florida gardeners. There are many edibles that can be planted in your garden this month and we have an updated Edibles to Plant this Month infographic that gives you a glance at what can be planted across the state. Now is also the time to start planting heat-tolerant annuals like angelonia and zinnia in your landscape.

Photo of a doe, mostly her headPlant Damage? Oh, Deer! – Spotting deer in your backyard can be a sweet treat; spotting damaged plants that have been chewed up by deer can sour your joy. While there are no guaranteed deer-proof plants, there are plants that are resistant to deer damage, as well as steps you can take to protect your garden and landscape.

Read the full March 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 – October 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Jim DavisMaster Gardener Professorship – The Master Gardener Professorship is a faculty-recognition program named in honor of Florida Master Gardeners. The winner has been selected for 2016 and we would like to congratulate Jim Davis! As Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Sumter County, Jim oversees the residential horticulture program, teaching county residents about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles with a particular focus on irrigation. Learn more about the good work Jim’s doing.

Seminole pumpkinSeminole Pumpkins – Pumpkins get top billing this time of year, but did you know there is one particular pumpkin that does quite well in Florida? Seminole pumpkins can hold up through Florida’s relentless summer heat and come out the other side producing delicious fruits for harvest.

Photo courtesy of Miranda Castro, Edible Plant Project

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings – Is ignorance bliss? Sometimes I think so when it comes to spotting horticultural horrors. When we go through Master Gardener training, we learn so much about good horticultural practices. Sometimes, we learn that things we once thought were just fine are actually terribly wrong.

Yellow crotalaria flowerToxic Plants — The spooky and the sinister come out to play this time of year—even in the garden. Some popular landscape plants and pasture flowers have a dark side, too. UF/IFAS Extension provides an infographic that gives a bit of information on the toxic elements of some common plants like azaleas, lantana, the currently blooming crotalaria (pictured), and other dangerous beauties.

Photo by John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University, Bugwood.org

Bright orange flowers of flame vinePlant of the Month: Flame Vine – Flame vine is quite the show-stopper with its numerous, fiery orange blooms. This fast-growing plant can be a dazzling sight to behold, but take care to control its aggressive growth. Flame vine will climb anything that offers decent support, so while it’s great for fences, trellises, and archways, it’s best to avoid planting near trees that could be strangled. The work is worth the effort; hummingbirds love the tubular flowers for their nectar. Hardy in USDA Zones 9–11, flame vine can sometimes be found flowering as far north as Zone 8b.

strawberriesOctober in Your Garden – October is a great time to prepare and start planting strawberries. If you’re worried you don’t have enough space in the garden, strawberries do quite well when planted in containers. All parts of the state can plant these colorful, tasty berries this month.

Eastern diamondback rattle snakeSnakes — Snakes may send some gardeners running scared, but they’re actually an important part of a Florida-Friendly landscape. Snakes play an important ecological role and will generally keep to themselves. Of the many species found in Florida, only six are venomous. It’s best to never approach any snake, but approaching a venomous snake can be dangerous. If you think a snake may be venomous, call a professional.

Read the full October issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Head of broccoli growing in gardenBroccoli – Broccoli is a great cool-season vegetable for Florida gardeners, and hopefully, cool weather is just around the corner. Did you know that it also has an interesting history of cultivation? Read on for more information on how to grow this crunchy cruciferous vegetable and a look at the history of it and its closest relatives.

Toilet paper, flour paste, and seedsSeed Tape DIY – Ready to get a head start on your fall garden, but not quite ready to plant seeds in the ground? Why not make your own seed tape? Pre-purchased seed tape can be expensive, but making your own is inexpensive, quick, and easy—seriously, we were surprised at how quick and easy it was! Our picture tutorial shows just how simple it is.

preserved specimen of Maling bambooInternet Resources for Plant Names – This month, Marc Frank, Extension Botanist with the UF/IFAS Plant Identification and Information Service, writes a guest column on Internet resources for checking plant names. “Unfortunately, there is no single website that is good for checking all plant names,” he writes. But there are a few that he can recommend.

WendyPlant of the Month: Turk’s Cap Mallow — A wonderful Florida shrub that provides a pop of color, Turk’s cap mallow is a Florida-Friendly shrub related to hibiscus. Well, actually “Turk’s cap mallow” is the common name used for two different hibiscus relatives. Both Malvaviscus penduliflorus and Malvaviscus arboreus are sometimes referred to as Turk’s cap mallow and are both in bloom this time of year.

Wax begonia flowerSeptember in Your Garden – September is a good time to plant and divide bulbs in your garden. Refresh summer beds with annuals like celosia and wax begonia. Prepare the fall vegetable garden if not done in August. Using transplants from your local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start, but seeds provide a wider variety from which to choose.

pond feature set in patioDragonflies — Dragonflies may have a fierce namesake, but these insects are wonderful predators of annoying garden pests like mosquitoes and flies. Florida is home to over 100 species; some are found throughout the state while others are limited to a few regions. And did you know dragonflies are migratory? There is so much to learn about these exciting flying sensations.

Read the full September issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Student preparing garden soil with teacherSchool Garden Wins Award of Excellence for Bay County – The Florida Master Gardener Award of Excellence for Service to 4-H and/or Other Youth recognizes volunteers who make outstanding contributions to youth through horticulture. The 2015 award went to the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Master Gardeners, for their work as part of a community-wide partnership to develop and maintain a horticultural therapy garden at Margaret K. Lewis School for children with disabilities.

Hummingbird approaching feeder photo by Annkatrin RoseHummingbird Feeders
While the best source of food for hummingbirds is one of the many nectar-producing plants they love, a hummingbird feeder can be a great way to provide extra sustenance to these fast-moving little birds. Hummingbirds need to eat a third to half of their body weight each day in order to keep those rapidly beating wings moving. When looking for a hummingbird feeder, choose one in red plastic with multiple feeding stations, and only put an unaltered sugar and water solution—no dye—into the feeder.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — As a gardener, I am always looking for inspiration for what to plant next. I’m constantly on the lookout for fresh plant varieties, fresh plant combinations, new ways of growing plants, and new ways of communicating with people about plants. When it is spring, I look forward to attending the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival at Walt Disney World. Their world-class horticulturalists plan far in advance to blow gardeners’ boots off and this year is no exception. The theme is “Epcot Fresh” and there are plenty of fresh ideas there to inspire you.

Olives on the treeOlives — Think of olive trees and you may think of the Mediterranean, but did you know that you can grow olives in Florida? If you’re looking for something different, an olive tree may be a great choice. Grown in small numbers here for years, commercial production of olives in Florida is still new and subject to ongoing research. While not suitable for consumption right off the tree, olives can be cured and eaten, or pressed for oil, and the tree’s silvery foliage makes it an attractive addition to the landscape.

Yellow trumpet treePlant of the Month: Trumpet Trees — Trumpet trees are loved for their dazzling display of blossoms that burst forth ahead of their leaves in spring. The common name refers to the elongated flowers that resemble trumpets; depending on the tree, the flowers can be white, yellow, pink or even lavender. Traditionally known as Tabebuia, some of these trees are now recognized with a different botanical name. These Florida-friendly plants grow best in full sun and make a stunning addition to landscapes in Central and South Florida.

TomatoesMarch in Your Garden – We’re heading into spring, which is a great time to try a vegetable garden. Warm season crops can be planted this month throughout the state, like corn, pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes.

two mosquitoesZika Mosquito Update — Zika has been getting a lot of attention in the media recently, as outbreaks of this mosquito-transmitted virus become evermore present in Central and South America. While much is still unknown about the Zika virus, one thing is for sure—limiting mosquito habitats and preventing bites are important precautions in mosquito-prone climates like Florida’s.

Read the full March issue.

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