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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 – January 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy New Year!

Cupcake with candlesCelebrating 100 – The December issue was our 100th edition of the Neighborhood Gardener. The first Neighborhood Gardener newsletter went out in August 2008. Since then our subscribership has flourished, we have sent out hundreds of informational pieces, and promoted as many local and state gardening events. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared and we look forward to sharing another 100 newsletters with you in the coming years.

Peach on the treePruning Mature Deciduous Fruit Trees – Pruning is an important part of deciduous fruit tree maintenance. There are two training systems that will depend on the type of tree you’re growing and will dictate how you need to prune. Now is the time to plan for pruning and possibly make cuts to your tree, assuming the danger of a freeze has passed for your area. Check out our piece and the linked EDIS articles for the information you need to prune your tree properly for the best crop yield.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated every year on the third Friday of January. This month it is January 20th, so mark your calendar to plant a tree or to help someone else plant a tree. Florida’s Arbor Day is held a little earlier than the national day—celebrated in April—because January is a great time to plant a tree in Florida and our soil isn’t frozen like many other states.

Creamy white pinwheel shaped frangipani flower with yellow centerWinter-flowering Trees and Shrubs — The start of a new year brings flowers to many trees in the Sunshine State. January, and February for that matter, see many trees and shrubs flowering in the coldest parts of the year and on into the spring. Our monthly “What’s Flowering in Florida” infographics tell you what is in bloom each month; this piece will give you a little more information on the featured plants for January and February.

Foliage of Fortune's mahoniaPlant of the Month: Mahonia – Mahonia is the name of an entire genus of woody, evergreen shrubs with dozens of different species. A few of those species will grow well in north and central Florida gardens. Mahonia plants thrive in the shade and are drought tolerant once established. Both their yellow flowers in winter and blue-purple berries in the spring will add some unusual interest to the landscape. Foliage varies with each species, from holly-like and spiky to delicate and feathery.

Male green anole with dewflap showingAnoles – A competition for shelter and food is raging across Florida, and two related lizard species have been adapting to the presence of each other for decades. The native green anoles found themselves in competition with the Cuban brown anoles over a century ago. While not much can be done to eradicate brown anoles, having tall shrubs and trees in your landscape offers refuge for green anoles, as they move vertically in habitats when brown anoles are present.

Purple flowers of agapanthusJanuary in Your Garden – While it may be cold out, there are still many bulbs or annuals to plant. Bulbs like crinum and agapanthus can be planted throughout the state. Gardeners in North and Central Florida can also plant gloriosa lily bulbs, and those in South Florida can plant clivia lily this month. In North and Central Florida, annuals like pansy, viola, petunia, and snapdragon are great for planting this time of year. South Florida gardeners can plant begonia, browallia, lobelia, dianthus, dusty miller, and nicotiana.

Read the full January issue.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2016

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Luke ConnorAnd the Winner is… – Congratulations to the 2015 Outstanding Master Gardener, Luke Connor of Marion County. In only six years of service, Luke has already volunteered nearly 1,000 hours, served in multiple leadership roles, and even taught agriculture to soldiers in the U.S. Army Reserve.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — This is the month that we resolve to make changes in our lives for the better. For a happier and healthier 2016, why not make some landscaping and gardening resolutions? I always look for some easy things to quickly mark off my list, so for my first “Wanderings” column of 2016, I thought I might share a few simple landscaping resolutions.

Packaged suet with cageSuet is for the Birds — Suet cakes are a great source of high-energy animal fat and protein for the birds in your landscape. While they’re widely available for purchase and not that expensive, making your own allows you to customize the flavors and have some fun in the process.

Head of cabbageCrazy for Cabbage — Get your new year gardening off to a healthy and productive start by planting a little cabbage this January. A member of the Brasicaeae family, cabbage is related to broccoli, collards, and Brussels sprouts. These winter veggies thrive in the cold; in fact, they require cool temperatures in order to grow. Cabbage can be eaten raw in cole slaw, pickled in sauerkraut, or cooked into a variety of dishes. Plus it’s high in vitamins, particularly vitamin C.

Pink camelliaPlant of the Month: Camellia — Camellias flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. During the remainder of the year, their evergreen foliage and relatively slow growth make camellias excellent landscape plants. Many Florida gardeners aren’t aware of the sheer number of camellia varieties available. Most camellias will perform best if you plant them in a sheltered location where they receive partial shade, in a well-drained, preferably acidic soil. Any pruning should be done before late summer when the flower buds form.

woman planting a treeJanuary in Your Garden – Florida observes Arbor Day on the third Friday of January. To celebrate, plant a tree in your yard or community. Consider a hurricane resistant tree such as live oak, bald cypress, cabbage palm, or crapemyrtle.

Closeup of a river birch's barkWinter Interest: Bark Appeal — It can be a challenge to add interest to your landscape for winter. Choosing trees that have unusual or interesting bark can bring dashes of texture and even color to your landscape during the less spectacular gardening months.

Read the full January issue.

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

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.