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.

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.

The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2018

Yellow flower with brown center

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-leafed plant and feathery grassAdd a Thrilling Porch Planter for Fall – Fall is a fabulous time to add some porch planters or to re-design the ones you have. Couple the staples of good planters—“thrillers, spillers, and fillers”—with trendy colors for fall like orange and purple and you have the makings of an attention-grabbing container. We’ll even take you beyond the trusty mums to bring you plants that shine in the (hopefully) cooler season.

A small furry brown bat with comically large earsCavity Dwellers – Halloween is right around the corner and images of dead trees are a favorite for decorating. But dead trees in your landscape are nothing to be frightened of — wildlife actually find dead wood extremely useful. Birds, bats, small mammals, and even some surprising creatures make their homes in dead wood. Learn more about how you can safely incorporate dead wood into your landscape and who may come to call it home. (Photo: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station; USDA Forest Service; SRS; Bugwood.org)

Two spiky, neon green caterpillars on a leafStinging and Venomous Caterpillars — Creepy crawlies are on our minds this October, so we’re looking at some stinging and venomous caterpillars found in Florida. Did you know that stinging caterpillars don’t sting with a stinger the way wasps or bees do? They have barbed, stinging hairs called urticating hairs that easily break off the caterpillar’s body when you brush against them. We’ve listed caterpillars to look out for, and when to look but not touch a caterpillar in your landscape.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — If you love all things “pumpkin spice” or have moved to Florida from a state further north you just you might find yourself missing fall color. I have lived in Florida since before man landed on the moon, so this “fall color” concept is a little foreign to me. Postcards of colorful mountains with oranges, reds, and yellow trees look beautiful but they are not part of my Florida picture. Instead I see the fall colors in Florida native plants in landscapes and natural areas.

Plant with large, glossy, deep green leaves shaped like lily padsPlant of the Month: Farfugium — It’s not often you find a wow-worthy plant that thrives in shade and blooms, but farfugium checks those boxes. When fall arrives, farfugium really begins to shine. It sends up clusters of yellow flowers that hover over its glossy foliage, making for a very interesting combination of daisy-like blooms and tropical leaves. It can transform a shaded area into a lush oasis. Also called leopard plant, farfugium grows in zones 7–10.

Large tree planted in a small green spot in a parking lot, its roots extended out and cracking through the pavementCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Plant Placement 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 second in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how planting location plays a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Two red strawberries up closeOctober in Your Garden — It’s truly, finally gardening season in Florida. October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a great month for planting vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And don’t forget the strawberries—this is Florida’s short window for planting.

Read the full October issue.

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

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.)

Friday Flowers: Giant Ironweed

Friday Flowers: giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is a butterfly magnet!

This native wildflower has purple flowers with nectar that draws many pollinators. (We’ve been seeing swallowtail butterflies and bumblebees.) Flowering occurs in summer and fall, with peak blooming in July. As you might guess from the name, it can get pretty tall — up to 8 feet, but it usually stays in the 3′-5′ range. Hardy in zones 7-10, this deciduous perennial will die back in winter. It’s thought that the common name, ironweed, comes from the toughness of the stems.

Giant ironweed is ideal for the butterfly or pollinator garden, although you might want to plant it towards the back of the bed due to its height.

The Florida Museum of Natural History has additional information on giant ironweed.

giant_ironweed700
The purple flowers of giant ironweed. UF/IFAS

 

Friday Flowers: Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower, also called echinacea, produces daisy‐like flowers, with a fuzzy-looking cone center surrounded by horizontal or drooping petals in shades of pink, lavender, and purple.

Purple coneflower does best with light shade in summer, where protection from afternoon sun enhances flower and foliage color. It is fairly tolerant of drought in the partial shade, less so in full sun.

While many cultivars have been bred in a rainbow of colors (with wild names like ‘Mac ‘n’ Cheese’!), many gardeners prefer the native purple species to attract and feed butterflies.

Learn more about purple coneflower at UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions

(And yes, this is the same echinacea that some people take to ward off or recover more quickly from colds, but according to the National Institutes of Health, the jury is still out on that…)

(Photo: purple coneflower, UF/IFAS.)

Purple daisy-like flowers
Purple coneflower, UF/IFAS.

10 Years of the Neighborhood Gardener – August 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Three balloons, two orange and one blueTen Years of the Neighborhood Gardeners – This month marks ten years of our newsletter. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our articles as much as we have loved putting the newsletter together. We look forward to many more years of bringing you fun and helpful research-based gardening information.

Bee on pink pentas flowerPerfect Pollinator Plants – Pollinators receive a lot of love from gardeners; many people love to incorporate plants for them in to the landscape. A garden that attracts pollinators will include a mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs, and trees that will bloom throughout the year and provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar for many pollinator species. We’ve compiled a list of some Florida-Friendly plants you can use in your landscape to bring pollinators to your garden.

The hop cone like fruit of the hophornbeam treeUnderappreciated Shade Trees — By August most Floridians are tired of the summer heat. The cooling effect of shade trees is much appreciated in the Sunshine State. Planting the right trees in the right place can even help reduce energy use in your home. We have a few native trees that might not come to mind first when looking for a shade tree, but could be a good choice for your landscape.
(Photo of hophornbeam foliage and fruit by John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In the Florida summer it is easy to realize some of the benefits of trees. The shade trees of my youth were mango, lychee, and royal poinciana trees. These tropical trees provided loads of shade, fruit, and flowers. My shade trees of today are live oaks and crapemyrtles—certainly not as exotic as the ones I grew up with but shady just the same.

Light green palmetto fronds in sunlightPlant of the Month: Saw Palmetto — Saw palmetto grows wild in Florida’s natural areas, but it’s also a useful plant for home landscapes throughout the state. This native plant tolerates a range of conditions and provides wonderful textural interest. It’s highly salt-tolerant, making it ideal for coastal gardening. Saw palmetto prefers full sun but will grow in almost any light conditions. It will benefit from regular waterings at first, but will be very drought tolerant once established. Plants can be purchased in pots at many nurseries and can be planted year-round in Florida.

Polka-dot plant with pink leaves mottled with greenClassroom Plants — For many, August means back to school. Why not spruce up the classroom up with an indoor plant or two? We have some plants for classrooms that are good-looking (like the polka-dot plant pictured) and many of them offer educational opportunities. Plus they’re non-toxic, which is great for any place with small children or pets.

Royal palm tree photo by Dr. Timothy BroschatAugust in Your Garden — The hottest days of summer limit planting now to heat-tolerant annuals like coleus and vinca. Vegetables to plant this month include eggplant, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Check the older fronds of palms for yellowing as it may indicate a magnesium or potassium deficiency. Apply an appropriate palm fertilizer.

Detail of hexagon shaped window at new labHoney Bee Lab Update — In June, UF’s new honey bee lab was completed. “The Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory is a series of three buildings — it’s a mini bee campus. One of the buildings, the Amy E. Lohman Apiculture Center, will house the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Apiary Inspection team, a beekeeping museum, a honey extraction and processing facility, and workshop space,” said professor Jamie Ellis, who heads the honey bee lab. There will be an open house event on Saturday, August 25 in Gainesville.

Read the full August issue.

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

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 – July 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Orange-red tubular flowers of firebushFloral Fire – Florida gardens are certainly full of heat in July; and that inspired us to discuss some of the “fiery” flowers that flourish in Florida landscapes. Firebush, firecracker plant, firespike, and firethorn — they all have fire in the name but each bring something different to your garden.

Bright red peppers hanging from plantHot Peppers for Hot Weather – The heat is rising outside and for some, a little heat in your foods and beverages can offer relief from the rising mercury outdoors. Pepper heat is not the same between different varieties; from the heat-free bell peppers to the world’s third-hottest pepper, the bhut jolokia, there is surely a pepper for any taste. We list some of the peppers that grow well in Florida by heat.

Rectangles of sheet metal laid on a lawn at interesting angles to serve as a walkwayModern Landscape Design — A modern design aesthetic appeals to those who favor clean lines, open spaces, and repetition of a few choice plants. We have a few suggestions to help make your modern landscape look magnificent.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It is nearly impossible to keep up with the landscaping chores during this year’s rainy season. You can sneak out to prune plants or dump the rain gauge, but keeping up with the mega lawn is nearly impossible. Just when you have it mowed to the proper height, four days later it is almost ready to mow again, and it’s raining when you try, so you just wait another day.

Close view of deep green fern frondsPlant of the Month: Australian Tree Fern — Also known in its native country as the lacy tree fern because of its delicate fronds, the Australian tree fern is a tropical giant whose trunk can reach a height of 15 or even 30 feet. The long, large leaves form a handsome canopy and give a tropical feel to the landscape. Australian tree fern grows best in areas with high humidity and very warm temperatures. In South and Central Florida, it can be grown outside; farther north it should be grown in an area where it is protected from the cold.

A gray and white mottled moth on green leavesSphingidae Moths — Moths often don’t receive the same love as their day-time counterparts, butterflies. But the number of moth species world-wide far outnumbers the number of butterfly species. Some of the largest moths belong to the Sphingid family. While some are considered to be beneficial pollinators, their larval stage of caterpillars can be a destructive garden pest. Learn more about these large and interesting moths.
(Tetrio sphinx moth photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International, Bugwood.org)

Delicate red flower of royal poinciana treeJuly in Your Garden — While it may be too hot to start herbs from seed in your garden, some like oregano and mint will do well when started from small plants. Some bulbs can be planted now as well, including butterfly lily, gladiolus, and society garlic. Some municipalities prohibit the application of fertilizer to lawns and/or landscape plants during the summer rainy season. See if such an ordinance exists in your area.

Read the full July issue.

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

Mosquito Control and Bees

Honey bee on orange blossomThere are some bugs you just don’t want around, like mosquitoes. Mosquito control protects the public from disease outbreaks, reduces nuisance mosquitoes, and protects Florida’s economy.

But then there are the bugs you do want around, like bees. It’s no exaggeration to say that almost everyone who eats food benefits from the honey bee. A common estimate is that one in three U.S. crops is pollinated by bees, but in Florida the ratio is three out of four.

So, how do mosquito control efforts affect our honey bees? The UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education (PIE Center) addresses that in a new campaign to educate Floridians on mosquito control:

While insecticides used on mosquitoes can kill bees outside of their hives, treatment that is applied before dawn or after dusk can reduce impact because bees are usually inside their hives. However, it is not always appropriate to treat before dawn or after dusk for certain mosquito species. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies show that honey production between hives in treated and untreated sites did not show significantly different quantities of honey over the course of a season. Beekeepers and concerned citizens should work with their local mosquito control program to determine when and where they treat for mosquitoes.

They’ve created a very helpful fact sheet that you can download and print:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/mosquito_control_bee_impact_piecenter.pdf

Impact of Mosquito Control on Honey Bees
An infographic with some of the information from the PIE Center’s fact sheet titled, “Impact of Mosquito Control on Honey Bees,” in an illustrated format.

And you can read more about honey bees in Florida in this excellent article written for UF/IFAS Extension Bug Week 2018.