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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Hello, gardeners!

Much of Florida has seen plenty of rain in the last few days, and you can thank us—this month’s Neighborhood Gardener focuses on Florida’s drought (as of June 6, much of central and north-central Florida is still considered to be in moderate or extreme drought, even with the rain).

Potted African violet being handwateredTen Ways to Save Water – There are many ways to save water in your landscape; we walk you through the basics. From choosing the right plant for the right place to calibrating your irrigation system and everything in between, we give you ten ways to save water in your landscape.

Tree standing in drought-stricken fieldTree Care During a Drought – During a drought it can be easy to spend your time worrying about your lawn and smaller landscape plants—and forget about your mature trees. But an extended drought can actually cause decline and even death in both young and old trees. Drought damage occurs first in the middle of the tree canopy, often far out of sight, so the best way to protect your trees during a drought is to water them before they show signs of drought stress.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It was with best intentions that we pulled together the “drought edition” of the Neighborhood Gardener newsletter for June 2017. The drought had reached critical levels in a couple areas of Florida and the rest of the state just plain needed the rain. Wildfires were popping up across the peninsula and lawns were turning a crispy shade of brown. Educating our readers on drought-proofing their landscapes seemed like a great idea. The best laid plans of mice and men…

Large exotic century plant on the UF campus looks like a giant aloePlant of the Month: Century Plant – With bold, succulent leaves that can be up to 6 feet long and a towering flower spike that can reach 20 feet, the century plant is certainly a show-stopping landscape addition. “Century plant” is a misleading name, though. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t actually take 100 years to mature or flower; it’s more between 8 to 30 years. While century plant (Agave americana) and the equally eye-catching variegated variety are lovely to look at in the landscape, they are both sharply spined and thus should be planted well away from where people or pets may run afoul of the leaves. Or you can try the spineless, smaller Agave attenuata, aptly named spineless century plant.

Raging wildfire in pine forestAssessing Your Home’s Wildfire Risk – Two of the factors that contribute to the wildfire risk to your home are how the land is used or developed in your area, coupled with the kind of vegetation surrounding your dwelling. There are a few immediate actions you can take to protect your home, including clearing debris from your roof and structures, and planting low-flammability plants. You can also take a look around your home and determine what risk factors exist on your specific site.

A Florida-Friendly Landscape, trademarked phraseA Better Lawn on Less Water – An automatic irrigation system can be a great tool for keeping your landscape watered, but it’s important to use it correctly. Your irrigation system should never operate on a fixed schedule, the controller should be set to the “off” setting and you should be only watering as needed. When does your lawn need to be watered? When 30 or 50 percent of your lawn shows at least one of the three signs of wilt—folding leaf blades, blue-gray color, or footprints remaining visible in the grass—it’s time to activate your irrigation system.

A large tree uprooted by stormJune in Your Garden – With the official start of hurricane season beginning in June, this is a great time to take a look at your landscape and be sure you are hurricane ready before a storm is headed your way. Tree pruning and maintenance are an especially important part of preparing for a hurricane. Train young trees so they develop a sturdy, well-spaced framework of healthy branches along a dominant trunk. For trees larger than about 15 feet tall, hire a certified arborist to prune your trees before the hurricane season.

Ornate concrete birdbath with duck statues at the baseProviding Water for Wildlife – Surface water sources such as puddles, raindrops on leaves, and dew on grass provide much of the water used by wildlife. Animals also get water from the foods they eat. But clean, fresh water that’s accessible to wildlife can often be hard to find, especially during a drought. You can do your part to help sustain thirsty creatures in your backyard by maintaining birdbaths, butterfly watering stations, and even small ponds and fountains.

Read the full June issue.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.