Friday Flowers: Swamp Sunflower

Yellow flower with brown center

If you had to choose only one flower to herald the approach of autumn in Florida, the swamp sunflower would surely be at the top of the list.

This native plant is also called narrowleaf sunflower, for its thin, rough leaves. For much of the year, swamp sunflower appears unremarkable, if not unattractive. But beginning in late September and continuing into November, the plants begin producing golden yellow flowers in an explosion of color.

A mass of yellow daisy like flowers growing curbside.
Not the most artistic shot, but taken to show just how many blossoms swamp sunflower plants can produce. This photo was taken in northwest Gainesville in October 2017. UF/IFAS.

Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), like most sunflowers, does best in full sun, and can be planted throughout the state. It will grow in dappled shade, but won’t produce as many flowers and will get leggy. True to its name, it can handle soggy soil, but does well in typical garden soil as well; it might appreciate some irrigation during hot, dry periods.

The plants can get quite tall — up to 6 feet. They will often fall over with the weight of the flowers. Trimming it back in June will help it grow fuller, and it can be trimmed down after flowering in the winter. This perennial spreads by rhizomes and forms clumps that can be divided in the spring.

Yellow flower with brown center
A closer look at swamp sunflower’s beautifully golden, daisy-like flowers. UF/IFAS.

Friday Flowers: Thryallis

While it’s the leaves that turn color in the northern parts of the country, Florida has flowers that shine like gold in the fall.

Thryallis is a medium to large shrub that produces hundreds of small, sunshine-yellow flowers, giving it its other common name, rain-of-gold. It’s fully coming into bloom here in North Central Florida, but can bloom year-round in points further south.

Small, bright yellow flowers in a cluster each with five distinct petals
Thryallis flowers are small, but numerous. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Native to Mexico and Central America, this low-maintenance plant has an airy growth habit and in frost-free zones it can reach 7-8 feet. It flowers best in full sun, but will grow in partial shade; expect less flowers and a less-compact growth habit (it might get leggy). Freezing temperatures can kill it down to the roots, but it will return in spring.

Thryallis (Galphinia glauca) likes well-drained soil, is drought tolerant, and needs little irrigation after establishment. Pruning in the spring can keep it neat, but will lessen its flower power. It’s propagated by seed and by summer cuttings.

Plant your thryallis shrub as a backdrop for plants in complementary colors like blue and purple, or plant en masse as a taller groundcover.

A large shrub covered in small yellow flowers in front of a brick building with tufts of ornamental grass in front of it.
This thryallis shrub is part of a Florida-Friendly landscape on the UF main campus in Gainesville. Photo: UF/IFAS.

Get Ready for Fall Gardening

In Florida, fall is an excellent time to start a vegetable garden. Cool-season vegetables to plant in October include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and radishes.

If you’re planting in an area already used for spring and summer crops, be careful to remove all dead or diseased plant matter, including roots.

You may want to have your soil tested to check the pH level and to determine what nutrients you might need to add. Till your soil a few weeks before planting, and then add organic matter, such as cow manure or compost. Make sure your garden gets at least six hours of full sun, and is close to a water supply.

For more ideas, see the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions article, Five Fall Vegetables for the Home Garden.

(Photo: Lettuce in a square foot garden, by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS. All rights reserved.)

Green leafy vegetable in dark soil in a raised wooden bed

This ‘Little Volcano’ Has Big Color

Florida has a lot more fall color than people think! We’ll be sharing some examples over the next few weeks. One fall bloomer is the little volcano bush clover (Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Little Volcano’).

This Florida-Friendly shrub starts producing lavender flowers that resemble pea blossoms in mid-September and will be covered in purple by October; it will bloom again in spring. It typically grows up to 6 feet tall and can get as wide as 12 feet. Its arching branches are covered in small, oval-shaped leaves that will drop as the temperature does.

Appropriate for zones 6-10, ‘Little Volcano’ is a low-maintenance shrub. Give it a sunny spot in the landscape for the best blooms. It likes well-draining soil, and is remarkably drought-tolerant once established. It can die back with hard freezes, but will return in spring. While there are members of the Lespedeza family that are weedy and even one or two that are invasive, little volcano bush clover does not produce seed and therefore won’t spread. Gardeners have had propagation success with cuttings, however.

Pinkish purple flowers resembling pea blossoms on branch with green oval leaves
‘Little Volcano’ bush clover in bloom, in the Mehrhof building’s garden on campus in Gainesville. (CC-BY-NC, UF/IFAS.)

You may occasionally see this plant’s name as Lespedeza liukiuensis. This is a synonym—an older name that’s no longer accepted.

Shrub with long arching branches covered in small green leaves and purple flowers.
A ‘Little Volcano’ bush clover shrub in the Ficke Gardens at the Baughman Center on the UF campus in Gainesville. (CC-BY-NC, UF/IFAS.)

 

It’s Time to Start Planning

For the organized gardener, now is the time to start planning that fall vegetable garden! If you were growing spring or summer crops, remove any dead or diseased plants. Consider having your soil retested. And be sure to check with your local UF/IFAS Extension office — many will be holding workshops on fall vegetable gardening soon. Or perhaps, just stay cool in the air conditioning and browse the plant catalogs and nursery websites.

The Gardening Calendar publications on the UF/IFAS Solutions for Your Life website give Florida gardeners a monthly guide for what to plant and do in their gardens, all based on University of Florida research and expertise. Three different editions of the calendar provide specific tips for each of Florida’s climate zones—North, Central, and South.

North Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep451
Central Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep450
South Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep452

(Photo of red bell peppers by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

red_bell_peppers800

The Neighborhood Gardener – November 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’d like to thank our veterans for their service, and we wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.

View of home landscape from the streetCurb Appeal – Your front yard is the first impression visitors get of your home. It’s the first thing you see after a long day at work. Why not make this part of your home a fabulous reflection of your personality and design aesthetic? Your landscape can be anything you dream of, but there are a few guiding tips to help make sure that you have a lovely and welcoming look to the front of your home.

A cute gopher tortoiseWho Made That Hole? — Gardeners are generally pretty attentive to any disturbances in “the force,” and holes in the yard can be quite disturbing to some. For most homeowners, a few holes here and there are not a huge issue. But where some gardeners welcome the signs of wildlife in their landscape, others find the disturbances a nuisance. Whatever your stance on the digging of critters, almost everyone wants to know who made that hole.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — As a former county Master Gardener coordinator, I recall the frustration of hearing great MG ideas, but having no funds to support them. Now, as state coordinator, I see this occurring in many counties: Master Gardeners diverting valuable time and energy towards project fundraising rather than community service. This was further brought home as I read the county entries for the 2017 Search for Excellence awards. I thought, “How much further could this project have gone if there was money to enhance their efforts?”

Several bright orange carrots being held in a fieldPlant of the Month: Carrots — Originating in central Asia, carrots have been cultivated for centuries. But this cold-hardy plant still deserves a spot in the modern fall vegetable garden. Carrots are a root vegetable well-loved by many and heralded as an excellent source of vitamin A. This healthy vegetable is pretty easy to grow and doesn’t require a lot of room. And carrots are wonderful to grow with kids—they love being able to pull something out of the ground and eat it (after washing, of course).

A cluster of tan mushrooms growing on a lawnMushroom Root Rot — Have you noticed a wilting tree or shrub in your landscape? Perhaps it has very little foliage and what leaves do remain look dry and shriveled. This often happens in a hedge row, where you’ll notice only one plant with symptoms while the rest look healthy. Loquat, ligustrum, and azalea are a few plants you might have seen with these symptoms, but many other trees and shrubs are susceptible. But susceptible to what? If what we’ve described has happened in your landscape, mushroom root rot may be to blame. (Photo: David Stephens, Bugwood.org)

Head of broccoli in a gardenNovember in Your Garden — This month is prime vegetable gardening time. Plant some winter annuals like pansies for great fall color. A wide variety of herbs like cilantro, parsley, sage, and thyme thrive in cooler, drier weather. Turn off systems and water only if needed; plants need less supplemental watering in cooler weather.

Read the full November issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – October 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy October, gardeners! Be sure to check out our events calendar — there are many plant sales going on this weekend!

Pale gray oyster mushroomsGrowing Mushrooms – Being able to grow their own food is a big motivation for many gardeners, and they’re always looking to grow new things. Fungi are generally something gardeners try to avoid—but why not try growing them? Two edible mushrooms that are great for beginners are Shiitake and oyster. These savory eats can be grown right in your own home. We offer advice on taking the first step on your mushroom growing journey.

A coyote facing the cameraCoyotes — What’s that spooky noise? You may be listening for howls around Halloween, but coyotes howl year-round here in Florida. This member of the dog family is found in every county throughout the state, but generally doesn’t interact with people much. What’s more, they’re a predator of small nuisance animals like rats. There’s much to learn more about these loud, yet often unseen, critters.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — In our Master Gardener trainings we have been taught to recognize hazardous trees and to wage an educated guess on whether a tree will fail. Often times we can identify hazardous trees with a casual glance. If we look with more attention to the canopy, we might see decline and dead or dying branches; that is also an indication of poor tree health. Prior to the latest hurricane, I felt that I knew which of my neighborhood trees would fail and which trees would remain standing strong.

The fuchsia-red flowers of jatropha with a black and yellow butterflyPlant of the Month: Jatropha — Jatropha is a wonderful shrub for South Florida plant lovers. This tropical evergreen has slender stems, multiple trunks, and bright red or pink flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Jatropha grows best in zones 10 to 11, and thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. There are two species of Jatropha that grow quite well in South and Central Florida, Jatropha integerrima and Jatropha multifidi. With plentiful flowers and few maintenance needs, what’s not to love?

UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener logoWe Want to Hear from You (Again) — What do you think about the newsletter? Is the information relevant to you? Is there something you wish we would cover more or less? Well, we want to hear what you have to say! We appreciated all the wonderful feedback we received from our survey last year and would like to hear from you again. Keep an eye out for the survey link which will be coming in the next few weeks.

Yellow sunn hemp flower resembles a pea blossomAllelopathy — Perhaps you’ve heard that you’re not supposed to plant a black walnut tree in your garden. Have you ever wondered why, exactly? Allelopathy is a challenging and interesting topic that looks at how one plant can suppress the growth of other plants nearby. Wade into the basics of this topic with us as we explore what allelopathy is and some examples to keep in mind for your landscape.

A strawberryOctober in Your Garden — It may not feel like fall yet, but October is the month for planting those cool-loving annuals like dianthus, impatiens, and pansies. It’s also a good time to plant herbs like basil, chives, fennel, dill, thyme, and oregano, as well as vegetables like beets, broccoli, leafy greens, and radish. And it’s practically the only time we can plant strawberries in Florida.

Read the full October issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We hope this month’s issue finds you safe and well.

Satellite image of Hurricane IrmaAfter the Storm: Hurricane Cleanup – Hurricane Irma has devastated communities in Florida and the Caribbean. For those fortunate enough to have their houses spared, the first step is usually to check out the landscape. Clean-up after a storm is often a massive undertaking. Many jobs should be left to professionals, but if you do take on smaller jobs yourself, make sure you have the right tools and safety gear. For more tips, read “Cleaning Up After a Hurricane” on Gardening Solutions.

Small succulent planted in a ceramic mug resembling a fox's headSucculents — Succulents are unique and low-maintenance plants with fleshy leaves and stems. They are generally found in arid or semi-arid climates and other harsh environments. Echeveria, Sedum, Sempervivum, and Kalanchoe are four genera of succulents popular for growing both indoors and out. There are literally thousands of succulent cultivars, varying widely in form, size, color, and shape, so we’ll only scratch the surface of options in this article.

Five different succulent plants in a terracotta containerSucculent Garden DIY — Got the urge to try growing succulents? We’ve got a fun little tutorial for setting up your own succulent container. With just a few supplies—even a container you might have laying around—you can create a unique plant focal point for your home or landscape.

Two smooth-skinned bright green avocados hanging from treePlant of the Month: Avocado — Trendy and nutritious avocados can be grown in South Florida! There are many avocado varieties; the ones best for growing in Florida are green-skinned and are lower in fat and calories than their Hass counterparts. And while laurel wilt is a disease that has the potential to really hurt Florida’s avocado industry, it may still be worth it for you to try growing an avocado tree in your yard depending on where you live.

Immature poison oak plant clearly showing the three leaftletsIrritating Plants — Do you know which plants in your area might have the potential to leave you itching and uncomfortable? Four native plants—poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and poisonwood—are known for the severe skin rash they cause in those who come into contact with them. Be sure you know where these plants can be found, and what they look like, in order to keep yourself out of an unfortunate spot.

Bright orange and yellow spikes of celosia, resembling flamesSeptember in Your Garden — September can be an exciting time in the garden. Perhaps you’re starting your fall vegetable seeds, or making the transition in the annual planting beds from warm season to cool weather selections. Now’s the time to plant fall herbs that can still handle Florida’s warm September temperatures, like Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.

Read the full August issue.

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

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.

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.