The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy holidays from the staff of the Florida Master Gardener program!

White flowerThe Top 8 Gift Plants – It’s the holiday season, and plants are an ever-popular gift. While amaryllis and Christmas cactus get a lot of attention this time of year, there are many other great gift plants if you’re looking to give something a bit different. Paperwhite narcissus is a great alternative to amaryllis. Norfolk Island pines and rosemary plants are often festively adorned to resemble miniature Christmas trees. Learn more about these and other holiday plant options.

Two carambola fruit hanging from treeCarambola – In South Florida, carambola is currently in season and a great tropical tree for growers in some parts of Florida. Also called star fruit, carambola is one of the more cold-hardy tropical fruit trees, making it a possibility for those north of the Keys. Older varieties of carambola tend to be quite tart, but new, sweeter cultivars have been selected. Star fruit are a good source of vitamins C and A, phosphorus, and potassium. Slices of the fruit look like stars—hence the celestial name.

View of the Fairchild Tropical Botanical GardenGarden Field Trips — With hectic holiday schedules it can be difficult to find time in the garden; add in travel and visitors and you might start feeling a plant void this time of year. Why not take this time to visit a garden and get “green inspiration” to start out the new year? Seek out a garden during your trip, or take your holiday guests to one in your city. We’ve compiled a list of just a few of the spectacular gardens throughout the state if you need some destination ideas.

Blue fruit of the female red cedarPlant of the Month: Red Cedar – Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is a Florida-Friendly tree that adds year-round greenery and texture to your landscape. With attractive, dense foliage, it’s often used as a wind break or a screen. It also has a high salt tolerance, making it great for coastal areas. Its pleasing form makes red cedar also popular as a cut or living Christmas tree; it’s one of several evergreen species grown on Florida Christmas tree farms. Red cedar goes by many common names, including southern red cedar, eastern red cedar, and even pencil cedar (more on that later).

Spider plant in hanging macrame basketDecember in Your Garden – While the rest of the country may consider December to be a slow time of year for the garden, here in Florida it’s the ideal time for planting edibles like cruciferous vegetables, carrots, onions, turnips, and many more. Now is a good time to check out the health of your houseplants, too.

Read the full December issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2014

Happy Holidays, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

poinsettia in basketCreative Container Plants for Gifts – It’s the time of year when people are thinking about gifts, and what better gift to give than a potted plant? A plant in a lovely container is a thoughtful and creative gift. There’s a variety of plants to choose from, allowing you to select one that’s perfect for the recipient. Keep in mind their growing experience and the plant’s care requirements. If you are purchasing a flowering plant, try to select one that hasn’t fully bloomed yet. And it’s actually two gifts in one—finding a beautiful container can make it even more personal.


calendar2015 Master Gardener Wall Calendar — Shopping for a Florida gardener or plant lover? Check out our brand new 2015 Florida Master Gardener Wall Calendar! This beautiful and useful calendar features full color photos, Florida-Friendly gardening tips, and a list of blooming plants each month. The calendar is now available for $12.95 in the IFAS Extension Bookstore.


mintPlant of the Month: Mint — The smell of mint is often associated with the holidays. Why not bring the scents of the season into your garden by growing this fragrant and useful herb? The refreshing aromatic leaves and small flowers can be added to many dishes including desserts, beverages, meat, salads, as well as jellies and sauces. Mints are excellent perennial herbs for beginning gardeners to grow. Be careful though—mint is sometimes too easy to grow and when left unchecked, it can take over your whole garden.

December in Your Garden – This year consider a Christmas tree that will live on after the holidays. Southern red cedar, Arizona cypress, or sand pine can be enjoyed in a container and then planted in the landscape when the holidays are over. Living Christmas trees create memories that last a lifetime. As an added bonus you can decorate the planted tree with suet, bird feed, or popcorn balls to encourage birds to nest and enjoy the tree, too.

mistletoe in treeFriend or Foe? Foe: Mistletoe — Mistletoe has been used as a Yuletide decoration for centuries. But this plant can be dangerous, and not just for people. Mistletoe is poisonous if eaten, so be careful if you choose to use it for holiday decorating. It’s also damaging to the trees it grows on. Because of its parasitic nature, mistletoe can weaken or even destroy the trees it infests, especially if the tree has been compromised by pests, storms, or old age.

Read the full December issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2013

Happy holidays, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

poinsettiaGifting Plants — Plants make great gifts with beauty that continues long after the holidays are over. Christmas cactus and poinsettias are popular holiday gift plants. Amaryllis, rosemary topiaries, and even ornamental peppers make for festive gifts as well. When selecting a plant, make sure it has healthy foliage and that no roots are coming out of the pot. If you are purchasing a flowering plant, try to select one that hasn’t fully bloomed yet. Of course, always be sure to include care instructions.

Natural arrangementHave Yourself a Florida-Friendly Christmas — Polk Master Gardener Molly Griner has lots of helpful tips for decorating your home and garden this holiday season using Florida-Friendly plants. Consider evergreens, dried/preserved plant materials, and color (fruits and blossoms) when planning your natural holiday decorations. Decorating with these materials is easy; don’t think of it as arranging so much as gathering. This will make your decorating less stressful and more fun!

Firethorn berriesPlant of the Month: Firethorn — To add a pop of color in your winter garden, try planting firethorn. This evergreen shrub is known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) can be grown as an espalier, used on slopes requiring little maintenance, or even as topiary. Just mind the thorns, which also make this plant an excellent barrier. It performs best in north and central parts of Florida and will thrive when planted in well-drained soil where it will receive full sun.

December in Your Garden – Inspect your houseplants regularly for pests. Keep in mind that specific temperature, light, and humidity are key to ensuring that indoor plants thrive. Before you throw away fallen leaves from your yard, consider using them as mulch in your garden or adding them to your compost bin. Fallen leaves are a great source of carbon, a necessary ingredient for successful composting.

A diamondback moth larvaFriend or Foe? Foe: Diamondback Moth — The larvae of the diamondback moth only chews on plants in the Brassicaceae family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard, kale, and radish. Larvae start out small and colorless, quickly becoming green with small white patches. Their feeding results in irregular holes, where the leaf tissue has been removed except for the leaf veins. The easiest way to manage these pests is to scout for them frequently. When you see holes in leaves, search your plants for the larvae and pick them off and destroy them. This method is not only cheap and pesticide free, but also extremely effective.

Read the full December issue.

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

It’s Poinsettia Time! The UF Poinsettia Show and Sale, December 5th and 6th


The Florida Master Gardener program’s state office is located on the Gainesville campus of the University of Florida, so the annual Poinsettia Show and Sale always feels like the official start of the holiday season for us.

The 2013 Poinsettia Show and Sale
Thursday, December 5th
8am – 5:30pm

Friday, December 6th
8am – 3pm

At Fifield Hall on Hull Road, UF Campus

The Poinsettia Show and Sale is one of the biggest fundraisers for the UF Environmental Horticulture Club, and features over 30 varieties for sale, including traditional reds and novelties such as Shimmer Surprise, Orange Spice, Winter Rose, and Ice Punch. Dr. Jim Barrett and his research team hold their annual show at the same time. The poinsettia show displays 150 varieties (more than 6,000 plants) and is the largest of its kind in North America. Many of these are the newest and most novel poinsettias. The researchers conduct a consumer survey during the show to determine preferences of the public. They encourage all attendees to participate in this survey while visiting the sale.

Visit their website for more information:

Cinnamon Stick Poinsettia

The Neighborhood Gardener – December

Better late than never! While the December issue of “The Neighborhood Gardener” went out as scheduled, we failed to post it to the blog. Our apologies! Here’s the December Neighborhood Gardener – look for January’s issue next Friday (January 11th).

December’s The Neighborhood Gardener:

poinsettiaPoinsettias: Holiday Color for the Home & Garden
Poinsettias are an iconic holiday decoration, instantly recognizable for their colorful, petal-like leaves called bracts. But today’s cultivated poinsettias come in a variety of colors besides the traditional red. And new varieties, like Ice Punch and Peppermint Twist, have been bred to last even longer indoors.

poinsettiaGarlands – Garlands are an ancient holiday tradition, dating as far back as Greek and Roman times. Ropes of garland are often made from evergreen material, like pine and cedar, as it’s pliable and relatively easy to work with. To make your own garland, cut branches ranging in lengths from six to twelve inches long. Overlap the branches and attach them using twine or wire. For a truly Southern look, you can even make garland with Southern magnolia leaves. Their leathery coating will keep them looking good for some time.

acornsPlant of the Month: Shumard Oak — Ideal for urban landscapes, Shumard oak is appreciated for its interesting foliage. It features traditional oak-shaped leaves that are dark green throughout most of the year and then turn a brilliant red or red-orange in fall. Once mature, these shade trees can reach 80 feet tall and have a 50- to 60-foot canopy. Shumard oak can be grown throughout Florida in full sun. It will grow best in a soil that’s rich and moist, though it can also be planted in drier sites.

December in Your Garden – Fallen leaves provide the carbon needed for successful composting and also make a good mulch. If plants did not perform as desired this year or new plantings are being planned, a soil test will reveal the specific nutrients that need to be applied.

raccoonFriend or Foe? Foe: Raccoon — Raccoons are very well-adapted to urban areas and often make a nuisance of themselves getting into trash, the vegetable garden, or worse, your attic. They’re also a major carrier of rabies in Florida. But there are inexpensive and simple ways to control this nuisance, mainly through exclusion and prevention.

Read the full December issue.

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

It’s Poinsettia Time Again

Ice Punch PoinsettiaThe University of Florida’s Environmental Horticulture Club will host its 16th Annual Poinsettia Show and Sale on December 8th and 9th in the greenhouses at UF’s Fifield Hall. The hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday.

Club secretary Gina DeFalco says, “Poinsettias make great decorations for your office, holiday party, or event, not to mention great gifts!”

She also points out that if you can’t wait for the sale or would like to beat the crowds, the club has a pre-sale option.

Over 40 varieties will be offered for sale, including traditional reds and novelties such as Visions of Grandeur, Orange Spice, Winter Rose, and Ice Punch. The most popular sized 6 ½” pots include colorful decorative pot covers. Larger showpieces in 8” and 10” pots will also be available in centerpiece bowls.

For more details on the sale and how to pre-order, see their website:

National Poinsettia Cultivar Trials

Dr. Jim Barrett and his research team will be holding their annual show at the same time as the sale. This display includes more than 6,000 plants and is the largest show in North America. There will be 150 varieties on display this year. Many of these are the newest and most novel poinsettias. They will be conducting a consumer survey to determine preferences of the public.

The Neighborhood Gardener – October

Christmas cactus flowerThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Christmas Cactus Prep — The holidays are coming up on us and it’s time to start getting your Christmas cactus ready to bloom. Many people have these plants for years, but it can be tricky getting them to bloom when you want.
  • Plant of the Month: Muhly Grass — In fall, muhly grass produces fluffy pink to purple flower stalks that can reach up to 5 feet tall and give the plant a distinctive and attractive appearance. This native ornamental grass can be grown throughout Florida and will perform best if it’s planted in a sunny area.
  • October in Your Garden – Plant evergreen hollies now. Their bright berries add color to the landscape when other plants are dormant or have died back for the winter. Water well when planting and mulch to minimize weeds.
  • Pest Alert: Giant African Land Snails — The giant African land snail is considered one of the most damaging snails in the world. It’s known to consume at least 500 different types of plants, and can pose a serious health risk to humans. These invasive pests have recently been found in Miami-Dade County. These snails could be devastating to Florida agriculture and natural areas.
  • It’s Time for ButterflyFest – Celebrate wings and backyard things at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s sixth annual ButterflyFest, Oct. 22 and 23, 2011. ButterflyFest is dedicated to increasing awareness of Florida’s butterflies as fun, fascinating ambassadors to the natural world. There will be speakers, fun activites, a plant sale, and musical performances.
  • Master Gardener Conference – There’s still time to register for the 2011 Florida Master Gardener Continued Training Conference. The conference will be held October 24-26 at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Lake Buena Vista. Don’t miss out on tours, enlightening seminars, the plant ID competition, and so much more.

Read the full October issue.

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

Have you thought about a Living Christmas Tree this year?

Living Christmas Trees

Living Christmas trees create memories that last a lifetime. They can be enjoyed indoors during the holidays and outdoors in the landscape throughout the year. More.

Select from a variety of living trees that are suited for Florida, including red cedar, Arizona cypress, Leyland cypress, Torulosa juniper, sand pine, and, in South Florida, Norfolk Island pine. Think beyond the holidays by selecting a tree whose mature size will work in your landscape. While it’s inside, keep your tree moist but not flooded, and remember that an extended indoor stay could harm the tree. Once your tree has been planted in the landscape, you can decorate it every holiday season with yard-brightening tinsel, ornaments, and outdoor lights. Make holiday memories last by adding a living tree to your landscape.

Plan well ahead if you are decorating with a living Christmas tree.

  • Find a suitable post-holiday planting site, one capable of supporting a tree that can grow 40- to 60-feet high.
  • Choose only native or adapted trees that can survive the indoor-outdoor handling and that fit readily into your yard. Just because someone is selling them locally doesn’t mean the tree will grow here. Leyland cypress and Southern red cedar examples of living Christmas trees that are commonly sold in Florida and are suited for planting outdoors.
  • Select a tree with well-colored needles. Don’t buy one with yellowing or brown tips.
  • Pick which type you prefer—balled and burlapped, or containerized.  When taking the tree home try not to injure the tree’s roots by dropping it, since this will stress the tree.
  • Purchase the tree a week or more ahead of the time you plan to move it indoors. Acclimate it to lower light conditions by keeping it in a shady location.
  • Keep the tree inside for a brief time, like 7-10 days. If you leave it in longer than that, you can stress the tree and it won’t make the transition well to the outside. Give the tree some time to readjust when you take it outside after the holidays.
  • Water your living Christmas tree like you would any potted plant.  Keep the roots moist but not soggy. A common problem with living Christmas trees is overwatering.  Water thoroughly, but don’t let it stand in water.  The best way to tell if it needs water is to use the “finger test.” Stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle.  If the soil is moist, then it doesn’t need to be watered.
  • Plant the tree in the landscape by digging a wide, shallow hole. Add plenty of water to the root ball and surrounding soil.  Fill the hole and cover with mulch.
  • Nurture your living Christmas tree for at least two years, especially in drought-stricken regions of Florida.  The root system is out of proportion with the size of the tree that you have. That continues even into the second year. Regular watering is important until the tree is established.

Want to learn more about living Christmas trees?