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The Neighborhood Gardener – December 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’d like to wish you all a happy and fruitful holiday season.

Blue-purple flowers of plumbagoBlue Flowers – While no one wants a blue Christmas, you might be interested in some blue for your garden. Cool blue hues can help your garden become a calming and tranquil place. Of course, there aren’t many truly blue flowering plants to be found, but we’ve come up with a few that could help you “bring on the blue,” like plumbago, hydrangea, and more.

Tiny blue and gray butterflyBlue Butterflies — Whether in butterfly gardens or appreciated in nature, butterflies are arguably the gardener’s favorite insect. There are many beautiful butterflies you can find throughout Florida at various times of the year. Blue butterflies are particularly striking, and Florida is home to several. From those commonly seen to the critically endangered, we’ve compiled a sampling of blue butterflies found in our state.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Florida gardeners are known for their butterfly gardens. We plant plenty of beautiful nectar plants for the adult butterflies and provide lots of larval host plants for the caterpillars. I have even seen Master Gardeners bring a group of caterpillars devouring their last stem of milkweed or parsley into a meeting in hopes of finding adoptive “parents” for their caterpillars. So for all you enthusiasts out there I would like to make you aware of a program hosted in part by the Florida Museum of Natural History called the Wings Over Florida.

The tops of several Christmas palms with blue skyPlant of the Month: Christmas Palm — Palms are one of those iconic Florida plants. They are great for adding tropical flare to the landscape, but if you have a small planting area, finding a palm to fit can be a challenge. Christmas palm is one of the few palm species that will do well in a small South Florida landscape. The common name, “Christmas palm,” comes from the clusters of bright red fruits that adorn these trees in late fall and winter, giving the plants the appearance of being decorated for the holidays. (Photo by Scott Zona, some rights reserved.)

A saw cutting into a branchPruning in Three Steps: A Pictorial — Pruning is an important part of keeping your trees healthy and looking their best, and using proper technique is an integral part of making this happen. An improperly done pruning job can actually harm your tree and leave it vulnerable to disease or decay. The three-cut pruning method is a great technique to make sure your pruning cuts are clean and where you want them. Our photo tutorial leads you through the process.

FAWN title with the W resembling a lightning boltFAWN — Gardeners in Florida are lucky to have the UF/IFAS Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN). FAWN is a weather network of 42 monitoring stations across Florida from the north in Jay to the south in Homestead. Weather data is collected and compiled every 15 minutes.

Brussels sprouts look like tiny cabbagesDecember in Your Garden — Add some color to the winter garden with annuals; gardeners in North and Central Florida might try petunias, pansies, or snapdragons, while South Florida gardeners could plant begonias, impatiens, or geraniums. In the vegetable garden, make sure that seeds and transplants are properly spaced for good development. December is a good time to consider performing a soil test.

Read the full December issue.

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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 2015

Happy holidays, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Sydney Park BrownLifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award – Sydney Park Brown, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Horticulturist and Associate Professor Emeritus, was awarded the Lifetime Honorary Master Gardener Award at the 34th Annual State Master Gardner Conference in October. “The effects of Sydney’s dedication to the Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program will be felt for decades to come,” says Wendy Wilber, statewide program coordinator. “Her vision helped to shape the program into one of the best in the country.”

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — If you are anything like me, you are still rushing to finish your holiday shopping. Some people are impossible to shop for and other people are gardeners. You might be lucky enough to have a gardener on your “to buy for” list. If you do, I have some great gift ideas for the gardener in your life.

Rosemary topiariesRosemary Topiary Trees — A useful and delicious holiday gift, rosemary plants shaped to look like Christmas trees require minimal care and will continue to reward you long after the holidays pass. A topiary can be used as a table centerpiece, mantle decoration, or even a decoration in a child’s room—you can feel safe knowing if a bit of the topiary ends up ingested it’s no problem at all. After the holidays, your rosemary can be planted outside in an area with full sun and good drainage.

Yaupon holly foliageYaupon Holly Tea — The days are getting shorter and there is a chill in the air. A nice warm cup of tea or coffee may be just what you need to warm up after a nice outside gardening session. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to brew tea with leaves from your own garden? Yaupon holly is the only plant native to North America that contains caffeine.

Firethorn berriesPlant of the Month: Firethorn — Looking to add some color to your winter landscape? Firethorn is an evergreen shrub known for the colorful berries it produces in cooler weather. Not only are they attractive, the berries also serve as an important food source for wildlife. The branches hold up well in cut arrangements and make a festive accent in holiday centerpieces. This thorny shrub performs best in north and central parts of Florida, and will thrive when planted in well-drained soil and full sun.

pink snapdragonsDecember in Your Garden – With cooler temperatures outside many people will be bringing plants indoors for the winter. Be on the lookout for houseplant damage from pests or disease. In North and Central Florida, add color with winter annuals like petunias and snapdragons. In South Florida, plant begonias or geraniums.

fungus gnatFriend or Foe? Foe: Fungus Gnat — Fungus gnats are a common pest of indoor plants. The larvae of these tiny flying pests can be found in the soil, feeding on rotting vegetation and plant roots. They’re drawn to plants that are overwatered, so one way to control these flies is to let the soil dry out between waterings. You can also use yellow “sticky traps,” placed near light to attract the adults. Coat a piece of yellow plastic (like that from a Solo cup) with petroleum jelly and stick it in the soil of your infected houseplant to attract the gnats.

Read the full December issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – December

Red weeping yaupon holly berriesHappy holidays! This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Helping Cavity-Nesting Birds — Gardeners love to have birds and other wildlife in their yards. More than 25 bird species in Florida require cavities in trees as nesting sites, including woodpeckers, Carolina chickadees, brown-headed nuthatches, and American kestrels. Read the full December issue for steps you can take to attract birds like these to your yard.
  • Planting Blueberries – Blueberries are a wonderful edible addition to your landscape. The best time to plant them is from mid-December to mid-February. You can either plant bare-root or container-grown plants. Usually, blueberry plants benefit from incorporating ¼ to ½ cubic foot of acidic sphagnum peat moss into the planting hole. Pine bark mulch also aids in blueberry plant establishment. Make sure to plant in a sunny area away from tree roots.
  • Plant of the Month: Weeping Yaupon Holly — Add color and whimsy to your yard with weeping yaupon holly, an interesting tree that bears clusters of bright berries each winter along its cascading branches. Native to Florida, weeping yaupon hollies should be planted in a spot where they’ll receive full or partial sun. They’ll tolerate a range of soils and conditions.
  • December in Your Garden – Poinsettias are one of the most popular holiday plants. Enjoy them indoors and then plant them in the garden for re-blooming next year. While cooler weather generally means fewer pests, some populations increase at this time of year. Continue monitoring and treat as needed.
  • Friend or Foe? Neither: Velvet Ant — The velvet ant, also called “cow killer,” is actually neither an ant nor a cow killer. The velvet ant belongs to the wasp family. The name “cow killer” comes from the pain inflicted by the sting of the velvet ant, which has been said to be strong enough to “kill a cow.” Only female velvet ants have the capacity to sting. Unlike their cousins the bees, velvet ants are solitary creatures. These “ants” do not cause plant or property damage and should be left alone.
  • Deer Damage in the Garden – If you’ve ever had problems with deer in your garden, it may seem like they’ll eat everything they find. However, they do prefer some plants over others. Read the full December issue ot learn whether the shrubs and trees in your yard are among their favorites.

Read the full December issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – December

hollyThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Florida-Friendly Plant List and Landscape Design Guide Released – This new guide is for homeowners who want to design their own Florida-Friendly Landscapes. There’s information on design strategies, worksheets, and the Florida-Friendly Plant List, with UF/IFAS-recommended plants for each region of the state.
  • Great Gardening Gift Books – The IFAS Extension bookstore offers many books, ID decks, and other gardening paraphernalia, all of which make great gifts or stocking stuffers for the Florida gardener.
  • Plant of the Month: ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ Holly – This holly can provide plenty of seasonal color each winter with its bright red berries, and will give any Florida landscape an evergreen plant that looks good year-round.
  • December in Your Garden – Winter shifts the focus from outdoors to indoor plants. Temperature, light, and humidity are key to insuring that indoor plants thrive.
  • Friend or Foe? Foe: Peach Fruit Fly – Considered one of the most serious fruit fly pests, the peach fruit fly lays its eggs in fruits and vegetables, rendering the produce inedible. Despite its name, the peach fruit fly actually attacks a wide array of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  • Cooking with Fresh Herbs – Herbs are a staple in Florida gardens. But once you’ve grown them, what do you do with them? A new EDIS document answers that question with a variety of cooking methods for herbs, along with some recipes.
  • Master Gardener Specialist Update – This month, we are featuring Erin Alvarez, explaining some of the ways in which plants affect our physical and psychological health.

Read the December issue.

Or subscribe today, and received directly by e-mail.