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.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – September 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright purple fruits of beautyberry on stemBeautyberry – 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. Fun fact: the fruits on beautyberry are actually drupes, not berries. You can plant beautyberry at any time during the year, and it will be drought-tolerant once established.

Sesame plant with narrow green leaves and white bell shaped flowersSesame – Sesame is ancient crop; growing it in your home garden allows you to explore new flavors and ideas in your cooking while connecting with the past. Plus, we can’t forget the aesthetics; this plant is good-looking with its upright growth habit and showy bell-shaped flowers. Sesame also attracts a wide range of pollinators, making it a favorite plant for bumble bees and other insects.

Black and white adult chinch bugChinch Bugs — Southern chinch bugs are a major pest of St. Augustinegrass, and can rapidly cause serious damage. Damaged areas appear as yellow to brown patches and injury typically occurs first in grass that’s water-stressed or in full sun. It’s important to remember that not all brown grass indicates a chinch bug infestation. If you suspect you have chinch bugs, inspect the border between the brown and green grass for the tiny, black-and-white adults or orange nymphs.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Mid-September is the peak of hurricane season; you only need to look at a weather forecast to be reminded of that. The mere word hurricane strikes fear in our hearts and sends us running in preparation mode. The words hurricane pruning would strike fear in a palm tree’s heart if it had one.

Green cilantro leaf on cutting boardPlant of the Month: Cilantro — Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a bright green annual plant with many culinary applications. This flat, feathery-leafed herb is often used in Latin American and Southeast Asian cooking. It can add a fresh flavor to many dishes, including salsa. Of course, this herb may be less exciting to grow if you’re one of the people that finds the taste of cilantro closer to soap. Read more about how to grow this herb, and how you can get coriander from the same plant in the spring.

Healthy shrub with green leaves and red flowersCommon Landscape Pitfalls: Soils 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 first in this series covering common landscape pitfalls, discover how characteristics of your soil, like pH and compaction, play a huge role in the well-being of your landscape plants.

Flame-like flowers of celosiaSeptember in Your Garden — It’s still hot out, but September brings the promise of cooler temperatures. As such, it’s time to start some of your cool season edibles and herbs. You can also start evaluating your annual beds and determining which plants have peaked and need replacing.

Read the full September issue.

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

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)

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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.

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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.