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The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy gardening!

Bouquet of red roses with white baby's breath flowersCut Flower Care – Cut flowers are a popular gift, particularly for the biggest gift-giving day in February, Valentine’s Day. From Asiatic lilies to zinnias, proper care is the key to a long-lasting arrangement, and UF/IFAS Extension has some helpful tips. To keep your thoughtful floral present looking its best, treat your bouquet to a few simple steps. With some fresh water, a sharp pair of kitchen shears, and that handy little packet that’s typically included, your arrangement will last much longer.

Yellow flowers of the invasive cat's claw vineInvasive Plant Awareness – National Invasive Species Awareness Week is generally at the end of February; this year, it’s February 27 – March 3. This is a national event intended to raise awareness and identify solutions to invasive species issues at local, state, tribal, regional, national, and international scales. Invasive species have a negative impact on the economy, environment, or humans where they are introduced. Sometimes, the terms we use to describe problematic plants can become conflated and confusing. (Cat’s claw vine photo by Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org)

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We are in between seasons here in Florida. It doesn’t feel like winter, but we don’t trust the weather enough to think that it is officially spring. This is the time when we find ourselves dreaming about bountiful spring gardens and a yard full of blooms. It is in this time that we gardeners are most vulnerable—suggestible, actually—to spending money on crazy plants and inappropriate varieties that we see in catalogs or on the internet.

Three red strawberriesPlant of the Month: Strawberries – February and March are peak months for fresh strawberries in Florida and to celebrate, strawberry festivals are happening around the state. Florida consistently ranks second in the U.S. in the commercial production of strawberries behind California. And almost all of our strawberries are grown in Hillsborough and Manatee counties (approximately 95 percent). While it’s not time to plant these tasty fruits—that happens in the early fall—you’re likely to find Florida strawberries in grocery stores and farmers markets throughout the state now.

Kent Perkins in UF herbariumHerbariums – Have you ever wondered what exactly a herbarium is? It’s a collection of plant specimens preserved, labeled, and stored in an organized manner that facilitates access. Established in 1891, the University of Florida Herbarium (FLAS) is the oldest and most comprehensive herbarium in Florida. Marc Frank, Extension Botanist with the University of Florida Herbarium, gives us some history on herbariums and their scientific importance. (Photo: Kent Perkins, collection manager at the UF Herbarium)

Citrus on the tree in a groveFebruary in Your Garden – Now is the time to fertilize your citrus and other fruit trees. Fertilizer requirements will vary between different fruits so be sure to check the recommendations for your specific trees. See the UF/IFAS publications, “Citrus Culture in the Home Landscape” and the “Temperate Fruit for the Home Landscape” series for more information.

Read the full February issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

UF2000 peachPeaches Don’t Have to Come from a Can – Georgia may be known for its peaches, but here in Florida we can also grow these tender stone fruits. Well, at least all gardeners north of Fort Meyers can give it a try. While you will need a variety that requires fewer chill hours (in the 300-hours range), there are still plenty of options for those interested in growing peaches in the Sunshine State

Australian shepherd photo by Jennifer SykesPetscaping
“Landscaping” is a common term, but have you heard of “petscaping”? This new term is being batted around by businesses interested in reaching out to the 60 percent of Americans who own pets. “Petscaping” looks at creating a landscape that is both beautiful to look at and safe for our furry family members

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — In my gardening classes I often ask, “Who has really good soil?” Most times the silence tells the truth about Florida’s soils. Other times, one or two hands will go up and I can tell by their faces that these are gardeners that work on building their soil all year round. Organic matter helps to increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil, as well as the nutrient-hold ability of the soil. A great garden starts with great soil; that is truly where it all begins.

Partial look at the tree plateSupport Tree Research with a Specialty Tag — The Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture has a specialty license plate that supports tree research, such as the work by UF/IFAS researchers on the urban tree-planting program. And, for a limited time, if you purchase a new Trees Are Cool license plate, you can get a voucher for a free seminar.

Pink loropetalum flowersPlant of the Month: Loropetalum — A long way from its native home in the Himalayas, loropetalum is a Florida-Friendly shrub that blooms in spectacular fashion come springtime. Most often found with reddish-bronze foliage, this evergreen (or perhaps “everbronze”) usually sports pink frilly flowers this time of year. Loropetalum will grow best in full sun, but can also be grown in partial shade. This eye-catching shrub prefers acidic and well-drained soils.

the beneficial air potato beetleApril in Your Garden – While you continue to plant warm season vegetables, be on the lookout for pests. It’s important to protect the beneficial insects in your landscape, so before applying pesticides, be sure to identify the culprit behind your plant damage and use the proper treatment method.

Bag of fertilizerFertilizer — It’s around this time of year that people start thinking about and applying fertilizer. Fertilizer provides specific nutrients for your plants, and it’s available in a variety of forms. Inorganic fertilizers are mined or synthesized, while organic fertilizers are derived from living organisms. Remember, the best fertilizer is the one that provides your plants with what they need, so getting a soil test is really the ideal first step. Either way you start, make sure you look for a slow-release fertilizer with low phosphorous.

Read the full April issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2015

Happy Gardening!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Wendy WilberWelcome from Wendy – Hi, I’m Wendy Wilber, the new state Master Gardener coordinator. Before taking this job I served as a Horticulture Extension Agent in Alachua County Florida for 15 years. In this role I was the Master Gardener coordinator and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ agent. It was a privilege to work side by side with Master Gardeners in my county.

I now look forward to working with the Master Gardener Coordinators and Master Gardener volunteers across the state. Working with volunteers is a wonderful career because you usually end up learning more than you teach and getting back much more than you give. I am excited to support the Master Gardener program and share my enthusiasm about Florida’s plants, protecting Florida’s environment, and Florida’s best volunteer program, the UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener Volunteer Program.

Master Gardeners remind me that: “Life is a gift and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” (T. Robbins)

compostComposting at Home — As they say, April showers bring May flowers. Give those flowers a nutrient rich soil by adding compost to your landscape beds. Composting is a great way to turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into what gardeners call “black gold.”

gardeniaPlant of the Month: Gardenias — Probably the most distinguishing characteristic of the gardenia is its sweet scent. Gardenias may be a bit fussy to grow, but the effort is worth the payoff for many. A popular Mother’s Day gift, gardenias can be planted in the landscape and enjoyed for years to come. There are over 200 species of these evergreen shrubs, so depending on the cultivar, they will grow in height from 2-15 feet; all have glossy, dark-green foliage. Gardenias will do best in well-drained, rich soil, so consider amending your chosen planting site with compost or peat moss. Soil pH is important and should be between 5.0 and 6.5. Plant your gardenia in full sun or partial shade.

May in Your Garden – Watch for damage from chinch bugs in St. Augustine and begin scouting for newly hatched mole crickets in Bahia lawns.

hummingbirdFriend or Foe? Friend: Hummingbirds — Did you know that hummingbirds are found only in the Americas? It was once thought that their plumage was a source of mystical powers, but today we love them for the beautiful pollinators they are. You can plant nectar-producing plants (or install a hummingbird feeder) to try and catch a glimpse of these tiny treasures.

Read the full May issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2015

Happy Gardening!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Close-up of hand using gardening shearsDisinfecting Garden Tools – Get ready for spring and the busy gardening season ahead by taking some time to disinfect your horticultural tools. Regularly disinfecting your tools is a good way to prevent disease from spreading in your landscape. There are multiple products available—regardless of which you choose, it’s always important to read and understand label instructions before using any cleaning product.

Fertilizer Basics — Speaking of labels, the one on your bag of fertilizer is another important label you should be reading and understanding before using the product. Fertilizer labels include a series of numbers that indicate the respective percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium by weight. Remember, you should only apply as much fertilizer as your plants can use and always fertilize responsibly.

award-winning bottle gourdPlant of the Month: Bottle Gourds — Bottle gourds (Lagenaria spp.) are annual vines that can be grown throughout the state. Young, small fruits can be eaten, but it’s the mature fruits that are valued for making useful and durable containers. Grown for centuries, it is the only crop known to have been cultivated in pre-Columbian times in both the Old and New World. Plant your bottle gourd vine like any squash plant. A trellis is advised, but vines may be allowed to run on the ground; be sure to add mulch to avoid fruit rotting.

February in Your Garden – Plant warm season crops now, like beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, and squash. Now is a good time to check your irrigation system for any issues. Refresh and add mulch to your landscape beds; it conserves soil moisture, insulates roots from extreme temperatures, and minimizes weeds.

ladybug larvaFriend or Foe? Friend: Ladybug Larvae — Keep an eye out for ladybug larvae. Gardeners “in the know” welcome these tiny insects, as the larvae feed on garden pests like aphids and psyllids. You might be hard-pressed to recognize them, however. There are many species of ladybugs, and their larvae all look very different. The larvae of one species, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri Mulsant, even resembles its prey, mealybugs! Letting these little critters mature safely can help keep your plants pest-free in the coming spring. See photos of various species of ladybugs at UF/IFAS Featured Creatures.

Read the full March issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – June

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

• A Better Lawn on Less Water — Don’t let water restrictions worry you. Proper use of an automatic irrigation system can keep your lawn beautiful without wasting water.
• Quick vs. Slow Release Fertilizer — Quick-release fertilizers are often used for plants with high nutrient needs, like vegetables or annuals, but overall, it’s often better to choose the “slow option.”
• Competing in the Plant ID & Judging Contest? Are you assisting a 4-H judging team for the plant ID competition in July? Or organizing an MG team for the competition in October? Check out the Florida Plant Identification Module to help you with your “plant ID” skills.
• Plant of the Month: Cleome — These heat-loving annuals produce distinctive, spidery flowers in a variety of colors and can grow up to five feet tall. Cleome has long been popular in Southern gardens for its ability to bloom all summer long.
• June in Your Garden — Annuals that can take full sun during the increasingly hot summer months include celosia, portulaca, vinca, melampodium, blue salvia, and some coleus.
• Friend or Foe: Nematodes — These microscopic worms can wreak havoc on your plants.
• Master Gardener Specialist Update — The how, what, and why of consumer insecticides.
• Are You a Fan? Stay up to date with the Florida Master Gardener Page on Facebook.

Read the June issue.

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

Figuring Out What Fertilizer to Use

Fertilizer provides nutrients for your plants, and can be purchased in two main forms, inorganic or organic. Inorganic fertilizers are mined or synthesized, while organic fertilizers are derived from living organisms.

Different plants have different nutrient requirements, and in many cases a fertilizer product may not be necessary, so know your plants’ needs and do your homework before you purchase and apply fertilizers.

Consider having your soil tested to see what’s present and what’s lacking. Kits are available from your county Extension office.

For your lawn and landscape, use slow-release products. They require fewer applications and may be less likely to leach nutrients into the water supply.

Buy and use fertilizers wisely so that your garden thrives and our natural environment survives!

Spread It Around

Choosing the right fertilizer spreader for you can help you apply fertilizer properly. Dry fertilizers can be applied with either a drop or a rotary spreader.

A drop spreader applies a fairly exact pattern. This also allows a “tight” pattern but requires that each pass meets exactly with the previous one or skips will be noticeable.

The rotary spreader generally has a wider pattern of distribution compared to a drop spreader and can cover a larger area in a short time. There is less chance of missed areas with this type of spreader. The uneven, wide pattern of the rotary spreader is initially harder to calibrate and care should be used not to get fertilizer granules into water bodies. Be sure to keep fertilizer at least ten feet from the waterfront.