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The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Boniato tuber cut open to reveal speckled white fleshBoniato – As the temperatures rise, many gardeners seek out ways to avoid working in their gardens, but for others, there’s no end to the gardening season. And this type of gardener laments the lack of edibles that can be grown in Florida’s warmest months. If you happen to be one such gardener, consider growing boniato. A member of the morning glory family, boniato is a tuber with the appearance and taste somewhere between a sweet potato and a baking potato.

Brightly colored flowering plants in a hanging basketHangin’ Out in a Basket – Hanging baskets are a great way to elevate the colors in your garden to new heights—eye level, to be specific. They’re ideal for people living in condos, apartments, or any place with limited to no gardening space. Pam Brown, a retired urban horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Pinellas County shares her “secrets to success” on gardening with hanging baskets.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I was only going to work in the yard for a few minutes; that’s why I was wearing flip flops. Three hours later, an unproductive fig tree had been pruned to the ground and my brand-new folding saw had been properly broken in. I stepped away from the project satisfied that the fig was going to come back in a few months and maybe have a new outlook on life. What I didn’t know was that within 24 hours, I would experience the fig’s wrath.

Fringy petaled, lavender flower of Stokes' asterPlant of the Month: Stokes’ Aster – Stokes’ aster is a lovely flowering native that requires almost no maintenance. For your lack of work tending this plant you’ll find yourself rewarded with showy flowers and evergreen foliage. Who doesn’t love a plant that looks fabulous with little effort? Attractive to both bees and butterflies, Stokes’ aster flowers are normally blue-lilac, but cultivars in other colors are available. This perennial does best in Zones 8 through 9A.

Close view of a rusty patched bumblebeeBumblebee in Peril – We’re all concerned about the declining honey bee populations, but let’s not forget about the bumblebees. January saw a first for a species of bumblebee in the United States, and not a good first. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the once-common rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis) is now endangered. They cite a number of factors leading to the staggering 87 percent decline in population, including loss of habitat, diseases and parasites, pesticides, and climate change. Read more at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalLast Month for the Flower and Garden Festival – Even the heat can’t stop the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival! The festival features fun Disney-themed topiaries, gorgeous gardens, and special events in the Festival Center on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, including instructional seminars from University of Florida experts. May’s seminars include Beautiful and Easy Houseplants, Bee Abodes and Florida-Friendly Landscapes, and Orchids. Visit the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival website.

Close look of lush green basil leavesMay in Your Garden – While summer may not officially come until the middle of June, in Florida May is the month to prepare for the heat (and hopefully the rain). Plant heat-loving herbs—there are quite a few to choose from! Mexican tarragon, basil, ginger, cumin, summer savory, and rosemary make aromatic and flavorful additions to your garden.

Eastern cottontail rabbitRabbits – Most people love seeing bunnies in the landscape, but they may not realize that rabbits could be responsible for damaged or missing plants in the garden. While you may welcome their cute little tails and twitchy ears, their voracious feeding can really take a toll on your plants. Rabbits feed on the tender shoots of young plants, and can even eat whole seedlings, leaving you wondering, “Didn’t I plant a whole row of veggies?” The best management is deterrence, and we’ve got a few suggestions on making your garden less attractive to these adorable little pests.

Read the full May issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

figsFig Trees – Native to the Mediterranean, the edible fig (Ficus carica) has been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. Figs ripen on the tree and don’t ship well, so the best way to truly enjoy a fresh fig is from your local market, or better yet, your own fig tree. Luckily, Florida offers the right growing conditions and figs are fairly easy to grow in north and central Florida.

A rocky landscape, photo courtesy of Kim GableLandscaping on the Rocks – Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, presents some unique gardening challenges, even by Florida standards. While gardeners there have to deal with the heat, humidity, and the threat of hurricanes like the rest of the state, their location presents its own issues and opportunities.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — With the concerns about Zika virus all over the news, we’ve been recommending that you regularly scout your landscape for possible water-gathering sites and eliminating them. I decided to take a quick survey of my landscape to see if I had any mosquito-breeding containers in the yard. I want to keep the mosquito population as low as possible, for my health and the health of my neighbors.

Photo of rubber mulch by Phasmatisnox at English WikipediaRubber Mulch: Not a Florida-Friendly Choice — Choosing the right mulch for your landscape can be a bit overwhelming; so many organic and inorganic options exist that it can be difficult to know where to start. While you may be tempted to give rubber mulch a try, there are some facts about this option that need to be carefully considered. As you decide which mulch belongs in your landscape beds, consider passing on the rubber mulch. Organic mulches, while not long lasting, are great for improving your soil quality.

pickerel weed flowerPlant of the Month: Pickerel Weed — Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) is an aquatic native plant found throughout Florida. This perennial is usually found in shallow wetland areas or around the edges of lakes and ponds. Purple-blue flower spikes can be seen several weeks after the appearance of the shiny, lance-shaped foliage. Individual flowers last only a day, but this repeat bloomer can be enjoyed from spring through fall. Pickerel weed is usually purchased in containers and should be planted in full-sun locations with about a foot of water.

Uprooted treeJune in Your Garden – Hurricane season kicked off on June 1, and with three named storms already this year, now is the time to make sure that your landscape is hurricane ready. The 2016 season is expected to be pretty active, so take a look at your trees and see if pruning is necessary. Always prune appropriately—that means not over-pruning.

mole cricketMole Crickets — An easy way to determine whether there are mole crickets in your yard is to mix liquid dishwashing soap into water and pour the mixture over turf. You should be able to see mole crickets not long after your soapy water application. See this quick demonstration video from Adam Dale, assistant professor of turfgrass and ornamental entomology at the University of Florida, on his Twitter feed (may not play on all browsers).

Read the full June issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – September

cigar flowerThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Time for Figs — Of all the kinds of figs, the “common” fig is the best for Florida. Look for varieties adapted to the state, such as ‘Celeste’ or ‘Brown Turkey’. Florida-Friendly varieties ripens between July and October, and their size and taste vary.
  • Plant of the Month: Cigar Flower — This shrub has narrow, tubular flowers that range from deep orange to red, making them a favorite with hummingbirds. Because of their shape and color, the flowers are said to resemble lit cigars. Cigar flower grows as a perennial in South Florida, but gardeners in colder areas of Florida may wish to protect it from freezing temperatures in winter. Plant your cigar flower in full sun or even in part shade, preferably in a well-drained, enriched soil.
  • September in Your Garden – Start the fall planting season now. Plant cool-season vegetable crops such as celery, cabbage, lettuce, and collards. Plant herbs that tolerate the warm temperatures of early fall, such as Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.
  • Friend or Foe? Friend: Paper Wasps — These wasps wasps are considered beneficial by some gardeners because they feed on insects, including caterpillars. However, they will attack if their nest is disturbed and each can sting repeatedly, so take care when working around nests.
  • Master Gardener Conference: Registration Now Open – Registration for the 2011 Florida Master Gardener Continued Training Conference is now open. The conference will be held October 24-26 at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Lake Buena Vista. This year’s conference will feature Dr. Bob Stamps from the Mid-Florida Research & Extension Center and noted horticultural author Tom MacCubbin.

Read the full September issue.

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