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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.

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

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 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 – November 2014

Happy November, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

ornamental gourdsDecorating with Gourds – Gourds are a common symbol of the fall season. These interesting fruits come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and to many people they are a decorating staple this time of year. Ornamental gourds are related to edible squashes and pumpkins but are grown to full maturity and then dried. While gourds are mostly used for decoration, they can also be made into birdhouses, containers, and in the case of the Luffa gourd, natural sponges.

 

campfireOutdoor Fire Safety –In crisp fall weather, the heat and flicker of a fire can add warmth and atmosphere to outdoor gatherings. Sitting around a crackling fire is fun for family and friends, but there are some things you should consider to keep your backyard fire safe. A freestanding patio hearth, fire pit, or chiminea should be placed in an area clear of grass, brush, and low-hanging trees. Choose a dense wood—like oak, hickory, or ash—that’s been “seasoned,” which burns cleaner and produces more heat than a soft wood like pine. And be sure to check out local codes on backyard burning as well as fire conditions in your area.

 

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.

 

holly fernPlant of the Month: Holly Fern — Holly fern, named for the pointy tips on its leaves, is a great choice for the shady parts of your Florida landscape. Drought-tolerant once established, this low-maintenance plant is also deer resistant. Holly fern can be grown in USDA Zones 6–11. Plant in partial to full shade. The dark green foliage of holly fern will persist year-round when protected from frost, and the sturdy fronds can be used in cut flower arrangements. Winter-damaged fronds can be cut back in February before new spring growth begins in March.

November in Your Garden – Even though temperatures are still warm, begin planting for the cooler months ahead. Alyssum, dianthus, and petunia are good plants for the fall garden. Many vegetables that will produce through the winter can be planted now like beets, carrots, and onions.

dragonflyFriend or Foe? Friend: Dragonflies — In the buggy environment of Florida, dragonflies may be the best friend a human can have. These elegant insects hunt mostly flies and mosquitoes and they can eat their weight in pesky bugs in a half-hour! Couple their hunting prowess with their attractive appearance and it’s obvious why dragonflies are considered beneficial.

Read the full November 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

poinsettia_sale

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: http://www.gatorpoinsettia.com/

Cinnamon Stick Poinsettia

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.