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The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Hello, gardeners!

Much of Florida has seen plenty of rain in the last few days, and you can thank us—this month’s Neighborhood Gardener focuses on Florida’s drought (as of June 6, much of central and north-central Florida is still considered to be in moderate or extreme drought, even with the rain).

Potted African violet being handwateredTen Ways to Save Water – There are many ways to save water in your landscape; we walk you through the basics. From choosing the right plant for the right place to calibrating your irrigation system and everything in between, we give you ten ways to save water in your landscape.

Tree standing in drought-stricken fieldTree Care During a Drought – During a drought it can be easy to spend your time worrying about your lawn and smaller landscape plants—and forget about your mature trees. But an extended drought can actually cause decline and even death in both young and old trees. Drought damage occurs first in the middle of the tree canopy, often far out of sight, so the best way to protect your trees during a drought is to water them before they show signs of drought stress.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — It was with best intentions that we pulled together the “drought edition” of the Neighborhood Gardener newsletter for June 2017. The drought had reached critical levels in a couple areas of Florida and the rest of the state just plain needed the rain. Wildfires were popping up across the peninsula and lawns were turning a crispy shade of brown. Educating our readers on drought-proofing their landscapes seemed like a great idea. The best laid plans of mice and men…

Large exotic century plant on the UF campus looks like a giant aloePlant of the Month: Century Plant – With bold, succulent leaves that can be up to 6 feet long and a towering flower spike that can reach 20 feet, the century plant is certainly a show-stopping landscape addition. “Century plant” is a misleading name, though. This drought-tolerant plant doesn’t actually take 100 years to mature or flower; it’s more between 8 to 30 years. While century plant (Agave americana) and the equally eye-catching variegated variety are lovely to look at in the landscape, they are both sharply spined and thus should be planted well away from where people or pets may run afoul of the leaves. Or you can try the spineless, smaller Agave attenuata, aptly named spineless century plant.

Raging wildfire in pine forestAssessing Your Home’s Wildfire Risk – Two of the factors that contribute to the wildfire risk to your home are how the land is used or developed in your area, coupled with the kind of vegetation surrounding your dwelling. There are a few immediate actions you can take to protect your home, including clearing debris from your roof and structures, and planting low-flammability plants. You can also take a look around your home and determine what risk factors exist on your specific site.

A Florida-Friendly Landscape, trademarked phraseA Better Lawn on Less Water – An automatic irrigation system can be a great tool for keeping your landscape watered, but it’s important to use it correctly. Your irrigation system should never operate on a fixed schedule, the controller should be set to the “off” setting and you should be only watering as needed. When does your lawn need to be watered? When 30 or 50 percent of your lawn shows at least one of the three signs of wilt—folding leaf blades, blue-gray color, or footprints remaining visible in the grass—it’s time to activate your irrigation system.

A large tree uprooted by stormJune in Your Garden – With the official start of hurricane season beginning in June, this is a great time to take a look at your landscape and be sure you are hurricane ready before a storm is headed your way. Tree pruning and maintenance are an especially important part of preparing for a hurricane. Train young trees so they develop a sturdy, well-spaced framework of healthy branches along a dominant trunk. For trees larger than about 15 feet tall, hire a certified arborist to prune your trees before the hurricane season.

Ornate concrete birdbath with duck statues at the baseProviding Water for Wildlife – Surface water sources such as puddles, raindrops on leaves, and dew on grass provide much of the water used by wildlife. Animals also get water from the foods they eat. But clean, fresh water that’s accessible to wildlife can often be hard to find, especially during a drought. You can do your part to help sustain thirsty creatures in your backyard by maintaining birdbaths, butterfly watering stations, and even small ponds and fountains.

Read the full June issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Bright pink flower of shaving brush treePlant ID Service – Do you have a burning plant identification question, but wonder who to ask for help? Well, wonder no more: for the first time in nearly three decades, the UF/IFAS Plant Identification and Information Service has a full-time extension botanist! Marc Frank joined the service on July 1, 2016 and has extensive experience in identifying a wide variety of plant materials.

Turmeric rhizome cut in halfTurmeric – Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a beautiful and healthy addition to your Florida garden. Turmeric has been used in dishes for thousands of years and is a major component in curry. Researchers are also looking at the possible health benefits related to turmeric, including potentially anti-inflammatory properties.

Charlotte County Master Gardeners in gardenCharlotte County FFL Training a Success – Each year, Tom Becker with the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service conducts Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) training for all the county’s Master Gardener trainees. Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a key, overarching concept that guides not only horticultural decision-making, but also recommendations to the public. After a test to determine the 14 trainees’ understanding of FFL concepts and practices, it was clear that the training was a success.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — As Master Gardener Volunteers and gardening enthusiasts, we are often faced with plant problems in the garden or landscape that need to be solved. If you are a Master Gardener working the horticulture hot line or at a plant clinic, people bring plant problems directly to you. Where do you even begin to start on the unsolved mysteries of the horticulture world?

Staghorn fern mounted to wallPlant of the Month: Staghorn Fern — Once an uncommon plant find, staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are now quite popular and widely available. These plants are great for beginners or easily distracted gardeners. Staghorn ferns have beautiful and unusual foliage and are found throughout much of the tropical world. They thrive in South Florida and can be grown in North and Central Florida as long as they’re protected from frost or freezes. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, meaning they get moisture and nutrients from the air— they’re found growing harmlessly on tree trunks, branches, or rocks.

Tomatoes on the vineAugust in Your Garden – August is a great time to start planning your fall garden. While it’s still a little too warm to start cool-season vegetables, North and Central Florida gardeners may be able to plant a second crop of warm-season vegetables like tomato and eggplant. All Florida gardeners can start preparing for cool-season planting. Have your soil tested so you can add the proper amendments before planting, and plan out what you want to grow and where you’ll plant it.

pond feature set in patioWater Gardens — Adding a water garden is a great way to introduce new textures to your landscape; even a gentle fountain can add relaxing sounds to your backyard oasis. Just make sure that your water garden isn’t providing mosquitoes with a breeding ground. Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) is safe for plants and animals; added to any permanent water feature in the landscape, it will prevent mosquitoes from becoming a problem.

Dog vomit slime mold on ground under shrubSlime Molds — Slime molds can be a shocking sight in the garden, but they are relatively harmless and usually dissipate on their own. Slime mold is caused by the fruiting bodies of Myxomycetes, a type of fungi regularly present in soil. It’s during these humid summer days that you may see slime mold develop. It may look like your lawn has been spray painted with black or grey paint. Or, in the case of “dog vomit” slime mold (Fuligo septica), you may see what looks like yellow foam in your landscape. There are no fungicides to treat slime mold, but you can lightly mow, rake, or use a forceful stream of water to break it up and restore your landscape to its aesthetic glory.

Read the full August issue.

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

Mosquitos Bugging You?

Everyone in Florida knows mosquitos and the trouble they bring with them.  Now that it’s starting to warm up, we’ll start seeing more of these bothersome pests.  But, if you have a backyard pond, you may have more mosquitos than you bargained for since they like to lay their eggs in water.  You can help control the mosquitos by getting gambusia, or mosquitofish, for your pond.  Here is some more information about gambusia.  You can also hear more about gambusia today on Gardening in a Minute.

Gambusia are excellent additions to your backyard pond. They are plain little fish that are excellent at controlling mosquitos.

Gambusia are small and stout, dull olive grey, with a rounded tail and an upturned mouth adapted for feeding at the water’s surface.

These fish can be found in virtually every freshwater habitat in the Eastern and Southern United States.

Gambusia are often called mosquitofish or pot-gut minnows. They are viviparous which means they give birth to live young rather than lay eggs.

They feed readily on larval and pupal stages of mosquitos and have been stocked virtually world-wide for mosquito control.

They are remarkably hardy, surviving in waters of very low oxygen, high salinities, and high temperatures.

If you have a pond, add mosquitofish to make summertime more comfortable.