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The Neighborhood Gardener – April 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

April is National Volunteer Month, and we’d like to thank our Master Gardener volunteers throughout Florida — thank you for your time and effort!

Orange-red tubular flowers of soap aloeTough Plants – Many gardeners enjoy tenderly caring for plants. But any gardener can appreciate a plant that requires little care and still looks great in the landscape. From groundcovers to flowering plants, to colorful foliage, and even some herbs, we’ve compiled a list of rock-star resilient plants that will shine in your landscape and thrive—even with a good helping of neglect.

Purple-blue flower of blue-eyed grass with yellow centerWildflowers — Spring time in Florida is a great time for viewing roadside wildflowers. Florida has a number of wildflower species, and while many appear along roadsides, some work great in the garden. There are even a few that you may already have in your landscape! From bright pink phlox to small blue-eyed grass (pictured) to Florida’s official state flower, coreopsis, you’re bound to find a wildflower that you love.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Cruise control, autopilot, muscle memory—we often do things in our lives and yards without barely a thought. There are gardening chores or tasks that we do because we always have done it that way. This spring season take a look at your gardening habits and think which ones you can change to be more Florida-Friendly and have a positive impact on your environment.

Deep burgundy foliage of a coleus cultivarPlant of the Month: Coleus — Who needs flowers, when coleus can bring an amazing array of colors to your landscape? Coleus is a heat-tolerant, durable annual that has very few disease or insect problems. Native to Malaysia and parts of Asia, coleus can really thrive in your Florida landscape during the summer while providing you with interesting foliage. And while most coleus plants have traditionally grown best in partial shade, there are now many new varieties that thrive in full, hot sun.

PomegranatesPomegranates — Pomegranates get a lot of attention as a “super-fruit,” lauded for their health benefits. Truthfully, pomegranates can do some wonderful things for your health. Research has shown that they have antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Pomegranates can be grown as an attractive deciduous shrub or as a tree throughout the state. Florida gardeners are lucky to be able to grow these super fruits in their own backyards.

Deep orange flower of edible nasturtiumApril in Your Garden — April is a good time to get out in your landscape before the Florida heat starts creeping in. Warm-season vegetables like beans and peas can be planted; consider planting a flowering edible like nasturtium. Divide any clumping bulbs, ornamental grasses, or herbaceous perennials to expand or rejuvenate garden beds or to pass along to friends.

Two black and red lovebugs attached at the rearLovebugs — Lovebugs may be a familiar summer and fall sight to many people in the South, but these nuisance insects don’t get a lot of love. Lovebugs don’t bite or sting, but their swarming presence is at best an annoying occurrence and at worst a mess all over your car. What are these bugs, where do they come from, and really, what role do they play in the ecosystem?

Read the full April issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2018

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The first day of spring is March 20th – happy gardening!

Yellow squashSummer Squash – Despite the name, summer squashes don’t actually grow in Florida during the heat of the summer. Zucchini, yellow squash, crookneck, and pattypan are all summer squashes, and all have tender flesh and a thin, edible skin. These vegetables can be great fun to grow in your vegetable garden. Summer squash work well for cooking or eating raw, and recently have gained popularity as vegetable noodles or “zoodles”.

A very large staghorn fern mounted to the outside wall of a buildingStaghorn Remounting Tutorial — Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) are tropical plants that, despite their exotic appearance, are not too intimidating to casual gardeners since they are easy to grow and require little care. Did you know that large mature staghorn ferns can be divided into separate plants? We have a tutorial that will walk you through the steps to divide your staghorn and then mount it to a wooden board or set in a hanging basket.

State Master Gardener program coordinator Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — We are amending soil, picking the right plants, watering, fertilizing, scouting insects, and weeding in our landscape beds—and no food crops are allowed in. What if you slipped some edibles in those landscaped beds? Start with herbs, advance to leafy greens, and then grow tomatoes, eggplants, and squash in plain sight. There are lots of places to grow food even in a way your HOA will approve of. This is the philosophy behind Brie Arthur’s book, “The Foodscape Revolution.”

A large clump of green ornamental grassPlant of the Month: Fakahatchee Grass — MFakahatchee grass brings a touch of native Florida into your landscape and adds texture to any yard. Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) has tall, green, grass-like foliage rising upright to form large clumps—there is also a dwarf cultivar if you are limited by space constraints. For those who like the plants in their landscape to benefit wildlife, Fakahatchee grass is the larval food plant for the Byssus Skipper butterfly.

A creepy-looking but beneficial lacewing larvaLacewings — Beneficial insects are an important part of integrated pest management in your Florida-Friendly landscape. One such beneficial insect is the green lacewing. In its larval form, it is proficient at attacking pests like aphids, scale insects, whiteflies, and others. Lacewing larvae resemble small caterpillars, but move more quickly and have longer legs and mouthparts. Adult lacewings are less than an inch long and light green, with two pairs wings that have a netted appearance.

Bush beansMarch in Your Garden — March is a good month to replace cool season annuals with plants that will thrive as temperatures rise, such as angelonia in North and Central Florida. Gardeners in South Florida can plant heat-tolerant annuals. Many warm season edibles like beans and squash can be planted this month as well. Just remember in some areas of the state there is still a risk that temperatures may dip, so keep an eye on the forecast.

Read the full March issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy spring, gardeners!

Man working on the underside of a mowerSpring into Action for a Healthy Lawn – Warmer weather means Florida gardeners will be spending more time keeping their lawns looking lovely. Now is the perfect time to check out equipment, do your research, and create a landscape plan before heading outside. We have four steps that can help you get ready for your lawn’s active growing season.

Artistic rendering of the words International Flower and Garden FestivalEpcot Flower and Garden Festival – There’s a special event that heralds the arrival of spring in Florida—the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Running now through May 29th, the festival features gorgeous gardens, world-famous topiaries, and special events. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, our very own Master Gardener volunteers will be answering questions at the garden information desk, and Master Gardener Coordinators will give instructional seminars on topics such as hummingbird gardens and orchids.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I never know how spring fever is going to hit me. Sometimes it’s the pleasant shock of finding my shopping cart full of beautiful perennial plants—when I only went to the big box store for light bulbs. Or waking up on Saturday with a full-blown panic attack realizing that if I don’t get to the nursery immediately they will be sold out of my favorite tomatoes, and if they are sold out, I won’t have my favorites and I will suffer with lesser tomatoes all spring omg where are my keys?

Purple blossom of queen's wreathPlant of the Month: Queen’s Wreath – Queen’s wreath is a tropical flowering vine that looks wonderful this time of year. With drooping lavender flowers, this plant resembles wisteria—without that plant’s invasive issues. While usually found growing as a woody vine, queen’s wreath can be maintained as a shrub or a small, single- or multiple-trunked tree. Left to its own devices, queen’s wreath can reach 40 feet tall, but you can keep it much smaller with occasional pruning. Gardeners in zones 9B and further south can plant this long-flowering vine and enjoy blossoms for many months.

Logo for FruitScapes website over a photo of papayaFruitScapes – State Master Gardener Coordinator Wendy Wilber thinks growing fruit trees is a fabulous idea. They provide nutritious food to eat and share with both friends and wildlife, they provide shade, and are an attractive addition to home landscapes. But with so many fruit tree (and shrub) options available to Florida gardeners, it can be difficult to know where to start. Enter FruitScapes, the UF/IFAS website that offers you information on planting and growing over 50 different fruit plants in Florida.

Red zinnia flowersMarch in Your Garden – Spring is one of the busiest seasons for Florida gardeners. There are many edibles that can be planted in your garden this month and we have an updated Edibles to Plant this Month infographic that gives you a glance at what can be planted across the state. Now is also the time to start planting heat-tolerant annuals like angelonia and zinnia in your landscape.

Photo of a doe, mostly her headPlant Damage? Oh, Deer! – Spotting deer in your backyard can be a sweet treat; spotting damaged plants that have been chewed up by deer can sour your joy. While there are no guaranteed deer-proof plants, there are plants that are resistant to deer damage, as well as steps you can take to protect your garden and landscape.

Read the full March issue.

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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 – 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.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2013

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

shamrocksThe Shamrock — Shamrocks are a symbol of St. Patrick’s Day and their soft green color often heralds spring. The shamrock plants found in nurseries and stores around this time of year are most likely oxalis. In many parts of the country, it’s enjoyed as a houseplant. In Florida’s zones 8 or 9, it can be found outdoors as a perennial—and is often considered a weed.

Easter in the Garden – Easter is a great time to showcase your garden and encourage kids to explore the outdoors. You can create a springtime Easter theme in your garden by placing baskets and containers throughout your landscape. Freshen up your flower beds with colorful spring flowers, like Easter lilies and daisies.

flowerPlant of the Month: Zinnia — Zinnias are annuals with beautiful flowers that come in vivid colors. They come in many forms, from dwarf forms that grow no taller than six inches to tall zinnias growing up to three feet tall. Zinnias need full sun and well-drained soil. Once established, they’re drought-tolerant, but will thrive with regular watering. Most zinnias are susceptible to powdery mildew, although newer cultivars have been bred for resistance.

March in Your Garden – The end of the dormant season is a good time to prune many trees and shrubs. Mulch conserves moisture during dry weather and minimizes weeds in landscape beds. Organic mulches add nutrients to the soil. You can also use recycled oak leaves as mulch. If you don’t like the look of them, you can top dress the leaves with a layer of your favorite mulch.

dollarweedFriend or Foe? Foe: Dollarweed — Dollarweed, or pennywort, isn’t necessarily a foe, but it’s definitely a nuisance. It’s a broadleaf weed that appears in wet areas in the landscape. Dollarweed is low to the ground, with one round leaf per stalk. The round leaves can grow up to the size of a silver dollar—hence the plant’s name. To prevent dollarweed, adjust your irrigation or improve drainage in the area.

Read the full March issue.

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The Neighborhood Gardener – March 2012

oakleaf hydrangeaThis month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

  • Pest Alert: Downy Mildew on Impatiens — In late 2011, the downy mildew disease of garden impatiens was found in Palm Beach County. The disease has the potential for widespread and rapid destruction of this very popular bedding and potted plant. At this time only New Guinea impatiens and Sunpatiens show resistance.
  • Home Canning and Food Presentation – Ever have extra food from your garden or farmers market? Save it for a later date by canning your extras at home. Just make sure that you do it safely and correctly so that you don’t end up with food safety issues.
  • Plant of the Month: Oakleaf Hydrangea — If you need a shrub that can shine in the shade, this native shrub could be just what you’re looking for. Each spring, oakleaf hydrangea puts up huge cone-shaped clusters of white flowers that will stay on the plant for months, eventually changing to a light pink or purple. Oakleaf hydrangea will perform best if planted in a fertile, well-drained soil, but it will also tolerate other conditions.
  • March in Your Garden – This is a good time to prune many trees and shrubs. Cold damaged shrubs can be pruned back to where new growth appears. Fertilize lawns after all chance of frost is past since fertilizing too early can damage the lawn. Choose one with little or no phosphorus unless a soil test indicates the need for it, and avoid “weed and feed” products. A fertilizer with controlled release nitrogen will give longer lasting results.
  • Friend or Foe? Foe: Mile-a-Minute — Commonly called mile-a-minute, climbing hempweed, Chinese creeper, or bittervine, Mikania micrantha is on both the Federal and Florida state noxious weed lists. As a rapidly growing climbing vine, it has been observed to grow almost two feet per week under optimal conditions, smothering small plants and even large trees. Mile-a-minute was recently found in Miami-Dade County.

Read the full March issue.

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