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The Neighborhood Gardener – August 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

We’re seeing RED in the garden!

Red coleus plantRed Foliage, Flowers, and Berries – A color theme can be a fun way to give your landscape a cohesive look. Red is a bold and energizing color that can give a sense of drama, elegance, or even excitement to the garden. There are plenty of flowering plants that boast red blossoms, but incorporating red foliage and berries allows you to use the color in different ways.

A red Florida maple leafRed Trees Take your sizzling red color scheme to new heights, like the tree canopy! An excellent addition to home landscapes, trees provide both beauty and shade, and increase property values. Read on for a selection of Florida-Friendly trees that offer either red foliage, like Florida maples, or red flowers, like the iconic South Florida royal poinciana.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — I hope you are enjoying the “Red” issue of the Neighborhood Gardener. The color red is associated with heat, activity, passion, anger, love, and joy. I think every gardener has run the gamut of those experiences—sometimes all in one day in the garden. Red is considered a warm color in the landscape and it draws the viewer’s eye. I know the first thing I see when I come around the block to my house is my red Knock Out® rose when it is in full bloom.

The red-orange flower cluster of ixoraPlant of the Month: Ixora – What would a newsletter featuring red be without a fabulous red featured plant? Ixora is an old South Florida favorite that never goes out of style. With year-round blooming and low-maintenance needs, this plant is a winner in the garden. Moderately drought- and salt-tolerant, ixora is adapted to South and Central Florida; zone 9B seems to be its northern-most limit, as frosts or freezes will injure it. If you really want to grow ixora farther north, consider keeping it in a container where it can be moved indoors when temperatures drop.

Three small red tomatoes on the vineRed Edibles – Continuing on with our red theme we’ve got some tasty red edibles sure to add a pop of color to any garden. Red fruits and vegetables usually contain anthocyanins and lycopene. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties and may also lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Lycopene may help lower your risk for cancer and heart disease¹. Two of the obvious red choices, peppers and tomatoes, can be planted this month throughout Florida.

A deep pink vinca flower with a white centerAugust in Your Garden – August means we can finally start planning for fall, and even do some planting. If you have been disappointed in the edibles that could be planted the past few months, our infographic of what to plant for August should cheer you back up. This month is also a good time to start thinking about any annual planting changes you’ll be making as we head towards fall—which technically arrives next month.

Read the full August issue.

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

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.

The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Service Award Reminder – Master Gardener Coordinators, don’t forget to submit the names of your Master Gardeners for service awards. Florida Master Gardeners who have donated 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, or 35 years of continuous service will be recognized and receive a service award.

A variegated form of Cuban oreganoCuban Oregano – Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) is an herb of ambiguous origin and many names. Mexican mint, Spanish thyme, and Indian borage are just a few; some people even call it “Vicks plant,” because its camphor and menthol aroma is similar to the cough salve.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — For most Florida gardeners, vegetable gardening season is coming to a close. Hopefully your harvest has been bountiful. If you are holding on to those last tomato plants that are trying to ripen a couple more fruit, let me encourage you to let it go.

Hands working a clay mixture in bowlDIY Seed Balls — Making clay seed balls can be a fun summer project that will help keep you connected to your gardening when the temperatures make working outside difficult. This DIY tutorial will walk you through the steps for constructing seed balls. This is a great summer project for kids and adults alike. Not only is this an interesting and effective way of preserving seeds for your garden, the finished seed balls can make a unique and fun gardening gift!

Fruit of mulberry treePlant of the Month: Mulberry — Mulberry (Moras spp.) is a fruit producing tree that can provide gardeners tasty fruits and a rich history. Native red mulberry trees (M. rubra) have been enjoyed by people in North America for centuries; however there are also introduced white and black mulberry trees. The quality of fruit varies between trees with black mulberry trees producing the best fruits. Black mulberry trees have another quality that home gardeners often prefer—their mature height is much more appropriate for a home landscape than the quite tall native red mulberry tree.

Coleus plantsJuly in Your Garden – Plant heat-loving annuals like coleus and ornamental pepper, and be sure to water regularly. Continue planting palms while the rainy season is in full swing. Support large palms with braces for 6-8 months after planting. Nails should not be driven directly into a palm trunk.

watering container plants with watering canVacation Plant Care — Getting ready for a trip involves a fair bit of preparation, and considering the needs of your plants while you’re away is part of that. Whether you’re taking a summer sojourn to the beach or a long cross-country trek, your plants can be kept happy and healthy while you’re away.

whiteflies photo by Lance OsborneNew Whitefly — While the B-biotype whitefly has been in Florida since the mid-1980s, the Q-biotype whitefly was recently discovered in Palm Beach County. This new whitefly biotype is likely to cause problems for growers and even gardeners in Florida. If you suspect an infestation contact your local Extension office, but NEVER bring insects or affected plants to the Extension office. For more information on whiteflies, visit the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center’s website.

Read the full July issue.

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

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.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – May 2016

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

peanutsPeanuts – Peanuts, also known as groundnuts or goobers, have a long history of cultivation dating back 3,500 years. Most likely originating in ancient South America, Spanish conquistadors took them back to Europe, where their popularity spread across the globe, eventually making their way to the United States. They remain a popular snack throughout much of the world. But did you know that North and Central Florida gardeners can grow them at home?

containers collecting irrigation water photo by Michael Gutierrez, UF/IFASCalibrating Your Irrigation System
With your lawn coming out of its dormant season, you’re likely back to using your irrigation system. Calibrating your system regularly is an important bit of landscape maintenance. A properly calibrated system will save you money and protect your turf and plants from pests and diseases. And all you’ll need is some tuna fish cans (actually, any straight-sided cans will do).

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — I started keeping books in the car—not to read in traffic, but to have quick references for the world around me. Behind my driver’s seat you will find a Florida Wildflower ID book (Taylor), a bird book (Sibley), and since October of 2015, the book “Trees: North and Central Florida,” by Koeser, Hasing, Friedman, and Irving. We have needed a good Florida tree ID book that covers native and non-native species for a long time. This purse-sized field guide will help you identify trees in your neighborhood, parks, and natural areas.

Garden sign drawn by childManatee Gardens Win Award of Excellence — The Manatee County Master Gardeners’ Educational Gardens and Greenhouse is the fruition of years of plant sales and other fundraising activity. These gardens were created with the purpose of teaching residents about Florida-friendly gardening principles and providing them with tactile examples of those conceptual principles. There are gardens that feature vegetables, butterflies, and wetlands, a state-of-the art greenhouse, orchard, goldfish pond, sensory garden, and a large garden sundial. There’s also a children’s garden, complete with a kids’ maze and teaching area.

Starburst clerodendrum flowerPlant of the Month: Starburst Clerodendrum — Fast-growing starburst clerodendrum grows well in zones 9b to 11 and can be used as a shrub or tree. Also known as shooting star clerodendrum, this plant is so named for its flowers that resemble delicate white stars shooting forth with a lovely pink tail trailing in their wake. Hummingbirds and long-tongued butterflies love to visit these tubular flowers for their sweet energizing nectar. For the best flowering results, choose a location with full sun. This shrub prefers moist, well-drained soil; however, once established it’s quite drought tolerant.

Yellow okra flowerMay in Your Garden – May is a great time to get into the garden and plant heat-loving ornamentals like coleus, salvia, and ornamental peppers. In the vegetable garden, it’s time for Southern favorites like okra and sweet potato. Think about which plants in your garden will make it through the hot summer, and which plants will need to be changed out with more heat-tolerant options.

Female Southern yellowjacketYellow Jackets — While yellow jackets do perform an important ecological role as predators of landscape pests, it’s understandable that people don’t want to live and play near a colony. You may discover a nest when you notice a few yellow jackets flying low to the ground; a far less lucky way to discover a nest is to run it over with your lawnmower, likely angering the inhabitants. These stinging insects can be aggressively defensive when there’s a disturbance of their colony, so the safest removal option is generally to hire a professional.

Read the full May issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – July 2015

Wasp on flower

A pollinator wasp visits a partridge pea flower.

Happy Summer Gardening!

Master Gardeners, don’t forget to register for the 34th Annual State Master Gardener Conference to be held this October.

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Cute pollinator hotelPollinator Hotels – While some may run for the hills when anything with a stinger flies by, gardeners know that it might be a helpful pollinator. Having pollinators like bees and wasps set up their home right in your garden can be great for your plants. And while you can’t tell a bee where to nest, you can provide pollinators with an ideal structure should they decide to move in—a pollinator hotel.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — Whew! Is it too hot to garden? Floridian gardeners have to be as heat tolerant as our plants and come up with our own summertime coping techniques. We sneak out early or venture out once the sun goes down.

Dr. David ShiblesDavid Shibles Retires as Polk MG Coordinator — Dr. David Shibles retired last month after 15 years as the Master Gardener Coordinator for Polk County. Dr. Shibles took a program with only two members when he arrived and turned it into an active organization with more than 100 members. As Lakeland’s Ledger.com reports, he leaves behind a “green legacy.”

Red royal Poinciana flowerPlant of the Month: Royal Poinciana — Royal poinciana (Delonix regia) provides South Florida landscapes with dappled shade in summer with wide, spreading branches and brilliantly-colored flowers. It prefers frost-free areas and will grow in a variety of soil conditions. With a potential height of 40 feet and a canopy as wide or even wider, many find that royal poinciana is best for larger landscapes.

July in Your Garden – While some may find it too hot to work in the garden right now, you can put the climbing temperatures to use and solarize your garden. Effective solarization takes 4 to 6 weeks, so start now to get your garden ready for fall planting.

foamy spittlebug massFriend or Foe? Foe: Spittlebugs — Named for the frothy mass they produce as nymphs, spittlebugs can surge in numbers during rainy, warm months, feeding on plants and turfgrass, especially centipedegrass. On ornamental plants, these pests can be managed by spraying the plant with a good, strong stream of water. If your lawn is being damaged by these bugs, reduce thatch in your lawn and avoid overwatering as spittlebugs can’t survive a dry environment.

Read the full July issue.

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