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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 – January 2017

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Happy New Year!

Cupcake with candlesCelebrating 100 – The December issue was our 100th edition of the Neighborhood Gardener. The first Neighborhood Gardener newsletter went out in August 2008. Since then our subscribership has flourished, we have sent out hundreds of informational pieces, and promoted as many local and state gardening events. We hope that you’ve enjoyed the information we’ve shared and we look forward to sharing another 100 newsletters with you in the coming years.

Peach on the treePruning Mature Deciduous Fruit Trees – Pruning is an important part of deciduous fruit tree maintenance. There are two training systems that will depend on the type of tree you’re growing and will dictate how you need to prune. Now is the time to plan for pruning and possibly make cuts to your tree, assuming the danger of a freeze has passed for your area. Check out our piece and the linked EDIS articles for the information you need to prune your tree properly for the best crop yield.

Wendy WilberWendy’s Wanderings — Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated every year on the third Friday of January. This month it is January 20th, so mark your calendar to plant a tree or to help someone else plant a tree. Florida’s Arbor Day is held a little earlier than the national day—celebrated in April—because January is a great time to plant a tree in Florida and our soil isn’t frozen like many other states.

Creamy white pinwheel shaped frangipani flower with yellow centerWinter-flowering Trees and Shrubs — The start of a new year brings flowers to many trees in the Sunshine State. January, and February for that matter, see many trees and shrubs flowering in the coldest parts of the year and on into the spring. Our monthly “What’s Flowering in Florida” infographics tell you what is in bloom each month; this piece will give you a little more information on the featured plants for January and February.

Foliage of Fortune's mahoniaPlant of the Month: Mahonia – Mahonia is the name of an entire genus of woody, evergreen shrubs with dozens of different species. A few of those species will grow well in north and central Florida gardens. Mahonia plants thrive in the shade and are drought tolerant once established. Both their yellow flowers in winter and blue-purple berries in the spring will add some unusual interest to the landscape. Foliage varies with each species, from holly-like and spiky to delicate and feathery.

Male green anole with dewflap showingAnoles – A competition for shelter and food is raging across Florida, and two related lizard species have been adapting to the presence of each other for decades. The native green anoles found themselves in competition with the Cuban brown anoles over a century ago. While not much can be done to eradicate brown anoles, having tall shrubs and trees in your landscape offers refuge for green anoles, as they move vertically in habitats when brown anoles are present.

Purple flowers of agapanthusJanuary in Your Garden – While it may be cold out, there are still many bulbs or annuals to plant. Bulbs like crinum and agapanthus can be planted throughout the state. Gardeners in North and Central Florida can also plant gloriosa lily bulbs, and those in South Florida can plant clivia lily this month. In North and Central Florida, annuals like pansy, viola, petunia, and snapdragon are great for planting this time of year. South Florida gardeners can plant begonia, browallia, lobelia, dianthus, dusty miller, and nicotiana.

Read the full January issue.

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

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 – 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.

Florida’s Arbor Day is January 15th

While National Arbor Day falls on the last Friday in April, many states observe their own Arbor Day depending on the best tree-planting times for the region. Florida celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday of January, the 15th this year.

You can celebrate Arbor Day by planting a young tree in your landscape or helping with tree plantings in your community. Trees can reduce home energy costs and raise the value of your property, while adding shade and visual interest to your landscape.

Learn more about planting and establishing trees at UF/IFAS Extension’s Gardening Solutions.

Local Extension offices and other community program often hold tree giveaway events for Arbor Day; check with your local Extension office to find out.

The Neighborhood Gardener – January 2016

Happy New Year, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Luke ConnorAnd the Winner is… – Congratulations to the 2015 Outstanding Master Gardener, Luke Connor of Marion County. In only six years of service, Luke has already volunteered nearly 1,000 hours, served in multiple leadership roles, and even taught agriculture to soldiers in the U.S. Army Reserve.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — This is the month that we resolve to make changes in our lives for the better. For a happier and healthier 2016, why not make some landscaping and gardening resolutions? I always look for some easy things to quickly mark off my list, so for my first “Wanderings” column of 2016, I thought I might share a few simple landscaping resolutions.

Packaged suet with cageSuet is for the Birds — Suet cakes are a great source of high-energy animal fat and protein for the birds in your landscape. While they’re widely available for purchase and not that expensive, making your own allows you to customize the flavors and have some fun in the process.

Head of cabbageCrazy for Cabbage — Get your new year gardening off to a healthy and productive start by planting a little cabbage this January. A member of the Brasicaeae family, cabbage is related to broccoli, collards, and Brussels sprouts. These winter veggies thrive in the cold; in fact, they require cool temperatures in order to grow. Cabbage can be eaten raw in cole slaw, pickled in sauerkraut, or cooked into a variety of dishes. Plus it’s high in vitamins, particularly vitamin C.

Pink camelliaPlant of the Month: Camellia — Camellias flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. During the remainder of the year, their evergreen foliage and relatively slow growth make camellias excellent landscape plants. Many Florida gardeners aren’t aware of the sheer number of camellia varieties available. Most camellias will perform best if you plant them in a sheltered location where they receive partial shade, in a well-drained, preferably acidic soil. Any pruning should be done before late summer when the flower buds form.

woman planting a treeJanuary in Your Garden – Florida observes Arbor Day on the third Friday of January. To celebrate, plant a tree in your yard or community. Consider a hurricane resistant tree such as live oak, bald cypress, cabbage palm, or crapemyrtle.

Closeup of a river birch's barkWinter Interest: Bark Appeal — It can be a challenge to add interest to your landscape for winter. Choosing trees that have unusual or interesting bark can bring dashes of texture and even color to your landscape during the less spectacular gardening months.

Read the full January issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2015

Happy Summer Gardening!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

The 34th Annual State Master Gardener Conference – The highly anticipated State Master Gardener Conference will take place October 18-21, 2015. Whether this year’s conference will be your first or fifteenth, there will be something for all of Florida’s Master Gardeners. In addition to 24 educational sessions, there will be exciting keynote speakers including John Moran, one of Florida’s best landscape photographers.

WendyWendy’s Wanderings — This month marks the beginning of summer. For Floridians, there are a lot of markers to the month of June—hurricane season, the end of the school year, the rainy season starting, and reaping the harvest of our spring gardens.

Uprooted treeRisky (Tree) Business — Making sure the trees surrounding your home are healthy is always important. Not only are unhealthy trees unattractive, they can be a serious safety hazard. But it’s equally important to remember that not all trees are a risk; they play a vital role in your landscape. The best way to determine if your trees are healthy is to contact a professional. But you can do some scouting in your own landscape and determine if some of your trees are a risk and should be looked at.

OleanderPlant of the Month: Oleander — Oleander (Nerium oleander) may have a bit of a bad-girl reputation, but it is a truly beautiful addition to the Florida landscape. All parts of the plant are toxic, so be sure to plant it far from small children and curious pets. Oleander will grow best in zones 9a-11 and can handle even the poorest of soils. Plant yours in full sunlight for ideal flowering, and while it is very drought-resistant, supplemental irrigation in the driest months will help your oleander thrive.

June in Your Garden – Many gardeners are wrapping up their spring garden harvests as temperatures start to climb. Cover crops are a great way to control weeds and add nutrients to the soil while you take a break from tending to your vegetable patch. Cowpeas, sunhemp, and sorghum are some popular annual summer cover crops.

caterpillarFriend or Foe? Foe: Oleander Caterpillars — Oleander moths are quite beautiful.They’re sometimes called polka-dot moths due to the spots on their bodies and wings. But it’s the larval stage you should keep an eye out for. Oleander caterpillars are voracious eaters and can quickly defoliate a plant. Removing larvae-infested foliage is the most environmentally friendly method of control.

Read the full June issue.

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