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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 – October 2014

Happy October, gardeners!

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

bat houseBat Houses – Bats are an important part of Florida’s ecology. A single bat can eat thousands of insects each night. Unfortunately, bat populations are declining due to loss of habitat. You help address that loss with a bat house, providing these unique flying animals with a cozy place to roost and reproduce.


FFL houseFlorida-Friendly Really Does Save Water – New research has demonstrated that the claims that Florida-Friendly landscapes really do use less water than traditionally landscaped yards really do well, hold water. The analysis indicated that FFL homes used at least 50 percent less irrigation than homes with more traditional landscaping. You can read more about this research on the UF/IFAS IrriGator blog.


ghost plantPlant of the Month: Ghost Plant — Ghost plant is a cold-hardy succulent with pale gray or whitish leaves on sprawling stems. This low-maintenance plant will stand out in your landscape as an unusual groundcover, cascading down a container, or even as a houseplant. As with most succulents, when planting your ghost plant in a container, make sure the pot has drainage holes and use a well-drained potting media. Ghost plant is one of the easiest succulents to propagate, making it a great pass-along plant for friends and relatives.

October 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.

batFriend or Foe? Friend: Bats — Bats get a bad reputation—after all, they dart about silently through the night and hang out in small, dark places. But these amazing little creatures—the only mammals capable of true flight—are an incredibly important part of Florida’s ecology. All resident bats in Florida eat insects, although a few species that eat fruit, nectar, or pollen show up in South Florida occasionally. Many bat species eat human or agricultural pests.

Read the full October issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – June 2013

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

Firebush flowerCoastal Gardening — Salinity problems are very common in coastal Florida. Soils laden with salts often dry roots out and prevent plants from thriving. If you live in an area abundant in salt spray or your well has been intruded by saltwater, do your research and choose plants that can handle these conditions. Plants and trees that are planted within one-eighth of a mile from the coastline need to be adequately salt-tolerant.

Microirrigation – Summer is our rainy season, but the dry fall months will be here before we know it. So now’s the time to plan for a garden microirrigation system. When microirrigation is installed and used correctly, water use is reduced because water is delivered directly to the plants’ roots instead of sprayed through sprinklers. Disease problems can be reduced because plant foliage stays drier. And unlike sprinkler irrigation, microirrigation exceeds 90 percent efficiency.

crossandraPlant of the Month: Crossandra — Native to Southeast Asia, this shrub will grow up to 3 feet tall, with glossy, textured leaves and salmon or orange colored blossoms that attract hummingbirds. Crossandra thrives in warm, humid environments and cannot tolerate cold weather. It perform as a perennial in Central and South Florida, but should be used as container or annual plants otherwise. While it can tolerate up to four hours of direct sun light per day, this shrub can also be grown in partially shaded areas.

June in Your Garden – Annuals that can take full sun during the increasingly hot summer months include celosia, portulaca, vinca, and some coleus. Plant heat-loving herbs like basil and Mexican tarragon. Many summer flowering shrubs like hibiscus, oleander, and crapemyrtle benefit from frequent light pruning to improve flowering.

iguanaFriend or Foe? Foe: Iguanas — Iguanas were originally brought to South Florida during the ’50s and ’60s and sold as exotic pets. In the decades since, people have been illegally releasing these animals into the wild, dumping them after realizing they can no longer take care of these giant lizards. The warm, tropical Florida climate allowed these reptiles to thrive, and now there are over 100,000 feral iguanas invading Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties.

Read the full June issue.

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

The Neighborhood Gardener – February 2013

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

rosesFlowers for Valentine’s Day — Fresh flowers are a popular gift on holidays, with good reason—92% of American women can remember the last time they were given flowers, and fresh flowers have an immediate positive impact on happiness. Increase the lifespan of your beautiful flowers, plus that good feeling, by following a few easy steps. Learn how to extend the life of your bouquet.

Saving Water Using Smart Controllers – UF researchers have been investigating irrigation water savings with the use of smart controllers. Smart controllers reduce outdoor water use by monitoring and using information about site conditions and applying the right amount of water based on those factors. You can help save water in your landscape by installing a smart controller.

flowersPlant of the Month: Taiwan Cherry — In late winter, this small Florida-Friendly tree produces one-inch, bright pink flowers on its naked branches. Taiwan cherry’s dark green leaves provide shade all summer, turning a bronze-red in fall. Best suited for North and Central Florida, Taiwan cherry prefers full sun, but will tolerate some shade. A hybrid version, ‘Okame’ cherry is commonly available and has lighter pink flowers.

February in Your Garden – Roses should be pruned this month to reduce and improve the overall form. After pruning, fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch. Blooming will begin eight to nine weeks after pruning. Many bulbs can be planted now. Divide large crowded clumps. Provide adequate water to establish. Some to try are Amazon lily, crinum, and agapanthus.

Burmese pythonFriend or Foe? Foe: Burmese Python — Recently, Burmese pythons have become a very big problem in South Florida. Although it’s now illegal to do so, these snakes were commonly sold as pets. Some owners released these giant snakes into the wild (also illegal), and now active breeding populations are found in several areas of South Florida. Burmese pythons can grow up to 20 feet and weigh 200 pounds. They’re known to feed on more than 30 species of native wildlife, including several endangered or threatened species. You can help by learning how to identify and report invasive reptiles.

Read the full February issue.

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

Florida MGs in DC for the Folklife Festival

Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology participates in the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The University of Florida is one of twenty universities to be featured at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Morrill Act and the USDA. The Morrill Act laid the groundwork for Extension programs like Master Gardeners.

The Festival will take place on the National Mall in Washington DC from June 27-July 8 and includes the program “Campus and Community: Public and Land-grant Universities and the USDA at 150”.

“Campus and Community” will focus on four themes that reflect the current work of public and land-grant universities and the USDA: reinventing agriculture, sustainable solutions, transforming communities, and building on tradition.

Each theme area of the program will allow visitors to interact with university and USDA staff, professors, students, and community members highlighting exciting research and engagement projects. From Master Gardeners to Hawaiian traditional healing, from managing invasive species to helping communities recover from natural disasters, the program will cover an array of ways universities and the USDA put research to action every day.

The area for the Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology (of which the Florida Master Gardener program is part) focuses on efficient irrigation and landscaping techniques.

The Center will be represented by multiple faculty and staff with various specialties including Dr. Michael Dukes (irrigation), Dr. Gail Hansen (landscape design), Erin Alvarez (landscape maintenance), our own Tom Wichman (Florida Master Gardener Program), Brian Niemann (Florida-Friendly Landscaping program), and Emily Eubanks (CLCE).

They will be on hand as plant and irrigation specialists during the Festival, from June 27–July 1 and again from July 4–8.

For more information on the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, please visit the website at www.festival.si.edu.

EDIT: We have photos up from our time at the festival – see the post!

The Neighborhood Gardener – May

This month in The Neighborhood Gardener:

TickTicks Suck! — Being gardeners, you’ve probably noticed an increase in ticks this year. According to experts, the increase is due to a mild winter. In Florida, the brown dog tick and the American dog tick are the most common. Learn how to protect yourself from these pests.

Improving Your Lawn’s Drought Tolerance – The goal of improving drought tolerance is to grow a good-quality lawn that will survive dry spells with little or no supplemental irrigation (watering by hose or sprinkler system). A few simple management practices can help improve the drought tolerance of your turfgrass, no matter what species or cultivar you have.

Persian shieldPlant of the Month: Persian Shield — Persian shield is a perennial with irridescent purple leaves that shimmer with a hint of silver. This perennial loves humid climates, making it a perfect choice for summer gardens. Persian shield performs best when planted in rich, well-drained soil that receives regular watering. Here in Florida, it’s best to plant it in partial to full shade. Persian shield is cold tender, so gardeners should cover it when cold weather strikes. The other option is to treat the plant like an annual, replacing it in the spring if it doesn’t grow back from its roots.

May in Your Garden – Prepare your trees for hurricane season by checking for weak or damaged limbs, pruning if necessary. Plants that can take the summer heat like coleus, wax begonia, rosemary, and okra can be planted now.

bluebirdFriend or Foe? Friend: Bluebirds — Eastern bluebirds eat a wide variety of insects, and other invertebrates, as well as berries. They build their nests in the cavities of dead trees and in wooden fence posts. Bluebird populations had been falling, but are making a comeback, thanks to people building nest boxes for the birds. You too can help by building a nest box on your property. Boxes should be ventilated, easy to clean, and watertight with drainage holes.

Read the full May issue.

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

Soft and Squishy? Too Much Water is Trouble for Lawns

The month of August marks the peak of the rainy season in Florida. With more than seven inches of rain on average, this is great news for replenishing thirsty lakes and underground water reservoirs. But surprisingly, it could be bad news for your lawn, especially if your automatic sprinkler system is still operating routinely. 

Read the rest of this article in the August edition of The Neighborhood Gardener.

This was excerpted from an article by Jack Tichenor, Manatee County Extension Agent.