Friday, September 23, 2016

The aloe vera is an ornamental succulent with a purpose.


It seems that besides the African violet, the Aloe plant is one of the most commonly kept houseplants.  Although there are over three-hundred Aloe species, Aloe vera is perhaps the most popular due to its reputed skin-soothing nature.  Having problems growing this common succulent?  Read on!

The Aloe vera is a succulent plant from Africa well adapted to droughty conditions and less-than-wonderful soil.  This Aloe can be grown in a pot using well-drained soil suitable for cacti.   Place it in full sun area and make sure not to overwater – that also means no excess water sitting in the saucer underneath the pot.  Repotting may be required from time to time as the plant grows.  Step it up into a pot just a bit bigger than the old one as too big of a container could hold excess moisture and trigger a root rot situation.  Although able to grow indoors in a sunny location, the Aloe vera will adapt to less light and then can actually sunburn if suddenly brought outdoors into full sun.  This makes you ask the question, “Should you break open a leaf and rub the gel on the Aloe’s own burns?” No, but just keep in mind that plants, even desert plants, can get sunburned and are best moved gradually out into full sun. As a plant in a pot on the kitchen window, the gelatinous material that comes from the thick leaves can sooth minor burns and sunburns for us humans.

As a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ groundcover, Aloe vera does well in full sun areas with well-drained soil.  Water to establish the plants, but from then on allow them to survive on rain water alone.  Mature plants that can grow upwards to two-feet tall will eventually produce stalks of attractive showy yellow or red flowers in the spring.  Original plants will develop side-shoots and gradually fill in an area with additional plants. I started with one small pot installed in a flower bed which has now spread into a four-foot wide patch of tightly packed plants.

The Aloe vera is a simple plant with multiple uses.  They make great gifts, attractive groundcovers and provide cooling burn relief when needed.  For more information on all types of plants for your garden, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Jordi, R. (2006) Aloe vera.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS - Nassau County
Gardening Solutions (2015) Aloe vera.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design, 1st ed. (2010). The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The lady palm is a shady palm


Most palms do best in full sun locations where growth is sustained and enhanced.  However, the lady palm, also known as Rhapis excels, is famous for its ability to do well low light environments.  Growing in shade to partial shade conditions, the lady palm is a great fit for many difficult landscape nooks and crannies.  This southeast China native is a gem!

Lady palms are relatively short with individual stalks barely getting seven feet tall.  They slowly spread by means of underground rhizomes and eventually develop into quite a dense thicket of plants.  Shiny palmate leaves form fans of dark green connecting to bamboo-like trunks surrounded by brown fiber.  Besides being shade-loving plants, they are also very cold-hardy in our area.  If they get too much sun, they will actually fade to yellow-green and may develop some marginal tip browning. 

Lady palms make a good slow-growing screen in shaded areas.  Also consider them for northern foundation plantings or to accent shady entrances.  Alkaline soils can cause them to develop a manganese deficiency (frizzled new leaves) so check your soil pH and/or provide proper fertilization.  Iron deficiency (light, greenish-yellow leaves) is another common problem that can be reduced with proper fertilization or chelated iron applications.    Just like all palms, we would recommend that you use an 8-2-12-4 in November, February and May, as per label directions, and a 0-0-16-6 in August.

While lady palms do great in our landscapes, they are also ideal for containers and as indoor houseplants.  You have probably seen lady palms in hotel lobbies, at malls and similar public places thriving in these artificial environments.  Although lady palms are slow-growing, container grown specimens will eventually fill their root capacity and need to be stepped up into another large container.  You can carefully divide larger clumps and start new plants. 

While the lady palm all by itself is a beautiful foliage plant, there is a variegated form that has stunning green, white and creamy yellow stripes.  This variegation adds another dimension in your plant pallet selection.

I bought a lady palm at a Master Gardener Plant Sale (the next one is November 19th by the way) about three years ago as a small division barely one foot high.   This plant is now at least two and one-half feet tall with a similar width.  The palm did have a manganese deficiency problem which I was able to fix and it is developing into a fine landscape plant – I like it!    For more information on all types of shade-loving plants, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Broschat, T. K. (2016) Rhapis excelsa – Lady Palm.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
Gilman, E. F. (1999) Rhapis excelsa.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 

Scheper, J. (1998) Rhapis excelsa.  Floridata.com. Tallahassee, FL. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The tame Mexican petunia.


You probably have seen the Mexican petunia and admired its consistent purple or pink flowering and low-maintenance habit.  You also may have heard that Mexican petunia is a Category I invasive plant which “…..are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives.”  Now for the good news!  The market and scientists have worked together to solve problems such as this invasive issue.   Through some breeding programs, there are now sterile Mexican petunia cultivars that do not produce seed. 

Native to Mexico and parts of South America, the Mexican petunia is a successful invasive plant in the southeastern United States where it has escaped into natural areas tolerating all conditions- sun, shade, wet, dry and even poor soil.  Abundant seeds, and quick rooting from stem pieces, makes this plant preadapted to get out of control.  The seedpods are noted for ejecting their seeds some distance further enhancing their invasive nature.  A solution for this was to find sterile cultivars that would not produce viable seed and at least stop that route of expansion.  One such early type found is called ‘Purple Showers’, a sterile type with large flowers, but very tall, floppy growth noted for falling over. 

After years of breeding work, two new sterile varieties were released in 2012 called ‘Mayan Purple’ and ‘Mayan White’.  These cultivars have great flowering ability and shorter heights that really offer great eye appeal.  I bought a ‘Mayan White’ not long ago and it is spectacular!  I planted it in a large tub container surrounded by blue salvia and am very pleased with the look.  And if you are wondering where the pink one is, ‘Mayan Pink’ was introduced in 2013 and is also available. 

The sterile cultivars of Mexican petunias are out and are a great substitute for the wild-type invasive version.  While they can still grow and increase as a clump, their invasive nature via seed is gone making them much more manageable.   For more information on all types of perennial plants suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
  
Resources:
Reinhardt Adams, C. A. , Wiese, C., Lee, L. C., Wilson, S. B., Smith, A. M. & Freyre, R. (2014) Managing Mexican Petunia (Ruellia simplex C. Wright) in the Home Landscape.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
Freyre, R.  Knox, G. W., Reinhardt Adams, C. A. Wilson, S. B. (2014) Mexican Petunia: new sterile cultivars and management of invasive populations in natural areas.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
Caldwell, D. (2016) Cute Little Plants That Take-over Your Yard-Mexican petunia.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County.

Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s 2015 List of Invasive Plant Species. http://www.fleppc.org/list/2015FLEPPCLIST-LARGEFORMAT-FINAL.pdf

Why you don’t want a carrotwood in your yard.


Carrotwood is a tree native to Australia, but was introduced into Florida as early as 1955.  As an introduced ornamental tree, it became available from nurseries in 1968.  Unfortunately, by 1990 seedlings began to pop up in areas around Florida.  Carrotwood is now a Category I Invasive capable of “…altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives. This definition does not rely on the economic severity or geographic range of the problem, but on the documented ecological damage caused” according to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.  Accordingly, you do not want a carrotwood in your yard.

So, like many invasive plants, carrotwood came in as an invited guest and was actually a recommend tree for several decades.  Too late to turn back, this tree began to spread throughout Florida and eventually became, not just an invasive plant, but a noxious weed listed on the “Florida Noxious Weed List (5b-57.007 FAC) by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 1999. Plants on the Florida Noxious Weed List may not be introduced, possessed, moved, or released without a permit.” Carrotwood seedlings have a way of just popping up in your landscape and growing in plain sight almost unnoticed.  Birds such as fish crows are known to disperse the seeds in both natural and urban areas.  The seed sprouts, and before too many years have passed, you have an evergreen tree up to thirty-five feet tall. 

To identify a carootwood, look at the eight-inch long, leathery leaves which are compound (pinnate) in shape (multiple -four to twelve - oblong leaflets with a pair at the end) and arranged in an alternate pattern on the branches.  The flowers are very easy to identify as they are clusters of greenish-yellow flowers up to fourteen inches long appearing in January and February.  The subsequent inedible fruits are distinct as well with one-inch capsules.  The fruit capsules ripen in April and May and split open exposing three black seeds and some reddish-yellow residue. 

Besides the seedlings that sprout from fallen seeds in the vicinity of the parent carrotwood tree, the seeds end up in natural areas, pastures and residential landscapes.  I had no problem finding quite a few carrotwood trees at different stages of development here in Port Charlotte from random seedlings to half-grown plants to full sized trees still being used as a shade tree.  Seedling carrotwood trees can be easily hand-picked as needed.  Larger trees can be cut down with the stump immediately treated with triclopyr or glyphosate as per label directions.  Please always read the label, the label is the law.

Look around your yard – you may be harboring a carrotwood!  For more information on all types of invasive trees, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Langeland, K. A. & Enloe, S. F. (2015) Natural Area Weeds: Carrotwood (Cupaniopsis anacardioides).  The University of Florida, IFAS.
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s 2015 List of Invasive Plant Species. http://www.fleppc.org/list/2015FLEPPCLIST-LARGEFORMAT-FINAL.pdf


This dwarf shrub fits anywhere.


Landscape shrubs that have been identified as dwarf are a boon to low-maintenance yards as they are easier to keep within bounds,   “Dwarf” can be a relative term in relation to what a normal growing plant would look like.  Take for example the common shrub called ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ Holly.  Also sometimes called ‘Schelling’s Dwarf’, this is a dwarf cultivar of the native yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria.  While a normal yaupon holly may be up to twenty-five feet in height, the ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ barely gets over four feet tall and six-feet wide when pruned.  A common shrub for foundation and mass plantings, ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ is a great landscape selection.

‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ has small dark green, quarter-inch-long, serrated, but not spiny, leaves that give a fine texture to this shrub.  New flushes of leaves are red in color and then change to green.   This is a male cultivar, so no berries are normally produced.   Besides its relatively small size, ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ is also very drought tolerant once established and highly salt-tolerant.    As such, it is a candidate for seaside plantings.  Plant this holly in full sun to part shade for best results, spaced four to five feet apart if you are establishing a mass planting.  Although slow-growing, ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ should still be given room to grow especially along walkways and driveways.  Remember, this shrub will tend to grow wider than it is taller.  That little one-gallon holly will slowly, but surely fill in over the years and the less pruning you have to do with this already mini-plant, the better. 

And speaking of pruning, keep it to a minimum if possible with proper spacing.  If pruned, keep the bottom of the plant wide for best sun exposure and growth.  Excessive and improper pruning can trigger fungal problems and dieback.  As a result, open, dead areas sometimes appear on ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’.    The literature indicates that excessive shearing makes the plants more compact which holds more moisture on the leaves.  Excess irrigation will also provide an environment conducive to fungal growth.  Dense plantings also decrease air circulation which makes disease more likely.  Things to do would include reducing irrigation to established plants, reduce shearing and let the plant grow out a bit.   Application of an ornamental shrub fungicide as per label directions after removing any dead portions could also be considered.  You might even want to replace individual plants that are in really bad shape.

In conclusion, the ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ Holly is a real must for low-maintenance landscapes that combines a natural neat appearance with minimum growth.  For more information on dwarf plants suitable for our area, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. (2014) Ilex vomitoria ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’, ‘Schilling’s Dwarf’ Holly.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Popenoe, J. (2016) Holly Ilex species.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS - Lake County. 
Park Brown, S. (2015) Hollies at a Glance.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Scheper, J. (2004) Ilex vomitoria.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL

MacCubbin, T. (2013) Shearing can contribute to yaupon holly decline.  In the Garden - Plant Doctor, Orlando Sentinel

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Whoa, it’s a ponytail palm!


First, the ponytail palm is not a true palm.  In fact it is more closely related to succulents in the Agave family.  Often available as a small container plant, the slow-growing ponytail can potentially develop into a thirty foot tall specimen.  Be assured however that the ponytail palm is more commonly found maturing at around fifteen feet in our area.  This is an attractive plant which develops a tapered trunk and swollen base with strap-like leaves at the tips of the branches resembling ponytails. 

Keep your ponytail in full sun to part shade in a well-drained area.  Poor drainage sites can result in root rots.  I’ve seen one that was planted near a downspout that eventually turned into a pile of mush as a result of too much moisture!  Keep in mind also that, while this plant is only moderately salt tolerant, it is very drought tolerant.  The swollen base of this plant, almost resembling an elephant’s foot, attests to its ability to retain moisture and thrive in relatively arid areas.  If you move your plant from a more shaded condition to a sunnier location, adjust it slowly as sunburn can occur.  Remember that the ponytail palm can make an excellent container plant that may grow into a sizable specimen and a conversation piece.  As an added feature, mature specimens will produce yellow flowers up to three times a year; mostly in the spring or summer. 

Ponytails can also be part of the landscape where they often develop into spectacular multi-branched specimens.  The abstract shape of this living work of art can be the centerpiece of a rock garden, a decorative addition to a patio, or just a specimen to brag about!  Listed for Hardiness Zone 10 A, the ponytail is best planted in spots such as warmer micro-climates or in landscapes closer to the coast. Mature specimens can tolerate more cold.  If you want to grow your own ponytails, you must use seed which is usually obtained from the plants' native range of southeastern Mexico. The local availability of starter plants is relatively abundant, however.   I once purchased a pot of six small ponytails and divided them up.  Soon I had six larger specimens eventually having to be repotted several times – you can have too many ponytail palms! 

Ponytail palms are easy to grow and always interesting for all ages!  For more information on all types of fun plants to grow, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources: 
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Beaucarnea recurvata: Ponytail. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Christman, S. (2004) Beaucarnea recurvate.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mysterious ferns are native


On occasion, people have shown me an odd plant specimen that was later identified as a whisk fern.  This unusual native fern is also called the skeleton fork fern noting its boney, leafless stems. Often found in the nooks and crannies of garden beds, the whisk fern may be overlooked in your own landscape, or mistaken for a random weed. What is the whisk fern and what does it look like?

At a glance, the whisk fern looks almost like a type of seaweed, lime-green to yellowish-green in color, with small yellow, spore-producing structures on the end of starkly naked stems. The whisk fern has no roots and no leaves and is about one-foot tall in size. The green, Y-shaped stems contain chlorophyll and do photosynthesize. Instead of roots, the whisk fern has rhizomes which hold onto the soil or whatever substrate is available. Although leafless, you will see tiny leaf-like projections along the stem called enations. Just above these projections, the green to yellow round spore-bearing structures can be found. The spores are released and eventually develop into independent plants.
 
Native in the southern United States and the Caribbean, the whisk ferns are found in natural areas as well as in landscapes. They tend to like bright, indirect light as might be found in the dappled shade at the base of shrubs. I have commonly seen them in parking lot planting beds tucked in, and almost out of sight, amongst various shrubs. Although they appear weedy, there is no need to remove them if they are in close proximity to landscape plants. You may also find whisk ferns on trees or palms where they thrive as harmless epiphytic plants. 

Whisk ferns do like moisture, so if they pop up in your landscape, you may be over-watering your other plants. 

Interestingly enough, the Japanese have cultivated the whisk fern for some time and now have established over one-hundred ornamental cultivars. If you like the whisk fern, you can propagate your own by simply dividing clumps, or attempt the more difficult effort of germinating the spores.  It can take up to a year to germinate these spores!

Consider whisk ferns a botanical oddity that may turn up in your landscape. Don’t treat them like a weed, but instead pause and ponder the wonder of a leafless, rootless plant! For more information on all types of natural and ornamental plant oddities, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.

Resources:
Lemke, C. (2012) Plant-of-the –Week – Psilotum nudum – Whisk Fern University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology.  University of Oklahoma. 
Introduction to the Psilotales – the Whisk Ferns (2016). University of California, Berkley.
Bailey, C. C. (2016) Whisk ferns are harmless, leafless plants.  Tcpam.com.
Snyder, S. L. (2016) Psilophytes (Whisk Fern) in the Christopher B. Smith Preserve.  Conservancy of Southwest Florida – Gopher Tortoise Preserve. 

Garner, L. (2008) Unusual and Bizarre Plants – The Whisk Ferns.  Dave’s Garden .com