Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wild dates in Charlotte County



The Phoenix sylvestris,  also known as  the wild date palm, or,  more commonly, the  Sylvester palm, is a strikingly magnificent palm relatively new to our area in comparison to the Canary Island Date Palm (pineapple palm) .  The blue-green fronds and  attractive patterned trunk make this palm particularly special.  Sylvester palms are often planted at entrances and gateways to housing developments or high-end commercial properties.   You may have already seen one and pondered on the palm’s true identity.

The Sylvester palm is native to India where it is tapped as a source of sugar and, as such, is sometimes called the sugar date palm or toddy palm.  Slowly growing upwards to fifty-feet tall, with dense fronds up to ten feet long, the attractive golden trunks of the Sylvester palm are patterned with triangular to diamond-shaped leaf scars.  Mature specimens produce colorful clusters of orange fruit.  Beware the fronds as, like many other Phoenix palms, they are armed with very sharp spines.

Sylvester palms are fully hardy in our area and are noted for taking temperatures as low as fifteen degrees F.   Plant Sylvester palms in full sun in well-drained sandy soils.  After establishment, this palm is considered drought-tolerant, but will still appreciate some occasional watering. 

One concern to be mindful of is a new disease called Texas Phoenix Palm Decline or TPPD.  This disease has been found in a number of Phoenix palms including the Canary Island date palm, the edible date palm, and the Sylvester palm.   Texas Phoenix Palm Decline has also been found in our native Sabal palms and queen palms, but only once in the Pygmy date palm, and once in the mule palm.  While this problem has been documented in Charlotte County, I have not seen a case as yet.  I do however hear of TPPD occurring much more frequently north of us and to the west.   For more information, please see this publication - https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp163 - Texas Phoenix Palm Decline.

While most Sylvester palms are available as mature specimens, on occasion you may find some smaller individuals in containers at garden centers and nurseries.   I received mine as a two-gallon plant which in ten years has grown to about ten feet tall with not much of a trunk at this point. 

The Sylvester palm is a beautiful landscape subject that you will want for your own yard.  In the meantime, as you daydream about it, simply admire one from afar!  For more information on all types of Phoenix palms 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:
Northrop, R. J.,  Andreu, M. G., Friedman, M. H. McKenzie, M. & Quintana, H. V. (2013) Phoenix sylvestris, Wild Date Palm.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Culbert, D. F. (2001) Make a Date With Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.

Phoenix sylvestris. (2015) Wikipedia.

Monday, December 28, 2015

When cardboard plants attack!


The first time I saw a cardboard plant was up north when I worked for a garden center.  They were small specimens meant to be houseplants in that situation.  And they did feel just like cardboard to the touch or even something artificial.  Here in Southwest Florida, the cardboard plant or cardboard cycad is a popular landscape plant for shrub boarders that gives a very tropical lush appearance.  They grow slowly, but can eventually get up to six feet in diameter.  Planning ahead for the space needed, the cardboard plant can make a nice addition to any yard.

The cardboard plant has been available to Florida gardeners for some time and is  a frequent component of many landscapes.  Although palm-like in appearance, the cardboard plant is a cycad more closely related to conifers.  Other plants that are cycads include the native coontie and the sago.  The fronds of the cardboard plant are leathery and have the feel of cardboard due to the fuzzy texture.  New fronds emerge from the center of a thick trunk in  a rosette pattern.  There are separate male and female plants which each produce cone-like reproductive structures.  The female plants develop seed-bearing cones which produce large red seeds.  These attractive red seeds (and plant parts) are noted to be toxic to both animals and people so make sure to keep pets and children away. 

Not only was the cardboard plant listed as one of Florida Nursery Growers & Landscaper Association’s (FNGLA) 2007 Plants of the Year, but it is also considered a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant selection.  As such, it is considered drought tolerant, salt tolerant and will grow in sites from full sun to partial shade. 



As mentioned previously, the cardboard plant needs room to grow.  I have seen many plantings that did not take the ultimate size of this plant into consideration and they outgrew the site spilling out into walkways and other such travel areas poking and interfering with passersby. Cardboard plants are also armed with spines on their stems which can be hazardous.    As a result, they were often hideously pruned by hacking off portions and shaping them into no-longer ornamentally useful ragged cubes.  Not only did they outgrow the site as individual plants, but they also spread via side-shoots and germinated seeds.  This is one of those cases again where you need to “plan before you plant”.    Those smallish two-gallon plants will slowly, but surely grow larger into six-foot disks.  If pruning is needed, just take off out-of-bound fronds.

Cardboard plants are excellent subjects for the landscape that are practically carefree.  However, prior planning will help keep these beautiful cycads under control and in your good graces!  For information on all types of 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) Zamia furfuracea Cardboard Plant, Cardboard Cycad.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Scheper, J. (2004) Zamia furfuracea.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL.
Culbert, D. (2007) Five New Plants For 2007.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.
Zamia furfuracea. (2015) Wikipedia.
McAvoy, G. (2015) Cycads Provide and Exotic Prehistoric Look.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Hendry County.
Gardening Solutions (2015) Cardboard Plant.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design. (2010) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pretty poison


The rosary pea is a vining plant with pinkish flowers and two-inch seed pods.  Once the seed pod opens, up to eight shiny bright red seeds with black spots are visible.  This invasive plant not only infiltrates natural and residential areas, but also produces highly toxic, attractive seeds ready to infest new areas.  Once identified, this non-native plant can be controlled.

It is believed that the rosary pea originated in India and has now spread to many tropical and subtropical areas of the world including Florida.  The colorful seeds have been used for a number of reasons including jewelry and as a standard for measuring the weight of gold.  These seeds, although colorful and attractive, are highly toxic to people and animals and can be deadly.  The actual perennial woody vine will grow up into shrubs and trees where it often disappears in the foliage of the understory almost hiding in plain sight.  The pinnate leaves frame the clusters of pinkish flowers which are followed by flat two-inch pods.  When ripe, the pod flares open reveling the brilliantly-colored seeds.  Besides humans spreading the seeds, birds also move them about.  This plant has deep roots making it difficult to eliminate.

Rosary peas are found in central and southern Florida including Charlotte County.  Characterized by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) as a Category I Invasive, the rosary pea does invade natural areas and can displace native plants.  Prevention of this invasive plant is the best measure to keep rosary peas from establishing in residential properties.  Hand-pull rosary pea plants when spotted.  Chemical control with the careful use of herbicides can also be used.  The literature mentions that treatments applied in the fall are the most effective.  As with using any pesticide, read the label as it is the law. 

The bottom-line here is don’t plant the rosary pea, don’t use the seeds for any purpose, and eradicate this plant whenever it is found on your property.  For more information on all types of invasive plants in 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:

Abrus precatorius (2015) UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Langeland, K.A. Cherry, H. M., McCormick, C. M.,& Burks,  K. C. (2008) Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s 2015 List of Invasive (2015) http://www.fleppc.org/list/2015FLEPPCLIST-LARGEFORMAT-FINAL.pdf.

Abrus precatorius (2015) Wikipedia. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The African violet – a gift for the holidays


African violets were the first houseplants I remember growing as a child.  Walk into any garden center or supermarket floral section these days and you are liable to see a nice display of African violets.  These traditional flowering houseplants not only make a great Holiday gift idea for the gardener, but also have a place in every home.  These plants do well in low light, (even artificial light), and come in a wide variety of flower colors and leaf style and texture.

So, you bring your African violet home and wonder where to place it so that it gets the correct amount of light.  These plants will do best with indirect light.  African violets will tell you if they are getting enough light.  Too low of a light intensity, and the African violet will not flower well.  Too much light will result in leaves that are pale or yellowish-green.  The literature indicates that an African violet needs about one thousand foot-candles of light for eight to twelve hours per day – in other words, bright, indirect light. 

Hand-in-hand with light requirements is making sure your plants receive the proper temperature.  Try to keep your night to day temperatures between seventy to eighty degrees F.  Temperatures over eighty degrees F can affect growth and flowering.  Air conditioning can help provide an even temperature.  In association with temperature of course is humidity.  Humidity can be maintained by placing pots on pebble-filled trays of water.  Make sure that the pots do not touch the water directly.

Ready-to-use African violet potting soils are usually available at any retail garden center.  The soil medium is generally made up of peat and perlite (volcanic material) which provides water retention and good drainage.  Water African violets from the top or the bottom with room temperature or warm water.  Using a good liquid fertilizer at intervals recommended on the package label will ensure good growth and frequent flowering.  Good leaf color and normal flowering are signs that your feeding program is working. 

Even novice gardeners will find that African violets are very easy to propagate.  In as little as six months you can grow a new plant ready to flower!  Leaf cuttings (with the petiole - leaf stem-attached) are made by snapping or cutting a leave from the original plant.  Make sure that the stem is about one and one half inches long.  Insert the leaf stem into a sterile potting medium.  Insert this leaf into a pre-dug hole made with a pencil and firm the medium gently around the cutting.  Expect roots in three to four weeks and leaves in about another month.

Pest control will include monitoring your plants for pests and always quarantining new plants to prevent introducing infestations.  Cold water can cause spotting on leaves - use warm water as mentioned earlier.  Soluble salts that accumulate on pot rims can cause problems to leaf petioles from chemical burns.  The cure for this can include watering from the surface to flush excess fertilizer salts away or by using fertilizer less frequently.

African violets are real gems of the houseplant world – give one as  a gift this season!  For more information on all types of houseplants, 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.


Resource:  Park Brown S. (2013) African Violets, The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Top of the morning, Tithonia!


The Tithonia or Mexican sunflower is a spectacular annual flowering plant that does well in our area.  I used to grow it as a kid up north, but found that it does even better in Florida! Easy to start from seed, this brilliant orange-red flower will impress you.

Tithonia rotundiflora is an old-time annual flower favorite not to be confused with a perennial relative called the Bolivian Sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia).  Tithonia diversifolia is an aggressive plant can easily take over an area if you are not careful.  The Tithonia in today’s article is easily controlled and a pleasure to have in your yard.  Growing from five to six feet tall, this annual has fuzzy, soft leaves and stems topped with three-inch, bright orange-red flowers with yellow centers that remind you of a daisy or a zinnia.  Direct seed in a full sun location in late winter/early spring for summer and fall flowers.  Be prepared to stake your Tithonia as they can get floppy and fall over. 

The cultivar called ‘Torch’ is perhaps the most common selection and has been given an All-America Selection designation.  There is also a yellow version.  Both of these cultivars are tall, so you may want to look at some dwarf varieties.  Only growing to three feet tall, ‘Goldfinger’ and ‘Fiesta Del Sol’ provide a  more compact version of this plant.  Both heat and drought-tolerant, Tithonia do well in our summer weather. 



Besides being a colorful bedding plant, Tithonia lends itself to the production of great cut flowers that keep producing.  This flowering plant is also a magnet for butterflies.  Butterflies love to perch and sip nectar from the high vantage point provided by the Tithonia.  This plant may also supply seed for birds at certain times in the year. 

Once an individual flower is spent, it will set seed which will likely drop to the ground, germinate, and may provide another set of Tithonia to flower in fall and early winter.  A frost will likely finish off the plants, but many seeds will self-sow and become ‘volunteers’ for next year.  As such, Tithonia can naturalize a bit wherever it is grown.  Also, look to pass some extra seeds to a friend as Tithonia makes an excellent “pass-along” plant.

So, if you are looking for success with annuals in 2016, perhaps the Tithonia will be part of your garden!  For more information on all types of annual flowers 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:
Christman, S. (2006) Tithonia rotundiflora. Floridata.com, Tallahassee.
Delvalle,  T.  B. (2015) Garden Help: Colors, butterflies in abundance. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS - Duval County.
Malone, K. C., Wilber, W., Hansen, G., Daniels,  J. C., Larsen C. & Momol E. (2013) Community ButterflyScaping: How to Move Beyond Butterfly Gardening to Create a Large-Scale Butterfly Habitat. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Yates L. (2014) Passalong Plants Add Variety to the Garden.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS - Leon County.

Attracting Birds - FS 6099 HORT (2015) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS - Brevard County.

Monday, November 9, 2015

True Blue


Blue flowering plants really catch my attention.  One of the plants that is catching my eye these days is the sky-blue flowering plumbago.  This evergreen flowering shrub is great for foundation plantings, in planters, as a hedge or planted so that it cascades over a wall. While seen in almost every home landscape, the plumbago is an essential and colorful subject worth some additional attention.

Native to South Africa, the plumbago is a fast growing shrub that can grow over six feet tall and eight feet wide in time and without pruning.  Best in full sun for superior flowering, this shrub will become fairly drought tolerant after establishment.  Allow up to six feet between plants when planting in mass to promote the mounding, almost fountain-like growing habit that is natural for this woody plant.  The yellow-green leaves frame the spectacular, one-inch wide flowers that form clusters that may remind you of phlox.   While most  plumbago come in sky blue, there is a cultivar called ‘Royal Cape’ with cobalt blue flowers.  For something different, there is also a white variety called ‘Alba’.

Plumbago can become very bushy, so, to promote new growth, prune this shrub relatively heavy  in late winter.   Although hardy in our area, frosts or freezes can nip plumbago back a bit as well.  Even if it were frozen back to the ground, the plumbago will more often than not, grow back without a problem. 

While plumbago have very few pests, an insect known as the chili thrips entered Florida in 2005 and had really taken a liking to many formerly  low maintenance plants such as plumbago. Chili thrip-infested plumbago almost looked like they have a fungal disease due to the numerous blackened leaves.  The good news is that this insect problem seems to have abated and has leveled off in our area as natural predators have built up to suppress chili thrips to a point where damage is minimal to none. 

One additional item to note is that plumbago have what are called chalk glands on the underside of their leaves.  This white deposit is natural and should not be confused with a fungus or other pest. 

Consider plumbago, a true Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ recommended plant, in your landscape for color and eye-appeal.  For more information on a “rainbow” of colorful plants to grow in 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. (2011) Plumbago auriculata. Plumbago, Cape Plumbago, Sky Flower.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Scheper, J. (2011) Plumbago auriculata.  Floridata.com.  Tallahassee, FL.
Ferrer, A. (2014) Plumbago. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Seminole County.

Caldwell, D. (2006) Chili Thrips: New Thrips Found on Plumbago: Could Mean Serious Losses for Ornamentals and Veggie-Fruit Industries. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County.

Friday, November 6, 2015

White, green, purple and lavender – heirloom eggplants offer color and food


Do ‘Rosa Bianca’, ‘Pandora Striped’ , ‘Casper’ , and ‘Apple Green’ mean anything to you?  These are just a small sampling of heirloom eggplant varieties that you can grow in Florida.  The number of different eggplant varieties available to grow has expanded well beyond the large deep purple fruits that most people are familiar with.  There is huge assortment of heirloom eggplants that offer color and shape to please any gardener.  Eggplants (some do actually resemble eggs) were first introduced by Thomas Jefferson and the rest, as they say,  is history.

Eggplants were around well before Thomas Jefferson started to promote them in 1806.  In fact, the eggplant is native to India and Pakistan and has been used as a crop for at least four-thousand years.  Well-known in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, the eggplant has traveled the world and, as a result, is available to home gardeners.  Heirlooms, by definition, whether eggplants, tomatoes or some other cultivated plant, must have been in common use for fifty years, come true from seed, and be pollinated by natural means.  Generally heirlooms have great flavor or some other noted characteristic, but not necessarily disease resistance. 

Eggplants like full-sun locations with well-drained soil enriched with plenty of organic matter.  On average, most varieties take from sixty-five days up to around eighty-five days from transplant to the first harvest.  For our fall/early winter gardens, eggplants can be planted from August through October.  They are sensitive to frosts, so be prepared to cover them as we enter early winter.  Eggplants can also be planted in the late winter/early spring garden after the weather has settled.  I have successfully grown them during the summer as well.  Space the plants twenty-four to thirty-six inches apart in rows thirty-six to forty-two inches apart.  Pick the fruits when they are young and shiny as over-mature fruit can develop bitterness. 

As for what heirloom eggplant varieties you select, it all depends on your particular needs and tastes.  A few green cultivars to try include ‘Apple Green’, ‘Louisiana Long Green’, and ‘Thai Long Green’.  For white-fruited eggplants, try ‘Casper’, and ‘Japanese White Egg’.  There are a number of long, narrow purple-fruited types such as ‘Fengyuan Purple’, ‘Long Purple’, and ‘Ping Tung Long’ ( I have grown ‘Ping Tung Long’ twice with good success).   For eggplants of a different color, look for lavender-pink fruited ‘Rosita’ or the purple-white striped cultivars ‘Listada de Gandia’, ‘Pandora Striped Rose’ or ‘Rayada’.   If you like the classic, large, bell-shaped eggplants stick with ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Florida Market’, or ‘Florida Highbush’. 

Heirloom eggplants are colorful, interesting and tasty!  For more information on all types of vegetables that you can grow in 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:
Ozores-Hampton, M. (2013) Heirloom Eggplant Varieties in Florida.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Christman, S. (2004) Solanum melongena.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The popular pygmy date palm


Relatively tiny as compared to other palms, the pygmy date palm is perhaps one of the most popular palms in Florida.  Its slow growth, feather-like fronds and petite height make the pygmy date palm a great specimen for any landscape.  Is there a pygmy palm in your future?

Originally from Southeast Asia, the pygmy date palm slowly grows to about twelve feet tall with a six to eight foot spread.  The pinnate, feathery fronds have wicked three-inch spines near the leaf base – these are very, very sharp!  The pygmy palm has separate male and female trees which both flower.  The female palms produce fruit (non-edible dates) that ripens black.  The trunk is slender and decorative with a pattern of raised, diamond-shaped leaf bases.  The pygmy date palm grows a single stem, although they are often planted in groups of two or three to make them look like a clumping variety. 

Plant your pygmy date palm in a full sun area for best growth although they will tolerate some partial shade as well.  Even though pygmy date palms are considered drought-tolerant once established, they will benefit from some supplemental moisture as needed.  They are not tolerant to salty conditions, so select your planting site accordingly.  While often considered best for hardiness zone 10A, they are grown throughout our county even in zone 9B areas without much problem.  On occasion, they can experience cold damage if the temperature goes below thirty degrees F. 

If your planting space is limited, this small palm can be grown in containers and makes an excellent patio plant. 

For best results, we recommend the use of a granular 8-2-12-4 fertilizer in November, February and May as per label directions.  Follow this in August with the use of a 0-0-16-6, again as per label directions.  Proper fertilization is important as our Florida soils are often lacking in certain nutrients essential to proper palm growth.  Common deficiencies found in pygmy palms include potassium, magnesium, manganese, and boron.  While these deficiencies are fairly easy to diagnose and rectify, it is always better to keep the palm on the proper fertilizer program to avoid these problems.

Sometimes natural materials produced by a plant are mistaken for a pest problem.  Pygmy date palms are often caught up in this confusion.  A material called scurf – a whitish, scaly material – is normally found on the new fronds of this palm.  Scurf lasts for a short while and over time naturally wears away and drops off.  Don’t confuse this for scale insects, whiteflies or mealybugs.  Always have a positive identification before deciding on a course of action.

The graceful and elegant pygmy palm is relatively inexpensive and suitable for many landscape uses.  For more information on all types of palms suitable for Southwest Florida, 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. (2014 ) Phoenix roebelenii: Pygmy Date Palm.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Broschat, T. K. Elliott, M. L. (2013 ) Normal “Abnormalities” in Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Scheper, j. (2004)Phoenix roebelenii.  Floridata.com.  Tallahassee, FL.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rain gardens – take advantage of low spots


Although the rain has subsided for the year, all of us have probably seen low areas that held water for several days in-between rain storms.  These areas are inappropriate for many plants as their roots actually drown and rot out.  However, there are many plants that can tolerate and even thrive in or around low, seasonally wet areas.  These sites can be developed into what are called rain gardens. As one of the principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ - specifically, #8: Reduce Stormwater Runoff - rain gardens filter water before it flows into the ground.  

If you have a swale, as many of us do, you already have a rain garden.  Swales are specifically designed to catch water, store if for a period of time and then filter it as it percolates through turf roots into the soil and eventually the aquifer.   Other low areas in your yard can also be developed into  rain gardens.    A good place for a rain garden is where downspouts flow out into the yard.  You do not want water collecting around your home’s foundation, so downspouts can be extended and directed further out into your landscape towards a depressed area.  Rain water from any hard surface such as a driveway or sidewalk may also contribute to this.

Rain gardens are going to look very meadow-like, so plan carefully as you make your plant selection.  Deep-rooted  native grasses such as gulf muhlygrass or sand cordgrass are part of almost all rain gardens.  Other sections may include wild flowers like golden cannas and Coreopsis, and native ferns such as leather ferns.  Native shrubs that do well in a rain garden include cocoplum, beautyberry, Walter’s viburnum,  and wax myrtle.  Native trees such as dahoon holly, pond cypress, and red maple are also excellent selections for this type of planting.   Keep in keep in mind the ultimate height and width of the plants selected.  You can even design rain gardens to look like a creek bed with stones used to add eye appeal and texture in both the wet and dry seasons.

When designing a rain garden, make it between four to eight inches in depth.  If the depression is greater than eight inches, it is likely to keep water standing too long.
If you wanted to see a real rain garden in our own community, there is a nice example at the front of the  Murdock Administration Building at 18500 Murdock Circle in Port Charlotte.  There is signage marking the rain garden with some explanation of the planting and how a rain garden works. 

Take advantage of low spots with a beautiful and functional rain garden!  For more information on all types of gardening topics,  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.    I also want to direct you to our “ Master Gardener Speaker’s Bureau” at http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/2012%20Speakers%20Bureau%20Brochure.pdf  where subject matter presentations can be scheduled for your group or organization.

Resources:
Sachson, A. (2007) Create a rain garden.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS  – Okeechobee County.
Post, A. (2010) Rain Gardens: Plant Selection and Maintenance.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS  – Sarasota County.
Post, A. (2010) Rain Gardens: Function and Installation.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS  – Sarasota County.

Badurek, T. (2010) Plant a Rain Garden for our Watershed.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS  – Pinellas County.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why you don’t want a golden rain tree



You have probably seen this tree hiding in plain sight until it flowers and subsequent pink, papery fruit capsules emerge in the fall and put on quite a show.  This is the golden rain tree sometimes also identified as Flamegold.  While it was a commonly planted tree many years ago, the golden rain tree has since fallen out of favor.  This tree was found to be invasive as its seeds ended up all over the place producing numerous seedlings and eventual trees.  There are also other reasons that you do not want this tree.


The golden rain tree can grow upwards to fifty feet tall with a similar width, but most in our area are less than thirty feet.   This evergreen tree has feathery compound leaves alternatively arranged on the branches.  The clusters of yellow flowers emerge in early fall and are followed by showy pink fruit capsules each containing about six seeds.  Both the flowers and the pink capsules can often be out at the same time making quite a display.    However, the golden rain tree, aka Koelreuteria elegans ssp. Formosana,  is classified by  the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) as a Category II Invasive Plant.  Category II means that “Invasive exotics that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species. These species may become ranked Category I, if ecological damage is demonstrated.”  The seeds are scattered around landscapes and can germinate in as little as six days.  These resulting seedlings can potentially grow to become trees which produce more seeds, and so on.  Now an invasive nature should be problem enough to disqualify  this plant.  The wood can also be weak and branches can break in windstorms.  One additional problem that is often experienced is the presence of the red and black jadera bug.  This stinkbug-like insect can show up by the thousands where there is a golden rain tree for the single purpose of feeding on the seeds.  This is their favorite food; so much so that they are also known as  "goldenrain tree bugs."  The jadera bug does not bite or sting, but its numbers can be quite disconcerting to homeowners and this insect can stain if squished.  If you have a golden rain tree in your yard, you will eventually have jadera bugs. 


So, as you look across the landscape and catch sight of a golden rain tree, just appreciate it from a distance!  For more information on all types of invasive 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:
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s 2015 List of Invasive Plant Species. (FLEPPC) http://www.fleppc.org/list/2015FLEPPCLIST-LARGEFORMAT-FINAL.pdf.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. ( 2014) Koelreuteria elegans ssp: Flamegold.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Wilber, W. (2013)  The Golden Rain Tree, or Koelreuteria elegans, is an invasive species.  www.ocala.com/article .
The University of Queensland, Australia. (2011) Golden Rain Tree,  Koelreuteria elegans ssp. Formosana. 

Caldwell, D. (2015) Jadera bugs? Must be Spring! The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The chaste tree – a bee and butterfly magnet


A somewhat uncommon tree/big shrub for our area, the chaste tree is a favorite throughout Florida.  Sometimes seen at a few at local garden centers, the chaste tree is noted for its lavender, lilac-like blooms somewhat similar to the butterfly bush.  While some species of chaste trees have been identified as being invasive - Vitex rotundifolia or beach vitex  for example is actually a Category I Invasive, and Vitex trifolia  or simple-leaf chaste tree is a Category II Invasive, the chaste tree highlighted in this article is Vitex agnus-castus.  While  Vitex agnus-castus can get a little weedy, it is not considered a problem. 

The chaste tree grows not much larger than fifteen feet tall with a similar spread in our area.  The gray-green, hand-shaped, deciduous leaves emit the scent of sage when touched.   The lavender, fragrant, spikes of showy flowers are in bloom from late spring through summer at which time they can be awash with bees and butterflies – maybe even a few hummingbirds!  As this tree is heavily visited by pollinators, be careful where it is situated avoiding heavily travelled areas where passersby may not appreciate the buzz.   The flowers are followed by fruit which dries and produces four seeds. 

It can be trained into a standard small tree, used in large containers or planted as part of a deck or patio.  As this low branched tree is multi-stemmed and somewhat shrub-like, it can also be used as a border planting.  The chaste tree does best in full sun in well-drained soil.  Tolerating hot weather extremely well, chaste trees are also noted to be highly drought-tolerant, moderately salt spray tolerant, and adaptable to alkaline soils.  In fact, soils rich in organic matter or overly moist soils can cause root rot and dieback. 

The chaste tree is another noteworthy Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant suitable to grow in your own landscape.  For more information on all types of flowering plants suitable for Southwest, Florida, 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) Vitex agnus-castus: Chaste Tree.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Scheper, J. (2004) Vitex agnus-castus.  Floridata: Tallahassee, FL.
Sachson, A. (2008) Cool Blue in the Landscape.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.
Wilber, W. (2010) Vitex tree thrives in Florida's heat and humidity – (The Gainesville Sun)  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Alachua County.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

What is it?


A common question these days is “What are those musky vines with yellow flowers covered with weird orange, ridged fruit?”  This question is often accompanied by a photo showing an invasive plant that is practically everywhere – the balsam pear (Momordica charantia).  An annual relative in the cucumber family, balsam-pear or balsam-apple is a weedy invasive vine which hides in plain sight until you notice those bright orange fruits.  Then you say, “What is it?”

According to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) the balsam apple/pear (Momordica charantia)  is considered a Category II Invasive Plant.  Category II means that “Invasive exotics that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category I species. These species may become ranked Category I, if ecological damage is demonstrated.” Its widespread nature and ability to grow up and over nearly every fence or plant encountered clearly shows its tendency to monopolize an area.  Originally from Africa and Southeast Asia, the balsam pear was brought to Europe in the early 1700’s and has since become a nuisance plant in Florida.  The local wild balsam-pear should not be used for food as it does possess toxic properties.  This invasive weed is not to be confused with the edible version cultivated for Asian cuisine called the Chinese bitter melon.  The Chinese bitter melon is much longer with light green to white knobby skin and can be grown like a cucumber on a trellis. 

The balsam-pear is an annual vine which sprouts from a fairly large seed in the spring and throughout the summer months.  The fuzzy-stemmed vine grows many feet long as it clambers over everything in its way using coiling  tendrils for support.  The palm-shaped leaves are lobed, about three inches wide, and alternately arranged on the stem.  Eventually the vine produces yellow, ruffled flowers – some are male, some are female.  Once pollenated, the female flowers develop a lumpy green fruit with a pointed end.  This ridged, several inch long fruit eventually ripens to a bright orange color.  The fruit then bursts open showing an orange and red interior.  The mature seeds are then ready to drop and infest a new area.  When grasped in the hand, the balsam-pear vine gives off a musky, distinct scent that is like no other. 

While balsam-pear can quickly overwhelm a fence or group of shrubs, hand-picking the vines before they flower  and set fruit will help begin to suppress this pest.  As the balsam-pear vine and other valued plants are often intertwined, the use of herbicides in this situation is not recommended.  If there was a pure stand of balsam-pear, the use of the non-selective herbicide glyphosate would work as a control when applied as per label directions.  Otherwise, hand-picking should eventually rid you of this weed.

If the weedy nature of the balsam-pear is not enough reason to eliminate it, this plant can also act as a reservoir of certain insect-borne plant viruses such as  Zucchini yellow mosaic virus and Papaya ringspot virus Type W.  In any case, the removal of balsam-pear will pay off with a manageable and  sustainable landscape.  For more information on all types of weeds and their management, 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:
Culbert, D. F. (1999) Balsam Apple: Weed or Vegetable? The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.
Goyal, G., Gill, H. K. & McSorley, R. (2015) Common Weed Hosts of Insect-Transmitted Viruses of Florida Vegetable Crops.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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

Monday, October 19, 2015

Puff


Late this summer, our staff and Master Gardeners installed a large patch of a groundcover called sunshine mimosa.  Many hands made the project go smoothly and now we are reaping the benefits.  This now large swath of puffy pink flowers greets visitors as they enter our parking lot.  Is  sunshine mimosa a great groundcover and a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant?  Yes, it is!



Native plants are very popular these days and those that serve a function in our landscapes are even more popular. The sunshine mimosa is a  great example of this. This mimosa is a native of Florida and makes an excellent and attractive groundcover. Named as a “Plant of the Year” in 2008 by the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association, sunshine mimosa is a resilient and beautiful plant.  Powderpuff or sunshine mimosa is a low-growing, spreading legume with feathery foliage and distinct one-inch long puffy pink flowers. The deep roots of this plant, and its ability to root along stems, makes it very drought tolerant once established. Erosion control is also a noted attribute of this plant.  Sunshine mimosa is a fast grower and as few as five potted transplants can cover up to 300 square feet in less than one growing season. Sunshine mimosa can be used in both residential and commercial settings as an alternative to turf or in roadside plantings. As a legume, it has the ability to fix nitrogen via its association with special nitrogen fixing bacteria. This ability can add nitrogen to the soil. Establishment can be accomplished with potted transplants, rooted sprigs, or even seeds. Seeds should be scarified (the seed coat thinned) before planting. The seed coat on sunshine mimosa is very hard and unscarified seed will take a year or more to germinate. Sunshine mimosa is not very competitive and can be mixed with turf. Grass and mimosa can be mowed together without hurting the low growing mimosa. The development of nitrogen fixing bacteria may take more than a year to benefit these plants. While the use of a slow release, no phosphorus fertilizer will delay or prevent the growth of these nitrogen-fixing bacteria, its use will promote flowering and reduce yellowing.   Relatively pest-free, sunshine mimosa can sometimes suffer from minor deer or caterpillar browsing.



Where can you find a source of sunshine mimosa? The production of this plant is presently somewhat limited. Check local native plant nurseries and similar Internet sources. On occasion you might find some containerized material in local nurseries as well. Certainly, once you have a mimosa patch established, you can propagate
your own new plants from this original stock. To see a patch of sunshine mimosa in full bloom is an impressive sight – come see ours! Try some as a groundcover or alternative to turf for low maintenance areas.  For more information on all types of groundcovers, 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:
Norcini, J.G. & Aldrich, J.H. (2009) Native Wildflowers: Mimosa strigillosa Torr. & A. Gray. UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Brown, S. H. & Cooprider, K. (2010) Mimosa strigillosa.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Lee County

Jordi, R. (2010) Sunshine Mimosa - Mimosa strigillosa.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Nassau County

Friday, October 16, 2015

Olive trees – yes and no


While olive trees have been in Florida for some time as a curiosity and for small scale production further north, renewed interest has come about this tree as a landscape subject.  Growing upwards to a possible thirty-feet tall, olives can make a nice small to medium-sized landscape tree for our area.  As far as producing your own olives, I would not get your hopes up, but as an attractive tree, it is worth a try.

We planted a small olive tree ('Arbequina')  in our Demonstration Garden a few years ago to see how it would do.  It is now over six-feet tall and has actually, to our surprise, set some fruit this year!  This was not expected as we had heard that this far south fruit is not dependably set.  This may still be the case as it has not matured as yet and could still fall off.  Otherwise, this small tree has beautiful gray-green evergreen foliage with silvery surface on the underside of the leaves.  Although truly evergreen, the oldest leave swill shed as new growth emerges in the spring.  The bark color goes from gray-green to tannish-gray as it matures.  If olives develop flowers and fruit, a crop is normally produced every other year.  If fruit is produced, it starts green and then turns blackish-purple when ripe.  Please note that the fruit has to be processed to become palatable as raw fruit is bitter and inedible. 



Pollination is another consideration as it can be complex, climate-sensitive and many olive cultivars are not self-fertile.  In our area this may not be of much consequence.  However, just for the record, if you were to select suitable self-fertile cultivars, try 'Arbequina', 'Mission', or 'Manzanilla'. In suitable climates, fruit set may be increased by planting more than one cultivar in close proximity.

Plant olives in full sun areas with very good drainage for best results.  Once established, olives are fairly drought-resistant and can be long-lived.  Please note that many people are allergic to olive pollen so plant accordingly. 

Again, like some newer plants, finding suitable olive trees may be difficult in our area.  I have seen as recently as last week some in a local box store garden center.  Otherwise, please check with local family-run garden centers and regional specialized nurseries as well as internet sources.  While the one olive in our Demonstration Garden is doing really well, it represents a trial of sorts as to how well these trees will do in our area – so far, so good.  As to olive production, I am not holding my breath, but find that this attractive tree holds some promise as landscape feature.  For more information on all types of trees 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:
Thetford, M., Gillet-Kaufman, J. L.& Mulvaney, M. J. (2015) Olives for Your Florida Landscape.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2015) Olives. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS
Florida Trees For Urban and Suburban Sites (2015) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS

Spray, V. ( 2010) Grow Olives in North Florida.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Leon County

Thursday, October 15, 2015

When palms have bad hair days


When can a palm have a “bad hair day?”  Palms can have bad hair days when they have a manganese deficiency.  The newest fronds develop what is called “Frizzletop “ and really stick out like a sore thumb!  Learn how this deficiency develops and how to prevent it.

Manganese is considered a micronutrient and as such is needed in relatively small amounts.  However, when things like soil pH are too high (our soils are often alkaline) it may be difficult for palms to pick up certain nutrients such as manganese and a deficiency results on the newest fronds.  Palms in soil with poor drainage and/or cool temperatures may also show Mn-deficiencies.   Palms may not have been properly fertilized (or fertilized at all) and this of course can lead to a deficiency.  Even oddball things like applying composted sewage sludge and manure products can actually artificially induce a manganese deficiency.  Whatever triggers the problem, those palm fronds will forever be marked by yellowish, dead streaks.  New leaflets appear dead and withered giving the leaf a frizzled appearance.  Most of the damage is noticeable at the base of the leaf, but is less severe towards the tip .  In severely deficient palms, death can eventually occur.

While most palms can develop manganese deficiency, the Queen, Royal and Pygmy date are particularly sensitive.

The best recommendation is to use proper palm fertilizers which already contain manganese such as is found in an 8-2-12-4 applied in November, February and May as per label direction, and then  followed in August with a 0-0-16-6, again, as per label directions. 

If a palm is diagnosed with a severe deficiency, soil applications of dry manganese sulfate can be made over the soil under the palm canopy. The rate applied can  range from eight ounces for a small palm up to five to eight pounds for a large palm, depending on the severity of the deficiency condition and soil pH – read the package label for directions as well.    Applications may need to be repeated every two to three months if the problem persists.   It may take up to six months to see a change on the new fronds –  remember, the old deficient fronds will remain the same. 

“Frizzletop” is not only unattractive, but can also slowly lead to the decline and/or death of a susceptible palm.  Feeding your palm correctly will pay off with years of healthy, attractive palms accenting your glorious landscape!   For more information on all type of palm tips,  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.

Resource:

Broschat T. K. (2014) Manganese Deficiency in Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fiji foliage provides bold color in the landscape


When you think of colorful foliage plants you might add to your landscape, you may target crotons, coleus, or even caladiums.    But what about the copperleaf?  Copperleaf shrubs today come in a surprising array of colors and leaf shapes that simply pop in the landscape.  Is there a copperleaf in your future?

Originally from Fiji and the general South Pacific region, copperleaf can grow upwards to ten feet tall and wide, but can be pruned to whatever shape is desired.  Used informally, the copperleaf is a relatively fast grower and makes a spectacular hedge or privacy screen with individual plants spaced three to five feet apart.  Besides the gorgeous leaves, copperleaf often develop fuzzy, cattail-like flowers from the leaf axils.  The best foliage color will be realized in full sun.  These shrubs will tolerate some shade, but may develop sparse branching in low light areas. Copperleaf can be cold sensitive, but any frost-nipped portions quickly re-sprout when warm weather returns.  The flamboyant copperleaf will benefit from wind and salty spray protection.   



While you may have only seen one or two cultivars of copperleaf, there are about twenty-six types available.  Dwarf cultivars such as ‘Blaze’ (with narrow maroon leaves )may only grow from three to five feet tall.  If you like a variety with rich copper-colored leaves try one called ‘Brazen’.  ‘Haleakala’ has dark maroon strangely twisted serrated leaves.  And for something different there is one called ‘Irish Petticoat’ with rounded green leaves edged with a serrated white margin.  Another beautiful white and green variety with large leaves is called ‘Java White’. In a similar vein, look for ‘Tahiti’ which totes large twisted green and yellow leaves.  The cultivar  ‘Mardi Gras’  takes the exotic look one step further with very narrow green, white and pinkish-orange leaves.  For one with thin leaves that change as the year progresses, try ‘Inferno’ .  ‘Inferno’ goes from red to red-orange and yellow over time. 

Copperleaf is incredibly easy to propagate from cuttings.  Propagating your own from cuttings obtained from gardening friends will help you increase your copperleaf collection over time.    So to enhance, or even provide a substitute for flowers, plants with colorful, textured leaves add a layer of splendor and interest.   The copperleaf, another Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant,  can provide these attributes and more!  For more information on shrubs 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:
Caldwell, D. (2015) Copperleaf Adds a Little Shine to the Landscape!.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County.
Christman, S. (2004) Acalypha wilkesiana.  Floridata.com, Tallahassee, Fl.
Schmidt, E. (2015) Garden View: Copperleaf - Acalypha wilkesiana.  Harry P. Leu Garden. 
Gilman, E$. F.  (2014) Acalypha wilkesiana. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Invasive orchid resurgence in Charlotte County


Beginning in 2012, we started spotting a curious invasive orchid known as “The Beautiful Crown Orchid" popping up all over our landscapes in mulched beds.  While it seemed to be declining in some areas, I have seen a recent resurgence of this weedy plant at other sites.  Despite its name, this invasive orchid is not that attractive and is in fact rather drab. Why couldn’t Charlotte County be invaded by something like a beautiful cattleya orchid!  The educated gardener should be aware of what it looks like and become familiar with some interesting background information.

This orchid is botanically identified as Eulophia graminea, a type of ground orchid.  Native to tropical and subtropical parts of Asia where it can be found in a variety of habitats, this orchid first showed up in Miami in 2007, probably as a result of an escape from an orchid collector, and then in 2011 in Lee County.  This ground orchid appears to favor mulched landscape beds in sunny locations.  While many of the ones that I have seen in Charlotte County have been associated with mulched beds, some have been seen in natural areas.   At first glance, you would think that it was a relative of the Amaryllis or even an onion as it has a thick bulb-like base.   The short, lily-like leaves almost remind me of daylily leaves.  However, if you look closer you will notice that the bulb is actually what is called a pseudobulb, a storage organ, often associated with orchids.  From this pseudobulb (which often sticks partway out of the mulch), appear up to five short, strap-like leaves.  At maturity this orchid produces a long shoot (up to several feet tall) with a cluster of very small flowers.  The flowers  –  white with pink and green in color –  are followed by seed pods full of tiny seeds.


Orchids reproduce via minute, dust-like seeds that can travel in the wind, as well as from orchid plant parts, the pseudobulbs.  This is probably how they have spread through our area.  Information on this orchid also indicates that it can tolerate fairly cool temperatures and is likely to continue moving north.  If you see one of these orchids, pull it up and destroy it to keep it from spreading.  We can certainly help you identify it at our office or simply send me a digital photo to my e-mail address:   Ralph.Mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.


Invasive pests – whether plants, insects, or other similar organisms – seem to be a fact of life here in Florida.  Vigilance is part of the management strategy so that offending individuals such as this ground orchid can be controlled at least on your own property.  For more information on all types of invasive plants and animals, 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:
Brown, S. H., Becker, T. & Cruz, P. (2012) Eulophia graminea a Potentially Invasive Ground Orchid.  The University of Florida Extension Service - Lee County. 
EDDMapS Floridahttp://www.eddmaps.org/distribution/point.cfm?id=2482748 – Submission by Culbert, D., UF/IFAS Okeechobee Extension Service.
Hammer, R. 17360 Avocado Drive, Homestead  FL  33030 – Personal Communication.
Pemberton, B. & Koptur, S. A Newly Naturalized Orchid Found in Florida. June 2008. American Orchid Society, Coral Gables.
Pemberton, B., et al. Alien Terrestrial Orchid, Eulophia Graminea, Invades Miami.

Weaver, R.E. and Anderson, P.J. 2009. Botany Section. Tri-Ology. FDACS, Tallahassee, Florida

Pretty pentas provide plenty of posies


If you like perennial plants that flower almost all-year round, you may be interested in pentas.  Named after the Latin word for “five” due to the five-petalled flowers, pentas have bright flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and on-lookers alike.  While also called Egyptian Star Clusters, these originally east African plants grow great in our area.  Useful in planters, as cut flowers, in hanging baskets and as accent plants, pentas may have a place in your landscape.

Pentas lanceolata, or just plain pentas, is really an evergreen shrub that can grow up to three-feet tall.  There are other varieties to choose from including low-growing and mounding types of about fourteen-inches in height.  Larger types can get so tall that they can actually fall over.  Colors range from red, white, lavender, purple and pink.  The red and darker pinks types are particularly attractive to hummingbirds.  The fuzzy haired leaves frame the tubular flowers that are grouped together in large clusters.  In fact, one plant can have upwards of twenty clusters of flowers at a time.  Pentas should be planted in a full sun to part shade location with well-drained soil.  Although full sun will promote the most flowers,  pentas can actually produce some flowers with as little as three hours of sun per day.  Mulch to conserve moisture, but don’t plant pentas in sites where soggy soil can be a problem.  Plant on eighteen to twenty-four inch centers when installed for mass plantings.   One convenient characteristic in the management of pentas involves their ability to self-deadhead.  Ordinarily, many flowering plants require removal of old flower heads in a process known as “deadheading”. 

Plant pentas in combination with lantanas, ixoras, blue salvias, or in front of other evergreen shrubs such as hollies, ligustrum, wax myrtles or junipers for a stunning landscape feature.  An added bonus - as cut flowers, pentas can last up to five days in a vase.  Use this plant in combination with summer annuals as a subject for containers.  Pentas are perhaps the most popular flowers in the garden as far as butterflies are concerned, so if you are into butterfly gardening, this is a popular nectar source.  Pentas can be easily propagated by rooting cuttings or from seeds. 

If you like plenty of flowers on a perennial plant, try pentas.  For more information on all types of flowering 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. & Shiffit, S. (2014)  Pentas lanceolata Pentas.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Christman S.  (1997) Pentas lanceolata Floridata. Tallahassee, FL.
Klingaman, G. (2002) Plant of the Week: Butterfly Pentas.  The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Winter, N. (2005) Southern Gardening – Choose Pentas for Outstanding Color.  University of Mississippi.

Rodriguez, D. (2006) Butterfly Pentas.  Texas A&M University System, Texas Cooperative Extension Service.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

The story of schefflera


How can a schefflera plant be either good or bad?  The answer: when one species is an invasive and one is a premium landscape plant!  Many years ago, the Schefflera actinophylla  also called the schefflera tree or Queensland umbrella-tree, or even octopus tree, was a staple plant both for containers and sometimes even for outdoor landscape planting.  Over the years it was found to be a Category I Invasive plant by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and is no longer recommended.  Seeds were spread by birds all over and this plant began to show up in the wrong place – the classic definition of a weed.  Small plants set out in the garden by well-meaning homeowners soon became massive, over-powering trees with extensive roots taking over their property.  Enter a different type of schefflera, a dwarf type with deep green leaves – some with beautiful variegation.  This new short schefflera fit the bill as a prized landscape plant – the Arboricola.

The original color of the dwarf schefflera or Schefflera arboricola, was a dark glossy green with palmate leaves forming a rounded evergreen shrub not much bigger than ten feet tall unpruned with occasional colorful orange-yellow fruit in the winter.  A very dense shrub already, bushiness can be enhanced by pinching the tips of stems to force more side-shoots to develop and to keep the plant in bounds.  As such, the Arboricola was ideal for short to medium hedges, espaliers, outdoor containers or even as an indoor plant.  Doing well from full sun to shade sites,  this plant has many good landscaping attributes.  One of the best shrubs for shady conditions, Arboricola likes sandy, well-drained soil and does best on the dry side once established.  Drought and salt-tolerant, Arboricola is hardy in our area and will snap back nicely if damaged by a frost.  

Add one more attribute to this fine shrub – variegation – and you have a real beautiful foliage plant.  Cultivars have been found and propagated with yellow and white splashes of color.  Named cultivars such as ‘Covette’, ‘Gold Capella’, ‘Jacqueline’, ‘Renate’, and ‘Trinette’ were developed with ‘Trinette’ being the most common and popular.   Variegated Arboricola are readily available at almost all garden centers year-round – a real “bread & butter” item.

Dwarf Schefflera are the way to go for colorful foliage and proven landscape success.  For more information on all types of shrubs 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:
Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (2015) List of Invasive Plant Species. http://www.fleppc.org/list/2015FLEPPCLIST-LARGEFORMAT-FINAL.pdf.
Culbert, D. (2007) A Houseplant or a Shrub? The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.
Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2014) Schefflera arboricola: Dwarf Schefflera.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (2013) Schefflera actinophylla:. Schefflera. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Doveweed – gentle name, aggressive weed!



Weeds have a way of slowly squirming themselves into your landscape.  A small patch of weeds today soon becomes a large patch of weeds in a month and then it often becomes a bigger problem.   I remember soon after Hurricane Charley in 2004  a new unfamiliar weed took hold in my yard.  At first I thought that is was some new type of grass and it sort of looked good.  And then I saw the telltale purple flowers -  I had an infestation of the dreaded doveweed!

At first doveweed looks like a fine-bladed grass eventually almost looking like St. Augustine.  As such, it can go unnoticed for some time.  Preferring moist conditions, doveweed is actually a sedge-like weed with shiny leaves  attached to creeping stems that spread over the ground.  As these stems spread they can root down at the nodes.  A mower can chop doveweed into pieces and these segments can propagate themselves vegetatively all over the place.   Doveweed is actually a summer annual, so it also produces flowers and  seeds.  The seeds are also moved about by lawnmowers, birds and water.  These seeds can survive in the soil for years, so complete management is an on-going process. 


Once doveweed is identified in your lawn, what is the next step?  As this weed loves moist areas, see what you can do to improve drainage and/or reduce overwatering.  Also, be careful about your mowing height.  Mowing too short (scalping) is a bad practice and allows the doveweed to out-compete the grass.  If the infestation is small, you can eradicate it by spot treating with a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate to “surgically” remove these offensive weeds.  Another herbicide strategy would be a properly timed pre-emergent such as atrazine in the case of St. Augustine lawns (not Bahia grass) on February 1st .  Using atrazine as a post-emergent herbicide would also work, but not when the temperatures exceed eight-five degrees F.   As with any pesticide you use, read the label, the label is the law.


It will take more than a year to get rid of a serious doveweed infestation.  Using cultural controls hand-in-hand with chemical options should help suppress this weed.  Once under control, keep your turf in vigorous and healthy condition and monitor for future small infestations as needed.  For more information on all types of weed management information, 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:
Leon, R. G. & Unruh, B. (2015) Doveweed (Murdannia nudiflora) Control in Warm-Season Turgrass Species.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Jordi, R. Weeds (2015) Doveweed. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Nassau County.
Futch, S.  H. & Hall,  D. W. Identification of Sedge and Sedge-Like Weeds in Florida Citrus.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Trenholm, L. E.,  Cisar J. L. & Unruh,  J. B. St. (2014) Augustinegrass for Florida Lawns. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.