Saturday, December 31, 2016

New year’s gardening resolutions for 2017


We all need to look towards the future for personal improvement and goal setting.  The backyard gardener should be no different and the New Year is a great time to make some resolutions that will benefit any landscape.  Let's look at some tips, techniques and strategies that will make your horticultural experience in Southwest Florida the best in 2017.

Your first resolution should be to water properly. 
Ø  Water your lawn and other plants only when they show signs of stress. 
Ø  Calibrate your sprinkler(s) to apply 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water per application.
Ø  Mow lawns high to encourage a deeper, more drought and pest tolerant root system.  
Ø  Use a drip or micro-spray irrigation system to more efficiently water plant and flower beds.
Secondly, feed your palms correctly.    Nutritional deficiencies not only lead to unthrifty looking plants, but may also to the eventual death of the palm.  All of these nutrients must be provided in proper balance for good growth and healthy plants. A complete palm fertilizer in a slow-release formula is the best maintenance fertilizer to use on a regular basis as per the label instructions.  Broadcast the fertilizer under the canopy and not up against the trunk or in thick bands.  As a general recommendation, we suggest that you get your palm on a granular fertilizer - 8-2-12-4 (or 8-0-12-4) applied in November, February and May as per label directions.  In August, use a 0-0-16-6, again as per label directions.

Next, make sure to prune your palms responsibly.  Palms need to retain all of their good, functional leaves.  These leaves are the "solar panels" of the palm- food making devises needed to keep the plant alive.  Premature removal of good fronds unnecessarily weakens these plants which may predispose them to secondary problems.  What are some acceptable reasons for pruning a palm?  Removing dead fronds makes the palm look better and improves the overall appearance of the landscape.  Dead fronds which are loosely attached to the palm may fall and injure people or damage property.  Removing flower/fruit clusters is also fine.  Over-pruning can be detrimental to a palm, however. "Hurricane cuts", as they are called, stresses the palm to a point where there is an increased chance of disease and insect invasion.    New fronds take time to emerge and green fronds should be protected and preserved. 

Next, resolve to plant the "right plant, in the right place".   Sensible selection of plant materials based on some knowledge of the plant is always best.  For example, a shade-loving plant will not do well in a full-sun site.  A plant that requires a somewhat drier environment may rot in a site regularly watered.  A tree that may grow up to sixty-foot tall and over one-hundred feet wide would not be a good choice planted next to a house.  Get to know your plant materials and analyze your site before you plant.  Let our Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ program (FFL) help you with this!

In 2017, use pesticides properly! Key to the proper use of a pesticide is making sure to READ THE LABEL, THE LABEL IS THE LAW!  The pesticide label is a legal document that must be followed to the letter. The label gives you a wealth of information such as which pests it will control, what hosts it can be applied to, how to mix the chemical, when it should it be applied, how much and how often and how to protect yourself and the environment.  Each label will contain a Signal Word that will call attention to the degree of toxicity of each individual pesticide.  For instance, a Caution label indicates that it is slightly toxic.  A Warning signal word will indicate a pesticide that is moderately toxic.   For a home garden, stick to materials with Caution labels to help minimize safety issues or use suggested non-toxic cultural controls.

The last resolution that I would like you to ponder for 2017 is to get to know your bugs, especially good bugs.  Good bugs can also be called beneficial insects.  Beneficial bugs are all around us and help maintain the balance of nature as it relates to insect pests in and around our landscape.  A lady beetle eating an aphid is an example of this. These insects are generally orange with black spots but may also appear in shades of brown, red or black, with or without spots.  The larvae look like a miniature alligator with a scaly, elongated black and orange body.  Both adults and larvae eat aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, whiteflies, and mites.  Another beneficial insect is known as the lacewing.  In both brown and green forms, this insect produces a larva built for killing and eating aphids.  Large pincher mouthparts grab prey and suck fluids from them.  Let our office help you identify good and bad bugs. 

Are you ready for 2017?  Let the Charlotte County Extension Service help you with all of your horticultural educational needs.  For more information on all types of gardening subjects, 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.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

The kalanchoe – blazing holiday color


Have you seen the colorful flowering succulents called kalanchoes in garden centers nestled amongst the poinsettias, Christmas cacti, and Norfolk Island pines?  Kalanchoes offer long-lasting florescent flowers which make a great holiday gift plant.  This Holiday gift plant keeps on giving as it can be put in the landscape for re-bloom purposes next season. 

There are many, many types of kalanchoe in cultivation with over one-hundred and twenty-five species available.  The kalanchoe known as Kalanchoe blossfeldiana  is native to Madagascar and was introduced in 1932 by Robert Blossfeld.    Grown for its red, pink, yellow, white and salmon flowers, the species  is named after Mr. Blossfeld, a German hybridizer.   This plant blooms as a result of shorter days at this time of year just like poinsettias.  The small, four-petaled flowers are arranged in clusters that combine to make a stunning flower head.  Indoors as a potted plant, the flowers will last for some time when kept in a bright sunny area.  Do not overwater as root rots can develop.  Allow the soil to dry between waterings and make sure to take off any decorative foil wrap to ensure proper drainage. 

Once the weather has settled sometime in March, your kalanchoe can be planted outside in a full sun to part shade  location.   Gradually adjust the plant to outdoor conditions as it can otherwise sunburn.   Well-drained soil is essential and once established, the kalanchoe can be considered highly drought tolerant and recommended as a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ plant.  The glossy scalloped leaves will serve as a groundcover of sorts during the summer when there will be few if any flowers.  Kalanchoes will also look good in rock gardens, in raised planters and in stand-alone containers.  Once the day length begins to shorten in October, new flower buds will begin to develop.  Now while Holiday kalanchoes may have had their daylight artificially manipulated to induce flowering, outdoor specimens will adapt to the natural light cycles and most likely begin to bloom in January and then on through spring.  They can be cold sensitive and will most likely require some frost/freeze protection if cold weather settles in. 

While most kalanchoes can grow up to one-foot tall, there are some named dwarf cultivars such as ‘Pumila’ and ‘Tetra Vulcan’.  Otherwise the color selection is based on your taste.  Both single and double-flowering varieties are available in a range of almost florescent colors.  The kalanchoe is just another nice Holiday plant to consider as a gift to others or for yourself!  For more information on all types of plants suitable for gift-giving, 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) Kalanchoe blossfeldiana .  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Trinklein, D. H. (2014) Care of Flowering Potted Plants.  The University of Missouri Extension Service.
Winter, N. ( 2016) Kalanchoe brings top holiday color.  Mississippi State University Extension Service. 
Davenport,  M. (2007)  Kalanchoe.  Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Enjoying your poinsettia after the holidays


What seasonal plant better rings in the Holiday than the cuetlaxochitl!  For that matter, what is a cuetlaxochitl?  Would the name Euphorbia pulcherrima ring a bell?  No?  How about the poinsettia?  This holiday charmer has a rich history that equals its brilliant color.

The name “cuetlaxochitl” is the Aztec word for the poinsettia.  In fact, before the poinsettia became a famous houseplant, the Aztecs used it in their fall celebrations.  As history goes, Joel R. Poinsett, United States Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant to the United States in 1825.  “The most beautiful Euphorbia” or Eurphorbia pulcherrima, was well on its way to becoming a botanical and economic success story.  By 1836, the plant was known by the name poinsettia in honor of Ambassador Poinsett.

After extensive work and marketing in the plant industry including the famous Paul Ecke Ranch, the poinsettia is now an indispensable part of the Holiday season.  They are actually woody tropical perennials with colorful bracts in shades of red, white, pink, and assorted novelty multicolor types with spots or blotches.  The modified leaves or bracts are the colorful portion of the plant.  The actual flowers are insignificant - small green and yellow structures in the center of the bract cluster.  Selection of an individual plant will of course vary with your particular color desires.  Poinsettias may be multi-stemmed or single-stemmed; some are even trained into a tree-form.  Regardless, make sure that the plant is not broken and check for insects (whiteflies) and diseases before purchasing.  While we may think of the poinsettia as a pot plant, keep in mind that it does make a suitable subject for outdoor culture in our area.  Also, Poinsettias are not poisonous, although some people are mildly allergic to their sap.

After you have enjoyed your poinsettia for the Holiday, harden it off in preparation for planting outdoors by slowly acclimating it to the outside environment.  Select a full-sun planting site that will provide a moist, well-drained soil.  Very important item - locate a spot that is not near artificial light sources such as streetlights or light from windows.  If the dark period required for setting flowers is interrupted, flowers will form late or not at all.   Flower buds are usually set by early October, as the nights become longer.  Feed poinsettias monthly applications of a complete fertilizer starting in March through October.  Water as needed to keep the soil moderately moist.

Pruning will also help develop a bushy, attractive plant.  Prune poinsettias back to about eighteen inches in the early spring.  Pinch new growth when it reaches twelve inches back so that there are four leaves left per stem.  Repeat this process until September 10th and no later.  There must be enough time for this final growth to mature before setting buds.

While poinsettias are very sensitive to cold, if freeze damage occurs, prune out the truly dead portions in March.  The remainder of the plant should recover without a problem.

Don’t be the only one without a poinsettia in your yard in 2017!  Not only can you treasure the blooms at Christmas, but also have a decent tropical shrub that will be ornamentally useful for years to come.  For more information on all types of Holiday 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: 
The History of the Poinsettia (Paul Ecke Ranch), 2016.
Black, R. J., Tjia, B. & Sheehan, T. J. Poinsettias for Florida  Landscapes. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.

Park Brown, S. (2013) Poinsettias at a Glance. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yellow stars twinkle in the backyard garden


Some fruits are either feast or famine and the star fruit is one of those wonders.  This fall, not only was our starfruit at the East Port Environmental Campus Demonstration Garden producing, several Master Gardeners were also bringing in bags of extra fruit to share – nice!  Whether you call it carambola, star fruit or five-finger, the fruit tree known scientifically as Averrhoa carambola is exotic, tasty, and makes a nice ornamental yard tree. Why not try this tree fruit in your own back yard?

First, let me quote word for word from our UF/IFAS publication, "People who have been diagnosed with kidney disease should not eat carambola (star fruit) unless their doctor says it is safe for them to eat. This fruit may contain enough oxalic acid to cause a rapid decline in renal function." Please keep this important warning in mind.   Originally from Southeast Asia, the carambola has been grown in Florida for over one hundred years and is commercially produced in Dade, Lee, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. This fruit is commonly seen in produce departments in most grocery stores and is familiar to almost everyone. The carambola tree is small to medium in size, evergreen to semi-evergreen depending on winter temperatures and may have a single or multiple trunks. The small, but colorful pink to lavender flowers are about three-eighths of an inch long. The flowers are followed by a fleshy waxy berry from two to six-inches long with five lobbed ribs that appear star-shaped when cut in cross-section. It takes about seventy-five days from the time the fruit sets until it is ready to pick. There are also about twelve edible seeds per fruit. Carambolas really appreciate being protected from windy sites. As a matter of fact, wind damaged trees will show browning or distorted leaves, some stem dieback, fruit damage and general stunted growth. Keeping carambola trees pruned to about twelve feet tall will also help increase hurricane resistance. Select a site to plant your carambola that is in full sun, out of the wind and is well drained. If necessary, plant the tree on a mound of soil to raise it up above areas that sometimes flood. Build the mound three to four foot high and four to ten feet wide using native soil. Carambolas are not tolerant of salty conditions and also may show nutrient deficiencies in high pH soils. As the tree matures, it tolerance to cold and freezing will improve. Generally, at temperatures of twenty to twenty-four degrees Fahrenheit, large branches and even mature trees may die. Accordingly, some protection may be necessary during the coldest of our winter weather.

Carambola normally have two major crops per year ready from August through September and from December through February. There will also be scattered smaller crops. A five year old tree can produce up to one hundred pounds per tree. Mature trees can eventually supply you with over two-hundred and fifty pounds a year. It is no wonder why carambola tree owners are always giving fruit away to friends and neighbors! A complete fertilizer suitable for tropical fruits used as per label directions will keep the tree productive and healthy. In addition, foliar applications of micronutrients may be needed to ward off deficiencies. Variety selection is as much an issue of what is available in the local garden centers, and what your personal tastes are. Carambolas are either sweet or tart - some tart varieties will even sweeten up if left on the tree to ripen further. ‘Arkin’ is a cultivar that originated in Florida, has a sweet flavor and is very well suited for backyard production. ‘Lara’ is another variety from Florida that is also sometimes available. ‘Fwang Tung’ is also recommended.   Local box store garden centers and specialty nurseries regularly carry carambola.  Carambola is a great dooryard fruit tree that is easy to grow and produces an abundance of tasty fruit.  Perhaps give one as a gift to someone this Holiday Season! For more information on all types of fruit 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.   

Resource: Crane, J. H. (2013) Carambola Growing in the Florida Home Landscape. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cousin of the lychee, the longan


The longan tree in our East Port Environmental Campus Demonstration Garden produced a good crop of fruit this year.  It is one of the few fruit trees producing fruit in August, so the small brown fruit were a welcome seasonal taste treat.  A family member of the lychee, the longan tree is an attractive evergreen all by itself – the fruit is just an added bonus!  Best grown in the warmer parts of Charlotte County or in noted microclimates, the longan may be something to try.

Originating in Southeast Asia, the longan reached our country in 1903 and has been a commercial crop in south Florida since the 1990’s. It is well adapted to the subtropics where there is a period of cool, but not freezing winters, and dry periods in the fall and winter.   Because of weather conditions, longan trees may not bear fruit every year.  In a good year, a mature tree can produce over fifty pounds of fruit.  The twelve-inch long evergreen leaves are shiny and dark green in color.  The flowers are small and arranged in what are called panicles.  The clusters of fruit that develop are round to oval and around an inch in diameter.  A brown leathery covering surrounds the white pulp which surrounds a dark brown seed.  The pulp is sweet and has a unique flavor.  Keep in mind that it takes, from flower to fruit, over one-hundred and forty days. 

Once established in a full sun site, the longan is very drought tolerant, but does not take flooding well.  The longan also does not like salty conditions which will cause leaf burn and general dieback.  As mentioned, the longan can take our subtropical climate for the most part, but can be damaged or killed when temperatures approach twenty-seven degrees F.  Growing unpruned upwards to thirty-feet tall, it should be trained to maintain a height of about fifteen feet tall.  Also consider fruit thinning.  By reducing about fifty percent of the fruit set when they are about one-quarter of an inch in the spring, each remaining fruit will be significantly bigger and more appealing.  This will help individual fruit approach the desired one and one-quarter of an inch (or bigger) diameter size which will have the most flesh and the best flavor.  Test a few fruits for taste before you harvest the entire cluster.  Longan fruit can be stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator for up to seven days.

A number of box store garden centers regularly carry longan trees for sale.  In Florida, the number one cultivar planted is ‘Kohala’.  This has been found to be the best variety and is recommended for backyard plantings.  The biggest pest likely encountered will be birds eating the ripe fruit.  Bird netting works well to exclude the birds and protect the crop.

If you are looking for a non-citrus fruit tree to try, the longan might be a good choice for you.  Try the fruit ahead of time by visiting Pine Island tropical fruit growers in August to sample some of these tasty morsels!  For more information on all types of fruit 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.   

Resource:  Crane, J. H., Balerdi, C. F., Sargent, S. A. & Maguire, I. (2013) Longan Growing in the Florida Home Landscape.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The palmetto weevil blues


“Oh no!” – was I all I could say as I noted the telltale brown fronds and slightly tilted, leaking canopy.  Our prized Bismarck palm was marked for death as masses of unseen three-inch long palmetto weevil larvae tunneled inside eating the heart out of this majestic palm.   Growing up to fifty feet tall, the stunning palm known as the Bismarck palm has become a popular landscape subject throughout Southwest Florida.  Planted as an accent specimen in many landscapes, beautiful silver-blue Bismarck palms tower over other plantings to the pride of homeowners.  Is this a good choice for your landscape? 

Originally from the island nation of Madagascar, Bismarckia nobilis have been popular landscape subjects in Southwest Florida for some time.  Potentially growing to an enormous size of up to sixty feet tall and twenty-feet wide, the Bismarck palm is widely sold in local garden centers and nurseries. The growth seen in these palms is fairly rapid and the one planted at our East Port Environmental Campus Demonstration Garden in Port Charlotte grew from a five-gallon, three foot plant to well over twenty-feet in about six years.  Site selection is very important and you should definitely “plan before you plant”.   Keep in mind that this palm often outgrows small residential lots as its gigantic proportions make everything around it look puny.  Bismarck palms are best planted in full sun on well-drained soil.  Once established, they are highly drought- tolerant and moderately salt-tolerant – good characteristics for our area.  A recommended fertilizer program for all palms includes the use of a granular 8-2-12-4 (or 8-0-12-4) in November, February and May, and a 0-0-16-6 in August, applied as per label directions.

Bismarck palms are best suited to Hardiness Zones 10A and 11.  Charlotte County has some zone 10A right along the coast, but further inland the zone changes to 9B – a potentially cooler area.  However, the Bismarck palm has been planted well out of its hardiness zone range all the way north to Orlando.  While there may be some micro-climates in these cooler areas, there is the real risk of freeze damage.  Some Bismarck palms in Charlotte County visibly suffered from freezes several years ago.  Months after these events, the Extension Office began to receive calls from heart-broken clients with failing Bismarck palms.  While some were associated with lightning strikes, many seemed to show evidence of stress due to cold damage to the bud.  This damage then led to palmetto weevil invasion and eventual collapse of Bismarck specimens in the landscape.  While we have not had a severely cold winter in a few years, Bismarck palms are still randomly dying from time to time.   Unfortunately, recent observations have indicated that even “apparently healthy” Bismarck palms may be attacked by palmetto weevils.  This was the case with our specimen.  Palmetto weevils are large beetles which are normally attracted to palms under stress.  Stressed palms give off a chemical scent picked up by passing palmetto weevils.  Once they find a suitable host, the weevils release chemicals that attract more weevils to the feast, and an infestation is born. 



It is still considered a good management practice to keep your palms healthy and stress-free (no over-pruning for example) – this should keep palmetto weevils at bay in most cases.   One band-aide approach may include a chemical option.  A root drench with Imidacloprid (a systemic insecticide) as per label directions may afford some degree of limited protection, but there are no guarantees. 

The funeral for our Bismarck palm has come and gone.  We enjoyed it as a crown jewel in our Demonstration Garden for years, but knew that we could lose it someday.  So, if you decide to plant a Bismarck in your landscape, check your hardiness zone or micro-climate options, consider the ultimate height and width of this behemoth, fertilize it properly and keep in mind that there are some factors out of your control that could limit this palm’s long-term success.  Those who already have Bismarck palms established in the landscape, keep them stress free, keep your options open on palmetto weevil deterrents, and appreciate these big blue giants!  For more information on all types of palms, 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) Cold Damage on Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Broschat, T. K (2015) Bismarckia nobilis: Bismarck Palm.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Weissling, T. J. & Giblin-Davis, R. M. (2016) Palmetto Weevil, Rhynchophorus cruentatus Fabricius (Insecta: Coleoptera: Curculionidae).  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Be ready for roses


My roses always do really well during this time of year.  They are blooming nicely and seem to appreciate our present slightly cooler and drier environment.  While roses produce more flowers in summer, the flowers at this time of year are actually larger and have deeper color.  Not to say roses are without their challenges!   However, if well cared for, roses in our area can bloom all year long.   With some sensible selection, maintenance and grooming, growing a rose will provide cut flowers and beauty in any setting.

You are going to be much happier with your roses if you pick types that are suited for our Florida climate.  Low-maintenance roses such as "old garden roses" and shrub roses such as David Austin Roses® and the “Knock-out®” series require minimal care.  At the other extreme, high-maintenance, modern roses such as hybrid teas, require more grooming, fertilizing, irrigation and pest management.  Selecting roses grafted on Rosa fortuniana (also called 'Double White Cherokee') rootstock will grow larger, more vigorous plants that will produce more flowers and live longer than other roses.  Second to fortuniana is ‘Dr. Huey’ rootstock followed by multiflora rootstock which has the shortest life span here in Florida.  There are some rose plants (the older shrub varieties) that are satisfactory, as are dwarf roses, un-grafted and on their own roots.  Some good low-maintenance roses to try are 'Bourbon', 'China', and 'Bermuda'.  Check local garden centers and nurseries for these roses.  You may also check with regional specialty nurseries and Internet sources.  Also consider communicating with local rose societies and The American Rose Society at http://www.ars.org .

Roses need at least six hours of sun for best results.  The more sun the better, but if some shade is present, it is best to plant roses so that they receive morning sunlight.  This morning sun will help dry the early morning dew off which will help reduce leaf diseases such as black spot.  Roses like a well-drained soil with some amendments added to improve water-holding capacity.  Now, while generally we don't recommend adding soil amendments when planting woody plants, the rose is an exception which will greatly benefit from compost mixed into the upper twelve inches of soil.  Start a regular maintenance fertilizer as soon as new growth begins with a complete fertilizer including micronutrients and slow-release nitrogen for best performance.   As a final touch, good organic mulch will help retain moisture and suppress weeds.  When watering, it is best to apply irrigation to the soil surface so that the leaves are kept dry. 

Keeping a rose plant looking its best will involve some regular grooming and pruning.  Grooming is going to involve light and selective trimming such as removing dead flowers.  This keeps rose hips (fruit) from developing and redirects the plants energy back into the plant for more blooms.  If needed, more major pruning can be accomplished in February with a lighter follow-up pruning in August.  Removal of dead, diseased, damaged or spindly growth will improve the plants form and keep the height in bounds.  Flowers for the vase are best cut after the green sepals at the base of the flower fold back toward the stem and the outside petals loosen and start to unfurl.  Cut the flower with a sharp knife just above a five-leaflet leaf. 

Probably the biggest pest problem in our area is a fungal disease called black spot.  Most low-maintenance cultivars are fairly resistant to this disease.  However, removal of dead and diseased leaves will help as part of a sanitation effort.  Also, mulch will help create a barrier between the rose and the soil level.  Using drip irrigation will also help keep the foliage dry and thus less open to black spot infection.  Fungicides are also available to protect new growth.

Roses are definitely worthy of a spot in your landscape.  For more information on growing roses, 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) Growing Roses in Florida. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

We are just nuts about macadamias!


Our Demonstration Garden at the East Port Campus on Harbor View Road in Port Charlotte is a treasure trove of plants.  We try all different types of trees and shrubs at this Demonstration Garden – most are successful and some get composted.  One recent addition was a macadamia tree.  It has been in the garden a few years and this season blessed us with a few nuts!  The macadamia is a beautiful evergreen tree that can be grown in many parts of Charlotte County.  Originally from Australia and then introduced to Hawaii where it really took root, the macadamia can also be grown in California and Florida.

Growing up to forty feet tall, macadamia trees have eight inch long leaves with small spines along the margin edges.  The sweet-scented flowers are white to pink and hang in long racemes over six inches long.   The nut develops within a green husk that eventually opens up to reveal a hard nut.  Once cracked, a white kernel is exposed which, when roasted, provides one of the best nuts known. There are a couple of macadamia species (including hybrids) available.  Commonly called either “smooth shell” (Macadamia integrifolia) or “rough shelled” (Macadamia tetraphylla), macadamias, there are many named cultivars including Hawaiian and California varieties.  ‘Beaumont’ is a noted variety that is good for backyard plantings.  While seeds can be sprouted, it will take upwards to twelve years to produce a crop.  Therefore, it is best to obtain grafted varieties which will begin to produce in as little as two to five years.  In perfect situations, a mature tree could produce upwards of one-hundred and fifty pounds of nuts in the shell.  This of course does not take into account the realities of pesky squirrels and rats.  Expect the nuts to be ripe anywhere from July through November.  Ripe nuts will fall to ground.  As the nuts dry, you will notice that the husk will split open exposing the nut inside.  The nuts are mechanically cracked, allowed to dry and then roasted at two-hundred and seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit either dry roasted or with some refined coconut oil for twelve to fifteen minutes. 



Macadamias do best in full sun and in well-drained soil.  While they can survive in our subtropical climate, mature trees can tolerate temperatures as low as twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit.  Young trees need protection as they can be killed by freezing temperatures.   Once established, macadamia are fairly drought-tolerant but will appreciate irrigation during flowering and fruiting.  Fertilize with a citrus-type fertilizer as per label directions. 

Now, our small success is encouraging, but macadamia nut trees are not without their challenges.  However, as many gardeners could agree, new additions – even the macadamia - could make an interesting and potentially tasty addition to your landscape!  For more information on all types of subtropical edible 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:
Malo, S. E. & Campbell, C. W. (2009) The Macadamia.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. (1997) Macadamia.  http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/macadamia.html .  

Luffa – for the bath and the table


We are all familiar with the luffa gourd being used as a sponge for bathing and cleaning dishes.  Did you know that the luffa is also used as a vegetable in some cultures?  Available in both smooth and angled fruit, the luffa is a surprisingly versatile plant.

Originating in tropical and subtropical Asia, the luffa is a member of the cucumber family.  Growing as a vine up to thirty-feet long, a good sized trellis is needed to accommodate these plants which require a long growing season of at least ninety days.  You can either direct seed or start transplants to be put out in the garden at a later date.  Plant in a full-sun, well-drained location after the danger of frost with plants three feet apart and rows six feet apart.  You can expect to get about six to seven fruit per vine.  As the luffa grows, you will notice that they produce both male and female yellow flowers.  The female flowers actually have a small undeveloped fruit at the base of the flower.  If pollenated, these fruits will begin to swell.  The young, tender fruit can be harvested and used raw or cooked with a taste similar to zucchini or cucumbers. 

In order to be used as a sponge, the luffa needs to be fully mature and is best vine-ripened and allowed to turn yellow to brown in color.  Let the luffa dry for about two weeks at which time the skin will be hard and brown.  The large end of the luffa will open, and from this opening, shake the seeds out.  Soak the whole gourd in water overnight which will soften the rind and allow you to peel off the outer skin. Then finish the processing by drying the spongy gourd in the sun.

I have grown luffa locally and they are very squash-like in taste and texture.  Making sponges is also very easy to the point when you might have too many luffas!  Some of the luffa cultivars commercially available would include ‘Smooth Boy’, ‘Smooth Beauty’ and ‘South Winner’ for the smooth types, and angled types such as ‘Lucky Boy’, Hybrid Green Glory’ ‘Summer Long’, and ‘Hybrid Asian Pride’.  The angular luffa has ridges and is dark green in color, tends to have a longer shelve life, and has even been called “Chinese okra” as per their okra-like appearance. 

Luffa is a very easy-to-crow crop that is fun to grow by both youth and adults and produces food, sponges and even craft materials.  For more information on all types of edible ornamentals, 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:
Xie, Y., Liu, G., Li, Y. & Migliaccio, K. (2016) Luffa- an Asian Vegetable Emerging in Florida.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
MacKenzie, J.  (2008) Growing luffa gourds. University of Minnesota Extension.
Stephens, J. M. (2015) Gourd, Luffa—Luffa cylindrica (L.) Roem., Luffa aegyptica Mill., and Luffa acutangula (L.) Roxb. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Downy mildew on viburnum - a disturbing mess


'Awabuki' viburnum is a favored ornamental hedge or shrub noted for its large shiny green leaves useful for screens and formal hedges.  The last few years have seen a new disease organism move into our area and infect these beautiful landscape plants.  The disease known as downy mildew on viburnum, a species specific water mold disease, can make a disturbing mess of these plants.  There are some management techniques for the home landscape that can help lessen the damage.

The 'Awabuki' viburnum is really different than any other viburnum with very large glistening, almost mirror-like leaves.  Homeowners often use 'Awabuki' as a screen around pools or just as an impressive tall hedge.  Downy mildew is a water mold organism that develops when nighttime temperatures range from fifty to seventy-two degrees F.  Mostly occurring from November to March, this downy mildew needs a cool, foggy and humid environment, typical of some nights in our area, to develop.  Most of the damage appears on the newest leaves with yellow specks and reddish brown blotches – almost a bronze appearance on the leaf surface.   On the underside of the leaf, you will notice whitish-grey downy growths.  Soon after, the leaves will often drop with some portions of the plant becoming defoliated – near eighty percent defoliation in severe cases.  The disease can spread rapidly and can be moved about with rain, wind and irrigation.

While you have no control on environmental conditions like high humidity and cool temperatures, you can reduce overcrowding of plants so that there is good air movement.  Remove the fallen leaves which can re-infest plants next year.  Do not provide overhead watering if at all possible – micro-irrigation at the soil level is more efficient and does not wet the leaves.  Do not water at night.  Also, do not over-fertilize as this makes the leaves much more succulent and open to infection.

Chemical treatments can be made with the use of fungicides, but work best when used as a preventative.  Rotating chemical families will help reduce the possibility of fungicide resistance – a real problem if one type of fungicide is used all the time.  Fungicides to use would include copper octanoate, chlorithalonil, and extracts of neem oil, as examples.  Always read the pesticide label as the label is the law.

The 'Awabuki' viburnum is worth protecting from downy mildew.  A bit of cultural practices, possibly augmented with some properly timed fungicides, can help reduce this disfiguring disease.  For more information on the suppression of all types of fungal disease 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:
Palmateer, A. J. (2016) Viburnum Downy Mildew.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Caldwell, D. (2011) Viburnum Downy Mildew Disease on Awabuki (Mirror leaf) Viburnum.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Collier County

Monday, October 17, 2016

Africanized honeybees are in Charlotte County


Africanized honeybees have been in Charlotte County for years and a recent rash of calls to our office for information have spurred me to write about them again. Domesticated European honeybees are present in commercial beehives that pollinate our crops, visit our flower beds and make our honey. Unfortunately, almost all feral (wild) hives in our area are now probably Africanized. Living and working safely among these bees is something that everybody needs to understand.

Knowing the difference in the behavior and habits of these visually indistinguishable types of bees is critical. At a glance, both the European honeybee and the Africanized honeybee look the same. However, when we examine the behavior of these two, there are some stark differences. The domesticated European honeybees for example are relatively “gentle” due to years of breeding by beekeepers. They will still defend their hive if an invader comes within 20 feet, but will only send out ten to twenty guard bees to potentially sting an invader.  They remain upset for one to two hours only. Europeans will chase you for only about 30 yards before breaking off the attack. On the other hand, Africanized honeybees may send out hundreds of guard bees to attack an invader as close as 40 yards away. An Africanized hive is capable of stinging up to 10 times more than Europeans and remains defensive for several days. Keep in mind that Africanized honeybees can chase you for up to 300 yards! All honeybees can only sting once. Africanized honeybee stings are not more toxic than Europeans; they simply are more aggressive increasing the chance of more individual stings. European honeybees are also known to only swarm one or two times a year. Swarming is a process when a hive divides and splits off to form a new hive elsewhere. European swarms are large and they rarely all leave the hive, just a portion. Africanized honeybees can swarm 10 or more times a year.  Their swarms are smaller (the size of a softball) and are known to abscond which means that they abandon their original hive and relocate the whole colony to a new site.

European and Africanized honeybees also have different nesting site preferences. Europeans make large hives comparable to 10 gallons in size. Europeans also prefer nest cavities well above ground in a clean and dry location. On the other hand, Africanized honeybee hives are much smaller - around two gallons in volume. They are known to select underground sites such as water meter and valve boxes. Other sites may include abandoned tires, stored building materials, birdhouses and debris. Their nests may also be completely exposed hanging from a tree branch. If you discover a feral Africanized honeybee hive on your property, never try to control it yourself! Not only could you get seriously injured, but neighbors and passersby may also be attacked by a disturbed hive. Studies have shown that wasp and hornet sprays actually magnify the honeybee’s aggression and intensifies the attack. Have them removed or eradicated professionally by a Registered Beekeeper or a Certified Pest Control Operator who has had been trained in African honeybee control – please see this link for a list assembled by FDACS - http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Consumer-Resources/Consumer-Protection/Pest-Control/Bee-Removal-or-Eradication-in-Florida . If you accidentally disturb an Africanized honeybees hive, run! Get into your car or house. Don’t try to elude them by jumping into water as they will wait for you.

Keeping things in perspective, honeybees are crucial pollinators and honey producers  that benefit us all and need our protection. However, Africanized honeybees are aggressively dangerous and that deserves our respect and awareness. Just like any potentially dangerous wildlife whether it is a venomous snake or spider, knowing the characteristics of Africanized honeybees and how to deal with them will pay off with a safer community environment.   For more information on insects of all types, 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:
O’Malley, M. K.,  Ellis, J. D. & Zettel Nalen, C. M. (2015) The Differences between European and African Honeybees, The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
O'Malley, M.K. & Ellis, J.D. (2014) - Living with African Bees in Florida's Outdoor. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The butterfly pea - not a butterfly attractor, but it is truly blue!


If you appreciate the color of a deep blue flower, look no further than that of the butterfly pea. This easy-to-grow vine can make a great trellis or post covering with the deepest blue flowers you may have ever seen. 

A native to Asia, the butterfly pea now grows across the world as a popular ornamental vine with the ability, like other legumes, to fix nitrogen in the soil with the help of certain bacteria. With delicate pea-like flowers of deep blue with a yellow throat, (there is also a white cultivar), the butterfly pea even comes in varieties featuring both single and double-flowers. Considered a short-lived perennial which can freeze back in the winter, the abundant seeds produced will often sprout and reseed.  Fine for sun or part-shade, this twining vine will seek out and wrap itself around a variety of supports. Also consider growing this flowering pea in hanging baskets where the vines will cascade over the side providing a fine plant for the summer. 

Although it may freeze-back in the winter and/or just simply conk out, the butterfly pea is easy to grow from seed or even from cuttings. A butterfly pea can go from seed to flower in as little as six weeks. Soaking the seeds in water for a few hours prior to planting will help germination. I have one growing up an established bougainvillea trained up a small trellis. The butterfly pea provides color now while the bougainvillea has just green leaves.

Unless a friend provides a few seeds for you to start, the butterfly pea is readily available in seed catalogs or, easily found via an Internet search. I especially like the double-flowering varieties which have extravagant petals and supersized flowers. While the butterfly pea does not really attract butterflies, (it just looks like a butterfly to some), I have found it a welcome source of unique color on a manageable vine. For more information on all types of vining 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:
Lemke, C. (2012) Cal's Plant of the Week Clitoria ternatea - Butterfly Pea.  University of Oklahoma Department of Microbiology & Plant Biology.
Park Brown S. & Knox, G. W. (2016) Flowering Vines for Florida.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Is something old new again?


There are still a few sago palms around Charlotte County landscapes. The sago was once a low-maintenance plant. They used to be more common before the insect plague known as the Asian Cycad scale came to town. This insect pest covered sago palms with white scales and wiped out most of this standard landscape planting material. A few remedies were developed, but many people just gave up planting them.  The Asian cycad scale is still around to lesser degree as its food source was all but depleted. The few surviving sago palms were either isolated or their owners kept up on the effort to keep them pest-free. Sago palms are still for sale in the garden centers where they are clean and ready to go. Should you venture in to plant a sago in your yard? Is it safe to back to the sago palm?

The sago palm is not a palm at all, but more closely related to conifers with leaves that look just like palm fronds. Originally from southern Japan, they do well in our climate in full sun or partial shade. A bit slow-growing, sago palms can get up to fifteen feet tall in a half-century or so. The dark-green, leathery leaves are up to five-feet long and radiate around the top of the brown trunk. Each leaflet has a sharp tip, so watch out where you place these plants. New fronds unfurl each spring and refresh the sago with a light green color.  Individual plants are either male or female. The male develops an eighteen-inch tall yellow cone, while the female reproductive part is round and nest-like, eventually becoming filled with two-inch wide orange seeds.  It is important to note that all sago parts including the seeds, are highly toxic. 

Sago palms are easy to grow and very hardy taking temperatures down into the twenties. Plant as a single specimen or in groups planted at least four to six feet apart. Mix sago palms with ornamental grasses or other groundcovers for a nice effect. Sago palms will often suffer from a manganese deficiency called “frizzle top” just like real palms. We recommend feeding sago palms a granular 8-2-12-4 in November, February and May, and a 0-0-16-6 in August which will provide the nutrients needed to prevent all deficiencies. 

Keep an eye out for the Asian cycad scale. If sago palms come from the nursery pest-free and are generally isolated from other specimens, you should be in good shape. However, young scale insects called crawlers, are minute and can be accidently introduced. The use of horticultural oil, as per label directions and not in the heat of the day as the leaves can be burned, can help suppress an infestation. The Asian cycad scale is noted for infesting roots which may hide this insect pest and allow for re-infestation. 

The sago palm is a beautiful and unique plant that has taken a beating in the past. Is it time to revisit this plant and make it a part of your landscape? Perhaps, but keep a cautious eye out while you nurture this palm-like plant in your yard. For more information on all types of plants suitable for your yard, 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:
Weissling, T. J., Howard, F. W. & Hamon, A. B. (2013) Cycad Aulacaspis Scale, Aulacaspis yasumatsui Takagi.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
King Sago Palm, Cycas revoluta. (2007) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Baker County.
Williams, L. (2005) Growing Sago Palms.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 
Northrop, R. J., Andreu, M. G., Friedman, M. H., McKenzie, M. & Quintana, H. V. (2016) Cycas revoluta, Sago Palm. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS. 

Christman, S. (2009) Cycas revoluta. Floridata.com, Tallahassee, FL.