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 -

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 -

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 -

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