Show Your Roses Some Love

Show Your Roses Some Love

Considering it is the month of Valentine’s, roses are an appropriate subject to discuss. Not bouquets couriered to various locations all over town, but bushes in the landscape that have been strategically neglected over the winter. Now their time has come; pull on the gloves and get to work.

February is the perfect time to prune rose bushes. Pruning is a step that is required to maintain healthy roses. When roses are pruned, new growth is promoted by removing dead, broken or diseased canes. Pruning also allows the gardener to give their plant an attractive shape and encourage flowering, which is ultimately the reason roses are planted!


Belinda's Dream rose before pruning. Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Belinda’s Dream rose before pruning. Image Credit Matthew Orwat


Deciding which roses to prune will depend on their class. Hybrid tea, grandiflora and floribunda roses are repeat bloomers and need a moderate to heavy annual pruning this time of year. Some old-fashioned roses and climbers that bloom only once a year should be treated differently and pruned immediately after flowering. They set their buds on old wood from the previous year’s growth; therefore, pruning them would remove most of this year’s blooms. An exception to this would be dead, diseased or damaged wood on any rose bush or canes that are crossing and rubbing. This should be removed immediately upon notice.

There are certain techniques that should be used when pruning any type of rose, no matter the time of year. Any pruning shear, saw or lopper you use should be sharp and sterile. Always wear protective gloves when dealing with roses, unless you don’t mind coming back bloody and mangled.


Crown gall and canker can be spread between gardens and individual plants by dirty shears. To prevent the spread of disease, always disinfect pruning shears when beginning to prune with a 5-10% bleach or 20% rubbing alcohol solution, especiallly if they have been used in any other garden. If crown gall or canker has been found in one’s own garden, shears should be disinfected between each plant, no exception. This should also occur when bringing new plants into the garden, until they have been observed to be disease free.


The first step when pruning any rose is to remove dead, damaged or weak stems leaving only the most vigorous, healthy canes. Try to cut the stems one inch below darkened areas, making sure to cut back to green wood. Always make your cut at a 45-degree angle; this will keep water from sitting on top of a stem and causing rot. When pruning try to open up the center of the rose bush. Pruning like this will increase air circulation and help prevent diseases.

Pruning Cut on Belinda's Dream rose. Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Pruning Cut on Belinda’s Dream rose. Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Since roses send out new growth from the bud just below a pruning cut, try to make pruning cuts above a leaf bud facing out from the center of the plant. Make your cut about ¼ inch above the bud and at the same angle as the bud. If any rubbing or crossing branches are noticed, the weakest of those branches should be removed.

Deadheading, or removing spent flowers, can also be done at this time of year. When deadheading, remove the flower by making a cut just above the next five or seven-leaf branch down on the stem. This will allow for a strong and healthy cane to grow in its place. If no live buds remain, remove the entire cane.

Modern reblooming roses (hybrid teas, floribundas, and grandifloras) should be pruned just as the buds begin to swell, which is around mid to late February. When practicing hard pruning, try to leave about four to eight large, healthy canes the diameter of your finger or larger on the shrub. For a more moderate approach, prune shrubs as discussed earlier and cut them back to about 12 to 24 inches from ground level. Generally, any cane thinner than a pencil should be removed.

Belinda's Dream rose after pruning. Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Belinda’s Dream rose after pruning. Image Credit Matthew Orwat

Don’t worry about pruning recently purchased new roses. Newly purchased roses have most likely been pruned, and no further cutting is necessary. Hopefully with the help of this article you can make a date to spend some quality time with your roses this season. The price of neglect is overgrown roses that are not nearly as attractive.


First flush of properly pruned Belinda's Dream shrub rose. Image credit Matthew Orwat

First flush of properly pruned Belinda’s Dream shrub rose. Image credit Matthew Orwat


Article written by Taylor Vandiver with additional content about sanitation by Matthew Orwat

Consider an Edible Landscape

Consider an Edible Landscape

As you begin plans for your garden this spring think about creating an edible landscape. Edible landscaping is becoming more popular now that vegetable prices are increasing.


Edible landscapes are attractive to the eye, as well as enticing to the palate. What more could a home gardener ask for than to be walking through the landscape eating vegetables and fruits produced from their very own effort?  The additional color edible landscapes offer is a bonus.

Locating the edible landscape in the right spot is important. Make sure it is planted in an area that will be easily accessible and visible. It is fun and rewarding to watch vegetables grow and work in the garden. 

One of the numerous benefits of edible landscape gardening includes obtaining freshly picked produce on a regular basis.  Such freshness offers higher nutritional value and enhanced flavor, since produce is at its highest peak right after harvest. This is a benefit because most vegetables sold through large supermarkets have been stored and transported for days or weeks, depending on the product.

Food costs have been on the rise due to rising fuel and fertilizer prices, increasing regulations and competition from imported produce. By creating an edible landscape, the home gardener can reduce their food costs. As a bonus, fresh food will be right outside!  

Read more on this topic by visiting the UF IFAS edible landscaping page

So, You Have Alkaline Soil…

So, You Have Alkaline Soil…

So you have alkaline soil… What next?

Throughout the Panhandle, a common problem that often arises is finding a way to raise soil pH. This is due to the fact that we often encounter sandy, acid soils in this region. An often overlooked issue is explaining the process of gardening in a soil that tends to be more alkaline in nature.

Soil pH is measured using a scale from 0 to 14. On this scale, a value of 7 is neutral, pH values less than 7 are acidic, and pH values greater than 7 are alkaline. Soil pH directly affects the growth and quality of many landscape plants. Extreme pH levels can prevent certain nutrients from being available to plants. Therefore, a high pH may make it difficult to grow certain plants.

Often alkaline soils occur in the home landscape as a result of calcium carbonate-rich building materials (i.e., concrete, stucco, etc.) that may have been left in the soil following construction. Soils that contain limestone, marl or seashells are also usually alkaline in nature. There are a few measures that can be taken in order to combat high pH.  Incorporating soil amendments containing organic material is the most common method implemented to reverse alkalinity. Peat or sphagnum peat moss is generally acidic and will lower pH better than other organic materials. Adding elemental sulfur is another common practice. A soil test will need to be performed often in order to add the correct amount of sulfur to reach an optimal pH level.

Lowering the pH of strongly alkaline soils is much more difficult than raising it. Unfortunately, there is no way to permanently lower the pH of soils severely impacted by alkaline construction materials. In these circumstances, it may be best to select plants that are tolerant of high pH conditions to avoid chronic plant nutrition problems.

Some plants that will tolerate alkaline soils:

  • Shrubs

    • Glossy Abelia (Abelia Xgrandiflora)
    • Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus floridus)
    • Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa)
    • Burford Holly (Ilex cornuta ‘Burfordii’)
    • Indian Hawthorne (Rhaphiolepis indica)
Firebush is wonderful butterfly attractant. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

Firebush is wonderful butterfly attractant. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.











  • Perennials

    • Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum)
    • Pinks (Dianthus spp.)
    • Firebush (Hamelia patens)
    • Plumbago (Plumbago ariculata)
Zinnias come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.

Zinnias come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Photo courtesy of UF/IFAS.












  • Annuals

    • California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
    • Zinnias (Zinnia spp.)
    • Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
Common Myths about Spanish Moss and Lichen

Common Myths about Spanish Moss and Lichen

Lichen on trunk of oak tree.  Image:  Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Lichen on trunk of oak tree. Image: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Spanish moss and lichen have earned an inaccurate reputation for damaging trees and shrubs in the Florida landscape.  Although they may be found in plants that are in decline or showing stress symptoms, they are simply taking advantage of space available to survive.  Both plants are epiphytes and are obtaining moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere rather than from the plants they rest upon.

Spanish moss 5-17-2013 6-49-28 PM

Spanish moss. Image: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Lichen are more commonly found on plants that are in poor health because they need a plant that is growing slowly and access to sunlight.  These conditions can typically be found in thin canopies of trees and shrubs under stress.  Although they are firmly attached to the surface of the plant, they are not taking nutrients from the tree or shrub, but rather from the air and other sources such as organic debris and bird excrement.  If you find lichen on your landscape plants, look further into what stress factors might be causing the plant to grow slowly such as compacted soil, extreme weather conditions, drought stress, disease or insect pressure.

Spanish moss does not harm trees and many people find it an appealing asset to their landscapes.  Common misconceptions about Spanish moss include that the weight causes branches to break and that it is a host site for chiggers.  Spanish moss is very light and any additional weight is typically insignificant.  Although it may harbor some insects and provide nesting material for birds and other wildlife, Spanish moss in trees is not a site conducive to chiggers because they favor low-lying moist environments.

To read more about Spanish moss, lichens, and other common epiphytes please read the EDIS publication “Spanish Moss, Ball Moss, and Lichens – Harmless Epiphytes.”

Youth Gardening Grows Across the Country

Youth Gardening Grows Across the Country

Backyard gardens have increased in popularity the last few years, with record calls to Extension offices statewide on how to grow tomatoes and preserve produce.  Along with the boom in home gardening, schools have steadily added gardens to their campuses. There are countless benefits to including children in growing their own food. Personal experience and numerous studies have shown that children improve their attitude towards fruits and vegetables and are more likely to try new foods if they’ve helped grow it themselves.  Urban-dwelling youth find a safe place to interact with nature, increase their awareness of where food comes, and learn to be responsible for a living thing. Youth of all ages can gain critical math and science skills from measuring, planting, observing and problem-solving.  Even toddlers enjoy scooping up soil, holding worms, and seeing the growth of a tiny seed or plant over time.  Any veteran gardener will tell you that the fresh air and physical work improves their health and mental outlook.

This raised bed garden is used at the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center to teach youth about gardening and provide food for numerous animals housed at the center.  Photo credit: Molly O'Connor

This raised bed garden is used at the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center to teach youth about gardening and provide food for numerous animals housed at the center. Photo credit: Molly O’Connor

School gardens are being used around the country to achieve all of these objectives, including intangible skills such as teamwork, confidence, and patience. The utility of gardens for lessons on art, poetry, creative writing, and music should not be underestimated; countless writers and artists have been inspired by the natural world.

Across the country, Extension programs, Master Gardeners, and 4-H staff are lending their gardening expertise to schools and learning centers from preschool to the University level. The Junior Master Gardner 4-H program is an excellent hybrid between horticultural and youth education, and is set up with curriculum and lessons for working with kids in both a classroom and field setting.  The Florida Ag in the Classroom “Gardening for Grades” program has curriculum for elementary through high school levels  correlated with state standards and ready to go for a classroom.  Youth study soil structure, chemistry, botany, environmental science, agriculture, meteorology, and wildlife ecology in an engaging, hands-on way.  In-service training workshops are held periodically to prepare teachers for beginning and teaching from a school garden, so ask your local Horticulture or Agriculture agent about these programs.

Typically, backyard gardeners, schools, or Scout groups will create a raised-bed garden, which reduces weeds and water needs and allows for easier control of soil type and maintenance.  Guidelines for raised bed gardens, for home or educational institution, are available here.

Vegetable gardens aren’t the only teaching tool in the horticultural world. Butterfly and wildlife gardens are (pardon the pun) perennially popular, and are typically easy to implement.  Youth may learn valuable lessons on food webs and insect life cycles in addition to the soil and botanical information. For more information on the benefits of gardening with youth, visit the UF school garden site or contact your local horticulture Extension agent.