We are always on the lookout for an attractive plant for our landscape. At the nursery, some plants have a more difficult time gaining our attention. They may not be as showy, possessing neither colorful flowers nor bold foliage. In these cases, we could be missing out on low maintenance plant that offers its own form of beauty in the right landscape spot.
One plant that I love is the Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia), especially the spreading form ‘Prostrata’. In the nursery container, this plant is nothing special but once established in the landscape it performs well. The conifer type leaves are an attractive dark green and the ‘Prostrata’ selection is low growing to about 2 to 3 feet. An advantage too is that growth is slow so it won’t take over or require routine pruning.
Japanese plum yews grow best in partial shade and once established will be fine with rainfall. For a shadier side of the home, the spreading plum yew has a place as an evergreen foundation plant too.
Japanese plum yew in a shaded garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
If the ‘Prostrata’ selection is too low growing for you, consider the ‘Fastigiata’ cultivar that will grow upright to about 8 feet with a 5 foot spread.
A year old planting of upright Japanese plum yew in filtered light. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Homeowners are always looking for methods to manage one of our most difficult pests in the vegetable garden. Learn about the science of how to properly use marigolds to deter nematodes against one our our favorite summer fruits In the Garden with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Our landscapes are becoming important spaces for many animals to find food, water, and shelter. You can enjoy many beautiful plants while supplementing the diet of a favorite garden visitor, the hummingbird. Learn about a couple of nectar plants for hummingbirds and how to properly install your hummingbird feeder In the Garden with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
One of the interesting ants that I am seeing more commonly in landscape settings is the Trap jaw ant (Odontomachus sp.). This ant is so named because of it’s large mandibles (mouthparts) that spring shut capturing prey. These mouthparts can also be used as a defensive mechanism allowing the ant to spring away from something it encounters.
Trapjaw ants. Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence
A nesting area is very recognizable after you have seen one because it looks like a collection of soil and small wood debris piled at the base of plants or old stumps. I have encountered nesting areas around living shrubs in many mulched areas of the landscape and under pots sitting on old tree stumps.
Nesting debris from the Trapjaw ants at the base of a Princess flower. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF / IFAS Extension Escambia County.
My first experience with the trap jaw ant was not very pleasant. I was working in a mulched area pulling a few weeds without gloves. I unknowingly disturbed the nest and received a pain sting similar to a paper wasp sting. The discomfort was short-lived and I personally did not have inflammation or inching a few minutes later. Of course, I identified the ant and have since become very familiar with recognizing nesting spots.
Although trap jaw ants are not native to our area, they do not rank in the same category as fire ants which are both economically and medically problematic. Since trap jaw ants are currently found in more natural areas of the landscape, homeowners should just be aware of their presence. Consider a pair of gloves or garden tools when rooting around in mulch. When a nesting area is disturbed, the large ants (about .5 inches) will be easy to observe as one of the more interesting ants we may encounter.
Are you a patient gardener? If not, try you hand at growing microgreens. Why wait for at least a month or so for a harvest when you can enjoy fresh greens in as little as 7 days.
Microgreens are the tender seedlings of your favorite vegetable or herb. They are grown in containers or flats and harvested when the first seed leaves are fully emerged. You may also wait until you see the first true leaf. Unlike sprouts, microgreens require light and are cut when harvesting to only include the stem and leaves. Depending on the seeds you start, you may enjoy mild or spicy greens, or refreshing lemony flavors of a young herb.
Microgreens can offer beautiful colors for your dish. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Here are the basic steps to get started growing microgreens.
- Get a commercial tray or recycled container and sterilize it in a 10% bleach solution. Make sure your recycled containers have drainage holes.
- Choose a good seed starting potting mix that is more fine textured. Many seeds you will start are small and a mix with a lot of bark may affect seedling germination. Add one to 1.5 inches of the soil in your container. You don’t need more depth of soil since you will be harvesting in a week to 20 days.
- Decide which types of greens you like. Consider arugula, radish, mizuna, or mustard for some spice. Swiss chard and purple cabbage will give you color, while collards, broccoli, and kale will offer mild flavors. Don’t forget about herbs like dill, cilantro, or basil for good flavors too.
- Once you have chosen your seed, beginners should seed one selection per container. As you learn the growth rate of your favorite selection, you may can combine different varieties in a flat.
- Make sure your soil is moistened (but not soaking) and spread seed on top of the soil. You will be adding about 12 seeds per square inch of soil for small seeds and about 7 seeds per square inch for larger seeds.
- Sprinkle vermiculite over the seeds and then use a spray bottle or nozzle mister to moisten the vermiculite.
Vermiculite allows moisture to get to seeds and may reduce seedling disease pressures. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
- Place containers in a greenhouse, window sill, or indoor growing tray. As soon as the seeds germinate, make sure they are receiving bright light. If growing indoors, the fluorescent or plant lights need to be a few inches above seedlings. Move the lights higher as your seedlings grow.
New seedlings need bright light. Indoor lights that are 2-3 inches from seedlings prevent thin, spindly stems. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
- Maintain a room temperature of about 70 degrees F. Temperatures above 75 degrees F can lead to disease issues
- It is also best to water from the bottom to prevent disease issues. If this is not possible, carefully water seedlings so not to injure delicate plants.
- Radish and kale will be ready for harvest in about 7 days. Swiss chard, basils, and cilantro may take 20 days.
Microgreens are ready to harvest. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
- Use clean scissors to cut stems, careful not to pull up any soil. Remaining soil and roots can be composted.
- When you are ready to use in a salad, sandwich or in juicing, place microgreens in a bowl of water to wash. Let them air dry on a paper towel.
The good news about growing microgreens, is if you find they are not to your liking or too much trouble, you it has only been a couple of weeks of effort.