A Gorgeous and Delicious Hibiscus

A Gorgeous and Delicious Hibiscus

roselle fruit.

Attractive roselle fruit. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

Just before the recent cold weather I harvested seed pods from my roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, and made the most delicious and nutritious iced herbal tea.

You may have heard other names for this plant of Asian or African origin: bissap, red sorrel, Indian sorrel, Jamaica sorrel, Florida cranberry or jelly okra. Whatever name you call it, it has been grown in Florida since the late 1890’s.

Roselle leaves and fruit.

Roselle leaves and fruit. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

People around the world enjoy consuming roselle in many ways. In addition to making a beverage from the fleshy fruit, it is used to make jams, jellies, relishes, syrup and added to salads. Harvest the fruit when it is large (as in the photo) but before it gets tough. Leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked into dishes. Even the seeds can be made into a high protein meal or ground into a coffee substitute.

Roselle fruit showing the unripe green seedpod surrounded by the fleshy calyx

Roselle fruit showing the unripe green seedpod surrounded by the fleshy calyx. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

My lone roselle plant provided hundreds of fruits and was so easy to grow. In the spring it started as a small 3-inch seedling and by November it grew to over 4 feet tall and wide. Roselle can grow 6 to 7 feet tall. It’s not too picky on soil type if it gets plenty of sun and consistent moisture. Few pests are attracted to roselle. However, deer will eat this down to the ground, as they will any hibiscus. Since my garden is plagued by hungry deer, I placed the roselle in the back of a landscape bed with a border of plants unappetizing to the deer. Expect roselle to start blooming in mid-summer and continue through frost. Blooms only last one day before forming the equally attractive fruit.

Roselle flower

Roselle flower. Photo credit: Sally Menk, Florida Master Gardener Volunteer.

Roselle is a tropical plant and susceptible to frost in northwest Florida. To have seeds for next year, let some of the fruit stay on the branches to let the seed pods turn yellow/brown and ripen. There are also many online seed companies that carry seed.

 

For more information:

UF IFAS Gardening Solutions: Roselle

More on Roselle from Purdue Extension

 

Landscape Fabric: A Good Option for Controlling Weeds?

Landscape Fabric: A Good Option for Controlling Weeds?

Gardeners are always fighting the endless weeds that pop up in landscape and flower beds. When homeowners put in a new landscape bed and want to prevent future weed invasions, many think that putting down landscape fabric is a great way to keep the weeds from emerging and protect the newly planted trees, shrubs or perennials.

An example of failure of landscape fabric to control weeds less than 2 years after planting. Note the peeking through at the edges. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

Is Landscape fabric a good choice? Why or why not?

If landscape fabric is not covered up, sunlight will degrade the fabric. When mulch is placed on top of the fabric (and we all do want to cover it up – the fabric is not very attractive) the mulch breaks down into soil. Inevitably, weed seeds blow in and settle and germinate and grow on top of landscape fabric. And here you are with a weed problem. Weeds also find their way into the openings cut for desirable plants and along the edge of the fabric.

Landscape fabric is porous when put in place to allow water to pass through, but as time passes, the pores can get clogged and water penetration is restricted – rain and irrigation runs off and the plants you meant to protect are not getting the water they need.

Maybe the worst effect is that the landscape fabric creates unfavorable soil conditions. A healthy soil is key to good plant health. One thing soil needs to have is an exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen between the soil and the atmosphere. Recent studies from Washington State University demonstrated that gas movement between the soil and the atmosphere is restricted about 1,000 times more when landscape fabric is present than when areas have only wood mulch.

So, if landscape fabric is not a good choice, what is?

Mulch made from wood, bark, fallen leaves and pine needles. See Gardening Solutions: Mulch for sustainable ideas.

 

For more information:

Improving Weed Control in Landscape Planting Beds

Dirt is Good for You

Dirt is Good for You

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Jimenez at Unsplash.com.

Gardeners have always known, down to their bones, that getting down and dirty in the soil is good for you. My grandmother was a staunch believer in the beneficial, calming effect of pulling weeds and digging in the garden when she was angry or frustrated with life.

Pulling weeds, digging up plants, planting new plants and seeds, mixing in good compost to a new landscape bed – these are joys that bring gardeners into intimate contact with soil and all the abundant life within. Gardeners love that smell of good fertile soil. As do nature lovers of all sorts. Hikers love the earthy smell as they tromp through the woods – especially after a nice rain when the fragrance is especially fresh and sweet.

What causes the aroma that we are experiencing? Much of it is bacteria. Good bacteria. Healthy soil is a complex ecosystem containing a great biodiversity of species of plants, fungi, animals and bacteria. And much research is being done to identify and learn about the thousands of species living under our feet.

Scientists are now suggesting that a fatty acid found in the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae may alleviate stress and stress related disorders in humans. Gardeners have always known there was something about the soil that was good and healthy for us. Now, we have the science to back it up!

Happy Gardening!

Eggplants Aren’t Always Purple

Eggplants Aren’t Always Purple

orange eggplant

Turkish Orange Eggplant. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

Mid-summer in the Panhandle vegetable garden is prime time to be offering up a great crop of eggplant. This is one of my favorite summertime fruits to grow! (Yes, it is botanically speaking a ‘fruit’ and not a ‘vegetable’.)

Many home gardeners are familiar with the standard ‘Black Beauty’ variety that produces large plump fruit, but there are many other eggplant varieties to try. Take a look at Heirloom Eggplant Varieties in Florida to get some ideas. Gardeners can access dozens of varieties through online seed vendors. Eggplants can be dark purple, purple-striped, pale purple, white, green and even orange. They come in all shapes and sizes and all are delicious to eat, j make sure you learn when to harvest the variety you choose for optimum enjoyment. For example, the Turkish Orange illustrated in the photo should be picked before it turns all orange to avoid any bitterness.

In the panhandle, plant eggplant anytime February through August for harvest late spring through fall. Eggplant is in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family along with tomato, pepper, and potato. Keep that in mind when you are planning your garden for next year to avoid planting members of the same family in the same spot year after year, which encourages recurring disease and pest issues.

Eggplant loves rich soil and benefits from regular fertilization with commercial fertilizers or applications of compost. Eggplant is considered a long season crop and one can expect harvest to begin around 90-110 days after planting seed or 75-90 days if setting out transplants.  Eggplant is, in general, more drought tolerant than tomato but it is still good practice keep them consistently moist and avoid letting them completely dry out. Also, while eggplant is self-pollinating, it is an excellent pollinator plant, as many species are attracted to the pretty blooms.

Eggplant is also relatively easy to grow, not generally requiring pruning or staking. Many of the same pests of tomato and pepper will also be attracted to eggplant. Be on the lookout for tomato hornworm and other caterpillar pests. For natural pest control methods, consult Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida

For more information:

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

 

Time to Harvest Blackberries!

Time to Harvest Blackberries!

ripening blackberries.

Ripening thornless blackberries. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

To everyone’s delight, the blackberries are ripening in the Santa Rosa County Extension demonstration garden. The blackberry patch is a reliable perennial that continues to provide fresh berries year after year. Before you decide against them because you don’t want a thorny and painful hazard in your landscape, remember that there are thornless blackberry cultivars with fruit just as tasty as the old-fashioned thorny blackberry varieties. However, it is important to take care and make sure that the variety or cultivar you choose is adapted to our Florida climate and chill hours.

blackberry canes.

Blackberries bloom and produce fruit on last year’s canes. This year’s growth (the bright green shoot in the front center) will produce next year. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

You can choose a blackberry variety from your local nursery or propagate some plants from a favorite blackberry grown by a friend or neighbor (with permission, of course). Methods of propagation include stem cuttings, root cuttings, tip layering and removing the suckers that arise from the roots.

Plant when the weather is cooler in winter and choose a sunny spot with good soil. Frequent irrigation is crucial during the establishment period and when the fruit is produced. Weed control with organic or plastic mulches is also important to the success of your blackberry patch.

For more information on blackberry cultivars, propagation and growing success please see the University of Florida publication The Blackberry.