Spice Up Your Salad with Unusual Leafy Greens

Spice Up Your Salad with Unusual Leafy Greens

Many Americans have a remarkably unrefined taste in salads; my brother has long counted himself in this group.    Dice up some crunchy Iceberg type lettuce, splash on a dollop of ranch dressing, maybe chop a leaf of romaine up if you’re feeling frisky and call it a salad, this is the way we’ve been trained to eat.  I’m here, a voice in the supermarket produce aisle wilderness calling, to tell you it’s time to open up your palate, look beyond lettuce, live a little, and add some spice to your life and salad bowl with three of my favorite easy to grow leafy greens:  Mizuna, Frilly Mustard, and Italian Dandelion.

Mature Mizuna plants in the author’s container garden.

Before we get into species specifics, let’s cover a couple of reasons you should grow them at home!  Growing your own flavor-packed greens has many benefits.  First, leaves from these plants can be difficult to find anywhere but specialty health food stores or high-end supermarkets.  Growing your own ensures a consistent supply, especially if one utilizes the “cut and come again” harvesting method (just remove the leaves and stems you need that day, leave the crown intact and allow the plant to regrow for next week’s harvest).  Second, you do not have to worry about the too common food safety recalls and other health scares involving “leafies”.  If you follow standard safety practices (clean irrigation water, wash picked leaves and store properly, etc.), you’ll be eating scrumptious salads when everyone else is begrudgingly trashing entire bags of recalled store-bought greens.  Finally, each of these species double as gorgeous accent plants in

‘Scarlet Frills’ Mustard in the author’s container garden.

raised beds or containers.  I love plants that do heavy lifting as both eye-catching ornamentals and delicious edibles!

Mizuna is a little known member of the mustard family that is quickly becoming one of my favorite leafy greens!  It faces no major pest or disease problems in the garden and it is extremely tolerant of the cold weather Floridians periodically face through the winter, laughing off frost.  Mizuna possesses lovely, deeply cut, pale green, fringy leaves complete with crispy white stems, all of which are edible – no need to separate stems when processing to eat!  This lovely little Asian green has a mild peppery taste (think a toned-down Arugula) and adds perfect flavor and texture to any salad!

Many Southerners are well acquainted with traditional Mustard greens and their preparation (more than a little bacon and salt) but may not be aware of newer Mustard cultivars that give the species a bit of refinement and make it a salad celebrity!  This winter, I’m growing a cultivar of Mustard called ‘Scarlet Frills’ (aptly named with finely serrated burgundy-red leaves) and really enjoy its peppery horseradish taste as a foil to the mildly sweet taste of traditional salad greens like lettuce and spinach.  Mustards are extremely cold tolerant and slow to bolt, making it a mainstay in the salad garden all winter long; you really get your money’s worth from a few Mustard plants!  However, even if this leafy green wasn’t delicious, it would be worth growing.  The “fancier” Mustard cultivars are highly ornamental and deserve a spot in any cool season container garden.

‘Italiko Red’ Italian Dandelion in the author’s container garden.

Finally, the one that turns up the most noses when I mention growing and eating it, Italian Dandelion (Cichorium intybus)!  I’m not advocating foraging in your turfgrass to find dinner, in fact, Italian Dandelion is not a true dandelion (it’s actually a chicory).  However, it does share a number of features with its weedy cousin, including leaves that are similar in appearance and a vigorous taproot.  That’s where the comparisons stop though, as Italian dandelion is a superior garden plant, more upright growing, much larger, and deeper green (some varieties including the one I grow ‘Italiko Red’ have red veined leaves) than its wild cousin.  Unlike Mizuna and some of the milder mustards, Italian Dandelion is a bit of an acquired taste.  It imparts a strong bitter flavor that may be cut with milder greens in a salad or cooked down to reduce bitterness. Either way you try it, put Italian Dandelion on your cool season garden next year!

Mizuna, Frilly Mustard, and Italian Dandelion all require similar growing conditions.  In Florida, leafy greens are cool season vegetables, growing through the fall, winter and spring months.  Seeds should be sown in late September and can be stagger-sown (plantings every couple of weeks) to ensure a steady supply through spring.  As a rule, they prefer rich, well-drained soil high in organic matter.  These soil conditions are achievable with either quality commercial potting mixes or homemade concoctions of compost and pine bark. The beds or containers you fill with the aforementioned soil should be sited near a good water source (plants that aren’t convenient to water get neglected, trust me) in an area that gets 6-8 hours of full sunlight.  I like to topdress at planting (if using transplants) or after germination (if using seed) with a good general purpose, slow-release fertilizer, many formulations and brands that work are widely available for purchase.  Finally, be sure to purchase seed from a quality source.  Online purveyors Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Sow True Seeds are good places to start, though the options are nearly endless!

Next year, when planning your cool season garden, remember to add a little spice with these three leafy greens, Mizuna, Frilly Mustard, and Italian Dandelion!  For more information about cool season gardening and other topics, consult your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Create Your Own Fall Color with Annual Foliage Plants

Create Your Own Fall Color with Annual Foliage Plants

Florida is known for many things, however sweeping vistas of hillsides covered in the orange, red, and yellow foliage of fall is not one of them.  Our long, hot summers and short, cool (not cold) winters, and lack of anything of substance resembling a season in between, precludes the fall color show our neighbors to the north enjoy.  Don’t settle for synthetic Halloween decorations or faux painted leaves to add festivity to the autumn landscape design.  When football season kicks off and summer blooming annuals begin to fade, it’s time to reach into the horticultural toolbox and pull out a couple fall-y Florida Friendly annual foliage species, perfect for the balmy Panhandle “autumn”: ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and ‘Petra’ croton.

‘Alabama Sunset’ Coleus in mixed container – Photo Courtesy Andrea Schnapp

The first plant to consider when looking for outstanding heat tolerant foliage is the common coleus (Solenostemon scuttellarioides), particularly the cultivar ‘Alabama Sunset’.   As the name indicates, ‘Alabama Sunset’ offers leaves in shades of red and yellow, perfect for designing fall containers or mixing into planting beds.  This popular summer annual is known for its ability to add interesting color and texture to shady areas.

Recently with the arrival of the ‘sun coleus’ series (to which ‘Alabama Sunset’ belongs), coleus is permissible in situations with greater sunlight.  Coleus is incredibly easy to grow and easy to find since nearly every nursery stocks at least a few cultivars.  What’s more, these plants are generally free of pests and disease problems!  Even sun coleus does appreciate a little protection from the hot afternoon sun and occasional deadheading of flowers.

‘Petra’ Croton. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.

 

The second plant in the fall foliage arsenal is ‘Petra croton’ (Codiaeum variegatum ‘Petra’).  Primarily known as a tropical foliage or indoor houseplant, Petra croton is criminally underused in fall landscape and container design.  Petra croton sports bold magnolia-sized leaves striped with colors of yellow, red, orange, and black. A great Halloween plant to complement those front-porch Jack-O-Lanterns!

Like coleus, Petra croton is extremely easy to grow either in a container or in the ground.  It should be located in either in full sun or partial shade and watered through establishment. Otherwise, this species is quite drought tolerant and can be killed with kindness if watered too frequently!

Although croton is a perennial shrub in the tropics, in Northwest Florida it may be killed by frost and best treated as an annual.  Croton can be expected to reach 30-36” in height in a single season, its size and the boldly colored foliage make it a true focal point in the autumn landscape!

Appalachian-grade fall color may be unattainable in the Panhandle in the literal sense, but with these novel plant selections the autumn mood may be present even as the emerald waves hit the sugar white sand.  By using annual foliage plants that possess traditional fall colors throughout their life cycle, anyone can add a splash of Autumn to their mixed containers or landscape beds.  ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and ‘Petra’ croton are the perfect match for this time of year, pairing ease of culture with bold, seasonal color.  Plant a couple today!

Fall Gardening on the Horizon

Fall Gardening on the Horizon

Start preparing now so your fall garden will be full of dark leafy greens, multi-colored lettuces, and root vegetables of all shapes and sizes. Photo by Molly Jameson.

August is a double-edged sword. The oppressive heat is at its pinnacle – where even the thought of spending time in the garden makes you break into a sweat – but it is also the time of year that visions of fall start coming into focus, and you can’t help but peek at the weekly forecast for signs of declining temperatures.

If your garden looks anything like mine, there are sweet potato vines weaving in and out of every corner of sunlight they can find. The sweet peppers you let fully ripen are bright red and sweeter than ever. You may have already reaped the reward of your watermelons, but you’re still hoping you can get the harvest timing right for the late season bloomers. Your okra is as tall as you – maybe even taller – and you’re grateful, for their big oblong heart-shaped leaves are shading out at least some of those warm-season weeds.

Fall is the time to start growing kale, lettuce, onions, parsley, mustard greens, and much more. Photo by Molly Jameson.

But the seasons are-a-changing, and soon you’ll be pulling up the last of your summer garden to make room for dark leafy greens, a cornucopia of roots, and a rainbow of lettuce varieties.

If this is making you want to rush to your nearest plant nursery and unearth all your half-used fall seed packets, then come on down to the Leon County Extension Office in Tallahassee to join us for our annual Fall Backyard Gardening Series!

This is a two-part series, running from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on September 4 and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on September 11, 2018, at 615 Paul Russell Road. I, along with Extension Agents Mark Tancig and Trevor Hylton, will discuss garden site selection, soil and fertilization, and fall planting and gardening techniques. As a bonus, you’ll leave with freshly planted vegetable seeds to take home to later transplant into your garden.

Please register on Eventbrite. The cost for both evenings is $10, and light refreshments will be provided. For more information, contact Molly Jameson at mjameson@ufl.edu or by phone at 850-606-5219.

And if you’re not in the Tallahassee area, check with your local extension office to see what fall gardening events they may have available. Tending a fall garden in Florida can be one of the most rewarding outdoor endeavors you can experience!

The Heat Won’t Last: Plan Now for Fall Greens

The Heat Won’t Last: Plan Now for Fall Greens

The heat and humidity of August is upon us, the cool of fall seems very far away, but is it? Believe it or not, now is the time to start planning fall vegetable gardens.

One of the most popular fall vegetables throughout the lower southern states are greens. There are old stand-bys such as cabbage, mustard, turnip and collard, but also more novel selections such as kale, and rainbow Swiss chard.  One technique to extend the cropping season of collards and kale, is harvesting only lower leaves while allowing plants to continue to grow, instead of harvesting entire plants. If several plants of each are planted, there will be enough for a family to have a continuous supply of greens through the season.

Most greens prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, but will tolerate pH in the range of 5.5 to 7.0.   If pH is too low, the rate of dolomitic per hundred square feet to raise pH one point is 2-3 lbs. Dolomitic lime must be added at least two months before planting to be effective.  Greens may be fertilized with a variety of products from compost (at the rate of 20 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.) to 10-10-10 (at the rate of 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.) balanced fertilizer with micronutrients.  Two to three light repeat applications in the soil at the leaf’s edge may be warranted if plants show a need.

Starting in late August, if the weather is not blisteringly hot, collards may be started by direct seeding. If hot days are excessive, it may be necessary to drop a shade cloth on young plants until weather cools. This will improve development in the event of extended heat in early September. It is also necessary to water regularly and thoroughly while making sure plants are well-drained.

In mid-September, kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens and cabbage may be planted. It is often an advantage to stagger plantings from September through December to extend the season.

Greens can be planted by either direct seeding or transplanting. I have found that if starting greens when it is still very warm, direct seeding is desirable since more transplant shock occurs when temperatures are higher. When it is cooler, transplanting may be more advantageous since the plants will be more developed and ready to harvest sooner.

Greens make a delightful addition to any meal so why not grow your own and experiment with novel types that cannot be found in store shelves. The video below details some novel techniques used to maximize greens’ harvest. Happy Gardening.

Video: Greens and Lettuce for Fall Gardening

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide 

 

 

Winterizer for North Florida Lawns?

Winterizer for North Florida Lawns?

Proper maintenance all year long is the best way to achieve a healthy lawn. Credit: Jim Stevenson

If you’ve been to a local garden center lately, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some displays marketing winterizer fertilizer for your lawn. Many of these displays are quite shiny and state all sorts of reasons why you should apply fertilizer to prepare your lawn for winter.

However, as with most purchases, a little consumer research is a good idea before being persuaded by those glossy ads. Where do you find such non-biased, evidence-based information on lawn and garden topics in Florida? UF/IFAS Extension, of course!

UF/IFAS research has found that for warm-season grass species used for North Florida lawns, the last application of fertilizer should occur no later than September. Why so? Well, similar to deciduous tree species, our warm-season grasses, including centipede, St. Augustine, bahia, and zoysia, are adapted to go dormant at the onset of cooler weather.

Once the transition into dormancy begins, the turf is not actively growing, therefore nutrient uptake slows down. Eventually, the turf becomes brown and will remain that way until warmer spring temperatures initiate active growth again.

What about all the glossy ad’s claims regarding improved root growth? When looking over the N-P-K values of winterizer fertilizers, you will notice that most have a high third number, indicating a greater proportion of potassium. Research does show that adequate potassium levels do make turf more resilient to stress. However, if the turf has been maintained properly throughout the year – proper mowing height, irrigation, and fertilization – then the lawn’s root systems are likely strong enough to get it through winter.

Winterizer fertilizers that contain a high proportion of nitrogen, say over a 5 on the N-P-K analysis, can actually cause your lawn harm. Nitrogen promotes leaf and shoot growth, which is tender to damage from cold weather. If these type products are applied late in the year, new growth is likely to be nipped by a cold snap, causing stress to the lawn, which can lead to greater pest pressure and poor growth the following spring.

For a healthy lawn, there’s no substitute for year-long good care. If you are having a lawn issue or would like more information on fertilizing lawns, please call your local Extension Office or check out some of UF/IFAS’s online resources!

Turfgrass Science Webpage

Florida Lawn Handbook Guide