Stay Home and Garden!

Stay Home and Garden!

The spring is traditionally a busy time in the life of a Horticulture Extension Agent. As plants start to awaken from winter and people get the urge to get outdoors, lots of questions pour into the office about growing everything from flowers to trees. There is also an uptick in diagnostic questions at this time of year as insects emerge and plant disease organisms thrive in the warm, humid weather. Usually, most of us are running from one event to another and don’t have much time to focus on our own yards, but this year is different.

Many of us are working from home; my own makeshift office is on my back patio. The more time I spend out here, the more I notice the plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife I am usually moving too quickly to appreciate. We know that while you are following the #stayhomesavelives protocol you are paying even more attention to your landscapes than usual, too. We hope you will use this time to either enhance your gardening expertise or just learn the basics and we are here to help!

Although the doors to our offices may be locked, your UF/IFAS Extension Agents are still available to help answer your gardening questions. We are also working hard to develop more online content every day. Here are some online social media resources already available:

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Until plans were underway for our UF/IFAS Demonstration Butterfly Garden, I had never heard of Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacineata. Master Gardener Volunteer Jody Wood-Putnam included this gem in her garden design and introduced me and many of our visitors to a new garden favorite.
Although in the same genus as your common Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia fulgida or R. hirta) this perennial has very distinct differences. Rather than the low growing, hairy, oblong leaves of Black-eyed Susan, Cutleaf Coneflower has smooth pinnately lobed leaves with serrated edges. The leaves are still clump forming but form an almost bush-like shape. By mid to late summer, tall flower spikes emerge and are covered in bright yellow flowers bringing the overall height of the plant over 5 feet tall!
Cutleaf Coneflower is native to North America with several variations adapted to different regions including the Southeast and Florida. This perennial performs well in full sun to part shade and needs a lot of space. Mature plants can reach 3’ wide by 10’ tall and may require staking. The plant can spread through underground runners, so be sure to give it lots of space. In North Florida leaves may be evergreen if winter is mild. Cutleaf Coneflower is a good wildlife attractant providing nectar and pollen for many insects and if you leave the flowers on to mature the seed the is eaten by songbirds, including goldfinch.
To see this plant in person, stop by the UF/IFAS Demonstration Garden at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City, FL. If during normal business hours, check in for available seeds from our Pollinator Garden. 850-784-6105
More information about Cutleaf Coneflower see https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/rudbeckia-laciniata-var-humilis/
Surprise Showstopper, Bleeding Heart Vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae)

Surprise Showstopper, Bleeding Heart Vine (Clerodendrum thomsoniae)

As an avid gardener and plant collector you might think I’m hyper-aware of everything growing in my yard. Sadly, I’m just as busy and forgetful as the next person and don’t always remember what’s out there. The silver lining to the distracted auto-pilot life we find ourselves in is that occasionally you get brought back into the moment by a show stopping surprise in the garden.

Bleeding Heart Vine is one of those garden gems. Planted in the bright shade of a pair of oak trees in my Northwest Florida yard, the dark green foliage blends into the background most of the year, but when it flowers look out! Panicles of 5-20 white and red flowers brighten up the shady garden. As the flowers fade, they turn a deep mauve that is just as attractive as the fresh flowers.

Some vines can be aggressive growers, but in the Florida Panhandle Bleeding Heart Vine is a relatively slow grower reaching about 15 feet at maturity. It is classified as a twining vine, but may need a little help supporting itself on a trellis. This vine lacks tendrils or suckers that some vines use to attach to structures, which makes it a little easier to redirect if it starts to grow in an undesirable direction. Don’t want it to climb? Prune to stimulate branching and it gets more of a sprawling, bushy shape.

Bleeding Heart Vine prefers moist, well-drained soil and high humidity. It is hardy to 45°F and may need protection in the winter. Personal observations of this plant have shown stem dieback in the winter, but it has grown back for multiple years without protection in Northern Bay County.

Reference and further information at Floridata Plant Profile #1053 Clerodendrum thomsoniae

How Can I Collect More Plants Without Breaking the Bank?

How Can I Collect More Plants Without Breaking the Bank?

My obsession with plants started with the purchase of my first house in Waverly, Alabama in the late 90s. I bought a house with seven acres and of that about 1.5 acres was a fenced yard. The landscape was not very appealing, so I was on a mission to make it beautiful yet functional for my dogs. The only problem was, as a new homeowner, I had very little expendable income for my burgeoning plant habit. This dilemma forced me to be a resourceful gardener.

Shop the discount rack at garden centers

  • Many retail garden centers (especially mixed use stores with limited plant space) will discount plants simply because they are no longer flowering. Plants look perfectly healthy but are just not considered “retail ready” anymore, so rather than hold them over until they bloom again and appeal to most shoppers the stores tend to mark them down.
  • Plants are either growing or they are dead, so it is common to find some outgrowing their container and are getting “potbound” which means the root system is outgrowing the pot. Potbound plants are hard to keep watered without wilting and the solutions are to transition to a larger pot or plant in the ground. Most garden centers are not equipped to pot up overgrown plants to larger containers, so the easier solution is to sell them quickly. If you purchase a plant with circling roots be sure to trim the bottom and score (slice) the root ball to encourage roots to spread laterally.
  • Avoid plants that appear diseased (leaf spots, brown stems, mushy parts, rotting odor) or have active feeding insect activity.

Compliment other gardeners’ plants

  • When you get gardeners together, they inevitably start swapping plants. I really don’t have an explanation for this other that good old southern hospitality, but I’ve noticed over the years that when you express appreciation of plants to other people they tend to end up in your own yard. Ask if you can take a pinch (for cuttings) or offer to divide a clump of crowded perennials and you are on your way to a trunk full of plant babies.
  • I can’t recommend this for multiple safety reasons, but I have been known to photographs plants in my travels then strike up a conversation with a homeowner who insisted I take one home.

Experiment with basic propagation techniques

  • Grow flowers from seed. Either purchase seeds (usually under $2/pack) or collect seed heads from spent flowers in your own garden. After flowers fade, allow them to set seed then either crush and distribute in other parts of your garden or store in a cool, dry place until you can swap with friends.
  • Division – clumping perennials such as daylilies, cast iron plant, iris or liriope can be dug up and cut into smaller pieces with a shovel or machete. You only need to be sure to have buds on top and roots on the bottom to make a new plant. Other plants create offshoots that can be removed from the parent plant. Examples of these are agave, cycads, and yucca.
  • Cuttings – the list of plants that can be propagated from stem cuttings is endless but a few that are very easy are crape myrtle, hydrangea, and coleus.
  • Patented plants can not be propagated.

For more information read Plant Propagation Techniques for the Florida Gardener or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Weeds or Bonus Plants?

Weeds or Bonus Plants?

Walking around my yard I’m always on the lookout for changes – both good and bad. I look to see which plants are leafing out or flowering. I scout for plant disease symptoms, insect damage, and weeds. I’ve learned over the years that when I spot a plant out-of-place before condemning it as a weed, I need to make sure it isn’t really a bonus plant!

This spring my yard has really changed. After losing numerous mature trees the sun is shining in new spots. Last fall I also had a bit of unexpected seed and vegetation dispersal to say the least, so I’m getting lots of surprises in the landscape. A few bonus plants I’m seeing and leaving alone are oak seedlings, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, Angelina sedum, dotted horsemint, and verbena.

These plants might not be exactly where I would have placed them, but if they are not located somewhere that will be a maintenance problem, they can stay where they landed. Many of these plants are taking advantage of dry, non-irrigated sites and providing welcome vegetative groundcover that will help prevent erosion. The bonus is that they all provide food or shelter for birds and/or bugs!

How do you tell the difference between a weed and a plant you would like to keep? The key is to pay attention to plant features other than flowers. Start looking at foliage shape, texture, color, growth habit, and how leaves are arranged on the plant. Other characteristics are stem color and shape – some plants have square stems, others have ridges we refer to as “wings” in horticulture terms, tendrils on vines, all of these can be distinctive and recognizable before the obvious flowers form. Keep notes with pictures of plants at different life stages until you commit them to memory. Eventually you’ll be able to walk through your landscape and quickly note the differences which will help conserve those bonus plants and get weeds under control before they get too prolific.

Below are links to sites that might be outside your regular bookmarks. These resources show more than just the pretty flowers and have detailed information on life cycle and growing conditions.