Reference Books for Gardeners and Landscapers Alike

Reference Books for Gardeners and Landscapers Alike

As our world and our lives become more centered on technology it seems that all the information we need is just a touch screen away. After all, you are most likely reading this article from a laptop, smart phone, or tablet. While convenient and portable, there are some places you might not wish to take your electronics and one of those places is in the garden. You may say, “Well Taylor, that’s what they make waterproof, shatterproof, dirt proof, etc. cases for!” and I would say that you’re right. However, technology has many limiting factors such as battery life and screen glare. Now believe me, I am by no means disparaging technology! I come from a generation that considers Wi-Fi as necessary as water and an outlet comparable to oxygen. But there is something to be said for having a book in hand when out in the garden. For one thing your neighbors won’t worry about you as they see you march around the garden with your phone in the air doing the “No Signal Dance”. Also, a book is great to have in order for you to jot down any notes or reflections. I would like to list for you a few books that I often reference when I receive calls from homeowners. These books will cover various topics and all of them can be found on the UF/IFAS Bookstore website, the links for each can be found below. If you have any questions contact your local Extension Office and, as always, feel free to contact me and I can give you a rundown on my collection of favorite reference books!

  • New to the UF/IFAS bookstore: “Trees: North & Central Florida” a field guide to 140 common tree species. This sturdy, pocket-sized field guide–the only one of its kind for north and central Florida–is designed for landscape professionals, arborists, naturalists, gardeners, and anyone seeking to know the trees around them. Full color photographs of leaves, bark, flowers and full trees, together with clear descriptions and other information make identifying trees easier than ever. This book also features a handy diagnostic key, an introduction to plant parts, a glossary and a ruler to guide you, whether you’re a trained botanist or a complete beginner.
  • “Poisonous Plants of the Southern United States” John W. Everest, Thomas A. Powe, Jr., and John D. Freeman (of Auburn University). Identification of common poisonous plants found along fence lines and in pastures in the Southern United States.
  • “Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses” This practical weed identification guide contains 427 color photographs of 193 weed species, their geographical range, and life cycle descriptions. Includes a glossary of taxonomic terms and index of common and scientific names.


  • “Disorders and Diseases of Ornamental Palms” Recently revised and updated, this ID deck is a diagnostic tool for landscape professionals and backyard hobbyists. The color photographs and explanatory text helps users identify and distinguish between the nutritional deficiencies, physiological disorders and common diseases of ornamental palms. All palms in the U.S. suffer from disorders and diseases, and identifying the differences can be tricky. These cards feature photographs and descriptions and are cross-referenced for easy comparison between different symptoms and the potential problems causing them. Includes a table of contents and 55 laminated, ring-bound cards.
  • “Florida Lawn Handbook: Best Management Practices for Your Home Lawn in Florida” Written in practical language by turfgrass experts, this highly-anticipated new edition offers the most current lawn management information. Color plates identify various grass types, weeds, diseases, and insects—including those that are good for your lawn! Chapters cover selection, establishment, and maintenance for each type of lawn; soil analysis and fertilization; yearly calendars for lawn care and culture; mowing, watering, and calibrating sprinkler systems and fertilizer spreaders; overseeding for winter color; preparing a lawn for drought and low temperatures; safe pesticide application and use; the latest integrated pest management strategies; organic lawn care; and complete, illustrated diagnostic information for weeds, diseases, insect problems, nematodes, and other pests.


  • “Sustainable Gardening for Florida” Gardeners today face a unique challenge: how do you create a beautiful, thriving landscape without over-use of fertilizers, pesticides, and water? Sustainable Gardening for Florida might be the first place to look for answers. This book provides interesting, money-saving ideas to reduce your ecological footprint. It includes chapters on composting and mulching, integrated pest management, water-wise irrigation and rainwater harvesting, preparing your garden for disasters, and all aspects of managing meadows, lawns, trees and shrubs, edible gardens, rain gardens and waterfront gardening.
  • “Vegetable Gardening in Florida” From James Stephens, the founder of the Florida Master Gardener Program, this is the one resource you need to successfully grow vegetables in Florida. Whether you’re growing beans, tomatoes, herbs, or any other Florida crop, this guide will take you from site selection and insect management through the harvest and storage of your produce. Useful planting guides, gardening measurement conversions, and organic gardening information are accented with full-color throughout.


The Danger Within… What’s Hiding in Our Woods

The Danger Within… What’s Hiding in Our Woods

As summer comes to its apex you may find yourself longing to move your activities outdoors and commune with nature. However, as you are reveling in the warm weather while hiking, camping, biking, gardening, etc. remember that there are native plants of a less friendly nature hiding in plain sight. I’m sure you have all heard the tried and true mantra “Leaves/leaflets of three, let it be”, we suggest you hum that to yourself as you head outdoors in order to save yourself from the consequences of an accidental poison ivy encounter.

While I am not a native of Florida, I grew up in the Deep South and I have had many dealings with our aforementioned foe. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a native to North America which contains an oil known as urushiol. This oil can cause a severe skin rash (dermatitis) when any part of the plant is contacted. The reaction and rash, in susceptible humans, usually starts with itchiness and swelling, followed by the reddish inflammation of tiny pimples or formation of blisters at the areas of contact. The rash can begin as early as an hour after contact or up to five days after contact. All parts of poison ivy, including the hairy-looking aerial roots, contain urushiol at all times of the year, even when bare of leaves and fruit in winter. An allergic reaction can occur by touching the plant directly or indirectly contacting it through animals, tools, clothing, shoes and other items. Also, be aware when preparing your campfires and bonfires that the smoke from burning poison ivy contains oil particles that can be inhaled and cause lung irritation.

A picture of poison ivy with its characteristic 3 leaflets.

A picture of poison ivy with its characteristic 3 leaflets.

Now that you know the consequences of coming in to contact with poison ivy, let’s talk about where you can find it and how it can be identified. Poison ivy can grow in shady or sunny locations throughout Florida. It’s habit can be a woody shrub up to 6 feet tall or a vine up to 150 feet tall that climbs high on trees, walls and fences or trails along the ground. Leaves emerge with a shiny reddish tinge in the spring and turn a dull green as they age, eventually turning shades of red or purple in the fall before dropping.

Poison ivy has little or no effect on animals, but, as we discussed, they may carry the irritating substance on their hair and thereby transmit it to us more susceptible humans. Not only are the berries attractive to birds, but the leaves and fruit are also an important food source for deer.

Poison ivy is often confused with another native, the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). However, this trailing or climbing vine can be distinguished from poison ivy rather easily by its five divided leaflets. Also, Virginia creeper has blue-black berries and tendrils that end in tiny sticky pads that attach to trees and other surfaces.

So, what methods of treatment are available to those who suffer the wrath of poison ivy? If you suspect that you have come into contact with poison ivy always wash your skin with strong soap and cold water immediately! If you scrub with hot water you will open up your pores and let the oil into your skin, causing further irritation. Remove and wash all clothes, including shoes and socks in a strong detergent and warm or hot water. Keep your hands away from eyes, mouth and face. Don’t scratch the rash! To soothe the itch apply calamine lotion, zinc oxide or other doctor recommended products. Always call and visit your doctor if these measures don’t work, you know you are highly allergic or the rash persists.

So, how can you stop poison ivy at the source and avoid these painful symptoms? The first approach would be to eradicate an area by hand removal. Anyone who is extremely sensitive to the oil should ask for help when removing these plants. Always wear proper clothing that covers all areas that could potentially come in to contact with the plant. Also, lotions and creams containing the active ingredient bentoquatam can be used before the weed whacking begins. A suggested technique for removal using chemicals is to cut out a section of actively growing vine and promptly applying a legal herbicide to the bottom half of the cut stem to control re-sprouting. Choose a herbicide only after reading the pesticide label. Some products are labeled for specific sites, and pesticide registrations change over time. Please check with your UF/IFAS Extension service for current recommendations. Hopefully, this article will help you take preventative and proper measures against poison ivy and give you a more care free and informed attitude when partaking in summer activities!

What To Do with All This Rain? Plant a Rain Garden!

What To Do with All This Rain? Plant a Rain Garden!

Rain gardens are an easy way to return water to our aquifer, reduce erosion, and help prevent stormwater runoff.

Running down the driveway or patio, rainwater can pick up lawn chemicals and pesticides. A rain garden is basically a low section of the landscape planted with native plants that like to get their “feet” wet. The garden collects rainwater, giving it a chance to “strain” out impurities before draining into the aquifer.


Swamp sunflower. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.


They work best when they’re placed at the bottom of downspouts or naturally low spots in the landscape, usually where water tends to puddle. They’re especially useful for collecting runoff from paved surfaces. Rain gardens can be any size or shape and can attract thirsty wildlife.

When selecting plants, you’ll need to consider how much sun your site gets and how much space is available. Make sure you select plants that are not just water-tolerant, but also drought-tolerant for the times between rains.

Rain gardens rely on plants that will survive dry spells but then soak up excess stormwater during Florida’s rainy months, preventing the water from running across your landscape.

Blue flag iris. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

Blue flag iris. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

Include different types of plants in your rain garden to create a complete and cohesive look that will provide year-round interest. The following is a short list of flowers, shrubs, and grasses that would perform well in a rain garden.


  • Blue flag iris
  • Goldenrod
  • Swamp sunflower
  • Spider lily
  • Milkweed


  • Florida gamma grass
  • Muhly grass
  • Wiregrass


  • Virginia willow
  • Buttonbush
  • Wax myrtle

Here is a list of native plants that will do well in your North Florida rain garden. As always consult your local Extension Office for more information. All of the information in this article was provided by UF/IFAS Extension.

Pollen and Allergy Season: The Price We Pay for Living in a Lush Landscape

Pollen and Allergy Season: The Price We Pay for Living in a Lush Landscape

It’s that time of year again, that time when your car changes color like a chameleon in order to mimic the surrounding landscape. Anything that stands still long enough will become coated with a light green to yellow dust. What is this dust you might ask? What you are seeing is pollen, a sure sign that spring has arrived and allergy season is here! The pollen that can be seen is from pine trees and is not a major contributor to allergies, but the invisible pollen from oak trees and other plants can wreak havoc on sinuses. And while you may be cursing the trees for causing your eyes to water and coating your car, it’s important to remember that plants need pollen in order to reproduce.

Pollen disseminating from a pine tree. Picture courtesy of

Pollen disseminating from a pine tree anther. Picture courtesy of

Pollen is disseminated from blooming trees and plants. The process of pollination develops new plant seeds. Pollen is dry and light, enabling it to float through the wind and travel several miles. Plants that depend on wind for dispersal have to produce massive amounts of pollen since only a small amount will actually result in seed production. Plants pollinated by insects don’t have to produce as much pollen because of the efficiency of the insects in distributing the pollen. Changes in the weather directly influence the amount of pollen and how it will affect allergy sufferers. Rain dampens pollen and reduces its ability to flow through the air. A freeze can also slow down a tree’s rate of producing pollen. Windy and warm weather can increase pollen amounts.

A Leon County allergy and asthma specialist stated that roughly 40 percent of the population suffers from pollen allergies. The best thing you can do if you are part of this 40 percent is to reduce your exposure to pollen. Here are a few ways you can keep your allergies at bay:

  • Dry clothes in an automatic dryer rather than hanging them outside to avoid pollen collecting on clothing and being carried indoors.
  • Consider limiting outdoor activities during the pollen season (Florida trees often release pollen from January to June).
  • Stay inside during peak pollen times (from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
  • Restrict outdoor activities during days with high winds and low humidity.
  • Shower after spending time outdoors to remove pollen from hair and skin.
  • Use air filters and clean regularly, or run an air conditioner and change the air filter frequently.
  • Wear a dust mask when mowing the lawn, gardening, or raking leaves.

If you would like to know what trees are producing pollen in your area at certain times of the year you can visit this website As always, feel free to contact your local Extension Office for more information.

Keep Your Love Alive: Preserving Cut Flowers

Keep Your Love Alive: Preserving Cut Flowers

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. You were likely showered with gifts from loved ones; gifts covered in chocolate, gifts of the stuffed variety, and more than likely the kind covered in petals. And as you languish in the afterglow of affection it would be wise to remember that your bouquets will need to be shown some affection if you intend for them to remain beautiful.

White Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Duchesse de Brabant, Tea Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Fresh cut flowers are a popular gift for Valentine’s Day and a simple, yet elegant way to relay your affections. Flowers have the capacity to brighten up a room and bring a smile to your face. The myriad of colors and scents are admittedly irresistible. However, after a few days your once overflowing vase may seem wilted and despondent. Follow these easy steps to increase the lifespan of your flowers and extend their potent powers!

Pink Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Carefree Beauty, Shrub Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

  • Re-cut the flower stems using a sharp knife or shears. Remove at least one-half inch of stem to expose a fresh surface. Stems, especially rose stems, should be re-cut under water. A freshly cut stem absorbs water freely, so it is important to cut at a slant to avoid crushing the stem and to prevent a flat-cut end from resting on the bottom of the vase.
  • Put flowers in water as soon as possible. Maximum water uptake occurs in the first 36 to 48 hours after cutting flowers. Place stems in 100-110°F (38-40°C) water, because warm water moves into the stem more quickly and easily than cold water.
  • Make sure to remove any leaves from the stem that may be submerged. Because transpiration through leaves drives water flow up the stems of cut flowers, don’t strip all the leaves from the stem.
  • Use a commercial flower food, they work best at controlling microbial populations, hydrating stems, and feeding flowers. Make sure you follow the directions on the floral preservative packet. 
  • Removing thorns from your roses may shorten their vase life. If damaged during the removal process flowers may be opened up to microbes that could slow down water conducting cells.
  • If your vase solution begins to become cloudy, re-cut the stems and place into a new vase solution.
  • Do not place flowers in direct sunlight, over a radiator, or on a television set. Heat reduces flower life since flower aging occurs more rapidly in high temperature conditions. It is important to avoid all drafty locations because warm or moving air removes water from flowers faster than it can be absorbed through the stems.
  • Keep flowers away from cigarette smoke and ripening fruit, because they contain ethylene gas, which is harmful to flowers.
Red Rose. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.

Louis Philippe, China Rose. Also known as the “old Florida rose” since it is found at many old historic Florida home sites and pioneer settlements. Photo Courtesy David Marshall.