Since 2005, multiple varieties of Diascia have added to the U.S. fall market of winter flowering plants. Its delicate flowers are far from being ordinary though. In the early part of the last century most British gardening encyclopedias listed just one diascia – Diascia barberae – derived from seed collected by Col. J. H. Bowker and sent by Mrs. Barber to Kew Gardens, England, in 1870. Annual and perennial diascias had, of course, already been discovered and classified by several botanists visiting South Africa much earlier. The dainty, little annual, Diascia barberae, is not a very showy flower, but one which will appeal to the true flower lover. The flowers are rosy pink with yellow-green spots in the throat. The flowers are lipped, being related to the Snapdragons, but have two spurs on the lower lips, and are sometimes called twinspur.
It was not until John Kelly was given a plant called Diascia cordata by Edrom Nurseries in 1971 that anything notable happened to diascias again. He took pollen from his Diascia cordata and applied it to one flower of Diascia barberae. Of the nine seeds he obtained, just one was worthy of attention. He named it Diascia ‘Ruby Field’ (not for the color of the flowers, but for a lady who devoted her live to the long-term care of deprived children). Despite the popularity of this new, hardy hybrid, little more happened with diascias for yet another decade.
The boom in the diascia trade began only recently. Today’s diascia offers larger flowers, larger plants with a more open growth habit and colors ranging from scarlet through salmon and coral into pink. They bloom throughout the cooler weather and may behave as a perennial in warmer sites. But, the uniqueness of their flower structure and ecological role are as fascinating as the flower is beautiful. The common name of twinspur refers to the two downwardly pointing spurs found on the back of the flower. The spurs contain an oil which is collected in the South Africa wild by Rediviva bees. The female bees have unusually long, hairy forelegs that are used to collect the oil to feed her larvae. However, the Greek origin of the Diascia name doesn’t refer to the spurs, but rather the two sacs found in the upper part of the corolla. The flower petals help the bees to orientate themselves to the oil glands of the spurs. While North Florida isn’t home to the Rediviva bee, we can grow Diascia and it is a wonderful opportunity to show the unique connection insects and plants can have. Look for other specialized flower structures and you will find other animals that fit them perfectly, even within the species found in the Panhandle.
Weeds are basically unwanted plants or plants growing out of place. Proper identification and some understanding of how and why weeds are present in a lawn are important when selecting the best management tactics. All turf weeds can be grouped into one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, or perennial.
Annual: Produces seeds during one season only
Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons
Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons
Knowing the types of weed previously present in an area also can help one to be better prepared and what control measures to employ in the future.
Weeds may appear in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass, or Sedges/rushes.
Broadleaves, or dicotyledonous plants, have two cotyledons (seed leaves) when the weed seed germinates.
Appearance: Broad, flat leaves with net-like veins and usually have showy flowers.
Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, henbit, beggarweed.
Grasses are monocotyledonous plants that have only one cotyledon, or seed leaf, present when seedlings emerge from the soil.
Appearance: Narrow leaves with parallel veins in their true leaves. Hollow rounded stems.
Common types: crabgrass, goosegrass, crowfoot grass, bull grass, annual bluegrass, alexander grass, cogon grass, torpedo grass, and smut grass.
Sedges/rushes. Both favor a moist habitat. Appearance: triangular-shaped, solid stems, while rush stems are round and solid.
Common types: yellow and purple nutsedge and, to some degree, globe, Texas, annual, and water sedge.
One of the first steps in managing weeds is to have a healthy dense lawn/ turf to provide shade that prevents seed germination. Having a healthy lawn depends on turf species selected – making sure you put the right plant and right place. Other factors that influence a heathy turf and a reduced amount of weeds include proper cultural control, fertilizing regularly, mowing at the appropriate height, watering deeply, reducing traffic, pest control, and sanitation. If you only have a few bothersome weeds in your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—but if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. If you decide to start from the beginning, you have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.
Pros: Less expensive, more variety
Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type
Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance
Cons: More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall
To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.
I wish I had a nickel for every time in my Extension career that I’ve heard someone ask me what they can plant in a container or flower bed that will give them no-maintenance color. They just want to plant something, forget about it, and be able to enjoy flowers for months on end. My answer, every single time, is Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus), specifically any selection from the newish ‘Cora’ Series.
Often called Periwinkle in the Deep South, this native of Madagascar is the perfect warm weather flowering plant for the Panhandle for a couple of reasons. First, the flowering. Coming in a wide range of colors from white to purple to pink and all shades in between, there is a Vinca to match every garden’s look. These aren’t a one flowering flush and done type plant either, Vinca blooms nonstop. What’s more, gardeners don’t need to remove spent flowers (also called deadheading), as plants are self-cleaning and flower freely from the first warm days in April until frost ends the show. There are even several new selections in the Cora series that have a trailing habit, perfect for creating a continuous cascade of flowers from a hanging basket or tall container!
Also, as promised, the ‘Cora’ Vinca series is adaptable and nearly no-maintenance. It never outgrows its bounds, reaching only 12-18” in height and spreading about as wide. It is exceptionally drought and heat tolerant, taking 100-degree days and liking it. It has no major insect or disease pests to be concerned about if sited correctly in full sun and well-drained soil. Bottom line, the new ‘Cora’ Vinca varieties are close to bulletproof. Plant some today!
In Florida, selecting the right plant for a sometimes-shady spot can be tough. Generally, plants that can handle the stress of even a few hours of direct summer sun are considered “full-sun” plants. Many plants that are recommended for “partial shade” either don’t flower as well in shade as they would in sun or have a weak constitution and wilt with any direct sunlight. For these problematic, sometimes shady, sometimes not spots, the plant Crossandra (Crossandra infundibuliformis) can be perfect!
Crossandra is a tender perennial (or annual depending on how cold our winters get) native to India and Sri Lanka and closely related to Shrimp Plant and Mexican Petunia. Growing slowly to about 3’ in height, clad with deep, dark, glossy leaves that remind me of the Coffee plant, and flaunting vivid orange flowers, Crossandra plants certainly lend a unique, tropical look to landscapes. Like its more well-known cousins, Crossandra can grow in full shade but really thrives with 3-4 hours of direct sun daily and lots of heat and humidity. These characteristics make the species the perfect summertime Panhandle porch plant!
Adding to the list of accolades, Crossandra is also super simple to grow! Apply a slow-release starter fertilizer at planting, supplement monthly after that with a general-purpose garden fertilizer, water regularly, and enjoy stunning orange flowers all summer! As a bonus, if you’re a fan of the University of Florida, put Crossandra in a Gator blue pot and have the most festive porch around just in time for football season to kick off in a few weeks!
Purslane on a Calhoun County back porch. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
The biggest problem folks have with flowering potted plants in the heat of summer is remembering that they need water, lots of it. One way to work around having to remember to water every single day is to plant something that doesn’t like too much water but still can churn out a great daily flower show. For this job, there’s only one choice, Purslane (Portulaca oleracea).
Purslane is a super showy, low-growing, succulent-type annual that loves it hot and a little on the dry side. If planted in the ground, it will form a 6-8” tall flowering carpet over the surface of the soil, but I think it really shines when allowed to fill and then spill over the sides of a container! Individual purslane flowers close shop for the day in late afternoon, but cheerily pop back open as soon as day breaks the following day. For best results, make sure the container you plant in has ample drainage holes in the bottom and fill with a quality, quick-draining potting mix. After planting, top dress with a slow-release fertilizer according to the label rate and water only when the soil begins to dry out (every other day or so, generally). Plant a Purslane today!
The arrow-shaped leaves of the caladium can add low-maintenance color to the landscape for months. Most effective when massed together in the landscape, caladiums are available in many unique patterns and vibrant colors. A multitude of leaves emerge from a single tuber in various shades of red, white and pink. There are those with spots, ones with bright veins and others with dark green edges. Imagine a pattern, there is probably a caladium to match. Originally discovered in the Amazon River basin, these fast-growing plants can bring life to a shady spot or add drama to the edge of a sunny bed.
Caladium plants usually grow 1-2.5 feet high with leaves that measure 6-12 inches in length. Most caladiums thrive in partial shade. But, many new cultivars have been bred to grow in direct sunlight for many hours of the day. Plant breeders, including researchers at the University of Florida, release new cultivars each year. Many of them are patented.
Cultivars are broadly separated into two main categories: fancy and lance-leafed, also referred to as strap-leafed. Fancy-leafed cultivars have large heart-shaped leaves. Lance-leafed cultivars have narrow, elongated leaves. So, when choosing a caladium, there are many decisions to make: sun or shade; short, medium or tall; pattern or solid color; and leaf shape.
Some the traditional fancy-leafed caladium cultivars include: ‘Aaron’, a medium white with a large dark green edge; ‘Carolyn Whorton’, a medium pink blotched leaf; and ‘Postman Joyner’, a medium red with large veins extending into the dark green edge. These are suitable for more sunlight.
On the extreme other side are the shade-loving speckled strap-leafed cultivars like ‘Miss Muffet’, ‘Gingerland’ and ‘Sea Foam Pink’, a newer UF developed cultivar. For more information on the caladium cultivars developed at UF go to: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/caladium-cultivars.html. Keep an eye on children and pets when they are around the caladium plants. The leaves are toxic if ingested.
Plant caladium tubers in spring once the soil is at least 60-70 degrees F. Place them “eye side” up. That is the side that is all lumpy. If you want shorter, compact plants that don’t show as much stem, “de-eye” and dry the tubers for a day before planting them. That means scoop out the peak of the mound. This will force the remaining buds to sprout around it. Place the tubers in the ground 2 inches deep and 8-12 inches apart. Once they have sprouted, apply a light fertilizing once or twice over the summer. Choose a fertilizer that contains a slow-release nitrogen and is low in phosphorus. Excess nutrients will force the leaves to become greener, losing all the unique colors and patterns.
At the end of the season the leaves will decline and go dormant naturally. The tubers can be left in the ground, but if they experience a cold and/or wet winter, expect losses. Digging them will ensure that there will be tubers for next year. The tubers should be dusted with a sulfur fungicide prior to being stored in dry peat moss or vermiculite at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees F.
If you want to learn more about caladiums and have an opportunity to purchase the Proven Winner new introductions from 2021 and 2022, join me at the Destin Garden Club meeting on May 10, 2022. The program will be held at the Resurrection Catholic Church, 259 Miramar Beach Dr. Miramar Beach, FL beginning at 9 a.m.