In the Panhandle, fall is the prettiest season for wildflowers. Our roadsides and woodlands are covered with pinks, whites, yellows, blues, purples, and even a little red here and there. Pretty as it may be, the beautiful wildflower look isn’t super appropriate for most yards. It would look unkempt, a little “wild” if you will, would be hard to manage and is probably best enjoyed in natural areas. However, we can bring some of the native colors of fall into our landscapes in a much lower maintenance, refined manner with two Panhandle species that pair excellently together, Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and Darrow’s Blueberry (Vaccineum darrowii).
Muhly Grass and Darrow’s Blueberry in a local landscape. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Muhly Grass, the native grass with the pinkish/purple panicles blooming right now, has gained much popularity in recent years, earning a reputation as a near pest/disease free, drought tolerant, attractive landscape plant. Operating in lieu of more traditional low growing shrubs in landscapes, Muhly is an airy, greenish gray bunch grass growing about 3-4’ tall and wide, lending informal, coastal texture to landscapes most of the year and really shining in fall during its flowering season. Once established, it never needs extra water, prefers little fertilizer, and only needs a rejuvenation prune (or burn – the Leonard preferred method. It’s fun and mimics the role of fire in Muhly’s native ecosystems!) every couple of years to keep it looking tidy.
Unlike Muhly Grass, Darrow’s Blueberry has not caught on broadly in the landscape industry but is no less deserving. This native blueberry species only grows a couple of feet tall, produces edible fruit that wildlife enjoy, and adds an unusual blue green color to landscapes via its tiny-leaved, evergreen foliage. It prefers the same sites as Muhly and is part of the reason they pair so well together. Our mostly sandy, well drained soils work just fine, but both plants can handle soils that are occasionally wet. A bonus, Darrow’s also has tiny, bell shaped flowers in spring that attract all manner of beneficial bee species. This makes it a must in any native pollinator garden!
As good as these species are alone, I think they are better together. In my family’s yard, we created a loose screen of widely spaced (8’ apart) Muhly Grass specimens around a pool, in the spirit of giving the area a “coastal” airy feel, and interspersed Darrow’s Blueberry in between.
The pink Muhly Grass flowers pair nicely with the green blue foliage of Darrow’s Blueberry. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
The look has been outstanding, particularly in the late summer/early fall. The pinky purple flowers of Muhly Grass complement the green-blue foliage of the blueberries nicely and provide easy, lasting color without having to worry about planting finicky annuals or perennials each season.
Landscaping with natives does not have to look wild and unkempt, nor does it have to be drab and unattractive. Combining native yet showy plants like Darrow’s Blueberry and Muhly Grass makes for an unusual, refined, nearly no-maintenance feature in your landscape. Look for these and other neat native plants at native nurseries and independent garden centers around the Panhandle. If you’d like more information on native grasses, blueberries or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office! Happy Gardening!
There are a number of plants that are adapted to the climate in the Florida Panhandle. Some can be grown in your yard to provide fresh, nutritious food for your family. In this episode of Home Grown Food, County Agent Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS Extension in Jackson County, Florida shares the rabbit-eye blueberries and satsuma citrus that he grows on the edge of his yard.
During these unusual times, the Gardening in the Panhandle Team has been working to bring you quality remote content through this online newsletter. In that vein, we have developed some new educational programming for our loyal readers.
We are providing one hour “Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE!” sessions on Zoom. These will occur during lunch hour, from 12:00 to 1:00 CDT. They will also be hosted on the Gardening in the Panhandle Facebook page and recorded if you can’t participate live. So, whether you are at home or work, bring your lunch up to your desk (or smart device) and enjoy Gardening in the Panhandle Live!
Click on the topic below to pre-register and submit your questions one week in advance.
Archived videos with closed captioning are linked to topics about one week after event airs.
The schedule follows below:
||Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson, Matt Orwat
||Lawn and Turfgrass
||Larry Williams, Daniel Leonard, Beth Bolles, Daniel Leonard
||Ornamental & Landscape
||Sheila Dunning, Matt Lollar, Stephen Greer, Matt Orwat
||Mary Salinas, Julie McConnell, Beth Bolles
||Prepping for the Fall Garden
||Matt Lollar, Danielle Sprague, Molly Jameson
||Open Ended Q&A
||Mary Salinas, Evan Anderson, Beth Bolles, Matt Orwat
||Gardening for Pollinators
||Dr. Gary Knox, Mark Tancig, Mary Salinas, Heather Kalaman
||Fruiting Trees and Shrubs
||Dr. Xavier Martini, Danielle Sprague, Trevor Hylton
||Gardening in Florida Soils
||Ray Bodrey, Matt Lollar, Pat Williams, Mark Tancig
||Planting Trees and Shrubs
||Larry Williams, Ray Bodrey, Beth Bolles, Stephen Greer
||Cool Season Gardening/Cold Protection
||Mary Salinas, Matt Lollar, Larry Williams
||Landscape Pests (insect & disease)
||Danielle Sprague, Matt Orwat, Evan Anderson, Dr. Adam Dale
||Selection and Care of Holiday Plants
||Matt Orwat, Larry Williams, Sheila Dunning, Stephen Greer
Rachel Mathes, Leon County Horticulture Program Assistant
Article by Rachel Mathes, Leon County Horticulture Program Assistant
Sensory gardens are a great way to involve children and people with special needs with gardening. Gardens provide a no-judgement zone for creative expression and allow us to get down in the dirt every now and then. Because sensory gardens are designed to be appreciated by more than just the sense of sight, they are an approachable way for disabled and non-disabled users alike. By engaging taste, feel, smell, hearing, and more, sensory gardens allow visitors of all ages and circumstances to engage in gardening.
To make your own sensory garden, think about what feeling you would like to experience while visiting your garden. Do you want a calm healing place of introspection or perhaps a vibrant playful area for engaged learning in nature? Having a theme can help you choose the different elements you would like to include in your sensory garden, which can be an entire yard or as small as a container. They are being used more and more in memory care units of nursing homes as well as preschools and elementary schools, but you can make your own right at home.
Water features provide enticing sounds for human visitors and a water source for wildlife. Can you spot the honeybee enjoying the fountain? Photo by Rachel Mathes.
The sound of moving water is calming to many, so a small fountain can be a great addition to your sensory garden. It will also benefit local wildlife by offering them a small watering hole. As long as the water is moving, mosquitos should not be a problem, but mosquito dunks or even the incorporation of mosquito fish are easy solutions to solving mosquito problems in small ponds or fountains. Some plants to consider for their sounds include false indigo (Baptisia australis), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and mountain oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). False indigo produces seed pods great for rattling, and when it is windy, switchgrass and mountain oats provide a gentle rustle.
A variety of textures offers the gardener a safe place to interact with nature without worrying about the dangers of poison ivy and other plant irritants. Plants like muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) offer a multitude of interactions as they sway in the wind, have bright white and pink blooms, and can be braided together in a variety of patterns. The native sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is a low growing ground cover that puts out pink powderpuff flowers and folds up when touched. Some other plants to explore by touch are lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine), maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), the mildly dangerous points of aloe, and the many textures of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).
There are plenty of smelly plants to entice your nose in the garden. From rosemary to dill, mint and beyond, many herbs do very well here in the Florida Panhandle. Lemon balm and lemongrass bring a punch of citrus without the need for a big citrus tree. Beyond herbs, pine needles give a resinous scent when compressed, gardenias offer heavy sweetness from their voluminous white blooms, and sweet almond verbena (Aloysia virgata) delights with a vanilla almond aroma that carries pleasantly in the wind.
Fragrant blooms can offer pleasant aromas to enhance a sensory garden. Photo by Rachel Mathes.
When it comes to tasting in a sensory garden, fruits and vegetables are an obvious choice. Plenty of annual vegetables can be grown year-round, from leafy greens in the fall, winter, and early spring, to tomatoes and peppers in the summer. Blackberries are an easy to grow favorite in this part of the state, are available as thornless varieties, and take well to growing on a trellis in small spaces. A great edible that many children favor in the Demonstration Garden at the Leon County Extension Office is cranberry hibiscus. The bright red leaves of new growth are a sweet and sour treat they equate to Sour Patch Kids candy. The older leaves can be added into stir fries and salads and the flowers can be cooked into a syrup for making purple lemonade. Herbs can be used for their taste factor as well. But if your sensory garden will be visited by the general public without supervision, I recommend clear delineation for the tasting area so that no one eats anything unpalatable or poisonous by accident.
When setting up your sensory garden, be sure to involve your intended audience. Small children thrive when given a job to do and will enjoy planting sweet herbs alongside you. Even regular maintenance of the garden can involve the participants you hope to engage. The simple acts of weeding and watering can foster a sense of responsibility and empowerment as the visitors gain sensory enrichment through these activities and see the fruits of their labor with time.
Rachel Mathes is the Horticulture Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
Normally we think of rust as something that deteriorates metal, but a number of different fungal rusts can affect plants in the garden. Rust disease can affect corn plants, cedar trees, and even blueberry bushes. Just like the broad range of plant species that can be plagued by rust, there are a number of species of rust fungal spores floating around and ready to infest your garden. This article will focus on leaf rust of blueberry.
Blueberry leaf rust on the top of a leaf. Photo Credit: Philip Harmon, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
Leaf rust of blueberry in Florida is caused by the fungus Pucciniastrum vaccinii. Although the common name of the disease is “leaf rust”, the disease can also infect the stems and fruit of blueberry plants. The disease causes small, round spots visible on the tops of leaves. Spots will multiply and the leaves will eventually yellow and fall off. Young stems and green fruit can also become infected as the disease progresses. Bright orange lesions will form on stems and fruit as the thousands of microscopic spores conjoin. The clusters of spores are easily wiped or washed off of plant material. When spores dry out, they become airborne and can be transferred to nearby plants.
Blueberry leaf rust on fruit. Photo Credit: Philip Harmon, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
The rust fungus thrives in hot, humid, wet conditions. A number of cultural practices can be adopted to reduce disease progression and survival.
Disease persistence can be reduced by limiting the amount of water that contacts the plant leaves. Water the base of plants or install drip irrigation for your bushes rather than watering from overhead. If overhead irrigation is the only option, then water plants in the morning rather than in the evening. This allows the leaves to dry out over the course of the day.
Removal of approximately 25% of the oldest canes in late winter before spring growth begins will stimulate the production of new canes and should result in plants with canes of different ages and will provide a good mix of vigorous branching and fruit production. Moderate summer pruning can also improve yield and shoot growth. When pruning, cut out vigorous shoots that are growing well beyond the desired canopy height and are in the interior portion of the bush. This will promote a more open growth habit and help with air circulation on the remaining plant material. Some vigorous canes developing from the ground and growing on the outside of the bush can be topped to stimulate branching and flower bud formation.
Pine bark mulch helps with establishment of young plants and helps keep soil pH low in existing plantings. A layer of aged pine bark 3 inches deep extending about 2 feet out from the plants will provide a good growing medium for surface feeder roots. Pine straw can be used if pine bark is unavailable. Mulch also moderates soil temperature, helps keep weeds at bay, and adds organic matter to the soil. Make sure to keep mulch raked back about three inches away from the plant canes to provide good air circulation to the roots.
Hopefully this article has given you some tips to have a good blueberry crop for years to come. For more information on growing blueberries in Florida, please visit the University of Florida/IFAS EDIS Publication: Blueberry Gardener’s Guide.
The Southeastern blueberry bee uses buzz pollination on a blueberry plant. Photo credit: Tyler Jones, UF IFAS.
This time of year, blueberry bushes are flowering and small fruit are coming onto the wild and cultivated bushes in north Florida. Many of us, myself included, look forward to the late-spring harvest of blueberries, taking our children out to u-pick operations and digging out family recipes for blueberry-filled desserts.
What many do not know, however, is that there’s a specialized bee that literally lives for this season. During the last few weeks, this little insect has been furiously pollinating blueberry bushes during its short, single-purpose lifetime.
The Southeastern blueberry bee, Habropoda labriosa is active only in mid-March to April when blueberry plants are in flower. They are smaller than bumblebees, and the yellow patches on their heads can differentiate males. Blueberry pollen is heavy and sticky, so it is not blown by the wind, and the flower anatomy is such that pollen from the male anther will not just fall onto the female stigma. Blueberry bees must instead attach themselves to the flower and rapidly vibrate their flight muscles, shaking the pollen out. Moving to the next flower, the bee’s vibrations will drop pollen from the first flower onto the next one. This phenomenon is called “sonicating” or ‘buzz pollination” and is the most effective method of creating a prolific blueberry crop.
Blueberry bees do not form hives, but create solitary nests in open, sunny, high ground. Females will dig a tunnel with a brood chamber large enough for one larva, filling it with nectar and pollen. After laying an egg, the female seals the chamber and the next generation is ready. The species produces only one generation of adults per year.
By the time we are picking fresh blueberries next month, you probably won’t see any blueberry bees around. However, we should all consider these insects’ short-lived but vitally important role in Florida’s $82 million/year blueberry industry!
For more information, check out the beautifully illustrated USDA Forest Service publication, “Bee Basics—An Introduction to our Native Bees,” or North Carolina State University’s entomology website.