Bulbs are my favorite class of ornamental plants. They generally are low maintenance, come back reliably year after year, and sport the showiest flowers around. While many bulbs like Daylily, Crinum and Amaryllis are very common in Panhandle landscapes, there is a lesser-known genus of bulbs that is well worth your time and garden space, the Rainlily (Zephyranthes spp.).
Rainlily, aptly named for its habit of blooming shortly after summer rainfall events and a member of the Amaryllis family of bulbs, is a perfect little plant for Panhandle yards for several reasons. The plant’s genus name, Zephyranthes – which translates to English as “flowers of the western winds”, hints at the beauty awaiting those who plant this lovely little bulb. From late spring until the frosts of fall, Rainlily rewards gardeners with flushes of trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, and yellow, with some hybrids offering even more exotic colors. While these individual flowers typically only persist for a day or two, they are produced in “flushes” that last several days, extending the show. Though Rainlily flowers are the main event for the genus, beneath the blooms, plants also offer attractive, grass-like, evergreen foliage. These aesthetic attributes lend themselves to Rainlily being used in a variety of ways in landscapes, from massing for summer color ala Daylilies, to use around the edges of beds as a showy border like Liriope or other “border” type grassy plants.
Unknown Rainlily species blooming in a raised bed. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Continuing along the list of Rainlily attributes, the genus doesn’t require much in the way of care from gardeners either. Most species of Rainlily, including the Florida native Z. atamasca, have no serious pests and are right at home in full sun to part shade. Once established, plants are exceedingly low-maintenance and won’t require any supplemental irrigation or fertilizer! Some Rainlily species like Z. candida even make excellent water or ditch garden plants, preferring to have their feet wet most of the year – putting them right at home in the Panhandle this year. And finally, all Zephyranthes spp. do very well in containers and raised beds also, adding versatility to their use in your landscape!
The one drawback of Rainlily is that they can be somewhat difficult to find for sale. As these bulbs are an uncommon sight in most garden centers, to source a specific Zephyranthes species or cultivar, one is probably going to need to purchase from a specialty internet or mail-order nursery. As with other passalong-type bulbs though, the absolute best and most rewarding way to obtain Rainlily is to get a dormant season bulb division from a friend or fellow gardener who grows them. There are many excellent unnamed or forgotten Zephyranthes cultivars and seedlings flourishing in gardens across the South, waiting to be passed around to the next generation of folks who will appreciate them!
Even if you must go to some lengths to get a Rainlily in your garden, I highly recommend doing so! You’ll be rewarded with years of low-maintenance summer color after the dreariest of rainy days and will be able to pass these “flowers of the western wind” on to the next gardening generation. For more information on growing, sourcing, or propagating Rainlilies, check out this EDIS publication by Dr. Gary Knox of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office! Happy Gardening!
On August 12, 2021, our panel answered questions on a wide variety of landscape topics. Maybe you are asking the same questions, so read on!
Ideas on choosing plants
What are some perennials that can be planted this late in the summer but will still bloom through the cooler months into fall?
Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’ or ‘Gold Mound’, firespike, Senna bicapsularis, shrimp plant, lion’s ear
Where can native plants be obtained?
Dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.
Gardening Solutions: Florida Native Plants – see link to FANN: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/native-plants.html
What are some evergreen groundcover options for our area?
Mondo grass, Japanese plum yew, shore juniper, ajuga, ferns such as autumn fern.
What are some ideas for partial morning sun butterfly attracting tall flowers to plant now?
Milkweed, salt and pepper plant, swamp sunflower, dune sunflower, ironweed, porterweed, and salt bush.
I’m interested in moving away from a monoculture lawn. What are some suggestions for alternatives?
Perennial peanut, powderpuff mimosa, and frogfruit.
We are new to Florida and have questions about everything in our landscape.
Florida-Friendly-Landscaping TM Program and FFL Web Apps: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/
UF IFAS Gardening Solutions: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/
What are some of the top trends in landscaping today?
Houseplants, edible gardens, native plants, food forests, attracting wildlife, container gardening, and zoysiagrass lawns
Artwork broccoli is a variety that produces small heads. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.
What vegetables are suitable for fall/winter gardening?
Cool Season Vegetables: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/cool-season-vegetables.html
North Florida Gardening Calendar: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP451%20%20%20
Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/vh021
How can I add herbs to my landscape?
Herbs in the Florida Garden: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/herbs.html
My figs are green and hard. When do they ripen?
Why Won’t My Figs Ripen: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/rbogren/articles/page1597952870939
What is best soil for raised bed vegetable gardens?
Gardening in Raised Beds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP472
And there are always questions about weeds
How can I eradicate cogongrass?
Chamber bitter is a troublesome warm season weed in our region. Photo credit: Brantlee Spakes Richter, University of Florida, Bugwood.org
Is it okay to use cardboard for weed control?
The Cardboard Controversy: https://gardenprofessors.com/the-cardboard-controversy/
What is the best way to control weeds in grass and landscape beds?
Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP141
Improving Weed Control in Landscape Planting Beds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP52300.pdf
Can ground water be brackish and stunt plants?
Reclaimed Water Use in the Landscape: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ss545
How can I prevent erosion from rainwater runoff?
Stormwater Runoff Control – NRCS: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/water/?cid=nrcs144p2_027171
Rain Gardens: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/rain-gardens.html
What is the best time of the year to propagate flowering trees in zone 8B?
Landscape Plant Propagation Information Page – UF/IFAS Env. Hort: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/lppi/
Which type of mulch works best on slopes greater than 3 percent?
Landscape Mulches: How Quickly do they Settle?: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FR052
When should bulbs be fertilized?
Bulbs and More – UI Extension: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/bulbs/planting.cfm
Should I cut the spent blooms of agapanthus?
Agapanthus, extending the bloom time: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/agapanthus.html
Monarch caterpillar munching on our native sandhill milkweed, Asclepias humistrata. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF IFAS Extension.
I planted native milkweed and have many monarch caterpillars. Should I protect them or leave them in nature?
It’s best to leave them in place. Featured Creatures: Monarch Butterfly: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/IN/IN780/IN780-Dxyup8sjiv.pdf
How does Vinca (periwinkle) do in direct sun? Will it make it through one of our panhandle summers? Can I plant in late August?
Periwinkles and No more fail with Cora series: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/periwinkles.html#:~:text=Plant%20your%20periwinkles%20where%20they,rot%20if%20irrigated%20too%20frequently.
Insect and disease pests
What to do if you get termites in your raised bed?
The Facts About Termites and Mulch: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN651
How to combat fungus?
Guidelines for ID and Management of Plant Disease Problems: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/mg442
Are there preventative measures to prevent diseases when the humidity is very high and it is hot?
Fungi in Your Landscape by Maxine Hunter: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/marionco/2020/01/16/fungi-in-your-landscape/
If you missed an episode, check out our playlist on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp0HfdEkIQw&list=PLhgoAzWbtRXImdFE8Jdt0jsAOd-XldNCd
One big goal of establishing a home lawn and landscape is to enjoy an attractive setting for family and friends, while also helping manage healthy soils and plants. Soil compaction at these sites can cause multiple problems for quality plants establishment and growth. Soil is an incredibly important resource creating the foundation for plants and water absorption.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS
Soils are composed of many different things, including minerals. In Florida, these minerals often include sand of differing sizes and clay in the northern area of the counties in the panhandle of Florida. Soil is also composed of organic matter, nutrients, microorganisms and others. When soil compacts, the air spaces between the sand or clay are compressed, reducing the space between the mineral particles. This can occur anytime during the landscape and lawn construction phase or during long term maintenance of the area with equipment that could include tractors, mowers, and trucks.
What can be done to reduce soil compaction? There are steps that can be taken to help reduce this serious situation. Make a plan on how to best approach a given land area with the equipment needed to accomplish the landscape of your dreams. Where should heavy equipment travel and how much impact they will have to the soils, trees, and other plants already existing and others to be planted? At times heavy plywood may be needed to distribute the tire weight load over a larger area, reducing soil compaction by a tire directly on the soil. Once the big equipment use is complete, look at ways to reduce the areas that were compacted. Incorporating organic matter such as compost, pine bark, mulch, and others by tilling the soil and mixing it with the existing soil can help. Anytime the soil provides improved air space, root will better grow and penetrate larger areas of the soil and plants will be healthier.
Even light foot traffic over the same area over and over will slowly compact soils. Take a look at golf course at the end of cart paths or during a tournament with people walking over the same areas. The grass is damaged from the leaves at the surface to the roots below. Plugging these areas or possibly tilling and reestablishing these sites to reduce the compacted soils may be necessary.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS
Water absorption is another area to plan for, as heavy rains do occur in Florida. Having landscapes and lawns that are properly managed allow increased water infiltration into the soil is critically important. Water runoff from the site is reduced or at least slowed to allow the nutrient from fertilizers used for the plant to have more time to be absorbed into the soil and taken up by the plants. This reduces the opportunity for nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients to enter water areas such as ponds, creeks, lagoons, rivers and bays. Even if you are miles from an open water source, movement of water runoff can enter ditches and work their way to these open water areas, ultimately impacting drinking water, wildlife, and unwanted aquatic plant growth.
Plan ahead and talk with experts that can help with developing a plan. Contact your local Extension office for assistance!
The number one request all would-be gardeners and budding landscape enthusiasts have is “I want something that I don’t have to take care of, tolerates the heat, blooms, and comes back every year”. That is a tall order in our climate but not an impossible one, especially if one is willing to take a step back in time and consider an old Southern passalong plant, Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata)!
Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) in a Calhoun County landscape. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
This old heirloom perennial is an outstanding ornamental for Panhandle landscapes. Every spring, Garden Phlox emerges from a long winter sleep and shoots its attractive bright green foliage straight up, reaching 3-5’ in height. After hiding inconspicuously in the landscape all spring, Phlox then blasts into fiery magenta bloom during the heat of summer, beginning the show in late June. While individual Phlox flowers are only 1” wide or so, they are held prominently above the plant’s foliage in large clusters up to 8” in diameter and are about as eye-catching as flowers come. The flower show continues through July and August until finally fading out as fall rolls around. Plants then set seed and ready themselves for winter dormancy, repeating the cycle the following spring. A bonus, though individual Phlox plantings start off as small, solitary clumps, they slowly expand over the years, never over-aggressively or unwanted, into a mass of color that becomes the focal point of any landscape they occupy!
In addition to being gorgeous, Phlox is adaptable and demands very little from gardeners. The species prefers to be sited in full, blazing sun but can also handle partial shade. Just remember, the more shade Phlox is in, the fewer flowers it will produce. Site accordingly. Phlox is also extremely drought tolerant, thriving in most any semi-fertile well-drained soil. Though it can handle drought like a champ, Phlox will languish if planted in a frequently damp location. If water stands on the planting site for more than an hour or so after a big rain event, it is most likely too wet for Phlox to thrive. Once established, Phlox is not a heavy feeder either. A light application of a general-purpose fertilizer after spring emergence from winter dormancy will sustain the plants’ growth and flowering all summer long!
Clump of Garden Phlox in a Calhoun County landscape. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Though the ornamental and low-maintenance attributes of plain Garden Phlox make it sound like a perfect landscape plant, it is uncommon in the modern nursery trade, having fallen out of favor as many old plants often do. The species is still a familiar site around old home places, cemeteries, abandoned buildings, and the like throughout the South, but is difficult to find in most commercial nurseries. The primary reason for this is that the commercially available modern Phlox hybrids sporting exotic flower colors and shapes are not tolerant of our growing conditions. These new Garden Phlox hybrids were bred to perform in the milder conditions of more norther climes and are extremely susceptible to the many fungal diseases brought on by Florida’s heat and humidity of summer, particularly Powdery Mildew. It’s best to avoid these newcomers and stick to the old variety with its pink flowers and ironclad constitution. Plain old Garden Phlox can be found in some independent and native plant nurseries, but the best and most rewarding method of acquisition is to make friends with someone that already has a clump and dig up a piece of theirs!
If you have been looking for a low-maintenance, high impact perennial to add to your landscape, old-fashioned Garden Phlox might be just the plant for you! For more information on Garden Phlox, other landscape perennials, passalong plants or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening!
Strawberries growing on “plastic” to protect them from water splashed fungal spores found in soil. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County
As the alternating cycles of sun, heat and rain shape our summer days, I start thinking about cooler times of the year, the fall planting season. One plant to consider planting in the fall are strawberries. Planting strawberries in the fall is really an exercise in preparation for bountiful production of fruit beginning in January and continuing into May and June. The following procedure will lead to a successful strawberry production if followed!
The best location for strawberry production provides well-drained, moist, sandy soil with substantial organic matter. It must not be too wet. pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5, which is considered slightly acidic. A fertilizer scheme of 2 lbs. of a 10-5-10 fertilizer per 100 sqft of raised bed or 10 feet of row should be applied at pre-plant, with ¼ of the fertilizer over the top and the rest in a one-inch-deep band near the location of drip irrigation.
*DO NOT apply fertilizer directly below the plants, as the fertilizer may burn the young transplants.
This is a raised bed of strawberries, which has been filled with rich composted growing media. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County
Commonly, a preferred system is the development of a hill system, which is 6-8 inches high and 24 inches wide. Drip irrigation should be installed for best results, thus keeping the leaves free of irrigation water. This hill should be covered with weed barrier, such as grower’s polyurethane plastic to reduce weed growth and soil splashing onto leaves. Additionally, strawberries do well when planted in a raised bed. This system can still utilize weed barriers and drip irrigation but gives the gardener the added benefit of manipulation of the growing media. Growing media made up of compost and coconut coir works especially well for this and may be found at local large garden centers.
Short day cultivars that have been proven to do well for home gardeners in Northwest Florida production are Sweet Charlie and Camarosa and should be purchased certified disease free from a reputable nursery. Both dormant bare root and actively growing plug plants are available for purchase, but I have had best luck with actively growing plug transplants.
While strawberry plants can easily withstand our winter temperatures, fruit can suffer damage from frosts below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The good news is that small row covers or “low tunnels” can be constructed to prevent fruit loss and encourage early fruiting.
When setting out the transplants:
- Keep plants moist before planting
- Spread roots out in fan-shape
- Set plants in moist soil at the correct depth. Do not cover the plants crown with dirt or leave its roots exposed above the soil.
- Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.
- Pack the soil firmly around the roots, then sprinkle with water. Overhead sprinkling may keep the tops from drying out until the roots can get established.
Homemade row cover for strawberries made of cow panels and sheets. Commercial row covers can be purchased using hoops and frost cloth. You can also make your own with pipes and bulk rolled frost cloth. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County
As stated above, strawberries should be mulched. Black polyethylene plastic mulch at 1 to 1½ mil thick is best (completely cover the top and sides of bed before planting). Be sure the bed is firm, formed correctly, moist, and fertilized adequately. Place soil on the edges of the plastic to hold it in place. Cut slits in the plastic for the transplants.
When using alternatives like straw, bark or other natural organic materials mulch to a depth of 1 to 2 inches, but do not completely cover the plant.
For more information, Please consult these references or contact your local extension agent:
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer
Lawn areas come in all sizes and shapes. Some are large open expanses providing long views and others are smaller versions surrounded by shrubs and trees creating a more private and secluded setting. There are a number of reasons for reducing the size of a lawn with some coming into play with your decisions. A home lawn is often an important part of the landscape that provides a place to play outdoors from picnicking, tossing the ball to taking a quite stroll.
Maintaining a healthy lawn is important to an overall performance of this part of the landscape. Several factors are involved in the success in keeping a strong and resilient lawn. Understanding the needs of a grass to remain healthy involve soil testing to address soil pH and nutrient needs plus water challenges. Misuse of fertilizer and over irrigation can be costly to you and to the overall health of the lawn. These decisions can lead to reducing lawn size to managing cost or removing underused areas.
There are big benefits to reducing your lawn from saving time in mowing, trimming and other manicuring needs to saving energy costs involving the lawn mower not to mention reducing pollution from the mower or weed eater. The reduced amounts of pesticides needed to manage weeds and disease to the lawn saves time and money.
Another way to look at the reducing the size of our lawn is there will be more space for expanding plant beds and potential tree placement. These settings increase the opportunities for a more biodiverse landscape providing shelter, protection and food options for birds and other wildlife.
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer
The lawn can serve as a transition space that leads from one garden room space to another, while still offering a location to bring the lawn chair out to enjoy all that is around your lawn. Lawns and the landscape are ever changing spaces, especially as your trees and shrubs grow and mature to sizes that can directly impact the lawn performance. Often levels of shade will diminish edges and other areas of the lawn. This often will define the reduction of the lawn size moving going forward. Just remember that lawns and landscapes occupy a three-dimensional space involving the horizontal, vertical and overhead spaces. Just look around and think about what is best for you, your family and the setting.Are you more interested in developing other parts of the landscape? With many of us spending more time at home over the last year plus it gave time to think about the outdoor areas. Growing our own vegetables may be a new or expanding part of the landscape with the use of raised beds or interplanting into the existing landscape. Gardening can assist in reducing stress while at the same time providing that fresh tomato, lettuce, herbs and other fun healthy produce.
What ever your decisions are enjoy the lawn and landscape. For additional information, contact your local University of Florida IFAS Extension office located in your county.