Leopard Plant is Made for the Shade

Leopard Plant is Made for the Shade

Several years ago the Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteers added a Leopard plant, Farfugium japonicum to the office demonstration gardens.  This was a new plant for me and I was immediately impressed with look and performance of this plant in a filtered shade garden.

Leopard plant’s attractive leaves and flowers make it an accent in the shade garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Although not native to the United States, Leopard plant make an interesting addition to the Florida garden.  The large green leaves can provide a tropical look throughout the entire year since it is hardy in growing zones 7-10.  An added bonus of the Leopard plant are spikes of bright yellow flowers in the fall and winter months. When you use Leopard plant as a mass planting, it certainly becomes the focus in our cooler months.

Leopard plant on display in Downtown Pensacola. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

There are many cultivars of Leopard plant and the selections with white (‘Argenteum’) or yellow (‘Aureomaculatum’) patterns on the leaves give the plant it’s common name.  There are also cultivars with curled or crinkled leaves.  All plants will thrive in partial shade with some additional water when rainfall is lacking.  The clumps will continue to enlarge so you can often share a piece with a friend after a few years.

Paths and Walks: Adventures in Nature

Paths and Walks: Adventures in Nature

Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, Santa Rosa County

There are multiple ways to creatively construct avenues for foot traffic to areas in your landscape, community and public access areas.  Over the years I have observed and enjoy many walks that curve and snake around well landscaped corners either created or provided by nature.  Paths and trails can provide educational opportunities, recreation, observation points, food collection and water management. 

Designing a path, trail and walkway can happen with the eye and adventurous mind, paper and pencil, by a professional landscaper or landscape architect.  Just remember these walkways can be changed and redirected if the environment in which they are set changes.  Trails and paths should be determined and installed by the interests and needs at hand.  Always remember to plan for who may visit these wonderous settings.  Will this be a place for adults, high energy youth, or individuals with disabilities?  Access to these areas may be challenging with transitions from walks to bridges, elevation changes, wet areas and others.  Clearly determining the purpose of these areas is important and needed.  Include others in the conversation and planning for a broader look and understanding to determine the scope of the project.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, Santa Rosa Couty

With past history of marking bike, walk and running trails this is the time of year to walk the area that will become these adventures followed by planning, construction and completion before the hot weather of summer.  Identifying and locating features to be included on a plat for these pathways must occur early in the process.  Flag plants and strategic areas to save and highlight as a part of roughing out the path.  Use signage to direct or educate.  Will the walk be on a loop back to the same location or lead to other areas?  All of this is a way to lead visitors and yourself to the next best point to enjoy.  Jot down notes and pencil a drawing of the area with all of these observed and planned spots.  Seasonal changes in the landscape along these paths are important to keep in mind and could include early emergence of flowers, spring leaves on many trees, shrubs and perennials.

Keep in mind some root removal may be needed to properly prepare the pathway subsurface, so be careful where you select a path location to reduce the impact on existing tree roots.  Enjoy your gardening adventure of hardscaping!

Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer, Santa Rosa County

The strenuous part of paths and trails is the construction involving plant removal, pruning and establishing a subsurface material before placing the final layer material to walk, run or bike on.  Check for clearing heights that will not create high obstructions for the head by walkers or bikers.  Some of this work may require the use of a tractor and rotary implement to till the walk area before placing the base material.  Be careful in selecting the appropriate final path material that reduces the chance of slipping on or tripping visitors.   Enjoy the journey, as a coworker and friend would always close with.

Rainlily: A Rewarding Bulb for Panhandle Gardeners

Rainlily: A Rewarding Bulb for Panhandle Gardeners

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!

 

 

 

Landscape  Q & A

Landscape Q & A

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/

https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/apps/

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

Edibles

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

Cogongrass: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/WG202

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

Landscape practices

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

And https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/articles/rain-garden-manual-hillsborough.pdf

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

http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/2020/10/07/extending-bloom-time/

Plant questions

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

 

Soil Compaction in the Landscape

Soil Compaction in the Landscape

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!

 

Garden Phlox:  A Passalong Plant for Modern Landscapes

Garden Phlox: A Passalong Plant for Modern Landscapes

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!