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
The lawn is a source of pride for most and anything out of the ordinary causes alarm. Now image finding something that looks like lumpy green jelly in your turfgrass and it doesn’t go away. You try raking it, spraying it, covering it, and it still comes back time and time again. One of the things we see in late spring/early summer turf is a reemergence of cyanobacteria (Nostoc), sometimes confused with algae because of green coloring and this remains all summer long.
Dehydrated cyanobacteria in a centipedegrass lawn.
Unlike normal bacteria that needs a food source, cyanobacteria contains chlorophyll and produces its own food source through photosynthesis which allows it to grow on bare sandy soils, fabric mats, concrete sidewalks, plastic, and yes even your lawn. Besides the green pigment, it also produces a blue pigment and is why we call it cyanobacteria which means blue-green bacteria. In addition to photosynthesis, cyanobacteria can also fix nitrogen, and are believed to produce cyanotoxins and allelopathic compounds which can affect plant growth around them.
Cyanobacteria are considered one of earth’s oldest organism and they have tremendous survival capabilities. They can dry out completely, be flat, flaky, black-green dried particles in your lawn and once rehydrated, spring back to life. If you happen to notice it spreading throughout your yard, remember that pieces of the organism can stick to your wet shoes or lawnmower tires and be transported unintentionally.
The question then becomes how to control the cyanobacteria and reclaim your turfgrass. The first solution is to have a healthy lawn. Cyanobacteria likes poorly-drained compacted soils. This same condition is unfavorable to turf growth and why you end up with bare spots and establishment. Reduce soil compaction by using a core aerator, and then adding organic matter. This will increase drainage, gas exchange, and encourage microorganism populations which I like to call soil pets. Spike aerators only push the soil particles aside and don’t really loosen as well. Try to reduce low lying areas in the lawn where water sits after rainfall and irrigation. You might have to till and reestablish those areas of the yard.
The same cyanobacteria pictured above 24 hours after being rehydrated in a petri dish of standing water.
Controlling the amount of water Mother Nature gives us and humidity levels during summer is not possible, but you can control your irrigation whether it be automatic (sprinkler system) or hand-watered. During the rainy season, you should be able to get by with only rainfall and shut off your system. If needed during extended dry weeks, it is easy enough to turn the system back on. It is thought that cyanobacteria likes phosphorus which is another reason to use little to no phosphorus in your lawn fertilizers.
As you begin to rid your lawn of cyanobacteria, remember when fully hydrated it forms a slippery surface so be careful walking on it. Cultural practices will be more effective in controlling the spread versus using chemical methods. Cultural solutions are safer for your lawn, yard and all of the wildlife that visits. If you need help with your cyanobacteria, please contact your local Extension office and we are always happy to assist.
A special thanks to Dr. Bryan Unruh, UF/IFAS for his assistance in identifying the cyanobacteria.
For additional information, please read the sources listed below.
Biology and Management of Nostoc (Cyanobacteria) in Nurseries and Greenhouses. H. Dail Laughinghouse IV, David E. Berthold, Chris Marble, and Debalina Saha
Rain, Overwatering Can Cause Slippery Algae to Pop Up in Turfgrass. C. Waltz
Nostoc. N.J. Franklin
Our trees and vines are flowering and lawns are starting to green up naturally, but one glance at the calendar and it is still early spring. The last official frost date for the Florida panhandle can be into April depending on location. We know our day time and night time temperatures are still fluctuating every other day. We also know the stores and nurseries are stocked with shelves and pallets of fertilizer. So the big question is when can I fertilizer my lawn?
Overseeded ryegrass on a centipedegrass lawn.
My answer after years of practice is always it depends, but my non-scientific rule of thumb to homeowners is wait until you mow three weeks in a row and make sure you’re past the last frost dates for your area. If you need to mow three weeks in a row for height, then your lawn is actively growing and most likely we are into a temperature range good for fertilizer applications. If you apply fertilizer to a lawn that is dormant, the fertilizer will not be taken up by your roots and it can leach below the root zone wasting money while not improving the lawn and possibly causing environmental concerns.
With that said, there are some factors to consider. We always recommend doing a soil test first. This can be done in advance of spring. Your test results might indicate having sufficient nutrients in the soil, so not applying would save you money and the lawn would still look good. The soil test will also indicate what nutrients are in excess or lacking, then you can apply only the nutrients needed.
I have found that fertilizer is still very much misunderstood. When I ask homeowners whether they consider fertilizer to be medicine or a stressor, most will answer medicine and we all know if a little medicine is good, then a bit more is better. However, it is more accurate to think of fertilizer as a chemical stressor. If my lawn is unhealthy, then I force my lawn to grow and it can further weaken my plants. Think of it like this, if you’re not feeling well at night before you go to bed, should you consume one of those big energy drinks? Not if you want to sleep and hopefully feel better in the morning. Apply fertilizer when the lawn is ready and capable of having a positive response when spring fully arrives.
Wakulla County Extension office mixed species turf.
Here are some items you should know before you fertilize the lawn. Fertilizers used in Florida should have a license number that begins with F followed by a series of numbers. It is important to check your fertilizers before you apply. You need to know what type of turfgrass you have in your lawn. We have a lot of bahiagrass and centipedegrass lawns in the panhandle. Each will require a different regiment. You are only allowed to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application and you should never apply more than the recommended rate. I always refer to a childhood fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” when thinking about plant health. Slow and steady makes for a better lawn in the long run. This means you need to measure your lawn, understand how to calculate the nitrogen and then apply correctly with the right equipment and spreader patterns. We also recommend very little phosphorus (the middle number on the fertilizer bag 15-0-15) for Florida lawns. Our soils are usually sufficient and this is another item your soil test results will confirm.
Remember, your local Extension office is always here to help especially making sure you treat the lawn right. Think before you apply because your long-term goal is improving the lawn quality.
The Florida Fertilizer Label (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss170) and General Recommendations for Fertilization of Turfgrasses on Florida Soils (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh014). T. W. Shaddox, assistant professor; UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep236). Laurie E. Trenholm, professor, Extension turfgrass specialist, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh006). L. E. Trenholm, professor, turfgrass specialist, Department of Environmental Horticulture; J. B. Unruh, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; and J. L. Cisar, retired professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Centipedegrass for Florida Lawns (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh009). J. B. Unruh, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; L. E. Trenholm, associate professor, turfgrass specialist, Environmental Horticulture Department; and J. L. Cisar, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Flowers can often be fickle in the landscape, so, this year, I decided to add a shot of no-maintenance color to my landscape with foliage plants! The benefits of ornamentals that don’t need flowers to put on a show are many. Their water and fertility needs are often less because they don’t have to support the large energy and irrigation requirements the flowering process demands. They don’t need deadheading to look their best and they lend an awesome texture that is overlooked in many landscapes. My summertime foliage plant of choice provides all those things in a small, bright yellow package; it’s a widely sold selection of Duranta called ‘Gold Mound’.
Mass of ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta in the author’s landscape.
‘Gold Mound’ Duranta is a small shrub known for its chartreuse to bright yellow foliage and generally grows 24” or so tall and wide in the Panhandle, allowing it to fit in nearly any landscape. ‘Gold Mound’ has been around in the horticulture trade a long time and is a popular perennial shrub in the southern parts of Florida. It was recognized as the Florida Nursery, Growers, and Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) plant of the year in 2005 and regularly occupies a spot in the color displays of big box and local nurseries, even in the Panhandle, however, despite these attributes, ‘Gold Mound’ is a rare find in Northwest Florida landscapes. That needs to change!
In our neck of the woods, Duranta ‘Gold Mound’ is incredibly low maintenance. I planted a grouping of thirteen specimens near the end of my driveway to provide a consistent season long splash of color to complement the fleeting blooms of the spring flowering shrubs, the drab greenery of the neighbor’s lawn and the on-again, off-again ‘Drift’ Roses they share the bed with. The result has been awesome! I watered frequently until the small shrubs were established and on their own, with no irrigation since. I fertilized at planting with a slow release, polymer coated fertilizer and have not had to help them along with subsequent applications. Even better, despite our frequent rainfall and heat/humidity, no pests or diseases have come knocking. Just because I enjoy gardening doesn’t mean I need a landscape full of divas and I can count on ‘Gold Mound’ to not need pampering.
Incredible chartreuse foliage of ‘Gold Mound’.
Maybe my favorite part of ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta in the Panhandle is that it isn’t permanent. Duranta is a native of the Caribbean tropics and is not particularly cold hardy, most Northwest Florida winters knock it back hard, if not outright killing it. Therefore, ‘Gold Mound’ is best enjoyed here as an annual, planted when the weather warms in the spring, enjoyed until the first frost, then pulled up and discarded. Easy peasy. No long-term commitments required. My uncle, the chainsaw gardener, doesn’t even have to chop it back! Just compost the plants each winter or toss them in the trash, hit up your local nursery the next spring for some new plants and do it all over again. Though it has to be replanted each year, Duranta ‘Gold Mound’ won’t break the bank. The generic ‘Gold Mound’ is commonly sold in 4” containers for just a few dollars apiece in the annual section of plant nurseries, making it a very affordable option, especially compared to some of the new, designer perennials it competes with.
Though some landscape designers recommend just using a single specimen of ‘Gold Mound’ here and there for small pops of color, I prefer using groupings of the plant. I’ve seen successful plantings of ‘Gold Mound’ massed in large groups to create annual color beds at key points in landscapes and also planted across the front of a bed to complement darker foliaged backdrop or foundation plants, such as Boxwood or Loropetalum. Regardless of how you decide to use them in your yard, I don’t think you can go wrong with adding some color pizazz to your landscape with the inexpensive, low-maintenance, Florida-Friendly plant, ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta. Happy gardening!
Sunflowers, Helianthus spp., are a great choice for gardeners who are looking for some cheerful color in their landscape. Here in Florida, we have the main ingredient for success, lots of sunshine!
‘Skyscraper’ Sunflower bloom. Photo courtesy of Ray Bodrey.
Sunflowers are short-lived annuals. The average time between planting and bloom is roughly 65 days. You can typically plant sunflowers in Florida beginning in late winter until early fall. Only the coldest months cause problems, and for most years that’s only November – January. Sunflowers can be planted almost anywhere there is full sun. The major selling point with sunflowers is, of course, the impressive blooms (figure 1). These yellow to sometimes orange or red-petaled flowers develop a central seed disc, with most variety’s flowers having approximately an 8” diameter.
When planting, you may choose to plant in narrow rows with close seed spacing in order to cull weaker plants later. A final row and seed spacing of 2’-3’ is recommended for full height and development of most varieties. However, you may also choose to plant in a bed, using a close pattern as seen in the photo below. In any event, sunflowers are easy to propagate by seed and are very low maintenance. Occasionally, powdery mildew and spittle bugs can be a nuisance. A general garden fungicide and insecticide will help if problems occur.
‘Skyscraper’ sunflowers planted on close spacing. Photo courtesy Ray Bodrey.
Sunflowers are available in many varieties, consisting of different color blooms and plant sizes. These sizes range from dwarf (1’-3’) to tall (10’-15’) varieties. You may wish to stake taller varieties at some point, as plants will tend to lean with no wind break in place. Here’s a few garden variety common names to look for: ‘Sunbright’, ‘Sonja’, ‘Sunrich Lemon’, ‘Sunrich Orange’ and ‘Autumn beauty’. Seed companies also have mixes available in packets. For tall plants, ‘Mammoth’ or ‘Skyscraper’ varieties will do the trick.
If you are fond of the sunflower bloom and looking for a groundcover, there are a couple of native perennials that fit this category. Beach sunflower, Helianthus debilis or swamp sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius, are groundcovers/ornamentals for landscapes and thrive in dry, hot climates and in a range of soil types. They also are great pollinator attractors.
For more information on growing sunflowers, contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article and links to other publications on sunflowers can be found at the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/sunflowers.html
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.