Article Written By: Khadejah Scott, Horticulture/Agriculture/Natural Resources Extension Agent, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Wakulla County
Among the notable floral species is the striking and resilient Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). With its enchanting blooms and remarkable adaptability, the coneflower has captured the attention of both nature enthusiasts and gardening enthusiasts alike. The Purple Coneflower has fascinating characteristics that thrive in our unique region.
On top of sturdy, hairy branches, this hardy perennial produces daisy-like flowers with a cone-shaped center and petals in pink, lavender, and purple hues that are either horizontal or drooping. In the spring and summer, the flowers are displayed atop sturdy, 2 – 4-foot stalks that are known to tolerate wind and rain. Nothing compares to a Purple Coneflower in full bloom.
The Purple Coneflower is an incredibly useful landscape plant, and there are several cultivars available. The Purple Coneflower’s rigid look contrasts nicely with the softness of other perennials and fine-textured plants. Because of the gorgeous blossom, the plant draws a lot of attention and works well as part of a mixed perennial border. Coneflowers are also well-suited for bulk plantings since they look stunning in drifts and draw a ton of butterflies.
Purple coneflowers prefer well-drained, acidic to slightly alkaline loam and clay soil. They thrive best in a light shade as improved drought resistance and enhanced flower and leaf color result from protection from the late afternoon sun. To encourage additional flowers, remove fading blossoms, and divide clumps every few years to maintain healthy plants. Watch out for powdery mildew and whiteflies. During damp weather, fungus-related leaf patches could emerge as well.
The Purple Coneflower stands as a remarkable testament to nature’s ingenuity and beauty. Its stunning petals, growing properties, and ability to attract a myriad of beneficial insects make it a true gem in any garden. The Purple Coneflower is more than just a visually captivating plant—it is a symbol of resilience, healing, and harmony with the natural world. For more information about Purple Coneflower, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
It’s always nice to find an easy-to-grow landscape plant that stuns with its beauty. The many varieties of Crinum lilies do just that and are a great addition to the north Florida landscape. Crinum lilies are not truly a lily, but a member of the Amaryllis family which also includes other familiar north Florida landscape plants such as onions (Allium), agapanthus (Agapanthus), daffodils (Narcissus), and other “lilies” such as spider lily (Hymenocallis) and hurricane lily (Lycoris). While there is one species of Crinum that is native (Crinum americanum), most of our cultivated species originate in Africa and/or Asia.
Crinums are considered to be among the largest of the true bulbs. Most should be treated with caution since they can be poisonous to children and pets, mostly through ingestion of plant tissue. Their leaves are typically long and strap-like with a glossy green color. The flowers are the real treat, appearing on the ends of bare stems, typically held above the plant’s foliage. The flowers can be used for cut flowers, too.
Below are some of the more common Crinums that can be successfully grown in north Florida:
Giant Crinum, or poison bulb, is the largest of the Crinums and one of the more common ones to see in the landscape. The bright white flowers with showy, purple-tinged stamens are impressive.
This Crinum is often called the milk-and-wine crinum for the white and red striped flowers.
Crinum x amabile
The Queen Emma Crinum is a hybrid of the first two – C. asiaticum and C. zeylanicum. It has the size and shape of giant Crinum with maroon-tinted flowers and leaves.
This Crinum goes by the common name natal lily and is native to the southern horn of Africa. This species has wider leaves than most with the natural flower color being a light pink. There is a white-flowered cultivar named ‘Alba’.
Crinum x powellii
This Crinum is a hybrid between C. moorei and C. bulbispermum. The most common cultivar is the ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ which has fragrant, rose-colored flowers.
In the landscape, these can be used as specimen plants, especially the giant Crinum or Queen Emma Crinum, or planted in mass. They all prefer full sun but wouldn’t mind afternoon shade, and can handle partial shade, though blooms may be less showy. Most prefer moderately-drained soil, but can handle sandy sites with irrigation, especially during dry times. These plants come from warm climates and may get zapped by our winter cold snaps. Fortunately, their bulbs, have stored energy to flush out new growth the following spring. Pests and diseases are few, with grasshoppers and leaf spots in the summer being the main concerns.
There are many hybrid Crinums available to experiment with but look for those that are hardy to Zone 8. You can read more about Crinums on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website or contact your local county extension office.
One of the more popular flowering perennials grown in the landscapes of Florida and throughout the Southeast is the daylily. This blooming perennial traveled with many of the early settlers. They brought this plant for several reasons beyond the enjoyment of the bloom display, it was considered a source of food by including the petals and buds into the cooking of specific dishes.
The daylily is an easy to grow plant that requires less management than many of the other perennials grown in the garden settings of the landscape. Daylilies are linked to the lily family but are not actually in this family, Hemerocallis in Greek is Hemero for “day’ with Callis meaning “beauty”. The passion by many professional breeders and novice growers can be seen in the many selections and varieties in the plant industry today. This plant brings interest and joy to anyone that visits your landscape gardens.
This clump forming plant can be grown in different soil types from sandy loam, clay to muck edges near wetlands. The location for best performance is sandy well drained soil with high amounts of organic matter. It has a moderate salt level tolerance lending itself as one perennial to consider in coastal settings. The best way to accomplish the levels of organic matter is to till the bed area for planting, add three to four inches of compost or well-rotted manure plus a ½ pound of 3:2:1 ratio fertilizer to a 100 square foot bed. The 3:2:1 is a Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium fertilizer recommendation. Till all of this into the previously tilled bed to a six-inch depth. This mix of sand or clay with organic matter at the six-inch soil depth places it where the roots will grow.
Daylilies multiply in several different ways from forming clumps of plants from a single plant over three to four years that can be divided into separate plants and replanted to expand the bed area for managing the color display of the original plant. Plant breeders cross pollinate between selected plants that have desirable characteristics. These characteristics may be ruffled outside edges on the petals, bright or daker petal color, a change in color from the outside portion of the flower petal to the throat area at the center of the bloom or even the height of the scape which is the stem that emerges from the leaf clusters near the base that supports the flower display.
Daylilies can be purchased at many box stores in containers and easily transplanted in the garden. Another option is to visit local daylily nurseries as they often have more named variety options with many different flower colors available. Local nurseries usually grow plants in the ground so they will need to be dug and purchased as a bareroot. When planting bareroot daylilies look at the location where the leaves emerge near the base just above root area and plant one and a half to two feet apart. Make sure to plant no deeper than at that point of root and leaf growth area known as the crown. The crown must be above the soil level for quality growth.
After planting and watering in the plants be sure to mulch the bed with three to four inches of pinestraw or bark mulch. This manages weed growth and keeps soil moisture at consistent levels reducing stress to the plant. If periods of dry weather conditions occur watering the plants will be needed to keep the plants from stressing.
The flower of the Christmas season is the poinsettia, a tropical plant from Mexico that changes its leaf color when the daylength changes. Poinsettias were originally noticed for their bright red color and are now available in many colors, shapes and sizes, thanks to decades of work by plant breeders. As much as we love them, caring for poinsettias during and after the holiday can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to extend the bloom for a longer period and encourage it to grow for the months to come!
Provide plenty of sunlight. A sunny window facing south is ideal. Be careful to not let the leaves touch the glass. Keep temperatures around 55-60F at night and 65-70F during the day.
Keep soil slightly moist on the surface. Wait until the surface feels dry before watering, then add just enough to soak in. If water collects below the pot, pour it out. Those decorative wrappers make it hard to tell, so be sure to check. However, don’t wait for wilting before watering as that is too dry. Both overwatering and underwatering can lead to wilting and excessive leaf drop. Check the soil each day.
Don’t fertilize while “blooming”. While the colored parts of poinsettias are actually modified leaves called bracts and the true flowers are the tiny yellow centers, we often refer to the entire non-green portion as a bloom. The plant can maintain its nutritional needs throughout the flowering time without additional fertilizer.
In the spring, cut the plant back, fertilize and move outside. Remember, poinsettias require temperatures to always stay above 60F. If we receive any cool nights, bring it in for the night. Let the rootball become quite dry throughout April. You may have to move it under a cover if the April showers are occurring every few days.
If you want to try your luck at re-blooming, re-pot it in a slightly larger container and cut it back to about 4” high in mid-May. Keep it in nearly full sun. A little shading in the heat of the day is helpful. Water consistently and fertilize every two weeks with a water-soluble, complete fertilizer. As it grows, you will need to pinch the plant back every six weeks or so until October, I usually remove about half of the stem that has grown out. To get coloration in time for Christmas, find something dark to cover the plant or move it to a dark location each day. The poinsettia must be in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. until the leaves start to turn color, usually 10 weeks. That means moving or covering and uncovering at the same time every day. Any deviation will delay the color change. Once you see a complete set of leaves coloring, the plant can be exposed to regular daylengths. If this sounds like too much work, spent poinsettias do make good compost and garden centers will be happy to sell you a new one!
Remember, poinsettia sap does contain a latex-like chemical that can cause allergic reactions. Small animals, young children, and adults with allergies should not handle poinsettias. If eaten, get medical attention immediately.
October is the premier wildflower month in the Panhandle. Nighttime temperatures drop, days shorten, pollinators emerge, and many native plants explode into flower. Of all the native fall-flowering Panhandle wildflowers, maybe the most striking is currently in full bloom, the Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)!
Mistflower is a low growing, spreading native perennial (1-2’ in height) found in sunny, moist areas of meadows and near rivers, ponds, and creeks throughout much of the United States from New York to Florida and even west as far as Texas and Nebraska. This common native wildflower is conspicuously one of the few native plants in our area that has blue flowers, making Mistflower easy to spot in a sea of yellow, orange, purple, pink, and white wildflowers. The flowers appear as little puffs of purply-blue due to the lack of ray florets (think the outer yellow “petals” of sunflowers), possessing only disk florets (think the inner part of sunflower heads) with long blue, fuzzy-appearing stamens. Mistflower is attractive to more than just wildflower watchers as well, it’s a magnet for nectar-seeking butterflies as well; Eastern Swallowtails, Great Purple and Juniper Hairstreaks, and others are often found feeding on the flowers.
As lovely as Mistflower is in the wild, it’s probably best left for folks enjoy there, especially those who prefer an orderly yard. Mistflower will indeed grow great in moist areas of pollinator gardens and landscapes, requiring only ample sunlight and rainfall, but it is very aggressive. Its spreading nature via its rhizomatous root system and prolific seed production often lead to it becoming a weedy nuisance in more manicured landscapes. But, if chaos and fall bursts of blue erupting at random throughout your garden don’t bother you, by all means, seek out Mistflower for purchase through seed catalogs and local native nurseries. For more information on Mistflower and other fall-blooming native wildflowers, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office! Happy Gardening.
Turfgrass remains a popular groundcover for most home landscapes. Perennial peanut offers potential as a turfgrass companion in North Florida. Learn the pros and cons of using perennial peanut with existing turfgrass with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.