Purslane on a Calhoun County back porch. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
The biggest problem folks have with flowering potted plants in the heat of summer is remembering that they need water, lots of it. One way to work around having to remember to water every single day is to plant something that doesn’t like too much water but still can churn out a great daily flower show. For this job, there’s only one choice, Purslane (Portulaca oleracea).
Purslane is a super showy, low-growing, succulent-type annual that loves it hot and a little on the dry side. If planted in the ground, it will form a 6-8” tall flowering carpet over the surface of the soil, but I think it really shines when allowed to fill and then spill over the sides of a container! Individual purslane flowers close shop for the day in late afternoon, but cheerily pop back open as soon as day breaks the following day. For best results, make sure the container you plant in has ample drainage holes in the bottom and fill with a quality, quick-draining potting mix. After planting, top dress with a slow-release fertilizer according to the label rate and water only when the soil begins to dry out (every other day or so, generally). Plant a Purslane today!
It seems like every time I pick up a home and garden type magazine, the cover photo is dotted with flowering orchids and indoor foliage plants that are inevitably in pristine condition. However, years of experience troubleshooting issues with both my own interior plants and those for clients tell a different story. All too often, indoor potted plants languish for years, barely alive, until they finally succumb. I’ve taken several to the plant graveyard just past the edge of the back yard because of this exact scenario. In recent times though, I’ve figured out a way to mostly avoid pitiful looking indoor plants – take them outside in the warm months!
To appreciate the perks of getting your indoor plants outdoors, it’s helpful to first think about why most interior situations aren’t very conducive to plant growth. There are three primary reasons houseplants fail: not enough light, improper watering, and low humidity. Most plant species grown for interiorscapes hail from the tropics where they grow in the understory of large trees, receive bright, filtered sunlight, and experience abundant moisture and humidity. These conditions are VERY hard to mimic in the typical American house unless you huddle all your plants near windows, take steps to increase humidity (which doesn’t play super well with furniture and other household items), and really tune in your watering. Taking indoor plants outside to play in the Panhandle summers just really makes the whole situation much easier!
A Jade Plant that had languished indoors during the winter beginning to perk up outside! Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Now that you’ve made the decision to move your indoor plants out, figuring out where to site them is the next step. I’ve found that, with few exceptions, houseplants prefer to be in a bright area but away from direct sunlight – under mature trees, on a covered porch, anywhere that doesn’t get direct sunlight will do! It is also a great idea to place plants near a watering source. If a hose doesn’t easily reach the spot or it’s inconvenient to tote a watering can to them, your plants won’t get watered regularly and will suffer. You’ll be surprised how much water plants use when they’re in conditions conducive to growth so be sure to check pots every couple of days to prevent droughty conditions! Once in these new and improved growing conditions, your houseplants will also respond very well to a little extra fertilizer. A good general prescription is a topdressing of a slow-release fertilizer using the recommended label rate as soon as you bring them outside and following that up once each month with a supplemental liquid fertilizer.
Keeping houseplants happy in the Florida summer is easy and begins with getting them outside. Find a spot with bright, indirect light, keep them watered well, add a little fertilizer, and watch them grow like they never have before! For more information on growing houseplants or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office. Happy gardening!
Fasciation of Rudbeckia hirta ‘Toto Rustic’. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF IFAS Extension.
You never know what surprises are looming in your flower gardens.
This Rudbeckia in the photo to the left sported one bloom that was so different from all the others. The disk or central portion of the inflorescence was elongated and curved back on itself and created a contorted, crazy looking bloom. And then there was a yellow squash in my garden that had a leaf growing down the length of the squash. What caused these things to happen?
Fasciation in yellow summer squash. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF IFAS Extension.
This is a mutation, often genetic, but also could be caused by outside influences such as pathogens, injuries, or chemicals. Plant hormones may also play a role in this phenomenon. This mutation expresses itself as a malformation or cresting at the tip or growing point of the plant, also known as the meristem. We call this fasciation and it begins when the cells at a growing point of a plant start dividing in an uneven or asymmetrical fashion instead of the normal symmetrical pattern.
A gerbera daisy affected by fasciation. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF IFAS Extension.
There are some plants we embrace for their fasciation. A common one is cockscomb celosia that is prized for its showy crested inflorescence. Cacti and succulents more commonly exhibit fasciation and we can see it in some of the crested cacti.
Take a close look at what is happening in your garden and landscape. Plant biology is fascinating!
Cockscomb Celosia inflorescence. Photo credit: Lee Terilla 2008, some rights reserved.
Mrs. Henry C. Mills in 1966 with her African violets at the North Florida Fair
flower show. Photo by Dan Stainer/State Archives of Florida.
Growing up, as soon as I entered the fair gates, I always headed straight for the rides. If I was lucky, I was able to get an unlimited pass strapped around my wrist and didn’t need to worry about rationing any tickets. Although I usually didn’t remember the names of particular rides – they were clear in my imagination. The spaceship, the circular mini roller coaster, the alien arms… and of course, the Ferris wheel. It wasn’t until I was about a dozen rides in – and starting to feel a little queasy – that the fun houses and win-a-goldfish-by-throwing-a-ring or shoot-a-basketball-for-a-giant-stuffed-tiger games drew my attention. After that, I was ready for funnel cake. Maybe even a corn dog and an assortment of fried cheese, pickles, and the like. Inevitably, I would eat too much and be out of commission for any more rides I was hoping to squeeze in – or squeeze into! This is when I might finally make my rounds through one or two of the giant warehouse-looking buildings that lined the way to the exits, where I knew there was at least a llama or a goat to be fed at the petting zoo.
Instead of simply attending the North Florida Fair this year, submit your garden’s best for competition. Photo by North Florida Fair.
But when I started volunteering at the Leon County Animal Shelter as part of the 4-H Pet Partners at age 12, I was introduced to these buildings in a whole new light. We were assigned the task of creating papier-mâché cats and dogs to display at the fair to help build awareness of pet overpopulation. I remember my dog well – he was beagle-like, with long droopy paper ears and stiff pointy legs that I struggled to keep balanced. The day we went to set up our display, my adrenaline soared, as I knew our creations were to be judged and ribbons to be bestowed. Ever since, I no longer view the fair buildings as a last stop – rather, I relish my stroll through each of them, as they contain so many handmade treasures, many of which are adorned with blue rosettes of triumph.
The tradition of displaying and competing for the best quality handiworks at the fair goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where merchants sold and traded agricultural goods that had been grown over the summer and freshly harvested in the fall. Naturally, competitions arose during these times, as they strove for the finest products.
Today, fairs reflect the personality of an area, and nearly universally include judges who inspect home grown fruits and vegetables, flowers, preserved foods, and baked goods entered into competition by the community. The North Florida Fair awards about $80,000 in cash prizes to citizens who create and grow various items. Anyone living within the 24 counties that comprise North Florida – from the Suwannee, west to the Alabama line – is eligible to enter as many of the exhibit categories as they would like.
A youth showcasing his prize winning chicken at the North Florida Fair. Photo by Aly Donovan.
The exhibits are arranged into various departments, such as Home Agriculture, Capital City Garden Club Flower Show, Poultry, Baked Goods, and Fine Arts and Crafts. Within each department, there are various classes that are split into certain age divisions (i.e., youth only) or experience levels (i.e., amateur vs. professional). Under the Home Agriculture department there are 42 classes, including 13 classes covering fresh vegetables. The Capital City Garden Club Flower Show department has 13 classes, including annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, fruiting shrubs, trees, and vines, succulents, and much more. If you would like to submit something you’ve grown, now is the time to begin planning, as this year’s fair is set for November 8-18.
All of the details for each department and class can be found on the North Florida Fair website (http://northfloridafair.com/), under the Exhibitors tab. Pay close attention to the application and submittal deadlines for each specific category, as most items are due for judging the week prior to the fair opening.
So, let nostalgia win you over as you prepare your home-grown vegetables and flowers for submittal to the North Florida Fair. You might just earn a blue ribbon to be displayed for all fair attendees to admire, either as they walk off a full stomach in preparation for more rides, on their way to the exits, or just as they get started creating their own fond fair memories.
University of Minnesota Extension
Is your grandmother’s pass along Christmas cactus blooming really early? Do the leaf segments have “teeth” along the edges? Are the “stringy things” sticking out of the flowers yellow in color?
Well, I hate to tell you this, but that is not a Christmas cactus, (Schlumbergera bridgesii). It is a Thanksgiving cactus, (Schlumbergera truncata). You can tell the Thanksgiving cactus apart from the Christmas cactus by the shape of the leaves and flower anthers. The leaves, botanically referred to as phylloclades, are serrated on the Thanksgiving cactus. Additionally, the pollen-bearing anthers in Thanksgiving cactus flowers are yellow. Christmas cactus have smooth-edged leaves and pinkish-purple anthers.
Both of these species are native to the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil, where they are found growing in trees or on rocks. Therefore, the preferred potting media for Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti should contain about 40% perlite to ensure good drainage and aeration.
To care for your Thanksgiving cactus, allow the soil to dry out when it is not blooming. As flower buds develop, the soil should be moist to the touch. However, overwatering can kill the plant. Additionally, provide plenty of indirect light and temperatures of 60-65 degrees F.
Want to get last year’s plant to bloom again? Beginning in mid-September, it will need 12-14 hours of total darkness along with cool (60-65 degrees F) nighttime temperatures for 3-4 weeks. To achieve the light control the cactus can be placed in a closet or covered with a large brown paper bag overnight. Once buds start to form, fertilizer can be applied to encourage growth and blooms. However, flower buds will fall off with any significant changes in temperature (below 50 degrees F), light or watering.
Now, if your “Christmas cactus” doesn’t set flowers until spring, it is probably an Easter cactus, a totally different species (Rhipsalidopsis gaetner). The leaf margins of Easter cactus have small bristles and are more three-dimensional with a thick ridge on one side. Additionally, the flower are more star-shaped than the other two cacti. All three cacti species have flowers that come in a range of colors including variations of red, pink, peach, purple, orange or white.
I encountered pickleweed (Salicornia sp.) on a recent trip to Utah. I first noticed the plant growing in the bank of a pond at a salt factory. A sample was pulled for further investigation and it was determined to be some type of pickleweed. Pickleweed also happens to be a common name for a plant that grows here in Florida. The scientific name of the pickleweed found in Florida is Batis maritima. This article will focus on the pickleweed found in Utah.
A salt factory in Utah. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
A pickleweed pulled out of a pile of salt. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
As you might have guessed, pickleweed is a salt loving (halophylic) plant. It is a member of the plant family Amaranthaceae (previously Chenopodiaceae), which also includes Russian thistle (Salsola iberica) a.k.a. tumbleweed. You won’t be happy to know that Russian thistle has found its way to our beautiful Florida beaches and is spreading. At first look, pickleweed seems to have no leaves, but its central stem is surrounded by succulent, salt storing leaf tissue. It is often spoken of as the “cactus” of the Great Salt Lake since it has no visible leaves and only a smooth green stem.
Pickleweed can be found growing in both coastal and interior portions of the United States. The variety growing around the Great Salt Lake is different from the coastal varieties due to its adaptation to this extremely salty environment. The Great Salt Lake has a salt content of about 30% whereas the Gulf of Mexico has a salt content of around 3%.
Pickleweed can also be found growing in the western landscape adjacent to the Great Salt Lake. These areas contain an interesting type of soil made up of ooids. Ooids are brine shrimp feces coated with layers of aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate CaCO3). Ooids can also be found on the east coast of Florida.
Pickleweed and other plant species growing in the Utah landscape near Timpie Springs. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension.
Although you probably won’t find pickleweed (Salicornia sp.) growing in a typical Florida Panhandle landscape, you might want to give it a try in your container garden or kitchen window. As you can see in the pictures, this plant likes to be neglected. It is difficult to grow at home. It needs a good amount of nitrogen and water. And it may benefit from periodic additions of table salt (sodium chloride). It needs to be in an area that receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Seed and cuttings will be hard to come by. You will most likely have to take a trip to Utah to find a source.
Interestingly enough, some cultures use this plant as a vegetable/herb. You will need to conduct some more research if you wish to cook with pickleweed and remember to lay off the salt!