Q: I have some bush daisy plants and right now they are looking pretty sad. Can I prune them now?
A: Several people have called me in the last two weeks asking about pruning various perennials, shrubs and trees. Many people, like you, have said the plants look poorly this time of year and they want to prune them down to the ground. As a general rule, dead limbs can be removed from trees and shrubs any time of year. Ideally, it is best to prune plants just after they have finished blooming or fruiting but most perennials require little or no formal pruning. For instance, azaleas should be pruned in the late spring or early summer just after they have finished flowering. Pruning now would cause them to lose buds for flowering next year. Your African Bush Daisy would survive severe pruning now but if we experience unseasonably warm weather your plant would be fooled into thinking it should put out new growth. This new growth would be vulnerable if temperatures drop suddenly, which is very probable. The new growth would freeze and damage the plant. It is best to take a “grin and bear it” attitude with perennials for now. Refrain from pruning them until we are certain the threat of frost is over. I know your next question will be regarding the exact date. Well, we need to be somewhat flexible. Most experts agree the threat of frost is over in Northeast Florida sometime in middle March or the beginning of April. I know it is difficult to see the landscape looking so poorly but it will not take long before things will be green and blooming. So, think about setting aside your pruning shears this time of year – have them sharpened instead.
Q: My sister-in-law is always talking about things which leave me in the dark. The other day she was talking about some plant called ageratum. I never heard of such a plant. What can you tell me about it?
A: Don’t worry about not knowing plant names – there are just too many to become proficient at all of them. I don’t even know them all and this is my full time job! Think of this as an opportunity to expand your knowledge. Ageratum is a fairly large group of plants (about 60) and the more common name is flossflower. Most ageratum produce flowers for only one growing season which would classify them as annuals. There are a few ageratums which have more than one growing season and we would classify them as perennials. Ageratum flowers range in color from white to pink to blue and purple. Native to Central and South America, they often produce loads of seed making them a favorite of gardeners as they easily propagate in the flower bed year to year. The photo is from North Carolina State University.
Q: My neighbor gave me some gorgeous pink and white amaryllis for Christmas. She told me they could be planted in the yard. How do I take care of these beautiful plants?
A: The following information was gleaned from a University of Florida/IFAS publication titled, “Amaryllis” by Dr. Sydney Brown and Dr. Robert Black. The complete document web link is attached below. Amaryllis bulbs can be planted in the ground anytime between September and January. Amaryllis plants do best in light or dappled shade. In heavy shade, they will be thin, spindly and flower poorly. These plants require well-drained soils amended with organic matter or compost. Use slow-release forms of fertilizer to minimize leaching of nutrients into water resources. Apply 2-3 light applications of fertilizer during growing season, which is March through September. Plant the bulbs 12 to 15 inches apart with the neck of the bulb protruding above the ground. Water newly planted amaryllis and keep them moist but not waterlogged until the plants are well-established. The bulbs may be left in the ground for several years or dug and reset every September or October. It is not necessary to dig, separate, and replant each year, but doing so will encourage uniform flowering and larger blooms. Digging also provides an opportunity to discard unhealthy bulbs, to remove young offsets (bulblets) and to amend the bed with organic matter. Control weeds by spreading a 2-inch layer of mulch over the bed at planting time and remove any that appear. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP060
Q: What is this white stuff on my amaryllis plants I am growing in my enclosed patio?
A: I believe they are mealy bugs which are soft-bodied insects with a piercing-sucking mouthpart. They produce a covering of clumps of white, waxy threads. A by-product of mealy bug feeding is sticky honeydew which coats infested foliage providing an excellent place for growth of the black sooty mold. This black coating further renders affected plants unsightly. Some mealy bug species may produce 100-300 eggs enclosed within an egg sac composed of waxy secretions produced by the female. Clean off as much of them as you can using a damp paper towel and apply insecticidal soap. Please follow the directions on the label and reapply as the label directs.
Q: What can you tell me about the plant called the grape soda plant? My friend says I should plant it. Can we successfully grow it here?
A: Grape soda plant? I think she might be referring to the annual Angelonia. Apparently, if you crush the leaves it will put off a smell similar to a grape soft drink. Angelonia come in a wide variety of colors from white to pink to deep purple. If we have really mild winters, it is possible for it to overwinter and stray another year. Some people call this plant the summer snapdragon because it can handle the warmer climates. It is a very pretty upright flower and produces flowers from late spring through the summer. Angelonia prefers a slightly acid, well-drained soil, with a pH around 5.5 – 6.2. They will need some room to spread so plant them about 12-16 inches apart. They can reach heights up to 3 feet, depending on the variety and will probably require weekly watering to keep them healthy through the summer heat. Cut the back to half their height about half way through the summer and they will produce more blooms. A light application of a complete fertilizer after this pruning would be beneficial. Angelonia is perfect as a tall filler plant in containers and is often used as a cut flower. This annual can be found at most any local garden center.
Q: I am getting conflicting information from the internet about Angelonia which I see in the garden centers now. Some sites say it is an annual and others say it is a perennial. Which is it?
A: Well this is definitely a loaded question because in some environments one man’s annual is another man’s perennial. How is that possible? Well much depends upon the local climate but in general, Angelonia augustifolia or Summer snapdragon is considered an annual. This means, the plant has one growing season in which to produce flowers and seeds. This growing season may last a few weeks or months or possibly survive one winter if the winter is mild enough and the plant is in a protected area. Angelonia is a pretty little plant with flower colors ranging from white to speckle to deep purple with flower production occurring from late spring to early fall. Angelonia is originally from Central and Latin America. It flowers best in full sun, requires normal watering (1 – 2 times a week), and grows between 12-24 inches tall. When flowers are clipped, Angelonia produces a pleasant grape soda aroma – not a bad smell on a hot, July afternoon! They can be propagated by cuttings which will take about 7-14 days to root. They need full sun to produce their flowers and will get long and leggy if placed in shady sites. One last thing - be careful about trusting things written on the internet. Try to stay with educational sites such as http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/, Nassau County Extension office website: http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu or any national Extension website. Going to the Florida sites work best as they will provide information specifically for our area. Of course, you can always contract me regarding plants, trees, grass or insects. I am happy to help.
Q: Is Beach Sunflower a perennial or an annual?
A: Beach Sunflower, Helianthus debilis, is a spreading perennial producing attractive, small sunflower-like flower heads which bloom throughout the year. This is a terrific plant for attracting a variety of birds and butterflies. It reaches up to 18 inches tall but spreads up to four feet wide. It should be grown in full sun and has good salt tolerance. Beach Sunflower has been used in dune areas to reduce wind erosion but also works well in the homeowner landscape. It is not picky about soil type which works well for new subdivisions where fill dirt may have been used. It is a good choice for those small strips of land between the sidewalk and road which are difficult to irrigate and fertilize properly. Beach Sunflower is very drought tolerant and will succumb to root rot if watered too heavily. Err on the side of too little water rather than too much. There are many color variations on the flower which range from purple to pink to yellow. Beach Sunflower has no major insect or disease issues. It will die back during cold winters but reseeds and will return when temperatures rise in the spring. http://hort.ufl.edu/shrubs/HELDEBA.PDF
Q: I have a place on the beach and I want to plant something that will help me reduce the erosion along the dunes but also have pretty flowers. I will not be able to water it so it has to be hardy enough to survive. Do you have any ideas?
A: Even with the limitations you gave me, I have an idea of a plant that will be well suited for the site. Consider using Beach sunflower, Helianthus debilis. This plant is low growing reaching heights of only three to four feet which would not block your view of the beach. It spreads readily three to four feet in all directions, which should help prevent the loss of sand from your dune area. Beach sunflower is deciduous which means it is not evergreen. It will probably die back during cold weather but should quickly return when spring arrives. However, when winters are mild, some parts of the plant may stay green. If you decide to use it for covering the dunes, Beach sunflower should be planted as soon as possible as it will require time to establish before cooler temperatures occur. This plant is often carried by local nurseries although you may have some difficulty finding it at franchise garden centers. It grows quickly and tolerates most any kind of soil. Beach sunflower is highly drought tolerant and has a good salt tolerance. It should be planted in full sun and will bloom pretty yellow, daisy-like flowers from spring through the fall. You will need to water it initially for a week or two but once it is established, it should not require any irrigation except what it receives from natural rainfall. Attached is a publication from the University of Florida/IFAS with more specific information regarding Beach sunflower. http://hort.ufl.edu/shrubs/HELDEBA.PDF
Q: I noticed these wildflowers growing along a wooded area near my home and they look similar to the “Whirling Butterfly” plant also called Gaura which I have purchased at a local garden center. Do you know what they might be called?
A: Believe it or not, scientists often develop ornamental plants found in retail stores from the native, wild specimens growing in our natural areas. The ornamental plant called Whirling Butterflies, Gaura lindheimeri, most often has white flowers which are produced on long, thin stalks making the flower appear to be a butterfly flitting on the breeze. There are other common cultivars of G. lindheimeri such as ‘Corrie’s Gold’, ‘Pink Cloud’ and ‘Crimson Butterflies’ which may be found at your local plant nursery. The cultivated ornamental gaura plants listed above range in heights from 2 – 4 feet. It would be important to know the potential mature height as the shorter ones should be planted in front of the taller ones. The wildflower photo you sent me might be Slender Gaura or Slender Stalk Beeblossom, Gaura filipes. It is difficult to be certain but most of these plants are commonly known as beeblossom. I have attached a photograph I took from a cluster found locally at Egan’s Greenway a few days ago. As you can see, the plant in the photo is similar to yours. Gaura or beeblossom plants, as their name suggests, attract bees which makes them a fun addition to any home garden. They fit well in any informal garden area that receives full sun and requires very little water or tending.
Beef Steak Begonia
Q: What can you tell me about the Beef Steak begonia?
A: The beef steak begonia, Begonia erythrophylla, is an example of a rhizomatous begonia. This begonia would be better if grown as a house plant as it prefers temperatures well above freezing. If you decide to plant it in the ground, then it would need to be covered with the understanding it may not recover if winter temperatures stay too cold for too long. This particular begonia has a heavy, succulent stem that grows just above the soil surface and sends out adventitious roots. These begonias produce flower stalks of many small flowers well above the foliage. Many different leaf color patterns occur, the leaves have various shapes, leaf margins range from entire to deeply lobed and many have hairy leaves.
Q: What are the white wildflowers growing along the
roadside all around town? They look like small daisies.
A : You are probably referring to the White Beggar-ticks (Bidens alba) plant. Beggar-tick is not a very flattering name for such a sweet looking flower but it was named because the seed contains barbs. The barbs give the seed the ability to attach to animal fur or clothing which in turn allows the plant to propagate in other areas. This propagation ability explains why you see it all over the roadside areas. Beggar-ticks are found throughout Florida and bloom from the summer through fall in North Florida.
Q: What are the beautiful yellow flowers growing along the roadside?
A: The wildflowers you are referring to are probably Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, or Florida Tickweed. Florida tickweed is not a very attractive name for such a lovely flower but the word tickweed is given to any number of daisy-like flowers common to North America. This plant is found abundantly throughout the United States except Nevada and New Mexico. Its normal habitat is open woods, fields, and roadsides. Rudbeckia can tolerate a variety of soil conditions and is moderately drought tolerant. This plant prefers full sun but can tolerate some light shade which is the reason you may find it along the forest edge. Rudbeckia is a favorite nectar plant of many of our local butterflies. Some species are annual while others are biennial or perennial. The golden yellow-orange flower is about 3 inches across and the plant can grow over 3 feet tall. If you want to propagate from seed, be sure to keep them high enough in the soil to allow them light exposure as they can only germinate in the light. Please go to the Florida Wildflower Council website listed below where you will be able to look at a variety of Florida wildflowers. Many of these flowers are easy to propagate and grow well in our sandy soils. They provide food for wildlife and of course they are beautiful.
Q: My has seemingly betrayed me this year - I have grown this plant successfully both North and South (Amelia Island), with flowering from late/spring, early summer through the fall; this year I have the orange-yellow with the dark center (probably one of the hybrids?). After a good, but not profuse bloom this spring, I have had no blooms. I am growing four plants that I have trained up a water oak, each at a "compass corner", each with its own planter; plant has now reached over 8 feet on all sides of the tree. They get partial shade until about 10, sun from 10 to about 2, partial shade thereafter. I have fertilized with miracle grow as well as, alternately, osmocote with some milorganite ( 6-2-0) occasionally; other than the small amount of nitrogen in the milorganite, I've used fertilizer intended for flowering plants. Any idea why I'm getting no flowers?
A: Regarding the blooming of Thunbergia Alata also called Black-eyed Susan or Clock vine; you may have two contributing factors limiting the amount of blooms. It may need more direct sunlight and it may be receiving too much nitrogen. Eliminate the fertilizer, which may be increasing the production of foliage but at the expense of blooms. The increased number of blooms in the spring may have been the result of the trees having less dense foliage. This plant thrives in direct sunlight therefore may continue to climb in order to obtain the desired sunlight. If possible transplant it in an area where it can receive the maximum sunlight and reduce the amount of fertilizer next year. Perhaps an arbor would work better? One additional note, it prefers loose, well-drained soil but likes the soil to remain slightly moist.
Q: Would you be able to identify this wildflower for me? It is growing all over the conservation area behind my house.
A: I found this wildflower in one of our reference books. Blackroot, Pterocaulon pycnostachyum, is native to pine flatwoods and sandhills of Florida and on the coastal plains of the Carolinas and westward to Louisiana. It often grows in moist, shady sites to dry areas in full sun. Blackroot is a member of the aster family and the sole species in Florida in this genus. The only other member of this genus in North America, wand blackroot (P. virgatum), is quite rare and only found in Louisiana and Texas. An unusual characteristic of black root (and where it gets its name) is the tuberous black roots. These roots allow the plant to store large amounts of food and survive prolonged periods of drought. It is similar to the tuberous roots of dahlia, tuberous begonia, and sweet potato. The foliage is distinctive. The stems and undersides of the linear leaves are densely covered by silvery "hairs", and the stems are conspicuously winged. The upper surface of the leaves is deep green in color and somewhat shiny. Propagation is by seeds. The flowers are attractive to a variety of butterflies such as the Gray Hairstreak, Whirlabout Skipper, and Zebra Swallowtail. The botanical name of the flower spike is spiciform – I added this note for all you botanical nerds like me.
Q: I am seeing a very pretty purple wildlflower growing along the roadside here in Northeast Florida, what is it?
A: I believe you are referring to the blue mist flower (possibly Conoclinium coelestinum), which is a common wildflower found throughout most of the eastern part of the United States to New York and Canada, westward to Texas. It prefers moist soil, tolerates sun to partial shade and is the perfect hiding site for small to medium birds and animals. Blue mistflower is a perennial which propagates by underground rhizomes as well as prolific number of seeds which makes it a difficult plant to keep in one area. The seeds are easily spread by wind and animals but a gardener with a keen eye can collect them before they spread to other areas. For those gardeners who do not mind a less fussy garden – this perennial is a wonderful addition. It looks very similar to annual ageratum but the flower color is more intense. The flowers are made up of a very pretty, purple-blue color but it has no rays (or petal-like structures). Blue mist flower grows to about 2-3 feet tall with abundant blooms appearing in the fall (late September to October). It will be somewhat shorter and less colorful if it does not receive sufficient water. With all the rain we have received this year, it is no wonder blue mist flower is in its full glory this fall. Its cold hardiness zone is 4-11.
Q: I saw some pretty purple-blue flowers blooming in one of your small median areas at the demonstration garden. What can you tell me about this plant?
A: Blue wild indigo, Baptisia australis, is most likely the plant to which you are referring. We only have a two of these perennial plants but the spring bloomer is so pretty, it is surprising more people have not added it to their garden. Our local native nursery has the white variety, Baptisia alba, but the blue is so lovely I wanted everyone to enjoy it. Blue Wild indigo can be grown in full sun or partial shade, needs well drained soils, and it is hardy in cold hardiness zones up to zone 9. It is native to the eastern part of the United States and can be readily found in meadows along many mountainous hillsides. It can reach heights up to 4 feet and essentially pest and care free. Early American settlers used the sap from the plant as dye although the color is not as pronounced as a true indigo. The easiest way to propagate is through seed as the plant does not divide or transplant easily. Blue wild indigo does not become “weedy” or invasive which makes it a good choice in smaller garden plots. In Indiana and Maryland, this wildflower is on the endangered list while Ohio considers it rare. It carries the endorsement of the Federal Highway Administration as suitable for roadside planting in several states.
Q: Can I dip my bulbs in fungicide to prevent them from getting diseased?
A: The best way to prevent the occurrence of bulb rots is to make the sure the planting site is prepared so it will be well drained. Avoid planting in areas that are poorly drained or that collect water. You can dip them in a fungicide however if your site is too wet the bulbs are ill fated and will succumb to disease. Plant at the proper depth, encourage good air circulation, and manage water needs. Plants that are growing vigorously are best able to resist diseases. T o minimize convenient entry points for pathogens, take care to avoid wounding when handling bulbs. Buy from a reputable source and examine bulbs for any bruises or other damage. Fungal microorganisms often gain entrance through wounds created by insects or improper handling of the bulbs. Extended periods of wet weather favor infection. Diagnosis of below-ground problems involves hands-on investigation. Symptomatic plants need to be dug and examined. Diseased bulbs usually are discolored, soft, and may emit a foul odor. In some cases, there may be a black or bluish mold on the bulbs. Diseased bulbs should be discarded, along with some of the surrounding soil. One other option would be to plant Louisiana Iris or Chinese Orchid which tolerate wet feet.
Q: Do I need to dig up my caladiums every year to keep them alive?
A: Caladiums need high organic, acid soils with consistent moisture but not too wet or soggy. Most of them do not like temperatures lower than the mid sixties. Therefore, it might work best to dig them up from the soil if you plan to keep them in the same site from year to year. Any diseased or damaged tubers should be destroyed. Healthy tubers should be cleaned of soil, dried and placed in a well ventilated area where temperatures will remain between 70°F and 90°F. Under these conditions, the tubers may sprout new leaves but they should not be planted outside until the outdoor soil temperature remains consistently above 65°F. Some gardeners in Northeast Florida treat caladiums as annuals and replace them from year to year. Other gardeners have been successful at leaving the tubers in the ground but covering them with mulch to keep them warm during cooler times. Those living along the coast of Florida may have good success leaving caladiums in the ground under certain conditions such as protected, shady sites. If you really love the variety caladiums can give you, consider growing them in containers. This will make it easier to bring them inside from the cold during winter months. I have given you a lot of options; try any combination of these to determine what works best for you. The most updated information regarding caladiums from UF/IFAS is found in the publication “Caladiums as Potted and Landscaped Plants”.
Q: I grew up working around the garden with my grandmother and she always had caladiums planted around her trees. I had forgotten about them but I have been noticing a resurgence of them in local gardens. What can you tell me about them? I also have very little shade, are there caladiums I can grow?
A: Caladiums are members of the aroid family. People love to grow caladiums for their colorful leaves in pots, hanging baskets or just about anywhere around shrubs or trees. Potted caladiums can instantly add color and interest in any shade to full sun area. In landscapes, I believe they work best when grown in massive plantings. Their bright colors and unique patterns catch your attention immediately! There are few plants to rival the beauty of caladiums especially when you consider how easy they are to grow. Caladiums offer many wonderful benefits to you, either as a novice or experienced gardener. Plant types range from the large fancy-leaf types to the short strap-leaf types. Some fancy-leaf types are sold as dwarf cultivars since they are much shorter plants but have broad leaves. By choosing the right cultivar and container size or shape, many combinations and effects can be achieved. Caladiums grow best with high soil moisture and low (acid) pH soils. There are cultivars with the ability to be grown in full sun; for example, fancy -leaved cultivars ‘Aaron’, ‘Candidum Junior.’, ‘Carolyn Whorton’, ‘Florida Elise’, ‘Florida Fantasy’, ‘Pink Cloud’, ‘Red Flash’. The strap-leaved cultivars ‘Florida Red Ruffles’, ‘Florida Irish Lace’, ‘Florida White Ruffles’, and ‘Florida Sweetheart’ and ‘Pink Gem’. For more information on growing caladiums in Florida check out the brochure by the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research Center: http://caladiums.ifas.ufl.edu/CaladiumsBrochure.pdf
Q: I have this pretty vine in a wooded area behind my house. The flowers are purple and they are about an inch long. They look similar to a large pea flower. Do you have any idea what they might be?
A: The flowers you described are probably one of the Butterfly pea vines in the genus Centrosema or Clitoria. This deciduous vine produces flowers from late spring through the summer. Butterfly pea grows in full sun to partial shade which attracts wildlife such as birds and butterflies. Just today, as I was identifying trees in one of our local parks, I saw a Zebra longwing drawing nectar from its flower. Butterfly pea prefers acid, sandy soils commonly found in this area. You can propagate it easily by collecting seeds. If you decide to plant it in your yard, it might be best to keep it away from sprinkler heads. Consider giving the Butterfly pea plenty of room to grow or a trellis to climb. This plant can be found as far west as Illinois, north to New Jersey and south to the Virgin Islands.
Q: I found a wildflower with clusters of light purple flowers behind my house which is near Egan’s Creek marsh. Do you know what it is?
A: I was glad you brought me photos of it. I went back and looked for it myself then sent my own photos to the University of Florida. They identified the wildflower as most likely camphorweed in the genus Pluchea. It is often found in bogs, woodlands, pastures, swamps and floodplains. It is native to North America and a common wildflower in Florida. The common name “camphorweed” comes from the plant emitting a camphor-like odor when crushed or broken. The wildflower blooms from late summer to early fall. It is listed as endangered in Ohio and Maryland. Camphorweed, like so many other wildflowers, are a food source for birds and butterflies.
Q: What are the vines with bright yellow flowers I see blooming now?
A: The vine you are describing is most likely Carolina jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens, and also called Yellow jessamine or Carolina jessamine. This vine is found in forest or natural areas in open woods and thickets. Carolina jasmine is native to the United States and found in most areas along the eastern Seaboard. Although it can be weedy in an ideal environment, it is not invasive. The sunny yellow, tubular flowers will be in higher production in full sun which is why the vine grows to the top of trees and shrubs – it is seeking the most sun possible. There is a double-flowered cultivar called 'Pride of Augusta' (sometimes known as 'Plena') which has a longer blooming period. Carolina jasmine would be a good vine to grow on arbors if the area received a good amount of sun exposure. All parts of the plant are poisonous and it can be fatal if eaten. It can grow in cold hardiness zones 7-9, prefers moist, well drained acid soils.
Q: I have a vine in my yard that has very feathery seed heads. Do you have any idea what the plant might be called?
A: The feathery seeds from the clematis vine are very attractive even though the flowers are no longer present. Clematis vines are among the most decorative and spectacular of flowering vines. They are a varied group of mostly woody, deciduous vines, though Clematis armandii is evergreen. There is great variety in flower form, color, bloom season, foliage effect and plant height.The old saying about clematis growth is, "The first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap." Growth may seem slow as the plant builds its root system, but once established, clematis are strong growers. Avoid planting in extremely wet locations as they can be prone to root decays. The site should be open enough to allow for air movement around the plants, but protection from strong winds is also desirable. Provide support for the vine but it should not be grown directly against the home. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Clematis armandii can be grown in cold hardiness zones 7-9. This plant tolerates full sun to partial shade. Irrigate vines deeply once a week during dry seasons. Renew mulch to a 2-inch depth in late spring after the soil has warmed unless a groundcover or other method is used to cool the root environment. Work a good general fertilizer gently into the soil surface in spring. Do not fertilize clematis during flowering. In the autumn, a mulch of well-rotted manure or compost will be beneficial.
Q: What can you tell me about the Kaffir lily?
A: This lily is better names Clivia, Clivia minata. It is a true bulb and can be planted any time of year just below soil surface. If planted too deeply it may never bloom or reach its full potential. The bulbs should be placed about 9-12 inches apart in rich, organic soil. It tolerates a wide pH soil range but does not like the soil too moist. The orange to scarlet colored flowers are produced in clusters, similar to amaryllis. It will bloom more freely if slightly confined so growing it in a container will work well. This plant is considered a tender perennial in our zone 8b-9a but it has been grown here with a good deal of success. This bulb is often difficult to find but is common in older homes. In northern areas, it is better to use Clivia as a houseplant.
Q: My grandmother just received something called Cockscomb as a gift from a visitor while she is in rehabilitation. What do we do with it?
A: Celosia has two types of flowers, the cockscomb, Celosia cristata and the plume types, Celosia plumosa. The tight, velvety texture of the cockscomb flowers look like brain tissue to some people. The fluffy, light, airy texture of the plume types blow freely in a breeze and are planted more often. Both come in a variety of colors. It is an annual and can be planted outside once she returns home. It usually grows no taller than 1 – 2 feet. Celosia plants love full sun so be sure to put it in the window so it can get as much light as possible. Although once it is planted outside, it will tolerate some shade. The soil should be kept moist but not wet. Once she gets back home, she can plant any of the following along with her gift: Cristata cultivars include the dwarf 'Jewel Box' and 'Olympia' series and the taller (18 to 24 inches) 'Floradale' and 'Chief' series. Plumosa series and cultivars include the dwarf 'Kimono' and 'Geisha' series and the taller types including 'Apricot Brandy', 'Castle' series, 'Century' series, 'Forest Fire' and 'New Look'.
Q: You gave a lecture on wildflowers a few months ago and mentioned a native flower called a green-headed coneflower. Will you tell me some more specific information about this plant?
A The Green-headed Coneflower, Rudbeckia laciniata, is a sunflower-like perennial, which can reach heights from 3 to 6 feet. The long stalked flowers appear from July through October providing a long season of flowers. Each flower is 3-4 in. across, with cone-shaped, greenish-yellow centers and golden petal-like structures called rays which makes them very showy in any garden setting. The green center or “eye” becomes elongated as it ages and turns brown as the seeds ripen. The lobed leaf is gray-green in color and the reason it is sometimes referred to as cut-leaf coneflower. It is native to Florida but can also be found all along the Eastern Seaboard upward to Canada. It is drought tolerant but does not mind well-drained, moist soil. Green-headed coneflower prefers slightly acid soils with most any variation of light exposure. The flowers attract birds and butterflies but because of their long stalks, they may need staking to remain upright. The nectar is also a favorite of native and domesticated honey bees. Propagation is done by seeds. We will have some of these beautiful native plants at our plant sale, Saturday, May 18th. Please come visit us from 9am to 2pm at the James S. Page Governmental Complex. Remember, the proceeds of these sales help defray the maintenance costs of our three demonstration gardens, youth programming and professional development of volunteers and the horticulture agent.
Q: I see you have yellow cone flowers in the Demonstration garden but can you give me some information on the purple variety?
A: Nothing reminds me more of summer than the sight of cone flowers in their full glory. The purple cone flower, Echinacea purpurea, can grow to heights of nearly four feet which makes them attractive additions to most any garden.It is common to propagate them by seed and many seed catalogs carry several varieties. Consider growing some of these beauties in those common areas of your subdivisions so everyone can enjoy them. Cone flowers are extremely hardy, very drought tolerant, and can grow in most any type of soil. Some of them start blooming in the spring while others burst forth in the summer. They are found throughout most of the United States. Cone flowers can be grown in full sun as well as some dappled light. The roots of the purple cone flower have been used to treat skin ailments and other disease. The photo attached is of a pink variety of the cone flower in my own yard. For more information on the purple cone flower, check out the UF/IFAS publication by Dr. Ed Gilman: http://hort.ufl.edu/shrubs/ECHPURA.PDF
Q: What can you tell me about the plant called Coral Bells?
A: I suspect you are referring to the perennial plant also called Alumroot, Heuchera sanguine, which produces a flower on a long, slender stalk in the spring but the flowers are short lived. However, the foliage on these lovely ground cover plants is outstanding ranging in color from deep purple to lime green. Heuchera must be placed in a shady site. There is conflicting information regarding their cold hardiness zones which range from zones 4 - 9. This plant has been widely studied and has produced over 50 varieties – too many to list. With so many cultivars it is difficult to determine whether they all can survive our hot, humid summers. Therefore it would be best to use this plant sparingly until it can demonstrate an ability to perform well in Northeast Florida. Peach Melba is one of the newer Heuchera plants being sold in our local retail garden centers as a “Proven Winner” with the label stating it is hardy in zones 8 and 9. For those of you wanting plants resistant to deer, Heuchera may be a good choice. The flower apparently also attracts butterflies and bees. The plant reaches heights of about 2 feet with 1-2 foot spread. It looks as though it would make a great ground cover under trees as long as it did not receive too much sun. It also does not like soil too moist so be sure the area is well drained. It can also be propagated by seed.
Q: I am new to the area and I wanted to plant some native wildflowers around my mailbox. I saw some very pretty yellow flowers in the Nassau County Demonstration garden. What can you tell me about them?
A: Welcome to Nassau County Florida. We are always delighted to hear from someone who is interested in plantings from our demonstration garden. The flowers you are referring to are the State flower of Florida called coreopsis. These plants grow best in full sun with moist, well drained soil. Like most wildflowers, these do not respond well to too much water. They generally bloom in the late spring and will return in the fall if the flowers were removed in the spring. Florida also has a variety of coreopsis which blooms exclusively during the fall. I have attached a publication from the University of Florida regarding wildflowers best suited for Northeast Florida. I hope you will consider trying some of these seeds as an addition to your new Florida landscape. In addition, we will be having a program on September 16 at 10am called “Landscape Matters” on wildflowers by Nassau County Master Gardener volunteer Claudie Speed. Landscape Matters will be at the demonstration garden site at the James S. Page Governmental Complex off Nassau Place (the road next to the Merita Bread Outlet). Fall is a wonderful time to visit the demonstration garden as it will be filled with butterflies and birds. I hope you will be able to join us. The program is free to the public. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP061
Q: What is this large wildflower growing in my yard?
A: Thanks for bringing in a specimen of this large plant. It most likely belongs to the genus, Crotalaria. There are approximately 600 species of Crotalaria worldwide. I believe your plant is a Showy rattlebox. If it is Showy rattlebox, Crotalaria spectabilis, then it is native to southern Asia but now can be found worldwide. In the United States it occurs from Missouri to Virginia south to Florida and Texas. Showy rattlebox can reach heights up to six feet with bright showy pea-like flowers up to an inch wide. These flowers will bloom in large clusters along a tall stalk which is where it gets the name “showy.” The rattlebox name comes from the sound the seed makes in the pod once it has become dry and mature. This annual legume is native to Indomalaysia and was introduced to the United States as a soil building cover crop on sandy soils. Showy rattlebox can be poisonous to livestock, particularly when seeds are consumed. Like other Crotalaria species, showy rattlebox contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which is present in greatest quantity in the seeds. All livestock including poultry are subject to poisoning. Symptoms include photosensitization and liver disease within a few days to 6 months following consumption. Showy rattlebox has been a problem for farmers. Since it is an annual legume, it produces large numbers of seed as this is its only means of propagation. Showy rattlebox prefers open and disturbed sites generally because these sites tend to be poor nutritionally.
Q: Could you please identify this plant for us?
A: Thanks for sending me a photo of your plant, it is always easier when trying to identify plants or insects. This is a common beach and landscape plant here in Florida. It is called Crinum lily, Crinum spp. There are many cultivars of this hardy plant and it has become a common feature in residential landscapes. This plant tolerates full sun or even partial shade and prefers be grown in well drained soil. Crinum lily can tolerate periods of flooding and drought, acid or slightly alkaline soils. Crinum lily is grown easily in all parts of Florida, as well as south Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and California. Similar to any perennial, it may appear to die in cold winter temperatures but will quickly return during warm spring weather. Crinum lily is propagated by division of tubers. White flowers are borne in large clusters with a very pleasant aroma.
Q: Can you identify this plant from my yard? A friend gave it to me several years ago and I do not remember the name. The yellow flowers are so pretty people often stop and ask me what it is.
A: This is always a tough question especially when you consider the numerous possible plant varieties. The photos were not that clear but I was able to determine the petal and leaf shape which was beneficial. Fortunately for me, one of the Nassau County Master Gardener volunteers happened to be in the office providing Extension with phone coverage and she had the same plant at home. Once she called me with the name – the rest was easy. Your plant is a perennial called a Cuban buttercup, Turnera ulmifolia. It is really on the edge of our cold-hardiness zone as it grows best in zones 9-11. On the west part of the Nassau County, which is divided by I-95, the zone is 8b whereas the east part of the county is considered 9a. However, if you have had continued success with this plant for several years, I would say it is established and happy here and most likely in the appropriate environment. Cuban buttercup reaches heights up to 2 feet, produces yellow blooms from spring through the fall and can tolerate full sun to partial shade. The attached publication is from the University of Florida Gulf Coast Research Center in Plant City, Florida. http://gcrec.ifas.ufl.edu/pcc/Teaching_Garden_PDF_Files/Cuban_Buttercup.pdf
Q: My neighbor has a pretty, delicate vine growing in her yard. The vine has fine, feathery leaves and a bright red flower. It is blooming now. Do you have any idea what it is?
A: Normally, it would be very difficult to identify this type of plant without bringing in a specimen to the office but I have had this question more than once this week. One of the questions was from my husband, as this same vine is growing in my neighborhood. The vine is known by several common names such as Cypressvine, Star glory or Cardinal climber, Ipomoea quamoclit. Cypressvine is in the Convolvulaceae or morning glory Family. The beautiful red flower has five points which resembles the star we drew in elementary art class as children. Cypressvine probably originated from Mexico but is now readily established throughout most of the Southern U.S. It is not an aggressive vine therefore it is not considered an invasive pest here in the northeast part of Florida. However, there are some plants in the genus Ipomoea which have been found on the invasive list for some parts of Florida. Cypressvine generally prefers partial sun to shade, therefore this is not a vine to grow in full, afternoon sun sites. It can be propagated by seed but you may have some difficulty finding this vine at local nurseries. The seeds germinate quickly (within one week). http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=IPQU
Q: When should I plant daffodil bulbs? I am
having difficulty finding them this time of year and I suspect
it may be the wrong time to plant them.
A: Your instinct is correct. Daffodil bulbs should be planted in the fall of the year (around November) to ensure they will bloom in the early spring.I checked out the American Society of Daffodils for specific information. They like moist, well drained organic soil in a sunny location. However, they don't like wet feet so avoid the tendency to over water. Slightly acidic soil is best, so you might add soil sulfur if you have alkaline soil. Plant your daffodils so that their top (pointed end) is at least two times as deep as the bulb is high (top of a 2" bulb is 4" deep). Exactness isn't crucial; they'll adjust. Bulbs should be planted deeper in sandy soil than in clay soil. Top-dress again with 5-10-10 when the leaf-tips emerge. As they flower, top-dress with 0-10-10 or 0-0-50. High-nitrogen fertilizer should be avoided.Daffodils need lots of water while they are growing. Water immediately after planting and keep them moist until the rains come. Continue watering for three weeks or so after blooming time; then stop watering. The bulbs make their next year's bloom after flowering. (Your first-year bloom is largely due to the previous grower of the bulb.) You may leave daffodils down in the ground for between 3 to 5 years. If blooming does not happen one season, it would be best to move them to a new location.
Q: I found this pretty, lilac wildflower growing near a ditch in my neighborhood. Can you tell me what it is and can I dig it up and plant it in my yard.
A: I consulted the University of Florida Herbarium to be sure my guess was correct and they agree the wildflower is probably a false dragonhead in the genus, Physostegia. Physostegiais from Greek physa "bladder" and stege "covering", in reference to the somewhat inflated a calyx. A calyx is the green leaf-like sepals which enclose the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud. Some species in this genus go by the name obedient-plant because the flowers remain temporarily in place when pushed to one side. False Dragonhead is best planted in rich, moist soil in full sun or light shade. False Dragonhead has 1 inch tubular flowers tightly clustered in long spikes at the top of stems and grows wild in moist ground in prairies, edges of glades and along streams. The leaves are opposite with toothed edges, up to 5 inches long, becoming smaller in size as the flower head develops. The stem is four-sided (roughly square in cross section,) as is typical of members of the mint family. False dragonhead is sometimes used as an ornamental and the “Obedient Plant” name really doesn’t apply to the plant in cultivated gardens as these plants can be aggressive colonizers. Regarding picking or removing wildflowers illegally from wildlife areas here is the USDA Forest service comment: “Almost all wildflowers are fragile and many wilt and perish soon after being picked. Over the years, the repercussions of wildflower picking by unthinking people go far beyond the loss of the flowers themselves. A critical chain of events is triggered for years to come once wildflowers are lost. We don’t often realize it, but wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals on a micro scale. Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system. In addition, some pollinators are not very mobile or have very small home ranges or depend on just one species of plant and die once their habitat has been destroyed.” The complete article, “Wildflower Ethics and Native Plants”: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/
Q: This plant is growing in a greenbelt area near my home. Can you tell me what it is? I have enclosed a photo.
A: Thank you for your photo which made identifying it so much easier. Firespike, Odontonema strictum, is a naturalized plant and is found all over the Northeast Florida area. The bright, red spikes are blooming now which is probably what brought it to your attention. Firespike attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It grows in partial sun to partial shade in any type of soil. It tolerates salt poorly therefore should not be planted at the beach or near salt marshes. For more information see this publication on Firespike from the University of Florida/IFAS. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FP445
Q: What can you tell me about the Flamingo plant?
A: The Flamingo plant, Jacobinia carnea, is a perennial which is suitable for cold hardiness zones 8b – 11. Remember Northeast Florida is in zones 8b – 9a. The plant can reach heights up to 7 feet with a three foot spread so before adding this plant to your landscape be sure you have sufficient room. The flowers come in rose-purple, red, yellow, orange, apricot, or white which periodically bloom from late spring though early fall. With so many choices of flower color, it would be surprising not to have some place in the garden available for this lovely plant. Jacobinia should be grown in dappled light or partial shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soils but it is not picky about the soil pH. Jacobinia is not salt tolerant therefore it would be a poor choice for coastal areas, along the beach or sand dunes. Dead-heading helps improve flowering as well as stimulate new growth. For this reason, light pruning should be performed throughout the growing season. Propagation can be done by cuttings. When planting, provide several feet between each plant to allow for spreading. Jacobinia has no known serious disease issues and so far has not caused any concerns over invasive characteristics. Attached is a publication from the University of Florida on the Jacobinia carnea: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp308 Photo from Texas A&M University
Q: What are the plants that look like cabbage I see planted in the local landscapes?
A: I believe you are thinking about Ornamental cabbage or Flowering kale, Brassica oleracea, which comes in a variety of colors from pale green to shades of red and purple. This is a cool season ornamental for us, similar to the time of year we can grow edible cabbage. Flowering kale cannot handle the hot weather here so it usually lasts through late winter into early spring. In general, we plant it from December through February. If temperatures reach hard freezes for extended periods then the plant can show burning around the edges. When warm weather consistently occurs the plant will produce flowers which indicate it is time to remove the plant. Caterpillars, both butterflies and moths, will eat holes in the leaves but in generally they do not cause severe damage. Plant ornamental cabbage in a sunny site but do not overwater as this can contribute to disease issues. This plant is not particular about the type of soil making it a great choice for both home landscapes and commercial sites. It is interesting the leaf color is intensified when temperatures go below 60 degrees F. For more complete information about this plant, check out the University of Florida publication on ornamental cabbage: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FP/FP07100.pdf
Q: What can I plant this time of year (December) that will provide color in the landscape?
A: Florida's mild winters give gardeners the opportunity to grow beautiful flowering annuals that are grown elsewhere in the spring and summer. Chrysanthemums, foxglove, nasturtium, ornamental cabbage, petunias, sweetpea, and violas are just a few. They should be grown in moist, organic soil.
Q: Can I cut back my perennials and dead shrubs now? (January)
A: You can cut back any of your dead plants now if you wish, but consider what can happen if plants are pruned. Pruned plants often send out new shoots. These new shoots will be very vulnerable if and when temperatures drop again below freezing. There is a very good chance we will experience some colder temperatures within the next few weeks. If you can wait, we would rather you wait. Removing all the dead material from perennials can be done but in some cases the dead material acts as a protective covering for the roots. Perennials will return once temperatures remain consistently warm. Regarding pruning trees or shrubs, you can remove dead branches and stems any time. Pruning during dormant season is preferred for many trees. Wait to remove the frozen, damaged leaves off citrus or oleander until end of February or March. It was so cold this year for such a long stretch of days that I have seen damage on holly which would normally show none. However, I will wait to prune the holly later in the spring. Pruning azaleas in the winter would not be recommended as you will reduce the number of spring flowers.
Q: I live in an area surrounded by wildflowers and I have noticed the goldenrod is blooming. Some people say the goldenrod causes my allergies but others say it is pollen from another plant. I don’t want to remove my wildflowers unless it is totally necessary. What do you think?
A: You are not alone in having allergy reactions this time of year, thousands of people experience some form of allergic reaction in the fall. Hay fever is a commonly used term for pollen allergy, a type of seasonal allergic rhinitis (nasal irritation or inflammation). Pollen grains can be dispersed into the air in all year long depending on the type of tree, grass, weeds and/or weather conditions. Ragweed is a common cause of pollen allergy reactions in the fall. In Northeast Florida, ragweed often grows along the same sites as goldenrod. Since goldenrod puts out a showy yellow flower people assume it is to blame for the allergic reaction when ragweed is actually the culprit. Plain-looking trees, grasses and weeds, which do not have showy flowers, produce the types of pollen that most commonly cause allergic reactions. These plants manufacture small, light, dry pollen granules that are custom-made for wind transport. Although most allergenic pollen comes from plants that produce it in huge quantities, it's the chemical makeup of the pollen that determines whether it is likely to cause hay fever. I checked the National Allergy Bureau for the pollen count in our area, which was done in Ocala last week, and the pollen count from weeds and grass registered as “high severity”. Many of our local news media now discuss the pollen counts during their weather reports so check those out if you know you have specific problems. The National Allergy Bureau monitors pollen counts in many locations throughout the United States and you can call them at 1-800-9-POLLEN for pollen counts. Generally, pollen is most abundant in the early morning, especially between 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. so if you exercise outdoors you might consider changing to an afternoon or evening time. Rain can wash pollen out of the air for a time, and some plants may not pollinate in damp weather. (This information was adapted from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).
Q: I found this in my neighbor’s yard. It grows about waist height – can you tell me what it is? My friend says it is a hibiscus but it doesn’t look like the leaf of any hibiscus I know.
A: I am using your photo, which helped me tremendously in identifying this plant. I thought it might be a swamp mallow but I believe it is most likely a Red-leafed hibiscus – so your friend is correct. This hibiscus may be one of the common varieties called ‘Panama Red’, ‘Panama Bronze’ or ‘Red Shield’. It is a short lived perennial which blooms from the spring through the fall. It grows well in full sun to partial shade in cold hardiness zones 8-11. It does not tolerate long dry spells so be prepared to apply some occasional irrigation. It only reaches heights up to 4 feet but it spreads up to 6 feet. The color of the flowers range from rose to pink to cream but the real reason for getting this plant is the foliage. The color of the leaves ranges from burgundy to a shiny, bronze. The leaves are deeply lobed and the edges are serrated. Flower blooming may be somewhat sporadic. It will die back when the cold temperatures arrive but it should return for a few years in the spring.
Q: What is wrong with my Confederate Rose?
A: Hibiscus mutabilis, Confederate Roseis an old-fashioned perennial or shrub hibiscus. Flowers are double and are 4 to 6 inches in diameter; they open white or pink, and change to deep red by evening. Bloom season usually lasts from summer through fall. Propagation by cuttings root easiest in early spring, but cuttings can be taken at almost any time. When it does not freeze, the Confederate rose can reach heights of 12 to 15 feet with a woody trunk; however, a multi-trunk bush 6 to 8 feet tall is more typical. It was once a very common plant throughout the South but has fallen out of favor because of the common insect issues. Confederate rose is an interesting and attractive plant which grows in full sun or partial shade, and prefers rich, well-drained soil. The spots you see from whiteflies. Several beneficial insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and wasps feed on the white flies but it is important to allow the populations of beneficial insects to increase enough to manage the pests. This means staying away from broad spectrum pesticides like Sevin or Malathion and turning to insecticidal soap or ultrafine horticulture oil. Otherwise you can use either of the above products to manage the whitefly population as well as others listed on the attached publication from the University of Florida on whitefly chemical control on ornamental plants: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg254
Q: I have two, three year old hibiscus plants. They are in full sun with a southern exposure. The foliage is dark green and very healthy. I fertilize about once a month with azalea fertilizer. The plants produce buds but no blooms. They fall off before opening. Do you have the solution?
A: You have placed your plants in the best area as full sun and southern exposure are perfect for growing hibiscus. There are several possible reasons for bud drop on hibiscus. Fertilizing every month is a bit excessive, 4 times a year is generally considered very generous. Excessive fertilizer will cause the plant to put out lush foliage often at the expense of blooms. Stop the fertilizing until next spring. Water fluctuations (too much or too little) can cause bud drop and we have certainly seen plenty of rain. Check the soil, hibiscus like moist well-drained soil but not wet soil. Most varieties of hibiscus prefer temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees and fluctuations above or below the optimum temperatures can cause bud drop. In addition, some varieties are especially susceptible to bud drop if environmental conditions are not perfect - the result of extensive hybridization. I hope this helps.
Q: I had a beautiful blooming hibiscus plant that froze last year but came back once the weather became warm. It has large green leaves but no blooms. What could be wrong?
A: Tell me a little more about your hibiscus. What are your watering and fertilizing practices? Since the hibiscus returned full of leaves, it should have produced blooms for you. One possible answer could stem from over fertilization. Many of us have a tendency to over fertilize hoping to produce more blooms than usual but some of our plants outsmart us by putting that additional energy into leaf production rather than blooms. If that scenario applies to your hibiscus consider cutting back on fertilizing except in the spring and hopefully by next year you will see more blooms. This is a good example of when less it more!Nematodes, nutritional deficiencies, over fertilization, and environmental factors such as poor drainage and excessive water, drought, or salt spray can cause flower buds to drop. Flowers are produced most of the year in Florida, but the best production is during the fall and spring when temperatures are moderate to cool. Hot weather bud drop is universal. A wide range of well-drained soils is suitable for hibiscus if proper fertilization is provided. A soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is preferred. Hibiscus grown on alkaline soils may suffer from micronutrient deficiencies and this could contribute to bud drop. Wow, now that I have listed the numerous possibilities you will need to do some scouting to find the culprit or culprits as it may be a combination of factors. If an insect is the problem you can use an insecticide. Contact me again if it turns out to be something other than insects.
Q: When would be a good time for me to prune my Confederate Rose?
A: We would suggest you prune hibiscus trees and perennial plants when the threat of frost is over. When is the threat over? Well, that is debatable so I am going to be vague. The threat of frost should be over sometime between the middle of March and the first week in April. Shrubs such as azaleas are the exception to that rule as they should be pruned directly after flowering is over. The Confederate Rose, Hibiscus mutabili, or Dixie Rose responds best to minimal amounts of pruning. It requires very little care and adapts to most soil and light conditions. These plants demonstrate insect and disease problems associated with high nitrogen applications and too much water. Ideally, they should be planted alone where they will receive adequate light and air circulation.
Q: Can I grow hollyhock here in North Florida?
A: Hollyhock, Althaea rose, can indeed be grown here as an annual or perennial. Many garden enthusiasts love to start hollyhocks from seed but they are also a good choice for beginning gardeners. They should be planted in a bright, sunny site. Planting dates are from the last threat of frost through June. They should be removed at the first sign of frost. The blooms come in a wide of colors so pick you favorite or choose a number of complementary colors for your summer and fall garden. If you garden is small consider selecting one of the varieties that grows only two – three feet tall. Some hollyhock plants reach heights of up to seven feet which would be a poor choice for small plots. Other possible plant selections are listed in the UF/IFAS publication titled, “Bedding Plants: Selection, Establishment, and Maintenance”, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG319. You will notice the table is divided into three sections, North, Central and South Florida. When examining the table of plants listed, be sure to choose only those suitable for the North Florida area.
Q: I picked up at plant at a nursery recently called, Indian Pink. What can you tell me about it?
A: Indian Pink is an uncommon native wildflower that grows in rich, moist woods and along wooded stream banks in most areas of the south all the way to Texas. Indian Pink is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial reaching a height of 12 to 18 inches. It is one of our most attractive wildflowers. The inflorescence is a one-sided with pretty, red tubular flowers that flares out to reveal 5 short tips of bright yellow interior. There are many other species in this genus; most are either tropical or short-lived annuals. The native plant nursery trade has taken some interest in cultivating Indian Pink because it is perennial, will grow in shade, has a fairly long blooming period and is pollinated by hummingbirds. It is easily grown in average, medium wet well-drained soil in full to partial shade. I planted one in my flower bed this year and it has bloomed twice – a nice surprise. I have it under an oak tree where it receives ample shade and have been protected from the deluging rains of this summer.
Q: I have found this pretty ground cover throughout my yard in small patches. What is it?
A: This is a native perennial wildflower, which usually blooms from the spring through the fall, but we have had such a mild winter this year, it just never went into dormancy. The plant is called Innocence, Roundleaf bluet, or Fairy Footprints, Houstonia procumbens. The genus comes from a famous botanist, Dr. William Houston, who collected plants in South America. The species name procumbens refers to the flat growth habit. This pretty plant is found throughout most of the southern states from Louisiana to North Carolina It is commonly found growing in sandhills, dunes, flatwoods, hammocks and disturbed sites throughout Florida and we should probably be propagating it. Some people often consider it a weed in their lawns and work hard at trying to remove it. It is suitable for cold hardiness zones 7 to 11. It can be grown in any variety of light conditions from full sun to partial shade but produces best when it receives adequate irrigation or rainfall. However, it is growing in my neighbor’s yard and his house has been abandoned for well over 2 years – no water! Innocence has many beautiful patches in his yard so I would say it also tolerates low water conditions too.
Q: What is this pretty wildflower I am seeing along the roadsides here in Callahan? It is tall, maybe about 4 to 5 feet.
A: Thanks for bringing in a sample to the office. I my sent photos to the University of Florida to verify its identity and they believe it is the perennial wildflower called Ironweed in the genus Vernonia, This plant is commonly found throughout Nassau County, Florida and most of the U.S. except for a few western states. The dark, purple flowers bloom from August through October. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and can live in full sun to partial shade. There are several cultivated varieties which can be purchased through on-line vendors or a local native plant nursery. Most are tall, with the potential of reaching heights up to 12 feet. This makes it a rare plant for most landscapes. However, there is one particular variety, grown in rocky soil, which grows no taller than about 2 feet. The hummingbirds, bees and butterflies love Ironweed. It is so popular with the pollinators you would be hard pressed to find it sitting alone with no animal visitors. If you love to photograph pollinators, Ironweed will provide you great success. The genus name 'Vernonia' was given in honor of William Vernon, an English botanist who gathered plant specimens from North America. 'Ironweed' refers to the toughness of the stem and how difficult it is to dig up even with a shovel. Native Americans used the root to relieve pain... Be careful about using the common name “Ironweed” as there are other plants with this name so if you are interested which are not nearly as attractive. Use the genus to narrow your field of search when looking for it on-line.
Q: What can you tell me about this wildflower I discovered along the roadside near the beach in Fernandina?
A: This has been a banner year for wild flowers; with the recent rains the local landscapes are full of beautiful surprises. I sent photos of the flower to the University of Florida Herbarium and they identified it in the genus Sabatia, possibly Sabatia grandiflora. The common name of this group of flowers is Large-flower Rosegentian. The flowers are about the size of a quarter, a soft pink with a pretty yellow center. They grow in full sun, well-drained soil and reach heights of about 12-18 inches tall. Some of these wildflowers like a moist soil which may be why these showed up after our heavy rainfalls. Like most showy flowers, Rosegentian wildflowers attract bees, butterflies and birds. This is a native annual and can be propagated by seed.
Q: What can you tell me about larkspur?
A: Larkspur or delphinium is grown as an annual
here in Northeast Florida,
but in northern and western parts of the U.S. it can be a perennial. It can easily be propagated by seed and is often available as a beautiful plant in the spring. Check your favorite seed catalog company for potential favorites. Just remember to re-order each fall. What makes this plant so exceptional is the bloom color is a true blue, which is rare in the plant kingdom. However, the color of the bloom is not limited to blue, other colors such as yellow, pink and white also occur. Each seed produces a tall stalk reaching heights averaging 2-3 feet, although a few can grow to 6 feet! Larkspurs prefer cool weather therefore it germinates in the winter here and blooms in the early spring. Larkspurs are unable to handle our hot, humid summers and they will die back once the temperatures get too warm. This plant also makes a wonderful cut flower, just be sure to clip it just prior to peak blooming. One additional note: delphiniums are poisonous to humans and some animals if eaten so be sure to keep the family pet out of the flower bed if they are prone to tasting the landscape.
Q: I found this plant in a natural area near my house. What is it?
A: I believe the plant is a perennial called Lizard’s tail, Saururus cernuus. Lizard’s-tail is a common emersed plant. It can be found as far north as Canada and west to Texas and to south Florida. Lizard’s tail is often found growing in large clumps along the edges of ponds or in wetlands. The erect plant grows to one to two feet tall, in freshwater marshes and swamps nearly throughout Florida. It blooms in the summer but with our very mild winter, you are seeing it bloom now. Lizard’s-tail has a bottlebrush spike of white flowers. It is typically six to eight inches long but can be longer. The flower spike arches above the leaves of the plant. After maturity, the flowers become a string of nutlets resembling a lizard’s tail. It can grow in full sun to partial shade and spreads by underground rhizomes.
Q: My Mandevilla has died and I was wondering what would cause it.
A: Known for its showy flowers, the genus Mandevilla includes plants that were formerly called Dipladenia. This plant grows well on a trellis and is sometimes referred to as Allamanda. There are about 100 species of this tropical American woody vine and most species survive the winter only in the tropical South because its hardiness zone is 10-11. Mandevilla will show signs of freeze damage when temperatures drop below 45 degrees. Because of it being sensitive to cooler temperatures, it is often classified in our area as an annual if planted outside. Remember, in Nassau County we are either 9a, which is on the east coast or 8b, which is on the west side of the county. Mandevilla requires full sun and well drained soils, which means too much water, can create root problems. If you love this plant, you may consider placing it in a hanging basket so it can easily be transported indoors when the temperatures drop too low. The cultivar “Red Riding Hood” produces red flowers, “Summer Snow” flowers are white, “Pink Allamanda” flowers pink, and the cultivar “Yellow” has yellow flowers. If you keep it indoors it has a tendency to get mealy bugs and scale, so be watchful. Keep insecticidal soap and horticulture oil on hand to help control those troublesome pests.
Q: I would like to know when to prune my Mexican Petunia so it will produce more flowers.
A: Mexican Petunia, Ruellia brittoniana, also called Britton’s wild petunia is classified as an invasive for Florida according to the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/ruebri.html). It is sold in nurseries everywhere but it easily escapes into wildlife areas and therefore is not the best choice for a landscape plant. Like many perennials, it will die back when cold weather comes but will quickly return in the spring. So to answer your question, we would not want you to prune it back to encourage it to produce more flowers and therefore more seed. It might be best to allow it to go dormant during the winter to avoid over-production of seeds.
Q: What it the black and red insect on my milkweed plant?
A: Thanks for bringing in a sample of the insect as there are two very similar looking. One is the Milkweed assassin bug and the other, the Giant Milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus. Yours was the Giant Milkweed bug which feeds in milkweed plants, preferentially the flower buds and seed pods, which are rich in nutrients. Oncopeltus fasicatus lives out its life on milkweed plants. Mating, egg-laying, development of larvae, and courtship all take place on milkweed plants. The primary food is milkweed seed, while the insects also feed on milkweed plant juices. The milkweed diet makes the bugs unpalatable and they tell predators to stay away with their combination of red and black coloring. The species ranges from Ontario to South America, including the West Indies.
Q: I believe I have the Mexican milkweed in my garden and would like to replace it. Online I see Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias lanceolata as well as the incarnata. Which one should I choose?
A: Almost all of Florida's 21 milkweeds are native, and at least two of them are native only to Florida (endemic). Milkweeds are frequently encountered throughout the state, and the rest of North America. Different species are found in very wet habitats as well as in very dry ones. A few of the butterfly weed listed here are commonly found in Florida so feel free to choose any of them: Butterfly weed, Asclepias uberose; Florida milkweed, Asclepias longifolia; Fewflower milkweed - Asclepias lanceolata, Pinewoods milkweed, Asclepias humistrata. Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnate is native to the lower 48 states. Milkweeds grow most abundantly in disturbed habitats such as agricultural landscapes and along roadsides, but they are in decline for several reasons. Urban and suburban development is eliminating monarch habitat by supplanting agricultural landscapes where an estimated 90% of milkweeds occur therefore we applaud your efforts to add some these to your landscape. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in780
Q: I purchased some swamp milkweed at one of your previous plant sales and I really want to get some more.
A: Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, is difficult to find it locally, but we will have a few specimens of the native swamp milkweed at our spring plant sale Saturday, May 31 from 9am – noon. Ours are particularly large and beautiful. The monarch butterfly larvae have already found them and are eating the leaves – as I write this answer. As its name implies, Swamp milkweed does prefer moist soils and grows in sun to partial shade. The sap of this wetland milkweed is more clear than milky which is characteristic of other milkweed species. The genus, Asclepias, was named in honor of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine, undoubtedly because some species have long been used to treat a variety of ailments. The Latin species name, incarnata, means flesh-colored. With its showy flower clusters Swamp milkweed attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Swamp milkweed will inevitably have aphids. The insects are not a problem unless the plant looks sick, only then should you consider spraying the plant and aphids with soapy water. Another possible treatment is to support the plant part with your hand and blast it with high-pressure water. Swamp milkweed is good for wetland gardens and habitat. All parts of the plant are toxic but only when ingested in large quantities. Swamp milkweed is a host plant (which means the larvae eat the leaves) for Monarchs and Queen butterflies; it also provides nectar for pollinating bees.
Q: Can you identify this wildflower for me?
A As you were describing it to me, I became very interested as orange colored wildflowers are not as common as yellow or pink. It helped tremendously when you brought a sample into the office. I truly, had not seen the plant before but one of the sharp eyed Master Gardener volunteers was able to do some research and identified it for us as Orange Milkwort. It is most likely, Polygala lutea. It has also been commonly called bog “Cheeto”. Milkworts are a group of plants which produce small, clover-like flowers. These plants were at one time believed to increase the milk yield of cows and nursing mothers. Orange Milkwort is found throughout most of Florida except the most southern tip. It is a common wildflower in many of the states east of the Mississippi River, from Louisiana northward to New York. In New York, the wildflower is classified as endangered. Orange Milkwort is a biennial which means it produces the leaves in one growing season then flowers during the second growing season. Here, in Florida, it typically flowers from June through October. Orange Milkwort is generally found in sandy, acid soil and/or bogs of wooded areas where pine trees are grown. It can take full sun or partial shade. The basal leaves feel almost-succulent and it reaches heights of generally no more than 1.5 feet. The flowers produce a cylinder-like flower head which starts out yellow in color but changes to a bright orange. While blooms often occur early in the summer it is not uncommon to see it continue to bloom into the early fall. It would make a perfect ground cover since it blooms for such a long period of time but it does need sufficient moisture to keep it happy.
Q: What can you tell me about night blooming jasmine?
A: Night blooming jasmine, Cestrum nocturnum, grows in cold hardiness zones 8-11 but severe cold temperatures will cause it to dieback in the winter here in Northeast Florida. It can be planted in part sun to full sun but blooms better with more sun exposure. Night blooming jasmine can grow to heights of 8-10 feet with a 6 foot spread. It has sweetly pleasant, white tubular flowers which often open during the evening which is where it gets the name “night blooming” jasmine. The smell of the flower at night attracts moths and the occasional butterfly. It is moderately drought and salt tolerant. Propagation can occur by seeds and cuttings. The fruit and flowers are poisonous if eaten and it is Hawaii’s most invasive ornamental plant.
Q: I am thinking about planting beach morning glory on my dune areas behind my beach house. What can you tell me about this plant?
A: The common beach morning glory is generally not cold tolerant enough for our area as it typically grows in cold hardiness zones 10-11. Perhaps consider planting Fiddle-leaf morning glory, Ipomoea stolonifera, which is a better choice for the Northeast part of Florida with cold hardiness zones 8b – 9a. The fiddle-leaf morning glory is an herbaceous, evergreen vine native to the southeastern United States. This plant, unlike the beach morning glory, can be grown throughout Florida and along the coast. Fiddle-leaf morning glory attains a height of 4 to 6 inches but can spread along the ground to a distance of 75 feet. The small, thick, glossy green leaves are ovate-cordate in shape and densely cover the stems. Most leaves are divided into 5 lobes in a more or less star shape. This plant roots and branches at the nodes and spreads very rapidly. The white, funnel-shaped flowers of the fiddle-leaf morning glory are generally 2 ½ to 3 inches wide. They open in the early morning and close before noon each day during the blooming season; the flowers are borne in the summer and fall. Small, round seedpods contain four velvety; dark brown seeds appear on this plant after flowering. It grows in full sun, is highly drought tolerant with good salt tolerance. Like so many of the species in the Ipomoea genus, it can be “weedy” but when the desire it to reduce soil or dune erosion – Fiddle-leaf morning glory might be a good choice. For more complete information consider looking at the University of Florida following publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp285
Q: My neighbor’s yard has been left vacant for some time and I just noticed dozens of clusters of pretty, small purple flowered weeds. The flowers are on top of a tall, thin stalk which is about 1 foot tall. What is the plant and do I need to worry about it coming into my yard?
A: Oldfield toadflax, Linaria canadensis (L.), is a winter or cool season annual or biennial. It is also known by other common names such as annual toadflax, blue toadflax, or Canada toadflax. Oldfield toadflax can produce leaf clusters along the ground in one season then grow a 12- 24 inch slender stalk and flower during the second season which is why it is classified as a biennial. The species name canadensis was applied because it was first identified in Canada. However, this little wildflower is found from Canada, throughout the United States and into South America. Most people consider it a wildflower as long as it is growing along the roadside but when it grows in the lawn, it becomes classified as a weed. The flowers are small, light blue to nearly white. Oldfield toadflax blooms in late winter to spring and it is popping up all over the area now. Oldfield toadflax reproduces by seed only, so hand pulling it would be beneficial to reduce the number of plants next year. As to whether it will end up in your yard - dispersal of seeds can be done by wind, animals or rain. This makes it quite possible for some of the seeds to end up in your yard especially if there is no wind barrier between the two properties. Some protection would be possible by planting shrubs or ornamental plants between the two yards. However, no property is ever totally isolated from the potential of weed seeds. The best defense is healthy, non-stressed grass. You know what I am going to tell you – do not over water, do not over fertilize and do not mow the lawn too short.
Q: I found this plant in my yard. What is it?
A: I believed it to be a terrestrial orchid but sent photos to UF Herbarium so they could give me more information. They identified it as Zeuxine strateumatica (L.) Schltr., commonly known as Soldier's Orchid or Lawn Orchid. It is native to Asia but is commonly found on open, grassy, and disturbed sites throughout Florida.Flowers occur during the fall through winter (Oct--Jan), but occasionally in the spring. It is found most often in moist areas, including lawns, roadsides, nurseries, farm fields, occasionally hammocks and pinelands. Within a few weeks of producing flowers, the plants are gone. The following year, they may return; then again, they may not. We should count ourselves fortunate to have seen these pretty plants as they may not be here next year.
Q: I have this strange growth on the flower stem of my orchid. What is it?
A: Lucky you. This type of growth is a bit unusual but it is a good thing. The growth is actually a new plantlet or offshoot which is called a keiki which is pronounced “kay-kee.” Keiki comes from the Hawaiian word for “baby.” Ultimately it can grow into a new flower spike. At first, it is small, like yours but it should soon develop roots and leaves. Once the keiki has several leaves and about the same number of roots then it will be time to repot it. The leaves should be at least 2-3 inches long before you should consider removing it. Taking it off too early will cause the keiki to die as it will not have enough food energy to be successful. Not all orchids have the ability to produce these adventitious growths on vegetative parts of the plant. Phalaenopsis, Vanda, Dendrobium and Catasetum are a few of the better-known orchids producing easy to propagate keiki. To remove the keiki take a sharp sterile knife and cut the plantlet just below the root tissue. Be careful not to remove any of the roots. It is critical to use a sterile utensil to minimize the potential for introducing disease. Consider painting the wounds on the mother plant and the keiki with a gentle fungicide to kill any potential disease pathogens. You can either repot the keiki in its own 4″ container or repot it with the mother plant. Keep the newly potted plant away from direct sunlight while it is getting established. A newly planted Keiki will take up to three years before it produces flowers so be patient. One other important note: the presence of keiki can indicate the mother plant is under stress. However, if the mother plant appears healthy to you, then do not worry just keep a watchful eye on it. For more complete information on growing orchids check out the UF/IFAS website: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/orchids.html
Pampas Lily of the Valley Vine
Q: I am finding this vine growing all over my property this year. What is it?
A: I looked through several of my Florida wildflower books and was unable to locate it. I sent my photos of the plant to the University of Florida specialist located at the Herbarium and he identified it as Pampas Lily of the Valley vine, Salpichroa origanifolia. This plant is a flowering herbaceous plant native to South America. In many areas it is an annual and other areas of the U.S. it is a perennial. New growth develops in late winter and spring. Pampas lily-of-the-valley can have numerous stems arising from a perennial rootstock. They are erect at first then become prostrate and trailing to a length of 3 m long. Stems are often densely hairy and zig-zagged. Flowers of pampas lily-of-the-valley are white or cream colored. They are about 6-8 mm long, bell-shaped, nodding with stalks about the same length as the flower formed singly or in pairs at the leaf axils. Pampas lily-of-the-valley fruit is a small, smooth yellow berry when ripe. This plant produces 100 berries per plant with 20 seeds in each berry resulting in at least 2,000 seeds per plant - yikes. Pampas lily-of-the-valley prefers temperate regions mainly on alkaline sandy soils in warm and often semi-arid situations. It is a weed of urban areas where it grows on home sites and neglected areas, trailing over fences and low bushes.
Q: My sister grows peacock gingers and they look so easy. What can you tell me about them?
A: I actually have several different varieties in my own yard and I love them. Peacock gingers are classified under the genus Kaempheria and are suited for USDA Hardiness Zones 8–11. They should be grown in shady sites where they will receive dappled light or full shade. Peacock gingers only grow about 6 – 8 inches high so they work beautifully as ground cover. They will die back in the winter but usually return late in the spring (between April and May) and bloom from early summer through the fall. The small, one inch flowers range from pale pink to deep lavender. Even though the flower is pretty, it is the pattern on the leaves which makes peacock gingers most attractive. The leaves can be anywhere from 3 – 6 inches long with a variety of coloring ranging from bronze to deep green. My peacock gingers have loved all the rain we have been receiving this summer but they have also grown well without receiving weekly irrigation. They are not particular about the soil type although I would suggest planting them in soil which contains a good organic mix – similar to most other perennials. Peacock gingers reproduce by rhizomes and can be divided easily. They also will adapt well to container gardening.
Q: I just moved to Amelia Island from the North and I don’t seen peonies growing here. Why not?
A: Well, welcome to Nassau County, Florida. We are certainly glad you decided to live here. Peonies are long-lived, perennial flowers producing large, showy flowers in the spring. It is possible for those people located on the western most part of our county to grow certain older varieties of peonies as they live in cold hardiness zones 8b. However, people located east of I-95, which would be you, are in cold hardiness zones 9a. This area is not well suited for peonies. Peonies grow best in cooler climates. We have long periods of warm, humid weather. Some mail order catalogs provide a chill rating range from 100 to 300 chilling hours per winter for certain cultivars of peony. Chilling hours is the number of cold hours the plant requires. This becomes very important for certain plants such as peonies and fruit trees. If you decide you want to try peonies, select cultivars with a low number of chilling hour requirement. In general, most of the newer peony cultivars do not perform well in the south because they were bred and selected in northern nurseries and do not receive an adequate amount of cold weather here. It might be best to consider other types of flowering plants which grow beautifully here such as plumbago, hydrangea, azalea, or camellia. They produce beautiful flowers and are much easier to grow here.
Q I love pansies and I see them in the spring and fall here but which season is best?
A: Pansy, Violax wittrockiana, can be planted in the spring or fall when night temperatures are 40ºF and day temperatures are 60ºF. So either season will work and pansies have been known to tolerate freezing temperatures so they may last well into the winter for you. However, our summers are too brutal for this delicate little flower to remain so we consider it an annual. Once temperatures start to rise consistently into the 70s it will be time to pull pansies out of the ground. You can grow them from seed or purchase them in flats from the local garden center. Either way, you are sure to be happy with the results of adding pansies to your landscape. Please cluster annuals in one spot as they may require more attention (water and fertilizer) than most perennials. There is seemingly no limit to the variety of solid and multiple colors of this pretty little flower. The word pansy is believed to be derived from the French word pensee which means thought or remembrance. Whether that is true or not, it is a nice thought or pensee – sorry, I couldn’t help myself. The leaves and flowers of the pansy are edible and are high in vitamin A and C. I have seen them used as decoration along the edges or atop cakes and even added to soups and salads. In addition, the flowers have been used for organic dyes. Pansies can be susceptible to root rot so be careful to provide the plants with moist, but well-drained soil. Slugs and aphids are common pests so check your plants often for best management.
Q: I am seeing clusters of blue flowers which look similar to phlox along the roadsides. Were these areas seeded?
A: Some of our median areas have been seeded with wildflowers but phlox generally likes partial shady sites so these areas are not a favorite. We do have a native phlox so I suspect it is the flower you have been noticing. Many of us have been enjoying these sweet flowers and you are correct, they are indeed blue or wild phlox, Phlox divaricate. This beautiful flower is native to North America and found westward to New Mexico and as far north as Eastern Canada. It is a perennial and blooms from late February through April. The blooms may last longer in your landscape if you provide them with morning sun and protect them from the harsh afternoon heat. They are propagated by cuttings rather than seed. Nevertheless, they will come back year after year for you. Also, there are many cultivated varieties of Phlox divaricate, be sure to try some for your yard.
Q: Do we have a native phlox plant?
A: Actually, we do have a native phlox, Phlox subulata, which iscommonly found from cold-hardiness zones 7-10. The plant goes unnoticed during the year because it blends in with the grass and other surrounding parts of the landscape until flowers emerge in late winter and spring. It is one of the signals to us of the arrival of spring. Flower colors vary from red and lavender to pink and white, depending on the cultivar grown. Plants grow no more than about 6 inches tall, forming thick clumps and a good ground cover. The stiff leaves are narrow, growing to about an inch long and perhaps to 1/16 inch wide. It tolerates most any kind of soil, with most sunlight situations although full sun helps it flower best. Native phlox is not salt tolerant. Cultivars include 'Crimson Beauty'—red flowers; 'Emerald Cushion'—pink flowers; 'Millstream'—white with a crimson eye; 'Millstream Daphne'—dark blue flowers; 'White Delight'—white flowers. Powdery mildew is the most common disease on this plant. The disease causes a white powdery growth on the leaves.
Q: What can you tell me about Pineapple Guava?
A: Every year, Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) put out a list of top plants of the year. This year, Feijoa sellowiana, or Pineapple Guava, was on the list. Several others listed such as perennial peanut, autumn fern, firebush, silver saw palmetto, Summer Wave pansy, winged elm, and Walter’s viburnum (compact) can be grown in this area. Pineapple guava has gray-green evergreen leaves and it produces pretty, pink spring flowers. Pineapple guava tolerates most any type of soil condition providing it is well drained. It can be planted in full sun or partial shade although too much shade reduces the production of flowers and fruit. Pineapple guava is highly drought and salt spray tolerant. It can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Pineapple guava can be used as a hedge or allowed to form a tree reaching heights of 15 feet with an equal spread. Edible fruit is produced, which apparently tastes somewhat like pineapple, although I have not had the privilege of tasting it yet. Attached is the University of Florida publication by Dr. Ed Gilman and the Forestry Department: http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/FEISELA.pdf The following website contains FNGLA’s listing the 2009 Plants of the Year:
http://www.floridagardening.org/plantsofyear/download/2009-PlantsofYear.pdf Perennial peanut can be seen at two of Nassau County’s Extension demonstration gardens: Nassau County Extension Yulee satellite office and the Fernandina Beach Historic Courthouse. The Walter’s viburnum can be seen at the Nassau County Demonstration Garden located at James Pages Governmental Complex in Yulee along with dozens of other easy to grow plants for this area. For more information on the demonstration sites please contact Rebecca Jordi at 904 - 530-6350 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Photo from FNGLA Plants of the Year website.
Q: What can you tell me about pineapple lily?
A: The common pineapple lily, Eucomis cosmosa, was originally from South America so it has a very tropical look to it. It grows about 2 feet tall with about the same spread. It is not picky about the light conditions or the type of soil. Pineapple lily will need to be irrigated on a regular basis to ensure the soil does not get too dry however it should remain dry during the dormant season. Leaf chewing insects are about the only real insect problem but they can be hand picked if you scout the plant often enough. Propagation occurs by seed and division of old rhizomes or bulbs. Once the plant leaves turn brown in the winter they can be removed just prior to spring flush. The bulbs may be set in clusters of three or more along walkways or mixed with low-growing shrubs. White to yellow star-shaped flowers form along a foot-tall stem topped with a cluster of green foliage. Some gardeners think the flowering stems resemble a fruiting pineapple plant, which gives rise to the common name. Plants are in bloom May through August. There are several different species, check your local garden center or favorite bulb catalog for ideas. Do not be afraid to add something new to your garden, it may surprise you how much you love discovering a new bulb or perennial.
Q: I keep seeing this plant in the garden centers but I am not sure what type of environment it prefers. Can you give me some information on it?
A: The plant you gave me was from the genus Plectranthus, which is being sold all over this area. This plant is from the mint family and has very fragrant leaves. We would classify as an annual for Nassau as its cold hardiness is for zones 9b-11 – remember Nassau County is 8b-9a so these plants are just outside our zone. Once the plants have been established for a year or more they can develop woody stems at the base and can therefore become more resistant to frost damage. The flowers are pink, purple or white and under proper conditions bloom from spring through fall, which means the flowers are seldom damaged by frost. Plectranthus are easily cultivated and require little extra attention or special treatment. It tolerates a wide variety of light conditions but thrive in semi shade, which makes them ideally suited to grow under the shade of trees. Plectranthus are often grown for their attractive foliage, flowers or both and vary in their growth forms from dense prostrate ground covers to sub-shrubs and large shrubs.
Q: I keep hearing conflicting information about poinsettias being poisonous. Are they poisonous or are they not?
A: The following information was taken in part from the University of Florida website called, “Solutions for Your Life”, which is attached at the end of this answer. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are non-poisonous and non-toxic. However, some people may be sensitive to the latex in poinsettia sap. Although eating even a large number of leaves will not result in illness, the plant is not considered edible. When used as an indoor plant, it should be kept out of reach of children and pets. Some new cultivars involve unusual color combinations or blooming time. The bracts of the Ice Punch cultivar come out red and turn white as they grow. The color pattern of Peppermint Twist's bracts varies from one plant to another, giving each plant a unique look. Advent Red--an annual that blooms as early as October--has been cultivated primarily as a landscape plant. With proper care, your poinsettias may stay colorful for many months. Poinsettias can retain their color until March if they are not exposed to freezing temperatures. Keep your poinsettias away from drafts and chilly air. Poinsettias grow best in well-lit areas, but direct sun or hot lights can dry out the plants. Water your poinsettia when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Place a saucer under the pot, and drain the saucer if water starts to collect in it. Keep the soil from getting soggy. Too much water can kill a poinsettia. Poinsettias are beautiful plants which are excellent choices for gift giving during the holidays. We hope you have a safe and healthy holiday from all of us at the Nassau County UF/IFAS Extension office. http://extension.ifas.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/poinsettias.html
Purple Tube Flower
Q: What can you tell me about the purple tube flower?
A: I believe you are talking about Iochroma cyanea and it is a distant relative of the angel trumpets which are both in the nightshade family. Often these plants are called “mini trumpet plants.” Like their cousins, all parts of the plant are poisonous. More than likely your plant will be a perennial, although it can be tender if temperatures stay below freezing for long periods of time. The purple tubular flowers are thin and grow 3 to 3.5 inches long. It is a favorite of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. There are several varieties with flower colors ranging from pale lilac to purple to red. The full mature height of the shrub can be from 3 – 6 feet with a potential 4 foot spread. Iochroma cyanea blooms repeatedly from late spring through the fall – which will make it my favorite shrub. Here it is in the middle of October and mine is blooming. Iochroma cyanea will need consistent watering during establishment but will be able to tolerate periods of no irrigation or rainfall once it is established. You can plant it in full sun but it will tolerate dappled lighting if it receives sufficient morning sun exposure. I have planted my shrub in dappled light as it may have problems with Florida’s intense summer heat and humidity. Maybe I will report back to you after a few years and let you know how it did in my yard. Most plants have to be pretty tough to survive – I don’t baby anything. Iochroma cyanea can be propagated by seed.
Q: My neighbor suggested I plant rain lilies but I don’t know anything about them. Can you give me more information?
A: I was unfamiliar with these plants too until we decided to add them to our demonstration garden. This group of charming bulbs, also known as pink fairy lilies, Zephyr lilies, and rain lilies is native to North America. In the wild, flowers bloom after a rain. Incredibly climatically diverse, they can be found wild in tropical lowlands, rain forests, and arid deserts. There are rain lilies for every climatic zone that does not experience long periods of freezing weather. They seem to be quite happy under domestication, and can be planted year round in North Florida. Rain lilies thrive in conditions not favorable for true garden lilies. They produce lush clumps of foliage in the fall when the weather is cool and can be mistaken during the winter for liriope. Spectacular effects can be achieved when used in mass plantings. Each species has a different time schedule for flowering, reaching a peak in July and August. With careful selection of at least six species you can have orange, pink, yellow, white, rose, or red rain lilies flowering for nine months of the year from mid-March until mid-November.
Q: What is a rainlily? I saw it in a plant catalog and was considering ordering some.
A: They are low maintenance, flowering bulbs which flower from spring through the fall. The common name comes from the flowers showing up after a rain shower. Rainlily refers to any of about 70 species of Zephyranthes and Habranthus, all of which are flowering bulbs that share common names of rainlily, fairy lily, rainflower and zephyrlily. Rainlily is one of the easiest bulbs to grow in Florida. When planted in an appropriate site, rainlily needs little care after planting; it tolerates most soil conditions and will not need fertilizer, irrigation or replanting. Rainlily seems to flower best when clumps are left undisturbed. Like daylilies, the flower only last for one or two days. This flower can be seen along roadsides and in pastures throughout our county during warm weather. I would encourage you to try some in a section of your landscape – you may find you absolutely love them. We have several in the large demonstration garden located at the Governmental Complex. We also have specific information regarding every plant on our website: http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu.
Q: What is a Floribunda rose?
A: Floribunda roses are quite different than the normal hybrid tea roses, climbing and Grandiflora roses. Floribunda roses refer to roses which are larger than miniature but smaller than hybrid tea roses. Floribunda roses are fairly hardy and require less care than the tea hybrids. But remember, we all know the extensive care required by hybrid tea roses. The flowers of the Floribunda may be single or double and they produce more of them than the hybrid tea roses. Flordibunda roses are more shrub form and range from 2 feet to 5 feet tall with a variety of widths. Floribunda roses were developed from a cross between a polyantha rose and a hybrid tea rose. The hope was to find a hardier rose which would be more disease resistant. Floribunda was named by the rose firm Jackson and Perkins as a separate class of roses and introduced in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair. They prefer full sun and well drained soils. Provide them plenty of space to allow for good air circulation. Some examples of Floribunda roses are Sunfire (red), Cherish (pink), Sea Pearl (pink blend), Sun Flare (yellow) and Little Darling (yellow blend) and now there are dozens of newer varieties. The most important thing to remember regarding roses is the root stock as these roses are grafted. Here in northeast Florida we always suggest Fortuniana rootstock. If the rose is not labeled for a rootstock then it may not live long.
Q: I am interested in growing roses here. What should I know before I get started?
A:Very few gardeners can resist the temptations of the Rose. For many of us a rose brings to mind romantic memories of warm summer evenings and intoxicating smells. You see, even I wax poetic at the thought of roses. Roses come in a variety of sizes, colors, and scents. They can be in the form of trees, shrubs, miniatures or vines. Be sure to purchase roses grafted on “Fortuniana” rootstock as it is the most cold-hardy for our area. Plant them in full sun and well-drained, organic soil. For best results be sure to irrigate them on a regular basis but keep the water off the leaves to reduce fungal leaf spots. Cut off the fading flowers throughout the blooming season. January would be a good month to prune your roses in North Florida. A UF/IFAS publication on growing roses in Florida by Park-Brown: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP33900.pdf
Q: My question for you is about roses. When are you supposed to cut them back?
A: You can cut back suckers and dead or diseased canes anytime. True pruning is done between December and January here in Northeast Florida. Leave at least half the length of each main cane that is one to three years old. Always cut just above a bud to avoid cane dieback. The first flowers can be expected eight to nine weeks after pruning. Grooming roses is a little more time consuming, but this process keeps the plant blooming throughout the season. Grooming requires removing faded flowers and preventing the rose plant from developing seed, which is a waste of its energy. Any growth coming from the rootstock should be broken off rather than pruned to discourage any future growth from that area. The rootstock is generally a poor flower producing plant but is used because of its ability to tolerate cold or resist disease.
Q: What is causing these big, black spots on the leaves of my roses?
A: This disease is appropriately called “Black Leaf Spot.” It is caused by a fungus, which can be especially troublesome during wet weather. Since we are currently experiencing drought conditions you might ask how such a disease can be a problem. This fungus is spread from leaf to leaf by water and wind and the problem becomes compounded by over-head irrigation when leaves stay wet for extended periods of time. Most plants, including roses, prefer to be watered directly at the root area. Not only is this form of irrigation better for the plant it also has other advantages. Those advantages include reduction of loss of water through evaporation and lower incidents of disease. Sanitation methods such as removal of diseased plant material from around the base of the plant will also be beneficial. Local garden centers and nurseries sell many varieties of fungicides to help manage this disease. Remember, fungicides work best as protectants rather than a cure. Therefore, apply fungicides on new plant growth to protect them from fungal spores. Remember to always read the label before applying any chemical to your landscape. You will need to combine your efforts by using chemicals as well as changing your irrigation methods. For more informations see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pp268.
Q: After this last freeze I noticed my salvia was covered in white insects – you called them scale. Do think the freeze killed all the insects? Should I leave the plants alone or remove them now?
A: In some instances it is better to remove insect and disease infested plants rather than chemically treat them. Although the salvia will probably return in the spring it is too easy for the insects to get started on one plant and move on the neighboring foliage producing new colonies and infestations elsewhere. The cold weather has probably destroyed much of the insect population however is it possible some of the insects will survive and are waiting for the perfect environment to reproduce and increase their numbers. I would suggest pulling the plants up and start fresh next spring with insect free plants. '
Q: What can you tell me about the plant called Butterfly Blue Scabiosa?
A: I believe you are referring to a specific Scabiosa which is a perennial flowering aster-like plant. This flower originated from Mediterranean Europe, Africa and Asia. It can grow in full sun to partial shade but higher sun exposure will produce more flowers. Similar to other perennials, once the flowers fade, removing the old blooms will encourage the plant to produce more flowers. Flowers appear in the spring and continue through the fall. The flowers, which can grow to 2 feet, provide an excellent source for nectar feeding animals such as birds and bees. Butterfly Blue Scabiosa, Scabiosa columbaria, can be grown in USDA cold hardiness zones 4-10. Remember our zone here in Nassau County Florida range from 8b to 9a. People often make the assumption using the word perennial means the plant will live forever or at least ten to twenty years. However, this Scabiosa is considered a short lived perennial which means it will live and provide flowers for about 2-3 years. We will also have this plant at our plant sale on Saturday, May 18th.
Q: In past years I have just mowed these down pretty purple flowers. This year I have a small group of them in my yard and they are rather attractive. What is it and can it be transplanted into a group? It would be very inexpensive landscaping.
A: This spring I have received dozens of calls on this plant. It is interesting how some years the wildflowers are extremely showy and attract a great deal of attention? I appreciated the photo you sent me which made it very easy to identify. I believe your plant is probably the Common spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis. This plant is considered a wildflower by many people but it can be classified as a weed if located in the lawn. Common spiderwort is a perennial, which means it returns from season to season. It may die back during cold weather but returns during the warm spring temperatures. It is asily grown in well-drained, acid, sandy soil. Common spiderwort prefers full sun to part shade. It is very tolerant of part shade but it may produce fewer blooms under these conditions. These plants can be transferred from one site to another. They are propagated by division, similar to dividing lilies, and can be easily grown in groups. The stems may grow over 2 feet tall, but they should be cut back to 6-12" in mid-summer to encourage new growth and a possible fall bloom.
Q: I have seen flowers growing along side the road. They are sitting atop a stalk about 8-12 inches high. The flowers are very tiny and white. They spiral around the top of the stalk. What are they?
A: How observant of you! I have been seeing this plant too on my walks around my home. I believe the wildflowers you are describing are called Spring Lady’s Tresses, Spiranthes vernalis. This plant is a terrestrial orchid and different varieties of it appear in the spring, summer and fall. Some nurseries will sell a close relative of the Spring Lady’s Tresses which produces a pleasant fragrant. This orchid is a monocot (for you Master Gardeners and science advocates) which means it looks similar to plants in the grass family. It can grow in a variety of site conditions but seems to prefer sandy soil. Spring Lady’s Tresses can be found as far west as Texas and north to Canada; all along the eastern part of the United States. In Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania this plant is listed by the U.S. federal government as endangered. It is on the threatened list for Iowa and Massachusetts and several states have it listed as rare. This should remind us that even the tiny, inconspicuous flowers are valuable.
Q: Will you indentify this flower I found growing in my mother’s yard in South Florida?
A: I believe you have Downy or star jasmine, Jasminum multiflorum, which is best suited for the warmer temperatures of Central and South Florida which are in cold hardiness zones 8b-11. It is possible it will survive cool winters along the coast in Northeast Florida, but it is a little risky. Some folks have had success with growing it a little farther inland but if we have long, sustained cold temperatures, it may not survive. It is not highly salt tolerant so it would not be advisable to plant it along the beach areas. The name “downy” comes from the small hair-like projections on the surface of the leaves making the shrub appear to have a blue-gray hue. Many of the jasmine family members are more vine-like but Downy jasmine grows into a small shrub – up to 12 feet tall. It grows quickly, filling in an empty space easily so be sure you allow enough room. Jasmine plants are usually prized for their fragrant flowers but the Downy jasmine flower does not have the strong, familiar aroma. Downy jasmine is not fussy about soil pH or any specific sun exposure which makes it a nice addition to any landscape hedge as long as enough room is provided for mature height and spread. It has few pest issues but like most woody ornamental plants, it does not like over-head irrigation.
Q: What is the name of this bulb growing in my yard? My yard is very wet most of the time, and this plant is growing wildly all over my yard.
A: Thanks for bringing in a specimen with the flower; it made it much easier to identify. I believe what you have is a Swamp lily - Crinum americanum. It is a Florida native, which grows well in wetlands and along streams throughout the state. The swamp lily is a perennial herb, with an onion-like bulb. The leaves are erect to spreading. Leaves are strap-like, up to 3 feet long and 3 inches wide. Swamp lily flowers arise from the bulb on a long flower stalk that is separate from the leaves. Two to six flowers occur at the tip of the flower stalk. The long flower tubes are 4 to 6 inches long. Swamp lily flowers are white, or white and pink, and slightly fragrant. The fruit is a capsule, with large, fleshy seeds. Swamp lilies may be confused with spider lilies (genus Hymenocallis). The flowers of both the swamp lily and spider lily have 6 petals but spider lily flower petals will be connected by membranous tissue. Swamp lily is a great plant for those areas where water has a tendency to pool or in poorly drained soil.
Q: What is the bright yellow flower growing in the ditches now?
A: Swamp Sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius, is a Florida native upright perennial potentially growing to heights of 4 feet or more. The dark green leaves are narrowly lanceolate and may reach a length of 8 inches. This spectacular fall bloomer bears yellow flowers with dark yellow or brown disks. In cold hardiness zone 8 seeds can be planted between May and July; for zone 9 planting times occurs April through August. Swamp Sunflower grows best in full sun to partial shade and can be planted in a well-drained soil although it is native to low wetland areas. It appears to have fairly good tolerance to planting in typical garden soil but benefits from some irrigation in dry weather. If grown in partial sun, pinch plants twice in early summer to encourage branching. Swamp sunflower responds well to regular applications of fertilizer. Many plantlets develop around the base of the Swamp Sunflower; divide it yearly to gain more plants. Propagate by seed. Swamp Sunflower is susceptible to powdery mildew and spittle bugs.
Q: How would I go about growing tulips here?
A: Unfortunately, many of the common bulbs of northern states such as tulips, hyacinths, and some irises and lilies do not grow well in Florida. Very often these bulbs flower poorly or not at all, even in northern Florida. However, with special treatment many of these northern bulbs will grow and bloom the first year. Recovering bulbs for planting the following year is not recommended because the bulbs rarely flower again. Bulbs require chilling for about 60 days at 40°F and 120 days at 50°F. Bulbs chilled in a refrigerator with ripening fruit may fail to bloom. The gas (ethylene) produced by ripening fruit can cause the flower buds to abort. Plant bulbs immediately upon removal from cold storage. Discard bulbs after blooming and plant new ones each year. There are plenty of other perennial flowering choices that would bring you much more pleasure year after year. Consider lilies such as cannas, crinum or calla. Try your hand at Dahlia, Watsonia, or Sternbergia. The University of Florida/IFAS publication below will give you more specific information on selection and general care of bulbs for Northeast Florida. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG029
Q: I have attached a picture of a plant that is thriving on Sapelo Island. It is about 5' tall and the flowers are waxy. It is really putting on a show now. Do you have any idea what it could be? I can't find it in any book.
A: Thank you for sending the photos of this plant. I was not familiar with it so I contacted the University of Florida Herbarium to assist me. They quickly identified it as Clerodendrum indicum (L.) Kuntze, commonly referred to as skyrocket or turk's turban, in the Lamiaceae (mint family). Do not confuse this plant with other Clerodendrums (such as bleeding heart) or the squash variety often called turk’s turban. Clerodendrum indicum (L.) Kuntze escaped from the East Indies and became naturalized in Florida and 5 other southern states. It is now found in South America and even as far away as Hawaii. In some areas it is classified as a Category 2 invasive, which means you are encouraged to dig it up and remove it whenever possible. Therefore we would not encourage you to propagate it although it easily propagates by seed or rhizome. Clerodendrum indicum (L.) Kuntze is found in disturbed uplands or rockland hammocks generally in full sun but it can grow in partial shade too. It produces white flowers in the summer. The red petal-like structures you see during late summer and fall are actually called calyxes. Calyx is the term used for a group of sepals. Sepals are the green structures that protect a flower bud prior to opening.
Q: I have seen small, clover-like plants with purple flowers along the roadsides and in some of the natural areas. I know it is not a violet but it is equally pretty. Can you tell me what it is?
A: From your description, I am fairly confident you have spotted the wildflower called Violet wood sorrel, Oxalis violacea L., which is showing up in several of our local wooded areas. The leaf shape is unique and therefore made this wildflower easier to identify than most flowers. This plant is the cousin of the Yellow wood sorrel which is a problem in many of our lawns. Violet wood sorrel is found in most every state of the Union so you would think it would be prolific but in actuality, in some states it is on the endangered or threatened list. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Massachusetts and Rhode Island Violet wood sorrel is listed as endangered; Michigan and New York have it listed as threatened; and in Connecticut is it listed as a plant of special concern. The word oxalis comes from the Greek oxus which means "sour," referring to the pleasantly sour taste of the leaves and stem. They can be eaten but it is suggested to limit the amount as it may cause nausea. A true perennial, this plant flowers in the early spring.
Q: My vinca plants are not doing well. Will you test the soil pH for me?
A: I did test the soil and the pH measured approximately 7.2. It was slightly higher (or more alkaline) than most plants prefer, which is somewhere in the range of 6.0 – 6.5. Most vinca varieties tolerate a wide range of soil types and pH. Vinca are incredibly hardy and many are somewhat “weedy.” I planted one seed packet 3 years ago with no irrigation and no fertilizer and they are still showing up all over my yard! Therefore, I felt something else must be causing the plants to perform poorly. After further discussion, I concluded you might be over-watering these hardy plants. Although we are in a drought situation, irrigating most plants more than once a week is too much. Vegetables are an exception to this general irrigation suggestion. Your plants appeared to have a root rot. Cut back irrigation and remove any dead or dying plants immediately. Use pine product mulch to help conserve water, lower pH and keep temperatures consistent around the root area.
Q: What is wrong with my vinca?
A: Thanks for bringing in your sample to the office; you were the second person I saw with an issue on vinca today at our plant clinic. I suspect both of you have the same problem – phytophthora root rot. Vinca love well drained soil, so I suspected too much water was origin of the problem. In one case, it was over-irrigation but in your other case, the problem was a combination of too much water and too much rain. Not much can be done about the weather except to be sure the soil can drain the water quickly. It is also recommended rotating the types of annuals planted and stay away from planting the same species year after year. Select healthy plants before placing them into the flower beds. Sometimes getting a “deal” on plants at the garden centers is not a deal at all – especially if the plants show signs of disease and/or insects. We would suggest using a slow release fertilizer in the spring and summer but do not over do it. Over fertilization can make the plant more inviting to insects and disease. When watering, choose early morning between 6am and 10am. Twice a week may be too excessive.
Q: I noticed these wildflowers growing along a wooded area near my home and they look similar to the “Whirling Butterfly” plant also called Gaura which I have purchased at a local garden center. Do you know what they might be called?
A: Believe it or not, scientists often develop ornamental plants found in retail stores from the native, wild specimens growing in our natural areas. The ornamental plant called Whirling Butterflies, Gaura lindheimeri, most often has white flowers which are produced on long, thin stalks making the flower appear to be a butterfly flitting on the breeze. There are other common cultivars of G. lindheimeri such as ‘Corrie’s Gold’, ‘Pink Cloud’ and ‘Crimson Butterflies’ which may be found at your local plant nursery. The cultivated ornamental gaura plants listed above range in heights from 2 – 4 feet. It would be important to know the potential mature height as the shorter ones should be planted in front of the taller ones.
The wildflower photo you sent me might be Slender Gaura or Slender Stalk Beeblossom, Gaura filipes. It is difficult to be certain but most of these plants are commonly known as beeblossom. The photo (right) I took from a cluster found locally at Egans Greenway. As you can see, the plant in the photo is similar to yours. Gaura or beeblossom plants, as their name suggests, attract bees which makes them a fun addition to any home garden. They fit well in any informal garden area that receives full sun and requires very little water or tending.