Q:   I have this scary looking slime growing all over my yard.  What is it and how do I control it? 

A:   At first glance, I thought this might have been some sort of jelly fungi but after further research and after calling a fellow Extension agent, we discovered it to be blue - green algae called Nostoc commune.  This alga is known by other common names such as star jelly or witch’s butter – neither of which really describes how creepy it looks.  I felt at any moment something strange would rise up from it - reminiscent of a creature from Ghost Busters!   The strange jelly-like structure can occur during warm temperatures when accompanied by high levels of moisture and/or rainfall. It is also an indicator of compacted soil and/or too much irrigation.  It will dry out if the water or rainfall diminishes but it has only gone into dormancy.  More than likely it will return if the conditions are right.  Star jelly appears in areas where the lawn grass is already weak – however it is important to emphasize the algae does not cause the death of the grass.  In fact, star jelly can grow on hardscapes such as driveways and sidewalks.  When applied regularly, some fungicides will help control star jelly but probably not get rid of it permanently. If you decide to use a fungicide, be sure it is labeled for application on lawns and follow the directions on the label.  Applying to much of the product, aside from breaking the law, can cause more problems for the lawn grass. The best suggestion in controlling star jelly is to loosen up the soil by aeration and reduce irrigation if watering is contributing to the problem.  Another interesting fact – in some Asian cultures, star jelly is eaten although I would not recommend taking it up from your yard and trying it. 


Q:  I will be bringing my plants indoors.  I have heard it will help to add aspirin to the soil to help prevent disease.  Is that true? 

A:  I was unable to find any research information regarding adding aspirin to soil to prevent plant disease.  There is extensive research which documents aspirin provides no benefit if added to the water of cut flowers.  I see no reason to add an anti-inflammatory chemical to the soil of any plant.  I would be more concerned about one of my pets finding the pill attractive and it potentially causing problems for the animal.  When bringing plants indoors which they are normally outside let us consider a few important things. This will be a major change for the plant regarding air circulation, water and light exposure. Keep the plant in as similar a light exposure as possible. Avoid over watering as this can potentially kill any house plant. Winter is the dormant season for most plants therefore consider delaying any fertilizing until it is time to put the plant back outside. If the plant develops leaf spots or browning, consider bringing it to one of our plant clinics for an examination.  We can determine if the problem is caused by a disease pathogen or an insect and then prescribe the appropriate mode of action. 


 Q:  What can you tell me about the bamboo plant Moso? 

 A:   Moso bamboo is a close relative of golden bamboo.  Moso is the largest temperate bamboo, reaching heights of over 75 feet and with 5 inch diameter shoots. Two scientific names ‐ Phyllostachys pubescens and Phyllostachys edulis ‐ are currently used as scientific names for moso bamboo. Bamboo shoots emerge from horizontal underground stems called rhizomes.  These rhizomes generally grow within the first 12 inches of soil. The real problem with this type of rhizome is it can spread or run outward 20 to 30 feet before sprouting. In addition, the rhizomes can run in all directions from the original shoot.  This can become a weedy problem by growing in areas far from the original site – namely neighbor’s yards.  We always recommend using clumping bamboo rather than running bamboo for that very reason.

Q:  I just moved here and there is a cluster of large bamboo plants in my yard. Can you identify them for me?

A:  I am glad you brought me a photo of this plant.  The grasses and grass-like plants are very difficult to identify but this one is fairly easy since you showed me a seed head and it was about 12 feet tall.  I believe is it Giant reed, Arundo donax, which is a very large plant often found growing as a dense stand in water, topped by very large, feathery, plume-like inflorescences or seed heads. Giant reed is a source of reeds for musical instruments and industrial cellulose.  Giant reed is a non-native large grass and is classified as a noxious weed in 46 states, according to the USDA. The rhizomes are hard and thick; the stems are cane-like, tall, erect or leaning reaching heights up to 20 ft. tall. The cane-like stems are what made you think it was bamboo. Controlling this plant is going to be difficult because of the rhizomes.  Applying a concentration of glyphosate (Round-up) on cut stems will be necessary to control it. It will most likely take more than one application to work.  Removing the seed heads will also be beneficial.  When removing the seed heads, be sure to bag them immediately and throw them away. 

Q:   My neighbor’s bamboo is becoming a problem for my property.  What can I do to keep it under control? 

A:   You will only be able to manage those reeds popping up on your property unless you have your neighbor’s permission. If you are having a problem then your neighbor might be frustrated too.  Working together would be ideal. It may be hard to believe but bamboo is really just a giant type of perennial grass. Most people use it as a hedge for privacy or keep it in large planters to enhance a patio.  There are numerous varieties of bamboo ranging in heights from 1 to 70 feet tall.  The United States has only one native species, called cane or canebrake bamboo.  This native bamboo generally behaves itself and does not become a nuisance in our wildlife areas or our neighbor’s yards.  However, there are dozens of imported bamboos which are highly invasive and exceedingly difficult to control. These invasive varieties have large underground rhizomes used to store food for the plant.  Non-native bamboo is extremely difficult to control as it requires killing all the rhizomes.  Bamboo plants typically build extensive rhizome networks underground.  This makes management of bamboo intensive and difficult because all it takes is one rhizome cluster and the bamboo will return. You can try mowing the canes a couple of times a week, similar to lawn grass, and this will reduce the amount of chlorophyll available to produce food.  Regarding any chemical applications we would recommend using glyphosate in the form of a 5% solution or 6 ounces per gallon.  The University of Florida recommends using glyphosate with a 41% concentration of the active ingredient.  While some studies have shown the active ingredient imazapyr is more effective on bamboo than glyphosate, this product can leach into the soil and damage surrounding plants such as trees, shrubs and other perennials. Therefore we would not recommend applying this product to the bamboo on your property. Unfortunately, it will most likely take between three and four applications of glyphosate to control this pest.  This is an important message for us when adding plants from other countries to our landscapes.  If you do not want to use chemicals you can put a barrier between the bamboo and your property.  Dig a trench approximately 36 inches deep. Use rolls of fiberglass or 60 mil polypropylene in the trench. Leave about 2 inches of the barrier above the soil to discourage rhizomes from growing over the top of the barriers. It sounds extreme but it does work. 

Q:   When do I prune bamboo? 

 A:   No matter what time of year, you can prune out dead canes. That rule also applies to any tree or shrub. Some people like a dense thicket while others like a more open and airy look.  Generally, we recommend taking out any canes over seven years old.  You can use a pruning saw, just be sure it is sharp and cut the cane at ground level. Prune bamboo most any time of year except when it is producing new shoots as it would be easy to damage the new growth. 

Q:  I love the large bamboo growing along some of the roadsides along A-1-A.  Someone told me it was called Giant reed and it is invasive.  I was thinking about planting it along my retention pond but thought I might ask you about it first. 

A:  I appreciate you calling me about this plant and I admire your desire to do the right thing for the local community and environment.  In the 1820s, Giant reed, Arundo donax, was introduced in California for erosion control. It has since escaped and become a major invasive weed problem in California and Texas watersheds. Giant reed can be found throughout the southern United States and as far north as Maryland, but the date and location of its initial introduction in the eastern United States is unknown. Although giant reed has been present in Florida for many years, it has not become a problem species. However, because of its growth characteristics and competitive ability it should be monitored closely. This plant is a clumping, perennial grass which can reach heights between 16 to 20 feet. Giant reed interferes with rivers and lakes by increasing sedimentation and narrowing water channels which can lead to flooding and erosion. The best management of the reed is to mow it and remove the cut material. To totally get rid of it, the rhizome must be destroyed by using a non-selective herbicide combined with other grass controlling herbicides. It will most likely take more than one application. It is always important to be careful when choosing plants to place around bodies of water. I would always advise against any plant which might be a potential invasive. This information was combined from the following publications: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag307 and http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/node/48


Saltmarsh bulrushQ:  I found this sedge growing along Egan’s Creek.  Can you identify it for me? 

A:  Reeds, sedges and rushes are not my strength but your photo of the seed head made it easier to identify.  I am glad you did not pick any of the plants as these should be left alone.  One never knows if these plants are protected.  Not to mention the types of critters often hiding or living in these areas.  The plant is most likely the Salt-marsh bulrush, Scirpus robustus, which is native to Florida.  It can be easily found growing along the edges of brackish and saline coastal marshes nearly throughout Florida. Salt-march bulrush blooms from spring to fall and occurs almost always under natural conditions in wetlands. They have very large conspicuous, cone-shaped spikelets, and long thin leaves and bracts. Its many seeds are an important food to ducks, geese and other water birds.


Q:   I have a Crown-of-Thorns plant in the shade and it is not doing well.  What could be wrong? 

 A:   Crown-of-Thorns, Euphorbia milii, a native of Madagascar, is a common garden plant in southern states, especially Florida. It grows best in cold hardiness zones 10-11 which means South Florida for us.  Typically it will die back during harsh, cold temperatures here in Northeast Florida so protect it from freezing temperatures.  Crown-of-Thorns produce flowers best in full sun and allow the soil medium to dry out between watering.  Overwatering this plant can quickly cause root decay.  It is a low-growing evergreen shrub with very thorny grooved stems and branches. The small flowers are produced in clusters of 2-8 at the tips of green flower stem about 1 inch long. The colors of the flowers are pink, red, yellow and white.  It is salt and drought tolerant. Genus Euphorbia includes other commonly available plants such as poinsettia. All parts of the Crown-of-Thorns plant are poisonous. Generally this group of plants is not appetizing to most animals but they will eat it if their normal food supply becomes limited. Drying does not destroy the toxicity of the plant, and Euphorbia in hay may be slightly more palatable to livestock. Contact with the white, milky sap may cause severe blistering as well as intense pain to open cuts or eyes. Honey made from the flowers of these plants may be toxic. Generally horses, cattle, sheep, cats, dogs and humans are affected by Euphorbia and may experience severe irritation of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, sometimes with hemorrhage and diarrhea. Other general signs include blistering, swelling about the eyes and mouth, excessive salivation and emesis, abdominal pain and weakness. The sap may cause dermatitis. Death is rare. Work horses may suffer severe blisters and loss of hair on the ankles.


Q:  I planted some cacti outside and they have been growing very tall but they are very pale green.  I have fertilized them but I don’t see much response.  Do you have any ideas? 

A:   Certain types of cacti grown outdoors in Florida may experience the lighter discoloring you mentioned resulting from our high humidity.  Many cacti come from arid environments and although your plant has grown significantly, it is probably out of its normal element and the stress has caused the pale color.  I suspect it will not die but it may become susceptible to a fungal disease.  Continue to watch it but do not over water or over fertilize it.  Fertilize succulents and cacti very sparingly. Overfeeding can kill these slow growing plants or force them to grow at an unnatural rate. The photo is of a prickly pear cactus which commonly grows in our area.  Be very careful of them as the spines have been known to go through the soles of shoes.  I speak from experience on this topic having unsuspectingly stepped on one at American Beach this winter.  Ouch!

Q: What can you tell me about night blooming cactus? 

A:  I can tell you this name is applied to several cacti so it is difficult to determine on exactly which one you need additional information.   Queen of the Night, Selenicereus grandiflorus, grows best in cold hardiness zones 10-11 which means only in certain parts of south Florida. Hylocereus undatus We are in cold hardiness zones 8b-9a.  If you are interested in this plant you might consider putting it in a container so you can move it inside when temperatures drop during the winter months.  It produces very fragrant, white to cream colored flowers which open during the evening hours.  It can potentially reach 30-40 feet in height.  Or you might mean Hylocereus undatus, which also grows only in zones 10-11.  This plant also can reach heights of 30 feet.  The flowers are huge, some measuring 14 inches long by 12 inches wide. 

Q:  I was given a Christmas cactus last year and I loved it.  I put it outside on my shady porch and it has thrived. It has been full of buds.  With these cold nights, I decided to bring it inside.  Now the plant is losing its buds, one flower at a time.  It seems like every time I turn around, more have fallen off.  What can I do? 

A:  As soon as we hear the word cactus we usually assume the plant must like aChristmas Cactus hot, dry environment.  However, Christmas cactus, Schlumbergera bridgesii, is a native of the rain forests of Brazil.  These plants typically are found growing in the canopy of shade trees, which is why the plant adapted so well on your back porch, protected from direct light. I suspect the reason for the bud drop is the extreme temperature change from the outside to indoors.  Moving them back outside might produce an additional shock so I would not recommend it. Christmas cactus can tolerate summer temperatures near the 80s but it will show some adverse damage when temperatures drop below 50. This moderate temperature range preference is one of the reasons why many people opt to keep it indoors.  You could keep it outside during the winter and protect it with a light covering when temperatures drop below 50. Christmas cactus does not have true leaves.  The flat, green, leaf-like structures holding the flower are actually specialized stems called phylloclades.  If they are exposed to too much direct sunlight, they turn pale green. You can alternate fertilizer application with a small amount of Epsom salts - magnesium sulfate (1 teaspoon per gallon of water).  This plant can tolerate a dry soil but during budding and flowering, it is best to keep the soil moist but not wet.  Pinch back the stems (phylloclades) in early June to promote branching.  Remove the short, terminal stems in September to encourage flower bud formation.  Flowers will only develop on mature stems. Keep the plants away from direct lighting in the evening hours as this will discourage flower.


Q:  I have heard there are dwarf cattails.  Is it true and what can you tell me about them? 

A:   I was able to find some information from Clemson University Extension. cattails The dwarf cattail variety is Typha minima, which is a native of Europe and Asia.  It only grows about two feet tall rather than the standard cattail which can reach heights of up to 10 feet.  Dwarf cattail prefers to grow in water with depths of 3 to 6 inches.  It flowers in the summer and the flowers remain until the fall.  No indication it will be as weedy as the standard but it is an introduced species so we will have to wait and see if it will behave.  It can grow well in full sun or partial shade.

Christmas Tree

Q:  I gave into the request of my grand children to have a live tree while they were visiting me over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Now I am stuck with this tree and I am afraid it will become a fire hazard before New Year’s Day has arrived.  Any hints for me? 

A:The most important thing to do is to keep water in the tree stand at all times. No need to add any of those elaborate additives suggested by well meaning advisors, just plain, clean water will do fine.  A well, hydrated tree is less likely to drop large amounts of its needles and more importantly it is also less likely to become a fire hazard. Just a couple of other important hints, keep the tree away from direct heat sources – fire places, candles or space heaters. Cover up the tree stand with fabric as this will make it less tempting for Fido, who might consider it another source of water similar to his own water bowl. Remove the tree after New Year’s Day, keeping it any longer will cause it to become a nuisance as more and more needles begin to fall.  There are Boy Scout troops in some areas willing to pick up and recycle live Christmas trees.  Please contact your local scouts to determine if they are participating in this worthy venture.

Q:  I would like to plant a tree in the yard which I can decorate each year as an outside Christmas tree.  I am just not sure what tree would grow here. 

A:  We have several easy growing trees which will give you the “Christmas Tree” look you arered cedar seeking.  These are evergreen trees so they can be decorated year after year.  Consider taking photos with your family each year to document the changes in the tree – it makes for wonderful memories which can be shared from generation to generation. Several top choices would be the Southern Redcedar, Sand Pine, Virginia pine, Arborvitae, Leyland Cypress or one of the newest the Arizona Cypress.  We have the Southern Redcedar and the Arizona Cypress in the Extension Demonstration garden at James S. Pages Governmental Complex.  Take some time to go visit the site and look over the trees.  In addition, go to our website to get specific information of all of our plants in the gardens.

 Adding a tree to the landscape is always a great idea – it provides oxygen, beauty, and a home for local wildlife.  http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/urbantrees/urbantreelist.html


Q: Since we had the hard freeze, several of my plants, like my plumbago are totally black.  Can I cut them down to the ground? 

A:  I feel fairly certain we will receive more cold weather.  If you prune the plumbago or other perennials now, they may produce new foliage when the weather warms slightly.  If another freeze comes along, the young, vulnerable foliage will freeze again knocking it back further.  It might be better to wait until we are completely sure we will have no other freezes.  Even this dead material provides a slight bit of protection for the stem and root area of the new growth which will be out in just a few months.  Relax, you will have plenty of time to get out and do your spring gardening – I promise. 

Q:  I have so many dead plants in the yard.  From the hibiscus to queen palm to even my dwarf oleander have died.  Some of the branches are brittle and others are more pliable.  Should I cut them all down? 

A:  I was equally surprised some of the oleander received so much freeze damage. Normally, we have up to about 14 days of temperatures near or at freezing. We had over 29 such days and some of those days were well below freezing.  In some areas of the county, temperatures were in the teens for more than one day. It is difficult for truly tropical plants to survive, much less do well, in those cold conditions. Your hibiscus and oleander will probably come back, depending on how cold hardy they are.  I cannot be sure about the queen palm; many residents will lose their palms this year, others may survive. It may be the summer before we can know for sure about palm damage. Nassau County has two cold hardiness zones – 8b (west of I-95) and 9a (east of I-95).  It is not a hard fast rule but a good area to make plant selections. Those plants normally grown in areas Central and South Florida (zones 10 – 11) will not survive temperatures much below 32 degrees. The best advice I can give you is to cut away the brittle limbs on the hibiscus and oleander as they are obviously dead and wait to see what may come back. You should see some growth within the next week or so. If not, then consider taking it out of the ground and replacing it with a more cold hardy plant. Remove only the totally brown fronds on the queen palm or any palm and take a wait and see attitude. We all had been lulled into thinking we would continue to have mild winters and therefore made some poor plant choices – you are not alone.

Q:  This last freeze really caused many of my plants, especially the perennials, to wilt and die.  I can not stand the way they look; can I cut them back now? 

A:  I know it is frustrating to have the landscape not look perfect. We have been spoiled by the last five to six years of warm winter temperatures which only occasionally reached the low thirties. However, most of us knew this kind of freezing winter damage would eventually happen. It is currently February and we may receive more cold temperatures; no one knows absolutely what will happen in the next few weeks. If you can stand it, consider waiting until the middle of March before removing all the tender, dead tissue. What you may find are some new, tender leafy growths underneath. These new growths are being protected by the dead leaves and given a warm place to grow. If you remove these dead leaves, you remove the protection to the new growth by exposing them to cold temperatures and wind. If a freeze does occur, this new growth will likely be killed too. However, if you feel you cannot wait until March, then do what you must. Take special care of the new growth by covering it with sheets or towels when cold temperatures or winds occur then remove it when the sun returns. Do not worry, most of the perennials will come back but because of our cold winter it may take a little longer. 

Q:  I replaced some plants which I previously lost to cold damage.  I do not want to make the same mistake of losing them again.  How do I keep them from freezing in the winter? 

A:  Nothing is more heartbreaking to a gardener than losing one of our treasures, especially one we have nurtured through the three seasons only to have it die in the winter. So many newcomers think Florida will never receive freezing temperatures and we make the mistake of purchasing plants too tropical for our area.  However, that do not mean we should not take the opportunity to have some portion of our landscape which can contain fragile plants.  These plants are the ones for which we will go to great lengths to protect.  It would be wise to consider keeping those areas to small, manageable plots.  When you know a frost or freeze is coming, it’s time to protect the plants you’ve nurtured so carefully. Plants in containers can be moved into the garage or any other structure where heat can be supplied or trapped. In the landscape, low-growing plants may benefit from warmth held in the soil, and mulch helps to keep the heat in.  Fabric covers, like cloth sheets or quilts, can also trap ground heat, as long as they extend to the ground and are anchored to prevent them from blowing off in high winds. A lamp or other heat source which is safe and appropriate for outdoors can provide added warmth under the cover.  Remember to remove covers early in the day once the danger of frost has passed. Do not be too discouraged if some of the leaves show tip or margin burns as this may be normal. You may be tempted to prune the plant after the freeze is gone but is might be better to wait until we know the chance of frost is over. Just exactly when that date may occur is up for discussion, but traditionally we have had few frosts between the middle of March and the beginning of April.  For more information check out the following University of Florida publication:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG025 and “Solutions for Your Life”


Q:  I have some plants I want to be sure survive any freezing temperatures.  What should I do to protect them? 
A:  Watering landscape plants 24-48 hours before a freeze can help protect plants. A well watered soil will absorb more solar radiation than dry soil and will reradiate heat during the night. This practice elevates minimum night temperatures in the canopy of citrus trees by as much as 2°F (1°C). However, too much water can contribute to root rots especially if soil material contains heavy organic matter.  Plants in containers can be moved into protective structures where heat can be supplied and/or trapped. Containers that must be left outdoors should be protected by mulches and pushed together before a freeze to reduce heat loss from container sidewalls. Radiant heat loss is reduced by mulches placed around plants to protect the roots but remember to keep the mulch only 2-3 inches deep.  I know there is a tendency for us to think a few inches is good therefore 5-6 inches must be better but too much can create an environment for disease. For perennials, the root system is all that needs to be protected since the plants die back to the ground annually. Be patient, they should return when temperatures become warmer. Coverings protect more from frost than from extreme cold. Covers that extend to the ground and are not in contact with plant foliage can lessen cold injury by reducing radiant heat loss from the plant and the ground. Foliage in contact with the cover is often injured because of heat transfer from the foliage to the colder cover. Some examples of coverings are cloth sheets, quilts, or black plastic. It is necessary to remove plastic covers during a sunny day or provide ventilation of trapped solar radiation. A light bulb under a cover is a simple method of providing heat to ornamental plants in the landscape. http://extension.ifas.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/cold_protection_of_ornamental_plants.html


Q:  My compost pile is growing mold and it looks terrible.  The area seems to pool water.  What can I do?
A:   It would appear the area is too wet and the site is not allowing enough air to circulate around the pile.  You could re-grade the area to ensure proper drainage. It is possible to raise the whole bed which would allow the water an opportunity to drain off better. Another choice would be to redirect the water away from the pile using a series of trenches.  Consider your options and select the best one for your situation. Composting can be so rewarding.  Nothing beats the wonderful, rich soil produced from yard and kitchen wastes. Remember to never add sweets or milk or meat products to the pile.  The compost pile should be moist but not wet.  At least once a week mix up your compost pile using a pitch fork or rake.  This allows for air to circulate around the dirt and mixes the medium together. You will know when it is time to use the soil when you can no longer see the watermelon rind or the coffee filter or the tree leaves. Be sure to incorporate your soil mixture with the native soil.  However, do not be tempted to just place a handful in the planting hole when planting woody ornamentals as this can result in circling roots and too heavy soil.  The composted soil is a wonderful addition to any vegetable or perennial garden.  Spread the composted soil around and alter the whole garden area so the roots will grow in all directions seeking out the nutrients.

Country Music and Plants

Q:  What does country music do to plants? I am thinking about using this question for my science fair project.  NP
A:  I commend you for working on a science fair project as I know some schools no longer participate. Working on a project forces you to observe, collect data and then analyze the data – all very important parts of research. I am sure data exists from numerous types of projects but the applied science the Land Grant Universities conduct usually will answer questions regarding helping humans, animals or plants remain healthy and productive. Let me give you an example. We might consider working on projects which will determine in what soil mixture plants grow best. Our reason for looking into this work would involve wholesale and retail nursery businesses and growers. We would want to help them produce the healthiest, strongest plants to sell to the public. This would help improve the owners businesses by possibly increasing their profit. We call it applied science because the research we conduct can be used (applied) for practical purposes. Let’s look closer at your question of country music and plants. How practical could this research apply to real life situations?  It is an interesting question and the answer may be equally interesting but the purpose of the project should ultimately be put to everyday use. If you are interested in working with plants consider soil amendments as there are many out on the market now which claim to be beneficial to plants. Choose two or three to test. Remember to have a control plant which is kept under normal conditions with no soil amendments. It is also important to repeat your experiment to be sure your results will be the same every time. You can accomplish this by starting 5 – 10 plants on say the first week of November and then plant another 5 – 10 plants the following week, etc. In addition, make sure the environment is the same for all the plants except for one thing - soil amendments. Each plant should receive the same light and water. Be sure to keep a record book of every time you check the plants which should be the same time every day. Perhaps you might measure growth in height or the number of leaves produced or the girth of the plant stem but use the metric system.  Good luck. 

Drought Tolerant Plants

Q:  Will you give me a couple of suggestions of drought tolerant plants, especially shrubs?  I lost quite a few shrubs this winter and I am thinking about replacing them with plants requiring less water.  I am trying to be more conservative with the amount of water I use.

A:   We commend you for your efforts to reduce the amount of water used on your landscape. Pineapple Guava All of us need to do our part in reducing the demand for water on lawns and ornamental plants. The University of Florida produced a publication by Gary Knox titled, “Drought Tolerant Plants for North and Central Florida.” Here are a few of the shrubs recommended for this area: Aloe, Butterfly bush, fig, Firethorn, Glossy abelia, Indian hawthorn, Pineapple guava, or Pomegranate. Butterfly bush, Buddleia spp., comes in a wide range of colors and heights so you have a plethora of choices. However, be careful to give it plenty of room as it can become “weedy." Pineapple guava, Feijoa sellowiana, is very versatile evergreen shrub which is salt and drought tolerant. Therefore it would be the perfect choice for those of you along the coastal areas. The flowers are very showy and smell wonderful.  Pomegranate has become so popular it should be fairly easy to find in most any of the local nurseries. The publication below will also provide a list of drought tolerant trees, vines, palms and ground cover.  Take the list with you when shopping at local nurseries to ensure you purchase the correct plant. Use the scientific name on the list as some common names can be very confusing and mistakes have been made when purchasing plants using common names. Remember to also consider how large the plant will become at maturity and allow enough room to grown. One other hint, always use less fertilizer and water for those plants in shady areas.  http://polkhort.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/publications/Drought%20Tolerant%20Plants.pdf

Elliot's Love Grass

Q:  I am thinking about putting in small clumps of Elliot’s Lovegrass.  Do you think it will do well here? 

Elliot’s Lovegrass A:  Elliot’s Lovegrass, Eragrostis elliottii, is a beautiful native fall blooming grass growing about 2-3 feet tall with the same spread. Elliot’s lovegrass is found among flatwoods, sandhills, and prairies from summer through fall. There are 30 varieties and species of Eragrostis in Florida. The pretty white seed heads bloom late summer to fall and are a good source of food for many local birds. The foliage is green but the flowers are an inflorescent white to tan with a shiny covering which sparkles in the sunlight - I know, I am waxing poetic now!  Like so many other ornamental grasses - Elliot’s lovegrass prefers full sun to very light shade and dry, well-drained soil. This will be significant when choosing a planting site as it should not receive irrigation typical of lawngrass.  Watering twice a week will kill it.  Elliot's lovegrass is extremely easy to care for and requires little or no maintenance once established.


English Ivy

Q:  I purchased some variegated English ivy and planted it outside under my oak trees.  It is not doing very well.  It has spots all over the leaves, some of the leaves had died and I do not know what to do. English Ivy
A:  After you brought me some clippings of your ivy it became apparent the plant was suffering from a root rot and fungal leaf spot disease. You are following the St. Johns River Water Management (SJRWM) guidelines of watering twice a week but this plant does not need or like being watered that often. The area is heavily mulched and it appears the water is not draining well enough.  In addition, our city and well water often shows high alkalinity which means the water is probably not draining off the leaves efficiently. When water remains on the leaves of any plant for extended periods of time it can provide the perfect environment for disease causing fungi to multiply. The easiest way to remedy this situation is to change the irrigation head so the water is directed to the lawn separately from the flower bed area. In addition, if possible, alter the way the plant receives it water by changing to micro-irrigation hoses or heads which supply water to the root area only. Ivy and other such ground cover, which are planted in the shade, might require watering only once a week at the most and probably even less often.  Plants and grass in shady sites require less water and fertilizer than plants in full sun.  We would also suggest fertilizing only once or twice a year rather than the once a month regime you are currently using. The combination of too much water and too much nitrogen has proved to be the downfall of this plant. It would be best to remove any dead or decaying plant material as soon as possible. You may apply a fungicide but remember most fungicides are not curative; they work best as prophylactics. This means the fungicide will protect any new leaves but it will do little to help the parts of the plant currently dead or dying. If you make these changes it is possible the plant may still recover. 


Q: Why do they call some trees and shrubs evergreen (like Magnolias) when we know they loose some of their leaves so they can’t be “evergreen”?

A: The term evergreen is a loosely used term by the general public, which generally means a tree retains its leaves year-round.Magnolia Deciduous refers to those trees that drop all or most of their leaves when the temperatures drop and the amount of sunlight exposure diminishes. It is interesting that you chose magnolias because this family has some trees that are deciduous; some are evergreen and even a semi-evergreen. However, it is important to note that even if a tree is classified as “evergreen’, it does not mean it never loses its leaves. It simply means they do not lose all of their leaves at the same time or season. Pines are considered evergreen but obviously they loose their leaves occasionally because we collect them and use them as mulch. Even the Southern Magnolia, which is considered evergreen, loses some of its leaves throughout the year. ‘Little Gem’ and ‘St. Mary’ are two of the more familiar cultivars of Southern magnolia. Sweetbay Magnolia is the member of the magnolia family that is classified as semi-evergreen.Many of the magnolia trees are classified as deciduous. One such tree is the Cucumber Magnolia which produces pale yellow flowers. Another large group of deciduous magnolias growing in this area include the cultivars ‘Alexandrina’, ‘Brozzonii’, ‘Deep Purple Dreams’, and ‘Grace McDade’. Star Magnolia is another group of deciduous magnolias which produce small white flowers and can reach a mature growth height of about 20 feet. The Gresham hybrids are the tallest and produce the largest flowers of all the other groups. Many of the Gresham hybrids are well suited for Florida such as ‘Jon Jon’, ‘Pink Goblet’, ‘Royal Crown’, and ‘Winelight’. I suppose this is more information than you wanted but I think is it important to note that although a family of plants may contain similar traits they may differ on one or more specific characteristics. I was somewhat surprised myself at the large number of magnolia cultivars that are deciduous. Check out Dr. Gary Knox’s publication titled, “Magnolias” for a more complete list of deciduous and evergreen magnolias. This publication can be found at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg270


Q:   I am thinking about fertilizing my landscape plants and want to know what to use. 

A:   The type of fertilizer depends on the type of plants and in most instances – slow release fertilizers can work best.  Generally, most of the landscape plants are fertilized in March.  You can make an application of fertilizer in the spring and again in the fall or make small applications throughout the growing season. We would recommend using an acid loving fertilizer for landscape plants such as azaleas, camellias and gardenias. In addition, this fertilizer can be used on typical hedge plantings too.  Acid loving fertilizer contains sulfur which will temporarily lower the pH allowing the plant to take up important nutrients. The ideal soil pH for azaleas is between 4.5 and 6.0.  If the azalea leaves appear yellow or have discoloration between the leaf veins it may be an indication the soil pH is too high or alkaline.  Many of our soils east of I-95 have tested high or alkaline. However, the only way to be certain of the soil pH is to have it tested.  We can do a soil pH test at no cost at either of the Extension offices (Yulee or Callahan). Just bring in one sample (about a cup) of the soil taken from 4-6 inches deep – do not scrape it off the top.  Both offices have a letter slot in the door so you can drop off a sample at your convenience. Be sure to include your name and phone number so we can contact you with the results.  Fertilizing palms is different and the University of Florida research recommends using only 8-2-12 starting in March, then applying again in June and September.  Any plant within 30 feet of the palm gets palm fertilizer.  Lawn fertilization begins on April 15 and goes through the growing season, applying fertilizer in small increments ending in September.  No matter what type of lawn, we suggest using 15-0-15 (N-P-K) or 16-0-8.  Never use more than twice the nitrogen (1st number) compared to potassium (last number).  Phosphorus recommendation is zero unless a soil test from the University of Florida demonstrates a phosphorus deficiency. We suggest allowing the grass to go dormant from October to March. However, March is the month to apply pre-emergent herbicides to reduce the potential for summer weeds. Another application of pre-emergent herbicides may occur in October if you have had a problem with winter weeds.  Attached is a list of pre-emergent herbicides for homeowner lawns. http://hort.ufl.edu/yourfloridalawn/weed_management_herbacides.shtml
Remember - please follow the directions on the label as “The Label is the Law.”  You can always apply less of the product or chemical but NEVER more. 


Grass Replacement

Q:  I would like some advice on what I can plant along the strip which is between the sidewalk and the road.  I have replaced the grass three times and I do not want to do it again.  Do you have any ideas? 

A:  Fortunately, you have several options.  Since the area is in full sun consider Asiatic jasmine,Asiatic JasmineVinca, or native Mimosa vine.  These three will vine in the area but you can keep it manageable by edging it or using a weed trimmer.  Beach sunflower is also a vine which should work well. This plant is very hardy and it is not picky about the type of soil conditions just as long as the area is well drained. Beach sunflower produces a lovely flower which comes in several color options.  Coontie is an evergreen plant, also a native and it tolerates the sun or shade quite well. This plant is becoming a favorite of many commercial sites as it has few pest problems.  African iris is another evergreen which produces either yellow or white flowers.  Agapanthus produces white, deep purple or lilac flowers. Muhly grass is a native ornamental grass which should fit nicely in the small area you described.  We have some newer types of daylilies which whould be a good choice as they bloom longer than most other daylilies and they love the sun.  Blanket flower is another hardy, lover of full sun which blooms from late spring through early fall.  You might consider clustering some of the plants rather than using only one variety as this would give you various textures, colors and flowers throughout the year.  So now your only problem will be which ones to choose.  Good luck and have fun. 

Ground Covers

Q:  What can you tell me about the plant called Creeping Jenny?Creeping Jenny

A:  Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia spp., is hardy for zones 8a-9a, which incorporates all of Nassau County.  It can be used as a ground cover or border plant as it grows no higher than 6 inches.  Creeping Jenny will grow in sun or partial shade. As an alternative, the plant may be grown in a hanging pot. The plant produces yellow flowers almost all year, except in very cold winters.  Depending on the cultivar, the leaves are solid green or variegated. It can be easily propagated by seed or cuttings and it is generally pest free.  Use it with caution as Creeping Jenny can become a lawn weed and in parts of New England this plant is classified as invasive. The plant can tolerate moist or well-drained, fertile soil in a wide pH range.

Q: What can you tell me about the green and white flax plant I keep seeing pop up all over town – even in commercial sites? 

A: I believe you are referring to variegated flax lily, Dianella tasmanica variegate. Flax LilyThe most important factor of this plant, and probably why you are seeing it everywhere, is its drought tolerance. Plus, it is not picky about the light conditions – it will grow in full sun as well are partial shade. However, too much shade has shown to make it susceptible to scale insects.  Flax lily grows in most any type of soil condition except too wet with little regard to the soil pH. It makes a nice border or ground cover planting; it should be grown in cold hardiness zones 8-11. Flax lily is one of the Florida Friendly Landscape (FFL) plant recommendations. 

Q:  What is the difference between the ground cover called Purple Heart and the purple colored plant called wandering jew? 
Purple HeartA: Purple heart, Setcreasea pallid, is a perennial native to North America, can be grown in full sun to partial shade, and in a wide variety of soils. In north Florida, frost may kill back the tops, but it quickly returns in the spring. Set plants on 12-inch centers.  Plants will require initial watering until established and then will need watering only during periods of extended drought. Propagation is by stem cuttings, which root easily. This sprawling, evergreen ground cover produces deep purple foliage and stems when grown in full sun. It also cascades nicely over retaining walls and does well in a hanging basket. Purple heart produces small, pale pink flowers from the tips of stems and last only one morning.  No pests or diseases of major concern although mites and chewing insects may occasionally cause injury. Wandering jew, Zebrina pendula, is a totally different species, although it looks somewhat similar to Purple heart. It would be difficult to find a more colorful or faster-growing groundcover than wandering Jew. The purple-green leaves with broad, silvery stripes and purple undersides are produced along the succulent stems, which root wherever they touch soil. Small, insignificant, rose-pink flowers are produced among the leaves of wandering Jew all through the year. It is not native to North America, and will grow in a variety of soils but should be planted in partial to deep shade and receive regular watering. It is often used as an indoor plant or grown in hanging baskets. The cultivar 'Purpusii' has dark red or red-green, unstriped, hairy leaves. 'Quadricolor' has metallic-green leaves striped with green, red, and white. There is also a green and white cultivar available. Propagation is by stem cuttings, which root easily. As a review, Purple heart is native to North America and can be grown in full sun.  Wandering jew requires shade and is originally from Mexico. 
Purple heart:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp549   wandering jew: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp620


Insecticidal Soap

Q:  One of my neighbors told me to use Dawn detergent on my tomato plants to kill the insects.  Will that help?  But another neighbor said I should call you. 

A:  I am so glad you called because you can make your own Insecticidal soap by using 2-3 tablespoons of pure Ivory liquid soap to one gallon of water.  Do not use any of the degreasing soap products as this can cause damage to the plant leaves by removing the waxy outer coating on the leaf called the cuticle. 


Invasive Plants

Q:  Is there anything I can do about my neighbor who has an invasive tree in her yard? 
A:  Aside for letting her know the tree is on the Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council (FLEPPC) list, not really.  It is on her property and most likely it came up as a volunteer.  I have attached the FLEPPC list for you to look over.  We should all be good stewards of the land and do the best we can to safeguard the native wildlife in our area. One way of doing that is to keep the invasive plants out of our own landscapes and attend local clean-ups for ridding invasive plants when possible. This group looks at the plants which cause the most ecological damage to our native wildlife areas. http://www.fleppc.org/list/11list.html

Q:  I have some plant growing around my retention pond and it appears to be getting out of control.  I was thinking it was some type of elephant ear.  Can you identify it for me? 

A:  Thank you for bringing in a sample.  However, without realizing it, this plant is on the invasive list which means you need a permit to pull it up and transport it to me.  It really should have been double Wild Tarobagged.  When I dispose of it, I will have to double bag it to ensure it does not escape to places we do not want it.  The plant is called Wild Taro, Colocasia esculenta. Taro can be distinguished from elephant ears by the attachment of the leaf from the petiole. In taro, the petiole attaches to the leaf several inches from the base of the ‘V’ of the leaf, while the petiole is attached directly at the base in elephant ears. The leaves are light green for elephant ear and darker green in color for taro. Both have arrow-shaped leaves with long petioles and wavy margins. Elephant ear plants can grow up to 9 feet in height, while taro is much shorter – rarely reaching 4 feet tall. Leaves are produced from corms which are underground bulblike structures. Rhizomes give rise to offshoots that extend from the corm. Mechanical control would mean digging out corms from the soil. Take care when cutting, as the leaves contain oxalic acid, which may cause irritation to exposed skin. Chemicals with known control are limited. Repeated applications of glyphosate (2% solution) with a surfactant (something to help the chemical stick to the plant) may be effective, especially if coupled with other management strategies.


Q:  My daughter and son-in-law just bought their first home which was a fore-closure house.  It has been vacant for over two years so you can imagine how awful the lawn and landscape looks.  We would like to plant some trees, shrubs and lawn grass now but we are concerned as to whether this is the best time of year (November).  What do you think?

A:   The best advice I can give them would be to start small by making changes to the front yard first, as this is seen daily by the owners and those in the neighborhood. Taking on too much can become overwhelming and then rash decisions and wrong choices are made. In general, trees and shrubs transplanted from containers can be planted any time of year in Florida.  Consider your cold hardiness zone before making any plant selection.  Just as a reminder, those areas west of I-95 are considered zone 8b and east of I-95 are zone 9a.  It would not be prudent to purchase tropical plants, which are grown in zones 10-11 as they are not able to tolerate our colder winters.  Always consider the potential mature height and spread of the plant and make allowances. One common mistake made by homeowners is to plant trees and shrubs too close to each other.  This gives a full look initially but the plants will suffer in a few years by not having enough root and branch area. Planting trees and shrubs the proper distance from the house and each other will also reduce the need to constantly prune. Be sure to determine how much sunlight the plant will tolerate.  When plants are in the wrong place they suffer and never look their best.  Regarding lawn grass, consider over seeding now with annual rye and wait until spring to spend money on planting grass.  Please call me at 904 530-6350 or 530-6353 to set up an appointment so we can discuss appropriate plant selections.  I do not provide formal landscape design but I can steer your family in the right direction.


Q:   I have this green, bearded stuff growing on my roses. What is it and how do I get rid of it? 

A:   The growth is lichen which is a combination of algae and fungi which is called symbiosis.Lichen The alga provides the food and lichen supplies the protection in the form of a home. Hand pulling the lichen off could be done as the lichen is not truly harming the plant. Something else must be causing your roses to be under stress.  After our discussion we realized the use of heavy river rock around the root area of the roses was most likely the culprit for the rose discomfort. I know of no woody ornamental plant which will do well in Florida’s hot summers with rock mulch around the roots. River rock can be very heavy; it retains heat and has a tendency to compact the soil. I would suggest you remove the rock and replace it with a light soil medium such as compost, peat moss and sand especially around the roses. Top your roses with a couple of inches of pine straw or melaleuca mulch. The rock is not a total loss because you could use it around yucca, aloe or cacti and we have several varieties which do well here. Remember you can bring clippings from your landscape and have your problems diagnosed at the Nassau County Extension satellite office anytime between the hours of 10am – 2pm on these dates: February 22, March 8 & 22, April 19, May 3 & 17, and June 14.  Remember to put your clippings into bags to reduce the opportunity of spreading insect or disease infestations. Check out the UF/IFAS Nassau County Extension website for more information on our demonstration garden which has yucca plants. http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/demogarden/plants/yucca.html

Q:   I’ve seen the photo on the Nassau County Extension website of lichen but I have something else growing on my crepe myrtle stems.  What could it be?

A:   The cutting you brought into the Nassau County Yulee satellite office did have aLichen growth on it and it is another type of lichen.  Remember lichen is a combination of algae and fungi which live in a symbiotic relationship.  The alga provides the food and fungus supplies the protection in the form of a home. Hand pulling the lichen off could be done as the lichen is not truly harming the plant. However, I am concerned about the crepe myrtle and think it may have been planted too deeply.  Remove some of the mulch and soil from around the root area to determine how deeply the top roots are covered. The roots of trees and shrubs should be just at the soil level.  The mulch covering the roots should only be a couple of inches deep as well. If too much soil is on top of the roots, remove it from under the tree’s drip line or where the tree branches end. You can bring clippings from your landscape to have the problems diagnosed at the Nassau County Extension satellite office anytime between the hours of 10am – 2pm on the following dates: April 19, May 3 & 17, and June 14.  Any clippings brought to the satellite office should be placed into bags to reduce the opportunity of spreading insect or disease. Check out the UF/IFAS Nassau County Extension website for more information on gardening.  http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu/


Q: I have 2 beautiful, huge oak trees.  The problem is they are slowly being taken over by moss.  Is there any way to kill the moss without calling a professional service?  Also, how did the moss get started growing in the trees?  They are very old trees and we have never had this problem before. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

A: Thank you for your kind comments.  Spanish moss and ball moss are actually epiphytes, which means they obtain their nutrition from the environment.  They are not parasitic and cause no direct damage to trees.  Heavy infestations on pecans can cause limb breakage, but otherwise the moss is of little consequence.  In fact, a green colored Spanish moss is an indication of clean air and is the home for many creatures.  A copper sulfate solution can be sprayed on the moss to control it, but beware because the solution may be detrimental to new growth on trees or surrounding plants if the copper solution is drifted by the wind.  Hand removal using a pole or rake is possible, but think safety first.  The plant reproduces both by seeds and by vegetative growth. When small pieces of the plant are broken off and moved (usually by wind or animals) to another appropriate growth site, they will begin to grow into new plants. Spanish moss can be spread easily by violent storms, which we have been experiencing for the last few months.  For more information on Spanish moss and ball moss check out the University of Florida website: http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu/News%20columns/Whats%20In%20My%20Tree.htm


Q:   I’ve been told melaleuca mulch can cause allergies and smells terrible.  Should we be concerned about adding it to the landscape? 

 A:  I am glad you have given me an opportunity to discuss Melaleuca Melaleucamulch since we will be selling it at our plant sale September 26 & 27. Melaleuca, Melaleuca quinquenervia, also known as punk tree, paperbark tree, or cajeput, is an invasive, exotic nuisance plant in South Florida. It was first brought to Florida from Australia around 1900. Melaleuca, which is pronounced as MEL-ah-LUKE-ah, became a common landscape tree and was used as a soil stabilizer on levees and spoil islands. It was even used in early attempts to dry up the Everglades in the hope of altering mosquito habitats and potentially providing land for developing businesses and homes. Unfortunately, like any ill-mannered visitor, it has overstayed its welcome.  Melaleuca found the warm, humid weather of Florida to be just perfect and took over native flora.  We now have efforts to remove the tree and use the mulch for landscaping in place of cedar and cypress.  Regarding the allergy reactions, there have been studies conducted in clinical situations where pollen has caused some positive reactions.  However, pollen from the melaleuca tree is generally not windborne as it must be moved from tree to tree by pollination from insects such as bees.  It is unlikely that enough pollen would be left on the mulch after processing to cause allergic reactions.  However, it is always best to be examined by a physician if a reaction did occur after handling melaleuca mulch.  It is possible for the oils associated with the bark to cause a skin rash but be sure you have your family doctor look at anything suspicious.  As far as the mulch smelling, I am afraid I may not be a good judge.  Some people find the odor released by lantana offensive, but I like it. Others have told me how they love the scent of ligustrum and gardenias flowers but I find I can hardly breathe around them.  I am afraid you will have to decide on your own. For more information see Melaleuca.

Q: Can I use wood mulch such as pine or oak in my flower beds? Someone told me wood mulch secretes a chemical that would kill my flowers.

A: Thank you so much for submitting this question because I am always happy to clear up these types of rumors. Absolutely, you can use either pine or oak mulch in your flower beds and feel confident you are not harming your flowers. Mulching helps reduce water usage, keeps the soil temperature warm during the winter, and assists in controlling weeds – all very good reasons to mulch. One of the controversies over various types of mulch has been over the use of tree mulch made from an invasive tree called Melaleuca ( Melaleuca quinquenervia ). The Melaleuca tree was introduced to Florida about 50 years ago and has become an invasive species in south Florida, taking over whole forests or wetland areas and crowding out native plants and animals. The tree is also called Punk tree or Paperbark tea tree; it is native to Australia where it poses no problem. This tree produces a beautiful, white flower which is similar to the red bottlebrush flower. Some companies have been assisting in the eradication of this pest by cutting down the trees and producing mulch. A small percentage of people are believed to be allergic to this specific tree mulch. If someone in your family is especially sensitive to Melaleuca, it would be best to avoid this particular type of mulch. However, the other wood mulches have had no claims of allergic reactions and therefore would be safe to use. For more information see Mulch.

Q:  I have heard that mulch from the hurricane areas has been sent here and it is full of termites. 

A:  Wow, this rumor went like wildfire through this county - well connected e-mail communication I suspect. Formosan Termite I received several e-mails from the University of Florida regarding this issue but Faith M. Oi, Assistant Extension Scientist, University of Florida, Entomology and Nematology Department summarized it best and I am using part of her response to answer your question. “…the greater risk to structures is from termites already established in your yard as opposed to any termite stragglers that may be brought in on bags of mulch.  Termites can be found in mulch, but their survival is poor and here’s why: The ability of the termites to survive the chipping process to create mulch is not good; additionally, once separated from the colony, their ability to survive further decreases.  Finally, even when termites are found in mulch, mulch-fed termites suffer significantly lower survivorship.  In terms of spreading invasive species like the Formosan subterranean termite, the greater problem is associated with the transport of large chunks of wood containing enough termites to sustain reproductive forms.  For example, infested railroad ties used in landscape or salvaged timbers from razed structures are known to be associated with the spread of the Formosan subterranean termite.  Mulch increases the ability of termites to survive where they are already established by keeping the soil moist and temperatures moderate.  Mulch laid too thickly (>4-6 inches) can also provide a “bridge” over the treated perimeter of a house, allowing termites to walk over from landscape to house and avoid contact with soil treated with termiticides.  If mulch is part of your landscape, I recommend a thin layer (<2 inches) of mulch be placed within 12 inches of the foundation to allow the soil beneath to naturally dry.  Desiccation (dehydration) is the termite’s worst enemy.  Also avoid watering next to foundation walls.”  I just don’t think I could have said it better.  So bottom line, don’t panic, use mulch but away from your house foundation and only 2 inches deep.  For more information about the Formosan termite check out:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in278

Muhly Grass

Q:  What is the plant with the soft, purple tufts I am seeing all over Amelia Island?

A:  The plant you are referring to is probably Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillarisMuhly Grass The purple flowers come out in the fall, which is why you are seeing so much of it now.  This is a native, ornamental grass which normally grows to 4 feet tall and equally as wide. Muhly grass tolerates any time of soil, highly drought tolerant and prefers full sun to produce the pretty, purple, wispy flowers. I have attached a publication on Muhly grass from the University of Florida/IFAS, which will provide you with more information.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/FP415


Q: What is the awful smelling red mushroom growing in my mulch?

A: A stinkhorn grows within an enclosed structure or membrane that looksStinkhorn Mushroom similar to an egg. When the developing fungus expands, the "egg" breaks open, revealing the young mushroom-like fungus, which at that time is often odorless. As soon as five hours after full expansion, the spore bearing surface begins to break down, and the spores become immersed in a dark-colored gel-like, foul smelling mass. Hence the name, stinkhorn! This spore mass is attractive to flies who then visit the fungus and pick up spores as they walk over the surface of it. The spores are carried with the flies to new areas. Stinkhorns are quite common and no cause for concern; they live on dead organic matter (such as mulch). Try to remove the mushroom as soon as it appears, place it in a plastic bag and throw it away. You will need to be diligent in collecting them in order to prevent the spores from producing more mushrooms.

Q:  What is the gross, smelly stuff coming out of my mulch?  It is red and three pronged.  

A:  The pest you are referring to is probably Clathrus columnatus, which is commonly called Squid stinkhorn mushroom or “Dead Man’s Fingers”.  I have received four calls this month about this repugnant growth.  If you haven’t seen this strange looking growth in the mulch bed, then you haven’t been looking closely because it is literally popping up all over the place.  It reminds me of one of the scary creatures from an alien movie and smells equally bad.  I spent a few hours searching my cedar mulch beds this weekend and came up with several of these creepy specimens.  As I was conducting my search, I also noticed the mulch was too compacted in some areas but that did not deter these disgusting growths.  Therefore it might be a good time to check out the mulch in your ornamental beds and rake loose some of the layers to allow for better air circulation.  There is no chemical that can kill these fungi so don’t waste your time or money.  Dig any stink horns you find out of the flower bed and dispose of them as soon as possible to help prevent the further spread of spores.  Wind can disperse the spores but flies are also attracted to it and move the spores from place to place. 

Q:  I have mushrooms growing throughout my yard.  Can I eat any of them? 

A:  Please do not eat any of the mushrooms from your yard or those growing in wooded areas.  It takes quite a bit of skill to identify edible mushrooms and I would not want any of you to end up poisoned because you made the wrong choice.  The U.S. Dept of Agriculture has a website with a list of edible mushrooms found in forest areas:  http://www.fsl.orst.edu/mycology/poster/poster.html  and you could purchase a field guide on edible mushrooms found in North America.

Native Plants

Q:   I would like the name of some native plants which will grow in this area? 

A:   There are numerous lists of native plants to grow in Northeast Florida.Wax Myrtle If you are thinking about adding natives to your landscape I would encourage you to consider adding plants in small increments to determine how they will fit.  In addition, reflect on what you want to ultimately achieve. Is it your desire to attract wildlife? If so, remember birds, bees and butterflies will need to be protected from pesticides in order for your garden to be successful. When adding any plants to your home landscapes cluster them according to their needs. Full sun plants should be grown in full sun; partial shade plants will need to be protected from harsh afternoon light. Drought tolerate plants should be grown together and separated from plants requiring more water. Take into account the mature height and spread of the plants to allow for enough room to grow. One of the biggest mistakes made by home landscapers is to place plants too closely together which can increase disease opportunities. University of Florida has a publication, which is by no means complete, but it will give you a place to get started. The title of the publication is called, “Native Florida Plants for Home Landscapes”: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep011

Poisonous Plants

Q:  My cat loves to chew on plants and a friend gave me a really pretty variegated Schefflera plant. My cat chews on any foliage plant – even plastic ones.   Is Schefflera poisonous to my cat? 

A:  I am using Cornell University site as my resource for answering your question – they have a long list of Dwarf Schlefferapoisonous plants we should keep away from our pets. Cornell lists the Schefflera plant as one house plant to avoid placing around your cat. I would go one step further and talk to your veterinarian about this habit – perhaps the cat is missing something in her diet. But who can really understand what is going on in the mind of a cat?  Either way, Fluffy’s vet is the best source of advice on how to curb her desire for green things or at least steer her to the correct green things she needs. The attached Cornell publication is a list of plants toxic to cats:  http://counties.cce.cornell.edu/oneida/home%20garden/Animals

Q:  I was walking along Egan’s Creek and saw a plant I thought was Queen Anne’s lace but my friend seems to think it is elderberry.  Do you have any ideas? 

A:  It could have easily been elderberry but after looking over the site and sending photographs to the University of Florida, we determined the plant to most likely be a water hemlock. Water hemlock is the most violently toxic plant growing naturally in North America. Only a small amount of the toxic substance in the plant is needed to produce poisoning in livestock or in humans. The toxin cicutoxin, acts directly on the central nervous system causing convulsions. 
Cicutoxin has a strong carrot-like aroma. Water hemlock has small, white flowers that grow in umbrella like clusters which looks very similar to the flower of the wild carrot, elderberry and poison hemlock. However, there are some very distinct differences which make the identification easier. Queen Anne’s lace and poison hemlock have very convoluted or lobed compound leaves called tri-pinnate. The leaves of water hemlock and elderberry are more similar to each other but without the deep lobes. Water hemlock stems are herbaceous and smooth (no hair) whereas Elderberry stems are woody (more like a shrub). Queen Anne’s lace has green, hairy stems whereas poison hemlock has smooth, purple spotted stems. In cases of any type of plant poisoning in humans, contact a poison Florida control center (open 24 hours a day) at 1-800-222-1222 as quickly as possible. All parts of the plant are poisonous but the root is especially potent. The green seed heads have caused death losses in cattle. The leaves and the stems lose their toxicity as they mature. Good reason to not eat something unless you are absolutely certain of the identification. Since I have said all this scary stuff, I know there will be some concerns about water hemlock growing in a conservation area but there is no reason to become overzealous to remove these plants. If we start removing poisonous plants (azaleas, lantana, coral bean, oleander, etc.), where will it end? All types of poisonous plants have been around for thousands of years and very seldom cause any harm.  As a reminder - we should respect all plants and their potential power to both help and harm. However, people who have livestock and a water source should be vigilant to ensure poisonous plants are not growing on their property where animals could ingest them accidentally. 

Plant Pots

Q: I need to clean my plant pots, how do I make sure no diseases will be spread to the new plants? 
A:   It is extremely important to clean plant pots before putting in new transplants.  The best way to do it is to remove the old soil and soak the pots in a solution of one part chlorine bleach and 9 parts water.  Exactly how long they need to soak appears to vary but ten minutes should be fine.  After removing the pot from the sanitizing solution, be sure to completely rinse it with clean water to remove any chlorine.  Be careful not to do this directly over plant material as this can cause problems.  A deep sink where the water can go to a sewage drain would work best.  Wear gloves and clothes you don’t mind getting bleach splatter on.  I only share this with you because I have several pairs of slacks with bleach splatter spots, aprons alone do not work well enough!


Q:  My pruning book dates back to the 1960’s.  Can you give me a good, current source? 

A:  The most current, reliable local book is by University of Florida Professor, Dr. Ed Gilman. Pruning book His book is called, “An Illustrated Guide to Pruning” Second Edition, 2002, 330 pgs., Delmar Publishers, Albany , NY ISBN 0-7668-2271-0.  The newest research done by Dr. Gilman in Florida should be included in the book. You can probably order the book from any local book store using the ISBN listed above.  Dr. Gilman is involved in the Florida Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture and has helped many e Florida extension agents provide important pruning and tree care information to the public.

Q:  Should I prune my perennials now? 

A:  Should you?  This is a tough question to get completely correct. I know it is hard to see all this dead material in your yard from lantana, butterfly bush or hibiscus.  Ideally, if you can wait until after the threat of frost is over, that would be best.  I know your next question will be:  When does the last frost occur?  Generally, we think the threat of frost should end sometime in early to mid March, but we have no guarantees.  It is probably safe to remove the dead material now.  If we have a frost warning go out and cover those delicate plants if new growth has started to pop up.  But most importantly, don’t worry, be patient.  The perennials growing well in the Northeast Florida area are very hardy and they will come back eventually.

Rain Barrels

Q:  I want to have a rain barrel to use for my rose garden.  I am interested in saving water but I have heard that using water off the roof is a bad idea.  What should I do? 

A:  If you are like most of us, you are concerned about water usage and the limited about ofRain Barrel potable water available especially with increased commercial and residential growth.  Rain barrels are a wonderful solution for collecting water that would eventually go right down the street and into the retention ponds.  I have found many people expressing the same concern you have over water collected from roof tops.  There is some literature about the possible contamination from zinc, copper and tin into water from cedar, metal and asphalt roofs.  I was unable to locate any documentation regarding cumulative effects of water from roofs on plant growth. Obviously this water should not be used for human or animal consumption but there seems to be little concern over applying it to the roots of plants according to a publication from North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.  We will be having a free rain barrel demonstration at the next “Landscape Matters”.  The instructors will be two of Nassau County’s Master Gardener volunteers Paul Gosnell and Bonnie Johnson.  It will be held at the UF/IFAS Nassau County Demonstration Garden on September 17 at 10am. 

Retention Pond

Q:   I would like ideas for plants to put along my retention pond area.  I need plants that will help keep the soil in place but be able to stand occasional changes in the water line.  Sometimes the water is very high and other times it is not. 

A:  The best source of information regarding homeowner plantings and how to care for a pond is University of Florida/IFAS publication titled “Creating a Wildlife Habitat with Native Florida Freshwater Wetland Plants” http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fa007.  There are several varieties of iris, hatpin, swamp sunflower, blazing star, lobelia, goldenrod, wax myrtle, bald cypress, Dahoon holly, or rain lily which would be good choices for your site.  The last publication listed above will give you numerous choices; many can be found at your local garden center.  Some plants are important for attracting wildlife, which would make them a good choice.   As with any landscape plant, do not over plant by choosing too many.  Err on the side of too few rather than too many.  This last publication also lists the plants to avoid such as Australian pine, water hyacinth, or water aloe.  No reason to start with a plant you know will eventually grow out of control. 

Salt Tolerant

Q: Can you recommend some plants that can tolerate salt?

A:   Some possible choices of shrubs are Pittosporum, Yaupon Holly, Lantana, or Silverthorn (Elaeagnus pungens). Ask you local nursery about dwarf varieties which would be a good choice to grow in pots. There are several varieties of Lantana such as ‘Golden mound’ which is yellow. There are two others, one with white flowers and the other with purple flowers, which are commonly found at local garden centers and plant nurseries.  Any of these three will attract adult butterflies as they are searching for nectar. Smaller, salt tolerant plant choices (reaching heights of only 2-3 feet) are Coontie, Lirope, Purslane (Portulaca spp), or Algerian ivy. You might try Beach Morning Glory or Cape Honeysuckle which could be trained to climb a trellis – both of these would attract hummingbirds. Palms for north Florida would be European, Canary Island Date, Pindo, Lady, and Windmill. Moderately salt tolerant trees are Magnolia, loquat, Chaste, and Dahoon holly. For more ideas and specific information about growth habits of these plants check out the University of Florida website: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep012

Scientific Names

Q: Why do we have to use scientific names when common names are so much easier? I can’t pronounce or spell the names

A: You have raised an interesting question and one I am sure many others have scratched their heads about. Very few of us can spell or pronounce scientific names so you are not alone. However, the principle behind using scientific names is important. Using common names can often be confusing. For instance, when we use the word “gopher” some people think of a furry critter that causes havoc on golf courses or maybe a large land turtle or the young person who runs errands for the office. How would we know the difference? We know exactly how to distinguish them if we use their scientific names. In fact, no matter what language you speak or what country you are from scientific names are the same. The scientific name has two parts: genus and species. Think of it like a last (genus) and first name (species). This system of two names was developed by Linnaeus who used Latin because it was the common scientific language at the time (1700’s). The scientific name is usually italicized or underlined; genus is always capitalized and species is always lower case. Don’t be discouraged about the difficulty of trying to pronounce the words, start with a plant or tree you like and then build from that point.

Septic Tank

Q:  My septic tank is being moved to the side of my house where I have fruit trees and other plants.  How far away from my septic tank should these trees be located? 

A:  Out in cyber-world there is plenty of information regarding the question of the distance between trees and septic systems.  I have seen as few as 20 feet (University of Minnesota) to as much as 100 feet (North Carolina State University).  If it is possible, consider keeping the distance between the septic system and fruit trees somewhere in the middle of those numbers.  It is important to remember, tree roots grow 2 to 3 times the drip line. The drip line is at the tips of the tree branches.  Let’s say one of the fruit tree branches was 10 feet long, which is not atypical for fruit trees.  The roots could be growing 20 to 60 feet out.  Those roots could easily disrupt the natural processes of the septic tank and cause serious damage.  It is already costing you quite a bit of money to relocate your system; no need to allow potential problems in the future.  If you need to move the fruit trees, do so then transplant them elsewhere.  Be sure the trees are irrigated well for 3-4 months to help get them established.  Get as much of the root ball as you can when you move them.   Do not add amendments to the new hole where the tree will be planted – just keep the trees irrigated well.   Transplanting them during dormant season is best for the tree and future fruit production. 


Q:  What is the real difference between partial shade and partial sun?  It seems I am forever transplanting plants because of the light. 

A: We classify a plant’s light requirements into four categories:  full sun, partial sun, partial shade, and full shade. There are several variations but most people in the plant business focus on those four groups. However, many in the horticulture business use the partial shade and partial sun interchangeably which makes it difficult for the average gardener.  In general, full sun is at least 6 hours of unobstructed direct sun which is what most of the lawn grasses grown here prefer.  Less than the optimal sunlight and the grass become stressed.  Partial sun and partial shade usually mean 3-6 hours of sun/shade each day, preferably morning and early afternoon sun.  Full shade is bright light but little or no direct sun; what we often refer to as dappled light.  Most people assume full shade means no light but plants require some form of light to produce carbohydrates (sugars) for normal plant processes such as reproduction, protection and growth.  It is often very difficult to determine exactly how much light your landscape plants are receiving - with the exception of full sun.  Most of our landscape plants thrive with 3-4 hours or more of morning sun then some protection from the harsh afternoon sun.  It is generally thought partial shade prefers 3 hours of the morning sun with dappled light or some protection from the afternoon sun.  Usually we consider the protection starting around 2pm and going through the five o’clock hour.  Partial sun can handle up to 4 – 5 hours of sun but these plants still grow best in morning sun too but can handle some afternoon sun exposure.  Remember, the longer the sun strikes an area, the warmer the area.  In fact, shaded areas can be as much as 10 – 15 degrees F. cooler.  The difference in temperature matters to us as humans, it will also matter to some plants.  Really, in most instances, we all experience some successes and some failures when gardening.  Do not be too hard on yourself if you realize plants must be moved from one location to another because of light conditions.  We have all done it. I know of no gardeners, including me, who have put all their plants in the yard and never moved them. It’s what we do! 

Q:  I need some small tree or shrub plant ideas for a very shady site. 

A:   Consider layering by using shorter plants in the front and taller plants behind.Red Buckeye  For shorter plants you might use holly fern, coontie or Indian hawthorn. The taller shrubs could be viburnum, oakleaf hydrangea, yellow anise, cleyera, red buckeye or camellia. The red buckeye is a native plant and it puts out a red flower spike in the spring which attracts hummingbirds. Camellias are slow growing evergreens but they will provide beautiful, showy flowers during the winter when nothing else is blooming. The yellow anise is a native evergreen shrub with pale, yellow-green leaves which smell like licorice when crushed. I have provided you with a few ideas but for a more complete list check out the University of Florida publication, “North Florida Plants for Shaded Sites”: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG25200.pdf

Q: I need some ideas on what to plant in shaded areas. My grass is not doing well and I am thinking of digging it up and replacing it with a large bed area.

A: Changing out grass that is doing poorly because it is in the wrong environment will certainly make things easier for you in the long run. In partial shaded areas consider using hollies, Ajuga, camellias, Glossy Abelia, River Birch or Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana), Burning bush (Euonymus fortunei), Live or Laural Oak or Pindo Palms. For areas that receive only filtered light consider using clustering bamboo (never plant the running type), Florida leucothoe (Agarista populifolia), Fatsia, Nandina, Osmanthus, Periwinkle, Beautyberry, Honeysuckle, Red Buckeye or Podocarpus. For more ideas and specific information about growth habits of these plants check out the University of Florida website: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg252

Q: My wax myrtle hedge has been over pruned and now they look terrible. I would like to replace them with some type of evergreen but I don’t know what to plant. Can you give me some ideas for shrubs that grow well in the shady areas?

A: I have a few ideas but the number of semi-evergreens in shaded areas is limited. Glossy Abelia, Abelia x grandiflora, is a durable shrub which can reach a height of 10 feet and 6 foot spread. It produces white or pink flowers during the spring and summer and the leaves remain a reddish color throughout the summer. It has no real disease problems and only the occasional aphid infestation, which can be easy to control. However Abelia does prefer some sun so it should be planted only in partial shade. Wintergreen barberry, Berberis julianae , grows to a height of eight feet and spreads to about 4 feet. It produces white flowers in the spring as long as it has some exposure to the sun. Because of the sharp spines on its stems few people will walk through this hedge more than once! Another possible choice in partial shade is Silverthorn, Elaegnus pungens , which is a fast growing evergreen. It loves sites that are hot and windy and is highly salt and drought tolerant. It can reach heights of over 15 feet and spread to over 10 feet, so give it plenty of room to grow. The winter and spring flowers are white with a very pleasant odor. Of course you can always use Photinias, hollies, azaleas or camellias. Hollies and camellias can tolerate the most shade and may be good choices for layering hedges. Consider mixing a few varieties of these plants (not too many varieties) to give you changing textures and colors.

Q: I need some ideas on what plants might grow in shaded areas. Cast Iron Plant

A:  I just learned about a cast iron plant calledSpeckled Cast Iron Plant, Aspidistra lurida 'Ginga'. Cast iron plant will tolerate light to full shade and it is drought tolerant. Some other choices are camellia, abelia, Euonymus, hollies, hawthorn, fringe tree, magnolia, sparkleberry, etc. For a complete list of shade plants check out the following publication: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg252


Q: I need to lower my soil pH, how do I do it successfully?
A:  Let me first say, it will be difficult to lower the soil pH in flower beds already established with mature plants.  It can be done by adding elemental sulfur but adding too much can cause problems for plants – so, just like Goldilocks – it has to be “just right” – not to much, not too little. It is advisable to add no more then 7 pounds of elemental sulfur per 1000 square feet in an existing bed. Consider removing some of the soil from around existing plants, add the sulfur, replace the soil then lightly water. Other soil amendments such as peat, organic material, iron sulfate, ammonium sulfate and some animal manure can lower pH temporarily. This allows the roots to be directly impacted by sulfur content. Check out the table of the attached publication to give you an idea of how much sulfur to add when forming NEW planting beds -   depending on how much you need to lower the pH.  For instance, if you need to lower the pH from 7.5 to 6.0 on new beds, you would need to add 12 pounds of elemental sulfur per 1000 square feet.  Remember, the change will only be temporary but it will help allow the plant to uptake the desired nutrient needs such as iron. Remember we are willing to do a soil pH test for you at our local Extension offices.  Callahan can take a sample any day of the week but Master Gardeners are only at the Yulee satellite office on Fridays from 10am to 2pm. A full nutrient sample can be sent to the University of Florida for only $7 - a reasonable cost to get a full analysis.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss480

Q:  My vegetable garden soil pH shows 7.7.  What does that mean and how do I fix it?

A:  A vegetable garden soil pH should ideally between 6.0 and 6.5.  Your pH is more than 10 times higher than the ideal.  There are a few things you can do to help but lowering pH is difficult and most often the change is only temporary.  Attached is a publication from the University of Florida which will assist you with specific details on how to raise or lower soil pH.  I am going to provide section from the publication just to be sure what I say is not misrepresented.  “The soil pH can be temporarily lowered by adding elemental sulfur. Bacteria in the soil act to change elemental sulfur into sulfuric acid, effectively neutralizing soil alkalinity. However, the effects of elemental sulfur are localized to the area amended and the effect is temporary. Soil pH will begin to rise shortly after soil bacteria exhaust the added sulfur supply. This effect will require repeated applications of sulfur to ensure the soil remains at the desired pH. This is where sulfur addition can get tricky. If too much sulfur is added, or if it is added too frequently, it can actually injure or kill your plants. Therefore, it is important to never apply sulfur in excess of 5 to 10 pounds of sulfur per 1,000 square feet per application. Adding sulfur at high rates or too frequently, can actually result in damage to your plants. If you decide to apply sulfur, make sure to monitor your plants.”   http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss480

Q:   I just got my soil test results back from the University of Florida and I don’t exactly know what the numbers are suppose to tell me.  The report says the target pH should be 6.0-6.5.  It says my soil pH is 7.0.  What does that mean?

A:  I am glad you called me as this gave me an opportunity to clarify the test results.  One advantage to going through the University of Florida Soils Laboratory is the County Extension office receives a copy of the results.  The target pH means this is the range in which the plant material (vegetables) prefers to grow.  Your soil pH was at 7.0, which means it is slightly higher or more alkaline than the vegetables prefer.  As you read farther down the page you will see a lime recommendation.  Lime is often added to vegetable gardens to raise the pH level or “sweeten” the soil.  Often, people add lime annually without a soil test and soon they notice their vegetable production is low or poor quality.  That is why it is recommended to have your vegetable garden soil tested once every 2-3 years.  In the case of your garden soil, it is suggested no lime be added.  That is the reason you see a zero by lime.  Soil pH is important because most plants have a certain range in which they are able to absorb nutrients from the soil as long as water is present.  If the soil pH is too high (alkaline) or too low (acidic) then the plant may not be able to absorb specific elements such as iron or manganese.  This nutrient deficiency often shows up in the plant in the form of yellow leaves.  Yellow leaves occur frequently on acid loving plants such as azaleas, camellias, or gardenias when the soil pH is high.  We recommend using pine straw or pine bark around the roots of these acid loving plants as this helps lower the pH over time.  For vegetable gardens, it is best to use composted material along with cow manure and sand to help keep pH levels at optimal ranges.   

Q:   Does adding manure lower or raise soil pH? 

A:   Remember soil pH indicates the acidity (below 7) or the alkalinity (above 7) of the soil.  This is an important factor in the absorption of elements such as iron.  As a general rule, animal manures raise soil pH because they often contain calcium and magnesium.  In addition, amending soils with manures help improve soil nutrients and texture.  It is possible to add too much organic matter so be cautious when amending soils.  If too much manure is added, the roots can be “burned” and absorption of water and nutrients will be diminished or cease.  Organic matter is a wonderful soil amendment for perennials and annuals.   It would be advisable to have a complete soil analysis if a new garden is being established.  Extension offices have soil test kits to analyze phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg).  This test also provides nitrogen and lime recommendations.  The University of Florida charges $7 per test – a bargain for the information it provides.  Contact your local Extension office for more information.  Yulee Satellite office: 904 - 530-6350.  Callahan Office:  904 530-6353


Q:  We moved a succulent from a shaded area in our yard and now it has taken off and grown very large. It is now producing massive numbers of babies. It looks prehistoric. Can you identify it for me?
Mother of Thousands

A: I suspected it was the Mother of Thousands, Bryophyllum daigremontianum, when you described it and the pictures you sent solidified that fact. This plant has many common names and in Australia, where it is classified as a noxious and invasive weed, it is called Mother of Millions. It has not been classified as an invasive here probably because it generally gets cold enough to keep it in check. However, I would be mindful of the massive numbers of offspring it produces which could become difficult to control should we have a couple of mild winters back to back. Its cold hardiness zone is 9b-11 and we are just above that zone which means this Mother of Thousands could possibly continue to reproduce without interruption. Our major concern would be to keep it from finding its way to our beaches or wildlife areas. Perhaps you might consider putting this plant in a pot and placing it on back porch or patio instead of planting it in the ground. One other note, all parts of the plant are poisonous so be vigilant with small children and pets.


Q:  I am moving soon from New York and would like to know which of my beloved perennials I can transplant successfully in my new yard – irises, acuba, daylilies, peonies, and astilbe?

A:  This is a difficult time to transplant anything here because it is so hot, but with enough water and attention you could transplant the acuba (in shade), daylilies and astilbe (shade).  The astilbe is sold in our local nurseries and should be planted in an area where it can receive sufficient moisture – away from drought tolerant plants. We have plenty of other plants which will do well here, use less water and are better suited for our climate such as Jacobinia. Be sure to look at our website for the best information about what grows well in Northeast Florida and check out our demonstration gardens for tried and true plants. In addition, consider attending our next plant sale (October 5th, 9am -2pm) for the optimal garden plants for this area. Sadly, you should leave the irises and peonies in New York.  The bearded irises you are accustomed to growing are not the best choice, however, we do have a variety of irises (African irises) available to choose from which are hardy and flower beautifully from spring through fall. Nothing quite matches the beauty of a peony but you might consider replacing it with Rose of Sharon or a Knock-Out rose shrub. Nassau County Florida website: http://nassau.ifas.ufl.edu

Tree vs. Shrub

Q:  What is the difference between a tree and a shrub? 
A:  That is a tough question.  Most people go by the size of the plant in order to determine into which category it will best fit.  However, we know the environment can play a key role in deciding the mature height of a plant.  Some of the environmental factors are sunlight, available water, soil conditions, soil pH and availability of soil nutrients.  In addition, one cannot ignore genetics.  A tree or shrub has only a certain potential to reach a maximum height even when environmental conditions are ideal.  So, how can we determine whether a plant is a tree or shrub?  I am certain we could easily get several definitions that would be satisfactory but I am going to use Cornell University’s definition:  “Trees are woody, perennial plants that have one central stem, are generally more than 12 feet in height, and normally have a distinct head. Shrubs are woody, perennial plants that have a number of stems usually produced from near the soil line of the plant. Shrubs are generally less than 12 feet in height but some exceptions can reach 20 feet or more.”  It is not a perfect definition, but it is a starting point. 


Q:  We have rubber trees on either side of our front walk. Unfortunately, they are located right where our new foundation will be poured. Can we transplant them into containers temporarily until we can replant them back in the ground? What's the best way to protect them from cold? I appreciate any advice you can give us to help save these lovely plants. We've brought all our hanging plants to our temporary location. We have spider plants, asparagus fern, philodendron, aloe, and some purple plant that is very prolific. What's the best way to winter these? 

A:  The rubber trees and the hanging plants you mentioned can be acclimated for this area but they are generally classified as house plants and therefore would be better labeled "tender tropicals”.  This means they may freeze or die back during the winter and then return when the weather becomes warm.  However, if we have a hard freeze of 28 degrees for more than 4 hours these plants may not recover and should be taken inside or covered.  This may present a problem for the rubber tree plants, the aloe and the philodendron once they are in the ground.  It would be best to think and decide now whether these are truly the type of plants you want outside.  You might consider some other plant choices in our cold hardiness zone that would ultimately give you fewer problems.  Remember we are in the 8b-9a cold hardiness zone.  You should also consider the light and watering needs of each plant and group like plant needs together.  Then, check on the plant’s potential height and spread to allow for enough room to grow properly.  At the new site you would also want any shrubs planted 2-3 feet away from the foundation of the house.  This distance will allow you the ability to spot any termite tunnels appearing around your foundation and avoid the pitfalls of over pruning due to overgrown shrubbery.  It would be better to keep the asparagus fern in a pot as this plant is, in some cases, classified as an invasive when planted in the ground.  Depending on the type of philodendron - it may also become a pest in your yard.  The hanging plants found in local garden stores are seldom good permanent outdoor landscape choices.


Q: We need some ideas for evergreen plants that can tolerate damp or wet areas.

A:  The most limiting factor is the combination of evergreen and wet, however we do offer some good choices for this Northeast Florida .  Some possible evergreen shrub choices include clumping bamboo: Hedge Bamboo - Bambusa multiplex or B. glaucescens or Fountain Bamboo but avoid Golden Bamboo which is classified as a Category II invasive.  A Category II is listed on the Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council list as those plants that may be of some concern as they have increased in abundance but have not shown ecological damage.  Other choices are Euonymus, Japanese fatsia, several hollies, ligustrum, Southern Wax Myrtle, Oleander and Fragrant Tea Olive.  Larger tree possibilities are magnolias, oaks, pines or Sweet Bay.  Other plants, including some deciduous examples, Landscape Plants for Wet Sites. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-646.html

Q:  My Star Jasmine has leaves that are black at the tip to almost the center of the plant.  I water then weekly, what could be wrong? 

A:  I was glad you brought some samples of the plants to me so I could better determine Star Jasminewhat might be wrong with them.     It is particularly confusing when there are so many plants we call jasmine.  Your plant is Star Jasmine, Jasminum multiflorum, which is also called Downy jasmine.  This particular plant is a fairly easy plant to grow and maintain as it tolerates most any type of soil and light conditions.  It is moderately drought tolerant therefore I suspect you are watering it too often.  Consider cutting back on watering during the winter to once every few weeks. Check the soil to be sure it is not too dry.  Never allow the roots to sit in water. Since we have seen damage on the leaves you might consider removing the plants from the pots and check out the roots.  If they are soggy and dark black then remove the soil, wash off the roots to determine how much of the root system is still viable or able to keep the rest of the plant alive. If you think the plants have enough root system to survive then consider repotting them. Throw away the old soil, clean the pots with a mild solution of water and bleach. Dry the containers completely and replace the old soil with new, well-drained, sterile soil.  Good luck and keep me posted on their progress.

Wild Grape

Q: What is the name of the vine growing all over my trees?  I am seeing this vine in wildlife areas and along the roadside.  It is almost completely covering those trees too.  Is it Kudzu? 

A:  The vine you brought into the office is Wild Muscadine Grape, Vitis rotundifolia. Wild GrapeThis grape is found in about 15 eastern states especially in cold hardiness zones 6-9.  It is a favorite food for birds, deer, wild turkey, raccoon, skunk, squirrel, opossum and black bear.  Wild grape is prolific because mockingbirds, cardinals, and robins spread the seed to various areas away from the original site. The fruit found on the vine is in small clusters or as a single grape.  The skin of the fruit is very thick but separates from the flesh of the fruit easily.  The fruit can be made into jelly or jams. Commercial production is small, but muscadine grapes are widely grown for home use and local markets in southeastern states. Native Americans in Florida also made a blue dye from the grapes.  If you want to get rid of the vines, first cut them close to the ground.  Immediately paint the stump with glyphosate.  The upper portion will die once its vascular tissue is severed and it has lost its ability to get water.  It may take a few days but ultimately the vine will die and then it will be easier to remove from the trees.  Reapplication of the herbicide may be necessary for best control.   

Q:  I pruned my Muscadine grape vines and the sap from the stems is running and it won’t stop.  Should I paint the stems with something? 

A:   The best time to prune muscadine grape vines in Florida is mid-January through mid-March.wild grape Touch-up pruning can be done throughout the year and of course removal of broken or dead limbs can be perfomed at any time. It is common for the stems to bleed after pruning but research has not shown this to cause any permanent injury to the plants nor does it appear to reduce the ability of the vine to produce grapes. There is no need to paint the cuts with any time of sealant. In fact, current research indicates there is no benefit to using pruning paint to cover pruning cuts on any tree, shrub or vine. For more information on selection of Muscadine grape varieties and general care please read the University of Florida attached publication titled “The Muscadine Grape”:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS10000.pdf


Q:  What do I need to do to get my landscape ready for the winter? 

A: There are a few things which should be done immediately if you have not already done them.  It would be a good idea to add potassium (potash) to your lawn now.  Fertilize your palms and cycads with a palm fertilizer configuration of 8-2-12-4 (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Magnesium).  Use slow release for acid soil and quick release for alkaline soils.  If your palms are small enough, consider spraying the bud with a fungicide to protect it from any potential fungal or bacterial diseases if a freeze causes damage to the bud tissue.  Be sure your plants do not experience any long periods of drought before a freeze.  This means it is essential to irrigate plants 24-48 hours prior to a freeze.  It is important to pay attention to weekly weather forecasts so you will not be caught of guard.  Plants in containers are very susceptible to drought and therefore freeze damage, check them prior to cold snaps.  However, over watering them or any landscape plant can cause as much or more damage than freezes so do not over do it.  Cover tender perennials prior to hard freezes (4 hours of 28 degrees and below) but be sure the cover material reaches all the way to the ground to help trap any heat coming from the ground.  Remove the cover once the threat of freeze is over. 


Q:  You identified the plant I brought into your office as an invasive plant, the Chinese wisteria.  But I love the purple flowers. I removed it but do you have a suggestion for a vine I could use to replace it? 

A:  People are going to think I put you up to asking me this question but I am going press American Wisteriaonward anyway!  American wisteria is the best alternative as it is a native vine.  It is not nearly as aggressive as the Chinese variety nor is the flower quite as large but I believe it is just as beautiful. American Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens, is occasionally found growing in stream and river margins, and in wet hammocks from the northern counties south to the central peninsula of Florida. American wisteria blooms in the spring and usually occurs in wetlands although it has been known to grow in non-wetland areas. In Florida, American wisteria is an uncommon native plant, unlike the common invasive plant, Chinese wisteria. My sons actually purchased one last year for me as a mother’s day gift and it is growing on an arbor by my mailbox.  Those of you who know me also know I do not keep it wet. It has already bloomed twice this year – lovely!  It makes me smile every time I see it.