Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Our native hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) beautifully plans ahead for winter.

Plan for cool weather

While exotic hibiscus plants keep growing and blooming right until they are killed back by frost, our native hibiscus loses its leaves in the most lovely manner and dies back to the ground so there is no shock from frosts.

I think they are sorta like the ant and the grasshopper in the old Aesop's fable. The exotic shrubs are like the grasshopper partying like there's no tomorrow, while the ant tucks away a food supply to carry it over the winter.
Ooh, the spotted beebalm (Monarda punctata) draws a big crowd, including this wicked-looking cicada killer wasp.
I pulled a cart load of weeds on the first day of fall—Sept.23.

Pollinator-friendly habitat

I edited the raised meadow on the first day of fall by pulling a whole cart-load of weeds, mostly beggarticks (Bidens alba). I left plenty for the bugs, but I try to keep it confined to the back of this meadow along with a stand of snow squarestem (Melanthera nivea), blackberry (Rubus spp.), and behind the spotted beebalm.
A grapevine wreath is easy to put together..  Drying the wreath.
Grape vines are growing into that end of the meadow and I pulled off a number of lengths of grape vine. I took several of them and wound them into a circle to make a fall wreath. After making the first few rounds, I wrapped the next lengths around the wreath strands and tucked in the ends. Once the wood dries and hardens, the leaves will fall off and the wreath will stay together. I like to have fall wreaths where I tuck berried branches into the wreath and tie it with a bow. Of course, I could also make these for Christmas decorations as well. So easy. How sustainable!

The meadow garlic is sprouting.

Fall edibles

The heat of summer is broken, so it's time to plant the cool-weather crops that will go through the winter and also some tender crops to see if we can harvest a reasonable crop before the first frost. Tender crops are tricky because the days are getting shorter, which changes their hormonal output. For the squash family, it means that there may be more male flowers and fewer female flowers. This makes producing fruit an iffy proposition.

I've been finding meadow garlic (Allium canadense) bulbs sprouting in the soil. I harvest those in beds where they do not belong. We use this lovely, easy-to-grow garlic as we'd use any other. Read my post "A Native Herb has Earned a Space Amongst the Mediterranean Herbs."

Freshly planted cool-weathercrops in their wide rows. The trenches between the rows have been filled with pine needles..
Wide row planting uses the principles of square foot gardening where seeds are planted closely, but at just the right distance so there is room to grow. The rows could be 6 or 20 inches wide, but the trenches allow for growth to spill over without impairing the next crop. Also here in Florida, we get torrential rains, so those trenches provide places for the water to flow away without washing out the plants. Read "Wide Row Planting and Trench Composting in the Vegetable Garden."
I raked off the pine needles and created large squash mound. I laid in a 3" layer of grass clippings in the center of the swale and covered it all with compost. 
3 seeds for each planting spot around the rim of the
squash mound increases the odds of planting success..

A fall squash mound

Raising squash in the fall is tricky, but some zucchini is better than no zucchinis at all.  I created a large squash mound and planted it with several types of squash. A black zucchini, a green & white striped squash, butternut squash, a winter squash, a summer squash, and even a pumpkin. So we'll see what takes. 

Since most of the squash seeds have been saved, I planted 3 of each type. If they all sprout, I'll choose the 2 that look the best and pull out the other one. Planting squash at this time of year has one advantage, there are fewer squash borers, but I'll still bury the stems at several spots along each vine to promote extra rooting. 

The whole space will be taken over by vines, but that's okay. I will direct most of them down to the rest of this elongated bed. And the grass in the adjacent lawn is slowing down so not being able to mow for a couple of months will not be a hardship. Stay tuned...

A mini adventure to Wakulla County

Ochlockonee River view. A zebra swallowtail sipping from the local
gayfeather  (Liatris provincialis).
I was to give a presentation to the Florida Native Plant Society chapter in Wakulla County, which is located south of Tallahassee and about half way across Florida's Panhandle. I had no other appointments on either side of this speaking engagement, so my husband & I took our camper van with our kayaks for a 2-day adventure. We camped at the Ochlockonee River State Park. I learned from one of the members of this FNPS chapter that much of the park had been burned in June, so the wildflowers and their pollinators were incredibly thick. The dominant flower was Godfrey's gayfeather (Liatris provincialis), which occurs in only 2 counties. Very nice.
A gulf fritillary is yet another of the many butterflies. Black swallowtail butterfly.
Sarracenia FNPS Chapter in Wakulla County: one stop on the #floweredshirttour 
I hope to meet you at an upcoming engagement. I've only done 8 of the 33 events, so there is still time. See my Appearances Page to find out where in Florida I am on this #FloweredShirtTour.

I've spoken to the Clay
County Delegation for the
last several years.

Fall is County Delegation public meeting time

As an environmentally aware citizen, I always take the time to talk to the open forums that are offered. Many of our elected official haven't given any thought to native plants, poisons used in our environment and other green issues. I encourage you to speak up as well. You'll not only be speaking to the elected officials, but also the room full of aids, local officials, local press, and others.

Here's a post I put together with help from the FNPS policies chair, Gene Kelly. Speak Up for Florida!

Happy first day of fall. It's the perfect time to work in your gardens.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ramping up for fall

Ginny event poster

Book tour

This fall can be best described as frenetic. I now have 29 public events and 5 private ones from Sept. 1 through Nov. 10th.  Can you believe that I'm working a arranging a couple more? I'll have 4 or 5 different presentations. Check out my Appearances Page to see the updated list.

This poster was created by the Cocoplum Florida Native Plant Society Chapter for the 3-hour native plant workshop that they organized and that I'll be leading on Oct. 10th in Stuart, FL.

Bountiful okra 

Amazing okra!
Amazing okra (Abelmoschus esculentus). This crop plant was probably native to Africa, but it's been under cultivation for millennia. There is evidence that it was grown in Egypt as long ago as 2,000 BC. 

I use the swale method for growing this vigorous plant. I dug four holes, equi-spaced in a 5' square and buried kitchen scraps in the bottom of each hole. I planted 3 seeds in each of the 9 corners around the rims of the swales, because the seeds are 4 years old. When the seeds sprouted, I arranged them so that only one was growing in each of the 9 spots. And 3 months later we have more okra than we can use. Our neighbors look forward to our bounty. See my post Okra swales for more details. 

Pine hyacinth

Pine hyacinth (Clematis baldwinni)
Clematis baldwinii
The pine hyacinth (Clemetis baldwinii) is a new plant for me. I spotted this vine on our weekly walks along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. I did not recognize it as a clematis because of its drooping flower, but there is no mistaking it once you know what to look for.

Native Florida Poinsettia

Our Florida native Poinsettia turns color much earlier than its more famous cousin.
Painted leaf (Poinsettia cyathophora) is a member of the Euphorbia family. The petal-less flowers are grouped into a head with separate male and female flowers and the bracts under the flower head turn red to attract pollinators. This was also spotted on our St. Johns River walk.

A lounging black racer

A sleek black racer sunning itself on a sago.
When we saw this black racer out on one of the sagos (Cycas revoluta) by the front porch, We hoped that it was hunting the Cuban anoles (lizards) and leaving the native green anoles to thrive. 

Florida native seeds

Trying some real Florida wildflower seeds this fall.
I ordered some seed from the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative to add some good diversity to our meadow areas and to also try to grow some in containers. I'll let you know how it goes.

Those darn water spangles!!

Uh oh, those darn water spangles are back.
Water spangles (Salvinia minima) is an invasive floating fern from Asia. We were NOT happy to see it back in our front pond. This will be yet another fall project: I'll don my dive booties and step into the pond to fish as much of this stuff out as possible and before it multiplies to cover the whole pond again. I wrote about our battle with this invasive in Managing a natural pond.

I hope you have a good list of fall projects to tackle as well.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, July 31, 2015

Listening to your landscape

To have a more sustainable landscape, you need to listen...

As a long-time gardener with a masters degree in botany, I was certain that I could garden in north Florida when my husband and I moved here in 2004. I've told this story before, but I was shocked and surprised at how wrong I was. Some Florida gardening truths were quickly discovered like how tulips don't grow well here, not even as annuals, because our winters include warm spells so the soil doesn't stay cold enough. Other revelations have taken more time...

Tropical sage in the herb garden by the kitchen window.

Listen to the birds & bees

Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) has monopolized much of my herb garden. I transplant some of it from this location when I plant basil, dill, or one of the other annual herbs, but mostly I leave this native volunteer in place because it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, several types of bees.

I started the herb garden years ago by ripping out the tea roses and various non-native shrubs that were not doing well in this WSW-facing wall. At first everything was in its assigned place, but when the sage arrived, everything changed. I listened to the birds and the bees who needed this beautiful native more than I needed a neat garden.
This female hummingbird has been resting on a bare branch of coral honeysuckle to entertain my husband and me while we eat our lunch. Not really, but this perch is just above one of her favorite spots, my herb garden, which is filled with tropical sage. Carpenter bees are too big to enter the narrow sage flowers, so they bite holes in the tops of the flowers to "rob" the nectar without doing the work of pollinating.
Sine this L-shaped garden was not under general irrigation,
 I turned it into a container garden.

Container conversion project

An early project in our landscape was my conversion of a "messy bed" filled with Mexican petunias, low growing gardenias, weeds, and other volunteers. I wrote about this project as one of my Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener articles, which are now hosted over on, Troublesome spot? Convert to containers.

Well, it's taken a while, but the other day I switched back to what will probably be a somewhat messy bed, but this time it will be filled with native wildflowers and I shall call it a "cottage garden." 

After removing the pots, I was left with weeds and wildflowers.
The other day I removed the pots, which were not all that attractive anymore, carefully lifted the tropical sage plants, scraped out the chipped wood mulch and the nice compost below it, and then ripped out the old weed barrier cloth, which had not been very effective in keeping out the weeds.

I put the saved chips and mulch back in the bed, planted the sage in three groupings, transplanted some other out-of-place wildflowers from other parts of the yard, and then sowed some Florida wildflower seeds in the empty spaces.  The tropical sage and the other plants survived the transplant, but I'll write more about this project as it matures. So far I'm happy with the result and I think, in the end, it will be easier to handle than the containers.

Florida wildflower seeds have been sown and the wildflowers are now replanted in groupings. It's a garden designed by listening to what it said rather than overpowering it with my will.

The edge of the lawn needed some updates. A close-up of the invading ferns...
A look down this edge now.

The ferns are invading!

Every couple of years I work on the lawn edges. Many times the landscape indicates what it would prefer. I've been writing about edges for some time; see my piece "Cutting edges," for earlier lawn removals. You can also listen to my podcast on the topic: Cutting Edges 1/17/08.

This time around, the ferns, mostly netted chain ferns (Woodwardia areolata) have crept into the grass, which is sparse in this mostly shady edge. So I pulled the grass by hand in a way that was least disruptive to the soil, moss and the ferns. Later I'll come in with some pine needles or wood chips. If it were closer to fall, I'd wait for the leaves, but I don't want to wait that long.

We still want a mowed area down to the lake, but maybe my husband will have one less trip to make. All because I listened to the ferns.
The point-of-view of this photo starts at the cart in the above photo.
The line drawn indicates the proposed new edge of the lawn.
More ferns are invading the grass down here, too.

Other listenings...

Sadly, these suckers will never grow into trees because of the red bay ambrosia beetle and its nasty fungal disease. My husband thought we should trim them back  since they are so ratty looking. I pointed out that the spice bush swallowtail and other related butterflies rely on trees in this family for their larval food. So all those holes in the leaves means that they have found them. Yay!
The Elliot's love grasses make a nice border, but...
I wrote about this new wildflower extension of our front meadow in Adventures in creating a native garden. I emphasized how important a civilized edge is to make a native garden or meadow look like a planned space. I used three bunches of Elliot's love grass (Eragrostis elliottii) to do that job. They looked good for 2 years and then failed to come up the next year. I talked to the grower and wholesale supplier for these plants to ask him what to do. His answer was the classic "listen to your landscape" advice, "Don't plant it there again. Find something else." How logical.

I hope you can hear your landscape when it speaks to you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Integrated pest management in the edible garden

Squash borers: Take action before they do damage.

I ended up with some volunteer butternut squash vines from kitchen scraps buried in the garden. Normally, I would not be growing them during mid-summer, but we'll see how they do in our hot summer weather.

One action item is to bury the base of the stems and then again along the vine in several places. Then even if the borer moth finds a place to lay her eggs and her larval offspring hollow out the stem, the whole plant will not have to depend upon that one section of stem for water and nutrients. It will have alternative roots. You really really don't want to use any poisons around squashes because each female flower needs to be visited by 7 or more pollinators to ensure fruit production.

Bury the base of the squash stems with compost and mulch with pine needles to keep squash borer moths away. Then bury the vine at several additional places along its length.

There were some big holes in my okra leaves.

A brown stinkbug. 

Okra pest

My husband and I love our fresh okra. Normally, there are a few holes, but the okra plants are so vigorous that we have not had to take any action. This year is different, because something was eating some good-sized holes in the leaves. The okra seems unfazed by the damage, but I decided to look for the culprit.

I turned over a well-chewed leaf and found a brown stinkbug. They fly, but they are not very fast, so they were easy to pick it off, throw to the sidewalk, and then step on them. Pee-yew... they really do stink. I found a few more (just one to a leaf) on this day and then again on the next, and the next. Now, I'm not finding any, but I'll keep looking.

We've had so much rain recently (8" in June) that it's not been necessary to do much extra irrigation, so my work to build swales between the okra was probably not necessaryat least not so far. You can read my article Okra Swales for more information on how and why I use this method. 

Some clearing out of the jungle

It's been several years since the wild area out in the front meadow has seen any attention. Normally that's fine with us, but for the last few days, my husband and I have been doing some moderate clearing. We work only in the early morning from about 6:30am to 9am. It's the catbriar (Smilax spp.) that gives us fits. To reduce future maintenance, it's important to dig up the tubers rather that just cut off the vines because those tubers provide the energy for more and bigger shoots. One of these days I'm going to clean up their tubers and make a batch of sarsaparilla. These tubers do have a slight peppery taste. There are 2 recipes in Peggy Lance's new book: Florida's Edible Wild Plants. We've been eating the soft young tips in salads for years, but the drink would be a new experience.

Our Backyard Habitat sign was dislodged from its tree as we pulled the vines from the trunk, so I scrubbed it off and rehung it. It's been nearly ten years since we've been certified. Read my post done at that time: Creating Backyard Habitat.

I was cleaning out some catbriar vines
and made sure to dig up the tubers.
I cleaned off my backyard habitat sign and rehung it
at the front corner of the lot so my neighbors can see it. 

Good night moonflower!

A sunrise on the banks 
of the St. Johns River

Good Night Moonflower

Good night moonflower.
As the sun is rising, 
And others wait to start their day,
You fold up your brilliant white petals,
That glow in the dark,
to attract your night-flying pollinators.
Daytime's here. Your work is done!

The saltmarsh mallows (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) glow in the sunrise.
I hope you are having good summertime adventures in your yard and gardens.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Summertime, summertime...

Is it spring or fall?

Several years ago, I purchased this native fall-blooming aster, but each year it has bloomed in both the late spring and early fall.  Its breaking of bud dormancy may be caused by the same length of day as its correct blooming time. Whatever its problem, we do enjoy its surprise show each June. 
Anthill built into a yucca plant. 

Imported red fire ants!

A question from a reader: "We are trying to keep our yard as pesticide free as possible, however, we are having a lot of trouble with fire ants. We have a two year old who keeps getting worse and worse reactions to their bites. Can you give me any suggestions for dealing with the problem in a healthy way?"
My answer: Oh, I hate those imported red fire ants and I too suffer from nasty reactions to their stings.
- Boiling water works quickly: pour directly on the top of the hill in a slow steady stream so that it erodes a deep hole into the center of the nest. Warning: this will also kill any plant roots in the area.
- Disruption and cold water will take at least 2 sessions. You dig or rake away the whole top of the hill and then pour a whole watering can (2 or 3 gallons) of water over the area.
- Grits or rice poured on the top of the hill do not work.
- If you must use pesticide, use a bait type which will be taken into the next by workers.
- Never use a landscape-wide pesticide.

I did not use boiling water on the anthill pictured here because it would have killed the yucca. I quickly raked the hill down to soil level with a leaf rake and then poured a whole watering can on the spot. I also poured water on it the next day and then they were gone and I did not receive any ant stings in the process. Yay! 
I was in central Florida and pulled over to snap some photos of these native 12' tall hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus).

At Riverbend Park in Jupiter, I stopped to take a photo of this native seven sisters lily (Crinum americanum).

What were they thinking?
Back in 2007, the people in this Clay County house that we pass on a regular basis planted 12 queen palms along their fence and directly under the wires. Only 2 of the 12 have survived the winters here in north Florida.

Why do people plant (and more importantly, continue to sell) these queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) in North Florida? Here are the four big reasons why you should find another palm for your landscape:
1) Queen palms are tropical plants and are NOT cold tolerant. If the temperatures dip below 25ยบ F, most of its fronds will die. After a cold winter, if the palm's growing stem survives, it'll look terrible for six months or longer.
2) Unlike most palms, queens are not wind resistant. In a tabulation of trees lost in the hurricanes in 2004 and 2006, queens blew over twice as much as any other palm.
3) Queen palms are not drought tolerant and will require irrigation to survive our seven-moth dry season, especially during a prolonged drought period.
4) Queen palms produce a huge amount of seed, which quickly becomes a smelly mess. Plus in central and south Florida, queens palms have invaded our natural habitats and are listed on the II Florida invasives list put together by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC).

And speaking of tropical weather...

Our 5-month wet season began on June 1.

You know it's summer when thunderheads are a daily occurrence. We thought we were going to get a nice cooling shower on a 95-degree day, but no. As ominous as this looked, it dissipated quickly and we didn't receive any rain this day.

Cooking to the harvest

A tabbouleh harvest includes a sprig of mint, curly parsley, garlic chives, and meadow garlic bulbs (not shown) . The parsley has begun to bolt, so it's time to harvest it all. A good chunk of it went into a 3-day tabbouleh--so called because my husband makes enough to provide the main course dinner for the two of us for three days.

For our tabbouleh recipe, read my post From compost to dinners. And if you look in the harvest photo above, you can see some marigolds growing among the Greek oregano. I've planted most of my marigold cover crop for the summer. The marigolds deter root-knot nematodes when planted as a cover crop and dug into the soil a few weeks before planting the fall crops. See my post Results: the nematode experiment for the details of the how and why.

I have been filling up my dance card for this fall. Be sure to check out the Appearances Page to find public events near you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt