Monday, July 1, 2024

Winged sumac, a useful understory shrub

A small winged sumac in bloom, which
attracts a wide variety of pollinators.

Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) is a deciduous, compact, densely growing, colonizing shrub that is native to all of Florida and the eastern half of North America. It can grow to 10 to 25 feet tall and nearly as wide, although the ones in our yard are much smaller than that. They will grow in a wide variety of situations, but they do best in full sun or partial shade and require good drainage. 

This plant could be used in a hedge row with a variety of other shrubs and is a good choice for naturalizing at the edge between wooded and open areas. Keep in mind that it will be bare for a few months in the winter. It can spread quite some distance via rhizomes or underground roots, so keep that in mind when choosing planting sites.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Shrubs in the landscape

A newly renovated house in our neighborhood with its
newly-installed curb-appeal shrubs where there were none.

Shrubs as the default foundation plantings

Shrubs are easy for the builders to install and they give the landscape a "finished" and the expected look for a house.

Here's a house in our neighborhood that recently went on the market after extensive interior renovations according to its online listing. But what bothered me was that they removed two mature trees on the west side of the house, which cooled the area especially in the afternoon, removed the awnings on the windows, and then installed a row of useless, sprawling shrubs along the foundation. One of the trees may have been too close to the house, but the other one was fine. 

This was in 2022 when their azaleas were blooming. I was not
focused on the house, but the thickets.

I had taken a photo of this house in 2022 when their Japanese azaleas (Rhododendron japonicum), which are planted around some trees, were in bloom to include in my article, Habitat Gardening. The tree in the foreground is an old redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) next to the road, which is still there.

So the real problem with foundation shrubs is that they usually outgrow their spaces, some sooner than others. Sometimes it's just that they grow too tall, but other shrubs with aggressive spreading roots could also damage the building's foundation. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Composting in place: Part 2

I scored a huge load of wood chips the
other day--mostly pines (with needles)
& oaks. This close to our 30th
load since 2004.

I wrote "Enrich soil for crops by composting in-place" back in 2019 about how I build soil and our raised beds for growing our vegetables, which includes the whole process from building the beds (without hard sides) to trench composting to add additional organic materials to the soil. While no gardener can claim 100% success rate in growing veggies, over all I've been quite successful over the years with these wide-row beds. Plus, this article has been one of the most visited.

This article is a follow-up to that piece and it's also centered around our vegetable beds, but this time I cover what's between the beds and how beautifully rich soil is also created there.

A new arborist chip dump

On our morning walk, I saw a tree company getting ready to work a couple of streets over from ours. I walked back over there and asked for their load of chips, they were happy to do so. They were just getting ready to drive their truck to the dump, as I walked the 1/2 mile back home, the truck passed me and I explained where to dump them, but the driver already knew where to go because he'd dumped loads there before. 

Monday, April 1, 2024

White Wild Indigo

It planted itself in a location that's too close to
 the sidewalk, but I'll leave it there since they
don't transplant well.

White Wild Indigo: A beautiful perennial pollinator plant

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba) is a plant worth including in your pollinator garden. It is pollinated by large bees including bumblebees and carpenter bees. It's also a host plant for Wild indigo duskywing and Zarucco duskywing butterflies. The fruits are eaten by birds. While it's an important plant in the local ecosystem, it's toxic to humans and livestock.

It is best propagated from scarified seed. Once established, plants should not be moved, since they have a long tap root. They take several years to reach maturity but are long-lived, and often grows 2-3 feet tall, frequently wider than it is tall. It produces showy white flowers March-May, but is dormant in winter. Use it as a small shrub or background plant in a border located in full sun to partial shade. 

It is a tri-foliate legume and can thrive in a variety of poor soils including acidic to neutral clay, loam, or sand. It naturally occurs in a sandhill environment, so established plants can tolerate some drought, but never flooding. 

Friday, March 1, 2024

Carrots: a most satisfying cool-weather crop

Carrots are native to Europe and parts of Asia and
Africa, but now have escaped around the world and
those wild carrots are known as Queen Anne's lace.

Carrots (Daucus carota) are in the carrot family Apiaceae. While this plant family includes quite a few well-known and economically important crop plants as anise, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley, and parsnip, there are also a few highly poisonous species, such as poison hemlock, water hemlock, spotted cowbane, and fool's parsley. 

The defining characteristic of this family is the inflorescence, the flowers nearly always aggregated in terminal umbels, that may be simple or more commonly compound. The other name for this family is Umbelliferae. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Lyreleaf sage

Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) is in the mint family.

Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata) makes quite a show in several areas of our front yard in the spring. We delay the first mowing of our lawn in the spring for this wildflower show. 

Over the years, we have replaced more than half of the lawn that came with the house and what is left is a freedom lawn that is:
- free from landscape-wide pesticide applications,
- free from synthetic fertilizer applications,
- free from over irrigation, and
- free from over mowing. It's allowed to go dormant during the winter months. 

I have moved some of these lovely wildflower volunteers from the lawn into wildflower gardens. Where this wonderful sage grows quite a bit larger and more robust. 

I saw that someone described this plant as weedy, but I don't see it that way at all, even though it is prolific. In the lawn, it's easy to mow, in the wildflower beds, it makes quite a show, and in the vegetable beds, it's easy to pull if necessary and if not, it attracts pollinators.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Ohio Spiderwort: a pollinator-friendly native wildflower

A small fly-like bee was pollinating this flower.

Bluejacket or Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) is native to most of Eastern North America and to most of Florida. It attracts pollinators, especially bees. Each day, one or two flowers bloom in each flower head. They open early in the morning and then wilt in the afternoon. Each flower head contains twenty or more flowers and new flower heads are formed throughout the long season from early spring to late fall. There is a long blooming season.

There are three other species of spiderworts native to Florida: hairy spiderwort (T. hirsutiflora), longleaf spiderwort (T. roseolens), and zigzag spiderwort (T. subaspera). But the bluejacket has the largest native range and is the one that's most readily available from the native trade.

Spiderworts are monocots and are in the Commelina family (Commelinaceae), which includes 36 genera world wide, but only five occur in Florida. "Spiderwort" refers to the sap which dries into web-like threads when a stem is cut.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Pumpkin, carrot, onion soup recipe

A delicious, rich, thick pumpkin carrot soup

This is a delicious, hardy soup using one of our many Seminole pumpkins. My husband and I worked together on this soup, which was three dinners for the two of us and two lunch servings. (See my Seminole pumpkin article, which has more recipes for this versatile squash.)


1 small pumpkin, seeded, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes*
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes 
2 large sweet onions, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup grated radishes*
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped*
1 teaspoon of fresh oregano leaves*
1/3 cup of garlic chives, chopped*
1/2 teaspoon of dill seed*
1 cup plain Greek yogurt added to the soup and more as garnish
8 cups of water
2 eggs, beaten
enough olive oil to sauté the herbs and the onions
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons of dill, chopped for garnish*

*Fresh from the garden (except for the dill seed, which collected last spring)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Florida's goldenrods

Goldenrods do Not cause allergies

The insect-pollinated goldenrods (Solidago spp.) with their beautiful flowers have erroneously been blamed for fall allergy season when it's the wind-pollinated ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) with the unnoticeable green flowers that are filling the air with pollen when the goldenrods are blooming. The ragweeds do not need to put any energy into creating beautiful flowers or sweet nectar because the wind will blow anyway. As I understand it, some allergy doctors test people to see if they are allergic to goldenrod pollen even though that pollen is too heavy and sticky to float in the air and there is zero chance of its getting into anyone's nose. 

A swallowtail butterfly is pale in comparison to
the very yellow goldenrod.
Ragweed, the source of the air-borne pollen that gives people hay fever.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Why talking about native plant landscapes is so important

Consumers are presented with this array of mostly
nonnative plants in full bloom to plant so their yards can
decorated with plants at peak bloom all the time.

Where are the native plants?

New homeowners and beginning gardeners find displays similar to this photo that I took at a big box store a few years ago. It's filled with mostly nonnative annuals in full bloom. Each tray is not too expensive, but after they fade in a couple of months, people are expected to come back to replace them with the next set. 

Examples in garden magazines and gardening TV shows with their instant landscapes imply that garden installations are events, and not ongoing projects that develop over the years.