Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Habitat gardening

In natural areas, the soil ecosystem supports the plants,
which support the insects, which in turn support
the birds and other wildlife.

Florida's default landscapes

Most yards in Florida consist of highly maintained monoculture lawns, a few stand-alone trees, and a fringe of foundation plants around the buildings. This is the opposite of habitat gardening because typical Florida lawn care includes regular landscape-wide applications of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and other poisons. Then since these pesticides are not good for the turfgrass, synthetic fertilizer is applied to keep it green.

This treatment damages the soil ecosystem (shown in the poster here), which plays an important role in keeping the plants healthy, which then support the insects and the birds. In addition, much of the lawn chemicals have rinsed through the soil or have been carried away with erosion to pollute our waterways causing too much algae growth and toxic dead zones.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Tall elephantsfoot, an easy-to-grow Florida wildflower

A Great Purple Hairstreak sipping nectar from tall
elephantsfoot flowers. The larval host for this beautiful
butterfly is mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum).

Tall elephantsfoot (Elephantopus elatus) is a perennial Florida native wildflower with leathery leaves that form a rosette around its central growing point at ground level (basal leaves) and it's this leaf arrangement that inspired both its common name and genus name, elephantsfoot and Elephantopus, because they form a dense circle shaped like an elephant's footprint. The plant produces one or more tall, hairy flowering stalks with hardly any leaves. 

It's a member of the daisy family (Asteraceae), but it's unlike many of the family members that have flower heads composed of both disk and ray florets like a sunflower (with the ray florets looking and acting like petals and the smaller disk florets arrayed in the center). The flower head for this species has only disk florets that are subtended by three hairy bracts, which define the shape of the flower head as a triangular. The florets are light lavender to whitish and last only a day. They don't bloom until late morning just when the pollinators are first becoming active. So if you're out early in the morning, all you'll see are the old flowers from the day before.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Okra: a fast growing, heat-loving crop

Burgundy okra is a beautiful and tasty addition 
to your summer vegetable garden.

Okra (Hibiscus esculentus) is a fast growing, heat-loving annual crop native to the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia along the White Nile River. It has been grown in various parts of the world and was most likely brought to the Caribbean Islands and the southeastern states by enslaved peoples from Western Africa. At first, it served as a subsistence food for slaves, but was then accepted as a southern favorite. Thomas Jefferson grew it in his garden at Monticello, Virginia in the 1780s.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Mangrove spiderlily: an impressive Florida native

The mangrove spiderlily (Hymenocallis latifolia

The flowers are impressive with orange pollen
and six strap-like tepals emanating from
 a central disk corolla.

The mangrove spiderlily is long-lived perennial in the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) and its native range is along coastal areas in Central and South Florida and in most of the Caribbean islands. There are 14 species of spiderlily (Hymenocallis spp.) native to Florida, but the mangrove spiderlily is the one that is most often available for sale in the native plant community.

It flowers from late spring through early fall, but in my experience, most of the flowering comes all at once at the beginning of summer. While it's also known as perfumed spiderlily, the ones in my yard have a very light scent. Like many white flowers, they are primarily pollinated by moths.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Growing onions and garlic in North Florida


Onion planting day: November 26

Onions and garlics

Both onions and garlics are in the genus Allium, which contains several crops that are divided into two groups:
1) Onions, which have hollow leaves and 
2) Garlics, which have flat, solid leaves. (*See note below on the family.)

Onions (Allium cepa) are treated as a long-season annual in Florida. Botanically, they are biennials, where in a natural habitat, they would grow leaves and form a bulb the first year, go into dormancy, and the second year they would use the stored energy in the bulb to form flowers, which are borne on a specialized stem called a scape. We interrupt this cycle by harvesting as the plant goes dormant and when the bulb is at its maximum size. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Two geezers and a shed--part 2

After 10 years, the shed needed some work.

Our shed had a noticeable tilt after ten years.
In the foreground, the pot sits on the top of the septic holding
tank and the septic drainage field mound is to the left.
In 2012, my husband and I moved the shed that came with our house closer to the garage so that it would be more useful. I documented how we moved the it using pvc pipes as rollers and pulled it slowly across the yard with our van to its new location. That was quite a project and my "Two geezers and a shed" article is still one of the most visited posts on this blog.

These days the shed is heavily used for tools, pots, and other gardening supplies. But the oak tree to its left had grown and had tilted the whole shed a few degrees, and on the right, there were large roots also touching the bottom of the shed.

At first, we thought we would have to move it a foot or two to the right, but after clearing out the leaves and sticks from under the shed, we decided to just raise it in place. We know that this is not a permanent solution because the trees' roots will continue to grow. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

The value of trees

 An appreciation of trees

Trees in our yards and in our communities add to the global
population, which is crucial for slowing down climate change.

Here are just some of the many ways that trees are important not only in our urban and suburban neighborhoods, but also for the whole planet:

- Trees actually cool the air through transpiration. A mature deciduous tree like an oak will transpire more than 400 liters of water on a hot summer's day. In the process of liquid water evaporating (going from liquid to gas) the air is cooled. At 68˚F each gram of water that evaporates, cools the air by 585 calories. Transpiration: Forests' most important service

- Trees sequester carbon, by absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) a long-lasting greenhouse gas, through the process of photosynthesis where they remove carbon dioxide from the air to make sugars, which are then stored in the various plant tissues. A typical hardwood tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon per year. This means it will sequester approximately 1 ton of carbon by the time it reaches 40 years old. Carbon sequestration

- Trees produce oxygen through photosynthesis, but trees and all the other organisms in the forest absorb most of that oxygen to live. Also read Transpiration: Forests' most important service where I talk about three cycles in the forest: Carbon, Oxygen, and Water.

- Trees remove carbon monoxide (CO) and other air pollutants from the air. They are absorbed primarily through stomata (pores) on the leaves where they diffuse into intercellular spaces and may be absorbed by water films to form acids or react with inner-leaf surfaces. Trees can remove significant amounts of air pollution in cities, where it is often concentrated. More information on this from the EPA.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Growing parsnips in North Florida

Wear gloves to harvest parsnips, because the foliage is toxic.

Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a biennial that is similar to carrots (and is in the same family) where the crop is the tap root. In early fall, I planted the seeds directly into deeply prepared garden soil. I planted my first carrot seeds at that time as well. I just barely covered the seeds with fine soil and watered them and the carrots thoroughly several times a week. The parsnip seeds took a week or so longer to germinate than the carrot seeds. 

I knew that they have a fairly low germination rate and that the seeds don't stay viable until the next season, so I planted the whole seed package in a half row about 24" x 18". I thinned the seedlings once so that there would be adequate room for root expansion. Some gardeners germinate the seeds in between damp or wet paper towels to have more control. Those that germinate can then be transplanted into the garden at just the right distance from each other. Do this early, only a few days after germination, because if you wait too long, you'll disturb their roots, and they may not recover. 

Warning! The shoots and leaves of parsnip must be handled with care, as its sap contains phototoxic chemicals that can cause blisters on the skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Toxicity can also affect livestock and poultry, so wear gloves when weeding, thinning, or harvesting this crop, and then compost the foliage.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Red maples in Florida

A large clump of maple seeds. It readily reseeds.

Red maples are versatile trees

The red maple (Acer rubrum) is native to most of Florida and its range also includes almost all of eastern North America including Canada. According to the U.S. Forest Service, it's one of the most abundant trees in this range, because it grows well in a wide variety of habitats and because it's easy to grow and has reliable fall color even in Florida, it is widely planted. It will grow in both wet and dry soil, but in the southern part of Florida it's mostly found in wet soils. While it prefers some acidity, it tolerates a variety of soil types.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Salad burnet: an easy-to-grow perennial crop

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) is a perennial crop in the rose family (Rosaceae) that is native to all of Europe, northern Africa and also in southern Africa. It's easy to grow from seed and it reseeds. It's best to plant this with other perennial crops and herbs so it does not get in the way during crop rotations.

Salad burnet leaves in the morning with guttation* drops on
the ends of all the leaf serrations.