Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The hand of the gardener in native landscapes

Plant more natives!

In 2013, a volunteer beautyberry shrub near the edge of the
lawn is surrounded by several water oaks.

Ecologists and environmental organizations have been urging people to plant more native plants, to build bird-friendly and pollinator-friendly habitat, and to do this by removing at least some of their lawn.

One prime example is Doug Tallamy's HomeGrown National Park where you can register your yard to be part of of this park by replacing at least half of the lawn with native plants.

This is great and I hope that millions of homeowners and other property managers take this step to build native habitat, but there are some important steps to take, especially in urban and suburban areas, to increase the acceptability of these native landscapes. Our yards and our community landscapes, even if they have a good portion of native plants are not wild spaces and will need some regular care. (Actually, I wrote a book on this topic. See below.)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida: 2nd Edition

Order directly from our publisher:
University Press of Florida 
Melissa and I worked with University Press of Florida to improve, update, and reorganize our book. The photos, including many new ones, are now located throughout the book, not just in the center, which will make it much easier to read. We've explained our process in the new preface included here for your information.

Preface to the Second Edition 

Much has happened in plant science and organic gardening techniques in the almost 10 years since we began researching and writing the first edition of this book, so we agreed to spend some time to revisit and update the content for this edition. We were eager to work on this project so that Florida’s vegetable gardeners would have easy access to this new information. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Red cedar: an important habitat tree

A female red cedar with fruit.

Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is medium-sized, dioecious evergreen conifer with female trees that bear waxy, berry-like cones, which many types of birds will eat as the weather grows colder.

While most botanists agree that there is one species of red cedar that's native to most of eastern North America, the old precedent recognized coastal red cedar (J. silicicola) and eastern red cedar (J. virginiana) a bit inland, with a big range from Texas to southern Ontario. This old protocol meant that except for the northern border of Florida's Panhandle, the red cedars native to Florida were the coastal species.

Red cedar is in the cypress family (Cupressaceae), which has world-wide distribution--except for Antarctica. Other members of this family found in Florida are two cypresses: pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and bald cypress (T. distichum); Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides); plus the non-natives: oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis) and white cypress-pine (Callitris glaucophylla).

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Fall cucumbers

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is in the squash family (Cucurbitaceae) and is more closely related to melons than the squashes, which are in the Cucurbita genus. It's native to India but has been under cultivation as a crop for about 3,000 years. Now, it is widely cultivated around the world.

Male and female cucumber flowers. The female flower sits atop a small, preformed fruit. If the flower is not adequately pollinated, then the fruit will not expand, turn yellow, and fall off the vine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Marigolds

Beautiful marigolds!

Inchworm by Danny Kaye

Inchworm, inchworm (two and two are four)
Measuring the marigolds (four and four are eight)
You and your arithmetic (eight and eight are sixteen)
You'll probably go far (sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two)

Inchworm, inchworm (two and two are four)
Measuring the marigolds (four and four are eight)
Seems to me, you'd stop and see (eight and eight are sixteen)
How beautiful they are (sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two)

Marigolds have been under cultivation for centuries

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 (Abelmoschus 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.