Sunday, August 13, 2017

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Cool plant of the month: Moonflowers!

If you go to Circle B and take a walk out by the lake, look up in the trees. You’ll see a mess of vines with solid green, heart-shaped leaves, and odd, pale green drooping things. Those drooping things, which also litter the paths, are the crumpled remnants of the night before’s flowers. (Stop walking before looking up; there’s muddy swamp on both sides of the path, not to mention possible alligators, etc.) Moonflowers will open during the day if it’s an exceptionally dim afternoon or evening, for instance with heavy clouds, but generally they only open at night.  So a person can’t usually see them in nature, because it’s dark at night and hard to get where they grow. As opposed to my neighborhood, which is lit up like a prison yard all night long, except for . . . part of my back yard, where I have carefully created dark. Weird, huh? To have to plant your garden to create night shade? But in that night shade, I grow moonflowers (and poinsettias, which need dark nights to color up in the fall). And each evening, all summer long, immense white morning-glory-like flowers slowly open to attract night-flying pollinators. Sometimes the pollinators miss the flowers and end up bumping into my kitchen window, but I try to keep the light levels low out there. Recently, I saw an immense furry Sphinx moth, as big as a small bird, visiting the moonflowers! (It was a full-moon night so I could see, and I captured her in my insect net and took her inside to look more closely. Yes, I let her go.) By the way, the hummingbird moths visit them also. The flowers do have a sweet scent, also, but nothing like as penetrating as the night-blooming jasmine, so I think that insects must use sight to find the flowers as they search for nectar. Although maybe not; maybe they can smell something I can’t smell. (Night-blooming jasmine will knock your socks right off, and I highly recommend it for a night garden.)

Moonflowers can be grown from seed, as mine was, and will persist for many years if they’re happy, slowly becoming larger and ever more lovely. They’ll bloom year-round, depending on the weather. They are climbers, so they need support, and will take advantage of any nearby tree. Out at Circle B, they’re 40 feet up the cypresses! I don’t expect mine to get that large, because . . . I don’t have a swamp in my back yard, and they do like wet feet. So if you plant them, I advise you to grow them somewhere that’s easy to water. There is a bucket under my gutter that collects dew running off the roof, and I pour that water onto the moonflowers when there isn’t any rain. And I water the heck out of them during the dry times. I suspect that they develop some kind of tuber, as do some other morning glory relatives, but I’m not going to dig up my plant to find out. (They are native here in Florida, so it makes sense that they’d have a mechanism to get through our dry spells.)
But as I say, mine is too precious to me to take chances with. For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at http://polk.ifas.ufl.edu.  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions.

Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu. The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.  An Equal Opportunity Institution.







Monday, July 10, 2017

Right Plant, Right Place


The first time I saw blood lilies, Scadoxus multiflorus, I nearly drove off the road. They were living in pots under an oak tree in a very poor section of one of the poorer towns in southern central Florida, and they were magnificent. There must have been fifty of them blooming in that otherwise barren yard. Now, the oak tree took up the entire front yard of the old, wooden house, and since oak roots are insatiable, it made perfect sense that the bulbs were in pots. I waved hello to the elderly lady sitting on the porch, and drove on, lily lust in my heart. Eventually, I finally got my mitts on an actual blood lily bulb. (If you don't have a generous neighbor, check out feed stores and local nurseries for this traditional passalong plant). I took that baby home and plopped it into a nice, cozy flowerbed in the sunny front of my house. Where it came up, bloomed, and died. Hmmm . . . However, as a Master Gardener, Im convinced I can grow everything, so the next year, I got another one, and this time did some research and learned that blood lilies prefer dry shade (oops). 

So I planted it under an oak tree, where it came up, bloomed, and disappeared. Okay, I thought, it'll be dormant for a while, and then make leaves. (The flower stalks do come up before the leaves.) The next year, when no leaves had appeared, I got another blood lily. THIS time, I put it in a pot, put the pot under the oak tree, and watched it carefully. It bloomed, and after a while a bunch of pretty, green leaves came up, aaand . . . grasshoppers ate the leaves. (That time, I got there before the leaves vanished.) Now for a short digression about grasshopper control. Its pointless to spray them because they just fly away (or hop, if they're lubbers). However, they are grabbable if you're quick (an insect net comes in handy, here), and a couple of weeks in the freezer will resolve any lingering grasshopper issues. Very small grasshoppers can be squished with gloved fingers, but the big ones –ew!For those who are athletic, the brisk application of a shoe sole will also work. 

What about the blood lilies? About every three years I divide them, leaving one plant per pot, and I can tell you thats why the lilies in that central Florida front yard were in plastic pots, old buckets, wash tubs, and any other thing that holds dirt. It turns out that they multiply like crazy! You only need to start with one to end up with a passel of flowers. They also appreciate a nice oak-leaf mulch over the winter. The moral of the story? Put the dang plant where it'll be happy! 

Author, Celia Beamish, is a Florida Master Gardener in Polk County, Florida.

For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at http://polk.ifas.ufl.edu.  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu. 

The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.  An Equal Opportunity Institution.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Workshops and Programs for July and August

Home Lawns

Jul 6, 2017 10:00 AM
Mackay Gardens, Lake Alfred
Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com
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Lunch and Learn- Pollinators: Not Just the Birds and the Bees

Jul 11, 2017 12:00 PM
·      Lakeland Electric, Lakeland
·      Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com 


Spices and Herbs Around the World

Jul 12, 2017 5:30 PM
·      Auburndale Public Library, Auburndale 
Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com




Preventing Mosquitoes in the Home Landscape

Jul 17, 2017 10:30 AM
·      Lakeland Public Library, Lakeland
·      Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com 


Hydroponic Gardening

Jul 20, 2017 6:30 PM
Bartow Public Library, Bartow

Vegetable Gardening

Jul 27, 2017 5:30 PM
·      Winter Haven Public Library, Winter Haven
·      Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com 

10 Plants, 10 Butterflies

Aug 3, 2017 10:00 AM
Mackay Gardens, Lake Alfred
Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com
·       


Lunch and Learn: Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Aug 8, 2017 12:00 PM
Lakeland Electric, Lakeland
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Vegetable Gardening

Aug 10, 2017 6:30 PM
Bartow Public Library, Bartow


Lunch and Learn: Rain Gardens

Aug 22, 2017 12:00 PM
·      Haines City Public Library, Haines City 
·      Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com


Hydroponic Gardening

Aug 24, 2017 5:30 PM
·      Winter Haven Public Library, Winter Haven

·      Register here: http://polkgardening.eventbrite.com