Thursday, May 28, 2009

How-To Guide: Creating a Rain Garden

Have you ever wanted to create a rain garden? We are installing some rain gardens and swale gardens at the Polk County Extension Service, and I came across a wonderful guide while doing some research.

This guide (from the City of Tallahasee and Think About Personal Pollution) is a great way to get started. Not only does the guide provide you with a list of all of the benefits of a rain garden, but it gives step-by-step instructions for construction one in your own yard! Rain gardens are great for the environment AND a way to add beauty to your landscape. Remember to choose plants from the Polk County Plant Database for your Polk County rain garden! Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Landscapes under water!

After the recent rains, many people are left with large areas of standing water on their property. These areas are not only breeding ground for insects, they also cause harm to any landscape plants that may be in the flooded area. If your landscape is frequently flooded in the summer months you may want to consider making some grading changes to your yard by adding swales, berms or ditches. French drains, tile systems and catchment basins such as rain barrels or cisterns can also be helpful in eliminating standing water.  Consider a rain garden if the area floods but drains quickly.  A rain garden is a low area filled with plants that catches and filters rainwater.  

Will your plants survive the flooding? Some plants have a higher tolerance to flooding than others. The Bald Cypress can handle being under water indefinitely while the Laurel Oak is extremely sensitive. Large amounts of water can have different effects on different plants. Flood damage can affect trees for 2-3 years beyond the initial flood and should be inspected by a certified arborist to determine what action to take in caring for your flood damaged trees. They are now susceptible to fungus, disease and insect problems and must be monitored closely.

Erosion can also cause problems to landscape plants by affecting the root system. If soil has washed away from the root zone, more should be added both under and over the exposed roots. The plant should not be pruned until it shows signs of recovery, but a slow-release fertilizer can be applied. Any sand or soil on the leaf and stem surfaces should be removed as it can damage the plant.

Flood damage in the lawn depends on the type of turf (Bermuda and St. Augustine have a better tolerance than Bahia), the water depth, the temperature of the water and the health of the turf prior to the flooding. Most types of turf can survive for about 4 to 6 days submerged in water; areas submerged longer will not survive and will need to be replaced. If your turf has survived a flood, aerate and lightly fertilize after the water has receded.

To learn more about caring for plants after a flood or severe storm contact the UF/IFAS Extension, Polk County at (863) 519-1047.  

New gardening workshops added to calendar!

Creating a Rain Barrel Workshop
Tuesday, July 28, 6:00-7:30 pm
Polk County Extension Service
1702 Highway 17 South, Bartow
Learn the basics of water conservation and stormwater runoff prevention using rain barrels. In this hands-on program, you will create and take home a 55-gallon rain barrel. Rain barrels (including spigots) will be available for purchase for $25. Call 863-519-8677, ext. 121, to register or register online. You will NOT receive a confirmation of your registration.

Florida-Friendly Plants for Polk County Yards
Tuesday, August 4, 10:00 am-12:00 pm
Lake Wales Public Library
290 Cypress Gardens Lane, Lake Wales
In this FREE workshop you will learn what groundcovers, perennials, trees and shrubs work well in Polk County landscapes. The workshop will cover 65 Florida-friendly plants and how they can be installed and maintained the Florida-friendly way! Call (863) 519-8677 ext. 121 or email to register for the workshop. You will NOT receive a confirmation of your registration.

Composting Workshop
Thursday, August 6, 6:00-7:30 pm
Lakeland Police Department, Community Room
219 North Massachusetts Avenue, Lakeland
In this free workshop you will learn the many methods of composting, the benefits of using compost and how easy it is to practice home composting. At this workshop you will be able to purchase an Earth Machine compost bin for $40 and a kitchen scrap bucket for $10. Register early as supplies are limited! This program is being offered by the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program and the City of Lakeland Lakes and Stormwater Division. Call 863-519-8677 ext 121 to register, or register online. You will NOT receive a confirmation of your registration.

Dutchman's Pipevine

This unusual evergreen vine always attracts a lot of attention at the Extension Service. We have it planted on an arbor in our Florida-friendly butterfly garden where it has been thriving for the past 5 years. This Florida-friendly vine is easy to grow, low maintenance, drought tolerant, and attracts LOTS of Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies each year. The enormous bloom grows up to six inches long! This vine is a larval host plant, so if you plant it in your yard be prepared for chewed-up leaves. I would recommend this vine to any butterfly enthusiast or a gardener looking for an attractive and unusual vine.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What is Zoysia Grass?

Zoysia grass is a turfgrass used in Florida for both commercial and residential landscapes. Zoysia grass is adapted to shade, salt and traffic. It is slow-growing (less mowing!) and forms a very dense carpet. There are many cultivars available ('Belaire', 'Crowne', 'El Toro', 'Empire', 'Empress', 'Meyer' and 'Ultimate'). 'Empire' is a cultivar that is frequently found in the Central Florida area and is said to establish more quickly than other varieties. Zoysia grass is susceptible to certain pests, so make sure that you maintain it properly. I know a couple of homeowners that have very good luck with their Zoysia grass and say that it is easy and drought-tolerant. Of course, everyone's yard and maintenance schedule is a bit different, so make sure that you obtain turfgrass information from the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service before you plant any type of turf.

Zoysia (left) St. Augustine (right)

Grow your own Veggies

Get all your veggie gardening information here! Everything you need to know about hydroponics, organic gardening, fertilizing your vegetable garden, starting seeds and combating insects and disease.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Water is Cool at Agrifest!

In April, over 6,000 Polk County fourth grade students visited the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service for Agri-fest. They learned about agriculture in Polk County as well as our precious natural resource--water. In Water Moves, the students "became" part of the water cycle and moved around the room as a water drop. They fell to the ground, swam in the groundwater, floated down the river to lakes and oceans, and finally evaporated up into the clouds. The students enjoyed this hands-on activity and shared the many ways that they conserve water at home and at school. The water cycle is important to all life on Earth and our fourth grade students and their families are doing their part to conserve and protect our water!

Before & After

What does a Florida-friendly yard transformation look like? We will be showing you some great before/after yard transformations starting with the French residence. Not only did they conquer the landscape, but they also did amazing work on the home. The landscape features Florida-friendly plants, micro-irrigation, and recycled and by-product mulches. What a transformation!

How Easy is it to Install a Micro-Irrigation System? Beth Bodenstein Explains Her Installation Experience

The Simplicity of Micro Irrigation Installation

From Metro I-4 News
May 12th, 2009 8:14 am by Beth Bodenstein
Ed: This is the second in a series of articles from Polk is Florida-Friendly

For almost two years now I’ve been preaching the gospel of micro irrigation. Estimates are that 50% of our total potable water consumption goes towards lawns and gardens. The use of micro irrigation is a valuable tool conserving our water resources.
But here’s the catch – I’d never actually installed or used a micro system, and was thinking it was about time to rectify that situation. Then I spent a week sharing a booth at Sun n Fun with Jo Reese, the charming sales rep for the Dundee company that manufactures one of the most popular brands of micro irrigation products . I learned that the concept for micro irrigation was born in Polk County, as an option for the citrus industry. The residential use of micro was an offshoot of that commercial use and the product is still manufactured right here in Polk, and distributed nationally.
Last week I realized the time had come. I enlisted a ‘supervisor’ and we traveled over to my local retailer. I only have three beds that needed to be watered, but I purchased the starter kit plus extras because I really wasn’t sure how many misters I’d need. The kit comes with a very useful DVD that explains the installation process, and we took the time to watch that first, while leaving the large supply tube unrolled in the yard, softening up in the sun.
I’m always a little nervous when a project involves the cutting of materials, so it was with great trepidation that I lifted my tool to make the first cut of the supply tube. My ‘supervisor’ assured me that it was the right thing to do so I snipped away. We fed the tube under the house behind the front steps, and then stretched it around to the end of the beds. The kit comes with a handy dandy gizmo that clamps of the tube, but leaves you with the ability to extend the system if desired. Now we realized that I’d probably want 90* elbow connectors so the tube would follow the lines of the house, so back to my local retailer went.
Armed with the new fittings it only took about twenty minutes to get the supply tubing in place and connected. Now came the fun part – time to hook up the individual misters. Everything needed to do this, including the hole punch tool, is included in the starter kit. To my surprise I only needed one of the extra misters that I bought, for a total of 6 along a 50’run. After my ‘supervisor’ demonstrated on the first one, installing them went quickly. Adjusting the spray heads took a few minutes more. I’d estimate total time involved for this part was about 30 minutes.
I had so much material left over that it warranted a third trip to my local retailer. I returned enough items to pay for a pack of drippers and a timer. I didn’t want to think I was too lazy to walk outside and turn on the faucet, so I had considered the timer to be a luxury item - once installed I realized it made sense. I used the drippers for potted plants, including a new potted herb garden. Now, when I go on vacation, my garden will continue to be watered regularly and I won’t come home to find dead plants.
Total time spent on this project was about 4 hours. Most of that came from the three trips to the store. Actual time spent on the actual installation was maybe an hour, and the only tool I needed was a pair of scissors. As for water conservation, this system uses ten gallons/hour. I have the timer set to water for 20 minutes every other day, so I’m only using about 10 gallons/week. This is probably about 25% of what I used when I was watering everything with a hose. The system comes on at 4:00AM, so the water has a chance to sink in slowly before the heat of the day. The timer has a manual mode so if/when the summer rains begin I can turn it off.
For minimal effort and reasonable cost I’ve made a great improvement in my garden, while at the same time doing my part to conserve water…truly a win-win situation. And now when I talk to people at events and workshops I can speak from personal experience, making my message more effective.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What's Blooming at the Polk County Extension Service?

(Silphium asteriscus)

The Rosinweed at the Extension Office in Bartow is in full bloom despite the dry and hot weather. This perennial is a great choice for hot and dry gardens! It is a clumping perennial that sends up vibrant yellow flowers all summer long. It will slowly spread in the garden, making a lovely bright patch that attracts butterflies and various pollinators. It is a great addition to any yard!

Rosinweed at the UF/IFAS Polk County
Extension Service garden in Bartow.