Friday, October 30, 2009

The Positive Benefits of Indoor Plants

Do you have plants in your home or office? Indoor plants can help improve indoor air quality and may be linked to a more productive workplace! Consider using some of the following plants to help reduce airborne pollutants in your home.

  • Peace lilies, ivies and mums are some of the plants to use indoors to combat benzene-based toxins such as detergents, inks, dyes, petroleum and rubber products and tobacco smoke.
  • Ficus plants, Philodendrons, snake plants, bamboo, ivy and pothos are recommended in situations where formaldehyde-based toxins are present. Such toxins would include carpet, cleaners, insulation, paper products and furniture.

  • Dracena, peace lilies and mums will help reduce the toxins produced by trichloroethlene. Sources include adhesives, inks, dyes, paint, paper products, dry cleaning and varnishes.
Incorporating indoor plants into your home or office is an easy and inexpensive way to improve aesthetics, improve the health of the people, and reduce stress and anxiety. For more tips on indoor plants, contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at (863) 519-8677 or learn more about house plants here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why Did The Butterfly Cross The Road?

I saw this butterfly one afternoon while I was stopped the intersection of Lake Miriam and South Florida Avenue in Lakeland. Guess it goes to show you that habitat can be found anywhere!

Perennial Peanut in the Landscape

Perennial Peanut (Arachis glabrata) is a plant that is gaining popularity in the landscape. This drought-tolerant groundcover is often used as a turf alternative and can be grown in the full sun. It can be planted in medians, on septic tank mounds, on berms, in the lawn and along ponds. It requires no fertilization, pesticides or supplemental irrigation after establishment. This makes it an ideal plant for a low-maintenance landscape. Mowing is not required as most varieties only grow to a few inches tall. Traditionally a forage crop, this plant is a Florida-Friendly choice for many landscapes if you choose the right variety.

Perennial Peanut is a rhizomatous plant (meaning it grows and spreads by underground modified stems). This aids in its drought-tolerance, and if the top of the plant freezes back, the plant will come back when the weather warms up. Make sure that you purchase a rhizomatous variety of Perennial Peanut (such as 'Ecoturf', 'Needlepoint', or 'Arblick') to ensure drought tolerance. These varieties also bloom more profusely and are better suited to the landscape than other varieties. Perennial Peanut can be installed as a sod, and instructions on installation, establishment and maintenance can be found here. In the 2004 UF/IFAS Guide to Using Perennial Peanut in the Urban Landscape, maintenance costs between Perennial Peanut and St. Augustine grass were compared. Perennial Peanut was determined to save over five times the amount of money in maintenance than St. Augustine grass.
For more information on Perennial Peanut or other groundcovers for the landscape contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.

Florida-Friendly Yard: Before and After

This landscape was installed in 2002, and recognized as a Florida-Friendly yard that same year. Now, seven year later, the landscape has matured into a beautiful example of what a Florida-Friendly yard should be.
Proper plant placement, by-product mulch
Right plant, right place
Groundcover for shady areas, large mulched beds, low-maintenance plants
Asiatic Jasmine, a good groundcover for shady areas
Plants have filled in, but are not crowded
Right plant, right years later

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses are a great addition to any landscape. They can be used in mass plantings or highlighted as a specimen plant. Many of the ornamental grasses that can be used in Polk County are drought-tolerant and low maintenance. The following native grasses are good choices for any yard and can grow in full sun, sandy and poor soil conditions. Look for them at your local nursery and add them to your yard!

Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Muhly grass is a native, drought-tolerant, attractive ornamental grass. It grows two feet tall and wide. Look for the flowers now as they are very showy. Large purple plumes rise above the foliage. This grass is low maintenance, pest-free, and can be used in mass plantings or as a specimen plant. A great choice for any yard.

Gama Grass (Tripsacum dactyloides)
Gama grass is a large ornamental grass, growing five feet tall and wide. It is a native, drought-tolerant and attractive in mass plantings or as a specimen. Gama grass is low maintenance and can withstand being cut back in the spring and fall. The bright green foliage makes this ornamental grass a great backdrop to many landscape plants.

Dwarf Fakahatchee Grass (Tripsacum floridana)
Dwarf Fakahatchee is the small version of Gama grass as it only grows to about two feet tall and wide. It has thin blades, is drought-tolerant, native, and low maintenance. Make sure that you know which Tripsacum you are purchasing at the nursery because of the large size difference!

Sand Cord Grass (Spartina bakeri)
Sand cord grass can be grown in wet or dry conditions. It is a native, drought-tolerant, low maintenance grass. It is pest-free, and grows four to five feet tall and three feet wide. It can be used in any landscape situation and looks very attractive next to ponds and lakes.

Love Grass (Eragrostis spp.)
Love grass is a small ornamental grass that grows to about one to two feet tall and wide. Elliot’s love grass and purple love grass are common species that are grown easily in the landscape. Both species have attractive flower plumes in the fall and are pest-free.

For more information on ornamental grasses contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at (863) 519-8677 or go to and search for grasses.

Composting: Turn Your Yard Waste into Garden Treasure!

Composting is a great way to practice recycling in your yard. It has been estimated that you can reduce your total annual volume of waste by 35% if you practice home composting. Most people have all the elements they need to create a successful compost pile without purchasing a bunch of fancy equipment. Kitchen waste along with yard waste make a great mix for your compost pile.
There are many methods of composting and there is one that will fit your needs. Whether you have a small yard, a large yard or live in a deed-restricted community; there is a method for you. Basic knowledge of how the process works will ensure your success in creating usable compost.
Your compost pile requires five basic elements to work. They include adequate moisture (adding water with a hose or bucket to your pile), aeration and oxygen (turning the pile), pile temperature (not so important if you want a slow pile), particle size (less than two inches so that the material can break down quickly) and carbon to nitrogen ratio. The carbon to nitrogen ratio often seems like the most confusing part to get right, but if you know you are adding a “brown” (high carbon material like leaves, branches or paper) add a “green” (high nitrogen material like grass clippings, fruit waste or coffee grounds) as well.
Practicing the “art of composting” is rewarding to both the environment and to your landscape. Your plants will appreciate all the wonderful nutrients the compost will give them. If you would like more information on home composting attend one of the free Composting Workshops offered by the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program. Go to to register.