Thursday, December 17, 2009

Melaleuca Mulch

You may have heard of Melaleuca mulch, but wondered what it is, and why it is an environmentally-friendly mulch.

Melalueca mulch contains bark and wood from Melaleuca quinquenervia, an invasive exotic tree. The Melaleuca, or punk tree, was introduced to Florida over 100 years ago, and since then has taken over parts of South Florida. The Everglades has been threatened by the dense stands of Melaleuca as they move quickly by wind-dispersed seed and form thick monocultures. These monocultures damage the ecosystems that they overtake by displacing native flora and fauna. They also are very susceptible to fire and burn quickly. The native wildlife that depend on native vegetation for survival are pushed out of the area, and migrating birds suffer.

But luckily something is being done about the Melaleuca infestation. Numerous organizations use a multi-faceted approach to the eradication of the trees in South Florida. Biological control (using a plant's natural enemy), mechanical control and herbicides are used. There are companies that create a garden mulch out of the removed and composted trees. This mulch is environmentally-friendly because it is a usable product created from a potential waste product. The high heat of composting ensures that no Melaleuca trees will sprout up in your yard. This organic (it breaks down in the garden, benefiting the soil) mulch is a shredded wood mulch that resists floating and retains a light brown color. It has also been shown to settle the least in University of Florida research. This means that it retains its beneficial qualities for a longer period of time and would not need to be replenished as often as other mulches. This means that Melaleuca is also a budget-friendly mulch!

Just like all mulches in the landscape, Melaleuca should be applied 2-3 inches deep and never touch the base of the plant. The benefits of mulch are numerous and a University of Florida study shows that termites prefer not to eat Melaleuca mulch. Weed suppression, improved soil structure, soil moisture retention, and increased landscape beauty are some of the many reasons that mulch is so important in the landscape. To purchase Melaleuca mulch contact the Polk County Master Gardeners. The mulch is $3.00/bag from the Master Gardeners at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at 1702 Highway 17 South in Bartow. Call (863) 519-8677 for more information. Proceeds benefit the Polk County Master Gardeners.

Rain Barrel Workshop Scheduled for January 9, 2010

Creating a Rain Barrel Workshop
Saturday, January 9, 9:00 am-11:00 am
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service 1702 Highway 17 South, Bartow
Learn how to collect rain water and use it to water plants. A 55 gallon rain barrel (barrel and spigot included) can be purchased for $30. You must pre-register if you would like a rain barrel as quantities are limited. Register at:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Need a Last Minute Christmas Gift?

Master Gardener calendars are still for sale! They contain a wealth of information that is helpful to both the novice and experienced gardener. They make great stocking stuffers for all family members and friends. The calendars are $8 (include $2 for shipping) and can be purchased at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at 1702 Highway 17 South in Bartow. Call (863) 519-8677 for more information.

Interactive Way to Learn About Polk's Natural Wonders

A new interactive feature on the Lake Wales Ridge will teach the eager learner all about the unique flora and fauna of the ridge. Click on the animals and plants to learn about their habitat. There is also a video and a list of cool facts about the Lake Wales Ridge:


Where: Polk, Lake, Highlands. Osceola counties
Size: The Lake Wales Ridge stretches for 100 miles. Scrub habitat once covered 341,000 acres, but today scientists estimate only 44,157 acres remain in fragments throughout the area.
Significance: Habitat contains one of largest concentrations of rare and endangered species in the United States.
National importance: First location in the United States where a national wildlife refuge was established primarily to protect rare plants.
Global importance: Many of the species on the Lake Wales Ridge are found nowhere else on the planet.
Number of endangered/threatened species: 38.
Why: The rare species evolved in isolation during the thousands of years the Lake Wales Ridge was a chain of islands when the rest of Florida was underwater.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Water Conservation Tips

As cool weather approaches it is time to change the way we irrigate our lawns and landscapes. Even though you may not notice, many plants (including your grass) will become semi-dormant in the winter months. When temperatures are cool, plant growth is limited and irrigation frequency should change.
If you are not sure when to water in the winter, always remember that your plants will let you know when they need it; you just have to learn how to read the signs. When it comes to watering your plants, look for signs of stress before watering. Wilting leaves are the best indicator. If you notice wilting leaves, water at the end of the day or the next morning. The best way to reduce the need for watering is to install drought-tolerant plants.
The height that you mow your lawn is directly related with how much water your grass will need. Mow your grass high and cut no more than 1/3 of the grass blades at each mowing. This practice encourages a much deeper and stronger root system. Also remember to give your lawn a break in the winter. In the winter, lawns do not need weekly mowing and even in Florida lawns go semi-dormant and need much less water.
When watering with a sprinkler system, the most efficient systems are drip or micro-spray systems. These systems are easy to install and to maintain. By choosing and maintaining these systems correctly, you can reduce your water bills, fungal diseases and maintenance requirements.
Always remember to follow the current watering restrictions when irrigating your lawn and landscape—it is our job to conserve water for Florida’s future!
Refer to the Guide to Florida-friendly Landscaping for other watering information or contact the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program Coordinator at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.

Holiday Plants

As the holidays draw near and the weather cools, gardeners turn to winter-blooming plants. Both the holiday cactus and the poinsettia are at their peak this time of year. You may own or purchase one of these plants (or be lucky enough to receive one as a gift) and need to know how to care for them. The following care guides are also a great thing to include in a poinsettia that you may give as a gift. Dr. Shibles, the Polk County Urban Horticulturist, has provided the following information on holiday plants.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Use Native Plants to Spread Holiday Cheer!

The benefits of native plants are abundant: they support native wildlife, they are well adapted to Florida's climate, and many are drought-tolerant and low maintenance. They also have many interesting features that make them great for holiday decorating. Use the following plants in your yard for year-round beauty--plus the added bonus of free decorations during the holidays!

Holly species (East Palatka, Dahoon, Vomitoria)
There are many different types of hollies that are native to Florida. Many have attractive berries that can be used in arrangements, wreaths and other decorations. The glossy green foliage can also be used. They are easy to grow outside and handle pruning well.

Silver Saw Palmetto
The silvery fronds of the Silver Saw Palmetto make it a very interesting addition to any holiday arrangement. Use the fronds alone or with other greenery for a centerpiece or in a vase. Saw Palmettos are low maintenance shrubs that support native wildlife.

Southern Red Cedar
The Southern Red Cedar is a large evergreen tree that can be used as a large hedge in the yard and small cuttings can be used in wreaths and other decorations around the holidays.

Southern Magnolia
The glossy green leaves of the Southern Magnolia are great for making an attractive wreath or mixing with other evergreens for a swag or centerpiece decoration. This large tree has plenty of leaves to spare for holiday decorating.

Slash, Longleaf and Loblolly pine
The native pine trees of Florida will provide you with a natural mulched area in the yard and also with lovely smelling greenery for your holiday decorations. These trees will get large so make sure you have room to plant them in your yard. And don't forget the pine cones are great decorations!

Florida Privet
Florida Privet is one of the many native evergreen shrubs that can tolerate pruning--making it great for all of your holiday decorating.

The native Viburnum species are evergreen shrubs that can be used to add variety to your holiday arrangements. It looks lovely mixed with pine and holly leaves.

The many types of evergreen foliage and berries that these native plants provide are sure to provide plenty of interest in your holiday decorating. So go out into the yard to gather natural decorations for your holiday celebrations.