Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learn More About Florida-Friendly Landscaping Online!

The Florida Yards and Neighborhoods Program is now offering education that you can get while still in your pajamas! Downloadable Power Point presentations and narrated online workshops are now available here. Check back often as we will be adding more to our online education list of programs!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Feijoa: A Florida-Friendly Plant

Feijoa sellowiana, or as it is commonly known, Pineapple Guava, is a drought-tolerant plant that thrives in the Central Florida landscape. It is a large shrub that can reach heights of fifteen feet and will grow just as wide. It can also be pruned into a small tree, like the ones at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service. The Feijoa at the Extension Service fit the profile of a Florida-Friendly plant. They are thriving in a landscape bed with no irrigation, require very minimal pruning, and have no pest or disease problems. Feijoa does well through the colder winter months (there was no damage on the plants at the Extension Service after our cold temperatures over the past winter) and will grow in full sun to partial shade. Feijoa respond very well to pruning, but are most attractive when their green/gray leaves and small pink flowers are allowed to grow freely. Feijoa can be used in many landscape situations. It makes a lovely hedge or tall foundation plant, and the tree forms can be used to frame an entrance or pathway as we have done with the plants at the Extension Service. Consider Feijoa as part of your Florida-Friendly yard!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Using Plants to Create Privacy in Your Yard

Many people want to create a private area in their yards or have views they wish to screen—whether it is a neighbor’s overgrown yard or a utility box. A great way to create a screen or hedge is with plant material. Fences are often expensive, hard to install, and can’t do the same job a great evergreen hedge can. Using plants to create a natural fence will attract wildlife to your yard and add visual interest and texture to your landscape. Use the following shrubs alone as a hedge or mix them to create a mixed hedge.

Viburnum spp.
Viburnums are a good choice for hedges, specimens or for screening objects from view. Sweet viburnum (V. odoratissimum) is a 25-foot tall by 10-15 foot wide evergreen shrub with large glossy leaves. Walter’s Viburnum (V. obovatum) is a Florida native that will grow to about 25 feet tall and 10 feet wide. The variety ‘Withlacoochee’ will grow to about 10 feet wide and 10 feet tall. All Viburnums have white flowers and black berries. They attract birds and the native varieties are drought-tolerant.

Holly spp.
Hollies (Ilex spp.) make dense hedges so they are a great replacement for a fence. American holly will get up to 50 feet tall and 20 feet wide. East Palatka holly (Ilex x attenuata) and Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) are smaller, maxing out at 20-30 feet tall and 10 feet wide. If you are looking for a large shrub, ‘Burfordii’ holly only gets to about 15 feet tall and wide. Hollies have glossy green foliage and red berries in the winter. Hollies range in size from a few feet to 60 feet tall, so be sure to choose the cultivar that will work best for your situation. Hollies are very slow growing, so keep this in mind when you are choosing the size of plants for your hedge.

Simpson’s Stopper
Simpson’s Stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans) is a large evergreen shrub that will grow to be 20-30 feet tall and 15-20 feet wide. It makes a great privacy hedge and has showy berries and flowers that attract wildlife. Simpson’s Stopper is a Florida native.

Magnolia ‘Little Gem’
Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’) is a dwarf variety of the Southern Magnolia. ‘Little Gem’ will grow up to 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide. These dense evergreen trees will create a more formal hedge and will require minimal to no pruning.

Golden Dewdrop
The Golden Dewdrop (Duranta erecta) is a large shrub that will grow up to 20 feet tall and wide. It has attractive yellow berries and lavender flowers. It is low-maintenance, drought-tolerant, and will attract birds and butterflies. A hedge of Golden Dewdrop will be informal and sprawling.

For more information on what plants to use to create privacy in your yard, go to You can also contact the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program at the Polk County Extension Service (863-519-8677 or

Florida Yards and Neighborhoods is a grant-funded program in cooperation with the University of Florida, the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Peace River Basin Boards of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Polk County. The program emphasizes creating and maintaining attractive landscapes to enhance the community and protect our valuable natural resources.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Have You Visited a Florida-Friendly Demonstration Garden?

There are fifteen Florida-Friendly Demonstration Gardens in Polk County. If you are planning a landscape renovation, looking for new landscaping ideas, or just want to find a hardy plant for your yard, visit one of the gardens today! The gardens range in size from a small butterfly garden (Wall Street Park, Frostproof) to a large landscape (Polk County Extension Service, Bartow). The plants at all of the locations are labeled and more information can be found on these plants by downloading our Florida-Friendly Plants for Polk County guide. The gardens are maintained by volunteers and cities, and their installation was made possible through a Cooperative Funding Grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Polk County Builders Association.

Babson Park
Babson Park Community Church
674 Hillside Drive, Babson Park(garden is across the street from the hiking trail)

Polk County Extension Service
1702 Highway 17 South, Bartow

Central Florida Regional Planning Council
555 East Church Street, Bartow

Polk Outpost
27101 Adventure Court, Davenport(off US 27 and just south of I-4)

Fort Meade
Heritage Park
409 NE 3rd Street, Forte Meade

Wall Street Park
South Oak Avenue, Frostproof(next to tennis courts)

Frostproof Historical Museum
210 South Scenic Highway, Frostproof

Lake Alfred
Polk Training Center Nursery
111 Creek Road, Lake Alfred(off County Road 557)

Mackay Estate
900 Mackay Boulevard, Lake Alfred(off of Highway 17-92)

Lakeland Public Library
100 Lake Morton Drive, Lakeland

Lakeland City Hall228 S. Massachusetts Avenue, Lakeland

SPCA of Polk County5850 Brannen Road, Lakeland

Lake Wales
Polk County Health Department
835 West Central Avenue, Lake Wales

Winter Haven
Winter Haven Public Library
Self-guided tour (guide in the lobby or download it here) 325 Avenue A NW, Winter Haven

Polk County Utilities1011 Jim Keene Boulevard, Winter Haven(off Winter Lake Road)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Looking for Tough Plants for Central Florida?

It can be hard to find plants for your Central Florida yard. This list includes groundcovers, perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, trees, and palms that will withstand our temperature and humidity.
Use this plant list to choose tough plants for your yard.

If you have any questions about Florida-Friendly plants, contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at (863) 519-8677.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's Blooming Now?

Last week I visited the Hillsborough County Extension Service in Seffner and there were quite a few flowers in bloom. These three flowering perennials were thriving and full of colorful blooms. Visit a local botanical garden or Florida-Friendly demonstration garden now to get some inspiration for your garden!

Red Salvia

Lion's Tail

White Yarrow

Florida-Friendly Fertilization

Many homeowners use fertilizer in their landscapes. Fertilizer can be used to increase fruit production, encourage faster growth, produce larger and more abundant blooms or green up leaves. Whatever the case, it is important to know what kind of fertilizer to use and to read the label before you purchase it.

When you select your fertilizer at the local nursery or garden center, look at the three numbers on the bag. They will say something such as; 15-0-15 or 16-2-8. These numbers mean the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium that are in the bag of fertilizer (N-P-K). So the bag that reads 15-0-15 has 15% nitrogen in the bag, 0% phosphorus, and 15% potassium. Another important thing to look for on the label is slow-release nitrogen. Slow-release fertilizer is much more beneficial to the environment because it leaches (soaks into the groundwater) less than a soluble (or quick release) product. You will have less thatch build up and less rapid growth in your plants if you use a slow release product.
When you are ready to apply the fertilizer, make sure you read the label so that you know how much to apply. This may mean you have to do some quick calculations. Grass will have different requirements than landscape plants.

Take the following precautions when applying the fertilizer as they will reduce environmental impact:
1. If you spill granules while applying, sweep them up and reuse them or sweep them into the lawn.
2. Do not spread fertilize onto water bodies. It is best to establish a 10-30 foot "no pesticide, no fertilizer, no mow" zone around any ponds, lakes or rivers.
3. Use a drop spreader rather than a rotary spreader. The rotary spreader flings the particles further.
4. Avoid using "weed and feed" products or products that have herbicides and fertilizers in one. They may injure nearby plants or tree roots.
5. Do not fertilize if a heavy rain is expected.
6. Apply iron to the lawn in the summer to green it instead of nitrogen.

Remember to consult with the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service if you have questions about fertilizer application. Check out these University fact sheets for more information:
Fertilization and Irrigation Needs for Florida Lawns and Landscapes
Figuring out Fertilizer for the Home Lawn
How to Calibrate Your Fertilizer Spreader
Fertilizer Recommendations for Landscape Plants

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Get All of Your Gardening Questions Answered This Saturday!

This Saturday, the Polk County Master Gardeners will be at two Lakeland locations to answer all of your gardening questions! Bring your soil samples, plant and insect identification questions, and collect helpful UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service literature.

Ask a Master Gardener:

Saturday, May 15, 8:00 a.m.--12:00 noon
North Lakeland Home Depot
2805 N. Highway 98

Saturday, May 15, 9:00 a.m.--12:00 noon
Magnify Credit Union
961 E. Road 540 A

Monday, May 10, 2010

Great Groundcovers

Groundcovers are landscape plants that are low-growing and can cover large (or small) areas of your landscape. They may be alternatives to grass, particularly in very shady or hard to maintain areas of the yard. They can be used on slopes for erosion control where mowing may be difficult. Whatever purpose you need a groundcover to serve, choose one of the following groundcovers as they are tough, easy-to-grow groundcovers for Central Florida.

1. Asiatic Jasmine

Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) is an evergreen groundcover that will grow in full sun to full shade. It will grow to about six inches tall and can spread up to ten feet. It can be mowed or pruned with an edger if you desire a manicured edge. This low-maintenance groundcover is perfect under large shade trees where grass will not grow.

2. Perennial Peanut
Perennial Peanut 'Ecoturf' (Arachis glabrata 'Ecoturf') is a drought-tolerant variety of Perennial Peanut. If you are purchasing Perennial Peanut make sure that you purchase this variety if you are seeking drought-tolerance. Perennial Peanut is often used as a an alternative to grass. You can purchase it as sod or plugs, just like grass. It grows to only four to six inches high and will spread. It has small yellow flowers and grows in full sun. This is great for high traffic areas and sunny, dry locations.

4. Sunshine Mimosa
Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant groundcover. It grows well in full sun and can cover large areas very quickly. It will grow to about three inches high and can spread up to eight feet. This Florida native can withstand a variety of soils and it does very well in poor, sandy soil. Sunshine Mimosa is a vine-like groundcover with delicate leaves and small powder puff pink flowers.

5. Beach Sunflower
Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis) is a fast-growing, drought-tolerant groundcover. It grows best in dry, sandy soil in full sun. Beach Sunflower will grow to about two feet high and six feet wide. Give it plenty of room to grow! It will bloom with small yellow flowers year-round and will re-seed itself readily in your garden in the spring. This is a very tough plant!

For more information on great groundcovers for your yard contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service, Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Program at You can also contact us at (863) 519-8677.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Many Benefits of Mulch

There are many reasons to use mulch in your landscape. It can replace turf or groundcover in areas that are difficult to mow or irrigate. It can be used as paths or walkways or in areas that are so shady plants won’t grow. It adds nutrients to the soil as it decomposes and reduces erosion. Mulch will suppress weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Mulch needs to be replenished frequently and should be applied 2-3 inches thick. If you are considering re-mulching your landscape, choose the following mulches for the best results.

1. Yard Waste

(oak leaves, pine needles, grass clippings, plant leaves)
Yard waste is a great (free) mulch. Make sure that you follow the 2-3 thick rule as it is easy to let leaves fall into plant beds and accumulate to much thicker. You can also partially compost your yard waste for landscape mulch. Pine needles can be purchased in bales at landscape supply stores. They are great for areas where runoff may be an issue as they resist floating.

2. Pine Bark

Pine bark is a dark colored, chunky mulch that is attractive in the landscape. The larger chunks will last longer than a fine pine bark mulch.

3. Melaleuca

Melaleuca is an invasive tree that has spread throughout South Florida. It has taken over stands of native plants, so entire trees are being removed, composted and then sold as mulch. Melaleuca mulch is a long-lasting chipped, light colored mulch.

4. Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus mulch is harvested from plantations specifically grown for manufacturing mulch. This is a chipped, light colored wood that makes a great landscape mulch.

When applying mulch to your landscape beds, remember to keep mulch from touching the base of the plant or the trunk of a tree. Individual trees in the landscape can be mulched in a circle two feet in a diameter for every inch of trunk size. As trees grow, you will need to increase the size of the mulched circle. Make sure that you do not pile up mulch (in a volcano shape) around the tree. For more information on mulches in the landscape, go to EDIS. There are many helpful articles on choosing mulch, mulch settling, mulch color retention and termites.