Friday, December 9, 2011

Looking for a Great Christmas Gift?

...then look no further! The Polk County Master Gardener 2012 calendar is now available for sale!
The calendar is FULL of gardening information, photographs, useful planting guides and important gardening dates. This is THE BEST stocking stuffer, hostess gift, gift for a neighbor or fellow gardener that you will find in Polk County.
Contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at 863-519-8677 to purchase a calendar for $8 (plus $2 for shipping and handling). For more information:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Master Gardeners Inspiring Yards

Master Gardeners have the most inspiring and interesting landscapes. Many times you visit their home and are completely surprised by what you find behind a fence or hedge. They enjoy spending time in their yards, collecting unusual plants and experimenting with growing techniques. I always find great ideas for my own yard when I visit a Master Gardener's yard. Do you live near a Master Gardener? What kind of ideas for your own yard do you get from your friends and neighbors?

Rain barrels.

A beautiful spot to relax after a long day.

A garden path through a butterfly garden.

Shrubs, perennials and trees combined to create privacy (and a great view) from the pool.

Wildlife is important to Master Gardeners!

An inviting entrance.

Florida-Friendly landscape.

A traditional backyard transformed into a beautiful oasis!

Bricks and flagstones combined for paths and patios.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Muhly Grass-A Fall Showstopper!

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is blooming right now! If you take a drive around Polk County there is a good chance you will see the gorgeous blooms of this native grass. It is inconspicuous most of the year but it really shines during the fall months. This ornamental grass is drought-tolerant and easy to grow. It will grow about three feet tall and wide and looks best in small groupings or mass plantings. In the fall it sends up pink/purple feathery blooms. Muhly grass is a great addition to any Florida-Friendly landscape.

District Asks Homeowners to "Skip A Week" of Irrigation This Winter

Overwatering in winter can encourage pests and disease

The Southwest Florida Water Management District is reminding residents who irrigate their lawns to “Skip a Week” or more of watering during the cooler months of December, January and February.

According to research by the University of Florida, grass doesn’t need to be watered as often during the cooler months. One-half to three-quarters of an inch of water every 10–14 days is sufficient. In fact, if your lawn has received any significant rainfall, then you can turn
off your irrigation system and operate it manually as needed.

“Overwatering can encourage pests and disease in your lawn,” said Sylvia Durell, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ project manager. “Too much irrigation can also make lawns less able to survive droughts.” Skipping a week of watering is as easy as “off” for residents with irrigation timers. “Turn the timer to ‘off’ for the week that you want to skip, and ‘on’ for the week that you want to water,” said Durell.

You can determine when your grass needs water when:
· Grass blades are folded in half lengthwise on at least one-third of your yard.
· Grass blades appear blue-gray.
· Grass blades do not spring back, leaving footprints on the lawn for several minutes after walking on it.

Watering only every other week at most during the winter will help conserve drinking water supplies that the public needs for critical uses during the dry season. In fact, if everyone skipped one week of irrigation this season, it could save an estimated 1.9 billion gallons of water.

Most of the region experienced a disappointing summer rainy season. In addition to entering the dry season, drier-than-normal conditions are expected to continue through next spring. All
16 counties within the District are under a Phase I water shortage alert.

For additional information about water restrictions and water conservation, please contact your local utility or visit the District’s website at

Monday, November 14, 2011

Decorating Your Home WIth Florida's Nature

It's the time of year to start decorating and creating gifts for the holidays. Did you know that you can make some gorgeous gifts and decorations from natural items found in your yard? Take a look!

Create a festive wreath with palm fibers and found objects such as shells.

A great gift for a friend or neighbor! A candle tied with silver Saw Palmetto and jute.

Use a fallen palm "boot" on your holiday table. Fill with greenery, ornaments and pine cones.

Find a fallen tree branch to create this little reindeer.

Wrap a garden trellis in grapevine and hang Spanish moss, dried seed pods and treats for the birds. Add Christmas lights for a festive touch.

This colorful foliage arrangement was made from Croton and silver Saw Palmetto leaves.

Ginger cones and Coontie Cycad leaves create a show-stopping arrangement perfect for any holiday table!

Use your imagination and find your holiday decorations in your own yard. Look for colorful berries, evergreen vines, dried seed pods and branches to create something beautiful for your home or for a friend.

Thank you to Polk County Master Gardener Molly Griner for allowing me to take photos of her creative works!

Forsythia Sage is Blooming Now!

Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis) is a show-stopper in the fall landscape. Its gigantic blooms (up to 12 inches long) cover the large plant and will bloom until frost occurs. This salvia will grow up to six feet tall but will freeze back to the ground each winter. Its drapey form is a complement to many landscape plants. It looks beautiful when combined with ornamental grasses, evergreen shrubs, and with other flowering plants. Salvias attract butterflies and humming birds so use this plant in your butterfly garden for a big impact. Check your local garden center for the Forsythia Sage!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Month-Long Accolades for Polk Master Gardener Projects

Polk County Master Gardeners have received international and state acclaim during the month of October for educational and service projects sponsored in Polk County. David Shibles, Ornamental Horticulture Agent for the Polk County Extension Service, summed up the accomplishments of the group as “rewards well-deserved for the dedicated volunteer work that Polk County Master Gardeners do on a regular basis. “

Polk County Master Gardeners' Agri-Fest Program Wins International Award

Polk County Master Gardeners received the 2011 International Master Gardener Conference “Search for Excellence” (SFE) Award for its Agri-Fest horticulture project which teaches 4th graders about seeds and plants, and the consumer products that they produce in the county’s agricultural economy. The 1st place award in the youth project category was presented by Monica David, SFE Chair, of the University of Illinois during the organization’s conference held October 11-14 in Charleston, W.Va. to Polk County Master Gardener Carol Leffler and Polk County Urban Horticulturist Dr. David Shibles. Carol Leffler gave a short presentation about Agri-Fest, on behalf of the Polk County Master Gardeners, to 1,000 Master Gardeners attending the conference.

Agri-Fest “Horticulture” is a program that attracts 6,000 4th graders and 325 teachers annually in the spring. For 12 years students have been coming to the Polk County Extension Service from throughout the County for this program which is comprised of eight agricultural stations. Although the SFE Award was given for the Master Gardeners’ project relating to horticulture, students also visit other disciplines including citrus, blueberries, honeybees, livestock, forestry, phosphates, small farms, and the water cycle to learn about the local agricultural economy.

Polk County has experienced a 43% increase in population in the last decade. Most students are less likely to have direct experience with the historically agrarian lifestyle that is a basis of the Polk County economy, despite the continued importance of agriculture in their lives.

Polk County Master Gardeners redesigned the horticulture program in 2010, to focus on giving students hands-on experience and developed a teaching tool called “The Market Basket” to introduce students to the direct relationship between horticulture and their everyday lives. Students also potted a plant to take home. The result is that students find themselves learning to appreciate plants and beginning to think about land and water conservation as the basis for success in their environment.

Polk County Master Gardeners were awarded 1st Place in the Youth category for their Agri-Fest horticulture project at the International Master Gardener Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. Left to right: Monica David, Search for Excellence Chair, Dr. David Shibles, Polk County Master Gardener Coordinator, Carol Leffler, Polk County Master Gardener, and Tom Wichman, Florida Master Garden Coordinator.

The “Market Basket” activity allows students to directly see how seeds and plants produce consumer goods they use in their everyday lives.

Polk County Master Gardeners Shine at State Awards Conference

The State Master Gardener Conference was held in Orlando on October 24-26. The Polk County Master Gardeners were recognized at the conference as State Winners for projects in two categories for projects during the 2010-2011 year. The state recognizes twelve categories annually for excellent Master Gardener service to the state of Florida. Polk County was awarded sole recognition in the categories of “Community Beautification” and “Demonstration Garden.” The awards were presented by state Master Gardener Coordinator, Tom Wichman of the University of Florida.

The Community Beautification State Award was given for the “Little Gem Magnolia Project” in Fort Meade. Fort Meade resident and Master Gardener, Debra Howell worked with the Chamber of Commerce and city staff, along with Master Gardeners Pat Farris and Maria Carillo, to make this project a reality. The citywide project, “Fort Meade PRIDE,” resulted in plantings of Little Gem™ magnolias and vinca in large brick street-planters, beach sunflowers at public intersections, a butterfly garden at Peace River Park, and a program for community groups to adopt areas for additional beautification gardens.

The Demonstration Garden State Award was given for the “Florida Friendly Demonstration Garden” at the Polk Training Center in Lake Alfred. Master Gardener Molly Griner designed the project, which uses the nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping™ as a basis for demonstrating ways to make sustainable changes to landscapes while also conserving water. Thirteen volunteers contributed nearly 300 hours of service to this project, which has ongoing goals for education, both for the general public and students at the Polk Training Center.

Classes for those who wish to become a Polk County Master Gardener are held each fall from September to December. Requirements and more information can be viewed on the Polk County Master Gardener website at

For more information, contact: David B. Shibles, Urban Horticulturalist
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service
(863) 519-8677 Ext. 109

Carol Leffler, Polk County Master Gardener
(863) 709-0840

Monday, October 17, 2011

Polk County Master Gardeners Win International Award

The Polk County Master Gardeners won first place in the youth category for their Agri-Fest program at the 2011 International Master Gardener Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. This much sought after prize is awarded to only one Master Gardener organization each year for extraordinary service to youth in their community.

Agri-Fest is an educational program sponsored by the Polk County Farm Bureau which has served 6,000 fourth graders annually for the past 22 years. Agri-Fest is comprised of program segments that teach students about the agricultural economy of Polk County, and is introduced to students by professionals from each discipline (horticulture, citrus, forestry, phosphate mining, livestock, honeybees, blueberries, and the water cycle). The program takes place at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service facilities in Bartow.

The Polk County Master Gardeners have participated for 10 years by creating a program devoted to building the appreciation and awareness of the importance of plants to students’ daily lives. Even in a county widely known for its economic agricultural base, most students have little understanding of the connection between the land and their well-being. The prevalence of “subdivision life” has separated most students from interacting with, and understanding how, agricultural is practiced in their own county and is essential to their daily lives. Through Agri-Fest, we hope to foster the understanding and appreciation in the next generation of the environment, plants and agriculture. We view this goal as necessary to the future of agricultural in Polk County.

The horticulture program, as one of the specialized areas of instruction, teaches the basics of horticulture and methods that students can use at home. The program includes a short presentation on the basics and then hands-on activities to engage all students. Students get to touch plants, seeds, relate vegetables and fruits to the uses in products and to plant a small plant in a larger pot.

Agri-Fest is coordinated with fourth grade schoolteachers from 325 classrooms countywide. All schools are eligible, including public, private, parochial, home-schools, and special needs students. Pre-program materials are sent to each school, so that teachers can coordinate curriculum for the Agri-Fest experience. During the on site program, Master Gardeners also provide teachers and students with take-home materials—seeds, plants and written media. The program takes place over a period of two weeks in the spring, but planning starts months before.

The "Search for Excellence" program
The International Master Gardener Search for Excellence is the program that recognizes Master Gardener volunteer work throughout the United States and Canada. All Master Gardener programs benefit their communities but not all are Search for Excellence projects. Projects for this award must be outstanding group projects that have made significant and demonstrated contributions to their communities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Landscape Show

It is fun to attend The Landscape Show, held at the Orlando Convention Center, every fall. It is a great place to see new plants and landscape products and get ideas for the landscape. Here are a few photos from the show this year!

A variety of textures.

Interesting and creative displays.

Different types of Melaleuca mulch. Melaleuca mulch is available for purchase from the Polk County Master Gardeners!

An innovative way to grow vegetables and other plants. Maybe for the patio?

Native plants make an attractive display!

Xeric plants provide visual interest in a container.

Tropical plants in all shapes and sizes.

A variety of decorative landscape rocks.

There are many beautiful annual bedding plants on display!

Perennial Peanut varieties 'Ecoturf' and 'Needlepoint'.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fall Gardening Tasks

It may not feel like it yet, but tomorrow is the first day of fall! As fall weather moves into central Florida, things in the landscape will start to slow down. Grass will grow more slowly and hopefully the weeds will too! As usual, there are some garden chores that need to be tackled at this time of year. These chores will help clean up the landscape you abandoned during the hot summer months (totally understandable) and get everything neat and tidy so that you can relax the rest of the fall and winter months.

1. Revive ornamental grasses
Do you have ornamental grasses in your landscape? This is a great time of year to prune them back if they are looking bad. If they are still flowering, or getting ready to, make sure you wait until they are done. If they need to be pruned back, the easiest way to do this is to use electric hedge pruners or large clippers. Cut the grass back to about eight inches high. You may also wish to divide up your grasses at this time of year. After you cut the grass back, use a sharp shovel to divide up the grass. This is a great way to create more plants for the yard or share plants with friends and neighbors.

2. Divide plants

In addition to dividing your ornamental grasses; there are other plants that you may wish to divide. Perennials such as liriope, African iris, flax lily, bulbine, and herbs such as rosemary and tarragon are easy to divide. You may want to cut them back to the ground and then divide the clump into smaller sections using a sharp shovel.

3. Move plants that have outgrown their space

If you have let things get a little out of control over the summer months, now is a great time to move plants that have outgrown their allotted space or have self-seeded themselves and created a crowded landscape. Find a new spot for the plant that has more room than its current location. You want to find a spot that will allow your plant to spread without having to continually prune it during the growing season. This may be a great time to create new mulched beds or expand existing mulched beds in your yard. By dividing and moving plants you may be able to create new planting areas for free by using plants you already have, or consider doing a plant exchange with your friends or neighbors using the plants you have divided or removed.

4. Mulch

As you clean up the plants in your mulched beds, you may find that you need to re-mulch. Remember that you need to have three to four inches of mulch in your beds. This will help keep down weeds, reduce erosion, and keep the soil moist. If you find that you need to re-mulch, choose a by-product mulch such as pine bark, pine straw, eucalyptus, melaleuca, oak leaves, or compost. The addition of mulch will also help create a clean and neat look in the mulched beds that you have worked so hard to clean up.

5. Plant trees and shrubs

After you have cleaned up, divided, and pruned your way through the landscape, you may find that you want to add more trees and shrubs to your yard. Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs in central Florida. Choose plants that are the appropriate size for your yard and utilize local plant lists, such as those available from the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program.

Take advantage of the cooler fall temperatures to clean up your landscape, and remember to follow the principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping while doing so. For more information on fall gardening tasks contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Events in Polk County This Weekend

The Eternal Orchid, 49th Orchid Show
September 17, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
September 18, 12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Lake Mirror Center, 121 S. Lake Avenue, Lakeland
See orchid displays, purchase orchid supplies and visit the repotting table. Sponsored by the Ridge Orchid Society. $2 admission.

The Cardboard Boat Challenge and Lakes Festival
Saturday, September 17, 8:30 a.m. - noon (race starts at 10:00 a.m.)
Lake Hollingsworth Boat Ramp, Lakeland
The City of Lakeland, Lakeland Clean & Beautiful and Lakes Education/Action Drive present a fun-filled boat race where teams compete to create and race a boat made of cardboard. Stop by for free environmental information and register to race! Registration fee is $40 per team. For more information call (863) 834-8429 or (863) 221-5323.

Raising Vegetables for Farmers Markets
September 17, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service
1702 US Hwy 17 South, Bartow
contact: Mary Beth Henry at 863-519-8677 x 110 or for more information or to register

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall Color for the Landscape

Your landscape might start to look at little stressed after a harsh Florida summer, but there are some plants that will revive the landscape going into the fall months. These plants will add some interest to your landscape with their unique characteristics. Remember that even in Florida, there are many plants that will change color, produce berries, or flower only in the fall months. The ten plants that we have listed are Florida-Friendly if they are installed following the right plant, right place principle.

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Goldenrod is a fall-flowering perennial that grows tall and stands out in any perennial garden. The yellow flowers cover the plant late summer through fall. Goldenrod will spread through the garden. It looks nice against a fence, combined with other wildflowers, and combined with butterfly plants such as Pentas and purple Salvia.

Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis)
Beach Sunflower flowers continuously from spring through the winter months, making it a good addition to a fall flower garden. Beach Sunflower is low-growing and will spread and seed itself in the garden. Combine Beach Sunflower with ornamental grasses such as Muhly grass for a beautiful fall landscape bed.

Cigar Plant (Cuphea ignea)
The orange flowers of the Cigar Plant are perfect for a fall flower garden. Cigar Plant will grow to about three feet tall and has dark green leaves. Plant this flowering perennial in a butterfly garden as it attracts nectaring butterflies and hummingbirds.

Lion’s Tail (Leonotus leonurus)
Lion’s Tail is another orange flowering plant for the fall garden. It will grow quite large, up to six feet tall and three feet wide. Combine Lion’s Tail with ornamental grasses, Salvias, evergreen shrubs and butterfly plants.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)
In the fall, the bright purple berries of the Beautyberry stand out in any garden. Beautyberry is a deciduous shrub that will grow to about six feet tall. This weepy, informal shrub can be grown in sun or shade gardens, woodland gardens, natural areas, or in bird and butterfly gardens. Combine Beautyberry with evergreen shrubs.

Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries)
Muhly grass is one of the most attractive fall-flowering plants in Central Florida. The grass produces showy purple/pink blooms that rise above the grass. Muhly grass is drought-tolerant and only grows two to three feet tall and wide. Combine Muhly grass with Goldenrod, Beach Sunflower, and other perennials. It is also attractive when combined with evergreen shrubs.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
This large shrub grows as an understory shrub, so it does the best in shady areas under trees. The large oak-like leaves of the Oakleaf Hydrangea will turn red to purple in the fall and the large white flowers are also showy during the fall months. They start out as white flowers and turn to pink. This shrub will grow six to eight feel tall and wide, and is beautiful when combined with evergreen shrubs such as azaleas, and grown under oaks and pine trees.

Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha)
The purple blooms of the Mexican sage start in the early fall and will continue to cover the plant until it freezes back in the winter. This large perennial can grow three to four feet tall and wide, so give it plenty of room to grow. The purple flowering plant looks beautiful when combined with ornamental grasses, yellow-flowering perennials, and evergreen shrubs such as Coontie Cycads.

Forsythia Sage (Salvia madrensis)
Everything about the Forsythia sage is big. The plant can grow up to eight feet tall and the blooms can get up to a twelve inches long. Forsythia sage will bloom from fall until frost. The plant will freeze back to the ground in the winter in Central Florida. The yellow flowering plant is attractive when combined with purple flowering plants, Pentas, ornamental grasses and blanket flower.

Silver-Leaved Aster (Pityopsis graminifolia)
The Silver-Leaved Aster is a low-growing perennial. The silver-green foliage is a nice contrast to the yellow flowers of the plants. This is a tough native plant that can be combined with other wildflowers and perennials, ornamental grasses and native drought-tolerant shrubs.

Look for these plants at your local nursery to add some fall color to your landscape. If you have any questions about the plants listed above, please contact the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service. To see more plant photographs, go to Flickr.

Fall is a Great Time for Gardening Events in Polk County

There are so many wonderful gardening events that take place each fall in Polk County. Visit my gardening calendar for a list of events.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Plant Your Own Kitchen Garden This Sunday!

Sunday, August 28th, is World Kitchen Garden Day. Take this time to install a kitchen garden in your landscape. This is a wonderful activity for the whole family. Make sure you plan, design and prepare a location for your kitchen garden that will make it easy for you to grow the food your family will eat.

Interested in preserving what you grow? Attend the Canning with Water Bath: Pickles and Jams class on September 7th at the UF/IFAS Extension Service. Go here to register.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Landscaping Tricks for Tough Locations

There are areas in any landscape that can be difficult to maintain. The areas may not receive enough irrigation, the area may be on a slope, the soil might be unsatisfactory, or it may be a hot and dry location that can make it tough for plants to survive. If you have a tricky spot in the landscape, take a look at the following photographs and give some of our suggestions a try.

1. In this landscape, Perennial Peanut is used instead of turfgrass or mulched beds. The landscaped area is in the full sun and its proximity to the street makes mulch a bad candidate (it could wash away). Perennial Peanut was used because it is drought-tolerant (no irrigation required after establishment) and it produces attractive yellow flowers all summer. The peanut will only grow to a few inches tall so it will not need to be mowed. This is a low-maintenance alternative for a tough landscape location.

Perennial Peanut is used instead of a traditional lawn.

2. Here you can see that Beach Sunflower was planted in a median strip that you traditionally see planted with turfgrass. The median, surrounded by cement on all four sides, is hot and dry. There is no irrigation in this location. After it is established, Beach Sunflower will not need to be pruned, irrigated or mowed. It can be left alone to spread and flower. What a great choice for a landscape area that can be difficult to irrigate!

Beach Sunflower is used in a sunny, hot median.

3. Landscaped areas along the street can be difficult to maintain. The environment is harsh and many plants do not survive. Here, Coontie Cycad and ornamental grasses are used. A variety of tough, drought-tolerant plants can add visual interest to a low-maintenance landscape.

Coontie cycad and ornamental grasses make this a no-mow, low maintenance area.

4. In areas where mulch might wash away, choose rock. This landscape uses rocks to eliminate problems that may occur if mulch is used.

Use rocks to cope with slope in an area where mulch would wash away.

5. Another option for a sloped landscape or median is Juniper. With a densely planted groundcover you don’t have to worry about mulch washing away. Juniper will require minimal pruning, dense growth habit reduces the need for mulch, and drought-tolerance reduces the need for irrigation after establishment.

A dense groundcover, such as this Juniper, will grow thick enough to eliminate the need for mulch.

If you are have a tough landscape situation look for tough plants and aim for low-maintenance. If you have questions about designing a tough situation contact the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program™ or go to for more landscaping tips.