Friday, December 21, 2012

Polk Master Gardeners Speak

Have you been reading Master Gardeners Speak in each issue of Polk Homes?  Each week, the Polk County Master Gardeners present information on a timely gardening topic.  These articles are filled with UF/IFAS research-based information and are not to be missed!  Take some time to read the back issues that can be found here, and stay up-to-date by logging in each week to read new articles.  To contact a Polk County Master Gardener with a gardening question, call (863) 519-8677 or visit the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service in Bartow.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Polk County Florida-Friendly Landscaping Demonstration Gardens


Polk Training Center Nursery

Mackay Gardens & Lakeside Preserve

UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service

There are four Florida-Friendly Landscaping demonstration gardens in Polk County.  They are open to the public and are gardens to inspire you and give you new ideas!  Visit the gardens to see the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping incorporated into gardens of various sizes and themes.  Here are the plant guides that will help you identify plants and when you visit the gardens.  Let us know how the gardens have helped you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How To: Choose a Plant at the Nursery

When shopping for plants, it is important to choose healthy specimens so that they establish easier and have less maintenance issues as they grow.  Here is what to look for when you are at the nursery:

1. Choose moderately sized plants, if they are too large in the container, they may be root-bound.  If they are too small, they may have just been re potted and may not have enough roots to hold the rootball intact.
2.   Avoid plants with insect infestations.  Check all plant parts for insects, making sure you look under the leaves and around/in the soil.
3.  Check for spotting on the leaves.  Sometimes this isn't an indication of anything serious, but it could be signs of disease.  Take a quick look at the plant's cultural information (smart phones are great for this!) to see if it is susceptible to any diseases before you purchase it. 
4.  Don't buy plants with scars or wounds from pruning.
5.  If you are buying a grafted plant, check the graft union to make sure it has properly closed and that there are no suckers coming from the base of the plant.  Gardenias, some citrus and roses are often plants that are grafted.
6.  Check for cold injury (brown leaves, split bark, brown roots, dead branches).
7.  Choose plants that look good!  Look for a uniform canopy, healthy leaves, properly spaced branches, full foliage and nice form.
8.  Take the plant out of the container!  You need to do this so that you can check the root ball.  Ideally the root ball will be "just right".  Not too many roots (dense roots may have a hard time penetrating the soil once they are planted and the roots will continue to to circle).  Too few roots may mean that the roots are unhealthy or that the plant was just re potted.  There should not be any mushy, brown roots or roots protruding out of the container.
Too many roots make this a root-bound (or pot-bound) plant.
Not enough roots cause the root ball to crumble apart when removed from the container.
Roots protruding out of the container are a bad sign.
Healthy roots.
9.  Check the surface of the soil.  It should be free of weeds.  A balled and burlaped tree should be moist and the root ball should hold itself together.
Weeds in the container might mean that the plant is not properly cared for.
Use these tips as a refresher before you head to the nursery for your next Florida-Friendly Landscaping project.   Although many are common sense, sometimes it's hard to remember to look over a plant before you purchase it.  For more information or other questions, please contact us at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Decorating with Plants

These potted bromeliads make a great red and green display that is perfect for the holidays!
Use natural plant colors for your holiday decorating inspiration. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Landscape Design--Choosing Plants

Your landscape design is almost complete!  You have:
Surveyed your site and created a plan as well as developed an artistic design theme. 

Now it is time to pick out plants based on your color theme, design theme and site conditions.  Remember to choose plants that require minimal maintenance, create habitat, are drought tolerant and require little to no fertilizer and pesticides.
Take a look at the nine landscape zones listed below.  For each zone, you need to look for plants with specific characteristics. 
1.      Front entry and patio
Color! Specimen plants with bold forms and clumping plants that can stay neat and don’t require much pruning. 
2.   Along sidewalks and walkways
Look for plants that are low growers with clumping habits.  Try and avoid plants that will spread onto the sidewalks.
3.        Around mailboxes and utilities
Shade the air conditioner but don’t impede the flow of air.  Look for compact growing shrubs that will not require a lot of pruning.  Around the mailbox look for neatly growing plants that will not make it difficult for the mail carrier or yourself to get the mail.  Stay away from plants that attract biting/stinging insects. 
4.        Under windows
Minimize maintenance by choosing plants that will not grow higher than the bottom of the window at mature size.  Choose small trees to create shade in interior rooms. Install plants away from roof eaves and make sure that you know the mature size of the plant before you install it.
5.       Along walls
Depending on what design theme you are going for, keep plants off of walls easily by installing the right plant in the right place.  Space plants an appropriate amount away from the wall for easy maintenance.  Avoid vines that could damage the wall (such as English Ivy). 
6.       Along property lines 
If you would like to create privacy or buffers along your property, look for evergreen, upright shrubs.  Choose plants with dense foliage and consider mixing shrub types for visual interest. 
7.       Along fences
If you are trying to hide the fence, you may need to install plants on both side of the fence.  If your fence doesn’t appropriately screen what you are trying to hide, you may want to choose shrubs of varying height. 
8.       Under trees
Smaller plants will be much easier to install under mature trees.  Look for the smallest container size of the plant you want to grow.  Remember that the plants will be in dense or filtered shade so choose the plant species appropriately.  Vining groundcovers are great choices under trees. 
9.       Specialty gardens (vegetable garden, butterfly garden, rain garden)
If you are interested in a specialty garden, do some research.  Make sure you know what you need to create that garden.  For example, in a butterfly garden you need to provide food for larvae as well as adult butterflies. 
 Break down your landscape into these zones.  If you have not drawn your plants into the design, now is the time to do so.  There are a variety of tools you can use to do this.  I like to use  an architect’s circle template.  You can just draw circles (or even squares) on your plan as long as they are drawn TO SCALE!  After you get all your circles drawn, you can start researching plant material.
Choosing Plants
Do you know what plant hardiness zone you live in?  In Polk County, we are in zone 9A.  If your yard stays a bit warmer, you may be able to plant zone 10 plants with no freeze issues, but if you live in a cold spot, you may have a lot of die back in the cold months.  Generally speaking, most zone 9 plants will survive in your yard even if they freeze to the ground in the winter.  If you have a protected spot or a courtyard, that is a great place to try out tropicals (or you can put them in containers and bring them indoors in the winter).
When choosing plants you know that Right Plant, Right Place is of utmost importance.  Utilize all of the free resources when researching plants.
Take your time choosing plants.  Go back to your color combinations and design theme to make sure the plants you choose meet your criteria.  Choose plants that have minimal pest problems and will be low maintenance.  If you have questions, you can contact us at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service. 

Check back soon for a how-to guide on choosing plants at the nursery.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Water-Smart Landscape Photo Contest

EPA's WaterSense Program is conducting a photograph contest!  Do you know, or have, a landscape that:
  • Contains drought-tolerant plants
  • Has limited turf areas
  • Uses water efficiently
  • Has mulch around shrubs and trees
Submit your photo here through February 15, 2013.  Good luck!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Month By Month Water Conservation Checklist

Do you have an irrigation system?

Is it properly maintained and watering the correct amount? 
Use our month by month irrigation checklist to determine what you need to do to your irrigation system each month. 
Download the checklist here. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Sale at the Polk Training Center for Handicapped Citizens Nursery

The Polk Training Center for Handicapped Citizens Nursery will have a Fall Sale on Saturday, October 13, from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.  Dr. Shibles, from the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service will present a program on growing fruit in Florida.  Visit the Florida Friendly demonstration garden, purchase plants and support this wonderful nursery.  For more information contact the nursery at (863) 956-1620.  The nursery is located at 111 Creek Road in Lake Alfred. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

October Issue of Extension Spotlight

Click HERE to see what's going on at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service this month!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2013 Master Gardener Calendars Hot Off the Presses!

The 2013 Master Gardener calendars are available for purchase.  They are $8.00 each (add $2.00 each for shipping if you would like them mailed).  The calendars can be purchased at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at 1702 US Hwy 17 South in Bartow, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.  They will also be for sale at the Backyard Gardener's Festival on Saturday, October 6 and at the Munn Park Garden Extravaganza in Lakeland on October 27.  You can also purchase a calendar from any Polk County Master Gardener. 
The calendar is full of wonderful gardening information, monthly tips, photographs, planting guides and important gardening dates.  This calendar is specifically created for Polk County residents and anyone gardening in central Florida.  It makes a wonderful gift for a new resident, avid gardener, or someone just learning about gardening.  All proceeds benefit the Polk County Master Gardeners and are used to fund gardening education throughout the county. 
Purchase your calendar now! Limited quantities are available!
Call (863) 519-8677 to order a calendar or email 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What’s Buggin’ Me…The Green Lacewing

Another article from Master Gardener Carol Leffler.  Enjoy!
Actually, the title of this article is a little bit misleading, but now that you’re here and reading, I want to tell you about a most amazing insect, the green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea).
If anyone had told me eight years ago that I would be writing an article about an insect, I would never have believed it. I’ve spent decades avoiding bugs, so you can see that my association with our entomologist Urban Horticulturist, Dr. Shibles, has indeed made an impression on my insect education. There’s just something about even a picture of an insect that hasn’t been all that appealing to me over the years. However, gardening in Florida, along with Master Gardening and, most recently, my husband’s wonderful foray into macro-photography have instilled an interest that is now fascinating on a daily basis.
UF/IFAS photograph
So…consider the green lacewing. Green lacewings are non-specific to Florida, occurring throughout North America. Master Gardeners learn in initial training classes that the green lacewing is one of the "good bugs." But, what else can we learn about this tiny insect that, as an adult, only measures ¾ inch in length? Adjectives that come to mind include "voracious" and "predacious." A single lacewing larva can devour up to 200 aphids or eggs
per week. In fact, young lacewing nymphs are so hungry that hatchlings will readily cannibalize one another. This behavior makes human "sibling rivalry" tame by comparison.
Green lacewings are one of the most common predatory insects available to commercial and home gardeners for purchase, and available as eggs and larval stage. They are probably second only to the well-known ladybug beetle, which is available for "live adult" release. More than 130 insect suppliers in North America currently produce Chrysoperla. If you do intend to use purchased lacewings, take heed, however—because after the hatchlings complete larval feeding (three instars) and become winged adults, they are known to undertake nighttime dispersal flights of many miles before mating, despite the availability of local food sources. They’re travelers! The family tree is expansive. This is probably a reason why insects are so successful. Genetic diversity is assured through wide geographic dispersal, particularly in the case of lacewings. This is a big advantage for urban horticulturists, because the success of a "good bug" is a boon to our efforts in the landscape and the garden.
Some folks (who just "hate bugs") might ask, "Why would I ever like a bug so much I would want to buy some? "What does the lacewing consume? Why is it a favorite "good bug"? How does it thwart the efforts of its enemies?
Let’s start from the beginning—depending on whether one ascribes to the "chicken or the egg" philosophy. The adult female lacewing has a unique manner of laying her eggs so that they are protected from predators, as well as from the cannibalistic predation of "sibling" nymphs. Eggs are deposited one by one at the end of fine silken stalks. This "safe distance" prevents the predation and parasitism by other insects, and cannibalism by the other newly hatched lacewing nymphs. Insects—such as ants—eat lacewing eggs, thereby defending aphids from predators, while also protecting the ants’ food source (honeydew). Insects traverse plant stems never noticing that the eggs (a tasty meal) are singly attached only ¼" to ½" away—like a "Bug’s Happy Meal"—packaged in uniform portions, ready for pick-up, but located way off the main road!
This egg arrangement also provides one of nature’s most beautiful effects if you look quite closely at them. Egg deposits can be found on plant stalks, leaves and fruit—and even on windows or on the sides of buildings. The female is only intent on making sure food sources are nearby for the nymphs after they hatch. Although it seems a plant might be a wiser location, perhaps some insects make better choices than others, much as humans do.
Green Lacewing Eggs
© Mike Leffler
The adult green lacewing (C. carnea) primarily feeds on pollen, nectar and honeydew. Artificial foods can be provided to support lacewing populations, especially as part of an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program. Commercial preparations of lacewing foods (Wheast®, BugPro™, and Bug Chow®) simulate honeydew, attracting lacewings and some other beneficial insects. UF/IFAS Photo Recipes for home preparations can also be found online, although no specific IFAS recommendations were found. Lacewings are considered good candidates for IPM programs due to demonstrated tolerance or resistance to some pesticides. Always be responsible in pesticide use in the presence of any beneficial insect. If you plan to "feed" lacewings, only older adults in the area may be attracted because "new" adults will still disperse, as discussed earlier. So, let us get back to "what else is on the menu" for a lacewing nymph—besides one another? Lacewing larval instars are desirable predators because they feed primarily on aphids, mealybugs, insect eggs, and small caterpillars. Also readily consumed are leafhoppers, psyllids, whiteflies, spiders, thrips, and mites. In the absence of the above, they will also attack some non-pest and beneficial insects, including ladybug beetles.
The lacewing larva is described as "elongate, spindle-shaped ("alligator-like") with long sickle-like mandibles." It has a soft body with hair-like projections. The mandibles have two tubes that inject strong venom that paralyzes prey, allowing the larva to then suck out the body contents. This is the stuff of which Saturday afternoon sci-fi movies are made! A very effective nutritional lifestyle, except for the insect on the wrong end of the "venom straws"!
Larvae feed for about three weeks before they pupate. Look for their spherical silken cocoons generally found on the undersides of leaves. Because green lacewing larvae feed primarily on aphids, they are commonly referred to as "aphid lions." But…that is not their only common name.
(A divergence here: Descriptions above are consistent with
Chrysoperla carnea. The exceptional behavioral trait discussed below is exhibited by green lacewings not found within Chrysoperla).
This is the coolest part!
Below is an image that demonstrates another common name for the green lacewing larva. That "sucking, crawling, alligator-shaped predatory arthropod" is also referred to as the "trash bug"!
Green Lacewing "Trash Bug"
© Mike Leffler

Remember the "hair-like projections"? Well, it turns out that the larva uses those hair-like projections as "tie-downs" to attach "trash" to his own body. Plant debris, and dining "leftovers" including insect legs and exoskeletons are all part of the "trash collection". This is very effective as camouflage to hide soft body parts from enemies. He functions as a "trash collector" for his environment. Pretty amazing! The camouflage really works too, because sightings (and photographs) of the insect in this form are pretty rare—he’s just too well hidden by his own idiosyncratic behavior! He doesn’t dump his trash;
he recycles it as body armor.
Lacewings can live many months, and that gives them plenty of time to be of benefit to gardeners. In temperate regions, such as Florida, lacewings experience
diapause (a period of suspended growth or development and diminished physiological activity in response to adverse environmental conditions). This allows them to overwinter as adults, extending their longevity long past that of their northern cousins.
Insects are fascinating partners in the world of horticulture. Sometimes they’re with us, and sometimes they’re against us, or at least it seems. Fact is, they all have a function, even if it isn’t readily apparent to us. So remember, when you see an errant insect crawling across your kitchen counter, he’s not "Eek!!! A Bug!"…He’s sort of like a weed—merely out of place! Put him out, and gently admonish him with the familiar "…And stay out!!!"
Further Information
Video of an adult lacewing laying eggs:
"Beneficial Insects and Mites," T. Henn, et. al., IFAS Publication #ENY-276.
"Natural Enemies and Biological Control", Hugh A. Smith and John L. Capinera, IFAS Publication #ENY-822

"Green Lacewing" AgriLIFE Extension, Entomology, Texas A & M University
"Green Lacewings", M.A. Carrillo
1, S.W.Woolfolk2 and W.D. Hutchison1, 1University of Minnesota, 2 Mississippi State University (RECOMMENDED)
"The Cryptic Song Species of

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Backyard Gardener's Festival and Plant Sale

Is your calendar marked for the Backyard Gardener's Festival and Plant Sale
on October 6th?

The Polk County Master Gardeners present this event each fall.  Educational displays, helpful gardening information, free workshops, and for-sale items make this a
not-to-miss event!

The festival will be held at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service at 1702 US Hwy 17 South in Bartow from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. 
Workshops will be offered throughout the day.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

September Issue of Extension Spotlight

The newest issue is hot off the presses! Take a look at everything that is going on at YOUR county Extension Service by clicking here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Preparing Your Landscape for a Hurricane

As Hurricane Issac moves closer to Florida, people have begun preparing for high winds and rain.  You may buy some extra bottled water or stock up on batteries and canned goods, but how do you prepare your landscape?  The biggest worry in the landscape during a high wind event is the trees and palms.  Proper pruning from a young age is the best way to maintain a healthy tree that will fare well during a hurricane.  Never "hurricane prune" any of your trees or palms as it has been shown that this type of pruning actually causes more damage.  Hurricane pruning can weaken trees and palms causing limbs to break, trees to fall, or crowns of palms to snap off.  Always look for a certified arborist to prune your trees and use the following guides to help determine what type of pruning your trees need.  If they do sustain wind damage these guides will help you best determine how to properly restore your trees after a hurricane. 

Assessing Damage and Restoring Trees After a Hurricane


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Backyard Gardener's Festival and Plant Sale

Saturday, October 6, 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service, 1702 US Hwy 17 South, Bartow
The Polk County Master Gardeners present this annual festival. Workshops will be offered throughout the day. Free information about gardening and landscaping. Free soil testing. Purchase Florida-Friendly plants, rain barrels, books, melaleuca mulch and yard art. For more information call (863) 519-8677.

Workshop schedule:
9:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Florida Friendly Plants
10:30 a.m.-11:15 a.m. Growing Vegetables and Herbs
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Gardening to Attract Wildlife
12:30 p.m.- 1:15 p.m. Composting with Worms

Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Grow Your Own Vegetables

Growing Vegetables Workshop
Saturday, August 25, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service, 1702 US Hwy 17 South, Bartow, Stuart Center
Traditional and non-traditional vegetable gardening will be discussed including container gardening, hydroponic gardening, in ground gardening and organic gardening. Identification and control of pests and diseases will also be discussed. Call (863) 519-8677 to register. This workshop is free of charge.

Spreading Heliotrope

Spreading Heliotrope is a beautiful, yet underused, spreading groundcover.  As you can see from the photograph, it can grow in a very hot, dry location.  It is covered in purple flowers all summer and attracts butterflies.  It will freeze back during the winter months, but will come back as the weather warms.  Look for Spreading Heliotrope at your local nursery or come and see it growing in the demonstration garden at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Landscape Design--Getting Artistic!

Finally have another landscape design post! Sorry for the delay!


After you have your property on paper, it is time to have fun and get creative with your landscape design!  You have your landscape use zones defined and now it is time to use the design principles to make your landscape YOU.
Your landscape plan to-do list:
1.   Create bed, hardscape and grass lines (experiment on draft paper first).
2.  Add trees to the plan by creating large circles to represent the shade of the mature tree
3.   Add plants to your landscape plan.  Do this by drawing circles that will represent the   mature size of the plant.  If you draw a to-scale circle of six feet, you can later decide on a plant that will grow up to six feet for that space.
4.   Determine what forms and textures you want to use in your planting beds.  Look for plants that will fit those criteria—and remember they need to be Florida-Friendly too!
You can do all four items listed above without choosing specific plants!  Wait until you have all your plant forms, hardscapes and a color scheme determined before you choose plant types.
The elements of design are what will help you to organize your plants and hardscape areas in a way that it is pleasing to you.  Line, form, texture and color make up the elements of design.  You will combine these elements and arrange them using the principles of design (listed below).  The principles of design are the way that you organize the elements of design.  Confused yet? Let’s clarify. 
Line.  Line is what is used throughout your landscape to create a feeling of movement and define a space.  Lines can give your landscape a feeling of formality (lots of straight lines) or a natural feeling (curved lines).  Experiment with the outlines of planting beds, hardscape areas (patios, walkways), and lawn areas on your paper.  Combine lines to create the outline of your landscape.  Once you have this on paper, you can use the other elements to further create the feeling you want in your landscape. 

Lines in a landscape plan
Form.  As you will notice, it is important to use all of the elements together to create your landscape.  Using certain forms in combination with certain lines will further enhance a feeling of formality or nature in your landscape.  Forms are essentially shapes in the landscape. Formal forms tend to be geometric-circles, rectangles.  Natural forms use line to create fragmented and organic edges.  Plant forms will also come in to play.   Use vertical plant forms to create height and horizontal plant forms to create width.  Combine plants to create masses for more visual impact.  Individual plant forms also create feelings in the landscape. Upright, geometric plant forms lend to a more formal landscape while sprawling and irregular forms give another feeling entirely.  You will know what plant forms are most attractive to you.  Combine your favorites to create interest in your landscape. 

Landscape forms (circles)

Plant forms

Texture.  Use texture to create variety, interest and contrast in your garden.  You will combine different textures in the same way you combine different forms in your landscape.  Texture can also affect perception.  If you have a small yard that you want to look larger, place your coarse textured plants in the front of the planting bed and the fine textured plants in the back. Do the reverse to make your yard seem smaller or more intimate. 
Color.  Color, just like all other elements of design, is a personal choice.  Everyone has their favorites and the aesthetics of your landscape design should make you happy as well as fit the landscape parameters of your neighborhood and region.  There are many different color schemes you may wish to enjoy.  Monochromatic (all one color), analogous (colors adjacent on the color wheel) and complimentary (across each other on the color wheel) are the color schemes to consider.  And remember that plants aren’t the only place that color is used in the landscape.  Buildings and hardscapes are part of the color scheme as well.  If you are having trouble combining colors in your landscape consider creating a color study. You can use colored pencils or crayons to lightly shade your planting areas on the plan to make sure they work together like you would like them to.  The colors may refer to flower or foliage color and remember that sometimes the color is only seasonal. 

Color Study

And now on to the principles...
The principles of design dictate how you should organize the elements of design in your landscape.  They focus on repeating elements throughout the landscape and creating a calm, unified landscape. 
Principles of Design
Proportion-Make sure your plants and trees are in proportion to your home.  For example, a 50 foot tall tree right next to a one-story house is not in proportion. 
Order-Best described as balance.  Balance can be symmetrical or asymmetrical.  Choose what you like best.
Repetition-Repeat some of the landscape elements throughout the landscape.  ”Not too much, but not too little” repetition is ideal, but sometimes it is hard to determine what that is!  You can repeat plants around the yard, repeat shapes or hardscape textures in a couple different places.  This repetition will tie your landscape together and highlight the focal points. 
Unity-Just like repetition, unify your landscape by choosing odd numbers of plants, repeating features and eliminating clutter.
Don’t be discouraged by the number and detail of the elements of design and design principles.  It is important to familiarize yourself with them and try to think about them (and the FFL principles) while creating your design, but don’t feel pressured to follow them all to a T.  The best idea is to find inspiration in other landscapes and try and mimic what you like in your own landscape. 
Look through magazines and books, visit demonstration gardens or find local landscapes that you like for inspiration.   Landscape with your site conditions in mind (remember that site inventory?) and always remember low maintenance is key. 
In the next post we will discuss choosing plant material and mulch.  This is the last step in the design process.  Your plan should be coming together and you will soon have a usable design and a plant list for your fall plant shopping!