Monday, September 18, 2017

September Make & Take Workshop: Hypertufa


Do you enjoy gardening and gardening related crafts? If you answered yes, then you are in luck!

On September 30, 2017, Master Gardeners at UF/IFAS Extension Polk County will present a “Make and Take” workshop on hypertufa. During this workshop, participants will learn about this creative gardening craft and also create their own hypertufa pot with supplies provided.  

What is hytpertufa you ask? Well, it is a mix of water, Portland cement, peat moss, or coconut fiber and either sand, perlite, or vermiculite. The final result is a pot that looks like stone but is lighter in weight and less expensive. 

For more information on creating hypertufa, join us Saturday September 30 at 10:00 AM at UF/IFAS Extension Polk County, 1702 US HWY 17/98 South, Bartow, FL. The cost is $15.00 cash or check at the door or credit card online.

For information on other gardening and landscaping classes and workshops, check out our Eventbrite website.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Proper Palm Pruning, Not "Hurricane Pruning"

With preparations for the storm in mind, you may think you need to “hurricane prune” your palm tree. Well let me stop you before you do more harm than good. While in the past people thought by removing almost all palm fronds, leaving only the youngest few, you would create a more wind resistant palm. However, new evidence suggests that thought is not correct and “hurricane pruning” actually weakens palm trees and they could become more vulnerable to damage.

So what are some better pruning techniques when it comes to palms? First, only completely dead fronds should be removed. While yellow leaves may be unsightly, they are an indication of something going on. These leaves should be left on as they are still helping to support the palm through mobile nutrients, such as potassium (K).

A healthy palm tree should actually have a 360 degree canopy of leaves. However, often they are overpruned due to nutrient deficiency symptoms. Never remove any leaves above the horizon of three to nine (on a clock).

One other thing to consider when pruning palms are the flowers and fruit. It is fine to leave them or prune them. If you have a palm that produces fruit that you do not want littering the yard, it is actually easier to trim off the lighter flower stalk rather than waiting to prune a heavy fruit stalk.

Please keep in mind, if you cannot safely prune a palm tree or any tree safely, it is best to hire a Certified Arborist to complete the task. These professionals are trained in proper pruning techniques, safety, and are up to date on the latest recommendations through continuing education classes. You can find a local Certified Arborist by visiting the International Society ofArboriculture online.

For more information on proper palm pruning check out:

Trees and Hurricanes

As Hurricane Irma approaches, many people are rushing to prune trees.  Please make sure you follow UF/IFAS recommendations and always hire a certified arborist to do the work.

Here is some helpful information for before and after the storm: 

Hiring an arborist

Trees and Hurricanes website

New research on pruning to reduce wind damage (contains pruning techniques, videos and pruning comparisons)

Proper pruning near power lines

Tree management for wind resistance

Palm Care:

Proper pruning of palms

Restoring damaged palms

Remember, if you have any questions about how to care for your trees before and after a hurricane, you can always contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County. Stay safe!

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Cool plant of the month: Moonflowers!

If you go to Circle B and take a walk out by the lake, look up in the trees. You’ll see a mess of vines with solid green, heart-shaped leaves, and odd, pale green drooping things. Those drooping things, which also litter the paths, are the crumpled remnants of the night before’s flowers. (Stop walking before looking up; there’s muddy swamp on both sides of the path, not to mention possible alligators, etc.) Moonflowers will open during the day if it’s an exceptionally dim afternoon or evening, for instance with heavy clouds, but generally they only open at night.  So a person can’t usually see them in nature, because it’s dark at night and hard to get where they grow. As opposed to my neighborhood, which is lit up like a prison yard all night long, except for . . . part of my back yard, where I have carefully created dark. Weird, huh? To have to plant your garden to create night shade? But in that night shade, I grow moonflowers (and poinsettias, which need dark nights to color up in the fall). And each evening, all summer long, immense white morning-glory-like flowers slowly open to attract night-flying pollinators. Sometimes the pollinators miss the flowers and end up bumping into my kitchen window, but I try to keep the light levels low out there. Recently, I saw an immense furry Sphinx moth, as big as a small bird, visiting the moonflowers! (It was a full-moon night so I could see, and I captured her in my insect net and took her inside to look more closely. Yes, I let her go.) By the way, the hummingbird moths visit them also. The flowers do have a sweet scent, also, but nothing like as penetrating as the night-blooming jasmine, so I think that insects must use sight to find the flowers as they search for nectar. Although maybe not; maybe they can smell something I can’t smell. (Night-blooming jasmine will knock your socks right off, and I highly recommend it for a night garden.)

Moonflowers can be grown from seed, as mine was, and will persist for many years if they’re happy, slowly becoming larger and ever more lovely. They’ll bloom year-round, depending on the weather. They are climbers, so they need support, and will take advantage of any nearby tree. Out at Circle B, they’re 40 feet up the cypresses! I don’t expect mine to get that large, because . . . I don’t have a swamp in my back yard, and they do like wet feet. So if you plant them, I advise you to grow them somewhere that’s easy to water. There is a bucket under my gutter that collects dew running off the roof, and I pour that water onto the moonflowers when there isn’t any rain. And I water the heck out of them during the dry times. I suspect that they develop some kind of tuber, as do some other morning glory relatives, but I’m not going to dig up my plant to find out. (They are native here in Florida, so it makes sense that they’d have a mechanism to get through our dry spells.)
But as I say, mine is too precious to me to take chances with. For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions.

Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.  An Equal Opportunity Institution.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Right Plant, Right Place

The first time I saw blood lilies, Scadoxus multiflorus, I nearly drove off the road. They were living in pots under an oak tree in a very poor section of one of the poorer towns in southern central Florida, and they were magnificent. There must have been fifty of them blooming in that otherwise barren yard. Now, the oak tree took up the entire front yard of the old, wooden house, and since oak roots are insatiable, it made perfect sense that the bulbs were in pots. I waved hello to the elderly lady sitting on the porch, and drove on, lily lust in my heart. Eventually, I finally got my mitts on an actual blood lily bulb. (If you don't have a generous neighbor, check out feed stores and local nurseries for this traditional passalong plant). I took that baby home and plopped it into a nice, cozy flowerbed in the sunny front of my house. Where it came up, bloomed, and died. Hmmm . . . However, as a Master Gardener, Im convinced I can grow everything, so the next year, I got another one, and this time did some research and learned that blood lilies prefer dry shade (oops). 

So I planted it under an oak tree, where it came up, bloomed, and disappeared. Okay, I thought, it'll be dormant for a while, and then make leaves. (The flower stalks do come up before the leaves.) The next year, when no leaves had appeared, I got another blood lily. THIS time, I put it in a pot, put the pot under the oak tree, and watched it carefully. It bloomed, and after a while a bunch of pretty, green leaves came up, aaand . . . grasshoppers ate the leaves. (That time, I got there before the leaves vanished.) Now for a short digression about grasshopper control. Its pointless to spray them because they just fly away (or hop, if they're lubbers). However, they are grabbable if you're quick (an insect net comes in handy, here), and a couple of weeks in the freezer will resolve any lingering grasshopper issues. Very small grasshoppers can be squished with gloved fingers, but the big ones –ew!For those who are athletic, the brisk application of a shoe sole will also work. 

What about the blood lilies? About every three years I divide them, leaving one plant per pot, and I can tell you thats why the lilies in that central Florida front yard were in plastic pots, old buckets, wash tubs, and any other thing that holds dirt. It turns out that they multiply like crazy! You only need to start with one to end up with a passel of flowers. They also appreciate a nice oak-leaf mulch over the winter. The moral of the story? Put the dang plant where it'll be happy! 

Author, Celia Beamish, is a Florida Master Gardener in Polk County, Florida.

For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at 

The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.  An Equal Opportunity Institution.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Workshops and Programs for July and August

Home Lawns

Jul 6, 2017 10:00 AM
Mackay Gardens, Lake Alfred
Register here:

Lunch and Learn- Pollinators: Not Just the Birds and the Bees

Jul 11, 2017 12:00 PM
·      Lakeland Electric, Lakeland
·      Register here: 

Spices and Herbs Around the World

Jul 12, 2017 5:30 PM
·      Auburndale Public Library, Auburndale 
Register here:

Preventing Mosquitoes in the Home Landscape

Jul 17, 2017 10:30 AM
·      Lakeland Public Library, Lakeland
·      Register here: 

Hydroponic Gardening

Jul 20, 2017 6:30 PM
Bartow Public Library, Bartow

Vegetable Gardening

Jul 27, 2017 5:30 PM
·      Winter Haven Public Library, Winter Haven
·      Register here: 

10 Plants, 10 Butterflies

Aug 3, 2017 10:00 AM
Mackay Gardens, Lake Alfred
Register here:

Lunch and Learn: Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Aug 8, 2017 12:00 PM
Lakeland Electric, Lakeland

Vegetable Gardening

Aug 10, 2017 6:30 PM
Bartow Public Library, Bartow

Lunch and Learn: Rain Gardens

Aug 22, 2017 12:00 PM
·      Haines City Public Library, Haines City 
·      Register here:

Hydroponic Gardening

Aug 24, 2017 5:30 PM
·      Winter Haven Public Library, Winter Haven

·      Register here: 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Setting Your Irrigation Controller

residential irrigation controllerWhen water restrictions are in place, it's best to shut off your automatic landscape irrigation controller and run the system manually. Only turn on the system when the grass shows at least one of the three wilt signs. But if you choose to use the automatic setting, follow the simple tips below to conserve water.

Days of the Week to Run

You can set your controller to irrigate every day, every other day, every three days, and so on. Most controllers offer a "custom" option that allows you to select certain days of the week to water, which is the option that should be used during watering restrictions. Make sure to check with your water management district or municipalities for local watering restrictions.

Run Time

You can set your controller to water each irrigation zone for a specific amount of time, depending on your system application rate. This information can be found in "Operation of Residential Irrigation Controllers."

Amount of Water

Many factors determine how much water you should apply. You should adjust your controller at least seasonally. For example, irrigation can be cut back during the rainy summer and colder winter months, particularly in North and Central Florida, where lawns and landscape plants go dormant. You should never water to the point of runoff (excess water that your grass's roots can't absorb), as this wastes water, may cause disease, and can contribute to pollution. However, no less than a 1/2 inch of water should be applied at any one time. Deeper, less-frequent watering promotes deep root growth, which contributes to a healthy lawn and landscape capable of surviving dry spells. For specific information on run times for your irrigation system, see this urban irrigation tool.

Programming Your Controller

Controllers typically have the capacity to run multiple programs. This means that your irrigation controller can be set to water different parts (zones) of your home landscape at different rates. For example, program "A" might have the controller set to water six rotor zones for sixty minutes twice each week. If new plants are planted in a landscape bed, they may need more frequent watering until they are established. In such a case, a second program, "B," can be used to water that zone every day of the week (water restrictions permitting). For your normal, weekly 2-day maintenance watering, only one program is necessary. In that case, it's a good idea to verify that other programs are not running.

Microirrigation Zones

Microirrigation systems (sometimes called "drip" or low-volume irrigation systems) are becoming popular for landscape plants because they are easy to use and can conserve a lot of water. There are several types of microirrigation systems; all deliver water directly to a plant's roots, so that less water is lost to evaporation. Microirrigation systems can be easy to install and can save a homeowner money while keeping landscape plants healthy.

Also on Gardening Solutions

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Preserving your landscape during drought

Dr. Michael Dukes, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, shares these tips to conserve water and maintain your current landscape during drought conditions.  For full article click here.
  1. Delay big landscape modifications that require establishment watering until the rainy season.
  2. Establish priorities. Water drought-sensitive plants first. Grass should be a lower priority—it can be trained to be fairly drought-tolerant, and is cheaper to replace than trees and shrubs.
  3. Consider replacing drought-sensitive plants with more drought-tolerant species. Click here for a list of drought-tolerant plants.
  4. Mulch planting beds and areas around trees and shrubs. Mulching helps the soil retain moisture, moderate soil temperature and keeps weeds down. The mulch should be about 3 inches deep.
  5. Run your irrigation system only when your landscape looks dry. Hand water when possible, or consider using drip irrigation.
  6. Water in the morning so less moisture is lost to evaporation. Examine your irrigation system and repair leaks promptly.
  7. If you fertilize, use low nitrogen and low phosphorus fertilizers. Fertilization stimulates growth and increases water needs.
  8. Avoid unnecessary applications of pesticides that require “watering in”—you can find pesticides that work without added water.
  9. Move container plants to shaded areas to reduce their water needs.

    - See more at:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ten Ways to Save Water

Water is the lifeblood of all plants, including turfgrass. But many Florida homeowners aren't aware that watering their lawns too much can be as damaging as not watering enough. These ten Florida-Friendly tips will help you save water in your landscape.

1. Choose the right plant for the right placebutterfly on firebush

All plants must get the right amount of sun, water, and nutrients to thrive—even natives.
  • Select plants suited for your area
  • Place plants in the landscape where site conditions match their needs
  • Group plants with similar water needs together

2. Water thoughtfully

A drop here and a drop there can add up to a lot of water.
  • Always follow water restrictions
  • Water early in the morning
  • Irrigate plants and grass only when they start to wilt

3. Handwater when possible

Handwatering is usually allowed during water restrictions, because it uses less water than an automatic irrigation system.
Woman using a watering can to water flowers
  • Use a watering can, pail, or hose with an automatic shutoff nozzle
  • Handwater potted plants, shrubs, trees, vegetables, and flower beds, and new lawns
  • See if your water management district (WMD) limits handwatering

4. Perform regular irrigation maintenance

An irrigation system is only as efficient as it's maintained to be.
  • Check for and repair leaks
  • Unclog and replace broken heads
  • Point heads at plants, not driveways and sidewalks

5. Calibrate irrigation system

Even an efficient irrigation system can waste water if it's left on for too long. The ideal amount of water to apply is 1/2 to 3/4 inches. Figure out how long to run your system by doing a test:
  • Place multiple coffee/tuna/other straight-sided cans throughout each irrigation zone
  • Run your system for thirty minutes
  • Average the depth of the water in all the containers
  • Multiply running time as needed for 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water

6. Make a Rain Barrel

Rain barrels capture rainwater that flows off your roof for use in the landscape. They're easy and inexpensive to make and can have a big impact on your water bill—instead of watering your plants with water you're paying for, you're using free water!

7. Use microirrigation

Drip or microspray irrigation systems apply water directly to the roots of plants, where it's needed, and lose minimal water to evaporation or wind drift.

8. Mulch plantsman spreading mulch

Mulch helps keep moisture in the soil around your plants. Choose from many different kinds of mulch and apply 2 to 3 inches around trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables.

9. Mow correctly

How you mow your lawn can have a big impact on how much water it needs.
  • Mow high; mowing your grass to the highest recommended length encourages a deep healthy root system
  • Keep your mower blades sharp; dull cuts make grass more disease-prone
  • Cut no more than one third of the leaf blade each time you mow

10. Be a weather watcher

Rain is irrigation, too. Use it to your advantage—it's free!
  • Don't water your landscape if it's rained in the past twenty-four hours
  • If rain is forecast in the next forty-eight hours, hold off on irrigating
  • Purchase a rain gauge to track how much rain your plants are getting
  • Install a rain shut-off device to override your irrigation system when it's raining

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What is Drought?

A drought is a period of abnormally dry weather that causes a water shortage or jeopardizes our water resources. We tend to expect that every time we turn on the faucet plenty of fresh, drinkable water will flow out. But Florida's population is growing quickly, and at the same time, we've been experiencing dry years. As the population grows, our water demands increase, too.

Where We Get Our Water

The water most Floridians use for drinking, showering, watering the lawn, washing the car, and many other things comes from the Floridan Aquifer, an underground cave system made of porous limestone called karst. This groundwater comes to the surface naturally via the more than 600 springs throughout the state. And, of course, we pull it into our homes with pumps and wells.
Florida's aquifers depend on rainwater to keep it recharged. In dry years, the water level in the aquifer system goes down. Streams, lakes, and wells can dry up. But many areas of the state are near sustainable limits of water withdrawals even in normal years, so dry years can stress the system even more.

We Need Rain

In a typical year, Florida gets an average of 53 inches of rain per year. The dry season in Florida usually starts in November and continues through May. Typically the summer is the wet season, but the past few summers have been dry. This means that water levels in the aquifer system are especially low, making water restrictions a necessity in several of Florida's water management districts, which manage the state's water resources.
As Florida's open spaces are increasingly paved over by new development, there's less ground for rainwater to soak into. Rain that lands on pavement evaporates into the air or flows into stormwater drains that flow into streams or stormwater collection systems that drain into the sea. This water does not replenish the aquifer.
It's always important to conserve water, and there are many ways to use less water in the landscape. You can find tips for saving water in your landscape in Dealing with Water Restrictions.  In Polk County, our watering restrictions follow those of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.  
Join us on the blog as we continue to post relevant drought-related information.  If you have questions as they relate to your lawn and landscape, contact the Plant Clinic

    Tuesday, March 21, 2017

    Spring Lawn Prep: Fertilizing

    It's March, and normally most homeowners are thinking about their lawn, although this recent cold snap may have delayed thoughts of springtime!  Lawns are growing very slowly, if at all, in the winter months, so fertilizer is not recommended. 

    So when should you do a spring lawn fertilization? 

    Do you need to apply fertilizer to your lawn in the spring?  

    What should a homeowner in Polk County do with their lawn to prep it for spring and summer weather?  

     1. You may have a bag of lawn fertilizer ready to go, but hold on!  Your grass is still dormant or very slowly growing.  Wait until your grass is actively growing before you dust off the fertilizer spreader.  April is a good time to fertilize.  University of Florida research has shown that the greatest amount of nitrate leaching occurs January through March, so wait until April to make your application.

    2.  Fertilizer contains nutrients to help with plant growth and/or correct a nutrient deficiency.  You don't need to apply fertilizer if those issues don't pertain to your lawn. 

    3.  Select a fertilizer for lawns that contains slow-release and low or no phosphorus.  You can find this information on the fertilizer bag. Make sure you read the label and follow application instructions.  Apply no more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, no matter what type of grass you have.  Follow UF/IFAS recommendations for application rates.  

    4.  Too much fertilizer can cause increased disease and insect problems as well as increased pollution.  

    5.  Water in your fertilizer with 1/4 inch of water.  You do not need to water the 1/2 inch that you normally apply during your watering days as this application is just to move the fertilizer granules down into the lawn.  

    6.  After you apply fertilizer, it's important to follow other home lawn best management practices so that your grass remains healthy during the growing season.  Mow at the highest recommended height for your grass type, apply 1/2 inch of water per irrigation application, keep mower blades sharp and leave grass clippings on the lawn.  

    Here's to a happy, healthy lawn this spring!  For more information contact us!  

    Follow the best management practices for your lawn to reduce pollution and maintain a healthy lawn.  For more information contact us, or learn more here.  

    Monday, March 13, 2017

    It's spring, and the Chickasaw Plum is in bloom!

    It always feels like spring is here when the Chickasaw Plum at UF/IFAS Extension Polk County is in bloom.  This lovely small tree makes itself known in early spring when it is covered with hundreds of small white blooms.  This low-maintenance native is a good choice for home landscapes.  If you are looking for a tree to plant this spring, choose a Chicksaw Plum!