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Dwarf Mondo Grass

Often used as a border grass, Mondo Grass is a hardy evergreen groundcover.

Also known as dwarf lilyturf, it grows well between zones 7-11. It’s one of my favorite groundcovers since it tolerates shade (but only morning or partial sun) and is virtually indestructible. According to Ed Gillman, a horticulturist for University of Florida, Dwarf Mondo Grass has no known pests or diseases. It has a dark green color that serves as an attractive alternative to lawn grass and is handy in filling in problem areas such as exposed tree roots or areas difficult to mow or prone to erosion.

Unlike many other groundcovers, it doesn’t mind being walked on, and it’s creeping underground stems quickly replace the plants that my beagle, Buster, insists on digging up while lizard hunting. Mondo Grass can be mowed in late winter before growth begins to eliminate old, discolored foliage. In the four years since I have planted it, I have not had to mow it. Like most hardy groundcovers, it takes a while for Mondo Grass to establish. The first year it “sleeps” or establishes roots. The second year, it “creeps” or begins to spread. It is not until the third year that it “leaps” or really begins to fill in.

Popular cultivars include Gyokuruu, which is about two inches tall, ‘Nana’ which is compact and reportedly grows to four to five inches (mine is much shorter). There is also a variegated variety, Variegatus, which is a little smaller and has white stripes in the leaves. The plant is propagated by division of the matted clumps. When Buster digs it up, I cut it apart and replant in new areas.

For more information, please refer to Gillman’s publication,
http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/shrub_fact_sheets/ophjapa.pdf

For some photos and great ideas of how to use the plant in your landscape, see http://www.houzz.com/dwarf-mondo-grass‎ Warni.ng: this site is addictive!

Master Gardener Talk: March 12

Please join us at the Upper Tampa Bay Library at 6:30 p.m. on March 12 for a Master
Gardening Talk on Groundcovers for Central Florida. We will share a slideshow and discuss some beautiful and hardy groundcovers that will work well for our area.

For more information on this or any of the Master Gardening series of talks, please contact Shelly Stein at 852-2580 or skstein2003@yahoo.com.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Winter Warriors: Cold-Hardy Plants for Central Florida

In January at the Upper Tampa Bay Library Master Gardener Nanette O’Hara gave an interesting talk on cold-hardy plants for our area.

When she is not volunteering for the Master Gardening Program, Nanette works for the Pinellas County Water District Management System, so she knows a thing or two about cold-hardy plants in this neck of the woods.

To begin with, Nanette says that it is important to know what the “right plant” might be for our gardens. For Westchasers, this means that regardless of the approved plant list for our community, there are some plants that are going to do much better than others in our Zone 9B, also known as the South Central Florida area.

The Plant Hardiness Zones are designed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to determine which plants will grow in particular regions based on their cold hardiness or the lowest average temperature that the plant can tolerate in the winter. Plants in our region grow ideally in the average annual extreme minimum temperature of 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here is my real-world example: I planted a beautiful serpentine border of miniature Ixora in my back yard in 2005. They grew beautifully for about four years. Then a bad morning freeze along with my irrigation system going off by accident in the middle of the night took them out. All of them. It was very sad. I now have Gold-Mound Durantas as replacements, which are much more cold-hardy. I couldn’t kill those things if I wanted to!

You will see the USDA hardiness zones on your plant labels but a local nursery (as opposed to a big-box hardware store) will have the best information around. The USDA zone maps are updated periodically and more frequently of late due to the increase in warming in North America. The newest map, dated 2012 (http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/) , indicates the northern limit of 9B running through Hernando County to our north and Sarasota County to the south. Within this area there are microclimates. This means that your Ixora might have fared well that same winter against the protected southern side of your home but mine died because they had wind exposure and sat in a low-lying area.

To find out what plants are cold-hardy for this region, check out: The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Pattern Book: Sample plant lists and designs for four Florida regions USDA Hardiness Zone 9B South Central Florida. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP43800.pdf

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Besides choosing the right plant in the first place, a list of other things to keep in mind before the next hard freeze appears below:

1. If you fertilize landscaping plants in February, May, August, and December, they will be well-fed and tolerate more stress in the winter.
2. If you hand-water the ground beneath your plants the day before a hard freeze, the moist soil will release more heat than dry soil.
3. Plants in shady locations go dormant earlier in the fall and remain that way later in the spring. In addition, tree canopies have higher evening temperatures. So, anything planted under a tree canopy is naturally protected.
4. Avoid anything (such as pruning) that encourages new plant growth until the chance of frost is past.
5. A three-inch layer of mulch will help regulate soil moisture and temperature and protect roots.
6. Fabric (not plastic) plant coverings protect from frost and not from the cold. If there is a hard freeze, the cover must not touch the plant surface or the material will conduct the cold air to the plant.
7. After a hard freeze, check if the plants need irrigation. Leaves lose a lot of water during our cold, windy winters.
8. If you see cold damage, wait until you see new growth to prune off the dead stuff. Once the danger of freezing is past, prune away!

-From Fact Sheet: Protecting your Landscape During and After Cold Weather. http://hillsborough.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/pdf/fyn/factsheets/Protecting_Your_Landscape_During_And_After_Cold_Weather.pdf

Master Gardener Workshops

The following Master Gardener Workshops will be held at the UTB Regional Library on the second Wednesdays of the months at 6:30 p.m. Come join the fun!

Feb. 12: Moonlight Gardens

Join us for a virtual evening stroll as we view our “moon garden” up close. Master Gardeners Diane Tousignant and Becky Williams will discuss which plants show up best by the light of the moon and those whose fragrances fill the night-time air. Discover the benefits of attracting the fascinating and beneficial night-time flier, the bat, to your backyard.

March 12: Groundcovers for Central Florida

Groundcovers are a Florida-Friendly alternative to turf. Virginia Overstreet’s presentation highlights a wide variety of Florida-friendly, drought-tolerant groundcovers for Central Florida.

April 9: Get Those Hummers!

Master Gardener Heather Diaz’s lively program is all about the beautiful hummingbirds that make Hillsborough County home. Learn their habits and the plants and feeders that will attract them to your yard.

May 14: Butterfly Gardening

Master Gardener Pat O’Shea will help you become skilled at identifying the many types of butterflies in our area. Learn the two types of plants butterflies require. When you plant both types in your yard, you will be guaranteed not only a visit to your garden, but possibly permanent residency by these beautiful creatures.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Florida’s Noxious “Christmas Holly”

You might have noticed a few months ago that CDD Field Manager Doug Mays and his crew trimmed back some trees at the edge of the neighborhood conservation areas.

Upon inquiry I learned that they were cutting down the Brazilian pepper-tree, which is an invasive, non-native plant. The pepper-tree had crowded out many of the important native plants such as the wax myrtle, which naturally grows at the edge of the forest

According to Ken Gioeli and Ken Langeland (1997) with the University of Florida Extension, the Brazilian pepper-tree is one of the most aggressive invaders that have taken over mangrove as well as scrub and pine flatwood communities. It grows as a shrub to a small tree up to about 30 feet tall. It was introduced into Florida in the mid-1800s from South America as an ornamental plant. Unfortunately, the Brazilian pepper-tree too readily seeds from its red berries, which are abundant this time of year. Thus, it has the nickname “Florida Christmas holly.”

Behind my house is a particularly beautiful specimen you can see from the street. It is on the corner of Gretna Green Drive and Green Links Drive behind the obelisk as you enter the Village Green. The neighborhood kids refer to it as the “tree fort” since it is so much fun to climb.

It is a prolific seeder, which I know from the many seedlings I constantly pull up in my yard. When I handle the plant, it smells like turpentine and the sap makes my hands itch. Many parts of the plant are toxic, so be careful handling it in case you have a severe allergy.

The best way to control this invasive plant is to apply herbicide while it is a seedling or cut larger specimens while they are not fruiting and apply an herbicide to the stump. If you do cut a specimen with berries, be sure to rake up any that fall so you don’t have a bumper crop of seedlings in the spring. A list of suitable herbicides can be found in Gioeli and Langeland’s online pamphlet on Brazilian pepper-tree control (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa219). If you use an herbicide, be sure to carefully read the instructions before applying it, especially if you live near a conservation area or retention pond.

Master Gardening Workshop

The January Master Gardening Workshop will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Upper Tampa Bay Library. The topic is “Winter Warriors: Cold-Hardy Champions for Zone 9 Gardens.” Master Gardener Nanette O-Hara will teach us about the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, how it was developed and revised, and why it is important for garden plant selection. This talk will discuss the benefits of using cold-hardy plants while highlighting some of the most cold-hardy choices for our area.

Master Gardener Shelly Stein can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

By Shelly Stein

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Where Have The Butterflies Gone?

In 2011 my Master Gardening mentor, Virginia Overstreet, travelled to central Mexico’s mountainous fir forests to witness the monarch butterfly migration.

In cooler months, certain generations of the monarch chill out in these forests to conserve energy for their migration to the U.S. and Canada. Virginia said that the sight and sound of millions of monarchs was the most awe-inspiring thing she had ever experienced. This is coming from a woman who spent her career in the Navy travelling the world.

Until witnessing the butterfly migration, she believed nothing would ever surpass her experience scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef. The millions of monarchs beating their wings sounded like the wind or a soft rain.

Virginia was lucky to see the monarchs. The monarch, perhaps the most popular butterfly in the U.S., is declining in numbers. This past year was the most dismal, leaving scientists to fear that the monarch could be heading toward extinction. Since 2011 Canadian scientists have been tracking thousands of monarchs throughout the U.S. and Canada to see if they can pinpoint the cause. The chief suspect is a decline in their host food, milkweed. It is called a host food because monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed and their caterpillars eat it before making their cocoons. Scientists speculate that drought and Round-Up resistant crops have contributed to the decline of milkweed and, thus, the monarch.

Unfortunately, not enough homeowners in the U.S. are willing to plant milkweed in their garden to make up for its decline on farms. Yet as children, the first insect we see (and are allowed to touch) is the butterfly. In schools we have observed them hatch, pupate and emerge as beautiful adults. For many, butterflies are symbolic of change or new beginnings. When I turned in my dissertation for binding, I drove to Great Southern Tattoos down Highway 1 in College Park, MD and got a butterfly tattoo. (Yes, I was old enough to know better. No, you will probably never see it.) Besides that, butterflies are a big part of our connection to our natural habitat. As we watch them flutter about in the garden, they bring us feelings of joy and awe at life’s beauty.

I, for one, am not willing to give up on the monarch or any other butterfly. Lately, I have planted a number of host and nectar plants for butterflies and I am very selective about the use of pesticides in my yard. As a result, I enjoy frequent visits from butterflies and, for the first time this year, hummingbirds! If you are interested in doing the same in your back yard, I would suggest reading Butterfly Gardening in Florida at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw057

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I know that many Westchase residents share my love of butterflies. A few weeks ago, resident Kathy Carlsen asked me to help her develop a proposal to add native Florida butterfly host and nectar plants to the neighborhood entrances and parks. At our last Master Gardening talk at the Upper Tampa Bay Library, two residents volunteered to join the group. If anyone else is interested in helping us research and compile information, please contact me at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

To read more about the monarch butterfly migration, go to: http://phys.org/news/2013-08-monarch-butterflies-migration-path-tracked.html#jCp

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Master Gardener Talk

Did you know that citrus is excellent for attracting several butterfly species? For our plant clinic on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m. at the Upper Tampa Bay Library, Master Gardener Jim Hawk will teach us all about Dooryard Fruit for Central Florida. We will have a lot of local fruit to sample. Bring a plant or cutting to share for the plant swap.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Taming the Terrible Scorpion

Few bugs in the state can evoke terror quite as effectively as Florida’s scorpions.

According to University of Florida Extension Entomologists, however, no wild scorpions in our state are able to produce a fatal sting. Nonetheless, they look scary and most people view one inside their home as a nuisance.

Scorpions generally vary in size from one to four inches. They resemble crabs and are light to dark brown with a broad flattened body. Like all arachnids, they have only eight true legs not counting the pinchers. These claw-like appendages are used to hold their prey. Their business-end is their backside.

Scorpions most noticeable feature is their super creepy, curled, fleshy tail. When I have seen them in my yard, I first think that they are spiders until I see the tail held over their bodies. The stinger is at the tip and is used for defense as well as for capturing prey. I stepped on one when we first moved to Westchase while foolishly walking barefoot in my lawn. As an avid gardener, I am usually stung at least once a year by something and, by my standards, the scorpion’s sting is quite painful – about the same as a wasp sting.

The good news is that our local scorpions rarely sting humans except when stepped on or pinned against the skin. After that first encounter, I always shake out my shoes before I put them on. An antivenom is available for severe reactions, so medical attention is a good idea especially if you have allergies to stinging insects

Several species of scorpions call Central Florida home. The Florida bark scorpion, sometimes called the slender brown scorpion (Centruroides gracilis) is one of the largest of Florida’s scorpion species. The smallest and most common Florida scorpion is the Hentz striped scorpion (C. hentzi), which is found statewide except the southernmost Keys. I am pretty sure it’s the one I most often see.

Scorpions like to hide outside under boards, rubbish, or other areas that provide shelter and protection. I usually see them while weeding when I disturb the mulch. This reminds me to put on my gloves and wear close-toed shoes. Luckily, these predators are most active at night. Another interesting feature about scorpions is that they glow under ultraviolet lights – so get out the black lights to help track them down. (I have yet to try this but I’m sure my 11-year old son would be game.)

To their credit, scorpions do their share of pest reduction in and around the home. Favorite foods include [vulgarity], termites, and other insects along with other arachnids. Inside the home, scorpions are most likely to be found near their food sources, so be cautious in crawl spaces or up in the attic.

Scorpions do not lay eggs. Instead, the young are born alive and climb on the back of the mother and remain there until after their first molt.

Dan Culbert from the University of Florida’s Okeechobee Extension Service offers a few ideas to make your Florida home and yard less attractive to scorpions and their prey:

• Prune branches so they do not overhand the home and keep shrubs from touching the outside walls.
• Place trash piles and trash cans on blocks or logs to keep them off the ground.
• Keep firewood outside until it is ready to be used. Keep it dry by covering it. Use gloves when moving wood and inspect it before bringing it inside.
• Maintain screens, and use caulk to seal cracks, and seal door openings with weather-stripping. See if pipe openings into your house are sealed.
• In case of a heavy infestation, perimeter residual pesticide sprays can be used as a last resort.

I would bet that most of you have already seen scorpions in your garden but have mistaken them for spiders. The natural reaction for many people is to kill them. A sturdy flyswatter or a good stomp of a well-shoed foot will do the trick, but they are quick! I have read where glue boards may also be helpful in capturing both scorpions and their food sources without pesticides.

I have never seen a scorpion inside of my home and my cat, Cato, brings in every critter imaginable. Pesticides, however, may sometimes be needed for scorpion control. Pesticides must come in contact with the scorpion to work. Most products that are effective against scorpions can only be used outside and must be applied by professionals.

Pyrethroids are a common active ingredient in pesticides labeled for outdoor barrier use to manage scorpions. It’s important that any products containing pyrethroids are used responsibly since they are toxic to bees and fish. The chemical also remains in fish and this is why you should never eat fish that are found in retention ponds in neighborhoods such as ours.

This month’s Master Gardener talk at the Upper Tampa Bay Library, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct 9, at 6:30 p.m., discusses how to attract birds and butterflies to your garden. Our speaker, Master Gardener Maryhelen Zopfi, thinks “pesticide” is a dirty word, so don’t let her know I mentioned it in my article.

Happy gardening!

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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New Westchase Tennis Pro to be Named Tuesday, Sept. 10

Following a winnowing process that has narrowed the field of candidates – one that’s included input from current Westchase tennis players, the Westchase Community Association (WCA) Board of Directors announced a timetable for the announcement of Westchase’s new tennis pro. Association Manager Debbie Sainz e-mailed WOW with what she stated was a joint statement from the board and requested it be posted on WOW Online. It follows:

"The board of directors received a tremendous outpouring of feedback from our residents regarding the program and potential candidates at last night's board meeting (9/5) and has narrowed its candidate pool for the new tennis professional.  The board of directors intends to announce its selection of the new tennis professional for Westchase on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 by close of business.”

An article on WOW Online will cover the announcement once it is made.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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New Master Gardening Talks and Plant Swaps Planned

I am excited this year to host new talks on our Wednesday evening meetings at the Upper Tampa Bay Library.

We meet on the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. from September through May (except for December). We usually meet in the large community room but the library will announce if there is a room change.

We have begun a plant swap on these evenings so please bring a plant or cutting if you would like to participate. Usually we have plenty of extras. Here is what we have in store this fall:

Sept. 11: Daylilies Master Gardener Julie Fugleberg will cover a bit of history as well as the many varieties and propagation of daylilies. This is a new talk for the Master Gardener Program.

Oct. 9: Wildlife in the Garden Mary Helen Zopfi will discuss how to create a backyard habitat to attract butterflies and birds using native and local plants. This is the first time we will hear this talk at our library.

Nov. 13: Dooryard Fruit for Central Florida Jim Hawk is back to present a program introducing various tropical fruits to the home gardener. Jim’s talk is unique in that it not only introduces the fruit but also the cultivars that do best in Hillsborough County. We will discuss the pros and cons of each and delve into how the fruit is used. Jim and I will bring plenty of fruit to sample.

Jan. 8: Winter Warriors – Cold-Hardy Champions for Zone 9 Master Gardener Nanette O’Hara discusses the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, how it was developed and revised, and why it is important for garden plant selection. This new talk will discuss the benefits of using cold-hardy plants while highlighting some of the most cold-hardy choices for our area.

Feb. 12: Moonlight Gardens This new talk by Master Gardeners Diane Tousignant and Becky Williams will take us for a virtual evening stroll as we view our “moon garden” up close. Learn about plants that show up best by the light of the moon and those whose fragrances fill the night-time air. Discover the benefits of attracting the fascinating and beneficial night-time flier, the bat, to your backyard.

March 12: Groundcovers for Central Florida Groundcovers are a Florida-friendly alternative to turf. Virginia Overstreet will highlight a wide variety of Florida-friendly, drought-tolerant groundcovers for Central Florida. We will have plenty of groundcovers to share this evening.

April 9: Get Those Hummers! Master Gardener Heather Diaz presents a lively new program all about the beautiful hummingbirds that make Hillsborough County home. Learn their habits and the plants and feeders that will attract them to your yard. I can’t wait since I just saw the first hummingbird ever in my garden!

May 14: Butterfly Gardening With speaker Pat O’Shea’s help, become skilled at identifying the many types of butterflies in our area. Learn the two types of plants butterflies require. When you plant both types in your yard, you will be guaranteed not only a visit to your garden, but possibly permanent residency by these beautiful creatures.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Solarize your Soil

Florida gardeners often become frustrated with failures in vegetable gardening because of Central Florida’s many weeds and pests.

If you have an area in your backyard where you have tried to grow vegetables and have failed, consider soil solarization. Soil solarization is a common agricultural practice used to manage weeds, nematodes, diseases and insects in soil. You can see solarization in practice if you drive past local strawberry and vegetable fields where the soil surface is covered with clear plastic in preparation for planting. The clear plastic acts as a super greenhouse. It allows sunlight to pass through and heat up the soil to temperatures that are lethal to many of these pests. When used effectively, solarization can reduce population levels of these pests for three to four months, sometimes longer. June, July and August are the best times to solarize in preparation for our fall vegetable gardens.

Here’s how to do it: Prepare the bed by removing existing weeds and twigs and turn or till the soil to six inches in depth. Irrigate the day before so the soil is moist but not wet. Place a strip of clear plastic sheeting (I use painter’s plastic drop-cloth) over the area. The sheet should be a little wider and longer than the area to be solarized. Keeping the plastic sheet smooth and tight, bury all edges under several inches of soil. Leave in place for six weeks then remove before planting. Check the plastic after a big rain to make sure the edges are sealed and that any rain that puddles on the surface is clear. If it is muddy, you will need to clean it off. If you see a weed growing beneath the plastic, it is an indication that solarization isn’t working. If you are using clear plastic and it is in a sunny area, then the main reason for failure is too many cloudy days in a row. Afternoon thundershowers, however, should not be a problem for proper solarization. If holes develop in the plastic, use clear duct tape to seal them.

According to Robert McSorley and Harsimran Gill in “Introduction to Soil Solarization,” there are no recommendations about the type or brand of clear plastic to use. A main consideration is that the plastic should be strong enough to survive six weeks of Florida summer sun without deteriorating.

If you are interested in trying solarization, check out this publication by the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Science: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in856 For y.our viewing pleasure, the Central Florida Extension Service has a video discussing solarization at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlj--MOHWnI The A.labama Extension Service also has a video demonstrating the process: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEZKINoOhGY

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Last, one additional thing to note about vegetable gardens is that Hillsborough County Water Department advises users to avoid using reclaimed water on vegetable gardens and consuming vegetables exposed to it. If you’re planting a vegetable garden, be sure to re-route or redirect your sprinkler heads to avoid your vegetables.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Meet the Limpkins

I run across lots of wildlife in my gardening escapades and this month I found a noteworthy topic: the limpkin

Wading birds are considered by many to be the most majestic of all of Florida's birds, but I beg to differ. Some examples of truly majestic wading birds that we see here in Westchase are the red-topped Sandhill Crane, the Roseate Spoonbill, the Tricolored Heron and the beautiful Snowy Egret.

Then, there is the limpkin.

Limpkins are one of the smaller wading birds and are not much to look compared to their brethren. They are a drab brown with white streaks and a curving, yellowish beak. What makes you notice these particular birds, however, is their piercing call.

According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab Web site, “Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative.”

I am not sure what they mean by evocative but I know that one neighbor was evoked to turn the hose on them one day. Granted, all birds make noise but the issue I have with the limpkins is that they call to one another all night long and for no apparent reason.

When I first heard their piercing call at 3 a.m., I reassured myself that Mr. Limpkin will soon find what or who he is looking for and then go away. Alas, I soon learned that there is more than one limpkin around. I stumbled upon this fact when I was making a recording of the call to send to the Florida Master Naturalist program for identification. As I was playing it back, two limpkins flew in for a closer look. I strongly recommend that you do not try this yourself unless you want the limpkins to take up residency in your backyard.

To confirm if you have heard their particular call, go to the Cornell Ornithology lab: http://birds.cornell.edu/onlineguide/ Searc.h limpkin and click on the Sound tab to play their call.

Luckily for those who need their sleep, limpkins are fairly uncommon birds. Their northernmost range is in Florida. They are drawn to freshwater ponds and other wetlands in search of their main food source, the apple snail. Like all wading birds, they are the top predators in their ecosystem and are an indicator of ecosystem health. But before we pat ourselves on the back for sound ecological practice in our community, we need to keep in mind that the number of limpkins in the state has been in a general decline because of habitat destruction.

My hope is that the limpkins moved to Westchase out of choice and not because they were evicted from their old home. I also hope that the limpkin clan will find a safe and quiet pond in which to raise their young – just not in my backyard!

For more information, see Grant C. Sizemore, Martin B. Main, and Elise V. Pearlstine’s Florida's Wading Birds, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw309. 

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Bedding Plants 101: How to Prepare and Plant a Flower Bed, Part III

Master Gardener Shelly Stein offers the third of a three-part series on how to prepare and plant a flower bed.

In January I walked around West Park Village and The Greens in search of a bare bed in order to photograph the process of preparing and planting a flower bed. The good news was that there were plenty to be found. The bad news was that there shouldn’t have been! January is smack-dab in the middle of our cool season, which has many more options for flowers than the current warm season.

My neighbors Seth and Ileana Ravenna graciously allowed me to use their front yard. (See photo: “victims’ house”). Before I even got started, I had some considerations. In the winter, the front gets no direct sunlight. In the late spring and summer, it will get about a half day of sunlight, so I needed a plant that can take shade and partial sun. Seth said that the bed tends to be soggy, not unusual for some homes, so they also needed plants that don’t mind wet feet. They also reported some problems with snails, again not unusual for a shaded, moist bed. Last, they needed a low-maintenance plant that would last through summer since they, like me, only like to plant twice annually. Their house is dark brown so I selected a saturated color – a red-orange begonia. Snails love them but the Ravennas know how to deal with them. I also bought some orange geraniums for a small spot in a corner of the bed that receives more constant sun.

The first step was to prepare the soil. I raked back the mulch and took a good look. Money-saving tip: You don’t need to get rid of old mulch unless you are fighting a plant disease. Reuse old mulch and place a thin layer of new mulch on top to make it look fresh. Seth and Ileana’s soil looked good: it had a lot of organic matter from prior years of planting, worms, grubs and few weeds. Insects, in general, are a sign of healthy soil. About 90 percent of the bugs you see in your yard are beneficial. If you dig up a grub, however, it is best to relocate it since they tend to feed on roots.

The next step was to amend the soil. The rule of the green thumb here is to “feed the soil and not the plants.” Each year when you plant your flowers, top-dress with two to three inches of composted cow manure or some other organic amendment. The Ravennas’ bed took only three bags of manure for a whopping $6, which is much cheaper than plant food! I poured the manure on the bed and raked it over the soil. When the holes are dug, the manure gets turned into the soil.

Next, I estimated the number of plants I needed by pre-spacing. From the plant label, I knew that begonias should be planted eight to ten inches apart. Since I am both cheap and patient, I went with 10 inches. I used my favorite method for spacing, much to the chagrin of my husband; I use his white poker chips to determine spacing and placement. Another method I sometimes use is to dig all of the holes first to eyeball plant arrangement and to approximate the number of plants I need to purchase.

When I purchased the flowers, I looked for plants that were compact and not leggy and which had more buds than blooms. I also picked plants with moist soil. (Tip: If there are any small flies around the flowers, tell the nursery and look elsewhere for your flowers.) Before I planted, I watered the flower pots well and waited 15 minutes so the soil in the pot became moist. (Tip: Never plant flowers in a wet bed since it ruins the soil structure.) When digging, I went wider and not deeper. The top of the root-ball was even with the soil – never under the soil. I planted some foxtail fern in their porch planters to finish off the look. These ferns are very hardy, can take full sun or shade and tolerate near-drought conditions. Total cost for the manure, 104 begonias (they came in eight-packs), three geraniums, two foxtail fern and slug bait: $88.

Once they were planted, I watered the flowers well and instructed the Ravennas to do this every day for two weeks. After that, they watered every other day for two weeks, and then reduced it to two to three times a week depending on the weather. My final instructions before I went home: mulch as needed, fertilize with a coated, slow-release fertilizer every two to three months and keep an eye out for pests.

Insects will always be around, but if there are too many, try hand-picking first, insecticidal soap second, insecticidal oil third, and then visit the kill aisle at the local hardware store as a last resort. Always check the labels (even with insecticidal soap) to make sure your flowers will tolerate the treatment.

Now the flowers in the Ravennas’ yard have filled in nicely. To my surprise, the geraniums around the crape myrtle are looking the best. That’s what we call the “right plant for the right place.’’

Thank you, Seth and Ileana, for allowing me to use your yard as a case study!

Happy gardening!

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Bedding Plants 101: How to Prepare and Plant a Flower Bed, Part II

Master Gardener Shelly Stein offers the second of a three-part series on how to prepare and plant a flower bed.

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are perfect advice for most gardening decisions. When it comes to choosing flowers for your garden beds, keep it simple! First consider the layout of your bed, the style of your home and the color scheme.
Bed layout. Done! The best part about planting a flower bed in Westchase is that our beds are already “made.” Most of us plant flowers in an existing bed of shrubs around our home. Some of us will choose to expand the bed a bit to accommodate more flowers. (You do, however, need approval from the Westchase Modifications Committee to expand your beds.)

With all of the rules, you might wonder how and why things go wrong. The number one rule that I wish people would remember is: Keep the taller plants in the back and the shorter plants in the front. Duh! As I said last week, read the plant tags and trust that information. A cute little flax lily, for example, grows into quite a monster after a couple of seasons.

Style. Once you decide on your style, go with it! Some recognized garden styles are tropical, using bright and hot colors; cottage, with pastel, spring colors; and contemporary, using unusual colors. Thank goodness that there is no “fashion police” when it comes to garden style. If you stay true to one style, however, you are less likely to make mistakes. If you have a picket fence in your yard, the cottage garden style or the tropical garden will look great but not both at once! 

Color. Leading thinkers in history have studied color. Sir Isaac Newton developed the color wheel and Leonardo da Vinci developed color theory to explain the relationship of color in nature. According to color theory, colors have properties that can affect emotions, spatial perception and focal points in the landscape. For example, yellow is a cheerful color but also a focal point, so it should be used sparingly.

All Westchase homes have shrubs around their foundation, which would make Da Vinci proud. He would say that this is perfect backdrop for any flower. Da Vinci would also say that when choosing flowers, saturated or bright colors look best together as do pastels. Everyone has a favorite color, which is a good place to start. Look around the ’hood for examples of what you like and snap a photo for your next trip to the garden center. I often find my inspiration from the plantings at the entrance of our various Westchase neighborhoods.

Gardening mistakes are only temporary. When it comes to style, people know what they like when they see it. So, if you are inspired to try a new flower in your garden, go for it! If you make a mistake, no worries! Unlike our shrubs and trees, flowers are relatively short-lived. They will need to be replaced eventually and you can try something new. Additionally, bedding flowers are generally cheap. Lucky for my husband, I get just as excited buying a $9 flat of flowers at the nursery as I do shopping at Nordstrom’s shoe sale. If I make a mistake with my flower choice, I can chalk that up to experience and try something else next time without breaking the bank.

Next month, I’ll provide a case study in flower beds from my neighbor’s house.

Until then, read: Color in the Landscape: Finding Inspiration for a Color Scheme. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP42500.pdf

Correction

Accompanying last month’s Master Gardener column was a photo of lantana that the editor mislabeled as verbena. WOW’s masterful master gardener has set the editor straight. He profoundly regrets the error.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Bedding Plants 101: How to Prepare and Plant a Flower Bed

This month Master Gardener Shelly Stein kicks off a three-part series on how to prepare and plant a flower bed.

I recently developed a talk on preparing and planting flower beds in response to requests from neighbors attending the monthly Master Gardening workshops, held the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the UTB Regional Library. The great thing about gardening is that there is always something new to learn. Since I learn by doing, I have vowed to never plant the same bedding plant in my front yard until I have tried everything suitable for that area. I currently have petunias up front and I’ll plant caladiums in the summer. 

There are a variety of warm and cool-season flowers to add color to our Central Florida gardens. Most transplants from the northern states automatically think of springtime as prime planting season. When it comes to bedding plants, more variety exists in our cool-season than our warm-season flowers. Summers come early, hit hard and bring the trifecta of heat, bugs and disease. Yet some good choices for summer flowers are available and nurseries are constantly improving plant varieties to withstand our brutal summers.

There are, however, four basic types of flowering plants for use in our gardens: annuals, biennials, perennials and bulbs.

When most people think of flowers, they think of annuals. Annuals complete their lifecycles in one growing season and include coleus, impatiens, marigolds, zinnias, Madagascar vinca − and most seasonal flowers found in the big box home and garden stores. When we have warm winters or cool summers, even our more tender annuals will remain alive for several years before they succumb to old age, bugs, disease or neglect. Often, they reseed themselves and your garden is graced with “volunteer” seedlings. For an extensive list of annuals suited for our gardens, see Gardening with Annuals in Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg319

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Another type of flower is the biennial, which completes its lifecycle in a two growing seasons. There aren’t nearly as many biennials used in Central Florida beds but some include sweet William, hollyhocks and parsley.

Last are perennials, which include anything that lives over two years, including trees and shrubs. Small flowering plants that grow and bloom in the cool or warm seasons here are known as herbaceous perennials. In cold winters these plants might die back to their roots and then re-emerge as the ground warms. Under ideal conditions, some of these can grow into large, woody bushes, so be sure to consider their mature heights before you plant. Examples of perennials are penta, salvias, verbena, daylily, lantana and firebush. For an extensive list of perennials, see Gardening with Perennials in Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg035

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Another plant that acts like a perennial is a bulb. Bulbs suited to our climate will emerge, bloom and then usually die back so the bulb can regenerate for the next blooming cycle. Examples include amaryllis, caladium, gladiolus and spider lily. Bulbs for Florida is an excellent publication providing helpful information on growing bulbs suited for Central Florida. See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/mg/mg02900.pdf

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Right Plant for the Right Place

There are six considerations for any flower you choose to plant. This information is found on the care and maintenance plant label − the tag found in or on the pot or plant itself.

The first thing you will usually see is a description of the plant and its growth habits. It’s often difficult to know what mature plants will look like, so most plant tags now allow you to use your smartphone to scan a code. This takes you to a Web site with more plant information, including photos of the mature plant.

The second consideration is the bloom season. The plant tag offers a general guide since nurseries distribute plants around the country. Be sure to consult the provided gardening Web site guides for more accurate Central Florida information.

Third, determine the plant’s light requirements, usually illustrated on the tag by a graphic showing a sun with varying amounts of shading. Light requirements are critical; certain plants need a certain amount of sun to photosynthesize properly. For example, if you plant a sun-loving geranium in the shade, it will look good for about a month before it will eventually drop blooms and fizzle out. Note that many shade plants, such as the begonia, can take some morning sun or even full sun in the winter but they’ll suffer if they receive our harsh summer afternoon sun.

Fourth, it’s paramount to consider a plant’s size. Trust that the plant will eventually grow to the height and width indicated and that if you want it smaller, you will have to prune continually. When you prune a flowering plant, you often lose blooms. There are, however, some plants that do better with light pruning or deadheading spent flowers. Among these are roses, geraniums, marigolds, zinnia, and dianthus, but this rarely affects the overall mature size of the plant.

Fifth, the suggested plant spacing is another important tidbit of information. Overcrowding your plants will stress them and will invite pests and disease. To determine proper spacing, measure plants from the center of each plant.

Last, the tag will include some information on watering requirements. For most of us, our bedding plants will be watered when we irrigate our lawns. Keep this in mind along with how well the bed drains once watered. If you have soggy soil, your choice of bedding plants will be more limited or you can raise your bed by adding soil to help the water drain properly.

Note, however, that the tag’s instructions indicate water requirements once the plants are established.  To establish a bedding plant properly, you will need to water them at least once daily for two weeks, then every other day for two weeks and every third day for two additional weeks until you reach the plant’s indicated water requirements. Once established, many flowers do fine being watered as little as once or twice a week in more mild weather. In the heat of summer and in our cooler, windy months, however, keep an eye out for wilting, a sign they need water. Heat and wind lead to more water transpiration, so watering requirements may change from season to season.

Next month I will discuss choosing flowers based on height, color scheme, and style. Until then, visit a nursery and read the tags.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Roses for Springtime

As Shakespeare wrote, “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet!”

What’s in a name? When it comes to the panama rose, plenty!

The panama rose (Rondeletia leucophylia) or bush penta is a large, pink-flowering shrub easily grown in Central Florida. It is one of best winter-flowering shrubs in my garden. The panama rose flowers are small, penta-like clusters of tightly packed tubular blooms. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds with nectar at a time when little else is in bloom. At night it has an incredibly sweet fragrance akin to gardenias. This isn’t surprising because panama roses are in the same family as the gardenia – rubiaceae. I planted a panama rose in my side yard two years ago and it bloomed prolifically up until June–August when it only held a few, sporadic flowers.

The panama rose is a large shrub growing three to five feet high on average and approximately four feet wide if not pruned. This pretty, evergreen bush naturally keeps a nice, rounded shape. I have a neighbor, Judy, who complains that her lawn service prunes hers too neatly but they still bloom nicely, nonetheless.

Grown indoors or outdoors, the panama rose can take full sun to part shade. It’s also cold hardy in all but the worst winters. If it freezes to the ground in one of our odd, cold winters, prune off the dead growth and new shoots will reappear in late spring. Since the panama rose is native to Panama and Cuba, it is considered a tropical. Even so, it has average water requirements and does not like to be over-watered, so it should do well in the average landscape. If, like me, you are cheap, you will be happy to know that it is easy to make cuttings. So once you have one, don’t prune – share!

Annual Bedding Plants 101: How to Prepare and Plant a Beautiful Display

Do you want a beautiful display of annual flowers this spring? If so, come to the March 13 Master Gardening workshop at the Upper Tampa Bay Library to learn how! Our talk, Annual Bedding Plants 101, will be held 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday March 13.

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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2013 New Year’s Resolutions for Westchase Gardeners

To kick off your New Year with a green thumb, here are some New Year’s resolutions for you!

I will plant a bulb. Who said that you can’t grow bulbs in Florida? Try planting crinum, agapanthus and gloriosa lily bulbs or transplant that beautiful amaryllis bulb that was a holiday gift from Aunt Joan. For more information, see: Bulbs for Florida (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg029).

I will protect my plants. Frost or freezes are likely this month and next. With this in mind be ready to cover tender plants to minimize damage. See: Cold Protection of Ornamental Plants (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg025).

I will not make the same mistake twice. If your plants do freeze, resist the temptation to plant that same species again. See: Cold Hardy Plant List for Central Florida: http://centralfloridagardener.blogspot.com/p/cold-hardy-plants.html

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I will not commit crape murder (or palm murder). Hard pruning of crapemyrtles and palms is rarely required. See: Crapemyrtle in Florida (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg266), Pruning Palms
(https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep443) and Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg087).

I will attend at least one Master Gardening talk at the Upper Tampa Bay Library. Expand your green horizon and learn from our gardening successes and failures. I hope to see you at the Upper Tampa Bay Library for one of our gardening talks this year!

Master Gardener Talks

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to develop a green thumb, be sure to attend the monthly Master Gardening talks at the Upper Tampa Bay Library, located at 11211 Countryway Blvd. Each month, the library hosts extension agents and master gardeners who speak on various gardening topics. Each talk is on a Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 9: Cynthia Glover presents Caladiums.
Florida is second only to Thailand as the world’s biggest producer of caladium bulbs and plants. Learn how and where to plant the colorful caladium to enjoy in your garden for years to come.

Feb. 13: Gary Martin presents Succulents and Cacti 101.
Learn where and how to grow plants that have few natural enemies and thrive in drought conditions. The variety and beauty of this plant species are astounding!

March 13: Shelly Stein presents Annual Bedding Plants for Central Florida: The Basics.
This workshop will describe how to prepare a planting bed and to choose the right plant for your yard’s conditions. You will be amazed at how little it costs to plant a dazzling display of color each year!

April 10: Verna Dickey presents Bromeliads.
Bromeliads are a natural selection for any Florida landscape. The colorful bromeliad not only serves as a low maintenance houseplant, but it also provides year-round color in the landscape.

May 8: Adrienne DiNesco and Carol Fanelli present Garden of Bright Ideas.
These experienced gardeners share their tips for creating a colorful and low maintenance garden. They provide practical advice and whimsical ideas to make your garden bright!

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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A Healthy Lawn is a Hardy Lawn

One of the great challenges to Westchase life is maintaining a healthy, green lawn.

According to Westchase deed restrictions, St. Augustine grass is the groundcover required in homeowners’ front yards. There are numerous varieties or cultivars of this grass. On my street alone, I might be able to identify three to four cultivars, including a wide-leaved variety such as “Floratam” and a thin-leaved variety such as “Captiva.” There are even shade tolerant and dwarf cultivars, the latter of which requires less mowing.

The advantage of St. Augustine grass is that it is well-adapted to most Florida soils and climates. It establishes quickly and easily and may be planted as sod, sprigs or plugs. As with most turfgrasses, St. Augustine grass has certain problems, however. Mainly, it is relatively costly to maintain and it might turn brown in the winter after exposure to cold. Later, when it emerges from dormancy, it will grow and turn green again.

Like most turfgrasses, St. Augustine grass requires water to remain green and healthy. This means significant supplemental irrigation during extended dry periods such as Florida’s winter. Westchase is lucky because our reclaimed water is provided at a low, fixed cost.

St. Augustine grass also has relatively poor wear tolerance. It does not hold up to repeated foot or vehicular traffic. This is especially apparent in the winter months, when brownish, thinner patches of turfgrass emerge where kids congregate at the bus stops.

Depending on growing conditions, the grass may turn a brown or tan color until springtime. Another disadvantage is that the dead leaves produce thatch, a health problem that can also develop after excessive fertilizing and watering.

St. Augustine grass has coarse, wide leaves and stems and therefore does not grow as densely as some other species. Its major insect pest is the chinch bug, which can cause considerable damage. They’re often the cause of browning on the lawn’s edges by the driveway, curb or sidewalk, where chinch bugs congregate due to warmth. A chinch bug infestation needs to be treated.

Weed control can also be challenging, particularly when trying to control persistent, grassy weeds. When your turfgrass is stressed in the winter, weeds are more likely to take root.

In our Central Florida winters, keeping a green St. Augustine lawn means either dedicating a lot of time, effort and money or overseeding the lawn with an annual grass such as ryegrass. Since everyone wants to have a green, beautiful lawn, it’s important that we not slack off lawn care in the winter time. We should be mulching and fertilizing and watering. Of all the plants in your yard, turfgrass requires the most care, so be prepared to work hard or to pay someone to do it for you. The key to maintaining a green turfgrass lawn in the winter is proper fertilization.

Like us, plants need carbohydrates to thrive. Carbohydrates accumulate in a plant through the process of photosynthesis, which allows plants to convert sunlight into energy. This energy is either immediately used by the plant or stored for future use. If your turfgrass has ample energy stored as carbohydrates, it will help your lawn to grow and remain healthy almost year-round. Carbohydrates are vital to protecting your lawns from stresses from cold and drought.

Carbohydrate levels are protected through proper fertilization. When excess nitrogen is applied, the resulting growth surge consumes much of the stored carbohydrates, so the turf has a harder time recovering from stress. If excess fertilizer is applied late in the growing season, spring growth can also be delayed or reduced. Turf density will also decrease, giving weeds a greater chance to invade.

Lawn care can be quite technical due to fertilization requirements. Other nutrients also influence stress tolerance in lawns. Potassium (K) has been shown to alleviate stress, including the effects of cold temperatures, drought and traffic. An autumn application of half to one pound of potassium per 1,000 square feet will encourage earlier and faster spring green-up.
Be sure to irrigate and fertilize according to University of Florida guidelines. (See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP110 and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/TOPIC_BOOK_Florida_Lawn_Handbook_3rd_ed.)

To protect St. Augustine grass from frost, mow at highest possible height. Some lawn services like to “scalp” lawns at the beginning of the winter slow-growing season so they don’t have to come out as often. This approach allows the winter sun to warm the soil, which helps to germinate winter weed seeds. In general, the higher the grass, the deeper the roots will be. Deep roots increase a grass' chances of surviving stresses like cold and traffic. Mowing below the recommended height reduces the grass' ability to photosynthesize and forces the grass to put energy reserves into re-growth. (For more information on mowing heights see http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LH028)

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As much as possible, protect your lawn from stress. Avoid excessive or repeated traffic over the turf, whether the traffic is from humans, pets or vehicles. (See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP071)

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Further, reduce shade if possible or grow a cultivar or ground-cover plant that is more appropriate than turfgrass for areas of heavy shade. (See http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep072 and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep226.) Be sure to request approval from our Modifications Committee before replacing turfgrass in your front yard.

The bottom line is that if we want a beautiful expanse of green grass, we need to maintain its health. A healthy lawn is a hardy lawn. A healthy lawn will look green for most of the time, but not all of the time. In general, wait until after the last frost to resod, generally in February or March. In the long run a healthy lawn will require fewer applications of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides, protecting your family, pets and the environment.

To maintain a healthy lawn follow the guidelines found on the Your Florida Lawn Web site (http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/yourfloridalawn) and in The Florida Lawn Handbook (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/features/handbooks/floridalawn.html).

On April 11 at 7 p.m. at the Upper Tampa Bay Library, Master Gardener Jim Hawk will talk about Lawn Care for Central Florida. Hawk will offer a lot of information on turfgrass varieties and each of their pros and cons.

Happy Gardening!

Master Gardener Plant Clinic

This month’s Master Gardening Plant Clinic will be held on Wednesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at the Upper Tampa Bay Library. In their presentation, A New Take on Topiaries, Master Gardeners Carol Fanella and Adrienne DeNisco will discuss the creation and care of easy and fun topiaries.

By Shelly Stein

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Westchase Cup Golf Tournament April 7

Round up your neighborhood team, grab your clubs and join us for the ninth annual Westchase Cup Golf Tournament!

The annual event, scheduled for Saturday, April 7, at 1:30 p.m. at the Westchase Golf Course, benefits the Westchase Charitable Foundation (WCF). All golf enthusiasts, novices, experts or wanna-bes are encouraged to register for a day of great golf, prizes and food. 

The tournament will feature a team scramble format with prizes awaiting all contest winners, as well as awards for team scores in three flighted divisions.  All players and teams, regardless of skill level, have some chance to win. Like years past, all players will receive an awesome player gift package. The tournament also features many on-course vendors and a $25,000 hole-in-one prize. 

We do expect a full field and a sold out event again for this year, so if you’re interested in participating, please register today with either Jeff from Professional Golf Events at (615) 480-4743 or jeffpge@bellsouth.net or WCF Tournament Chair Craig Gordon at 503-0124.

All proceeds benefit the mission of the Westchase Charitable Foundation (WCF).  “Every year our tournament gains more popularity as more and more people in our community become familiar with what the foundation does.  It’s an excellent opportunity for individuals and local businesses to demonstrate their support for the WCF,” said WCF President Sean O’Donnell.

The WCF is a 501(c)3 non-profit public charity that financially assists families battling a serious illness or facing a family tragedy.

WCF Golf Committee Chair Craig Gordon remarked, “We totally rely on contributions from people in our community to help families in need. We’re a 100-percent volunteer board. Our supporters have always been extremely generous in their giving to the WCF. And we hope this year’s tournament will be no different.”

The WCF relies on fund-raising to support families in the Tampa community. The foundation does not receive any state or federal funding. Since inception, WCF has raised and donated more than $150,000 to families in need throughout Tampa Bay.

By Ronda Woble

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Where Our Flowers Come From

One of my favorite things about being a Master Gardener is going on field trips for my recertification. 

A few months ago more than 26 Master Gardeners attended a field trip to one of Riverview Flower Farm’s nurseries. Riverview Flower Farm happens to be the largest supplier of bedding plants for Home Depot south of the panhandle. The farm sells their plants on consignment and then takes back all of the plants that don’t sell and composts them.  The store with the largest volume of flower sales (meaning daily deliveries) is the Northdale Home Depot.

Riverview Flower Farm owner Rick Brown provided a tour of his farm, which offered the Master Gardeners a wealth of information.

Today’s nurseries sell plants at a much lower cost than they were able to do 30 years ago.
Technology and automation have created large commercial growers who deal in volume.  Riverview Flower Farms is a good example. The farm runs five nurseries in the area.  The one we visited near Seffner was one of the smaller ones. It featured approximately six acres of greenhouses on 26 acres of property.

During our tour we saw some very interesting contraptions for potting, watering and trimming plants – all operated by a skeleton crew of workers.

Most of the annual bedding plants we see for sale come from cuttings from California, Costa Rica, Brazil, Israel and Guatemala. Most, however, come from Mexico. The nursery functions on a monorail system; Dutch benches make it easy to move hundreds of potted plants.  Growing conditions are managed with air circulating fans, micro-irrigation, and luminous shade cloth/lighting.

While in each greenhouse, we noticed a constant movement around us from the shades, windows and misters. All of them are automated and operated by computerized sensors.  Rick says that he is able to monitor all of this at home via computer to handle any emergencies, such as an unexpected chill or power outage.

The plants are pampered in this very high tech environment for about six weeks until they are ready for sale.   It is therefore no surprise that the bedding plants in the local garden center look so perfectly healthy.  I almost feel sorry they have to come home with the likes of me to learn to fend for themselves in my garden!

One thing we noticed is there were no insects. Rick explained that fungus gnats, thrips and shore flies are common problems in greenhouse and nursery operations. The farm uses a biological means of control in the form of microscopic, beneficial nematodes; the nematodes attack the fungus gnat and thrip larvae. Thrips become more of a problem when the Citrus are in bloom.
According to Rick, the most popular bedding plants in Florida (based on sales) are pentas.  Research has shown that white flowers produce as much nectar as red pentas.

As a grower, what are Rick’s predictions? He believes we will have a mild winter. He also believes succulents and vertical gardening are going to continue to grow in popularity.
Breeders are constantly improving plants by creating bigger flower heads, better branching habits and brighter colors. Among other modifications they also strive to create more disease-resistant plants.

It was interesting to hear how nurserymen trick our holiday chrysanthemums, poinsettias and kalanchoe into blooming by exposing them to bright light from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for two-week intervals.  This makes sure that there is a constant supply each week for the stores.

We also saw and learned about some newer plants to keep an eye out for this spring: 

Wendy’s Wish

This is a patented Salvia hybrid. A portion of its sale proceeds will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.  For a look, go to http://www.floridafriendlyplants.com/plant_database_results.asp?KeyWrds=wendy

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Red Flame Ivy (Hemigaphis alternata)

Planted pot-in-pot, this ivy can line your front walkways. Rick noted the most popular landscape color is purple.

Pink Ruellia

Expect to see a two-tone, pink, sterile Ruellia scheduled for early release. Read the UF/IFAS 2009-2010 FNGLA Endowed Research Fund Final Report, Breeding sterile and non-invasive Ruellia cultivars, at http://hort.ufl.edu/people/pdf/freyre-fngla.pdf

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Snow Princess

Keep an eye out for a perennial, heat-tolerant alyssum called Snow Princess. At the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Plant City, Snow Princess is being used as a banker plant around Knock-Out Roses to control chili thrips. To learn more about banker plants, please visit http://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/lso/banker/Using-Bankers.html

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SunPatiens

SunPatiens – a more sun-tolerant version of impatiens – will be in garden centers this spring. For more information see http://www.vivagarden.com/flowers/sunpatiens/index.html

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Master Gardener Plant Clinic


This month’s Master Gardening Plant Clinic will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. at the Upper Tampa Bay Library.  Carol Fanella and Adrienne DeNisco will present Veggies in the Landscape.  Have fun incorporating vegetables in small and unique places in your garden!  Learn what types of vegetables grow best in Central Florida. Fanella and DeNisco will discuss where and when to plant them and how to maintain them.

By Shelly Stein; Photos by Kathy Carlsen

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and would love to hear about your garden at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Gardening on the Wild Side

If most gardening strikes you as too tame, Glencliff’s Kathy Carlsen has the solution.

Carlsen has dedicated her entire backyard to raising plants to feed and attract wildlife, mainly butterflies and birds. She credits her green thumb to her grandfather, who was a gardener for the Wyndham, the Rosa Anne Grosvener’s House in Newport, Rhode Island. Kathy has honed her own gardening skills over the years as she loves being outdoors walking, golfing and gardening. She says that one of the best places to learn about gardening is to visit the USF Botanical Gardens and ask lots of questions.

Last year in her yard Kathy started a Florida native section, which will mainly bloom from spring to fall. The Carlsens receive compliments from golfers who pass by. It’s no wonder why! Their backyard is a vegetative oasis of everything but turf grass. It includes a variety of birdfeeders, birdbaths and other creative elements where birds and butterflies can perch.

Some common birds in her garden include Carolina chickadees, winter wrens, doves, blue jays, woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. Of the many birds she sees, Kathy says that the tufted titmice and cardinals are the most interesting to watch as they feed their young. For bird feed, she uses wild bird seed mixed with extra sunflower seed and suet blocks – although Kathy reports more racoons being attracted to that feeder than birds. Kathy also avoids corn since it attracts deer and other unwanted visitors. Open feeders reportedly work best. In her garden I also spotted a platform feeder, which must have been for the doves. Doves approaching a feeder look like they are making an aircraft carrier landing.

The butterflies that frequent the garden include the monarch, zebra long wing, Viceroy, Gulf fritillary, sulphurs, skippers, red admirals and zebra swallowtails. The Carlsens attract Zebra Swallowtails with parsley and dill. There is also salvia, passion vine, coreopsis, verbena, bee balm, and duranta as sources for nectar.

For years the Carlsens raised monarch pupae in screened cages with milkweed to observe their life cycle and then released them when they became butterflies. Kathy’s advice for host plants is to take care to avoid invasive plants and go to a certified Florida native nursery for advice.

To learn more about landscaping backyards for wildlife, see the University of Florida’s publication, Top Ten Tips for Success at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw175 Anoth.er source, titled Getting Started in Butterfly Gardening, can be found at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in564

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To identify butterflies that you might spot in your garden, try the Florida Butterfly Database Project at http://www.butterflydatabase.com

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Happy gardening!

Master Gardener Plant Clinic

Join us on Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Upper Tampa Bay Library for Master Gardener Jim Hawk’s presentation, Dooryard Fruit for Central Florida. Hawk will introduce various tropical fruits to the home gardener and discuss which cultivars do best in Hillsborough County. He will discuss the pros and cons of each and delve into how the fruit is used.

By Shelly Stein; Photos by Kathy Carlsen

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and would love to hear about your garden at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Tan’s Inspirational Garden

As a runner, I have either run or walked by every house in our neighborhood. One stopped me in my tracks last month.

Located at 9630 Gretna Green Dr., the home had such an outstanding Halloween-themed garden that you couldn’t help but stop and look. Homeowner Tan Nguyen was out sweeping his meticulously clean sidewalk and I asked him if I could come the next day and take some pictures. He graciously agreed.

As you can see, Tan’s Halloween display was extraordinary! He said that the display was developed over the course of seven weeks in a “series of phases.” I am going to steal that phrase: I am in Phase I of laying mulch, which means that it has been sitting in my driveway in bags for the past two weeks. But I digress.

From the glowing pumpkin to the hand-crafted wreaths, everything Tan does is handmade. What motivates him is that he finds gardening to be a relaxing and creative outlet. Tan works from home for IBM and, like so many of us, he’s tethered to his computer for much of the day. Gardening is his excuse to get some fresh air outside and to exercise his other talents.

By the time this edition of the WOW is published, Tan will have spent approximately 16 hours over two weekends to prepare his Christmas display. In December 2009, it even won an honorable mention in WOW’s Holiday Decorating Contest, which is no surprise.

Every year he creates a different theme based on colors. Last year, he said that his theme was pink and that he received a lot of compliments from neighbors. This year, he plans on a red theme. After the New Year Tan will begin planning his next display for the spring.

If you feel that you need some holiday or gardening inspiration, I encourage you to stop by Tan Nguyen’s house.  Obviously he has a talent for creating a beautiful landscape display.

For those of us who need some more inspiration, I suggest two excellent articles from the University of Florida’s Electronic Database: Color in the Landscape: Finding Inspiration for a Color Theme ( http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep425) and Landscape Design: Arranging Plants in the Landscape (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep449).

Happy gardening! (And if you see someone running by your garden gawking, just wave and say hi!)

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and would love to hear about your garden at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Bridges’ Backyard a Feast for the Eyes

Anyone who admits to handpicking the stones for her garden is a woman after my own heart!

In addition to stones, Barbara Davis’ colorful garden in The Bridges has many beautiful features. It is truly a feast for the eyes!

As with all gardens, Barbara’s is unique in both its appearance and purpose.

Barbara has lived in Westchase for nine years and became inspired to begin serious gardening several years ago by a neighborhood couple who also have a lovely yard. Barbara says that gardening is her favorite “therapeutic workout.” Like most gardeners, she doesn’t mind working up a sweat and she claims that trimming shrubs is great for the arms. Her favorite chore is digging holes for planting and you can tell she does this often!

Like many avid gardeners, you can see that Barbara’s garden has a wide variety of plant species. Her colorful bedding plants in the front yard create a beautiful display. The best part of the garden, however, is in the backyard. Barbara’s backyard is truly an extension of her home. As you walk out of the back lanai with lush tropical foliage and bird cages, you are amazed by her back patio and the festive atmosphere of the yard. The backyard is full of garden whimsy: artistically arranged pots, bright flowers, painted pavers and some garden art. The Davises enjoy entertaining on their back patio and Barbara says that she loves the look on the faces of guests when they step off of her back porch into it. She is most proud of her bright cala lilies and sunflowers that border the backyard. 

Many gardeners enjoy decorating their gardens with planters and other artistic objects to express their unique sense of style and humor. Some folks like a lush tropical theme; others prefer manicured shrubs and lawn. For some, it’s all about roses. Others may like a more natural and untamed setting to attract wildlife. As a Master Gardener, I have had the privilege to visit many beautiful gardens around Tampa. Almost every style of garden includes some form of ornament or whimsy tucked here or there. Whether the gardener can still find it is another issue!

While many husbands complain about their wives’ spending on clothes, Barbara’s husband complains about her gardening expenses. I am sure, however, that her mandevilla vines and recycled bottle tree are a bit less expensive than Gucci.

The bright-colored glass of  her bottle tree refracts sunlight, dappling the surrounding foliage. Guests wonder if the bottle of vino they share on the patio may one day grace the garden border. It is truly an impressive display! The bottle tree is a garden whimsy staple that I have seen in Europe, Africa and Central America.

Before you remodel your own front yard, be sure to submit your plan to the Modifications Committee for approval. Because of our covenants, garden whimsy is best left as Barbara has it – in the backyard.

For a great blog sharing views on garden whimsy, check out: http://www.gardeninggonewild.com/?p=1398 Anoth.er great site for examples and how-to’s for ornamental container gardening, try: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/containergardening/whimsy.cfm

Have fun gardening!

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and would love to hear about your garden at skstein2003@yahoo.com.

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Woodbay Couple Enjoys “Remodeling” their Garden

What motivates a gardener? The need to exercise? The love of nature?

Or is a garden a creative outlet or a way to relax?
For most gardeners, it is a combination of all of these things.

In May, I asked WOW readers to submit the names of Westchase gardeners with exceptional or unique yards. Over the summer, I had the pleasure to visit and photograph three of gardens, which I will highlight in months to come. Each was unique in appearance and purpose.

The first featured yard is that of Larry Bedgood and Gwen Sparer of 9903 Woodbay Drive. The submitted nomination for their yard said, “If you take a walk around the whole yard, you will see beautiful flowers, trees and even planters around the pool. Everybody that walks by the house stops and admires the hard work involved.”

The couple moved to Westchase in 1996 and Larry became an avid gardener as exercise per the advice of his physician. Larry and Gwen estimate that the yard contains over 3,000 plants and numerous species.

The yard has evolved into a series of large annual beds and 22 palm trees that provide a dappled shade. The large beds currently contain 252 annual vinca, annual salvia, bush daisy, marigold (which reseeds itself annually), and caladium, which emerge each year from underground tubers.

In the winter, the same beds contain pansies, pentas and petunias. Besides large flower beds, the yard has an amazing variety of other flowering plants and tropicals. These run along the back and sides of the home as well as inside the lanai. It is truly an impressive display!

Larry estimates that he spends about ten hours each week working in his yard, including daily weeding. His advice for anyone planting flower beds is to raise the beds by adding soil to make sure that there is adequate drainage. His tip for keeping a fresh-looking, green lawn is to seed it lightly with annual winter rye in the fall. This keeps the lawn looking lush in the cooler months and provides a natural source of nitrogen when the rye dies in the spring.

Larry and Gwen lament that every year they lose something to freeze damage. Like passionate gardeners throughout Central Florida, they are undeterred. Each year they begin anew, trying out new plants and flowers. Larry, who happens to be in the construction business, says that he enjoys trying new color combinations. He describes it as “remodeling” his garden.

I encourage you to drive by 9903 Woodbay to take a look sometime. The yard is truly impressive. Don’t be discouraged to try your own yard remodeling. Larry states, “If I can do it, anyone can do it!”

Before you remodel your own front yard, be sure to submit your plan to the Modifications Committee for approval. For more on similar remodeling ideas, visit http://www.floridayards.org/landscape/FYN-Handbook.pdf

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For more technical information on landscape design, including the choice of a design, the measurement of a site, and the use of color, visit http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/clce/news/hansen_alvarez.shtml

Happy remodeling!

By Shelly Stein

Master Gardener Shelly Stein is a resident of Village Green and can be reached at skstein2003@yahoo.com. Click here for a listing of the upcoming Master Gardener Clinics at the UTB Library.

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