Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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What is the black and red insect on my milkweed plant?

Milkweed_bug_University_of_KentuckyThanks for bringing in a sample of the insect as there are two very similar looking.  One is the Milkweed assassin bug and the other, the Giant Milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus.  Yours was the Giant Milkweed bug which feeds in milkweed plants, preferentially the fl
ower buds and seed pods, which are rich in nutrients. Oncopeltus fasicatus lives out its life on milkweed plants. Mating, egg-laying, development of larvae, and courtship all take place on milkweed plants. The primary food is milkweed seed, while the insects also feed on milkweed plant juices. The milkweed diet makes the bugs unpalatable and they tell predators to stay away with their combination of red and black coloring.  The species ranges from Ontario to South America, including the West Indies.

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What is the difference between the ground cover called Purple Heart and the purple colored plant called wandering jew?

Purple heart, Setcreasea pallid, is a perennial native to North America, can be grown in full sun to partial shade, and in a wide variety of soils. In north Florida, frost may kill back the tops, but it quickly returns in the spring. Set plants on 12-inch centers.  Plants will require initial watering until established and then will need watering only during periods of extended drought. Propagation is by stem cuttings, which root easily. This sprawling, evergreen ground cover produces deep purple foliage and stems when grown in full sun. It also cascades nicely over retaining walls and does well in a hanging basket. Purple heart produces small, pale pink flowers from the tips of stems and last only one morning.  No pests or diseases of major concern although mites and chewing insects may occasionally cPurple_heartause injury. Wandering jew, Zebrina pendula, is a totally different species, although it looks somewhat similar to Purple heart. It would be difficult to find a more colorful or faster-growing groundcover than wandering Jew. The purple-green leaves with broad, silvery stripes and purple undersides are produced along the succulent stems, which root wherever they touch soil. Small, insignificant, rose-pink flowers are produced among the leaves of wandering Jew all through the year. It is not native to North America, and will grow in a variety of soils but should be planted in partial to deep shade and receive regular watering. It is often used as an indoor plant or grown in hanging baskets. The cultivar ‘Purpusii’ has dark red or red-green, unstriped, hairy leaves. ‘Quadricolor’ has metallic-green leaves striped with green, red, and white. There is also a green and white cultivar available. Propagation is by stem cuttings, which root easily. As a review, Purple heart is native to North America and can be grown in full sun.  Wandering jew requires shade and is originally from Mexico.

Purple heart:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp549   wandering jew: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp620


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Are my grapes Scuppernong or muscadine?

Muscadine_grapeThe muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia Michx.) is native to the southeastern United States and was the first native grape species to be cultivated in North America. The natural range of muscadine grapes extends from Delaware to central Florida and occurs in all states along the Gulf Coast to east Texas. Muscadine grapes will perform well throughout Florida, although performance is poor in high alkaline soils or in soils with very poor drainage.  These grapes do not like to be in areas where water is likely to drain off slowly or near retention ponds. There are three species within the Muscadania subgenera (Vitis munsoniana, Vitis popenoei and Vitis rotundifolia ). Wild muscadine grapes are functionally dioecious meaning they have male and female vines.  Male vines account for the majority of the wild muscadine grape population. Muscadine grapes are late in breaking bud in the spring and require 100-120 days to mature fruit. Typically, muscadine grapes in the wild bear dark fruit with usually 4 to 10 fruit per cluster. Bronze-fruited muscadine grapes are also found in the wild, and they are often referred to as scuppernongs. There are hundreds of named muscadine grape cultivars from improved selections, and in fact, one that has been found in the Scuppernong river of North Carolina has been named Scuppernong. So to directly answer your question, not all muscadines are Scuppernong but all Scuppernongs are muscadines and yours is a muscadine.  How about that for a tongue twister! There are over 100 improved cultivars of muscadine grapes varying in size from 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 4 to 15 grams in weight. Skin color ranges from light bronze to pink to purple to black. Flesh is clear and translucent for all muscadine grape berries. One reason for the popularity of muscadine grapes is that they are a sustainable fruit crop in the southeastern United States. They are tolerant of insect and disease pests, and homeowners can successfully grow muscadine grapes without spraying any pesticides. For more complete information on planting, fertilization, pruning, etc. look over the following UF/IFAS publication:  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs100


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I found this pretty, lilac wildflower growing near a ditch in my neighborhood.  Can you tell me what it is and can I dig it up and plant it in my yard?

False Dragonhead

False Dragonhead

I consulted the University of Florida Herbarium to be sure my guess was correct and they agree the wildflower is probably a false dragonhead in the genus, PhysostegiaPhysostegia is from Greek physa “bladder” and stege “covering”, in reference to the somewhat inflated a calyx.  A calyx is the green leaf-like sepals which enclose the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud. Some species in this genus go by the name obedient-plant because the flowers remain temporarily in place when pushed to one side. False Dragonhead is best planted in rich, moist soil in full sun or light shade.  False Dragonhead has 1 inch tubular flowers tightly clustered in long spikes at the top of stems and grows wild in moist ground in prairies, edges of glades and along streams.  The leaves are opposite with toothed edges, up to 5 inches long, becoming smaller in size as the flower head develops. The stem is four-sided (roughly square in cross section,) as is typical of members of the mint family. False dragonhead is sometimes used as an ornamental and the “Obedient Plant” name really doesn’t apply to the plant in cultivated gardens as these plants can be aggressive colonizers. Regarding picking or removing wildflowers illegally from wildlife areas here is the USDA Forest service comment: “Almost all wildflowers are fragile and many wilt and perish soon after being picked. Over the years, the repercussions of wildflower picking by unthinking people go far beyond the loss of the flowers themselves. A critical chain of events is triggered for years to come once wildflowers are lost. We don’t often realize it, but wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals on a micro scale. Butterflies and other insects, small birds, and animals depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system. In addition, some pollinators are not very mobile or have very small home ranges or depend on just one species of plant and die once their habitat has been destroyed.” The complete article, “Wildflower Ethics and Native Plants”:  http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/


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I think I have rust on my figs, what should I do?

Fig Rust

Fig Rust

Fig rust, caused by the fungus Cerotelium fici (formerly Physopella fici), is the most common disease of figs in most regions of the southeastern U.S.  Fig rust occurs only on the leaves and does not affect the fruit directly. Rust generally develops late in the summer, and in years when disease is severe, it can cause the trees to defoliate in a matter of a few weeks. If this happens on a regular basis, the overall growth of the trees can be reduced and yields can be affected. Initially, symptoms of fig rust are visible as small, yellowish spots on the upper surface of the leaves. As these spots (or lesions) grow larger, they turn a reddish-brown color but remain relatively smooth. On the lower surface of the leaf, the lesions are a reddish-brown color and have a slightly raised, blister-like appearance. Heavily infected leaves often turn yellow or brown, particularly around the edges, and drop prematurely. There are no fungicides registered for use on edible figs in Florida so this is one of those conditions we call “grin and bear it.” It is important to remove and throw away infected leaves once they fall to the ground but little else can be done.


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We are trying to select trees to grow along the street areas of our homeowner association and were told not use Chinese elms as they can easily get uprooted during a storm.  What do you think?  Is that a true statement? 

Crape-myrtle

Crape-myrtle

We learned quite a few lessons after the four hurricanes came across Florida in 2004.  Chinese elms, along with Bradford pears, Leyland cypress, water and laurel oaks and the Washington fan palm are the least wind resistant in our area. The most resistant to the wind were dogwood, crape myrtle, holly (American, yaupon, dahoon), magnolia, oak (sand, live, turkey), bald cypress, podocarpus, sparkleberry, and some of the palms (Pindo, Canary Island Date, date, cabbage).  Our native winged elm fell into the medium resistance group along with Japanese maple, river birch, red bud, fringe tree, and several other oaks. Attached is the full list of high resistance to low resistance according to the area of Florida. However, it is important to keep all trees in the best health.  Even the strongest resistant trees can fall if the roots of the tree have been compromised by construction or other environmental factors.  Remember, do not allow mulch to pile up against the trunk of any tree or shrub as this can lead to water damage on the trunk and potentially introduce disease.  Over pruning or improper pruning, even if it is called “hurricane cutting”, may cause more damage and make the tree susceptible to failure.  Trees should not be shaped like gum drops, hat racks or lollipops.  Be sure to call a certified arborist when it is necessary for your trees to be pruned.

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR17300.pdf


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My bromeliad is starting to produce little plants off the side. Do I need to separate them from the original plant?

Bromeliad_pinquin

Bromeliad_pinquin

The growths are called offsets or pups. Bromeliads slowly die over a period of a year or two after flowering. However, several pups usually develop during the flowering cycle and usually emerge from the soil near the edge of the container. The pups should be separated from the mother plant after they have developed a small rosette or circle of leaves similar to the mother plant. To remove a pup, use a serrated knife, pruning shears or small saw. Push the knife blade into the growing medium, between the pup and mother plant, and cut through near the base of the mother plant. The young pup may or may not have developed a root system of its own, but there is no need to worry, the roots will come later. Add more potting medium to the area where the pup has been removed and transplant the newly cut pup into another pot. The mother plant, especially if helped along with a small amount of dilute fertilizer, will continue to produce pups until it dies. Pups should begin growing soon even without a strong root system. It is very important to not overwater as this is the most common mistake when propagating bromeliads. These plants will normally flower in 1 to 3 years. Propagation by vegetative means (pups) is by far the best and most satisfactory method for home gardeners. Bromeliads can be planted in the landscape in frost-free areas of the state or grown in containers which can be moved indoors in areas where freezes occur. Since bromeliads require minimal care, they are an asset in the landscape. Some bromeliads tolerate low temperatures. The graceful, spiny Bromelia pinguin survives north Florida conditions, provided it is grown in a protected area. However, extreme cold temperatures will scorch and injure it. As a general rule, the softer-leafed species need a higher temperature, while those with very hard, stiff leaves are much more tolerant of cold.