Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: I need some ideas on plants rabbits won’t eat.

Marsh RabbitA:  Unfortunately, if the animal is hungry enough they will eat most anything. They particularly like vegetable garden plants and most anything in the rose family which includes many of our fruit trees. However, there are a few plants rabbits seem to avoid such as agaves, aloes, Gaillardia spp., cucumber, shrimp plants, euphorbias, plumbago, rosemary, squash, verbena or yucca.  Now, I know someone will call me and tell me they know one of those plants listed was eaten by a rabbit, but remember, if the rabbits are hungry enough anything edible is susceptible. You can use one of the repellents which may help reduce or prevent rabbit damage. These products work by creating an unpleasant odor, taste, or stickiness.

 Apply repellents before damage occurs, and reapply them frequently, especially after a rain, heavy dew, or sprinkler irrigation or when new growth occurs. In all cases, follow the label directions for the repellent.

 The usefulness of repellents is limited. Most, except for some of the taste repellents, can’t be used on plants or plant parts humans eat. Repellents often fail when used in a vegetable garden even if the repellents are registered for use on edible crops. The story of Peter Rabbit should be a warning to us; rabbits will get into a garden – it is just too tempting. 


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Q: Can I grow cinnamon fern here?

Cinnamon Fern

Cinnamon Fern

A:   You certainly can grow the native cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, here in Northeast Florida.  Cinnamon fern has a compact, horizontal rhizome which is easy to grow but prefers moist to wet soil in sun or shade.  This is why you often see cinnamon fern growing in the swampy areas.  It may go dormant with dry soil and be slow to establish but it is a long-lived plant. One other important note – it is seldom damaged by deer. It can grow to about 2 feet tall but will die back in the winter.  It’s most distinctive feature is the bright cinnamon colored fertile fronds, produced in late spring which will die by mid-summer. 


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Q: What can you tell me about the muhly bamboo grass?

 

Bamboo Muhly

Bamboo Muhly

A:  I am hoping to have some Bamboo muhly, Muhlenbergia dumosa, at the Master Gardener plant sale on May 13.  Bamboo muhly blends the look of bamboo with the easy versatility of an ornamental grass. With its billowy, light green foliage, bamboo muhly can anchor a perennial bed, serve as a screen, or give height to a container planting.  The upright or arching stems can reach four to six feet tall, and the plant can reach up to five feet wide as the clump slowly spreads. Be sure to allow for the necessary spacing. Bamboo muhly is native to Arizona and northwestern Mexico and is somewhat drought tolerant, once the plant is established. This means it should not be planted under the eaves of houses if the eaves have no gutters. Bamboo muhly is usually evergreen, though the foliage will likely die back if the plant is exposed to freezing temperatures. If this happens, prune back the brown foliage just before growth starts in the spring. Older canes of bamboo muhly can also be removed periodically to give the plant a fresh look and to encourage new growth. It was one of the 2010 Florida Plants of the Year.


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Q: My husband says I am crazy but I believe I have seen a black pig in our neighborhood. Is that possible?

Wild Hogs

Wild Hogs

A:   You are not crazy and you most certainly could have seen a wild pig in the Northeast part of Florida.  There are indeed wild pigs in the Northeast Florida. Florida’s wild hogs are often referred to as feral hogs or swine and are of three general types. The first type is the free-ranging swine from domesticated stock, the second are the Eurasian wild boar, and the third are hybrids of the two.  Although technically the term “feral” refers to free-ranging animals descended from domesticated stock, all wild hogs are typically referred to as feral in Florida, whether they descend from wild boar or from domesticated stock. Likewise, all wild hogs in Florida are considered the same species, Sus scrofa. Wild hogs are in the family Suidae (true wild pigs), none of which are native to the Americas. Wild hog size and weight are variable, and depend on genetics and local conditions. Typically, male hogs (called boars) weigh 200+ pounds and stand 3 feet at the shoulder.  Females, called sows are much smaller than male hogs. Hogs have 4 continually growing, self-sharpening tusks (2 in the upper and 2 in the lower jaw; upper and lower tusks rub against each other, which keeps them sharp).  All wild hogs have an excellent sense of smell and good hearing, but relatively poor vision. Hogs prefer large forested areas with abundant food, particularly acorns, interspersed with marshes, hammocks, ponds, and drainages. The list of foods hogs eat is diverse and includes grass, forb, and woody plant stems, roots, tubers, leaves, seeds, and fruits, fungi, and a variety of animals including worms, insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, small birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians Humans are the main predators of wild hogs, but large carnivores such as alligators, black bears, and Florida panthers may be capable of preying on adult animals. Piglets are also preyed upon by smaller predators including foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. Hunting is an important control method for wild hogs because it provides recreational opportunities, is inexpensive, and can be useful at reducing numbers of adult animals. Trapping is usually a better method of controlling hog numbers than hunting, especially when the animals are active at night. For more complete information check out the UF/IFAS publication “Wild Hogs in Florida: Ecology and Management” from which I obtained the above information: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw322


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Q: I am just not successful growing butterfly bush along the coast here. What am I doing wrong?

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly Bush

A:   You are doing nothing wrong it just butterfly bush (Buddleia spp) prefers a more inland climate, especially in our sandy soil. They do not like high humidity and watering them twice weekly should be avoided.  They can develop mildew problems on their leaves if they are not getting good air circulation. Well-drained organic soil is the best.  Of course, we do not want you to use any type of pesticides around the shrub as it can kill the butterfly population which should be one of the reasons for growing the butterfly bush. We planted Buddleia Lo and Behold ‘Blue Chip’, which is a trade-marked plant. We have had incredible success with it. This butterfly bush dies back in the winter but returns each year.  It is a dwarf variety and so pretty. 


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Q: My gardenia is not doing well and I am thinking the soil pH might be the problem. How can I get it tested?

Gardenia Flower

Gardenia Flower

A:  Go about 6-8 inches deep and take several samples from around the root area placing the samples in a bucket.  Mix the soil and bring us one sample – about a cup is fine.  Master Gardeners man the Yulee satellite office on Fridays 10am – 2pm and can run a pH for you at no cost.  Call us at 904 530-6351 for directions to the Yulee satellite office.  You can also drop the sample through the letter box on the door and we can run it anytime during the week.

Now, just a few things other things to consider regarding your gardenia shrub:
1.  Gardenias should not be planted by the foundation of a home or near the sidewalk, driveway, or walkways as these concrete structures leach and have a tendency to raise the pH to uncomfortable levels for these acid loving plants.
2.  Planting them under the eaves of the house encourages leaching too and often the plant will get too much water off the roof if there are not gutters.  Too much water can create the prefect environment for disease such as fungal leaf spots and root decays.
3.  Some cultivars of gardenia do better with morning sun exposure and afternoon shade.
4.  Keep lawn grass as far away from any tree or shrub as the things we do to lawn grass we should not do to trees or shrubs.  Be careful about applying lawn grass weed killers around the roots of trees or shrubs.
5.  Keep mulch off the trunk or any tree or shrub.  Allow for an area around the base of the trunk which contains only soil and air.  Mulch should be only 2-3 inches deep.  Never use rock as it can compact the soil and retains heat – neither is good for trees or shrubs.  Pine products are preferred.
6.  It is critical to ensure the shrub is not planted too deeply.  You should be able to find the large roots coming off the trunk in just an inch or so of soil.  More than a few inches of soil on the roots is too deep.
7.  Watering the shrub twice a week like the lawns can be excessive and they hate it.


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Q: I am interested in growing pummelos. What can you tell me about them?

Pummelo

Pummelo

A:   Pummelo, Citrus maxima, looks similar to a grapefruit but quite different.  It is a very large, round to pear-shaped, yellowish orange fruit with very thick rind. The fruit is so large there have been records of fruit weighing up to 20 pounds; however each fruit is more typically around 5 pounds. Still, it is a large single fruit to hang from a tree by anyone’s standards. Although it looks similar to a grapefruit the flesh is sweeter and less bitter. Because of the size of the fruit and the thick rind it is generally not a consumer favorite. Thus, you many have some difficulty finding it in local grocery markets or plant nurseries. Once the thick rind is removed the flesh divides easily into separate sections. Although it is important to also note the sections may differ in size and form on some of the pummelo cultivars.  The tree can grow to heights of 30 feet with an equally wide spread so consider its mature size when planting it in the landscape. Pummelo is typically grown in cold hardiness zone 9-11. When planting in the landscape provide as much sun exposure as possible but avoid areas where wind could be an issue. Some of the more common varieties of pummelo include: Chandler, Ichang, Red Shaddock, Reinking, and Webber. There are three new cultivars of pummelo which have been released to Florida citrus growers which means we should see them at the market.  One other important thing to know about pummelo – UF is working on producing a hybrid with grapefruit which will give you the peppery tang of the grapefruit but avoid the serious drug interaction problems typically caused by grapefruit. The professor’s findings have been reported in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.