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Gardening Tips

Tips from the Mounts Botanical Horticulture Team

Top Tip: Dry Season Mulching
This is an important time to spread mulch in your garden. It’s great for conserving moisture and shading the soil from the sun’s unrelenting UV rays that basically sterilize the soil, reducing its microflora.

MBG Horticulture Team (l to r): Josh, Jacob, Michel, Isaac, Joel and Matt
Jump to a specific Tip Category by clicking on a title below:

Garden Maintenance
Planning, Prepping, Planting
Intentional Planting and Garden Features
More tips coming soon!


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MBG Horticulture Supervisor, Matthew Boyson

Garden Maintenance

Watering
Make sure plants are getting adequate water during the drier months. Check irrigation systems to make sure everything is working properly. If certain areas aren’t getting proper irrigation add a hose and sprinkler to help these stressed areas or plants. — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

The Benefits of Rain Water
Have you ever wondered why plants always look better after it rains, yet when you water from your well or municipal water supply they never look as healthy? Not all water is the same. Water pH and total dissolved solids (minerals, metals and salt) affect how plants absorb nutrients. Most nutrients are best absorbed within a pH range that is slightly acidic, just below a pH of 7. When the pH is too high or low, nutrients become chemically bound to the soil and plants cannot efficiently uptake them through their roots, which causes them to suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Rain water is slightly acidic and mineral free, which allows nutrients in the soil to be absorbed by plant roots. Harvesting rainwater to use on potted plants, vegetable gardens, or hydroponics can be rewarding, especially when used in conjunction with fertilizers (organic or synthetic). Harvesting rainwater can be as simple as a bucket under an eave or an elaborate system connected to a tank. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

Pruning
The warmer months are the best time to start hard pruning shrubs in the landscape. Make sure all your spring time bloomers are finished; you don’t want to cut off any remaining blooms. CLICK HERE to learn more about pruning trees, shrubs, palms and more! [Note: See Tip #7 for sharpening pruners.] — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Final Summer Pruning
August is the last month to get all your summertime pruning finished up. This will ensure that your fall/winter bloomers will flower. Some examples Gardenias, Brunfelsia pauciflora (aka Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow and Morning-Noon-and-Night), Panama Roses, and Dombeya (aka Tropical Hydrangea). — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Sharpening Pruners
A sharp pair of hand pruners will make cleaner cuts that heal more efficiently, resulting in a healthier plant that’s better able to fight disease, insect infestation, and natural stresses.  The best way to sharpen pruners is with a diamond file. Well-used but well-maintained pruners should only need sharpening every six weeks. — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Mulching
Mulching plant beds helps conserve moisture, keeps the weeds from growing so rapidly, and gives the landscape a nice appearance. CLICK HERE to learn more about mulching!  — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Garden Pests: The Basics
Plant pests in South Florida are a constant battle for gardeners. Usually the best preventative is to be proactive and make sure the plants you’re bringing home are pest free. Here are a few quick solutions to remedy pests on your plants. Chewing insects such as beetles, weevils and caterpillars can be controlled by physical removal on small plants, but alternative methods may be needed for heavy infestations. Caterpillars are easily controlled with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Spinosad works well on beetles and weevils, but you may have to use a systemic if they seem resistant. Systemics are best used after a plants flowering period or if flowers can easily be removed (ex. palms). Avoid applying systemics on edible plants, unless you know it will be safely out of its system prior to fruiting (see pesticide label and instruction). Sucking insects include aphids, scale, mealybugs, white flies and spider mites. Releasing lady beetles for aphids or trimming off affected branches are your safest option. Insecticidal soaps and neem oil are organic solutions that may be helpful, but systemics can always be used as a last resort. If you’re unsure of what be affecting your plants, please feel free to call the Master Gardener Hotline at (561)233-1750 or email mgardenfwd@pbcgov.org. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist


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Horticulturist, Joshua Spall in the Edible Garden

Planning, Prepping, Planting

Planning Garden Areas
Before planting a garden or choosing trees for your home, consider placement. Place larger trees farther from your home. A vegetable garden requires at least six hours of direct sunlight and needs to have an easy water source.  When placing ornamentals and flowers think about sun conditions and where your eyes will catch the color. — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Establishing New or Transplanted Plants
I started adding Soil Moist, a non-toxic synthetic polymer to my planting holes to give newly planted plants a safety net in case I couldn’t water them in this extreme heat. It helps the plants remain hydrated and can last up to several seasons before breaking down. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

Summer Soil Preparation
Hot Florida summers are a great time to start preparing your garden for fall planting.  South Florida is comprised of mostly sandy soils and can lack the nutrient rich material that healthy plants crave. One way to get a jump start is by getting the soil ready and adding organic matter to improve overall soil composition and health.  A variety of soil amendments can be added to the sandy soil base such as animal manure (horse, chicken, and cow), plant manure (yard clippings and leaves), compost, worm castings, peat moss, and wood chips. These additives will improve soil by making its texture and drainage more conducive to water retention and plant health.  Organic matter should be at least 3 inches thick on the area to be planted and at least 6 weeks prior to planting season to allow the components to break down and be tilled into the exiting soil base. This organic matter will allow beneficial fungi and earthworms to colonize the area and further improve soil health. Healthy soil equals healthy plants! — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

Preparing for Your Fall Vegetable Garden
Summer is the time to start preparing for the fall vegetable garden. Pick an area in your yard that receives about 6 hours of sunlight and pile compost and mulch to make it a nutrient rich area. It is also a good time to start ordering your favorite seeds, so you can get them growing around August to October. Direct sow or transplant them into the main garden. Let the weather guide your planting, and wait until the heat of the summer starts to cool into fall temperatures. We generally get our first cool front around Halloween. For ideal varieties and planting times see University of Florida’s “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021 but don’t be afraid to branch out and experiment with new varieties. Happy Planting! — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

Planting by the Sun’s Location
Some people are unaware of the movement of the sun between the winter and summer solstices. The summer solstice happens around June 21st each year. This is when the sun is at its northern most point of the year. This is also the longest day of the year with the shortest night. The sun will be just north of its zenith at noon. This contrasts with the winter solstice that happens around December 21st and has the shortest day of the year. This is the sun’s lowest point in the sky and the sun will ride along the southern edge of the sky during winter. Why does this matter? You can use the sun’s movement to your advantage when planting your garden. Each plant has special conditions to be met for it to flourish. Tropical plants may benefit close to a south facing wall, so they can get all that radiating warmth. We may plant a tree in full sun in June, only to find that it’s in full shade by December. Learn how the sunlight moves through your landscape and plant accordingly. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist


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Intentional Planting and Garden Features

Xeriscaping with Natives
During the dry season, the need to keep plants hydrated during hot sunny days can take up more time then you have to spare. Planting native plants that are adapted to Florida’s dynamic climate will give you a beautiful landscape without the need to worry about your plants constant maintenance. But not all natives are drought tolerant and some can be downright finicky. To learn more, visit Florida Native Plant Society or visit one of our local native plant nurseries for ideas about what may be suitable for your landscape. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

Spring/Summer Annuals
Here are some ideas for spring/summer annuals: Caladiums add nice color to partly shaded areas; Purslane work well in hot, dry, sunny areas and the bright flowers really add to the landscape; Gaillardia like full sun, prefer dry soil, and are self-seeding. They even attract butterflies. — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Planting for Butterflies: How to Turn your “Yarden” into a Butterfly Filled Paradise!
Each butterfly lays their eggs on a specific host plant or plants within a particular plant family, which feeds their larvae. Passion vines are the host plant for three native species of butterfly: zebra longwing, gulf fritillary and the julia. Not all passion vines are suitable. We have three more commonly available native passion vines that will help feed those hungry caterpillars (Passiflora suberosa, Passiflora multiflora, and Passiflora incarnata) and are found at our local native plant nurseries. The queen and monarch butterflies prefer milkweeds. Giant swallowtails prefer plants in the citrus family. Polydamas swallowtails like Dutchman’s pipe vine (Aristolochia). Sennas and Cassias attract those bright yellow sulphur butterflies. Plant some coontie palms to get atala butterflies. Butterflies are constant feeders, so a large array of nectar plants will keep them fluttering around your home. Our native firebush will feed many different species of butterflies and bees. Other nectar sources include: porterweed, tropical salvia, native lantanas, Mexican sunflower, pentas and goldenrods. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

South Florida Wildflowers
Wildflowers attract pollinators and adapt well to the low fertility soil we have in South Florida. Self-seeding will keep them growing in your landscape; lightly mulched areas will help the seeds germinate. South Florida Wildflowers bloom any time of year. Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is a member of the aster family and can bring a nice purple color to your pollinator garden in the summer and fall. Attracting bees and butterflies, this long-lived perennial can reach heights up to 10 feet. — Matt Boyson, Horticulture Supervisor

Deciding on the Perfect Tree for your Yard
If you have an open area in your yard that needs a tree, but you’re undecided about what type of tree you’d like to plant, think about the tree’s purpose. What would work best for you and that particular location? Do you want something that has colorful flowers? Feeds wildlife? Feeds your family? Do you need shade or something with drought tolerance? Once you have decided what you would like from the tree, it’s time to research trees by that need. The internet is a wonder source of information. Think of what you want and use these as your keywords in a search. For example, you want a fruit tree that also makes a great shade tree. Type in a search engine: “large shade tree fruit south Florida” and you’ll get links to lists of trees that will fit these descriptions. Also, there are many plant societies that pertain to specific types of trees, so you can always ask them for recommendations. Here are links to some of the societies in South Florida: Palm Beach Chapter of the Rare Fruit Council International, Tropical Flowering Tree Society, Florida Native Plant Society, Palm Beach Palm and Cycad Society, and the American Bamboo Society/ Florida Caribbean Chapter.

Trees that Provide Shade and Food
Most communities have live oaks as the “go to” shade tree, but there are many types of trees that can be used as alternatives and to feed your family. It’s really about the right plant in the right spot. A mango or coconut tree above a driveway would be a bad idea, but they make great specimen trees if you have the room in your yard. Other alternatives could be avocado, jackfruit, sapodilla, tamarind, lychee, mulberries, black sapote, mamey sapote, or Indian jujube. I could go on and on, as there are many tropical fruits that are rare, but are becoming more common thanks to social media websites. Most people have small yards and want something smaller. Citrus used to be the common dooryard fruit tree before citrus greening. Sadly, it no longer thrives from this devastating disease. Trees in the Annona family may be a better choice. Atemoyas, sugar apples, rollinia, and soursop make nice trees. Other choices could be guavas, jaboticabas, bananas, along with smaller varieties of lychee, sapodilla and mangoes, if their growth is maintained regularly. You can always squeeze some dragon fruit and pineapples into those unused nooks and crannies in your yard too. The more you begin to research fruit trees, the more you’ll discover just how many interesting fruits are out there — more than you can imagine! — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist

Water Gardens for Small Spaces
You can add a water feature to your garden or with your potted plants on the patio. A water garden can have a small footprint on your space, while giving you a new element for your garden. Most ponds are a rubber liner placed in a hole, but you can use water troughs, prefabricated ponds, or get creative with whatever you may have around the house. The most common issue people worry about is mosquitoes. You can either remediate this with mosquito dunks or simply add oxygenating plants and mosquito fish. There is a large variety of plants that can be used in the water garden. From dwarf water lilies and cattails, to Florida natives and edibles like water chestnuts. Your only restraint is your imagination. — Joshua Spall, Horticulturist