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Having a beautiful landscape doesn't have to require lots of time, money or resources if you utilize Florida-Friendly practices. Below is a listing of frequently asked questions from local residence that may be helpful to you, as well as links to related University of Florida publications and resources.

I just tried a new sweetener called Stevia. It comes from a plant. Can you tell my anything about the plant and if it can be grown in Florida?

Stevia Rebaudiana is a native of Brazil and Paraguay. It is called sweet herb or honey leaf and can be found at local nurseries as Aztec Sweet. It is a short ground cover that spreads rapidly under the right conditions. It ies back when there is a freeze.

I want to put some plants by my mailbox. What do you recommend?
Low-growing plants or ground covers are good in this situation. You may want to use flowering plants for color. If you choose a lantana, be sure you choose a low-trailing species. If it is shade, use dwarf lilyturf or ivies.

I'm allergic to bees, but I do need a vine in that part of my yard. Is there any way to keep my Carolina Jasmine from flowering?
Prune the vine when it develops buds but before the buds open. Another suggestion would be to replace it with a less-flowering type vine, such as English Ivy.

I plant to keep my plants in containers. What kind of container should I use?
When choosing your container, think about where you are going to place it. Will the container stand up to Florida weather? Will the container react to water or fertilizer? What color complements your home and makes the flowers colors stand out? What size is your plant now, and how big will it become?

When should I harvest herbs?
Different parts should be harvested at different times. You want to harvest them when they are holding the most flavor and water. Leaves should be collected before the flowers bloom. Look for young, healthy leaves. Flowers should be collected when they first flower. Fruit is gathered when it is beginning to ripen.

What are the most important things I can do to ensure a wonderful garden?
First, pick the right plants. Once your garden is planted, regular maintenance will help keep it healthy. Proper weeding and watering are always two very important gardening practices.

My gladiolas bend over. Sometimes the weight of the flowers is responsible, other times they just seem to bend?
Use a stake and tie them up. Use strips from old pantyhose, as this will not hurt the plant. You can also put orizontal latticework behind them to "prop" them up.

I was given some kalanchoe plants. Are they houseplants? Can I use them in my yard?
Kalanchoes are a herbaceous perennial that can be used as ground cover in a frost-free area. They can be used in planters and in rock gardens. In Kalanchoes blossfeldiana, the flowers are showy terminal clusters that bloom in the warm months. Several kalanchoe species grown in Marion County. You can pot them and bring them indoors for the winter, if you like. They are related to the jade family.

My window boxes are looking rather worn. The flowers are still healthy, but they don't have the spark they did when I first planted them. I really don't want to replace them. What can I do?
One a week, add some liquid fertilizer, Be sure to remove all spent blooms, yellowed leaves and scraggly branches. This will help keep you planting lush.

My fresh-cut flower bouquets do not last long. The water gets smelly and the plants rot. What can I do to prevent this?
Remove all the leaves on the stem that might be under water. Give the flowers fresh water every other day. Trim the stem every few days.

What is causing the buds on my hibiscus to drop off without opening?
There are a number of things that could be the culprit, such as thrips, caterpillars or nematodes. It could be a deficiency or overabundance of nutrients, or it could be caused by poor drainage, too much water or too little water. Examine your plant and the area for any of the above. If none of the above exists, be comforted in that it is the hibiscus' nature to prematurely drop buds, especially the doubles. Some varieties will do well for only a portion of the year.
During excessively hot and dry weather, bud drop is often caused because the plant is not able to absorb the water it needs to compensate for the water lost through transpiration.

The center of my African violet is dwarfed, furled and puckered. What is causing this to happen?
The mite that caused this is too small to be seen with the naked eye, but the skeletons are cast off and can be seen as a gray powder resembling ashes. This is the fearsome pest called cyclamen mite. The best thing to do is to remove three of four leaves for rooting, and destroy the rest of the plant.
The leaves for rooting should be dipped in a weak solution of dimite before rooting. Kelthane and cythion are also good miticides. These little mites are transferred from plant to plant by arms and hands (especially sleeves).

Does poison ivy grow here in Marion County?
Oh yes, there is poison ivy here. You may not see trees covered with it as you did up north, but it is here. It looks like the plant you are familiar with, having the three leaves, and it definitely can cause a rash.

My crotons have become tall and spindly and do not look nice at all. I really don't want to get rid of them, but they are not very attractive?
Crotons that have become too leggy may be "Beheaded" to force them to sprout lower. The removed heads can be used as cuttings to create additional plants.

Last year, I had a problem with mildew on my zinnias. What can I do to prevent it from happening again?
Don't water zinnia plants by top sprinkling. That increased the danger of mildew and fungus. Instead, water by flooding the ground. Occasional spraying with a fungicide is also a good prevention method.

What do I do for my houseplants while we're on vacation?
Depending on the type of plants. My first thought is to put them outside in an area with filtered light or partial shade. Nature does wonders for plants. Some people put them in the kitchen sink on a towel that is soaked in water.

If I don't cut off the dead blossoms on my flowers, will the plants die?
No, but you'll have less flowers than the plant would normally produce.

How often should I inspect my plants?
A good rule of thumb is to inspect weekly. Catching a problem early makes it much easier to treat. Check both the top and bottom of the leaves, and check the soil surrounding the plant.

What makes some hydranges blue and some pink?
The acidity of the soil causes the color difference. Blue is produced by acid, and pink by lime. Aluminum sulfate for blue and lime for pink.

How can I get blue flowers on my hydrangea?
The color of the non-white varieties of Bigleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, is directly affected by the availability of aluminum in the soil. When the pH is between 4.5 to 5.5, an acid soil, aluminum is readily available to the plant and colors the flowers blue. Aluminum is locked up in alkaline soil with a pH of 7 to 7.5, so expect pink flowers. When the range falls between 5.5 and 7 the color varies from a washed out blue to a mauvish pink.

Where can I get information on poisonous plants?
Call the Master Gardeners at 671-8400. Also there is a bulletin, #175D, put out by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service, that is available at the Marion County UF/IFAS Extension Service. You must come down to pick it up, and it's best to call first to make sure they have it in stock.

We have a border of very attractive, big, blue liriope. However, this summer it never really got green and lush, and there were barely any flowers. We pulled out a lot of brown blades from the center, but that didn't seem to help?
To encourage lush liriope with a profusion of spears, early in the spring, cut the whole thing back to just above the ground with scissors, lawn mower or nylon edge cutter. In no time the plants will improve dramatically.

How can I get my pineapple plant to produce fruit?
Pineapple is a popular fruit and they can be grown outside in warm climates, especially in Florida. When you purchase your fruit from the grocery store and prepare it for eating, save the top with the leaves. You can grow another pineapple from this removed part. Here is how you do it. Secure a three-gallon pot. Fill it with a good potting mix and plant the removed top in the soil. The base of the removed top should be set in the soil about three or four inches deep. Water once a week but do not over water. Keep the soil in the pot moist. Pineapples are a member of the bromeliad family and too much water will rot the roots of the plant once they begin to grow.
The plant will need to grow at least a year and a half or two years before it will produce fruit. When the plant is two years old place a whole apple down in the center of the plant. The gas released by the apple will stimulate the plant to initiate growth that will produce a fruit. Once the fruit is initiated it will take several months before it is ready to pick. Visit the web site listed below for other ways to force fruiting.

How should I protect my tender plants from a late freeze?
The most practical way for homeowners to protect their plants is to cover them. Cardboard boxes, blankets, newspapers, plastic, etc. can be used. The cover must extend all the way to the soil to trap the heat given off from the soil. Homeowners should not try to use sprinkler systems to protect plants. Home irrigation systems cannot apply enough water fast enough to do the job. Instead, more harm than good is usually done.

When is the best time to plant or transplant my plants?
Container-grown plants can be transplanted any time of the year. The critical factor is keeping the soil moist to prevent the root ball from drying out. To dig and move hardy plants that are growing in the landscape, it is best to wait until the dormant period between December and February. If the plant is considered tender to cold, it is best to delay planting or transplanting until after cold weather passes (March/April).

When should I prune my plants?
Pruning depends on plant growth and blooming habit. In general, shrubs and trees which bloom during the winter and spring should be pruned immediately after they flower. This type of plant sets its flower buds in late summer, so do not prune after August.
Shrubs which bloom during the summer and fall produce flowers on the current season's growth. Therefore, the best time for pruning would be in late winter or very early spring before new growth starts to develop. Evergreen shrubs and trees which are grown primarily for their foliage may be pruned any time. Shrubs and trees which lose their leaves during the winter months may be pruned while bare of leaves.

Should I mulch my plants?
Mulching is considered a beneficial practice for all ornamental plants. Mulching conserves soil moisture insulates the soil (keeps it cooler in summer and warmer in winter) and suppresses weeds. Organic mulches such as shredded wood, pine needles or oak leaves are preferred to inorganic mulches such as pebbles and stone. The desired depth of the mulch is 2" 3" after settling. The area immediately around the stem of the plant should be left free of mulch.

How often should I water my spring annuals?
Plants need about 1" of water per week during the growing season. This can come from rainfall, irrigation or a combination of the two. This can be achieved by leaving a sprinkler on the plants for approximately one(1) hour. To check, bury a can at soil level and measure the amount in the cup after one hour. Then adjust time accordingly. 

My azaleas bloom almost year-round and it is annoying to have to pluck the dead blooms. Any suggestions?
The easiest way to remove faded blooms is by using your household broom to sweep them away. If there are just a few faded flowers, you don't even need to bother to pick them up. However, after a prolific season of flowering, remove the dead flowers from around the plant to discourage disease organisms.

Am I supposed to be doing anything for my azaleas now? When should I prune?
Azaleas should get their second application of fertilizer in June. Azalea-Camellias special is recommended or a balanced fertilizer with minor elements. Prune after they bloom. 

Last spring I planted some azaleas and watered faithfully, but the leaves turned brown and dry?
When planting azaleas, it is important to wet the root ball and gently loosen and separate the roots before planting. This is of critical importance because of the very fibrous root system and the high peat soil mix in which these plants are grown. Prepare the planting bed (not just the planting hole) by adding lots of peat or compost. Mulch well and keep the soil moist until the azaleas are well established. 

Last summer, my azaleas got a bleached-out appearance and the undersides of the leaves were covered with small, black tar-like spots?
Azaleas are susceptible to an insect called Lace Bug (or Lacewing).. Damage results from the insect sucking out cell sap, resulting in mottling of leaves. The black tar spots are actually insect excrement. The tiny insect can be seen with the naked eye or a fifteen power hand lens. The wings of this pest are lacy. Azaleas should be sprayed with an appropriate insecticide such as Orthene. Note: Azaleas in full sun are more frequently attacked by this insect than azaleas in the shade. 

My azalea leaves are turning yellow, what is the problem?
When the new growth of azaleas turns yellow, it usually indicates an iron deficiency. Azaleas prefer soils which have an acid pH because certain nutrients, including iron, are more available at lower pH values. Yellow leaves on azaleas can indicate an iron deficiency because (1) not enough iron is present in the soil for the azaleas to utilize, or (2) the pH is not low enough to release the iron that is present. Azalea "special" fertilizer contains soil acidifiers which temporarily lower (acidify) the soil pH. Applications of iron sulfate or iron chelate will also correct iron deficiencies.
Coastal soils are naturally alkaline and it is nearly impossible to permanently adjust a naturally alkaline soil. Therefore, azaleas and other acid loving plants should not be selected for that site. Yellowing leaves on azaleas can also be an indication of a root rot fungus due to poor soil drainage; planting too deep or poor establishment.

Why are my red ruffle azaleas dying in an area that is flooded?
They could possible have root rot. Dig one up and check it. They like to be moist, but don't drown them. Use some pine straw mulch around them. 

When do I stop pruning azaleas?
The rule of thumb is July 4th, but after that you can still prune a stray long limb for appearance. Pruning after July 4th may be cutting off next year's blooms. 

My heavenly bamboo (Nandina) never seems to have many berries even though the plant is growing well?
Either you are letting the plant dry out or it is getting too much nitrogen fertilizer. Water deeply during the dry season and reduce the amount of fertilizer. This plant usually does very well with little feeding. Even though Nandina does not have to be pruned, a light shaping in the winter will encourage berry production.