Monday, July 26, 2010

Win the book, "Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens" by Gil Nelson

Book Review: "Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens: A Handbook for Gardeners, Homeowners, and Professionals" by Gil Nelson published by University Press of Florida. 2010.
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If you'd like to win a copy of this fabulous book, leave a comment here on (not on FaceBook) about how much you would use this book. Leave us a way to contact you in your comment.  We'll choose a winner from the comments. Thanks to University Press of Florida for sponsoring this contest.  Post your comment by August 4th.
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"Best Native Plants for Southern Gardens" is filled to the brim with important information on native plants and is a must for any serious gardener in the southeastern region of the country.

The southeast, as defined for this book, includes the eight states from Virginia to Louisiana, but excludes the more tropical south Florida. It's beautifully illustrated with photographs that capture the essence of the plants and what they look like growing in their own environment with both close-up and wider views. While hundreds of native plants are described, this book is so much more than just a plant list. Gil is a great gardening coach and explains how we gardeners can be more successful with our natives.

While this is a beautiful book that would look great on your bookshelf, I predict that once you get your hands on it, that you'll mark it up and really use it to increase your success growing native plants. It has enough information and detail for professional landscapers and native ecosystem restorers, but it's an easy-enough read for the more casual gardener as well.

Friday, July 23, 2010

An Appreciation of Scarlet Hibiscus

Hibiscus coccineus is native to Florida's wet places throughout the state. It's a tall herbaceous perennial and dies back to the ground in late fall after its leaves turn a gorgeous pale yellow and fall off. I have purchased several specimens at native plant gatherings and garden fests. They've all done well at the edge of our good-sized pond and have come back larger and with more stalks each year.
When I was doing garden fests this spring to sell my book, I'd look for yet another scarlet hibiscus to buy to decorate my vendor's table. Without exception, people stopped to ask about it. Most of the questions sounded something like this, "Is that a legal plant there little darlin'? People wondered about its leaf shape, which resembles marijuana leaves. I always had my Gil Nelson book, "Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants" available with a bookmark in this hibiscus page with its magnificent red flowers, there's no mistaking it for that other weed. I even bought a white variety at the St. Augustine show.

Most folks are more aware of the tropical hibiscus (H. rosa-sinensis) that is widely sold in big box stores and is often planted by landscape contractors. I had several that came with the house, and while they have died back to the ground during some winters, this year's particularly cold weather, killed three of them, but the biggest one has finally started to grow back and is now (at the end of July) about a foot tall. I doubt whether it will flower at all this year. Yes, the flowers are beautiful, but this photo was shot in the middle of December. It had made no preparation for winter, like the grasshopper in the old Aesop's fable of the grasshopper and the ant. The native hibiscus plants are like the ant because they prepare for winter by losing their leaves and cutting off nutrients to the stems that die back to the ground as the days grow short.

Yet another reason to add more natives to your landscape--they know what to do as the seasons change from hot to cold or wet to dry.

Ginny Stibolt

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Acer negudo (Box-Elder), an Overlooked Native Tree

Although great strides have been made in gardening with native plants, a surprisingly large number of the approximately 2,800 plants native to Florida are overlooked or under-utilized by the gardening public, including native plant gardeners. One such plant is Acer negundo, commonly known as box-elder and, more rarely, as the ashleaf maple.

Growth habit in the spring after box-elder has flowered but
before the foliage has grown to full size (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

If you live within the natural range of box-elder, I hope that you will give this easily-grown and adaptable native tree a place in your garden, and I have summarized below the information on box-elder that is of most interest to gardeners.

Growth habit of a large, mature, multi-stemmed tree
with fully-grown foliage (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Scientific NameAcer negundo Linnaeus

Family: Sapindaceae

Common Names: Box-Elder or Ashleaf Maple

Habit: Short-lived, fast-growing, often suckering, deciduous tree with a low, dense, much-branched crown and principal branches that tend to hang down as they mature.
Size: Up to 75 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 4 feet, but commonly 45–50 feet tall with a crown that is about as wide as the plant is tall.

Season: Small, greenish or reddish flowers and pale green, new shoots borne April–May; autumn foliage usually unremarkable; female trees with persistent fruits maturing in the autumn.

Male flowers consist of prominent, pendent stamens (courtesy of urtica at Flickr).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Education Is Key to Stemming Water Pollution From Fertilizer Use

On July 15th, the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County declined to pass a summer fertilizer ban, as a number of other counties and municipalities have done. They did approve new regulations that prohibit the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizer prior to heavy rainfall and disallow use of fertilizer within 10 feet of a body of water, but this is small comfort to environmental advocates worried about surface water quality.

The EPCHC's compromise measures won't do much to curb excessive nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay and polluting our area lakes and rivers, but it could be argued that a more stringent ban wouldn't have done much either. Not because there isn't a whole lot more fertilizer than necessary being used on Hillsborough County landscapes (mostly lawns), but because even if passed the new regulation would likely have received little or no enforcement.

In January, neighboring Pinellas County passed such a ban and its environmental management staff are now working to get the word out to residents, but budget cuts have left them shorthanded. This summer, fertilizer can still be sold in stores, but it cannot applied until October 1st. Who's checking? Nobody. In 2011, retailers will not be allowed to sell nitrogen-containing fertilizer at all from June through September, except for agricultural use. Who will check up on them? Probably nobody. Next year's county budget is expected to be just as miserly as this year's, so it's hard to imagine county staff, already stretched thin, making an effort to track down retail fertilizer scofflaws. This is not to say that we shouldn't continue to advocate for fertilizer restrictions, just that we shouldn't assume that their passage will guarantee a change in people's behavior.

As Florida Native Plant Society members, we can't help much with enforcement of fertilizer laws, but we can do a lot to educate our neighbors and fellow gardeners about the problem of nutrient pollution in Florida surface waters and to encourage them to stop contributing to the problem. Once they understand the environmental and economic implications of polluted waterways, most people will act responsibly. As individuals, we must educate ourselves about topics like nonpoint-source pollution, the Clean Water Act, slow-release fertilizers, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), algae blooms, and Florida climate cycles so that we can pass this knowledge on to others, one on one. As chapters, we should work with local governments to create and distribute brochures at our events, invite environmental managers to speak to our members, support passage of environmentally-friendly landscape and fertilizer ordinances, and keep promoting the use of Florida native plants in low-maintenance, fertilizer-free landscapes. Education is cheaper than ignorance, especially when it comes to cleaning up water pollution.

Learn More:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Garden Professors' blog

Several horticultural professors including Linda Chalker-Scott, Holly Scoggins, Jeff Gilman, and Bert Cregg, have teamed up to produce a most informative and scientifically accurate blog at

For example, here are some recent topics:
 Restoration ecologists - you need us!, which analyzes the lack of advice on good planting techniques for the ecologists.
 Propagating in the air, which covers the latest methods for air-layering to increase the success of stem cuttings on hard-to-root species.
 Cornmeal myth busted, which refutes the effectiveness of cornmeal as a pesticide.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather garden with scientifically proven methods than old gardeners' tales, so I follow this interesting blog.

Ginny Stibolt

Monday, July 12, 2010

The American Meadow Garden : : Win A Free Copy of John Greenlee's Book!

Billy Goodnick, fellow member of the Lawn Reform Coalition, Landscape Architect, and "Cool Green Gardens" blogger has posted a review of John Greelee's new book, The American Meadow Garden: Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn, (Timber Press) illustrated by Saxon Holt's luscious photographs.   While this book is not specifically for Florida, I know I'd like to read it just for its ideas on meadow establishment and maintenance.
Here's Billy's review:

"Trade In Your Old Lawn...

"You know I'm no fan of traditional lawns. They're stultifyingly boring and often serve no useful purpose-anybody seen the neighborhood kids playing in the front yard lately? They consume too much stuff and foul our precious nest. NASA photos put the collective national lawn at upward of 30 million acres. We can get by with a lot less. ...
"From the first page, John and Saxon beckoned me to join them in a field of words and images, touching on romantic and rational reasons to seek a "solution to the madness of lawn culture." Energy, water and resource consumption, polluted runoff, noise, greenwaste, and loss of habitat are offered as compelling reasons to murder a few lawns. And I agree with the guys that well designed, well managed meadow gardens are a lot more interesting than swatches of sterile, billiard-table-green turf.

"Chapter two delves into the natural ecology of meadows and the wide variety of forms they can take; the difference between warm- and cool-season grasses; and the non-grass species that impart unique personalities to different types of grasslands. I took a whirlwind tour of America, visiting seven geographic/climatic zones, learning how their unique environmental factors influence the types of meadows that are most likely to thrive in each.

"First Things First

"I was heartened to see that John devotes space to site analysis, perhaps the most important, but often glossed-over design phase. He explains why successful meadows come from close observation, then factoring into the equation the topography, drainage patterns, soil type, sun patterns and existing vegetation of the each site leads to successful meadows-sustainable "systems" that should require only minimal inputs and generate few harmful outputs."

To read the rest of Billy's review and to enter the book giveaway contest go to Billy's blog on the Fine Gardening website.
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, July 9, 2010

Seeking volunteers for Florida’s wildflowers

Can you help a teacher plan, plant or maintain a wildflower garden at a school near you? We are looking for Florida Wildflower Foundation, Master Gardeners, FNPS and Garden Club members to volunteer in the Foundation's Seeds for Schools program in the following counties: Alachua, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hillsborough, Indian River, Jefferson, Lake, Lee, Leon, Levy, Manatee, Martin, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Santa Rosa, Seminole, St. Johns, and Volusia.

For the names of participating schools, email Claudia Larsen, Seeds for Schools program administrator, at Wildflower garden projects will begin in September, so please consider volunteering now. Your participation will enrich the lives of Florida’s future generations while introducing them to native plants and wildflowers!

Lisa Roberts

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pietro's Paw Paws, an extremely focused native nursery

As I traveled to the various Florida garden festivals this spring, the one vendor I encountered the most was Terri Pietroburgo, with her baseball hat, her wagons filled with paw paws, and her enthusiastic spiel on her favorite native plant, the paw paw. She apologizes, in advance, to the vendors stationed near her for the repetition.

She was at Heathcote Botanical Gardens, Vero Beach Garden Fest, Marion County Spring Fest, the Wildflower Festival in Deland, the EPIC Garden Fest in St. Augustine, the Spring Fest in Winter Garden, and at our own FNPS meeting in Tallahassee. I'm sure there were more events that she attended, that I did not.

She takes great care to explain how important paw paws are as the only larval food source for the zebra swallowtail butterflies. She describes how the fruits taste (It's one of our few native fruits.), how large the plants will get, and most importantly how to plant them so that they'll survive.

She started looking for paw paws to buy in 2004 when she was building a butterfly garden with her daughter. Unable to find a good source and after a great deal of research, she decided that she would grow them herself. Paw paws have very long taproot and the "normal" nursery pots are not deep enough to accommodate the taproot, so she found a source for the tall pots in Oregon. She plants two seeds in sandy soil in each pot and sells them when they are two or three years old.

Terri gives detailed planting instructions with each sale. Dig the hole in a sandy spot as deep as the pot. Slice the bottom of the pot off and make a slice down opposite sides of the pot, hold the pot together, lower it into the hole, and then pull the two sides of the pot from the hole. Water thoroughly each day for several weeks and then gradually reduce the watering as the plants become adjusted.  As with any newly planted tree or shrub, you may need to augment the irrigation during droughts for two years or more.

Terri will also wholesale her paw paws to other native nurseries. You can contact her at

Ginny Stibolt

Friday, July 2, 2010

Native Plant Demonstration Gardens

“A demonstration garden? What is that?”

Frequently this is question I am asked after suggesting a visit to one. People who are considering “going native” want to know how the plants they are considering will look once they are actually in a garden. Pictures in a book are helpful, but nothing compares with seeing a real, live plant, especially one that has been put into a contextual setting.

So what IS a native plant demonstration garden?

 I recently talked with Jane Thompson, the owner of Indian Trails Native Nursery in Lake Worth, who has been working on hers for many years.

Jane, in your mind, what is the purpose of a demonstration garden?

The purpose of the demo garden is to display Florida Native Plants in a mature form. My garden is split between three plant communities showing typical species that you would find in a Coastal Maritime Hammock and a Pine Flatwood. A large section is also designed as a butterfly garden.

What have your major successes or problems been?

Upon initial planting, the garden was very open and sparse. A few months ago, five years after the initial installation, it was so dense that I had to remove much of the understory to allow airflow to move through the garden.

I know you had some questions about which mulch to use this time. Casaurina  was available and less expensive than some other types, but something of an unknown. How has that worked out?