Monday, August 24, 2015

Ramping up for fall

Ginny event poster

Book tour

This fall can be best described as frenetic. I now have 29 public events and 5 private ones from Sept. 1 through Nov. 10th.  Can you believe that I'm working a arranging a couple more? I'll have 4 or 5 different presentations. Check out my Appearances Page to see the updated list.

This poster was created by the Cocoplum Florida Native Plant Society Chapter for the 3-hour native plant workshop that they organized and that I'll be leading on Oct. 10th in Stuart, FL.

Bountiful okra 

Amazing okra!
Amazing okra (Abelmoschus esculentus). This crop plant was probably native to Africa, but it's been under cultivation for millennia. There is evidence that it was grown in Egypt as long ago as 2,000 BC. 

I use the swale method for growing this vigorous plant. I dug four holes, equi-spaced in a 5' square and buried kitchen scraps in the bottom of each hole. I planted 3 seeds in each of the 9 corners around the rims of the swales, because the seeds are 4 years old. When the seeds sprouted, I arranged them so that only one was growing in each of the 9 spots. And 3 months later we have more okra than we can use. Our neighbors look forward to our bounty. See my post Okra swales for more details. 

Pine hyacinth

Pine hyacinth (Clematis baldwinni)
Clematis baldwinii
The pine hyacinth (Clemetis baldwinii) is a new plant for me. I spotted this vine on our weekly walks along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. I did not recognize it as a clematis because of its drooping flower, but there is no mistaking it once you know what to look for.

Native Florida Poinsettia

Our Florida native Poinsettia turns color much earlier than its more famous cousin.
Painted leaf (Poinsettia cyathophora) is a member of the Euphorbia family. The petal-less flowers are grouped into a head with separate male and female flowers and the bracts under the flower head turn red to attract pollinators. This was also spotted on our St. Johns River walk.

A lounging black racer

A sleek black racer sunning itself on a sago.
When we saw this black racer out on one of the sagos (Cycas revoluta) by the front porch, We hoped that it was hunting the Cuban anoles (lizards) and leaving the native green anoles to thrive. 

Florida native seeds

Trying some real Florida wildflower seeds this fall.
I ordered some seed from the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative to add some good diversity to our meadow areas and to also try to grow some in containers. I'll let you know how it goes.

Those darn water spangles!!

Uh oh, those darn water spangles are back.
Water spangles (Salvinia minima) is an invasive floating fern from Asia. We were NOT happy to see it back in our front pond. This will be yet another fall project: I'll don my dive booties and step into the pond to fish as much of this stuff out as possible and before it multiplies to cover the whole pond again. I wrote about our battle with this invasive in Managing a natural pond.

I hope you have a good list of fall projects to tackle as well.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, July 31, 2015

Listening to your landscape

To have a more sustainable landscape, you need to listen...

As a long-time gardener with a masters degree in botany, I was certain that I could garden in north Florida when my husband and I moved here in 2004. I've told this story before, but I was shocked and surprised at how wrong I was. Some Florida gardening truths were quickly discovered like how tulips don't grow well here, not even as annuals, because our winters include warm spells so the soil doesn't stay cold enough. Other revelations have taken more time...

Tropical sage in the herb garden by the kitchen window.

Listen to the birds & bees

Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) has monopolized much of my herb garden. I transplant some of it from this location when I plant basil, dill, or one of the other annual herbs, but mostly I leave this native volunteer in place because it attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, several types of bees.

I started the herb garden years ago by ripping out the tea roses and various non-native shrubs that were not doing well in this WSW-facing wall. At first everything was in its assigned place, but when the sage arrived, everything changed. I listened to the birds and the bees who needed this beautiful native more than I needed a neat garden.
This female hummingbird has been resting on a bare branch of coral honeysuckle to entertain my husband and me while we eat our lunch. Not really, but this perch is just above one of her favorite spots, my herb garden, which is filled with tropical sage. Carpenter bees are too big to enter the narrow sage flowers, so they bite holes in the tops of the flowers to "rob" the nectar without doing the work of pollinating.
Sine this L-shaped garden was not under general irrigation,
 I turned it into a container garden.

Container conversion project

An early project in our landscape was my conversion of a "messy bed" filled with Mexican petunias, low growing gardenias, weeds, and other volunteers. I wrote about this project as one of my Adventures of a Transplanted Gardener articles, which are now hosted over on, Troublesome spot? Convert to containers.

Well, it's taken a while, but the other day I switched back to what will probably be a somewhat messy bed, but this time it will be filled with native wildflowers and I shall call it a "cottage garden." 

After removing the pots, I was left with weeds and wildflowers.
The other day I removed the pots, which were not all that attractive anymore, carefully lifted the tropical sage plants, scraped out the chipped wood mulch and the nice compost below it, and then ripped out the old weed barrier cloth, which had not been very effective in keeping out the weeds.

I put the saved chips and mulch back in the bed, planted the sage in three groupings, transplanted some other out-of-place wildflowers from other parts of the yard, and then sowed some Florida wildflower seeds in the empty spaces.  The tropical sage and the other plants survived the transplant, but I'll write more about this project as it matures. So far I'm happy with the result and I think, in the end, it will be easier to handle than the containers.

Florida wildflower seeds have been sown and the wildflowers are now replanted in groupings. It's a garden designed by listening to what it said rather than overpowering it with my will.

The edge of the lawn needed some updates. A close-up of the invading ferns...
A look down this edge now.

The ferns are invading!

Every couple of years I work on the lawn edges. Many times the landscape indicates what it would prefer. I've been writing about edges for some time; see my piece "Cutting edges," for earlier lawn removals. You can also listen to my podcast on the topic: Cutting Edges 1/17/08.

This time around, the ferns, mostly netted chain ferns (Woodwardia areolata) have crept into the grass, which is sparse in this mostly shady edge. So I pulled the grass by hand in a way that was least disruptive to the soil, moss and the ferns. Later I'll come in with some pine needles or wood chips. If it were closer to fall, I'd wait for the leaves, but I don't want to wait that long.

We still want a mowed area down to the lake, but maybe my husband will have one less trip to make. All because I listened to the ferns.
The point-of-view of this photo starts at the cart in the above photo.
The line drawn indicates the proposed new edge of the lawn.
More ferns are invading the grass down here, too.

Other listenings...

Sadly, these suckers will never grow into trees because of the red bay ambrosia beetle and its nasty fungal disease. My husband thought we should trim them back  since they are so ratty looking. I pointed out that the spice bush swallowtail and other related butterflies rely on trees in this family for their larval food. So all those holes in the leaves means that they have found them. Yay!
The Elliot's love grasses make a nice border, but...
I wrote about this new wildflower extension of our front meadow in Adventures in creating a native garden. I emphasized how important a civilized edge is to make a native garden or meadow look like a planned space. I used three bunches of Elliot's love grass (Eragrostis elliottii) to do that job. They looked good for 2 years and then failed to come up the next year. I talked to the grower and wholesale supplier for these plants to ask him what to do. His answer was the classic "listen to your landscape" advice, "Don't plant it there again. Find something else." How logical.

I hope you can hear your landscape when it speaks to you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Integrated pest management in the edible garden

Squash borers: Take action before they do damage.

I ended up with some volunteer butternut squash vines from kitchen scraps buried in the garden. Normally, I would not be growing them during mid-summer, but we'll see how they do in our hot summer weather.

One action item is to bury the base of the stems and then again along the vine in several places. Then even if the borer moth finds a place to lay her eggs and her larval offspring hollow out the stem, the whole plant will not have to depend upon that one section of stem for water and nutrients. It will have alternative roots. You really really don't want to use any poisons around squashes because each female flower needs to be visited by 7 or more pollinators to ensure fruit production.

Bury the base of the squash stems with compost and mulch with pine needles to keep squash borer moths away. Then bury the vine at several additional places along its length.

There were some big holes in my okra leaves.

A brown stinkbug. 

Okra pest

My husband and I love our fresh okra. Normally, there are a few holes, but the okra plants are so vigorous that we have not had to take any action. This year is different, because something was eating some good-sized holes in the leaves. The okra seems unfazed by the damage, but I decided to look for the culprit.

I turned over a well-chewed leaf and found a brown stinkbug. They fly, but they are not very fast, so they were easy to pick it off, throw to the sidewalk, and then step on them. Pee-yew... they really do stink. I found a few more (just one to a leaf) on this day and then again on the next, and the next. Now, I'm not finding any, but I'll keep looking.

We've had so much rain recently (8" in June) that it's not been necessary to do much extra irrigation, so my work to build swales between the okra was probably not necessaryat least not so far. You can read my article Okra Swales for more information on how and why I use this method. 

Some clearing out of the jungle

It's been several years since the wild area out in the front meadow has seen any attention. Normally that's fine with us, but for the last few days, my husband and I have been doing some moderate clearing. We work only in the early morning from about 6:30am to 9am. It's the catbriar (Smilax spp.) that gives us fits. To reduce future maintenance, it's important to dig up the tubers rather that just cut off the vines because those tubers provide the energy for more and bigger shoots. One of these days I'm going to clean up their tubers and make a batch of sarsaparilla. These tubers do have a slight peppery taste. There are 2 recipes in Peggy Lance's new book: Florida's Edible Wild Plants. We've been eating the soft young tips in salads for years, but the drink would be a new experience.

Our Backyard Habitat sign was dislodged from its tree as we pulled the vines from the trunk, so I scrubbed it off and rehung it. It's been nearly ten years since we've been certified. Read my post done at that time: Creating Backyard Habitat.

I was cleaning out some catbriar vines
and made sure to dig up the tubers.
I cleaned off my backyard habitat sign and rehung it
at the front corner of the lot so my neighbors can see it. 

Good night moonflower!

A sunrise on the banks 
of the St. Johns River

Good Night Moonflower

Good night moonflower.
As the sun is rising, 
And others wait to start their day,
You fold up your brilliant white petals,
That glow in the dark,
to attract your night-flying pollinators.
Daytime's here. Your work is done!

The saltmarsh mallows (Kosteletzkya pentacarpos) glow in the sunrise.
I hope you are having good summertime adventures in your yard and gardens.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Summertime, summertime...

Is it spring or fall?

Several years ago, I purchased this native fall-blooming aster, but each year it has bloomed in both the late spring and early fall.  Its breaking of bud dormancy may be caused by the same length of day as its correct blooming time. Whatever its problem, we do enjoy its surprise show each June. 
Anthill built into a yucca plant. 

Imported red fire ants!

A question from a reader: "We are trying to keep our yard as pesticide free as possible, however, we are having a lot of trouble with fire ants. We have a two year old who keeps getting worse and worse reactions to their bites. Can you give me any suggestions for dealing with the problem in a healthy way?"
My answer: Oh, I hate those imported red fire ants and I too suffer from nasty reactions to their stings.
- Boiling water works quickly: pour directly on the top of the hill in a slow steady stream so that it erodes a deep hole into the center of the nest. Warning: this will also kill any plant roots in the area.
- Disruption and cold water will take at least 2 sessions. You dig or rake away the whole top of the hill and then pour a whole watering can (2 or 3 gallons) of water over the area.
- Grits or rice poured on the top of the hill do not work.
- If you must use pesticide, use a bait type which will be taken into the next by workers.
- Never use a landscape-wide pesticide.

I did not use boiling water on the anthill pictured here because it would have killed the yucca. I quickly raked the hill down to soil level with a leaf rake and then poured a whole watering can on the spot. I also poured water on it the next day and then they were gone and I did not receive any ant stings in the process. Yay! 
I was in central Florida and pulled over to snap some photos of these native 12' tall hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus).

At Riverbend Park in Jupiter, I stopped to take a photo of this native seven sisters lily (Crinum americanum).

What were they thinking?
Back in 2007, the people in this Clay County house that we pass on a regular basis planted 12 queen palms along their fence and directly under the wires. Only 2 of the 12 have survived the winters here in north Florida.

Why do people plant (and more importantly, continue to sell) these queen palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) in North Florida? Here are the four big reasons why you should find another palm for your landscape:
1) Queen palms are tropical plants and are NOT cold tolerant. If the temperatures dip below 25ยบ F, most of its fronds will die. After a cold winter, if the palm's growing stem survives, it'll look terrible for six months or longer.
2) Unlike most palms, queens are not wind resistant. In a tabulation of trees lost in the hurricanes in 2004 and 2006, queens blew over twice as much as any other palm.
3) Queen palms are not drought tolerant and will require irrigation to survive our seven-moth dry season, especially during a prolonged drought period.
4) Queen palms produce a huge amount of seed, which quickly becomes a smelly mess. Plus in central and south Florida, queens palms have invaded our natural habitats and are listed on the II Florida invasives list put together by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC).

And speaking of tropical weather...

Our 5-month wet season began on June 1.

You know it's summer when thunderheads are a daily occurrence. We thought we were going to get a nice cooling shower on a 95-degree day, but no. As ominous as this looked, it dissipated quickly and we didn't receive any rain this day.

Cooking to the harvest

A tabbouleh harvest includes a sprig of mint, curly parsley, garlic chives, and meadow garlic bulbs (not shown) . The parsley has begun to bolt, so it's time to harvest it all. A good chunk of it went into a 3-day tabbouleh--so called because my husband makes enough to provide the main course dinner for the two of us for three days.

For our tabbouleh recipe, read my post From compost to dinners. And if you look in the harvest photo above, you can see some marigolds growing among the Greek oregano. I've planted most of my marigold cover crop for the summer. The marigolds deter root-knot nematodes when planted as a cover crop and dug into the soil a few weeks before planting the fall crops. See my post Results: the nematode experiment for the details of the how and why.

I have been filling up my dance card for this fall. Be sure to check out the Appearances Page to find public events near you.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New book, book tour, and more

The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape

Yay! My new book is now available for preorder from Amazon. I've covered a wide array of topics, which I think have not been covered sufficiently in other books and online resources.

List of Chapters

1. Introduction to Natives and Their Ecosystems
2. Planning Native Plant Projects
3. Invasive Exotics
4. Site Preparation and Landscape Editing
5. Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Natives
6. Propagation Techniques
7. Minding Your Edges
8. Managing Freedom Lawns, Lawn Replacements, and Meadows
9. Creating and Maintaining Groves, Hedgerows, and Fencerows
10. Landscaping in Moist Habitats
11. Beyond Your Yard
Appendix I. Suggested Native Plant List
Appendix II. Types of Mulch

Illustrations are by Marjorie Shropshire

Marjorie has done a wonderful job with her illustrations, which make complex topics easy to understand.

This one answers the question, "What to do with a messy lawn tree?"

Book Tour

I'll be a speaker at the Florida Native Plant Society's conference at the end of May, but since the book won't be out until August, my official book tour will be from August 31st until November 15th.  See the Appearances tab for an up-to-date list.  Email me at

As tempting as it is to have fresh tomatoes from your garden, summer is NOT the time to plant them even though distributors for big box stores are trying to sell them to us. Wait until late August and you may end up with a moderate harvest before winter sets in. We included a detailed planting calendar by region in Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida 
Have you planted your summer cover crops yet?

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kohlrabi: a versatile cole crop

The weird stem enlargement is about the size of an apple...
Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) is one of the many cole crops (cabbage, kale, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and more), which have all been bred from just one plant species. Kohl is the German word for cabbage—hence they are the "cole crops" and why cabbage salad is called cole slaw. The word kohlrabi means cabbage apple in German, which makes a lot of sense because of the size of its stem enlargement and its sweet taste and crispy texture.

Because kohlrabi is easy-to-grow and has few pests in an organic garden, helps to explain its recently gained popularity with farmers markets and local food groups. It has been grown as a crop in Europe for centuries. Grown for its weird Sputnik-shaped enlarged stem-bulb with leaves sticking out at odd angles. You can consume both the enlarged stem and its leaves.

Be sure to leave enough room when you plant the kohlrabi
so they can expand to their full size. 

Planting kohlrabi

Plant seeds directly in the garden or start in flats in the fall and periodically throughout the winter until mid-February in Florida. Plant seeds or plants at 6 to 8 inches apart so they have enough room to develop. If too many seeds come up together, transplant them early so they get a good start. Amend soil well with compost and composted manure for the best growth.

Planting locations should be in full sun or slight shade with more shade for the later plantings. Mulch around stems with pine needles to keep weeds at bay and to hold in moisture. Irrigate regularly, but deeply. 

Cut the stem-bulb when it's two to three inches in diameter. Larger bulbs become tough and woody and definitely harvest before hot weather arrives. There may be some regrowth after harvesting, but usually only the leaves.
Sliced about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thin, pan-fried in olive oil, and
garnished with grated Parmesan cheese.


There are many ways to prepare kohlrabi:
1) cook it like a turnip and all its ways (roasted, mashed, or in a soup), especially if it's 5 inches in diameter or larger.
2) grate the enlarged stem and use them in salads or instead of zucchini in breads. 

3) cut the stem into sticks and use them as dipping vegetables.
4) use the leaves as you'd use any of the leafy cole crops including veggie chips, added raw to salads or cole slaw, chopped in soups, or mixed in with a mess of cooked greens.

All the cole crops are the same species: Brassica oleracea.

Aren't cole crops amazing?
Consider planting this interesting cole vegetable in your cool-weather edible garden next year.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Remarkable resurrection ferns

Resurrection ferns dried and hydrated.

Resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides)

While I'd seen spare populations of resurrection ferns when I lived in Maryland, I really became aware of them when I read "Light a Distant Fire," an historic novel about Osceola and the Seminoles by Lucia St. Clair Robson. She wrote about how the scouts could disappear into the ferns on the live oak branches. After we moved to Florida, I came to see how this could be accomplished.

This is a true fern that reproduces via spores, but it is also an epiphyte or air plant. It does not need to be in contact with soil to live. It derives its needs from the air, especially the humidity and dust that it carries.

The common name of resurrection fern is due to its ability to lose 95% of its moisture, stop its photosynthesis, and go into a type of suspended state when it appears to be dead. When it rains or when the humidity becomes high enough, the fronds unfurl and turn green in a matter of hours. Hence the name resurrection fern, because it arises from the dead.

Most other plants will die if they lose 10 to 15% of their water. Scientists have discovered that this fern has a high concentration of a special protein (dehydrin) in or near its cell walls when it is brown. When the fern is green this protein is not present indicating a chemical reaction as the water exits the cells.  In other words as the plant is drying, dehydrin allows the cell walls in the leaf to fold so that the unfolding when water is present can be reversed without damage. For the science of dehydrin see this paper in The American Journal of Botany.

Steve Christman over on states that you can propagate these ferns by laying pieces of the rhizome into the furrows of the bark of the tree where you want to grow it. I may try this one day, because I'd love to have more of them around on our property. On the other hand, I can wait for Mother Nature to plant them in appropriate places without doing any work.

But whatever the science, these small ferns add to the charm of Florida's live oaks. 

In their normal habitat: horizontal branches of a live oak (Quercus verginiana).

This is in South Florida in the wet season, but the ferns are turning brown around the edges.

The fern looks dead, but it's not...
After reading this post, go drink some water, because humans will die when we lose only 15% of our water. Also, full disclosure: Lucia and I are good friends and were neighbors in Maryland where she still lives and where she has written a bunch of fun-to-read and well-researched historicals. She was a librarian and knows how to make her readers feel like full participants in the story.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter: a good time to remove invasive plants

Wedelia or creeping oxeye daisy (Sphagneticola trilobata): a beautiful invader. 

Less lawn...

When we moved into our house here in North Florida, we let several areas of lawn grow out. I've written about this several times. See From lawn to woods: a retrospective, for what has happened out front.

Here's the other half of the story. Our 1.5 acre lot is long and pie-shaped. Out back is a narrowing strip to the lake. We decided early on that we'd not continue to mow this whole area and just leave a pathway that could be mowed with one trip down and one trip back on the riding mower. The area opens up by the lake, so there is more  mowing to do down there.

So this is what happened...
2007. Vast section of lawn that we let grow out became engulfed by wedelia. Looking back toward the house from the pathway to the lake.

The gardener strikes back...

By 2007, the wedelia, which had been controlled in the lawn by mowing, grew like crazy. So it was time to strike back. I did not want to kill everything in the area, so pulling was the best option. And with some follow-up this has worked pretty well.

Pulling the wedelia by rolling it up like a rug. Yes, leather gloves were necessary here.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the path...

2007. A work in progress: pulling the wedelia from the slope next to the shallow ravine between our property and our neighbor's. This photo was taken from approximately the same place as the above photo, but looking toward the lake.
I started the removal project on the other side of the path where the wedelia was covering ferns, small beautyberry bushes and other desirable vegetation. You can see some of the ferns, mostly netted chain ferns (Woodwardia areolata), in the above photo. One good reason for tackling this project in the winter is that the ferns die back in the winter.

It didn't take long for the ferns to totally fill in this ravine and slope, which is what I'd hoped for.

2009. These ferns are lovely for most of the year.
They die back  only for a couple of months here.
The fertile fronds bear a chain of sori that hold the spores. 
Because it's invasive and because there are parts of the plants that did not get pulled, it's necessary to check for new sprouts on a regular basis. The first year after removal, I checked every other month. For a couple of years I checked twice a year. Now I check every other year, because I sure don't want to start all over again. So a few weeks ago, I found a few sprouts at the bottom of the ravine where it's dampest and more near the lake shore.

A sprout found on my latest foray.

While I'm out hunting for wedelia sprouts, I also removed
the other big invasive on our property coral ardisia.
On the upland side of the path, the plant community has changed from a meadow-like area to a wooded ecosystem and is filled with small trees. It has become too shady for the wedelia to take off, but I still found a few sprouts. I also found a fair number of coral ardisia (Ardisia crenata) plants and some wild taro (Colocasia esculenta). So while I was removing invasives, I worked on all of them.

I'll cover the transformation of this area in a post later in the year.

For more information on what is invasive in Florida, see the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive website, which has not only the list of the 76 most invasive plants in Category I and the potentially invasive list in Category II, there are links for most of these invasive plants for more information.

I know that my maintenance removal project will continue because so many of my neighbors continue to grow these plants, but at least our property will become less of a problem going forward.

Indian blanketflowr (Gaillardia pulchella) and a Cicada killer (Sphecius speciosus

Making room for native plants is so important for the heath of our environment.
I'm working on doing my part. Are you?

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt