Monday, April 29, 2019

Crepe Myrtles

I presume that by now everybody knows not to commit “Crepe Murder” (or an alternate name is “hatracking”) by shearing down all the top branches and ruining the shape of these beautiful trees.  

If you need a smaller plant, did you know that there are a staggering number of cultivars of Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)?  You can find all shades of white, pink, red, or purple (sorry, no blues or yellows), and all sized from 3 feet to 50 feet high.  Some grow wide and short, some tall and narrow, with all sizes in between.  So, you see, there is no need to prune your tree to the size you want – go buy one of the desired size and color. They are remarkably hardy and healthy.  As a bonus, the bark of many cultivars is beautifully colored with brownish red patches, and a lightly colored peeling habit. It is wonderful as a replacement tree since it lends itself to our present residential-sized lots and neighborhoods. 

There are two nurseries in driving distance (Gainesville or Valdosta) which specialize in these trees – they do advertise on the internet.  I hope you find one or more to suit your landscape.

May your horticultural results be as fulfilling as your gardening diligence.      

Martha Dysart

Friday, April 26, 2019

Spring is the Season for Iris

I’m not talking about those big, beautiful bearded iris (they won’t last here), rather I am thinking of so-called walking iris.  True, they are one-day-wonders, but if you have a big patch of them, they will all bloom on the same day, then wait a day, then all bloom again.  I have no idea why they do this, but having asked everybody who grows them, I find that every person has the same experience.  

Walking iris (Iris) are named for their habit of growing flowers on long stems which eventually get an “air” root system which becomes increasingly heavy.  The stem falls over, the root starts to attach to the soil and grow another plant – hence it “walked” to a new location.  They are quite “polite” in their spreading habit, and easy to pull out if your patch gets too big.  A little morning or mid-day sun and regular water is all they need.  These patches also grow pretty densely, so weeds are discouraged from growing except on the edge.

The most common species is Neomarica gracilis.  It is white with royal blue accents.

A second type that I have seen a lot is the yellow with brown specks -- Neomarica longifolia.

 A third type, and not very common is the sky-blue Neomarica caerulea. 

All three can be easily grown in this area.  They are pretty cold-hardy, but their leaves can get ratty looking after a freeze (just cut them off).  They bloom in late March or early April, and are a welcome sight in your barely awakening garden.

May your horticultural results be as fulfilling as your gardening diligence.

Martha Dysart

Thursday, April 25, 2019

MMI Workshop

On May 4, 2019, two Monarch-Milkweed plant classes will be presented during the Mandarin Garden Club's free public weekend.

If you are interested in learning about the Monarch butterfly migration, how to grow native only milkweed plants to raise them or the benefits of having a butterfly garden, please consider joining us.  The workshops will be held at 9:15 a.m. and again at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Native Milkweed/Monarch Butterfly Presentation

The 1st day of Spring in 2019 is officially Wednesday, March 20th, but a quick check outside, reveals nature operates on a schedule all her own.

The Monarch-Milkweed Initiative takes proactive action statewide to save the world's most recognizable butterfly species. 

On Thursday, 3/14, the first MMI presentation was launched at Celestial Farms on the north side of Jacksonville.  At the invitation of Duval County 4H, a pair of master gardeners shared their knowledge of native milkweed plants and the national campaign to save the Monarch butterfly species.  The class and activities tied into the group's ongoing study with the 4H Project Monarch plan.

Photo:  George DeMarino discussing the anatomy & metamorphosis of the Monarch butterfly (12 kids/6 parents)

Celestial Farms 4H was awarded a grant to grow 1,000 native milkweed plants from seed which will be dispersed in various locations around the city. The majority of the new plants are Asclepias Verticillata or Whorled.  While some seed was scattered in their established butterfly garden, the heart of the project involved individual seeds planted by hand.

Photo:  The wall of potted seeds, the 4H butterfly garden and photo of a matured whorled milkweed plant

Live monarch caterpillars were included in the class & visually assisted the participants in learning the impressive metamorphosis cycle. Post meeting, the 4H students enthusiastically jumped in to transfer the same caterpillars to live milkweed in their garden and help MG Candace Barone plant native Tuberosa starters along with some donated nectar plants to attract more pollinators.  A DIY butterfly puddler was put together and placed in the garden to finish the afternoon project.

Awareness is spreading from both ends of the County and people of all ages are learning the importance of planting native Florida milkweed.

If you would to offer this presentation to a group, please email a request to:  The next scheduled workshop will be offered on May 4th, 2019 at the Mandarin Garden Club public event:  25th Anniversary of the Taylor Native Garden.

The ongoing work to raise more starter milkweed should yield new plants for the Mandarin Garden Club May workshop and their annual plant sale on Saturday, April 27th.    

Open to the public Monday-Friday, Celestial Farms, a non-profit organization, is home to many groups, offers a wonderful children's camp & sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals.

13958 Duval Rd 32218

   Submitted by:  MG Candace Barone

Monday, March 4, 2019


I don’t usually write about insects . . . they are not one of my abiding interests.  However --  there is one insect which intrudes on my person, and keeps reminding me of its presence for several days afterward.  That is the Twig Ant (I called them Tree Ants before I found out the real name).  Pseudomyrmex gracilis  ants really do live in trees (until they fall onto your neck or crawl onto your arm when you reach into a bush).  They are invaders from Mexico (undocumented?) and now reside all along our southern tier states.

They do not bite, but sting; their venom feels like a hard pinch for 30 minutes or more and they can repeatedly sting on one visit.  After you feel the sting, you will see a pretty big swelling around the sting that will go down in a few hours.  Just when you feel like that bite is over, here comes the itch.  It is an intense itch that can last for several days. As far as I know you just have to grit your teeth and swallow hard to get over it.

You will recognize this ant as a large slender ant that is either dark reddish brown or black.  There are much longer identifications that I have read, but that’s all you really need (or maybe want) to know.  If you want to do further research, I suggest you use their scientific name in your internet browser.  These things have a really bad disposition, and will bite at the least provocation, including getting trapped in your clothes.  Some people advise that you not smack them, but flick them off with your finger.  Supposedly you have less a chance of being stung.  (Okay, if you say so !!)

I hope this doesn’t deter you from gardening, it’s a small price to pay for such beauty and personal satisfaction.

May your horticultural results be as fulfilling as your gardening diligence.    

Martha Dysart.