Thursday, December 30, 2010

More on Pruning this Winter

The National Weather Service is predicting a few more cold, winter days toward the end of January.  So heavy pruning should not be on your mind at this time.  If you can't wait, light pruning or at least picking up the fallen leaves and twigs will be OK but don't over do it.  Save the heavy pruning until early spring, around mid February.  For more information about what to do after the freeze, our sister county extension office in Osceola County has some good advice.  Visit this website:

Before you start pruning, make sure your pruning tools are sharp.  Now would be a good time to not only sharpen you pruning tools, but sharpen the lawn mower blade too.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Twenty-Two New Florida Master Gardener Volunteers to Serve Orange County

After thirteen weeks of education and training, twenty-two Orange County residents recently passed written exams at the UF-IFAS/Orange County Extension Education Center. They join the ranks of 102 active Florida Master Gardeners, bringing the total serving the County to 124. 

They will return 75 hours of volunteer service and earn 10 hours of continuing education credit during the next twelve months before they will certified as a Florida Master Gardener.

The next Master Gardener training course will take place from August 2011. Applications and interviews for that class will be scheduled for early June.  For information, send your e-mail address, snail mail address, and telephone number to, visit, or call (407) 254-9200.

Friday, December 24, 2010

New Web Address (URL) for Extension Office Website

For years, to view the Orange County Extension Website, it has been difficult to remember the website address and just as difficult to explain that it is an abbreviation for the Orange County Extension (ocextension) at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ifas) at the University of Florida (ufl) an Educational Institution (edu).  When you put it all together it looks like this:  Now it will be easier to remember because the "ocextension" name can be replaced with "orange". 

As we move into the new year, you may use this link to find the Orange County/UF-IFAS Extension Service:  It will also help to remember that if you need to send e-mail with or without digital attachments (documents or photos) to the Orange County/UF-IFAS Extension Service, the email address is very similar:

If you have the old website address (URL) bookmarked or in your favorites list, it will still work because both names are approved for use when  viewing the Orange County/UF-IFAS Extension Service website.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Companion Plants --- Practical Gardening Advice or More Confusion?

"Planting polycultures (using multiple crops in the same space) to prevent insects from becoming established is on of the best means of providing protection to your garden there is." (Source: The Truth about Organic Gardening, by Jeff Gillman, pg74).  Dr. Gillman also states "Don't plant the same types of plants next to each other.  When you do you offer insects the opportunity to eat their fill of one plant and then simply move on the one next to it." 

"Most people think of plants as very passive organisms. They grow almost unperceptively, and only once a year do they flower or produce edible products. However, plants are very active in ways that are not so obvious to the casual observer. For example, plants change the chemistry of the soil, and influence the types of microorganisms that grow there. They actively compete with other plants for space. Some will poison their neighbor's offspring to maintain a competitive advantage, while others change the environment in ways that benefit other species. Plants wage a constant battle with insects, relying heavily on chemical warfare."  (Source:

Many land grant universities will state there has not been sufficient research done to substantiate the value of companion plants in the garden.  After all, that plant is supposed to protect your valued vegetable plant by either repelling harmful insects, inviting beneficial insects, or exude chemicals into the surrounding soil that may harm or deter unwanted insects and other pests.    Some will provide a list for your use with a disclaimer such as this one at Cornell University:   Adding these plants to the soil will increase competition for the valuable resources our vegetables need --- light, water, nutrients, and space.  

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott ( states: "There is no scientific basis, however, for any of the several lists that exist describing “traditional companion plants”. Like horoscopes, these lists may be fun to use, but they should not be perceived or promoted as scientifically valid any more than astrology. Furthermore, those of us who value the science behind our horticultural practices should avoid using this phrase for precisely the same reason."  

"The magic and mystery of companion planting have intrigued and fascinated humans for centuries, yet it is a part of the gardening world that has never been fully explored."  (Source:  Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte, pg 1).  Gardeners have recommended certain combination of plants for a long time.  None has been scientifically proven to perform as these gardeners claim, but some do seem to make good common sense as interplants. Test them yourself.  Let's share what you have learned. 

I find that too often, the plant lists are incompatible with considering Central Florida gardening seasons.  For example, rarely do we plant tomatoes and carrots together.  Tomatoes are warm season crops and carrots are cool season crops.  I believe that some benefits could be derived by some "intercropping" of vegetables such as the Three Sisters garden suggests: corn, beans and squash (  For the so called "companion plants" that can be used as a trap crops to lure certain pests from the vegetable garden, I like to keep them in containers so I can move them about in the garden and keep them from competing with my valued vegetables for the limited resources in the garden --- light, water, nutrients and space.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Prune or Not to Prune ...........

The plants are not looking too good after a couple of days of freezing weather.  Leaf drop after a freeze is usually a good thing because it indicates that stem tissue is alive.  If leaves are dead and hang on, then stem damage has occurred.

Now is NOT the time to prune.  Dead foliage may look bad, but it helps insulate the plant from further damage.  The rest of winter is ahead of us and pruning could encourage new tender growth that could cause greater damage to the plant.  Wait until spring and when the new flush of growth appears, prune back to that point or consider replacing that plant with one that will survive the winter season in Orange County.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vegetable Gardening in Florida

Learn the BASICS at the Orange County Extension Education Center (6021 S. Conway Road) on Saturday, January 15th at 9:00AM. 

If you are new to Florida and enjoy growing vegetables, this is the class for you.   If you have been here for some time and still having difficulty growing vegetagles, come to this class to learn what you are missing.  The vegetable gardening season is from September to June.  Sometimes you can grow selected vegetables during the summer, and that will be discussed too.

Visit this website: to pre-register online or call our office at (407) 254-9200 to pre-register as seating is always limited for this popular program so everyone will have a handout and planting guide.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wind Chill Factor and Plants

Don't worry about your plants if the wind chill is below freezing but the temperature isn't. Plants don't feel wind chill the way people do.

The term 'wind chill' was developed to express how the combination of wind speed and temperature 'feel' on exposed skin. The skin has nerves which transmit that feeling to the brain and we say, 'Boy, it sure feels a lot colder than 30 degrees with all this wind.' But the plant doesn't feel.  It has no nerves to transmit that impulse. So to use the term 'wind chill' in relation to plants is meaningless.  But that's not to say that wind and cold do not affect plants.  Wind can increase the evaporation of soil moisture, thus speeding drying and making water harder for the plant to come by. Wind also speeds evaporation of moisture from the plant surface. (Source: Rob Gough, Montana State University Extension Agent)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Volunteer Management System

The new Volunteer Management System will be implemented on January 1st, 2011.  Are you ready?  This will be the only method for recording your volunteer hours.  It is convenient and can be accessed from any computer on the Internet.  If you don't remember the website address, look in the right hand column under "Resources for Orange County Master Gardeners".  Now you will be able to track your volunteer progress and record all those hours you often missed in the past with the "paper trail" method.  Contact Ed or Frances in the office once you have your profile set up.  Every Project must have an Event name and you can record both volunteer and continuing education (GEUs) hours with the same entry if you have both (such as those hours recorded at the monthly Lunch 'N' Learn meeting).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When to Harvest Citrus Due to Expected Freezing weather

Harvest citrus that are ripe before the freeze if temperatures are going to drop below 28°F for at least 4 hours.  If fruit is not ripe, take a chance and leave fruit on the tree because citrus will not ripen once picked.  Prior to a severe freeze, protect graft unions of young citrus by banking clean sand around the trunk just above the graft union.

Water 24 to 48 hours prior to a freeze if there is no rainfall, but do not water at night during a freeze.   New water restrictions do not include this variation in days, but watering can done by hand.  It’s best to water during the early part of the day to gain the most benefit. 

Monday, December 6, 2010



Although mistletoe is generally associated with winter holidays, this parasitic plant grows year-round.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cold Season Plant Protection

Be prepared this year to protect your plant from cold weather and freezing weather (they are not the same).  Many tropicals especially tropical palm need some protections when the temperatures get near 40-degrees.  Use cloth covers to protect the bud (where the fronds appear at the top of the palm) and then cover the plant all the way to the ground.  Outdoor lights under the cover may help too but make sure the light bulb does not touch the cloth.  If you want to use plastic, then build a frame around your plant so the plastic will not touch any part of the plant.  These frames need to be well anchored to the ground so they do not blow over.  Here is some additional help:  Cold Protection of Ornamental Plants ( and Cold Damage on Palms (

Stay Warm.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Solutions for Small Farmers and Home Gardens: Building a Low-Cost Vertical Soilless System for Production of Small Vegetable and Fruit Crops

HS1186, is a 5-page illustrated fact sheet that provides written and graphic instructions on how to build a homemade vertical soilless (hydroponic) growing system (also known as “bottle grow”) to produce vegetables and small fruit crops at a fraction of the cost of commercially available systems, without occupying premium agricultural land and by utilizing materials available in the home and local hardware store. Published by the UF Department of Horticultural Sciences, November 2010.


Welcome to the Orange County Master Gardener Blog.  Information at this site will be based on unbiased, scientific researched information from the University of Florida/Orange County Extension Education Center and/or other land grant universities around the country.

Questions received at the Orange County/UF IFAS Extension Education Center will be posted to share educational information and increase knowledge about Florida-Friendly lansdcaping and gardening with readers and County Master Gardener Volunteers primarily in the Central Florida area.

If you have a question or suggestion for improvement please send an e-mail to

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