Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Solutions you can use for your gardening problems.

Summer Flowers Could be Pesky Weed April 17, 2013

It’s April, and you may start to see these “beautiful” yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers falling from the sky or branches of your trees. Although it may resemble Allamanda, it may actually be cat’s claw vine. Macfadyena unguis-cati develops strong vines that grow up trees, fences, and buildings.

"Snake-like” seed pod, yellow trumpet-shaped flower, and young seedling.

“Snake-like” seed pod, yellow trumpet-shaped flower, and young seedling.

Look for identifying clues, such as vines climbing to the tops of trees, woody stems, tuberous roots, terminal 3-forked tendrils that appear “claw-like,” trumpet-shaped yellow flowers, and linear, flat fruit (seed) capsule. The runners may appear to be a groundcover.

Cat’s claw vine, Macfadyena unguis-cati is a nonnative, introduced plant that has become an ecological threat, naturalizing in north Florida and Georgia. Originating in the West Indies, Mexico, and Argentina, it may be confused with our native yellow Jessamine, Gelsemium spp. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council categorized Cat’s claw vine as a Category I exotic invasive.

For more information on identification and control, please contact the Hillsborough County Extension Service at (813) 744-5519.

Cat’s claw vine.

Cat’s claw vine.

Note: leaves opposite, compound, 2-leaflets, and terminal 3-forked, “claw-like” tendril.

Note: leaves opposite, compound, 2-leaflets, and terminal 3-forked, “claw-like” tendril.

Seedlings- note tuberous roots.

Seedlings showing tuberous roots.


UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants


Visit this website to see the UF/IFAS Assessment, download a recognition card, download a page from  from Identification and Biology of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas – Second Edition, by K.A. Langeland, H.M. Cherry, et al. University of Florida-IFAS Pub SP 257. 2008.

BioNET-EAFRINET Keys and Fact Sheets

Macfadyena ungus-cati (Cat’s Claw Creeper)


Invasive Plants of the Eastern United States: http://www.invasive.org

Ward, D.B. 2005. Putting a stop to the cat-claw vine infestation in Gainesville. Wildland Weeds 8(3):17.

Nicole Pinson
Extension Agent – Urban Horticulture
Master Gardener Coordinator
UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Service
5339 County Road 579
Seffner, FL 33584-3334
p: (813) 744-5519 X 54145


Growing Blueberries in Containers January 23, 2013

Question: We live in Tampa and would like to grow blueberries in containers. What are some varieties recommended for our area?

Several blueberry varieties grow well in Central Florida.

Several blueberry varieties grow well in Central Florida.

Great question!

Now is a perfect time to plant blueberries in Florida. It is easy to grow blueberries in containers and is typically much better than growing them in the ground. Blueberries thrive in a low pH soil. The recommended growing media for containerized blueberries is pine bark fines. You don’t need to plant them in additional soil as they will grow and perform best when planted directly in the pine bark.

Because pine bark is naturally acidic, this is the best media to use. Blueberries require a soil pH of 4.0-5.5. A relationship exists between soil pH and the nutrients available to plants. If your soil pH is higher or lower than the recommended range, you may encounter nutrient deficiencies that lead to poor growth and establishment. Please contact our office if you need information about soil testing to measure pH: http://hillsborough.ifas.ufl.edu/residential_lg/diagnostics.shtml

Pine bark fines make great potting medium.

Pine bark fines make a great potting medium.

Since most fruit needs high chilling requirements, proper cultivar selection of low-chill cultivars is important because Florida’s brief and mild winters do not provide periods of high chill. Two types of blueberries that grow well in Florida are rabbiteye Vaccinium virgatum and southern highbush- which includes the hybrids Vaccinium darrowii, Vaccinium virgatum and Vaccinium corymbosum. Southern highbush blueberries are adapted to the Tampa Bay area, as they grow well in areas south of Ocala and north of Sebring. Southern highbush is also recommended for container production.

The best time to plant blueberries is from mid-December to mid-February. Most blueberry cultivars require cross-pollination from another cultivar of the same type to set fruit, so you will need to plant multiple blueberry plants of the same cultivar. You can increase fruit set of your blueberries by encouraging beneficial insects (bees, wasps) and minimizing pesticide use or timing pesticide use when pollinators are less active.

To help you choose which cultivar you prefer (based on yield, taste considerations, ripening periods, etc.) and for information about recommended fertilizer application, irrigation, pruning, pests, and diseases, please visit this link and download the UF/IFAS pdf Blueberry Gardener’s Guide:http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg359

Growing several cultivars will lengthen your harvest season. Be sure to protect your blueberries from freezes and bird damage. Because blueberries are susceptible to Phytophthora root rot, do not plant them deeper than the pot. You can set them a little higher than the soil level.

Additional reference:

Blueberry Varieties for Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs215

Good luck!

Nicole Pinson
Extension Agent – Urban Horticulture
Master Gardener Coordinator
UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Service
5339 County Road 579
Seffner, FL 33584-3334
p: (813) 744-5519 X 54145



Don’t Judge a Snake by its Scales February 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 7:38 pm
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The snake slips and slides slowly, smoothly. Scales slither over soft grass, snaking silently to scare its prey… scary! (Borrowed from a grammar web site on alliteration.)

After our recent incident with the opossum in the Discovery Garden, it got me thinking about other garden critters that are around us. Some of these can be pretty inconspicuous and harmless, but they get a bad rep nonetheless. One in particular is snakes, and more specifically the black racer.

Did you know that you have a much greater chance of being in a car accident, getting a dog bite, being stung by a bee or being hit by lightning (we’re in Florida, remember) than getting a snake bite?

Adult black racer

The Southern black racer is a very common snake in much of Florida, and is a great means of rodent control. It eats a variety of prey items including frogs, lizards, mice, rats, small snakes and even birds’ eggs. As its name implies, the black racer is swift and agile. It spends most of its life on the ground, yet is an excellent climber and may be found in shrubs and small trees.

The juvenile black racer, however, has markings similar to the venomous pygmy rattlesnake, and often meets an untimely death because of this mistaken identity. Additionally, when threatened, the juvenile will coil up and “rattle” its tail in dry leaf litter in an attempt to mimic a rattlesnake. This ruse often works for other prey, which leave it alone, but humans see it as a threat and many will kill first, ask questions later.

Juvenile black racer

Pygmy rattlesnake

Most snakes in Florida can’t hurt you–let alone kill you. Venomous snakes like the coral snake and rattlesnakes are rarely seen in urban areas, because they don’t want to run into you any more than you want to run into them! It doesn’t mean they’re not there, though, so always be aware of your surroundings.

You can reduce the frequency of snake visits to your yard and home by eliminating firewood stacks, debris, boards, and other objects lying close to the ground that create appealingly cool, damp, and dark shelters and prey habitat areas. Remember, they’re looking for food, and these places are perfect for mice and other rodents to hide.

If you’re like me and find excitement in observing wildlife up close and personal, there is a great University of Florida IFAS publication on recognizing Florida’s venomous snakes – http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw229. However, PLEASE DO NOT PICK UP A SNAKE, even if you think it is non-venomous. All snakes will bite, if they feel threatened and have no other way of escape. And while there may not be any venom in the bite, it still hurts like the dickens… trust me, I speak from personal experience.

So, don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t judge a snake by its scales… although the eyes might offer some clues. When in doubt, walk (or run) away. If you want more confirmation and can take a good photo of it, send it to your local Extension office for identification.


Unidentified Dung Mystery Solved! January 29, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 9:17 pm
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JoAnn, the horticulture program assistant at the Extension office, went in this morning to work in the garden, and what do you think she saw? Well, the trap was set for several days, but our elusive critter waited patiently until last night to check it out (too much human activity in the garden during the work week, I suppose).

This little guy is definitely more than a baby, but not quite an adult. According to JoAnn, he even smiled at her (without the usual hissing that accompanies a possum’s “smile”).

So for now, the digging and pooping problem has been solved. However, the kumquats are still a mystery, since opossums are not known for their meticulous and delicate eating habits. More than likely, we also have rats. Great…


The photo to the left was borrowed from another blog (thanks, Debi in Merida), because I’m posting this from home and don’t have an actual photo of the eaten kumquats. However, the evidence is similar. Note the carefully gnawed hole on one side of the fruit and the insides that have been eaten. The kumquats look the same, except there is nothing left of the insides, since it is much smaller than this orange.

These are the joys and the frustrations that go along with having a garden in Florida. You have to learn to share your bounty with other critters. I’m an only child, though, and I’ve never really been into sharing… just kidding.


What’s that Smell??? January 21, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 8:18 pm
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One of the fun parts of being an extension agent is that I never know what might walk through the door from one day to the next. Most recently, a mildly frantic call from the front lobby brought me running up to see what was the matter. What hit me first, unfortunately, was the stench of the object in question, rather than the object itself.

A poor, unsuspecting homeowner had brought in a curious mushroom called a stinkhorn. This time of year, when

Credit: Sandra Buckingham

temperatures are cooler but not very dry, a foul-smelling mushroom appears in many landscapes. The odor is best described as rotting meat (think dead frog or dirty diaper that’s been sitting out in the sun), and the stench successfully attracts flies and ants that carry the mushroom’s spores to other places.  But this often causes people to come to us seeking advice on how to get rid of it.

The hardest part was convincing this particular homeowner that the mushroom was harmless, if not good for her landscape. In natural, wooded areas, mushrooms help the decomposition process by breaking down materials like rotting wood from fallen limbs and trees. In home landscapes, these stinkhorns will usually pop up in a landscaped bed with wood mulch. It’s not really a problem, unless your open kitchen window happens to be downwind from the garden. Pee-yew!

The stinkhorn fungi produce an egg-like growth that is partially hidden underground. From this “egg” a mushroom emerges. This is the reproductive part of the plant, and it is at this stage the unpleasant smell is released. So I recommended 4 options to the desperate homeowner:

1.      While wearing gloves, find the underground “eggs” and dispose of them in a plastic bag. This will help to reduce the spread of spores and cut off the source of the smell by hand-picking these mushrooms before they open.

2.      Clear the mulch in which the mushrooms are growing back to the soil level to try to remove most of the colonies

present. (This is a lot of work and is not guaranteed to solve the problem, though.)

3.      Consider planting ground covers like jasmine, ivy or mondo grass that will eventually fill-in and eliminate the need for wood mulch in that area. (This is definitely a long-term solution.)

4.      If all else fails, close all the windows, light a few scented candles, and wait until spring to venture out in the garden again. (Lucky for me, the homeowner had a sense of humor.)


Arbor Day Celebrates Trees January 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:03 pm
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National Arbor Day is the last Friday in April, but many states observe Arbor Day according to their best tree-planting times. In Florida, Arbor Day is celebrates on the third Friday in January.

There are several organizations in the Tampa Bay area that are always looking for volunteers, and this time of year volunteers are needed to participate in community tree plantings. Some of these organizations include:

  • Mayor’s Beautification Program – (813) 221-8733
  • Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful – (813) 960-5121
  • Sarasota County ReLeaf – (941) 922-3693
  • Nature Coast Botanical Gardens (Spring Hill, FL) – (352) 683-9933

There will likely be several events taking place on Friday, January 21st and through the weekend to promote healthy urban forest management and engage community members to become environmental stewards. If you know of specific events happening in the Tampa Bay or surrounding areas, please leave a comment here and I’ll post it up for all to see!

For more information on appropriate landscape trees for the Tampa Bay area, visit the UF IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Urban Forestry web site — http://bit.ly/HillsboroughTrees.


Cold Hardy Palms – Part II January 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 10:17 pm
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Petticoat palm (Washingtonia filifera) – This close relative of the common Washington palm used throughout Florida is, in my opinion, a much more attractive choice. Whereas one has to crane their neck to the sky to see the canopy of the Washington palm, the petticoat palm does not get as tall and has a much thicker trunk. W. filifera repeatedly survives dips into the teens and even several inches of snow, making it a favorite of cold-hardy palm enthusiasts. The dead fronds, if left on the palm year after year, will layer themselves neatly around the trunk, creating a petticoat, of sorts. Used most often out west in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas, the petticoat palm could do quite well in central and north Florida landscapes.

Mazari palm (Nannorrhops ritchiana) – Native to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Arabia, the Mazari palm is a slow-growing, clustering palm (similar to the European fan palm) and is considered the hardiest of all palms. Its powdery blue-green fronds are an eye-catching accent in the landscape. Mazari palm does not have a crownshaft and its stem remains below ground. It has branches above ground and slowly develops a bushy, shrub-like appearance. Throughout its desert range, this plant’s fibers are used for weaving and rope manufacture.


New Rain Gardening Publication November 1, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 8:42 pm
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HAPPY NOVEMBER! I recently posted a blog on the art of aquascaping. Now, I’d like to debut a brand new publication, hot off the presses — Rain Gardens: A Manual for Central Florida Residents. Click here for an online PDF version.

In-keeping with the principles and practices of Florida-Friendly Lanscaping™, this new rain garden manual walks you through the steps of identifying if a rain garden is right for you, where to put it, how to construct it, and what plants to use. The last few pages contain a suggested plant palette with color photos to help make the process a little easier.

Please let me know what you think about this manual. Dr. Gary Knox at the University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, FL, is currently working on a list of suggested rain garden plants for the entire state. So stay tuned… we’re just getting started!


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