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


My Garden Nemesis? Drake Elm Seedlings… March 5, 2011

Late winter and early spring in central Florida should be a time for new beginnings. In the garden, that means pruning plants to encourage new growth, creating new landscaped beds, and replenishing mulch in existing beds. The experience should be rejuvenating and enjoyable.

The drake elm is deciduous, losing its leaves in winter months.

During our last workday at the Bette S Walker Discovery Garden at the UF IFAS Hillsborough County Extension Service, however, it was anything but.

We received an extraordinary number  of phone calls late last year about the bumper crop of acorns that were falling on heads and being stashed away by squirrels. But there was another plant that took advantage of the early December freeze and quick warm-up immediately after — the drake elm.

This tree, often stunning because of its textured bark, long limbs and small, delicate leaves, produced a record number of seeds this year. These seeds are very small and are easily carried on the wind.

Drake elm seedlings in the mulch

But what do you get from seeds? That’s right… SEEDLINGS!!! Thousands and thousands of them. Under the tree, in the mulch, in the pots, in the bromeliads, in the bird feeder, under the bench, along the edge of the pond, in the Asiatic jasmine ground cover, in-between the pavers… need I say more?

Days after hitting them with a 5% solution of Roundup®, they still stood tall and green, mocking me. So while the Master Gardener volunteers were enjoying the glorious weather in which to prune and plant, I was cursing under my breath crawling on hands and knees to rid every inch of the Discovery Garden from my nemesis — elm seedlings.

Luckily, they were merely growing in the top layer of mulch, so I was able to take a hard rake and fluff the mulch, thereby disturbing the tender roots of the seedlings. This was by no means a permanent fix, but at least I’ve thwarted maybe 50% of them from their cunning plan to take over the garden.

In another week or so, I’ll head out there again to attack the remaining vigilante seedlings before their roots actually touch soil! AARRGGHH!

More elm seedlings...

After raking the mulch and disturbing the seedlings


Cold Hardy Palms – Part III January 14, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 10:19 pm
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Needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) – Usually found in the understory of rich hardwood forests throughout the southeastern United States, needle palm can be adapted to full sun conditions in a landscape. This clustering palm is essentially trunkless and will send out several fronds from a fiber-matted crown near the ground. The fronds are deeply divided, with a dark green color above and silver below. The farther north in the state this palm is planted, the slower it will grow.

Windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) – A native of China, the windmill palm is capable of withstanding fairly severe freezes with no damage. On the other hand, it is short-lived in hot tropical climates. The single, erect trunk appears to be wrapped in burlap and does well in small spaces, since it is slow-growing. Windmill palm does best in partly shady, well drained soils with above average fertility, but it will survive in almost anything except perpetually soggy conditions. In warm temperate zones, this palm provides just enough of a tropical accent to be warranted a necessary plant for the Florida landscape.

Although many palms look like trees, they are actually more closely related to lilies, grasses, irises, orchids and bromeliads. All these plants belong to the division of flowering plants known as monocots. Knowing this is important for the proper care of palms, since the future of a palm stem rides upon the continued health of a single actively growing bud. If this bud, known as the “heart” of the palm, is killed or severely damaged, the entire palm is doomed to eventual death.

The 2010 winter season was a real eye-opener for many homeowners that were growing palms well out of their recommended hardiness zones. If you lost palms to the cold, consider these hardy options in the coming year to maintain your little piece of Florida paradise.


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.


Cold Hardy Palms – Part I January 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 10:16 pm
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In most parts of the country, the mere mention of living in Florida conjures up images of warm breezes, sunny beaches, and palm trees. But not all palms can grow in all parts of the state; many of them are restricted to the southern reaches of the peninsula because of their low cold tolerance. So what’s a northern Florida homeowner to do?

There are a number of palms – some popular and some underutilized – that are suitable for hardiness zones across the entire state. Common palms used in many residential landscapes include the Washington palm (Washingtonia robusta), cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and saw palmetto (Serenoa repens).

The next 3 posts will be a series with descriptions of some other, less well-known palms that will tolerate the colder temperatures of central and north Florida.

Pindo palm (Butia capitata) – With striking blue-green, feather-like fronds, pindo palm is commonly used as a specimen plant in the landscape. Because of its high drought resistance, it is also regularly used in medians and parking lot islands. This plant is also known as the jelly palm for its edible fruit. Although the fruit color and taste differ from plant to plant, the best quality pindo fruits are very sweet with a pineapple/banana flavor. The fruit is used to make a very tasty jelly.

European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) – Suitable as a container-grown or landscape specimen, the European fan palm usually grows in clusters, rather than with a single trunk. Native to the Mediterranean region, from the coast to over 3000 feet in elevation, this slow-growing palm does best in full sun. The palmate leaves vary in color and can be green, blue-green or silvery green. This variation makes for an interesting focal point in the home landscape. Dead fronds will remain on the plant, but can be pruned away to reveal a mat of dark fibers around the trunk. Be wary of the many fierce orange spines along each petiole, though.


Windy Freeze Predicted Tonight — What to do? December 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 1:35 am
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Radiational freezes or frosts occur on calm, clear nights when heat radiates from the surfaces of objects into the environment.  When the air is moist, a radiant freeze results in frost on surfaces.  Dry radiational freezes leaves no frost but can cause freeze damage.

Windy cold, like what’s predicted for tonight, results in an advective freeze. Advective freezes occur when cold air masses move from northern regions causing a sudden drop in temperature.  Due to the rapid drop in temperature and prolonged duration, plant protection during advective freezes is often more difficult.

Coverings protect more from frost than from extreme cold. During freezes with windy weather, the covers tend to be less effective because the wind blows the heat away. During windy freezes or very cold nights, the addition of plastic sheeting over the cloth may be worth the effort on valuable plants.

Covers that extend to the ground and are not in contact with plant foliage can lessen cold injury by reducing radiant heat loss from the plant and the ground.

Foliage in contact with the cover is often injured because of heat transfer from the foliage to the colder cover. Some examples of coverings are cloth sheets, quilts, or black plastic.


  • Move container plants inside or under protective covering like a lanai. Group containers together to increase their protection.
  • Use windbreaks like fences, walls, tree canopies or other coverings to protect container plants that can’t come inside. Coverings include frost cloth, sheets and quilts, plastic, and even large cardboard boxes (these work great).
  • A string of Christmas lights or a light bulb placed under a protective cloth may be enough to provide simple protection to ornamental plants.
  • Most perennials are root hardy. Use mulch to protect the roots, and be accepting of foliage that dies back to the ground.


Agricultural operations use sprinkling for cold protection, which helps keep leaf surface temperatures near 32°F (0°C) because sprinkling utilizes latent heat released when water changes from a liquid to a solid state. Sprinkling must begin as freezing temperatures are reached and continue until thawing is completed. Water must be evenly distributed and supplied in ample quantity to maintain a film of liquid water on the foliage surfaces. Based on weather reports, that means running the sprinkler system tonight from 2 am to 8 am. WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS OPTION for home landscapes! Residential landscape sprinkler systems do not have the needed flow to protect plants in this manner. As a result, cold damage to plants from inadequate amounts of irrigation water may be more severe than if nothing was done at all.

Instead, prepare your landscape by moving plants to a protected area and covering with protective cloths before the sun goes down this evening. Then snuggle up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa.


Freezing temperatures predicted again, so whatever you do tonight, you’ll probably have to do again tomorrow.

Remove plastic covers when the sun comes out and the temperatures rise above freezing or provide ventilation of trapped solar radiation. This will prevent your plants from “baking.”

By Wednesday, remove the protective coverings and check plants to make sure they have enough water. Wind causes evaporative loss, so plants may be suffering from both cold stress AND water loss. Do not overwater, though. Use your finger to check the moisture of the soil.

There is debate about pruning after a hard freeze:

  • OPTION 1 – Wait until freeze risk has passed (about February 15th), check plants for living tissue, then prune back to remove dead/dying tissue. The damaged plant material helps to insulate and protect the still living parts of the plants.
  • OPTION 2 – Prune all dead and freeze damaged tissue back immediately after a freeze. This will make plants easier to cover and protect if freezing temperatures return before the end of the season.

An Introduction to Aquascaping October 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 11:55 pm
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Florida may be surrounded by saltwater, but there are thousands of freshwater systems (both natural and created) in the form of lakes, ponds, and wetlands scattered across the state.  These seemingly insignificant water bodies play a rather significant role in our state’s environmental issues. They provide flood protection, water purification, and fish and wildlife habitat. In residential neighborhoods, they can even increase property values by added aesthetic appeal.

There is a large disparity in the design of many man-made freshwater systems. The majority will have some type of turfgrass growing all along the banks, right down to the water’s edge. This is common because it’s easy to maintain and properly managed turfgrass acts as a filter for pollutants, reduces erosion, and allows a view across the water. Yet, there are other options.

Aquascaping is the planting of aquatic and wetland plants to enhance or restore the function of a freshwater system, whether natural or man-made. Although this process is only an imitation of nature, the benefits are tremendous.

The key is to identify the slope of the shoreline and choose plants according to their tolerance of water depth. There are four identified planting zones in a freshwater shoreline, although there may be fewer depending on the actual design of the individual water body. If you have the opportunity to design and build a small pond on your own property, consider one that is irregular in shape, since it will have a greater shoreline area and offer more wildlife habitat than a round or rectangular pond.

The deep zone has a water level that ranges between 90 cm and 150 cm deep. Many plants suitable for this zone may be completely submerged year round. Examples include spatterdock and water lilies. The mid zone ranges 15 cm to 90 cm deep and may include plants like arrowhead, maidencane, pickerel weed, and soft-stem bulrush. The shallow zone can have standing water as deep as 15 cm, or can have exposed up to 15 cm above the water level. Many plants for this zone must tolerate periods of complete exposure and partial submergence. Examples include sand cordgrass and blue flag iris. The shallowest zone is known as the transition zone and remains exposed all year, with soil ranging 15 cm to 45 cm above the water level. Salt grass and cordgrass are examples of plants tolerant of this zone.

Because Florida has an abundance of native and exotic, non-invasive aquatic plants, it is not at all difficult to beautify the shoreline of a pond or small lake. Utilize a variety of plants that will look natural, add color, texture, and fragrance to the landscape, provide better defense against invasive species, and offer food and shelter to wildlife. Avoid exotic plants that are invasive or have invasive potential. The University of Florida’s IFAS Assessment of Florida’s Non-Native Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/) offers recommendations about plants based on the north, central, and south regions of the state. The IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu) also provides lots of useful information to get you started.

The final consideration with aquascaping is maintenance. As with any garden or landscaped area, maintenance is necessary to keep away weeds and unwanted invasive plants. Hand-pulling unwanted plants is the best option to maintaining around your pond, although a few chemical herbicides are available for homeowners to purchase in retail garden or hardware stores. If you choose to use herbicides, read all labels carefully. Make sure that the product is labeled for use in or near water bodies, follow all instructions for use, and wear the proper protective gear.

For more information about aquascaping and other Florida-friendly landscaping practices, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office or visit http://FloridaYards.org.


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