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



EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival March 8, 2011

March is one of my favorite months of the year. The weather is just right for a little bit of spring cleaning and a lot of gardening. And I’m not alone when it comes to catching plant fever this month; there are community events and festivals across the state that will be celebrating the wonder of gardening and offering just the right ‘fix’ for your plant obsession.

Probably the most grandiose of all gardening events in March is the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival. Celebrating its eighteenth year, the festival showcases nearly one million plants, from annuals to perennials, topiaries to herb gardens, butterfly plants to vegetables. If you’ve never been, it’s really worth the trip.

My reason for highlighting the EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival, though, is a bit different than you would think. Yes, the gardens are beautiful, the flowers are amazing, the shows are spectacular and the Disney characters are everywhere… really. But my favorite part of the festival is what happens in a place called Garden Town.

Tucked away in the northeast corner of the park, Garden Town is the hub of the Flower & Garden Festival. Inside this futuristic gold dome is a wide array of activities for all – young, old, beginning gardeners and avid plant geeks. As you enter the doors to Garden Town, however, you won’t be greeted by EPCOT personnel. Rather, you’ll be welcomed by Florida Master Gardener volunteers. These volunteers, representing the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), come from all parts of the state to answer your gardening questions, from plant identification and selection, to recommended cultural controls for plant pests and diseases.

And don’t think for a minute that they can’t handle your inquiries! Master Gardener volunteers are trained by horticulture extension agents and specialists at the University of Florida and are experts in their own right. When they’re not donating their time helping out at events and places like EPCOT, they’re providing invaluable services to county extension offices by answering phone calls, assisting walk-in clients, teaching programs and maintaining demonstration gardens. With more than 4,000 volunteers across the state, Master Gardeners provide research-based information and education to help homeowners tackle the most daunting lawn and garden problems.

Wearing green aprons and sporting the blue and orange Florida Master Gardener logo proudly on their chests, Master Gardener volunteers will be available from 10 am to 5 pm every day of the 75-day long garden festival at EPCOT. If you have a question about a plant or particular garden in the park during your visit, the Master Gardeners can help. If you have a general gardening question that you’re just dying to ask – well, they can assist with that too. And if you need directions to the nearest bathroom… they’ll definitely point you there.

Another bonus to attending the festival is the chance to hear entertaining and informative talks by one of several horticulture extension agents (like me) from the University of Florida IFAS. Extension agents are county-level faculty members that provide timely information about lawns and gardens to the general public through educational programs, workshops, articles and blogs, fact sheets, websites, webinars and so much more! Topics that will be covered during the festival this year include how to create a backyard wildlife habitat, fabulous tropical plants, Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, outdoor water conservation tips and tricks, and composting and garden recycling tips.

The ultimate end to the educational outreach efforts of the Florida Master Gardener Program and the Extension Service is to extend the vision of the University of Florida – IFAS, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible. And the best part about it? They’re not trying to sell you anything!

The old adage says you should starve a fever, but if you’ve got gardening fever this month, I say you should feed it with all the cool events and opportunities to learn new things! To find out about garden- or plant-related events happening near you, contact your local UF-IFAS Extension office (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map/).


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


Master Gardeners Visit Riverview Flower Farm March 1, 2011

Each month, the UF IFAS Extension Master Gardener volunteers of Hillsborough County have the opportunity to learn something new and exciting about the plant world.

During their annual planning meeting in the Fall, Master Gardeners vote on their choices for a variety of educational field trips and/or lectures.

Last month, they voted to visit Riverview Flower Farm, a wholesale nursery that is responsible for those fantastic Florida Friendly Plants™ you see at your local Home Depot stores.

Rick Brown, owner of Riverview Flower Farm, was more than happy to show us around and talk about the sustainable practices he’s incorporated into the daily operations of his nursery, like composting and garlic pest repellent.

But rather than go into a long diatribe about it here, I’m going to link you to another blog by Meems, a fellow Master Gardener and all-round plant lover — http://www.hoeandshovel.com/2011/02/riverview-flower-farm-field-trip.html.


A Curious Case of Unidentified Dung January 26, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 4:43 pm
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I love my job. Really, I do. Some days I handle plants, insects or snakes; that’s cool. Last week I had to deal with the stinkhorn mushroom stench; not too bad. Yesterday, it was poop… not the smell (thank goodness), but rather the identification of it (actually, its owner). Never in a million years did I think I would spend the better part of my workday trying to identify an animal by its droppings.

It all started upon returning to work Monday morning and seeing evidence of digging in some of the raised beds in the demonstration garden at the Extension office. Just last week, several Master Gardener volunteers sweated and toiled over these beds, pulling out dead and dying plants, leveling the soil and adding mulch. But over the weekend, something decided to get into these beds and mess them up.

So I quickly switched on my Sherlock Holmes persona and started investigating. The digging was predominantly around the outer edges of the raised beds, deeper in some areas than others. Because of the mulch, I couldn’t see any tracks, so that was a dead-end. There was also no evidence of what the suspect was digging at in the soil – grubs, earthworms, who knows? Not much to go on so far…

At first I considered armadillos, – we have at least one that is a permanent resident in the garden, unfortunately – but the raised beds are too high for an armadillo to access.

Then I noticed that the nearby kumquat trees, which were heavy with fruit, had been recently used as a late-night snack bar, of sorts. Half-eaten kumquats hung precariously from the branches, and several more were littered all over the ground below. Could it be roof rats? Please, no!

Opossum scat

As I walked around some more, investigating the ground all around the raised beds, I then noticed poop. Lots of it. All along the back sides of the beds, some fresh, some not so fresh. Hmmm….

Judging from the size, shape and texture of the droppings (I know, this is getting gross), it was too big to be from a rat, and too long and dark to be from an armadillo. But an opossum… maybe.

l to r: house mouse, roof rat, Norway rat

Rat droppings are blunt on the ends and measure from about ½” to ¾” in length and about ¼” in diameter. Armadillo poop looks like little round balls of clay because they eat a lot of soil when picking insects and small snails off the ground. Possum scat is larger, about that of a cat or small dog, although it can vary based on its diet.

According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, “opossums are known as opportunistic feeders. They will eat many different items including bird eggs, chickens, moles, and earthworms, insects, snakes, grass, fruit, pet food, and garbage. Carrion also is a favorite food item” (Source: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw026).  We don’t have much of these items (other than earthworms and fruit) available here, so I’m still not convinced we’re dealing with this particular creature.

Needless to say, the evidence is inconclusive. There’s a distinct possibility that there’s more than one culprit here. The next step, then, will be to set a trap and see what bites. A live animal trap baited with some canned cat food will be going in the garden tonight. The mystery continues; I’ll let you know what I find…


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