Go Native! – Sherie Bleiler

Go Native!

May 27, 2021
By Sherie Bleiler - Garden Club of Cape Coral (Special to The Breeze)Cape Coral Breeze

Click Here for full article in the Cape Coral Breeze

Thinking of adding a new plant bed around your patio? Or perhaps landscaping your entire yard? Consider making it a true Florida yard with plants that have spent eons adapting to our dry, sandy, alkaline soil. All do well in our summer heat. There are so many interesting plants to choose from!

Members of the Garden Club of Cape Coral have recently finished planting a water-wise landscape for a Habitat for Humanity home. We collaborated with Lee County Master Gardeners to select the right plant for the right place. Below are some of our plant choices.

Coontie: A shrub that looks like a fern, but is as tough as nails. It does not need to be trimmed to remain below your windows, so you can see out. It gradually adds baby plants around the main bulb and gets wider with age. Mature plants put out one flush of new leaves only in spring. This was once a common plant throughout Florida and was the food for the Atala butterfly. When coonties became almost extinct, so did the butterfly. Rotary Park has brought this butterfly back to our area, where it is spreading locally. (Butterfly tours are available Friday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m.)

Horizontal or coastal cocoplum: Unlike the red-tipped cocoplum, which is also a great hedge, this shrub is easily kept to 3 feet tall, growing more wide than tall. Very salt tolerant with no insect problems, this bush is right at home in our soil.

Firebush: Loves our sandy soil and is a magnet for pollinators and nesting birds. It has red tubular flowers all year. You may trim it but it loves to grow to at least 5-8 feet tall.

Jamaica caper: Try this for a handsome hedge that will screen your place from neighbors. Mine is 5 feet wide and 12 feet tall, full of fragrant spring blooms from top to bottom. A showstopper!

Muhley grass: There are a number of native bunching grasses to choose from, some smaller or larger than Muhley. It is fun to watch on a windy day, with it’s 2 to 3-foot grass leaves waving in the breeze. It is spectacular in the fall when filmy mauve pink blooms rise above the leaves to 4 feet for about 2 months. It only needs to be trimmed once, after the blooms have faded, to about 3-6 inches. Soon, new grass will appear and the cycle will start again.

“Mrs. Schiller’s Delight” dwarf viburnum: Dark green, fine leaved bush growing 3-5 feet with white flowers in spring. Not all natives like our soil. Viburnums grow all along the east coast, getting up to 20 feet tall and like richer, acid soil. So mix some coconut coir and compost into your sandy soil when this dwarf is planted.

Paradise tree: This is a large, tropical shade tree to 40-50 feet, with pinnate or “feather” shaped leaves, resistant to hurricane winds. Flowers attract pollinators in April. It prefers moist yet well drained sandy soil. Although it grows well in our sand, it will grow faster in richer soil or with fertilizer.

Golden Creeper: A great light green dune shrub that grows 1-2 feet tall but mostly spreads outward with gracefully curving branches. You may trim them into a low hedge, or let them billow naturally. Sandy, well draining soil is best. Rich, moist soil will kill them. Two of my neighbors have this as a border near the street.

Dune Sunflower: This cheerful yellow daisy flower invites butterflies. Happiest in sandy, low nutrient soil in full sun, it gets about 1 foot high. I grew it in rich soil one year and it just got way too big. Give this ground cover 6-10 feet of space to spread out. It will grow roots where stems touch the ground. You can even mow it to keep it extra low.

Blanket flower or Guillardia: From Mexico, this plant lasts about a year, blooming constantly. It spreads out, as it grows, like a blanket. Get more bright red to yellow flowers by trimming off the old blooms. After blooming for a couple of months, trim it back to keep it nicely shaped.

Finding some of these plants may be difficult in your neighborhood nursery, but are readily available at a native nursery store. As you visit a native nursery, you will discover many more plants suitable for your Florida yard. Going native will save you time and money in fertilizer, pest control and irrigation. Go native!

Sherie Bleiler is Past President of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.

LCEC sponsors Cape Garden Club landscaping of Habitat’s Women Build home – Deborah Haggett

LCEC sponsors Cape Garden Club landscaping of Habitat’s Women Build home

April 15, 2021
By Deborah Haggett - Garden Club of Cape Coral (Special to The Breeze)Cape Coral Breeze

Click Here for full article in the Cape Coral Breeze

The Lee County Electric Cooperative will sponsor the Garden Club of Cape Coral landscaping project for the 2021 Habitat for Humanity Cape Coral Women Build home. For the past 10 years, the Garden Club of Cape Coral has been invited by Habitat for Humanity to install the landscaping for its Cape Coral Women Build project. It has been a very successful collaboration over the years.

This year, the collaboration is expanding to include Lee County Master Gardener Volunteers, who will work with Garden Club members to design and construct a Florida Friendly landscape to compliment the home. The landscape will incorporate all nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping and will be documented in a video to be included in the 2021-2022 Landscaping classes held by the Lee County Master Gardeners.

LCEC is particularly interested in the first principle of the Florida Friendly Landscaping program, Right Plant Right Place. There are many factors to consider when choosing the best site for a plant. Two critically important considerations are where to dig for planting and the estimated size of the plants at maturity. Both are especially crucial when installing trees near below and above-ground utilities.

LCEC joins Garden Club members and Master Gardeners in reminding homeowners of the law to Call Before You Dig! Homeowners can avoid striking underground utilities by calling 811 or visiting the Florida website https://www.sunshine811.com to access a free utility locating service. It is best to call at least two days before you plan to dig. Electric, water, gas and cable companies will be notified of your plans and will come to your property to locate and mark the lines.

“This service is free for your safety … your family’s safety … your neighborhood’s safety.” For more information, please see the 2-minute video at the sunshine811 website.

When planting trees, it is also imperative to look up! Overhead electric wires tend to be approximately 18 feet above the ground. Many trees far exceed this height as they reach maturity. To avoid safety hazards later, take the time at planting to learn the growth patterns of your planting, including the estimated height at maturity.

Should you have a tree that encroaches on overhead utility line, please remember these safety precautions recommended by LCEC:

Touching or contacting power lines with tools may cause a powerful or fatal electric shock.

When pruning trees, all tools and trimmings must remain a minimum of 10 feet away from energized lines.

Only qualified line clearance arborists may work within 10 feet of energized lines.

Always contact LCEC before performing or contracting tree work near electric lines. LCEC can schedule safe clearing in advance of your tree care or de-energize the lines

“Tree care near power lines is dangerous and may cause serious injury or death.” Proper tree care saves lives!

The Garden Club of Cape Coral, Lee County Master Gardener Volunteers and Habitat for Humanity thank LCEC for its commitment to sponsor and promote safe gardening practices and Florida Friendly Landscaping. Together, a family in need will achieve its goal of homeownership with a low-maintenance, attractive, Florida Friendly yard while providing a demonstration landscape that will serve as a model for other residents.

Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com



Florida Friendly Landscaping Principle #8 – Reduce Storm Water Runoff – Janetta Fox

Florida Friendly Landscaping Principle #8 – Reduce Stormwater Runoff

April 1, 2021
By Janetta Fox - Garden Club of Cape Coral (Special to The Breeze)Cape Coral Breeze

Click Here for full article in the Cape Coral Breeze

Florida receives a considerable amount of rainfall, especially during the summer. The storm water can remain and soak in where it falls, evaporate or wash away. This latter occurrence is known as stormwater runoff. Why should we be concerned about runoff? After all, it is just water, right? Not quite. Let’s look at residential areas as an example.

Rainfall that flows off the property does so without the benefit of the natural filtering of impurities that trees, turf, ground cover and other permeable surfaces such as paved walkways provide. Therefore, the flow, and the various sediment and pollutants gathered up along the way, work their way, unchecked, into sewer systems, aquifers, streams, canals, rivers and other waterways.

No matter where we live, whether or not in the vicinity of a body of water, we all live in a watershed and our local actions have considerable impact “downstream.” Until I began looking into the negative impact runoff has on the environment, I never gave much thought to it. I now recognize that, as homeowners, we can help reduce the amount of runoff on our properties by asking a few questions, a handful of which are shared below, and then taking mitigating action.

Are grass clippings allowed to remain on the lawn? After mowing, if you notice that portions have migrated to your driveway or into the roadway, sweep or blow the clippings back into the landscape, where they will add beneficial nutrients for turf health during decomposition. The same goes for leaves and other yard debris. Otherwise, the vegetation and the nutrients they contain, i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus, will get caught up in the flow. And, as we know, these two nutrients have been known to feed algal blooms which lead to fish kills.

How are downspouts positioned? Are they positioned so water remains in the landscape and away from the driveway? By making simple adjustments to spouting, rainwater can flow into landscaped areas for use by vegetation. You could also consider placing a rain barrel or cistern in the area to capture downspout water, which would serve to harvest the rainwater for future use.

If you observe that an area accumulates too much water in a storm’s aftermath, think about turning the area into a rain garden, making certain that the native or other Florida friendly plants you choose for inclusion not only enjoy wet feet but are also drought tolerant. With proper selection and a focus on right plant/right place you will better ensure that, once established, the plants will prove hardy with no special care or use of fertilizers and pesticides normally needed. A win-win for both your wallet and the environment!

And speaking of fertilizers and pesticides, do you use only as needed and according to label directions? When applying more than necessary for either, the excess nutrients that fertilizers contain and chemical content of pesticides have to go somewhere and when it rains that somewhere is into our waterways.

Is animal waste disposed of properly or left where deposited? And, if you have a septic system is it well-maintained? Animal waste and leakage from a malfunctioning system contribute bacteria and harmful microorganisms to the runoff mix. Therefore, be sure to pick up waste when walking your dog and get your septic system inspected every couple of years.

So, there you have it, a very brief introduction to the impact of stormwater runoff on the environment and actions homeowners can take to lessen that impact. For additional information regarding Florida Friendly Landscaping and the nine principles, visit https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu.

Janetta Fox is a Lee County Master Gardener volunteer and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.


Stormwater runoff. (n.d.). UF/IFAS University of Florida Gardening Solutions. Retrieved from https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/florida-friendly-landscapes/stormwater-runoff.html

Watersheds. (n.d.) Southwest Florida Water Management District. Retrieved from https://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/ watersheds

Foodscaping with Summer Greens – Deborah Haggett

Foodscaping with Summer Greens

March 25, 2021
By Deborah Haggett - Garden Club of Cape Coral (Special to The Breeze)Cape Coral Breeze
Click Here for full article in the Cape Coral Breeze

Spinach lovers, now is the time to transition from growing our favorite cool weather common spinach to the more heat tolerant tropical spinaches that will provide leafy greens through the summer and into the fall season. Several easy-to-grow, spinach-like greens are available to stimulate our palates, nourish our bodies, and bring aesthetic beauty to our gardens. Consider growing Malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, Longevity spinach and Okinawa spinach, to name a few.

Malabar spinach, also known as climbing spinach, has dark green to reddish, oval leaves with white or pink flowers on green or purple vines. These features make it attractive enough to be considered an ornamental. However, more notable features are its dietary and health benefits. Malabar spinach is high in vitamins A and C, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. It is commonly found in Asian markets and used in stir-fries, soups, stews or enjoyed raw in salads for its mild lemon-pepper flavor.

New Zealand spinach, with a milder but similar flavor to common spinach, grows from 1 to 2 feet tall. Once it spreads to about a foot wide, harvest the top 2 to 3 inches of the tender, triangular young leaves. Harvesting in this way allows the plant to continue its growth long into the summer. For this reason, it’s also known as Everlasting or Perpetual spinach. It, too, is rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium and phosphorus. In its native New Zealand, this spinach is found in salads, soups, stews, herb stuffing and lasagna.

Two local favorites, Longevity spinach and Okinawa spinach are poetically known as the “leaves of the gods.” Longevity spinach is the green leaf variety of the Okinawa spinach which has green and purple leaves. They grow from 1 to 2 feet tall and spread to make a lush ground cover. Longevity spinach has a stronger flavor and texture than Okinawa spinach, but both can be used in smoothies, salads or only lightly steamed. Overcooking can change the color and result in a gelatinous texture.

Longevity and Okinawa spinach are abundant in vitamin A and nutrients, including proteins, iron, potassium and calcium. In fact, the name “Longevity” spinach is said to have come from its many health benefits.

As if the nutritional and health benefits weren’t enough, planting these summer greens couldn’t be easier. They are prolific growers in a container or in the ground in any well-draining soil; preferably in a mix of rich, organic soil. They are sun-loving plants, but will also thrive with afternoon shade. Average watering is required during dry spells.

Harvesting often and pinching off the flowers will keep the greens producing throughout the growing season. Most can be propagated through cuttings, although Malabar spinach will go to seed as cooler weather approaches and days get shorter. Collect these seeds for use in the spring or allow the seeds to reseed naturally.

Foodscaping with these tropical greens adds color to your garden and nutrition to your table. It is a healthy, low maintenance choice for gardening in the heat of the summer.

Happy gardening & bon appétit!

Deborah Haggett is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral. Visit us at www.gardenclubofcapecoral.com

Heat Tolerant Vegetables – Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. (2019, June 12). Gardening Solutions
Heat Tolerant Vegetables

Liu, G., & Qiu, Y. (2020, September). Florida Cultivation Guide for Malabar Spinach. Edis.Ifas.Ufl.Edu. Malabar Spinach

New Zealand Spinach. (2021). New Zealand Spinach

Vu, A. (2018, March 20). Summer Greens. UF/IFAS Extension Orange County. Summer Greens

Magical monarchs — Cathy Dunn

Magical monarchs

Jan 14, 2021
By Cathy Dunn - Garden Club of Cape Coral (Special to The BreezeCape Coral Breeze
Click Here for full article in the Cape Coral Breeze
The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is perhaps the most widely recognized butterfly in the world. Many people are familiar with the migration of West Coast monarchs to California and East Coast monarchs to Mexico; monarchs are the only butterfly species in the world that undertakes such a long-distance round-trip migration. Most people, however, are not aware that Florida has a monarch population that does not migrate. Attracted by our warm climate and continuously available host plants, monarchs that usually migrated from Canada and the northeast settled in South Florida and decided to stay. This Florida population now stays in the state year-round and continuously breeds; scientists speculate that the warm climate stimulates their reproductive behavior, which then disrupts their hormonal balance and results in the loss of their ability to migrate north.

Monarch larvae feed almost exclusively on milkweed plants, and the butterfly’s range depends on the availability of host plants for larvae and nectar plants for adults. Florida has about 20 milkweed species; all are native except the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The tropical milkweed has attractive red and yellow blooms, and is the variety most readily available in garden centers; however it poses some problems for butterflies, and native varieties are recommended. I have both native and tropical milkweed species in my gardens and I have noted that the monarchs have a distinct preference for the tropical variety! In addition to the milkweed host plant, nectar plants to sustain the adult monarchs are a must for the butterfly garden; native nectar plants include mist flower, cat’s tongue, goldenrod, Spanish needles and liars. A full list of milkweed and nectar plants can be found on the UF/IFAS Extension web site. Click here: Milkweed and Nectar Plants

Monarchs weigh less than one gram, with adults averaging about half a gram. Typically, monarchs live between 2 and 6 weeks; the butterflies that undertake the long migration to California or Mexico do not become sexually mature because of the cooler temperatures, which also conserves their energy. When spring arrives, the monarchs become mature and reproduce, beginning the first new generation that will migrate north. As these monarchs make their way north, their offspring continue the journey and will reproduce over the summer; the monarchs that travel south in the fall have never been south before! Monarchs can lay over 1,000 eggs in their lifetime, but most probably average 400-500 eggs. The progression from egg to adult takes about one month. Eggs are laid on the milkweed plant; each individual egg is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Once the eggs hatch, the familiar black, white and yellow striped monarch larva (caterpillar) emerges to feed on milkweed and grow very rapidly – in fact they grow so fast that they shed their skin five times before they pupate! The larvae then transform into pupa, also known as a chrysalis.

Newly formed chrysalis

The chrysalis is a jade color with gold markings, suspended from the underside of leaves by a silk button that the larva spins. The larva forms its body into a J-shape and the skin splits and falls away; underneath the old skin is the jade green chrysalis. Monarchs remain in the chrysalis for 8-12 days, and just prior to emergence, the chrysalis becomes clear. The front of the chrysalis splits open and the butterfly emerges with folded wings. The monarch must pump up its wings using fluid stored in its abdomen; once the wings are extended the monarch is ready to fly.

Transparent monarch chrysalis

One of my favorite diversions during this pandemic has been to observe the monarchs in my gardens. Since I have an abundance of nectar plants and milkweed, my butterfly garden is full of activity, and I delight in watching the progression of these beautiful creatures. I usually visit the garden several times a day to monitor the larva population and their progress; one day I counted 19 larva of various sizes feasting on milkweed. Over the past few months I’ve eagerly watched chrysalis development, and recently witnessed a monarch emerge from the chrysalis.

Establishing a butterfly garden is one of the easiest ways I can recommend for you to enjoy nature in your own backyard!

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

CATHY DUNN A monarch caterpillar on a milkweed plant.

Cathy Dunn is a Florida Master Gardener and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.