Florida October Gardening: Free Plant Clinics, Peacock Gingers, Beets

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi, addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is the Extension Director in Nassau County, Florida and also a University of Florida faculty member.

FLORIDA GARDENING: Peacock Gingers

FLORIDA GARDENING: Peacock Gingers

QUESTION:  My sister grows peacock gingers and they look so easy.  What can you tell me about them?  SL

JORDI:    I actually have several different varieties in my own yard and I love them.

Peacock gingers are classified under the genus Kaempheria and are suited for USDA Hardiness Zones 8–11. They should be grown in shady sites where they will receive dappled light or full shade.

Peacock gingers only grow about 6 – 8 inches high so they work beautifully as ground cover. They will die back in the winter but usually return late in the spring (between April and May) and bloom from early summer through the fall. The small, one inch flowers range from pale pink to deep lavender. Even though the flower is pretty, it is the pattern on the leaves which makes peacock gingers most attractive. The leaves can be anywhere from 3 – 6 inches long with a variety of coloring ranging from bronze to deep green.

My peacock gingers have loved all the rain we have been receiving this summer but they have also grown well without receiving weekly irrigation.  They are not particular about the soil type although I would suggest planting them in soil which contains a good organic mix – similar to most other perennials. Peacock gingers reproduce by rhizomes and can be divided easily. They also will adapt well to container gardening.  (More Garden Talk Q & A topics continue further below…)

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Upcoming October 2012 Plant Clinics
All Nassau County, Florida residents are invited to bring plant samples showing problems in their landscapes to free Plant Clinics by the Nassau County Extension.  Problems will be identified and solutions offered for correction.  There is no fee for this service.  Also, Master Gardeners are on phone duty Fridays, at 904-491-7340, call with your questions.
Oct 15, 2012 – Yulee Extension Office
Becky Jordi, County Extension Director/Horticulture Extension Agent will conduct a Plant Clinic from 10 am until 2 pm at the Yulee Extension Office (A1A and Pages Dairy Road). For more information call 904-879-1019.
Oct 20, 2012  - ACE Hardware Plant Clinic

Becky Jordi, County Extension Director/Horticulture Extension Agent will conduct a Plant Clinic from 10 am until 2 pm at ACE Hardware in Fernandina Beach. For information call 904-879-1019.

October 26, 2012  – Fernandina Beach Mulch and Stone

Rebecca Jordi, UF/IFAS Extension Horticulturist and ISA-certified Arborist, will be demonstrating proper pruning techniques on crape myrtles and oak trees at Fernandina Beach Mulch and Stone on Friday, October 26 at 10 am – 11 am. Learn how to properly prune trees to improve structure and form. The class is free to the general public but landscape professionals are also encouraged to attend. The address is 474389 State Road 200; Fernandina Beach, FL 32034. Please call 904-261-7177 if you plan to attend.

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QUESTION:  I want to try planting beets this year in my fall garden.  What varieties does the University of Florida recommend? KH

JORDI:   Beet is native to areas of Europe, the Near East, and Africa adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. Beets can be planted from September until March in Northeast Florida. Tall Top, Early Wonder, Detroit Dark Red, Cylindra, Red Ace, and Yellow Detroit are all heirloom varieties recommended for our area. Just so you know, the leaves are also edible and can be added to soups, stews and salads so very little of the beet product is wasted.

Tall Top provides large leaves for salad harvesting.  Early Wonder is a common variety used by most gardeners as it produces a full size beet early in the season.  Detroit Dark Red produces a 3 inch dark, red beet about mid season. Cylindra is a beet shaped similar to a carrot and grows about 6 inches long with a mild, sweet flavor which takes about 56 days to mature. Red Ace is an easy, reliable beet which takes about 53 days until harvest and it probably the best one to start in your garden. Golden Detroit is very sweet, does not bleed its color when cooked, and takes about 60 days to mature.

Put the seeds about ½ to 1 inch deep in the soil and the soil needs to stay moist initially or the seeds will not germinate properly.  If you plan to plant rows, they should be 1.5 to 2 feet apart. Good, consistent irrigation is important for root crops to form properly – but not too much!  Be sure to have the soil pH tested prior to planting your fall garden as this will determine the type of calcium to add to the soil.  The ideal pH range for vegetable crops is 6.0 to 6.5 – slightly acidic.  However, beets are not that picky about the soil pH.  It is recommended to add your calcium source 30 days or more prior to planting.  The Callahan office can run a pH test any day of the week from 8 am to 5 pm; the Yulee satellite office is manned by a Master Gardener volunteer on Fridays from 10am to 2pm (except holidays).

QUESTION:  I left an area of my lawn empty for a few weeks as I was planning to re-sod.  Now I have this weed all over the place.  What is it?  MM

JORDI:  Bringing in a fresh specimen during one of our plant clinics was beneficial.  Often, when we describe weeds – they begin to all sound alike!  Your weed is called carpetweed or green carpetweed, Mollugo verticillata, which is a common summer annual with a small white flower.  The good news is this weed can only reproduce by seed so pulling it up before the seed has a chance to form and get into the ground is the ideal solution for controlling it.  The red seeds are very tiny and spread easily by wind or water. It generally is only a problem when lawn grass is getting established as it does not compete well with healthy lawns.  It is found throughout most of the United States as well as Canada and Mexico.

Rebecca Jordi

Rebecca L. Jordi

Nassau County Extension Director, Environmental Horticulture
543350 U. S. Highway #1Callahan, FL 32011
904- 879-1019 or 904-491-7340
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Rebecca Jordi

University of Florida/IFAS Extension Director for Nassau County and Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi answers questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is also a University of Florida faculty member. Email northeast Florida gardening questions to rljordi@ufl.edu.