Master Gardener Volunteer Program Turns 50

“As long as there have been gardeners there have been gardeners sharing their knowledge with each other,” as stated by Wendy Wilber State Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator with UF/IFAS Extension.

Wendy and I share the successes and history of the Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) organization in today’s article.

Fifty years ago, the creators of the first MGV program understood the desire of gardeners to share their knowledge. In 1973 Washington State University Extension Agents David Gibby and William Scheer were overwhelmed by the public demand for information on plant problems and gardening. They needed a way to meet the needs of home gardeners in Seattle and Tacoma. They strategized to create a volunteer program to train gardeners with university-based education to deliver gardening information to the public. The first pilot plant clinic was set up in the Tacoma Mall with great success and they were ready to take the program forward. The horticulture training curriculum and the program policies were created and the volunteers started. Although David and William stepped back from the program, Extension Agent Sharon Collman picked up the torch. She was instrumental in creating the MGV program structure and expanding the program throughout Washington and other states.

After 50 productive years, the MGV program is currently active in every state, Puerto Rico, Canada, South Korea, and England. The training and volunteering components look the same across the nation but the priorities of each state’s program vary depending on the needs of the community. All MGV programs have plant clinics to give the public access to unbiased researched-based horticultural advice. They serve in demonstration gardens and community gardens to teach sustainable gardening techniques. Many volunteers work with 4-H and school gardens to plant the seeds for a gardening future. Here in Florida volunteers teach landscaping practices that conserve water and protect water quality.

Everywhere you find Master Gardener Volunteers you find a concerned group of gardeners that want to share their knowledge to improve the lives of the people in their communities.

Florida’s MGV program began in 1979. Okaloosa County’s MGV program began in 1995. In Florida, the mission of the MGV program is to assist Extension Agents in providing research-based horticultural education to Florida residents. The vision is to be Florida’s most trusted resource for horticulture education.

As part of the MGV program turning 50, there is now a National Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Week from March 20-24, 2023.

To help support the Okaloosa County MGV, put on your calendar their Spring Plant Sale for May 6 at the Okaloosa Technical College, located at 1976 Lewis Turner Boulevard in Fort Walton Beach.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent


No Mow March

If you are interested in learning more about pollinators that are important to wildlife, on our farms and in our lawns, landscapes, and gardens, you’ll be interested in the No Mow March event.

This event offers something for everyone from the wildlife enthusiast, farmer, and home gardener to 4-H members and other youth. No Mow March is designed to increase awareness of pollinators as well as help encourage and teach adults and youth ways to improve and increase habitat for pollinators on their property.  

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and other insects play an important role in our environment. In Florida, it’s estimated that over 300 bee species help pollinate many of our fruits, vegetables, and native plants. There has been concern about the health and numbers of pollinators in recent years. Planting a small area around your home can provide a place for pollinators to help pollinate your fruit and vegetable plants.

The idea of this program is to encourage people to hold up on mowing their lawns in March to allow many of what people call winter weeds to flower. Many of these so-called winter weeds are native wildflowers that serve a purpose. Common clovers, for example, give nitrogen back to the soil and lawn. A couple of examples include crimson clover with its vibrant red flowers and hop clover with its bright yellow flowers. Another winter “weed” such as henbit with its square stiff stems holds up a display of small pinkish purple flowers and wild geranium with its pink to purple flowers produces an abundance of flowers in late winter through early spring. Mowing, many times, removes these flowers, greatly reducing habitat for our beneficial pollinators to enjoy.

Waiting to mow your lawn, even a section of your lawn, in late winter through early spring is not going to harm your lawn. It can actually save you time and money when it comes to early-season mowing. I promise that there will be plenty of time to mow throughout mid-spring, summer, and fall.

Come learn more on Monday, March 27 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the UF/IFAS Extension Office located at 3098 Airport Road in Crestview. You’ll need to register on Eventbrite no later than March 22. Here is the link to register.

There is a cost of $15 to cover lunch. Topics include: Why Worry with Winter Annual Lawn Weeds, Pollinator Forage, Cooking and Storing Fresh Herbs, Success with Pollinators in Vegetable Production, No Mow for Wildlife and Pollinator Habitat Cost Share. Call the Extension Office at (850) 689-5850 for more details. Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Lecture — Do you really need lawn grass?

Have you ever threatened to pave your lawn? Maybe the lawn grass is trying to tell you something.

Not every square foot of a landscape needs to be a well-manicured lawn. Maybe you picked the wrong lawn grass for the site. Maybe you are incorrectly managing the lawn grass that you have. Maybe trees are winning the battle with the lawn.

Lawn grass should be used where it serves a purpose, where it is needed, and where it will grow.

People sometimes go to great efforts to grow grass where grass will not grow, and without ever considering an alternative.

Sometimes we try to grow a lawn in an area that is not well suited for lawn grass. Examples include areas where there is too much shade and/or tree competition and areas that stay too wet, causing the lawn roots to decay. Sometimes a lawn declines and thins simply as a result of its age. In this case, the best solution may be to redo or renovate an older, declining lawn.

I will address these issues and offer alternatives to lawn grass during this hour-long presentation titled Do You Really Need Lawn Grass.

This free presentation begins at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 15, and will be held at the Extension Office located at 3098 Airport Road in Crestview, Florida.

Seating is limited. You’ll need to register on Eventbrite. Here is the link to register.

Call the Extension Office at (850) 689-5850 for more details.

Common contributors to the decline of a Florida lawn include the following.

  • Soil compaction
  • Nutrient imbalances (too much nitrogen and phosphorus and too little potassium)
  • Tree competition (from both tree roots and tree shade)
  • Lawn root pests (diseases and insects)
  • Improper lawn maintenance practices (mowing too low, excessive fertilization, and irrigating incorrectly)

In the process of starting over, decide where lawn grass is needed or where it serves a purpose and consider other options in areas where grass may not be needed or where grass does not grow well. Mulch or shade-tolerant groundcover may be a better choice where there are large trees. As grass declines in high-traffic areas, consider pavement or mulch. In naturally wet areas, consider plants that do well on wet sites.

I’m not saying that we should do away with our lawns. I am saying that perhaps our expectations for our lawns are too high. And finally, take time to become better familiar with the type of lawn grass you have along with how to correctly manage it. Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Landscape lessons from recent freezes

There are important landscape lessons to learn from recent, early and widespread freezes.

First, know the average climate for the region you live in here in Florida. The work has already been done for you with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Here is a link for the map: Find your zone on the map. Note that Northwest Florida includes zones 8a, 8b, and 9a.

The newest map, with interactive features, was updated in 2012.

This map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature and is divided into 10°F zones. It can help you determine which plants are most likely to thrive in your zone. There are areas bordering Alabama, located in the extreme northern portions of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Holmes Counties, that are in Zone 8a, with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 10 to 15 degrees F. Most of these counties fall within zone 8b, with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 15 to 20 degrees F. The extreme southern portions of these same counties (bordering the Gulf) are in Zone 9a with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 20 to 25 degrees F. As you go south in Florida, you move into Zones 9b, 10a, 10b, and 11a. Zone 10b has an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F. Zone 11a; which includes a small portion of West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, most of Miami, and all of the Florida Keys; has an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 40 to 45 degrees F.

It seems that some people move to extreme north Florida and think they are in extreme south Florida. They move barely below Alabama or Georgia and want to plant the palms, citrus and tropical plants that thrive in extreme south Florida. If you live in Zone 9a, perhaps you might get by growing a few plants that are well suited for 9b. But it is wise to mostly grow plants that are known to flourish in the Plant Hardiness Zone where you live. 

Secondly, follow principle one, which is Right Plant, Right Place, as explained in the UF/IFAS Extension Florida-Friendly Landscape™ (FFL) Program. Following this principle results in developing a healthy, low-maintenance landscape by using Florida-Friendly plants that match your site’s soil, light, water, and climatic conditions and that require limited supplemental irrigation, potentially less fertilizer, and fewer pesticides.

More information on the FFL Program is available through this UF/IFAS Extension link ( or from the Extension Office in your County.

Using these tools may be a great goal for 2023 as we replace cold-injured plants.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Cold damaged palms

Cold damage is inevitable when growing tropical palms in North Florida. Early freezes around Christmas 2022 may have resulted in cold injury to our more cold-sensitive palms. Monica Elliott and Tim Broschat, retired UF/IFAS horticulture researchers who specialized in palms, provide the following tips on coping with cold injured palms. 

Wait to remove injured palm leaves that have any green tissue remaining. The damaged leaves may help the palm survive future cold events this winter. Once the palm has produced 2 to 3 new leaves, damaged leaves can be removed. 

New palm leaves develop from the bud located in the crown (top) of the plant. It is this bud that needs to be protected. Leaf bases provide insulating protection to this bud. This is one reason not to over-trim palms at any time. 

As warm weather returns, plant pathogens often attack the cold-damaged tissue. Copper fungicides are recommended as an attempt (not a guarantee) to protect the bud and developing leaves from these diseases. There is no research to confirm if this is effective or not. The recommendation is based on observation of cold injured palms and knowledge of fungicides. Usually, it is the base of the spear leaf that has not yet emerged from the whorl of leaf bases that is damaged first, leading to spear rot, which may then lead to bud rot. The goal of a copper fungicide is to prevent this spear rot from developing into a bud rot that kills the bud and palm.

Copper fungicides have activity against both bacteria and fungi. No other fungicides have this broad spectrum of activity. Complete coverage of the base of the spear leaf and bud is a must. This is difficult to accomplish in some palm species with crown shafts because the leaf bases tightly surround the emerging spear leaf, preventing the movement of a fungicide into the bud.

If the spear leaf rots and is easily pulled from the bud, remove it immediately, followed by a copper fungicide spray or drench of the now exposed bud region. 

Apply the copper fungicides no more than twice because of the possibility of copper phytotoxicity. If additional chemical protection of the bud is needed, a broad-spectrum contact fungicide may be beneficial.  

You will not know if the palm survived the cold until new growth emerges, which may be 4 to 7 months later. New growth may be severely malformed or damaged but the emergence of living leaf tissue is a sign the palm is alive. Subsequent leaves will gradually improve in quality but it may take a year before normal leaves emerge.

More info on cold injured palms is available at this link:

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Care of freeze-injured citrus trees

Recent widespread hard freezes more than likely resulted in damage to many of the citrus trees in Northwest Florida. Cold damage will become more evident as we move into the spring and summer of 2023.

It is best to take a “wait and see” approach and delay pruning and fertilization until new growth occurs the following growing season. Here is sound advice taken from the UF/IFAS Extension publication Freeze Damage Symptoms and Recovery for Citrus. “The true extent of freeze damage to branches may not be clear within the first few months following a freeze. No attempt should be made to prune or even assess freeze damage until the new spring flush gets fully expanded and matured. Therefore, no pruning should be done until late in the spring or summer after a freeze. In early spring, freeze-damaged trees often produce new growth that soon dies back. Sufficient time should be given for the dying back to cease and for the new healthy growth to take place and fully expand.”

Twigs and branches may continue to die for up to two years following a severe freeze.

This was an early hard freeze. Temperatures fluctuate throughout our North Florida winters, which can extend into March. Be careful to not do anything to stimulate new growth too soon, while winter is still with us.

Unless the soil becomes dry, be careful to not water cold injured citrus trees during warm periods that often follow freezes. Later on, in spring when the damaged tree is putting on new growth, it’s okay to give it a little water.

If it appears that you’ve lost half the tree in a freeze, you’ll only need to apply about half as much fertilizer. If you have a situation where many leaves were lost but twigs and branches were not injured, you’ll need to increase the fertilizer. But wait until after new growth has occurred come spring. It’s a good idea to make frequent light applications rather than one heavy application.

Roots on trees, including citrus, extend two to three times beyond the tree’s branches. As a result, citrus tree roots may grow out into the lawn. Tree roots in the lawn can easily take up lawn fertilizer. Your lawn and citrus trees do not need to be stimulated by nitrogen fertilizer during winter, potentially resulting in tender new growth that can be injured by the next freeze. Wait to fertilize your lawn until mid-April in North Florida.

Here are two links to UF/IFAS Extension publications with more information on dealing with cold-injured citrus.,

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Christmas plants can be enjoyed beyond the holidays

Christmas cactus, poinsettia, and amaryllis are some of the flowering holiday plants that can be kept for enjoyment after the holidays are gone.

These plants require bright, indirect light. They should be placed close to a sunny window and turned once a week to prevent them from leaning toward the light. In rooms with poor light, place your plants under incandescent or fluorescent lamps, but not too close to incandescent light due to the excessive heat.

Keep the temperature cool for best results with plants associated with the holidays. Ideal temperatures are lower than found in most homes. But your plants should do well if the day temperature range is 65°F degrees to 75°F with cooler temperatures at night.

It’s important to keep the plants evenly moist. This includes the Christmas cactus since it is not a typical cactus. Avoid moisture extremes of letting the plants become bone-dry or waterlogged.

The flowers will eventually fade on your holiday plants. Once this happens, remove the faded flowers. This will improve the appearance and prevent the plant from setting seed, which will provide more energy for growth.

The poinsettia eventually will begin dropping its leaves. This is normal. The plant is going into a resting stage. When it begins to drop its leaves, decrease watering until you’re watering only enough to keep the root and stems from drying out excessively. In April, prune the stems to about six inches, resume normal watering, fertilize and place where it will get plenty of light but not direct sun.

Forcing poinsettias to re-flower for the Christmas Season can be a challenge within the average home environment.

With amaryllis, each flower lasts only a few days. But since multiple flowers are produced, plants may remain in flower for a week or more. After the last flower fades, remove the bloom stalk. Leaves begin to emerge at flowering and continue to elongate after flowering when additional leaves may appear. It is essential that the leaves remain on the bulb so that it can manufacture foods needed for re-flowering. It should be kept under high indoor light and watered and fertilized regularly.

When the danger of frost has passed, amaryllis can be placed outdoors and grown under light shade. By late summer the leaves will begin to die and the bulb will enter a resting stage. Reduce watering, store in a cool dry place, and allow the bulb to rest for two to three months. Resume watering and the plant should re-flower in four to six weeks. Amaryllis can also be planted outside in our climate and re-flower yearly with proper maintenance.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Weather Advisory

Frost cloth cover all the way to the ground with bricks holding it in place. Photo by Jonathan Burns.

There are some protective measures you might employ in your landscape just ahead of the upcoming freezing temperatures for the more cold-sensitive plants.

Coverings protect more from frost weather than from extreme cold. 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 soil. In other words, covers that extend to the ground help capture and hold in the heat coming up from the ground during clear, cold nights. Foliage in contact with the cover is often injured because of heat transfer from the foliage to the colder cover. Examples of coverings are cloth sheets, quilts, or plastic. 

A word of caution with plastic: It is necessary to remove plastic covers during a sunny day or provide ventilation for trapped solar radiation. I avoid the use of plastic coverings for this reason. The excessive heat buildup under the plastic during a sunny day can do much damage to the plant. A 100-watt incandescent lightbulb under a cover is a simple method of providing heat to less cold-hardy plants in the landscape. A simple way to attach and support the lightbulb is on a landscape shepherd’s hook. You’ll need to use an outdoor extension cord to power the light. Make sure to position the light so that it is not in direct contact with the covering or too close to the plant branches, stems, or leaves. It may be impossible to cover large, mature shrubs and trees.

Click here to read the entire article.

Larry Williams
Residential Horticulture Agent
Okaloosa County Extension

Christmas gifts for the gardener from UF Extension Bookstore

Do you have that difficult to buy for person on your Christmas shopping list? I have an idea, especially if that person enjoys gardening.

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension Bookstore offers a wealth of books, CDs, DVDs, identification decks, and manuals. These resources include gardening, lawn and landscape as well as agriculture, wildlife, boating, fishing, health, nutrition, family and community subject matter. And they are all specific to Florida. I’ll highlight a few of the horticulture books in today’s article.

Florida’s Edible Wild Plants is a 154-page book providing descriptions, drawings, and pictures on how to identify and use many edible plants found in Florida. It even includes a cookbook section providing details on making calamondin marmalade and sea grape jelly to elderberry champagne and beautyberry cake. The recipes in this guide don’t disappoint. You’ll also find an essential chapter on what not to eat, as well as historical and personal narratives about gathering and preparing wild food in Florida. The cost is $17.95.

The Florida Lawn Handbook can help with the difficulties and frustrations most people experience in attempting to grow a lawn in Florida. This lawn book includes chapters on selection, establishment, maintenance, weed control, insect pests, disease problems, nematodes and pesticide application. Color plates identify various grass types, weeds, diseases and insects. The Florida Lawn Handbook is invaluable to growing a beautiful, healthy lawn. The price is $19.95.

Your Florida Landscape is a 234-page resource featuring 240 color prints and fifty-two illustrations. This complete guide to planting and maintenance covers trees, palms, shrubs, groundcovers, and vines. This book includes research-based information on common pests, beneficial insects, pruning, fertilizing, watering, mulching, and evaluating your planting site. The cost is $19.95.

There are other books on fruit gardening, including citrus and blueberries, a step-by-step guide to creating a Florida native yard, how to grow orchids, excellent resources on lawn, landscape and garden pests and their control, books on attracting hummingbirds and butterflies and much more.

All of these resources are available through the UF/IFAS Extension Bookstore. You may order online at or by telephone at (800) 226-1764 open Monday – Friday, 8am -5pm EST, or by E-mail at Some of these books may be available at local bookstores. Prices listed in this article are subject to change and do not include shipping or sales tax.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County