Satsuma fruit, harvested with their stem intact to ensure longevity when stored. Image Credit: Dr. Pete Andersen
The satsuma mandarin (Citrus unshiu) is a popular dooryard fruit tree, and emerging crop, across the Florida Panhandle. 100-150 years ago it was a major cash crop for the region, with boxcar loads being shipped to the Northeast during the months of October-December. Due to a series of hard freezes in the 1950s and a shift in land use from produce production to timber, the satsuma industry was effectively dead in northwest Florida until recent years, when several entrepreneurial growers have invested time and effort in bringing back this delicious citrus to the commercial scene.
Throughout this time, many homeowners have enjoyed this historic citrus, dressing many a Thanksgiving table with its beautiful bright orange fruit. Satsumas contain few seeds, are generally sweet and very easy to peel. They are part of the mandarin group of citrus, and somewhat resemble canned mandarin oranges in shape and flavor. The cooler the fall temperatures (above freezing) the sweeter the fruit will be at harvest.
Mature trees are hardy down to 14-18 º F when budded to a cold hardy rootstock such as trifoliate orange or swingle. Young trees need to be protected from temperatures below the mid 20s, and fruit will be ruined if exposed to any freezing temperatures below “light frost” conditions. Commercial growers use protective techniques, such as microirrigation, to protect their fruit if freezing temperatures threaten harvest.
This Thanksgiving, if you do not have a satsuma tree of your own, seek out a local producer and buy a case of satsumas for the holiday season !
For more information on growing and harvesting satsuma mandarins consult “The Satsuma Mandarin – HS195“, produced for your benefit by UF / IFAS Extension.
You may have heard “group plants with similar needs together” but struggled to come up with some combinations that work. The most important things to consider when creating functional garden space is the cultural needs of the plants you want to combine. Sunlight, water, and fertilizer needs should be very similar when planting multiple plants together. For fall and winter gardens, choose annuals that are frost tolerant and/or evergreen perennials.
Here are some plants that work well together in cool weather:
- Strawberries and romaine lettuce – both are cool season annuals that can be planted in late October or early November. The lettuce can be harvested from outside leaves after growth begins or let it form a head and cut the entire plant. Strawberries will spread out but remain fairly low growing compared to the upright lettuce. These plants combine well in a container if given room to expand.
- Rosemary and oregano – these culinary herbs thrive in sunny, well-drained spots. Rosemary is an upright woody perennial and oregano spreads along the ground making a fragrant groundcover for a tough spot.
- Snapdragons, pansies, and parsley – this combination gives foliage contrasts in addition to colorful flowers. This combination will work in full sun or a slightly shaded spot in the garden. In the spring, replace the snapdragons and pansies for warm season annuals for continued color.
- Cabbage, cauliflower, and strawberries – all cool season edible crops that have attractive foliage and similar needs.
- Snapdragons, violas, and petunia – this colorful combination has three height levels of tall snaps, bunching violas, and trailing petunias.
To learn more about these plants and other options Growing Strawberries in the Florida Home Garden, Herbs in the Florida Garden, and Gardening with Annuals in Florida.
Kale, mustard, and lettuce in fall garden. Photo by Molly Jameson.
In North Florida, December can mark the peak in fall vegetable gardening. Early lettuce varieties are beginning to head and your later varieties are coming on strong. Radishes are starting to erupt out of the ground, and leafy greens are producing big beautiful leaves. But did you know that simple changes in how you harvest can greatly increase the longevity of your fall garden?
Here are a few harvesting tips for stretching out the fall harvest to ensure you will have plenty of greens all the way into spring:
Plant radishes and arugula as gaps form in fall vegetable garden. Photo by Molly Jameson.
- Harvest leaves often: Leafy vegetables and herbs often produce more leaves the more you pick them. Harvest the lower, oldest leaves of vegetables such as leaf lettuce, kale, collards, and Swiss chard often. Be sure to maintain two to three leaves per plant; this method will ensure tender, pest-damage-free leaves, while encouraging the plant to keep producing.
- Thin to eat: Plants such as arugula and spinach are excellent vegetables to seed heavily and thin to eat. Once the plants have produced their first few true leaves, harvest the whole plant and use the leaves in salads. Continue this method until plants are about six inches apart, and then harvest leaves only. In this way, you will have salads filled with small tender leaves in the beginning of the season, and larger leaves for salads and cooking all the way into spring.
- Cut stems of florets high: Once your broccoli or cauliflower curds are ready to be harvested, cutting the stem high will often mean more secondary heads will form. Once your plants quit producing florets, start harvesting the leaves, which have great flavor and are highly nutritious. Also, with cauliflower, loosely tie the leaves around the curd. This forms a protective barrier from the sun and also improves color.
Assorted greens in fall vegetable garden. Photo by Molly Jameson.
- Harvest in the morning: Plant moisture and nutrient content are often highest in the morning. Once harvested, these leaves are less likely to wilt, and flavor will be preserved. Submerge or run cool water over the plants to maintain vigor. Alternatively, you can harvest in the evening if you plan to prepare the food that night.
- Fill in the gaps: Once you begin harvesting frequently, you will notice space begins to open up in your garden. It is often too early to plant cold-sensitive spring crops, yet you can continue to plant some quick growing fall vegetables, such as radishes and arugula. Sow these seeds as space opens up to maximize your food production until it is warm enough for the new season.
- Use materials to extend the season: By using frost cloth, low tunnels, cold frames, and shade cloth, you can protect your vegetables from early cold snaps and extend the season into spring. These materials, as well as wire and netting, can also protect your crop from deer, squirrels, and rabbits.
Although it seems like summer outside, especially with such warm weather the week before Thanksgiving, winter temperatures will be coming. Possibly sooner rather than later. Perennials that are meant to die to the ground each winter look ugly and decayed after the first frost. Faced with such unattractive plants, most gardeners are inclined to cut them to the ground right away. That action might be a mistake.
Many perennials, such as hibiscus species, hydrangea, salvia species, firebush (Hamelia patens), rudbeckia, echinacea, lantana and others still have a large amount of starch stored in their branches, even after the first frost. Although it is very tempting to remove these unattractive reminders of the beautiful spring gardening season, it is better to wait to allow the starch to translocate (move) down to the root system. The time that this takes varies by plant species, but can be as late as February.
To determine if there is “life” left in those burned and singed stems, just scratch off the top layer of the stem. If any nutrients remain in the stem, it will be green or yellow where the scratch was made. If it is brown and dead, it is safe to prune the perennial back.
If you can stand to wait, allow those unsightly stalks to remain until February. If they contain any plant nutrients this will give the plant some energy during the winter months. This is not possible in every situation, but following this practice will bring stronger flowering perennials next season!
Yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria) are evergreen, provide great fall/winter color, and can adapt to numerous landscape situations. They are also very durable and can survive extreme drought.
Yaupon hollies are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are produced on separate plants and berries are only produced on female plants. Flowers are creamy white, but not showy on both male and female plants and berries can range in color from red to yellow depending on cultivar. The plants are favored by wildlife – pollinators are attracted to the flowers and birds love the berries.
Yaupon hollies are native plants with a number of different cultivars available at plant nurseries. ‘Jewel’ is a cultivar that produces an ubundance of red berries and ‘Aureo’ produces yellow berries. ‘Nana’, a dwarf, compact male cultivar is an excellent replacement for boxwoods. Large growing cultivars can grow to 15 to 25 feet tall and can be shaped as trees or left as large shrubs. ‘Folsom’s Weeping’ and ‘Pendula’ are two weeping cultivars that can be utilized as dramatic specimen trees.
Dwarf Yaupon hollies will naturally form a mound without pruning.
Credit: Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Yaupon holly fruit and foliage. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.
Yaupon hollies prefer to be planted in full to partial sun. It is important to note that they are drought tolerant and require a site with well-drained soil. Because only the female plants produce berries, it is best to purchase plant material when plants contain berries in late fall and winter. Yaupon hollies spread readily by vegetative sprouts. Sprouts should be pruned down to the soil line 2 – 3 times per year. They do not have many disease or insect problems, but scale, leaf miners, mites, and aphids can sometimes be a problem.
The leaves of the yaupon holly contain a higher caffeine content than any other plant native to North America. The Seminole Indians would purposely brew a concentrated “Black Drink” tea to induce vomiting and diarrhea for believed purification. Southerners utilized the caffeine in the leaves during the Civil War. If the leaves are steeped for a short period, a black tea or coffee substitute can brewed. A related species of holly (Ilex paraguariensis) from Brazil is used to make a drink called Yerba Mate, which is as popular in South America as coffee is in North America.
For more information on yaupon hollies, please visit the publication located at this link https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st311.