The showy chaste tree makes an attractive specimen as the centerpiece of your landscape bed or in a large container on the deck. Easy-to-grow, drought resistant, and attractive to butterflies and bees, Vitex agnus-castus is a multi-stemmed small tree with fragrant, upwardly-pointing lavender blooms and gray-green foliage. The chaste tree’s palmately divided leaves resemble those of the marijuana (Cannabis sativa) plant; its flowers can be mistaken for butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.); and the dry, darkened drupes can be used for seasoning, similar to black pepper, making it a conversation piece for those unfamiliar with the tree.
Vitex, with its sage-scented leaves that were once believed to have a sedative effect, has the common name “Chastetree” since Athenian women used the leaves in their beds to keep themselves chaste during the feasts of Ceres, a Roman festival held on April 12. In modern times, the tree is more often planted where beekeepers visit in order to promote excellent honey production or simply included in the landscape for the enjoyment of its showy, summer display of violet panicles.
Chaste tree is native to woodlands and dry areas of southern Europe and western Asia. It will thrive in almost any soil that has good drainage, prefers full sun or light shade, and can even tolerate moderate salt air. Vitex is a sprawling plant that grows 10-20 feet high and wide, that looks best unpruned. If pruning is desired to control the size, it should be done in the winter, since it is a deciduous tree and the blooms form on new wood. The chaste tree can take care of itself, but can be pushed to faster growth with light applications of fertilizer in spring and early summer and by mulching around the plant. There are no pests of major concern associated with this species, but, root rot can cause decline in soils that are kept too moist.
Gardeners in Northwest Florida were blessed this spring with conditions conducive to great gardening, mild weather and plenty of rain. However, with those pleasant conditions has come an unusually high occurrence of Fireblight. Cases of Fireblight have been brought into our office almost daily this spring/early summer!
Mature ‘Bradford’ Pear infected with Fireblight
Fireblight is a difficult to control, rapidly-spreading disease caused by a bacterium (Erwinia amylovora) that affects many fruit trees, especially apple and pear but is also seen on quince, crabapple, hawthorn, loquat and photinia. Fireblight is generally noticed in late winter and early spring during periods of frequent rainfall as the plant begins to bloom and leaf out. The bacterium enters the plant through the opening flowers causing them to blacken and die. The disease then makes its way down the infected stem, destroying newly developing twigs along the way. Most homeowners notice the problem at this point in the progression; the new shoots have died, turned black and hold on the plant, giving it the tell-tale “burned” look. Homeowners also generally notice sunken lesions, or cankers, that form on the infected stems.
So, with a problem as unpredictable and destructive as Fireblight, what can one do to prevent it or combat its spread? There is no one method that can prevent or cure a Fireblight infection but there are several precautions homeowners can make to mitigate its effects.
- Plant resistant species and/or resistant cultivars of susceptible species, such as pear and apple. Under conditions like we’ve had this year, no pear or apple is immune but these cultivars have some proven resistance:
- Edible Pear: ‘Keiffer’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Orient’
- Apple: ‘Anna’, ‘Dorsett Golden’
- Ornamental Pear: ‘Bradford’, ‘Cleveland Select’
- Remove infected and dead wood when the tree is dormant. Make a clean cut at least 12” below the last sign of infected wood and dispose of it. It is always a good practice to sanitize your pruners between cuts on a diseased tree. Also, there is little evidence to suggest that pruning out diseased wood on actively growing plants has much effect on further disease spread as long as conditions are still suitable for Fireblight formation.
- If you have noticed Fireblight on your trees in the previous year, it is good practice to make a preventative spray of a copper fungicide prior to the plant breaking dormancy.
- During bloom, streptomycin may be applied every three or four days for the duration of the bloom cycle to prevent infection. Consult the label for required days between spraying and consumption.
Fireblight is bad news in a fruit orchard but homeowners can take heart in the fact that the condition is not always fatal, especially if the preventative measures outlined above (proper cultural practices, proper pesticide use, and planting of resistant cultivars) are taken!
MICROIRRIGATION – Image Credit UF/IFAS Extension
When watering to establish a lawn or when renovating (redoing, patching, reestablishing, starting over, etc.) a lawn, we normally call for 2-3 “mists” throughout the day for the first 7-10 days until roots get established. These are just 10 minute bursts. Then back off to once a day for about ½ hour for 7-10 days. Then go to 2-3 times a week for about 7 days. By then your lawn should be established.
If we are experiencing adequate rainfall, you may not need to irrigate. Rain counts. But in the absence of sufficient rain, you’ll need to provide enough water at the correct time to allow your new sod to root – hence, the above directions.
A well designed and correctly installed irrigation system with a controller, operated correctly, helps to achieve uniform establishment. It can be difficult or impossible to uniformly provide sufficient water to establish a lawn with hose-end sprinklers, especially if the lawn is sizeable and during dry weather. Most people are not going to do the necessary job of pulling hoses around on a regular basis to result in a well-established lawn.
Too much water will result in rot, diseased roots and diseased seedlings and failure. Too little water will result in the sod, seedlings, sprigs or plugs drying excessively and failure to establish. The end result at best is a poorly established sparse lawn with weeds. Or complete failure.
There is no substitute or remedy for incorrect irrigation when establishing a brand new lawn or when renovating an entire lawn or areas within a lawn.
It would be wise to not invest the time and money if the new lawn cannot be irrigated correctly. Taking the gamble that adequate (not too much, not too little) rainfall will occur exactly when needed to result in a beautiful, healthy, thick, lush lawn is exactly that – a gamble.
An irrigation system is nothing more than a tool to supplement rainfall. As much as possible, learn to operate the irrigation controller using the “Manual” setting.
The above schedule should help when planting a lawn from seed, sprigs, plugs or sod.
For additional information on establishing and maintaining a Florida lawn, contact your County UF/IFAS Extension Office or visit http://hort.ufl.edu/yourfloridalawn.
Properly Mowed Empire Zoysiagrass – Image Credit Laurie E. Trenholm
Mowing is an important and often overlooked landscape best management practices that can increase lawn health.
Most of us mowed lawns to earn some spending money as kids. As long as it was shorter when we finished than when we started our customers were happy. Although mowing seems like a simple chore that anyone can do, it turns out that improper mowing can cause a lot of damage to lawns and can increase pest and disease issues.
Make sure your lawn mower in good working order. Ensure the blades are sharp and the engine is not leaking any oil or gas products that may damage your lawn. Dull or damaged blades will give a ragged cut to grass blades that make it easier for disease and insects to attack your lawn. Leaking fuel products can damage or kill turf. Keep your mower clean by blowing or rinsing it after use, this simple step will also reduce the spread of weeds, insects, and disease.
Know the recommended mowing height for your type of turf (see table below) and follow it! Cutting turf below the recommended height places stress on the grass and encourages shallow roots. Deep roots help turf handle stresses such as drought, shade, insects, disease, or traffic. If any of these circumstances are occurring, the mowing height should be increased and fertilization should be decreased.
Mowing Height Table
||Recommended Mowing Height
||3.5-4.0 inches, Dwarf Cultivars 2.0-2.5 inches
||1.5-2.5 inches, cultivar dependent
When mowing, never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade per cutting. If the grass is overgrown, plan to mow in stages to avoid scalping or removing too much of the leaf blade. Just like shrubs, turf needs leaf surface area for photosynthesis. Allow clippings to fall onto lawns rather than catching them or discharging onto hard surfaces. The grass will decompose rapidly and provide nutrients to the lawn. Clippings that are blown onto sidewalks, streets, or other hard surfaces may be washed into storm drains and get into water systems. Just as decomposed clippings provide helpful nitrogen and phosphorus to our lawns, these same nutrients are harmful to our water bodies. Keeping them in lawns is a great way to recycle and to keep our water clean.
To learn more about caring for your turf click on the link below.
Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns
Bermudagrass for Florida Lawns
Centipedegrass for Florida Lawns
St. Augustinegrass for Florida Lawns
Zoysiagrass for Florida Lawns
Blueberries beginning to ripen at Blue Sky Berry Farm. Photo by Molly Jameson.
There is something almost magical about picking vibrantly blue blueberries off a bush and eating them fresh. If you watch the blueberries develop, you see them go from shades of pale green and blush red to dark and puffy and bright blue. When a blueberry is ready – you know it!
Blueberries are one of the few crop plants that are actually native to eastern North America. The most popular types are the rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) and the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). Both can be found in northern Florida and southern Georgia, and the highbush blueberry can be found as far north as southeastern Canada. There are at least eight other Vaccinium wild blueberry species that can be found in the woods and near swamps in Florida. They are usually smaller and don’t taste quite as sweet as the rabbiteye and highbush, but birds rely on them heavily for forage.
If you’ve never experienced a fresh blueberry right off the bush, then you may want to consider either foraging for wild blueberries, growing your own, or scouting out a local u-pick blueberry farm near you.
Mulch blueberries with pine straw. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Let’s first consider the joys of growing your own. Blueberries require an acidic soil pH, between about 4.0 and 5.5. Lucky for most of us in the Panhandle, our soil pH is largely naturally acidic. If you have pine trees growing in your area, you most likely can grow blueberries. And the pine straw makes an excellent blueberry mulch! There are many rabbiteye cultivars that have been specifically developed to grow well in our hot climate – requiring fewer “chilling hours” than their northern counterparts. Check out varieties such as Powderblue, Brightwell, Tifblue, and Climax. Highbush blueberries can also do well in northern Florida, although they tend to flower early, making them susceptible to late freezes. Try highbush varieties such as Bluecrisp, Emerald, and Star. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, such as fruit cracking and insect susceptibility. Click here to learn more about growing blueberries in Florida.
If you are not already growing blueberries, and you want fresh blueberries, then be sure to check out a local u-pick near you. This year you may have noticed we had a warm winter, which delayed the onset of blueberry dormancy. This means the crop is hitting its peak about two or three weeks later than normal. But don’t delay – blueberry season in north Florida typically declines by the beginning of July, so the season is upon us!
If you are in the east Panhandle, be sure to check out u-pick operations such as Blue Sky Berry Farm, Myrtle Creek Farm, Green Meadows Farm, and Blueberry Springs Farm.
Blue Sky Berry Farm, which is located just three miles south of the courthouse in Monticello, on 1180 Ashville Highway, is entering its second season as a u-pick, and its bushes have really grown! They use organic fertilizer and grow using sustainable farming methods. Blue Sky Berry Farm anticipates being open Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this summer, but anyone interested in picking blueberries should first check the Blue Sky Berry Farm website (http://www.bskyfarm.com), as it is updated regularly during the season.
‘Titan’ blueberries at Blue Sky Berry Farm. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Green Meadows Farm, located at 177 East Bluebird Road in Monticello, is five acres of USDA certified organic blueberries. The farm is located among the trees and has been designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. It is open Fridays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to dusk, and Tuesdays from 7:30 a.m. to noon, while the blueberries last.
Myrtle Creek Farm, located at 2184 Tram Road in Monticello, has beautiful blueberry fields that are dappled with shade in the late afternoon and early evening. They currently have u-pick blueberries and blackberries available. They are open during the weekdays and weekends while the blueberries last, but do call ahead (850-997-0533) to check on availability.
Blueberry Springs Farm is located at 383 Wacissa Springs Road in Monticello, and is celebrating their 25th anniversary of harvesting blueberries. They first planted in December of 1991 and had their first harvest in June of 1991. They are open Tuesdays through Sundays 7:00 a.m. to noon and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. You can contact Blueberry Springs Farm at (850) 997-1238 for updates, pricing, and directions.
Also check out the Florida Blueberry Growers Association website and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services u-pick locator to discover u-picks around the state, including grape and blackberry u-picks.
Whether you are foraging for wild blueberries, picking your own blueberries, or visiting a u-pick, be sure to bring along plenty of water, a hat, close-toed shoes, and sunscreen, as blueberry season can be a very hot and sunny time of year! But once you’ve experienced your first taste of hand-picked Florida blueberries, you will be hooked and coming back for more each and every summer!