Mysterious Chinese Seeds Show Up on Your Doorstep?  Here’s What to Do

Mysterious Chinese Seeds Show Up on Your Doorstep?  Here’s What to Do

If you’ve paid attention at all to the news recently or been on social media, you’ve no doubt seen the flood of stories about mysterious seeds arriving in thousands of Americans’ mailboxes from various addresses in China.  The packages may be labelled as jewelry or other common items, may have postage written in Chinese characters and have been documented in multiple states, including Florida.  Little else is currently known about the seed packages and it has not yet been documented if the seeds are harmful invasive species or carry other pathogenic organisms that could wreak havoc on local ecosystems. The illicit introduction of seeds from abroad is a serious concern and is being closely monitored and investigated nationally by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and locally by the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDACS) Division of Plant Industry.

000-Press Release July 27, 20202

Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

How or why these seeds have made it to Floridian’s doorsteps and P.O. boxes is still anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that the shipping of undocumented plant material into and out of the U.S. is illegal and potentially hazardous to people, the economy, and the environment.  Here’s what to do if one of these packages of seeds shows up in your mailbox:

  • Do not open the seed packets and avoid opening outer packaging or mailing materials.
  • Do not plant any of the seeds.
  • Do not dispose of the seeds; releasing them into our local ecosystems could prove harmful.
  • Limit contact with the seed package until further guidance on handling, disposal, or collection is available from USDA.
  • Report the seeds to your local UF/IFAS Extension office. Your local Extension Agent will be able to help you document and ensure that the seeds are reported to the correct authorities.
  • Make sure the seeds get also get reported to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry at 1-888-397-1517 or online at DPIhelpline@FDACS.gov
How to Store Leftover Seeds from the Summer Garden

How to Store Leftover Seeds from the Summer Garden

I enjoy starting my garden from seeds.  Ordering seed opens so many more options relative to the limited old-fashioned seed and transplant selections that line garden shelves. Picking newer, improved varieties has several other advantages as well, including increased disease resistance, earlier fruiting, unusually colored/shaped fruit, and generally more vigorous plants.  One of the most exciting days of the year in my house is when the cardboard box full of the season’s seed packets comes in the mail!  However, I garden exclusively in small, 4’x8’ raised beds and only need a couple of plants of each veggie variety to fill the fridge with fruit; meaning I always have leftover seeds in the packets!  In the past, I’ve thrown the excess seed away and chalked it up to the cost of gardening in small spaces, but this spring, as seeds became somewhat hard to come by and several of the varieties I normally grow were out of stock, I started saving and storing my leftover seed packets for future seasons to ensure I have what I want!  You can save and store seeds too, here’s how.

Cauliflower seed waiting for the fall garden in the author’s refrigerator.

Properly storing your leftover seeds is a relatively simple process.  While seed longevity definitely varies somewhat according to species, regardless of how they are treated by you, remembering the following few tips can help improve the stored seeds’ viability and vigor for the next season.

  • Store Cool. Seeds like to be stored in a refrigerator around 40 degrees F.  Seeds stored warmer, near room temperature, or colder, as in a freezer, will decline much more rapidly than those in the fridge.
  • Keep it Dry. Humidity or moisture in the seed storage area is a sure way to reduce the shelf life of seeds.  Store dry in plastic bags or glass containers and add a dessicant.  Dessicants help keep storage containers dry and can be found for around $1 each from various online purveyors, making them a cheap insurance policy for your home seed bank!
  • Don’t Store Pelleted Seed. These days, you can buy pelleted seed for many of the smaller seeded vegetable varieties, like lettuce and carrots.  The pelleting process and materials used, while making it easier for old eyes and those of us with fumbling fingers to plant, reduces seed longevity.  Do your best to plant all the pelleted seed you purchase.  If you store pelleted seed, don’t say you weren’t warned when next season’s germination is poor!
  • Plant All Stored Seed the Next Season if Possible. Remember, that while most non-pelleted vegetable species’ seed can remain viable in storage for more than a year, it’s best to only store seeds until the next season and use them up.  Regardless of how well you store them, seed germination percentage (how many in the lot will sprout when planted) and vigor (how strong the germinating seedlings are) decline in direct proportion to time spent in storage.
  • Plant Old Seed Heavy. As germination rates in storage may have declined, it’s best to plant stored seed a little thicker than you normally might.  If you need a squash plant in a certain spot, instead of just planting one seed, put three or four in the hole to ensure you get a plant.  You can always thin extras later, but time lost replanting cannot be regained.

By following these few simple tips, you can waste a lot less seed and ensure that you have what you want to plant for the following year!  As always, if you have any questions about saving and storing seed or any other agriculture or horticultural topic, please contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office.  Happy Gardening!

The following resources were used as references when writing this piece and may prove helpful to you also, check them out:

  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds Seed Storage Guide:  https://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/tools-supplies/seed-storage-guide.html
  • Seeding the Garden EDIS Publication: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh026#:~:text=Storing%20Leftover%20Seeds,better%20than%20in%20the%20refrigerator.

 

 

Add a Pop of Color to Your Landscape with ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta

Add a Pop of Color to Your Landscape with ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta

Flowers can often be fickle in the landscape, so, this year, I decided to add a shot of no-maintenance color to my landscape with foliage plants!  The benefits of ornamentals that don’t need flowers to put on a show are many.  Their water and fertility needs are often less because they don’t have to support the large energy and irrigation requirements the flowering process demands.  They don’t need deadheading to look their best and they lend an awesome texture that is overlooked in many landscapes.  My summertime foliage plant of choice provides all those things in a small, bright yellow package; it’s a widely sold selection of Duranta called ‘Gold Mound’.

Mass of ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta in the author’s landscape.

‘Gold Mound’ Duranta is a small shrub known for its chartreuse to bright yellow foliage and generally grows 24” or so tall and wide in the Panhandle, allowing it to fit in nearly any landscape.  ‘Gold Mound’ has been around in the horticulture trade a long time and is a popular perennial shrub in the southern parts of Florida. It was recognized as the Florida Nursery, Growers, and Landscape Association’s (FNGLA) plant of the year in 2005 and regularly occupies a spot in the color displays of big box and local nurseries, even in the Panhandle, however, despite these attributes, ‘Gold Mound’ is a rare find in Northwest Florida landscapes.  That needs to change!

In our neck of the woods, Duranta ‘Gold Mound’ is incredibly low maintenance.  I planted a grouping of thirteen specimens near the end of my driveway to provide a consistent season long splash of color to complement the fleeting blooms of the spring flowering shrubs, the drab greenery of the neighbor’s lawn and the on-again, off-again ‘Drift’ Roses they share the bed with.  The result has been awesome!  I watered frequently until the small shrubs were established and on their own, with no irrigation since.  I fertilized at planting with a slow release, polymer coated fertilizer and have not had to help them along with subsequent applications.  Even better, despite our frequent rainfall and heat/humidity, no pests or diseases have come knocking.  Just because I enjoy gardening doesn’t mean I need a landscape full of divas and I can count on ‘Gold Mound’ to not need pampering.

Incredible chartreuse foliage of ‘Gold Mound’.

Maybe my favorite part of ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta in the Panhandle is that it isn’t permanent.  Duranta is a native of the Caribbean tropics and is not particularly cold hardy, most Northwest Florida winters knock it back hard, if not outright killing it.  Therefore, ‘Gold Mound’ is best enjoyed here as an annual, planted when the weather warms in the spring, enjoyed until the first frost, then pulled up and discarded.  Easy peasy.  No long-term commitments required.  My uncle, the chainsaw gardener, doesn’t even have to chop it back!  Just compost the plants each winter or toss them in the trash, hit up your local nursery the next spring for some new plants and do it all over again.  Though it has to be replanted each year, Duranta ‘Gold Mound’ won’t break the bank.  The generic ‘Gold Mound’ is commonly sold in 4” containers for just a few dollars apiece in the annual section of plant nurseries, making it a very affordable option, especially compared to some of the new, designer perennials it competes with.

Though some landscape designers recommend just using a single specimen of ‘Gold Mound’ here and there for small pops of color, I prefer using groupings of the plant.  I’ve seen successful plantings of ‘Gold Mound’ massed in large groups to create annual color beds at key points in landscapes and also planted across the front of a bed to complement darker foliaged backdrop or foundation plants, such as Boxwood or Loropetalum.  Regardless of how you decide to use them in your yard, I don’t think you can go wrong with adding some color pizazz to your landscape with the inexpensive, low-maintenance, Florida-Friendly plant, ‘Gold Mound’ Duranta.  Happy gardening!

Pineapple Guava: An Outstanding Florida-Friendly Shrub

Pineapple Guava: An Outstanding Florida-Friendly Shrub

Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana) hedge. Photo courtesy of the author.

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten across the Panhandle over the last several years is “What can I plant to screen my house and property?”  I surmise this has a lot to do with Hurricane Michael wiping properties clean and an explosion of new construction, but whatever the reason, people want privacy, they want it quickly, and they often want something a little more natural looking and aesthetically pleasing than a fence.  Like everything else, the answer to the question is nuanced depending on the site situation.   However, if the situation is right, I almost always recommend that clientele at least consider a woefully underutilized plant in the Panhandle, Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana).

Named a Florida Garden Select Plant by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) in 2009, Pineapple Guava is a standout screening and specimen plant, passing all the usual tests homeowners demand from shrubs.  Growing 15’x15’ or so if never pruned or sheared, these quick-growing evergreen shrubs sport pretty, leathery green leaves with gray to white undersides.  This leaf underside coloring causes the plants to emit a striking silvery blue hue from a distance, a very unusual feature in the screening shrub world.

Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana) silvery blue leaf undersides. Photo courtesy of the author.

Look past the leaves and you’ll notice that Pineapple Guava also possesses attractive brownish, orange bark when young that fades to a pretty, peely gray with age. To complete the aesthetic trifecta, in late spring/early summer (generally May in the Panhandle), the plants, if not heavily sheared, develop gorgeous edible, pollinator-friendly flowers.  These flowers, comprised of white petals with bright red to burgundy stamens in the center, then develop over the summer into tasty fruit that may be harvested in the fall.

In addition to being a superbly attractive species, Pineapple Guava is extremely easy to grow.  They like full, all-day, blazing sunshine but will tolerate some shading if they receive at least six hours of direct sun.  Well-drained soil is also a must.  Pineapple Guava, like many of us, is not a fan of wet feet!  Site them where excessive water from rain will drain relatively quickly.  Adding to its merits, the species is not plagued by any serious pests or diseases and is also drought-tolerant, needing no supplemental irrigation once plants are established.  A once a year application of a general-purpose fertilizer, if indicated by a soil test, may be useful in getting plants going in their first couple of years following planting, but is rarely necessary in subsequent years.  To maintain Pineapple Guava as a formal hedge or screen, a simple shear or two each growing season is normally enough. The species also makes an outstanding small specimen tree when allowed to grow to its mature height and “limbed-up” to expose the interesting bark and limb structure.

Close up of pineapple guava in bloom

Edible, pollinator-friendly Pineapple Guava flowers in bloom. Photo credit: Larry Williams

If you’ve been looking for a quick-growing, low-maintenance screen or a specimen plant for a large landscape bed, you could do a lot worse than the Florida-Friendly Pineapple Guava!  As always, if you have any questions about Pineapple Guava or any other horticulture, agriculture or natural resource related issue, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office!

Installing Sod?  Remember These Ten Tips!

Installing Sod? Remember These Ten Tips!

Nearly everyone dreams of having a perfectly lush, green turfgrass lawn in the backyard.  Indeed, lawns provide many benefits to homeowners!  A well-managed lawn is an excellent filter of chemical and nutrient runoff, builds soil through the breakdown of clippings, thatch and organisms that exist in turf systems, is aesthetically pleasing and increases property values, reduces ambient air temperatures and provides a durable surface for pets and play!  However, none of these turf benefits can be realized if you don’t install and establish sod correctly.  Remember these ten tips when planning, installing, and establishing sod to realize your perfect lawn dream!

Choose the Correct Species for Your Site. Not every site is equal.  Is irrigation present, or will the turf be on its own?  Are you willing and able to provide a higher level of care or will you sacrifice some aesthetic appeal for a lower maintenance turf? These and other questions need to be answered before you buy!  Do some homework before settling on a particular grass species and cultivar; they all have merits and drawbacks.

Prepare the Site. Ensure the area you’ll be installing your new sod is weed-free, not compacted, and smooth.  Several weeks before installation, apply a non-selective herbicide to “clean” the site of weeds.  After existing weeds die, it’s a good idea to till the area or at least “rough it up” with a heavy rake.  This helps alleviate site soil compaction which allows easier root initiation from sod to soil.  Finally, smooth the site to ensure good root to soil contact and prevent a bumpy surface later.

Time for some water! ‘Tiftuf’ Bermuda sod ready for a mid-lay watering. Hot and dry conditions demand sod be kept moist. Photo courtesy of the author.

Buy Quality Sod. Research where the dealer you purchase sod from sources their grass.  Ensure you’re buying turf from a respected operation that follows Sod Production Best Management Practices.  Not all farms are equal. 

Lay it Quickly.  If buying from a retail dealer, make sure their sod is fresh.  Sod quality declines rapidly after 48 hours from cutting.  Ideally, sod is installed the same day it’s cut on the farm, but not later than the next day.

Water periodically during installation. If installing a large area of turf, periodically wet sod you’ve already laid.  Think about the day the sod you’ve laid has had.  It was ripped from its home soil, windblown on a trailer en route to your site, laid onto a warm, bare soil surface and is currently baking in the sun waiting on you to finish laying the rest.  That’s stressful and a good way to have a crispy brown patch in the new lawn!  Ease the sod’s stress by periodically wetting as you lay it. It’s also not a bad idea to lightly moisten the site prior to laying the new sod. Avoid making it muddy.

Mound Soil Around Edges. This prevents the edges of freshly laid turf from drying quicker than the rest of the grass and browning out.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, just take a heavy rake and fill in the gap between the soil surface and the leaf blades.  Think of it as hiding exposed roots from the sun and wind.  Trust me, this step keeps you from having a nice brown ring circumventing your new green lawn!

Pack it Down. You can be fancy with a drum roller partially filled with water or simply use a rake or tamping tool to lightly tamp the grass down.  This helps ensure good root contact with the soil, prevents dry patches in the establishing sod, and quickens rooting time.

Almost finished! Remember to tamp down and mound soil around the roots of the edge pieces. Photo courtesy of the author.

Water Correctly. Your new sod needs to be thoroughly watered daily for the first 10-14 days after installation.  Remember how stressful the sod laying process is to turf.  It takes a little while for sod to recover and initiate rooting into its new home.  Don’t miss a day!  Following this initial 10-14 day period, back off to once every couple of days for another two weeks or so.  After that, the sod should be rooted in nicely and be able to rely on regular, as needed, lawn irrigation intervals.

Stay Off It! Minimize traffic on new sod for several weeks after installation.  Roots are establishing during this time and are extremely vulnerable to disturbance until anchored.  I know you’re ready to enjoy your new lawn, but you’ve come too far now to mess it up!

No Fertilizer for 30-60 days! Plants without roots have a hard time taking up nutrients.  Therefore, it makes sense that until sod has firmly anchored into place and established a new root system, fertilizer application should be withheld.  Fertilizer applied during the initial establishment period will likely be wasted and leach through the soon-to-be rootzone and could even burn fragile new roots. Also, avoid using a starter fertilizer for the same reason – there aren’t any roots to take up the nutrients.

 

‘Tiftuf’ Bermudagrass sod being watered after installation is finished. Do this daily for 10-14 days following installation. Photo courtesy of the author.

By following these ten tips, you’ll be well on your way to a perfect lawn!  For more information on these and other lawn care topics, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent and consult The Florida Lawn Handbook, a research-based publication written by UF/IFAS Extension specialists.