Winter is in full swing and home grown produce is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But it should be! It’s time again to start thinking about spring vegetable gardening. While a number of crops can be started by direct seeding in the soil, success rates are higher when plants are started indoors or in a covered structure. In order to be successful, it’s important that you follow some simple steps.
Seedless watermelons planted in a 128-cell flat. Photo Credit: Gene McAvoy, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Hendry County
- Transplant Trays/Flats – Trays are made from different materials such as plastic, polystyrene, and compostable materials. Different cell sizes are also available. Generally, smaller cells are used for smaller seeds and larger cells are used for larger seeds. It’s important to think of the life cycle of the crop. For example, lettuce and other leafy greens have much shorter life cycles compared to tomatoes. Because of this, they have smaller root systems at transplant time and may not develop a good rootball in a large cell. Therefore, lettuce would perform better in a smaller cell.
- Media – It’s important that you choose a germination mix instead of a potting mix. Definitely don’t use garden soil! Germination mixes are typically a combination of finely ground peat, perlite, and other soiless substrates.
- Seed – Purchase seed from a reputable source with a germination guarantee. If you save seeds for future gardening, then store them in a cool, dry place. Seed can be stored in the refrigerator. However, do expect the germination rate of stored seeds to diminish over time. Coated seed is recommended for smaller seeds to make seeding easier and more efficient. Seeds should be planted in media at a depth of approximately 3 times the diameter of the seed. Check the seed package for additional planting recommendations. For more germination and storage information please see this publication from the University of Nebraska.
- Fertilizer – Too much fertilizer can result in leggy and possibly burned plants. A 20-10-10 (or similar ratio N-P-K) water-soluble product is generally used in commercial production. Rates are dependent on crop, sunlight, and temperature. The media should be kept moist, but not continually wet.
Well-grown kale transplants ready for field planting. Photo Credit: Gene McAvoy, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Hendry County
Seeds can take up to 14 days to germinate depending on species and conditions. Most transplants are ready for the garden by 6 to 8 weeks. To improve success rate and accelerate production time, most farmers harden off their transplants before planting. Hardening off is the process of stressing the transplants for about a week. Generally, transplant trays are taken out of the greenhouse (or other transplant area such as a window sill) and set outside. Watering frequency is reduced and fertilization is halted. It’s important that the plants aren’t completely neglected, but just stressed enough to prepare them for the elements. A good place to put the trays is under a tree in partial shade. After this hardening off period, the transplants are ready for your garden. Hopefully these tips will make you a more successful gardener!
Fatsia japonica, common name Japanese aralia, provides tropical texture to your landscape. That coarse texture is attributed to its large (nearly a foot wide) leaves that are deeply lobed (maple leaf shaped). This shade-loving plant performs well in moist (not soggy) locations. Upright stems originate near ground level usually near the base of older stems. The stems grow to about eight feet tall before bending toward the ground under their own weight.
Even though the foliage of this species is enough to make you want it in your own garden, you will absolutely fall in love with its blooms. Upright clusters of showy, creamy white flowers begin to appear in fall. These little snowballs provide wonderful color to your garden. The shiny, black fruits appear in winter and are prominent for several weeks. The fruit are know to attract birds to the landscape.
A Fatsia japonica specimen in full bloom. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Fatsia japonica thrives in the shade in slightly acidic, nutrient-rich, moist soil. Older stems become leggy and can be cut back to encourage branching. In the right place, Fatsia japonica is low-maintenance and not typically bothered by pests. It is also known to perform well in coastal landscapes. It fits well in entryways, in containers, or in mass plantings spaced three feet apart.
A planted tree with water retention berm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Often, Extension agents are tasked with evaluation of unhealthy plants in the landscape. They diagnose all sorts of plant problems including those caused by disease infection, insect infiltration, or improper culture.
When evaluating trees, one problem that often comes to the surface is improper tree installation. Although poorly installed trees may survive for 10 or 15 years after planting, they rarely thrive and often experience a slow death.
Fall is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida. A couple of weeks ago beautiful Nuttal Oak was planted at Bagdad Mill Site Park in Santa Rosa County, FL. Here are 11 easy steps to follow for proper tree installation:
- Look around and up for wire, light poles, and buildings that may interfere with growth;
- Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible;
- Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk;
- Slide the tree carefully into the planting hole;
- Position the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface;
- Straighten the tree in the hole;
- Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball;
- Slice a shovel down in to the back fill;
- Cover the exposed sides of the root ball with mulch and create water retention berm;
- Stake the tree if necessary;
- Come back to remove hardware.
Digging a properly sized hole for planting a tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Removing synthetic material from the root ball. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida – Santa Rosa County
For more detailed information on planting trees and shrubs visit this UF/IFAS Website – “Steps to Planting a Tree”.
For more information Nuttall Oaks visit this University of Arkansas Website.
One of my favorite native plants is winged sumac. I like this plant not only for its ornamental beauty, but also for its fruit that can be dried and used as seasoning and to make tea. So you can understand my concern when one of my prized winged sumac plants had distorted leaves.
Eriophyid mite damage on winged sumac. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
After doing a little research and speaking with one of our UF/IFAS Specialists, I was able to determine that the leaf distortion was caused by eriophyid mites. Mites are not insects and are more closely related to spiders. They normally have four pairs of legs, however eriophyid mites only have two pairs of legs. They are microscopic, elongate, spindle-shaped, and translucent.
An eriophyid mite. Photo Credit: USDA, Agricultural Research Service.
Eriophyid mites cause galls (sometimes called witch’s broom) on various species of ornamental shrubs. Symptoms include early and late bud distortion, distorted leaves, and possibly plant death. In fact, the species Phyllocoptes fructiphilus is the vector for the viral disease of roses called Rose Rosette Disease. Sometimes the damage can be confused with herbicide damage.
Control options are currently being evaluated for eriophyid mites in the home landscape. Removing distorted plant material and removing it from the site can help prevent the spread of mites. If you suspect eriophyid mites are the cause of your distorted plants then samples should be collected. To collect samples: 1) Prune off symptomatic plant material and immediately place into a vial with rubbing alcohol; 2) label with collection date, plant species, and location; 3) mail to the Landscape Entomology Lab in Gainesville at P.O. Box 110620, Gainesville, FL 32611.
For more information on eriophyid mites and the sampling process, please see the fact sheet “Unusual Galls on Woody Ornamentals” from Erin Harlow and Dr. Adam Dale.
For more information on other mites that could be infesting your landscape, please go to this link from the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, FL.
A few months ago I visited a property that had been renovated to clean up some limbs that were in danger of falling on the house. Pruning tree limbs that are in danger of hitting a structure is always a good idea, but it’s important to look at the impacts this practice may have on the rest of a landscape. Any time the light profile of a landscape is changed, current and future plant selection must be considered. One often seen example occurs when trees grow to full size and shade out the lush lawn that’s underneath. However, in this case, removal of limbs allowed more light to shine on some beautiful, old camellia bushes.
Camellia Planting and Care
Camellias do best in locations that receive filtered sunlight and are protected from the wind. They like acidic, well-drained soils. Trees and shrubs are generally planted 2″ to 3″ above the soil grade. (2″ to 3″ of root ball should be exposed above the soil grade when the tree/shrub is planted.) To help improve root oxygen exposure and help prevent a root rot situations, camellias can be planted slightly shallower than the previously stated recommendation. For more plant establishment guidelines, please visit: UF/IFAS Planting and Establishing Trees Guide
Scenario and Diagnosis
As mentioned above, the property in question was visited to diagnose sick camellia bushes. Upon further inspection of the property, asking about recent changes to the landscape, and inspecting the bushes, it was clear that the camellias were receiving too much sunlight. Sunlight damage was expressed by large brown sunscald spots on the yellowing leaves.
Sunscald damage on camellia leaves. Photo Credit: Jed Dillard
The camellias had also been pruned incorrectly. Camellias require minimal pruning. They are normally pruned to control size or promote a tree form structure if desired. Any pruning should be done before flower buds form in late summer.
An incorrectly pruned camellia bush. Photo Credit: Jed Dillard
The best solution in this scenario was to dig up the affected camellias and move them to a location with more shade. Sun loving shrubs were suggested as options to replace the camellia bushes. It’s important to note that Camellia sasanqua cultivars are usually more tolerant of sunlight than Camellia japonica cultivars. The recommendations were based on the Florida Friendly Landscaping principle of “Right Plant, Right Place”.
If you’re trying to find the right plants for you own yard, then you should check out the Florida Friendly Landscaping Interactive Plant Database. The database gives you plant selection options for each area of your yard based on location in the state, plant type, and soil and light conditions.