Loquat – An Attractive Small Tree That Bears Tasty Fruit

Loquat – An Attractive Small Tree That Bears Tasty Fruit

Loquat trees provide nice fall color with creamy yellow buds and white flowers on their long terminal panicles.  These small (20 to 35 ft. tall) evergreen trees are native to China and first appeared in Southern landscapes in the late 19th Century.  They are grown commercially in subtropical and Mediterranean areas of the world and small production acreage can be found in California.  They are cold tolerant down to temperatures of 8 degrees Fahrenheit, but they will drop their flowers or fruit if temperatures dip below 27 degrees Fahrenheit.

Loquat Tree

A beautiful loquat specimen at the UF/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County

Leaves – The leaf configuration on loquat trees is classified as whorled.  The leaf shape is lanceolate and the color is dark green with a nice soft brown surface underneath.  These features help give the trees their tropical appearance.

Flowers – 30 to 100 flowers can be present on each terminal panicle.  Individual flowers are roughly half an inch in diameter and have white petals.

Fruit – What surprises most people is that loquats are more closely related to apples and peaches than any tropical fruit.  Fruit are classified as pomes and appear in clusters ranging from 4 to 30 depending on variety and fruit size.  They are rounded to ovate in shape and are usually between 1.5 and 3 inches in length.  Fruit are light yellow to orange in color and contain one to many seeds.

Loquat Flowers with Honey Bee

A cluster of loquat flowers/buds being pollinated by a honey bee. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County

Propagation – Loquat trees are easily propagated by seed, as you will notice as soon as your tree first bears fruit.  Seedlings pop up throughout yards containing even just one loquat tree.  It is important to note that the trees do not come true from seed and they go through a 6- to 8-year juvenile period before flowering and fruiting.  Propagation by cuttings or air layering is more difficult but rewarding, because vegitatively-propagated trees bear fruit within two years of planting.  Sometimes mature trees are top-worked (grafted at the terminal ends of branches) to produce a more desirable fruit cultivar.

Loquat trees are hardy, provide an aesthetic focal point to the landscape, and produce a tasty fruit.  For more information on growing loquats and a comprehensive list of cultivars, please visit the UF EDIS Publication: Loquat Growing in the Florida Home Landscape.

Pomegranates in the Panhandle

Pomegranates in the Panhandle

Last week at the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Dr. Ali Sarkhosh presented on growing pomegranate in Florida.  The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to central Asia.  The fruit made its way to North America in the 16th century.  Given their origin, it makes sense that fruit quality is best in regions with cool winters and hot, dry summers (Mediterranean climate).  In the United States, the majority of pomegranates are grown in California.  However, the University of Florida, with the help of Dr. Sarkhosh, is conducting research trials to find out which varieties do best in our state.

In the wild, pomegranate plants are dense, bushy shrubs growing between 6-12 feet tall with thorny branches.  In the garden, they can be trained as small single trunk trees from 12-20 feet tall or as slightly shorter multi-trunk (3 to 5 trunks) trees.  Pomegranate plants have beautiful flowers and can be utilized as ornamentals that also bear fruit.  In fact, there are a number of varieties on the market for their aesthetics alone.  Pomegranate leaves are glossy, dark green, and small.  Blooms range from orange to red (about 2 inches in diameter) with crinkled petals and lots of stamens.  The fruit can be yellow, deep red, or any color in between depending on variety.  The fruit are round with a diameter from 2 to 5 inches.

 Fruit, aril, and juice characteristics of four pomegranate cultivars grown in Florida; fruit harvested in August 2018. a) ‘Vkusnyi’, b) ‘Crab’, c) ‘Mack Glass’, d) ‘Ever Sweet’.

Fruit, aril, and juice characteristics of four pomegranate cultivars grown in Florida; fruit harvested in August 2018. a) ‘Vkusnyi’, b) ‘Crab’, c) ‘Mack Glass’, d) ‘Ever Sweet’. Photo Credit: Ali Sarkhosh, University of Florida/IFAS

A common commercial variety, ‘Wonderful’, is widely grown in California but does not perform well in Florida’s hot and humid climate.  Cultivars that have performed well in Florida include: ‘Vkusnyi’; ‘Crab’; ‘Mack Glass’; and ‘Ever Sweet’.  Pomegranates are adapted to many soil types from sands to clays, however yields are lower on sandy soils and fruit color is poor on clay soils.  They produce best on well-drained soils with a pH range from 5.5 to 7.0.  The plants should be irrigated every 7 to 10 days if a significant rain event doesn’t occur.  Flavor and fruit quality are increased when irrigation is gradually reduced during fruit maturation.  Pomegranates are tolerant of some flooding, but sudden changes to irrigation amounts or timing may cause fruit to split.

Two pomegranate training systems: single trunk on the left and multi-trunk on the right.

Two pomegranate training systems: single trunk on the left and multi-trunk on the right. Photo Credit: Ali Sarkhosh, University of Florida/IFAS

Pomegranates establish best when planted in late winter or early spring (February – March).  If you plan to grow them as a hedge (shrub form), space plants 6 to 9 feet apart to allow for suckers to fill the void between plants.  If you plan to plant a single tree or a few trees then space the plants at least 15 feet apart.  If a tree form is desired, then suckers will need to be removed frequently.  Some fruit will need to be thinned each year to reduce the chances of branches breaking from heavy fruit weight.

Pomegranate fruit affected by anthracnose.

Anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum sp. to pomegranate fruit. Photo Credit: Gary Vallad, University of Florida/IFAS

Anthracnose is the most common disease of pomegranates.  Symptoms include small, circular, reddish-brown spots (0.25 inch diameter) on leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit.  Copper fungicide applications can greatly reduce disease damage.  Common insects include scales and mites.  Sulfur dust can be used for mite control and horticultural oil can be used to control scales.

What are those scales on my palm tree?

What are those scales on my palm tree?

A couple weeks ago, I was on a site visit to check out some issues on Canary Island Date Palms.  The account manager on the property requested a site visit because he thought the palms were infested with scale insects.  He noticed the issue on a number of the properties he manages and he was concerned it was an epidemic.  From a distance, lower fronds were yellowing from the outside in and the tips were necrotic.  These are signs of potassium deficiency with possible magnesium deficiency mixed in.

Potassium and magnesium deficiencies in a canary island date palm.

Transitional leaf showing potassium deficiency (tip) and magnesium deficiency (base) symptoms. Photo Credit: T.K. Broschat, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Nutrient deficiencies are slow to correct in palm trees.  It’s much easier to prevent deficiencies from occurring by using a palm fertilizer that has the analysis 8N-2P2O5-12K2O+4Mg with micronutrients.  Even if the palms are part of a landscape which includes turf and other plants that require additional nitrogen, it is best to use a palm fertilizer with the analysis previously listed over a radius at least 25 feet out from the palms.  However, poor nutrition wasn’t the only problem with these palms.

Upon closer look, the leaflets were speckled with little bumps.  Each bump had a little white tail.  These are the fruiting structures of graphiola leaf spot also known as false smut.

Graphiola leaf spot (false smut) on a Canary Island Date Palm

Graphiola leaf spot (false smut) on a Canary Island Date Palm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Graphiola leaf spot is a fungal leaf disease caused by Graphiola phoenicis.  Canary Island Date Palms are especially susceptible to this disease.  Graphiola leaf spot is primarily an aesthetic issue and doesn’t cause much harm to the palms infected.  In fact, the nutrient deficiencies observed in these palms are much more detrimental to their health.

Graphiola leaf spot affects the lower fronds first.  If the diseased, lower fronds are not showing signs of nutrient deficiencies then they can be pruned off and removed from the site.  All naturally fallen fronds should be removed from the site to reduce the likelihood of fungal spores being splashed onto the healthy, living fronds.  A fungicide containing copper can be applied to help prevent the spread of the disease, but it will not cure the infected fronds.  Palms can be a beautiful addition to the landscape and most diseases and abiotic disorders can be managed and prevented with proper pruning, correct fertilizer rates, and precise irrigation.

Large Patch: Not the Only Rhizoctonia in Town

Large Patch: Not the Only Rhizoctonia in Town

Large patch Rhizoctonia solani (known as brown patch in cool season grasses) is a common disease of many turfgrass species.  It usually occurs during the cooler months from October through May when temperatures are below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  However, signs and symptoms of large patch and other Rhizoctonia diseases can be observed throughout the summer.  Less common Rhizoctonia species that occur during the summer months are Rhizoctoni zeae and Rhizoctonia oryzae.  Extended periods of turf wetness from excessive rainfall or overwatering provide ideal conditions for the disease to develop and spread.

Rhizoctonia in zoysiagrass

Rhizoctonia in a zoysiagrass lawn. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

This summer in Santa Rosa County, Rhizoctonia has been positively diagnosed in both St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass lawns and suspected in a number of centipedegrass lawns.  The disease usually starts as small, yellow patches (about a foot in diameter) that turn reddish brown, brown, or straw colored as the leaves start to die. Patches often expand to several feet in diameter.  It is common to see rings of yellow or brown turf with otherwise healthy turf in the center.  The fungus infects portions of the blades closest to the soil, eventually killing the entire leaf.  Grass blades can easily be pulled off their stems, but roots are not affected by the disease.

Rhizoctonia in a St. Augustinegrass lawn

Rhizoctonia in a St. Augustinegrass lawn. Photo Credit: John Atkins, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Overwatering and excessive fertilization can both contribute to the development of Rhizoctonia disease.  Improper timing of fertilizer application can also promote disease development.  In the Florida Panhandle, turfgrass is actively growing from April to October.  Slow-release fertilizers are recommended to allow for a more even distribution of nutrients over the course of multiple months.  Recommended fertilizer rates are based on turfgrass species, geographical location, and fertilizer analysis.  Please refer to the UF/IFAS Publication: “Urban Turf Fertilizer Rule for Home Lawn Fertilization” for rate recommendations.

fertilizer chart

Chart excerpted from Florida-Friendly Landscaping publication.

If large patch or another Rhizoctonia disease is confirmed in your lawn, then chemical controls are necessary to keep the disease from spreading.  Fungicide products containing the active ingredients azoxystrobin, chlorothalonil, fludioxonil, flutolanil, iprodione, mancozeb, metconazole, myclobutanil, polyoxin D, propiconazole, thiophanate-methyl, thiram, triadimefon, trifloxystrobin, or triticonazole are viable options for keeping the disease from spreading.  For best results, follow the fungicide label for application instructions.  It’s important to not only treat the affected areas, but also the healthy turf surrounding these areas in order to keep the diseased spots from growing in size.

Unfortunately, turf diseases are often not noticed until large patches of declining and dead turf are noticed.  In these cases when large dead patches exist in the lawn, it is usually necessary to resod these areas.  As with most problems that arise in the landscape, good cultural practices are the most proactive way to mitigate the chances with turfgrass diseases.  The UF/IFAS Florida Friendly Website provides up-to-date solutions and recommendations for caring for Florida landscapes.

Weeds – More Than Just a Garden Eyesore

Weeds – More Than Just a Garden Eyesore

Nobody likes weeds in their garden.  Weeds are not only ugly, they can host insects and diseases that later spread to your garden.  This situation commonly occurs when weeds belong to the same plant family as the desired landscape or vegetable species, but some insects and diseases have diverse palettes.  For example, I recently witnessed a looper caterpillar on a pokeweed plant.

Looper Damage on a Pokeweed

Looper damage on a pokeweed plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

Loopers are common pests of vegetable gardens and in the landscape.  Probably the most common loopers found in North Florida gardens are cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) and soybean loopers (Chrysodeixis includens).  Cabbage loopers can be found feeding on cabbage, of course, as well as leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, chrysanthemums, and snapdragons.  Weeds that attract this looper are lambsquarters, dandelions, and curly dock.  Soybean loopers like to feed on sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, geraniums, and sunflowers.  They can also be found feeding on oxalis, kutzu, and lantana.

Looper insect

Looper found on pokeweed plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

Although weeds can be hosts for pests, they may be used advantageously.  Trap crops can be planted at a garden’s perimeter or windward portion to attract pests away from the desired crop.  A trap crop draws the pest crop away from the main crop.  The trap crop is then destroyed or sprayed with insecticide when the pest insect is found feeding on it.  This allows for a reduction or elimination of insecticidal use on the desired crop.  However, it is important that both the trap crop and the desired food crop or ornamental crop are regularly scouted to keep track of pest populations.

For more information on trap crops and other insect and disease diversion methods you can read the EDIS Publication: Intercropping, Crop Diversity and Pest Management.