Mulch, a Plant’s Security Blanket

Mulch, a Plant’s Security Blanket

Root rot may develop if citrus trees are mulched closer than 12″ to the trunk

Thankfully, cooler temperatures have finally made it to the Florida Panhandle, but it took until the middle of October. The last two months surely taught us lessons about helping our gardens beat the heat. One strategy to help plants cope with extreme heat or drought is mulching.

Many of us either have or can easily find, piles of wood chip mulch from fallen trees, thanks to the hurricane. This material will come in handy now, as fall and winter mulching is a great gardening practice with many benefits.

Think of mulch as a blanket for plants. By acting as a cover to the root system, mulch can perform as both a cooling factor during warm months and can help warm the root system during cooler weather, as well as assist in retaining moisture. This is important, as regulated soil moisture will accept rain or irrigation water much easier than crusty, dry soil. Water will simply runoff and can cause erosion in dry soil conditions. Mulch is a great weed barrier and is also aesthetically pleasing in the landscape by helping define borders and gives depth. A 3-4” thick layer of mulch, in a 2-3’ diameter, is typically a sufficient amount of mulch for landscape plants and fruit trees.

There are two types of mulch material that you’ll find in our area, organic or inert. Components of organic mulch include compost, bark, leaves grass clippings, straw, wood chips and even saw dust. Straw, wood chips and saw dust contain very little nitrogen, however. If mulching with these materials, it’s a good idea to add some nitrogen fertilizer. One or two cups of a complete fertilizer like 10-10-10 should help you avoid nutrient issues. Organic mulch will need to be replenished yearly to some degree, as it breaks down into a soil amending compost. This breakdown into compost will improve soil water holding capacity and fertility.

Inert mulch can be made of shells, gravel, pebbles, plastic and rubber. However, inert options are not as easy to use in controlling moisture and temperature levels and of course provides no nutrient value. With Inert mulch, you should always fertilize the area first, especially vegetable gardening. Use approximately two pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 100 square feet of vegetable garden. This may not seem like much fertilizer, but since plastic mulch reduces the amount of fertilizer that leaches out of the root zone of your plants, you can apply less fertilizer to begin with. That’s a big reason why UF/IFAS researchers recommend plastic mulch to commercial vegetable and ornamental producers in Florida, but organic mulches are more appropriate for most home garden settings.

Mulching may be one of the most valuable and cost-effective garden practices. Mulch helps control weeds, conserves moisture, moderates soil temperatures, improves soil fertility and last, but not least, adds to the beauty of the landscape.

For more information contact your local county extension office.

Information for this article provided by Dr. Robert Black and Dr. Gary W. Knox of UF/IFAS Extension. More information can be found at this website: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/planting/mulch.html

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Rebounding a Lawn in Decline May Start with a Simple Fix

Rebounding a Lawn in Decline May Start with a Simple Fix

Seldom do we find the answer to a problem as being easy. More often, a difficult and complicated answer is what’s needed. However, the solution to a healthy lawn rebound may be found simply by adjusting your mower height and mowing schedule.

Mowing strategy is an important variable that keeps a lawn healthy and flourishing, no matter the species or cultivar of grass. Mowing too high can lead to an undesirable look and cause unwanted thatch buildup, which can create a favorable environment for pests and diseases. Mowing too low can weaken the root system causing thinning, which allows space for weeds to invade. Another problem with mowing too low is that it affects nutritional needs. Lawn grasses generate food for themselves through a process called photosynthesis. A healthy leaf surface area is needed to effectively accomplish this. If the lawn is mowed too low, then leaf surface area is lost. The grass can literally starve itself.

Table: Suggested mowing height for lawn grasses. Frequency of cut will vary based on species and time of year. Credit: L. E. Trenholm, J. B. Unruh & J. L. Cisar, UF/IFAS Extensio

Not all lawn grasses should be mowed at the same height, as show in the table above. Fine textured grasses like Bermuda and Zoysia matrella can be cut significantly lower than coarse textured grasses, such as Bahia or St. Augustine. Not sure of the type of lawn grass you have? Visit this site https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_book_florida_lawn_handbook_3rd_ed to review the Florida Lawn Handbook or contact your local county extension office for questions.

Mowing schedule is the other side of the coin. How often to mow ultimately depends on how fast your grass grows. By nature, Bermuda will grow quickly and Zoysia is somewhat slower growing. Regardless, summer months are when warm-season lawn grasses grow more rapidly. Historically, lawn grasses begin a dormant-slow growth stage in October and continues through March. Fertilizer schedule also plays a role in grass growth rate. So how often do you need to mow?  This rate is best determined by the amount of growth since the last cutting, rather than the number of days which have elapsed.  You should mow often enough so that no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the total leaf surface is removed at any given mowing. In other words, leave twice as much leaf surface as you cut off. Remember, incremental adjustments should be made to your current practices. Never drastically change the height of the grass. If the lawn has been allowed to grow too long, you should gradually lower the mowing height on successive cuttings.

What are some other helpful tips? Always use a well-adjusted mower with a sharpened blade. You may find it easier replace your blade each year or every 2 years than periodic resharpening. Dull mower blades do a tremendous amount of damage with uneven cuts. This will cause gashes and splits in the leaf where fungal and bacterial pathogens can thrive. Never mow grass when it’s wet, either. Dry grass cuts are cleaner cuts and won’t clog the mower deck. If you have built up thatch, it’s a good idea to attach a bag to your mower that will catch clippings. These clippings will be great additions to your compost pile or to use as natural mulch. If no thatch problems exist, mowing without a bag will distribute clippings throughout the lawn, and the clippings will decompose into nutrients for the root system.

With proper mowing strategies, along with fertilizing & watering, your lawn grass can bounce back. For more information contact your local county extension office.

Information for this article provided by the UF/IFAS Extension EDIS Publication, “Mowing Your Florida Lawn”, by L. E. Trenholm, J. B. Unruh & J. L. Cisar: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/LH/LH02800.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

A Peach that’s Out of this World

A Peach that’s Out of this World

I’m a native of Georgia, growing up just south of the region known as “peach country”. To me, there’s nothing better than a ripe, juicy peach on a summer day. I thought I had seen it at all when it came to peaches. That changed on a trip to the southwest U.S.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to make the voyage to Utah for the National Association of County Agricultural Agents annual meeting. A small group of county agents also participated in a pre-tour of the southwest region of Utah. This is where I found a treasure in the desert, as a host extension agent shared some of his oddly shaped, Saturn peaches from a nearby orchard.

The Saturn peach is a favorite in Utah and a favorite for hundreds of years in Asia. This is an asymmetrically shaped peach, with white, firm flesh. Some refer to this as a “donut peach”. It is an interesting fruit, that I must admit was one of the most delicious peaches that I’ve ever eaten.

Figure 1. “UFO” Peach.

Credit: Ali Sarkhosh, Mercy Olmstead, Jose Chaparro, Pete Andersen and Jeff Williamson. UF/IFAS Extension

I began to ponder why this peach variety was one that I had never encountered? After consulting with extension agents in neighboring southeastern states, I found that many universities had experimented with the variety. However, pitfalls in climate acclimation, mechanical harvesting (because the fruit is not round, harvesting equipment can damage) and marketing were discouraging. From a large commercial production interest, even if a viable yield could be grown in the region and custom designed harvesters were feasible, hurdles would still remain regarding the difficulty of marketing an introduced variety that has an unfamiliar and imperfect shape, versus well established varieties that can be graded as select. However, a healthy market may exist for small farms as novelty crop.

Furthermore, in 2002 UF/IFAS researchers breed and patented a similar variety of the Saturn peach that thrives anywhere in Florida. The Australia saucer peach was used to breed this new variety, known as the flying saucer or “UFO”. This peach has non-melting flesh with that unique donut shape, not unlike the Saturn. These trees are large and vigorous growing, with a semi-upright growth habit. The UFO produces moderately heavy crop loads of large, firm fruit with yellow flesh and semi-freestone pits that has a fruit development period of 95 days. As seen in figure 1, the skin develops 50–70% blush. This cultivar is particularly susceptible to ethylene that is released during dormant pruning, which can result in significant flower bud abortion. Thus, pruning is only recommended during the summer period.

Where do I find such a tree? Growers can purchase from nurseries who are licensed by the University to grow patented varieties. What about homeowners? Check your local garden centers. Now is great time to plant.

For more information please contact your local extension office.

Supporting information for this article obtained through past interviews of Dr. Wayne Sherman, Professor Emeritus, Department of Horticultural Sciences, UF/IFAS as well as from the following the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Florida Peach and Nectarine Varieties” by Ali Sarkhosh, Mercy Olmstead, Jose Chaparro, Pete Andersen and Jeff Williamson: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG37400.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Growing Potatoes in the Panhandle

Growing Potatoes in the Panhandle

The “new” or “Irish” potato is one of America’s most popular vegetables and a fine cool season crop choice for gardeners in the Panhandle.

The history of the potato is quite interesting. The potato was first domesticated in Peru between 3000 BC-2000 BC. Potatoes were first planted, where in states? Idaho, of course, as early as the 1830’s. By 1900, Idaho’s production exceeded one million bushels. Potatoes are diverse in appearance and uses. Potatoes are high in nutrition and have fewer calories than other starches such as rice, pasta and bread.

In Florida, potatoes can be planted in the winter or early spring. February 1st to March 10th is the prime planting range.  As a general production rule, 100 lbs. of seed potatoes will typically yield around ten bushels. Be sure to use only certified seed potatoes for best planting stock. These can be found at most garden centers. For best results, select varieties recommended for North Florida like ‘Atlantic’, ‘Sebago’, and ‘Superior’ (all round, white potatoes).  Also, ‘Red Lasorda’ and ‘Red Pontiac’ are viable round, red potatoes. Resist using potato stock bought from produce sections at grocery stores. Odds are, symptoms of a number of diseases will occur. For planting, each seed potato should be cut into smaller pieces, displaying two or more eyes. To prevent fungal pathogens, the most common culprit in potato production, use a light dusting of a fungicide to combating decay.

Figure 1. Red and white potatoes grown in Florida.

Credit: C. Hutchinson. UF/IFAS Extension

It’s best to plant seed potatoes in raised rows, where the height of the mound is 6 inches and the width is 1 to 2 feet. Row spacing should be at least 3 feet apart. The seed furrow should be 3-4 inches in depth, through the center of the row. Seed potatoes should be planted in 1 foot intervals. Cover, and water freshly planted rows. Fertilizing is key. One quart of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 50 feet of row space is needed for the initial application. Through the season, for every 3 weeks, side dress the rows with a pound of 10-10-10 per 50 feet of row space.

Following these steps will ensure a productive potato crop. For more information please contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article and further information can be found in the following the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden” by Christian T. Christensen, Joel Reyes-Cabrera, Libby R. Rens, Jeffrey E. Pack, Lincoln Zotarelli, Chad Hutchinson, Wendy J. Dahl, Doug Gergela, and James M. White: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS18300.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Summer Annual Weeds Thriving in Panhandle Lawns

Summer Annual Weeds Thriving in Panhandle Lawns

Figure 1: Chamberbitter, a common annual weed.
Credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension Santa Rosa County.

With daily rainfall occurring regularly, coupled with humid temperatures, summer annual weeds have had a mighty boost in growth. Chamberbitter, Florida pusley, sedge and oxalis are just some examples of the many weeds that are  exploding across our landscape.

Chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria) is found as north as Illinois and as west as Texas, but thrives in lower southeastern states. It’s a headache for homeowners as well as pasture managers. The foliage resembles that of the mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) and can be confused with the native mimosa groundcover, known as powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa). This plant grows upright and develops a long taproot. Wart-like seeds can be found on the underside of the branch.

Florida Pusley (Richardia scabra L.) also known as Florida snow or Mexican clover, has recently blanketed landscapes in the Panhandle with white flowers. It’s a persistent weed that moves quickly.

Sedges and sedge-like plants (Cyperus ssp.), known as kyllinga, are species that emerge in late spring and thrive in summer months in warm, moist climates. Excessive irrigation or areas with poor drainage create a very hospitable environment for these weeds. Sedges are annual grass-like plants have an elaborate flower-bearing stems. Yellow and purple nutsedge are the most common species. Kyllingas have smaller leaves and are less vertical. Sedges and kyllingas are fast spreading, and reproduce through seed and rhizomes, or underground tubers.

Oxalis or yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta) have heart-shaped lobes and have a bright yellow flower. Oxalis reproduces by seed and have a narrow “okra-like” seed pod.

Figure 1: (L to R) Chamberbitter, Pusley, Sedge, Kyllinga & Oxalis.

Credit: Stephen H. Brown, UF/IFAS Extension Lee County

What about control? Some cultural control methods are hand removal and mowing frequently to offset the life cycle, but these practices alone will most likely not solve the problem. There are many broad spectrum herbicides that can be used to control these weeds with good results, but you must be persistent. Some are season long applied products. However, most effective products need to be applied in cooler temps than we have now. Consecutive days of temperatures of less than 90 degrees would be optimal. Applying the chemical otherwise will most likely harm the turfgrass. Be aware, some productions will injure or kill centipede and St. Augustine, but are safe to use on other turfgrasses like bermuda, bahia and zoysia. Be sure to read the label and follow the directions and precautions.

Another option is non-selective herbicides, like glyphosate, which can be used in thick patches or for spot treatment. When using a selective herbicide, remember to protect turfgrass and other plants from spray drift or any contact, especially regarding ornamental plants and trees.

Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article is from the following online publications:

Clemson Cooperative Extension publication: “Chamberbitter”, Bulletin HCIC 2314: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/pdf/hgic2314.pdf

UT Institute of Agriculture document, “Nutsedge and Kyllinga Species” by Mathew T. Elmore, James T. Brosnan and Gregory K. Breeden: http://www.tennesseeturfgrassweeds.org/Lists/Fact%20Sheets/Attachments/23/W260updated2015.pdf

UF/IFAS EDIS publications: “Yellow Woodsorrel (Oxalis) Biology and Management in Turf” by J. Bryan Unruh, Ramon G. Leon, and Darcy E. P. Telenko: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP38500.pdf

“Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns” by J. Bryan Unruh, Ramon G. Leon, Barry J. Brecke, and Laurie E. Trenholm: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP14100.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.