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.

Why are the Azaleas “Bleaching Out”?

Why are the Azaleas “Bleaching Out”?

Leaf with color fading

Damage caused by azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), feeding. Photograph by James. L. Castner, University of Florida. Severely damaged leaves become heavily discolored and eventually dry or fall off. Symptoms may sometimes be confused with mite injury, but the presence of black varnish-like excrement, frequently with cast skins attached, suggest lace bug damage (Johnson and Lyon 1991).

You may be noticing the color disappearing from your azaleas right now. Do your azaleas look bleached out from a piercing-sucking insect. The culprit is probably azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides. This pest overwinters in eggs on the underside of infested leaves. Eggs hatch in late March and early April. The insect then passes through five nymphal instars before becoming an adult. It takes approximately one month for the insect to complete development from egg to adult and there are at least four generations per year. Valuable plants that are susceptible to lace bug damage should be inspected in the early spring for the presence of overwintering lace bug adults, eggs and newly-hatched nymphs. Inspect these plants every two weeks during the growing season for developing lace bug infestations.

Both adults and nymphs have piercing-sucking mouthparts and remove sap as they feed from the underside of the leaf. Lace bug damage to foliage detracts greatly from the plant’s beauty, reduces the plant’s ability to produce food, decreases plant vigor and causes the plant to be more susceptible to damage by other insects, diseases or unfavorable weather conditions. The azalea can become almost silver or bleached in appearance from the feeding lace bug damage.

However, lace bugs often go undetected until the infested plants show severe damage sometime into the summer. By then several generations of lace bugs have been weakening the plant. Inspecting early in the spring and simply washing them off the underside of the leaves can help to avoid damage later and the need for pesticides.

Adult lace bugs are flattened and rectangular in shape measuring 1/8 to 1/4 inch long. The area behind the head and the wing covers form a broadened, lace-like body covering. The wings are light amber to transparent in color. Lace bugs leave behind spiny black spots of frass (excrement).

Insect with clear wings.

Adult azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), and excrement. Photograph by James. L. Castner, University of Florida.

Lace bug nymphs are flat and oval in shape with spines projecting from their bodies in all directions. A lace bug nymph goes through five growth stages (instars) before becoming an adult. At each stage the nymph sheds its skin (molts) and these old skins often remain attached to the lower surface of infested leaves.

Small dark-colored insect on leaf with shiny black spots.

Nymphs of the azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), with several cast skins and excrement. Photograph by James. L. Castner, University of Florida.

Azalea lace bug eggs are football-shaped and are transparent to cream colored. Lace bug eggs are found on the lower leaf surface, usually alongside or inserted into a leaf vein. Adult females secrete a varnish-like substance over the eggs that hardens into a scab-like protective covering.

Other plant species, such as lantana and sycamore, may have similar symptoms. But, realize that lace bugs are host specific. They feed on their favorite plant and won’t go to another plant species. However, the life cycle is similar. Be sure to clean up all the damaged leaves. That’s where the eggs will remain for the winter. Start next spring egg-free.

For more information go to: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/shrubs/azalea_lace_bug.htm

Japanese Plum Yews for the Landscape

Japanese Plum Yews for the Landscape

We are always on the lookout for an attractive plant for our landscape.  At the nursery, some plants have a more difficult time gaining our attention. They may not be as showy, possessing neither colorful flowers nor bold foliage.  In these cases, we could be missing out on low maintenance plant that offers its own form of beauty in the right landscape spot.
One plant that I love is the Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia), especially the spreading form ‘Prostrata’.  In the nursery container, this plant is nothing special but once established in the landscape it performs well.  The conifer type leaves are an attractive dark green and the ‘Prostrata’ selection is low growing to about 2 to 3 feet.  An advantage too is that growth is slow so it won’t take over or require routine pruning.
Japanese plum yews grow best in partial shade and once established will be fine with rainfall.  For a shadier side of the home, the spreading plum yew has a place as an evergreen foundation plant too.

Japanese plum yew in a shaded garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

If the ‘Prostrata’ selection is too low growing for you, consider the ‘Fastigiata’ cultivar that will grow upright to about 8 feet with a 5 foot spread.

A year old planting of upright Japanese plum yew in filtered light. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

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.

July Is Smart Irrigation Month

July Is Smart Irrigation Month

The Irrigation Association (IA) kicks off the official start of this year’s campaign on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. The initiative promotes the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation.

Irrigation (agricultural and turf/landscape) accounts for 65-70% of total freshwater use in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program, the average American family household uses more than 300 gallons of water per day; roughly 30% of this occurs outdoors. Efficient landscape irrigation systems and practices dramatically reduce water being lost or wasted.

The starting point for improving the efficiency of a home landscape sprinkler system is to calibrate each zone (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00003389/00001) and make adjustments and repairs. That includes the rain shut-off device.

Florida is one of the few states with a rain sensor law. The most recent version of the statute (2010) states the following: “Any person who operates an automatic landscape irrigation system shall properly install, maintain, and operate technology that inhibits or interrupts operation of the system during periods of sufficient moisture.” (Florida Statute 373.62). Regardless of the water source or age of the system, all in-ground irrigation systems must be connected to a functioning rain sensor of some kind.

Rain collecting device with expanding cork disks inside.

Expanding disk Rain Sensor

Expanded disk devices are the most popular rain sensor due to their low cost, ease of installation, and low maintenance. Traditionally, they are wired into the controller, but a wireless version allows for quicker installation and mounting up to 300 feet from the controller. These “mini-click” sensors contain disks made of cork that absorb rainfall and expand, triggering a pressure switch. The disk cover is rotated to adjust for the predetermined amount of rainfall required to trigger the switch. It should be set on ½ – ¾ inch, depending on soil type and rooting depth of irrigated plants. The switch continues to interrupt the scheduled controller as long as the disks are swollen. When the rain stops, the disks begin to dry out. Once they have contracted, the switch closes and the regularly scheduled irrigation cycle begins where it left off before the interruption. These small cork disks wear out in Florida’s heat and need to be replaced. By checking and repairing the sensor parts, the sprinkler system will operate much more efficiently. We have all seen irrigation systems running in pouring rain.  Keep yours maintained to avoid this needless waste of water.

So, join the kids this summer. Go outside and play in the water. Turn on the sprinkler system and check it out. July is Smart Irrigation Month. Let’s see how efficient you can make your system and reduce the water waste in Florida.