As a compost fanatic, one of my favorite Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles is Recycle Yard Waste – Principle #7. Since the practice of gardening typically leads to various debris, including herbaceous weeds, lawn clippings, woody stems after pruning, and just the leaves that fall from your trees, gardeners must somehow manage all of this material.
Rather than tossing it to the curb, where it goes to the landfill and very slowly breaks down in anoxic conditions (lacking oxygen) leading to increased methane emission, a more sustainable approach is to utilize these materials on site. On-site recycling of garden debris can be done through, my favorite, composting, especially when dealing with herbaceous material.
Grass clippings are best left on the grass, as long as not in excessive clumps. Woody debris can be piled in not-too-conspicuous areas to create brushpiles that will provide wildlife with cover. While many think of snakes and other creepy crawlies in piles of brush, many birds, lizards, mammals, insects, and fungi will call a brushpile home. Fallen leaves can be raked into garden beds to act as mulch, another Florida-Friendly Landscaping principle! Besides not using the energy required and creating the extra methane (a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) produced by sending materials to the landfill, recycling materials on-site returns the nutrients in that debris to your soil for future plants to take up.
However, there is a fate of yard debris that is even worse than sending to the landfill (cue scary music) – illegally dumping the materials in a natural area!!
Landscape debris dumped in a natural area can spread invasive plants, insects, and disease. Credit: Mark Tancig.
You may have seen this in a local natural area you visit or heard of folks that try to skip paying solid waste fees by dumping it elsewhere. Unscrupulous landscape companies and homeowners have been known to do this, especially when the work site is near a large natural area, such as a state or national forest. The main problem with this, besides that it is illegal, is that invasive species can be spread with debris directly into a native forest. Invasive plants are documented to be spread in this manner, especially those that are easily rooted from stems. Additionally, illegal dumping of plant material can spread non-native fungi, insects, and animals into these areas and disrupt natural ecosystem functions and the organisms that rely on them.
Not only is illegal dumping bad for our natural areas, but it’s illegal! Credit: Mark Tancig.
Homeowners can make sure they don’t contribute to this problem by recycling as much on-site or properly following local guidelines to dispose of landscape debris. Many municipalities have separate bulk collections or drop-off sites for landscape materials. If hiring a landscape contractor, ask where they take the collected material and/or request that it stay on the property. For large jobs, such as tree removal, the estimate should reflect dump fees. If you notice materials dumped in a local natural area, report it to the land manager so they can investigate and/or clean it up and dispose of properly.
Figure: Increase water holding capacity through home composting.
Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS Communications.
Water is a precious resource for Floridians, even if the last couple of months of rainfall may make you think otherwise. As home gardeners, we should keep water conservation in mind.
Wasting water now may cause restrictions in the future, as basic water needs of a growing population outpace capacity. Of course, we all hope that’ll never happen, but it is possible.
As we start planning for our fall vegetable garden, let’s think about conserving water usage. We can start by putting our “plant biology” cap on. A great way to save water is to plant fast growing, early-maturing vegetables. The strategy, of course, is the sooner a plant matures the less water it will need.
Gardening periods in Florida vary, too. Thus, there are broad choices of planting dates for many vegetables. For Panhandle gardeners, the current trend has shown dry periods in the spring, but adequate rainfall in summer months. Usually with the seasonal change to fall, soil moisture holding capacity is not a great struggle in Panhandle. However, much of our soils consist of coarse sandy particles, which are not ideal for water holding capacity. Amending garden soils with organic materials such as compost, manures, and cover crops, will help the soil hold water better.
Selecting the right irrigation method is also a great way to conserve water. Overhead sprinkling is not ideal for most gardening applications. This method wastefully projects water into areas between rows, outside of root zones and allows for much evaporation loss. Drip irrigation can help solve these issues, by concentrating water directly to the root system. IFAS research has estimated an 80% reduction in water usage when utilizing a drip system.
If drip irrigation isn’t a method you’re interested in, overhead watering the garden thoroughly twice weekly is an acceptable alternative. Remember, there’s a limit to how much water plants can use. Excess water can cause runoff and consistent heavily saturated soils may promote root rot. Mulching also ranks highly among water conservation practices, by allowing the soil to hold more moisture. Examples of mulch types include hay, straw, leaves or plastic.
Supporting information for this article can be found at the UF/IFAS gardening solutions website.
For planting information, please see the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
A common question for gardeners at the end of the season is if one should till the soil or use no till practices. Opinions vary regarding this question, even among Extension Agents. However old crops harbor insects, both good and bad. This phenomenon was noticed on some recently cut back tomato plants. The intention was to cut the leftover spring garden tomatoes back to encourage fall production. Instead, a host plant for mealybugs was provided.
Mealybugs on a tomato plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that possess a covering of flocculent, white, waxy filaments. They are about 1/8 inch in length and usually pinkish or yellowish in color. Mealybugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts which they use to siphon fluids from the leaves, stems, and sometimes roots of many ornamental and vegetable plants. Mealybug damage produces discolored, wilted, and deformed leaves.
One very common example of an insect pest likely to claim residence in your garden’s crop residue, are squash bugs. They like to overwinter on squash, cucumber, and other cucurbit crop residue. If you choose to not till your garden and leave a portion of last seasons crop in your garden, then you should consider applying an insecticide to your spent crop at the end of the season. A product containing a pyrethrin or pyrethroid as an active ingredient would be a good broad spectrum insecticide to control any pest that may reside on plant residue. More information on pyrethrins and pyrehtroids can be found at the EPA webpage: Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids. If you choose to apply an insecticide, it is important that you follow the information on the label regarding pollinator protection. Another option is to plant a trap crop on the edge of your garden to help attract pest insects away from your desired crops. More information on trap crops can be found in the EDIS Publication: Intercropping, Pest Management and Crop Diversity.
An adult squash bug on a zucchini leaf. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
So the answer to the till or no till question is…it depends. It is really up to the gardener. Yes, the residue from crops will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil, but it could also increase pest pressure in your garden. If you don’t plan to remove crop residue and don’t plan to till, then keep an eye out for what could be hiding in your garden.
Veteran Master Gardener, Les Furr shares an idea he and his wife had to hide an ugly debris pile following Hurricane Michael. He planted a temporary sunflower screen to block something ugly with something beautiful. Sunflowers can be planted along a road or fence, and provide a lovely addition to your property. The seed can be saved and frozen to provide beauty to your property year after year.
Cruciferous vegetables, mostly cool-season annuals in the Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae) family, are part of a healthy diet, prized for their high fiber content and unique sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. This vegetable family includes things many of us love (or love to hate) like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, turnips, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage. They’re also commonly grown in Panhandle gardens. However, as anyone who has grown these species knows, some are easier than others. For example, kale and radish are among the easiest of all plants to grow. But get beyond the basics and folks often run into difficulty with species like broccoli and cabbage. The high rainfall/humidity and frequent warm spells experienced here during the growing season often lead to serious pathogen problems, dooming my garden in years past. However, this winter, thanks to a couple of new cultivars, ‘Capture’ Cabbage and ‘Burgundy’ Sprouting Broccoli, I’ve enjoyed a plentiful supply of tasty crucifers!
4’x 8′ raised bed planted with ‘Capture’ on 24″ centers.
‘Capture’ Cabbage, developed by Bejo Seeds of California as a mid-season “white” fresh market cabbage for the South, has been an outstanding performer in my garden this year. Touted as highly resistant to Black Rot and Fusarium Yellows (by far the two most devastating pathogens of Cabbage), I had to try it for myself. I planted seeds 24” apart in my standard 4’ wide x 8’ long x 12” deep raised beds filled with mushroom compost and aged pine bark. Seedlings were fertilized once about three weeks after germination with a general purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer. The plants that developed have been extremely vigorous (I’m glad I paid attention to plant spacing guidelines on the seed packet!) and have not shown ANY evidence of disease, even through an unusually warm and wet winter that would have hammered older susceptible varieties. My plants have begun to develop heads and should be ready for harvest and the kitchen in just a couple more weeks! If you’ve had problems getting a cabbage from germination to head formation and harvest without serious disease pressure, give ‘Capture’ a try next fall!
‘Burgundy’ Broccoli in the author’s raised bed garden.
‘Burgundy’ Broccoli, developed by Elsom Seeds in the United Kingdom, is a unique variety sure to turn heads in your garden. True to its name, the prolific florets are a deep, purple color. Though the central “head” on ‘Burgundy’ is quite small, that’s not the primary feature anyway. Considered a “sprouting” broccoli, this cultivar puts out an abundance of side shoots that make ‘Burgundy’ sort of a cut-and-come-again broccoli, allowing for a long harvest window. Another advantage from a disease avoidance perspective is the short maturity time (the time from planting seeds to having harvestable shoots) of around 40 days! For perspective, a “regular” heading broccoli has a maturity of around 60 day, lots more time for problems to happen. In the same growing conditions described above for cabbage, ‘Burgundy’ performed amazingly well for me, growing strong, healthy stalks, large, unblemished leaves and an abundance of purple shoots with a nice flavor profile!
If you want to enjoy homegrown broccoli and cabbage but disease pressures have made your previous efforts unproductive, give ‘Capture’ Cabbage and ‘Burgundy’ Broccoli a try! These two selections have made it easier than ever to enjoy unique, homegrown, healthy cruciferous veggies. Keep these and other quality, disease-resistant cultivars in mind when planning your winter garden in 2020!
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.