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.

Leaf Spots Abound on Hydrangeas this Time of Year

Leaf Spots Abound on Hydrangeas this Time of Year

Hydrangea leaf spot disease
Photo credit: Larry Williams

It is not uncommon to see leaf spots on your hydrangeas during late summer and fall.

These spots are caused by a number of fungal diseases. Plant fungi and wet weather go hand-in-hand. Florida’s high humidity, heavy dews and frequent rains during spring and summer provide perfect conditions to allow fungal diseases to flourish. Bacterial leaf spots can be part of this foliage disease mix, too.

Common foliage diseases seen on hydrangeas this time of year include Phyllosticta leaf spot, Target leaf spot, Bacterial leaf spot, Botrytis and Cercospora leaf spot.

These foliage diseases are the norm rather than the exception as we move into the wet summer months and on into fall. As a matter of fact, you would be hard-pressed to find any hydrangea in our area without some evidence of infection now.

This late in the year it is more of a “grin and bear it” problem. In other words, it’s too late to do much about the fact that your hydrangea plant has leaves covered in ugly spots. By now many of the infected leaves are turning brown, withering and dropping prematurely from the plant.

Cercospora leaf spot is one of the most common foliage diseases of hydrangeas. Along with most of the leaf spot diseases, it begins as small dark-colored specks on the leaves. The small specks generally go unnoticed. But as the spots continue to slowly enlarge, mostly maintaining a circular shape, they become more obvious. With heavy infection, individual spots can coalesce forming larger irregular shaped brown areas on individual leaves. The individual spots may have a purplish halo with gray center.

There are some fungicides that can help prevent these leaf spots. But you’d have to begin treatment early in spring before any leaf spots exist and spray the plant every 10 to 14 days during favorable disease development (humid, rainy weather), which is pretty much our spring and summer months. These types of diseases are prevented, not cured. That’s the “grin and bear it” part of waiting until now.

The fungus survives on infected leaves. So, the best thing to do now is to remove and dispose of infected leaves. Also, be careful to not wet the leaves when irrigating the plants during the growing season.

New leaves of spring should be spot/disease free as they emerge. But the cycle of life for these leaf spot diseases will again result in spotted/diseased leaves on your hydrangeas next summer and fall without persistent treatment.

The good news is that these leaf spot diseases normally do not cause permanent/long-term damage for hydrangeas. They just make the plant look ugly.

Growing Squash in the Home Garden

Are you interested in growing squash in your garden?  Do you know the difference between summer squash and winter squash?  Check out this very informative instructional video on growing squash in your home garden by Walton County Agriculture Agent Evan Anderson.

 

 

Late Spring Signals Leaf Gall for Some Camellias

Camellias are a Panhandle favorite, as the flowers can highlight a landscape with bright, vibrant colors in fall and winter. However, spring time can bring about these colors in a negative way, in the form of leaf gall.

The camellia is native to Asia and brought to America in the late 1700’s. These plants have proven to be a dependable addition to the southern landscape with minimal care. When camellias are correctly planted and cared for, minimal disease problems arise. However, camellias can contract leaf spot, dieback, root rot and bud and leaf gall.

Camellia Gall Credit: Patty Dunlap, Gulf County Master Gardener.

 

Leaf and bud galls are caused by the fungus Exobasidium vaccinia. The gall appears as thickened, waxy and enlarged leaves or buds during the cool spring months. One or several leaves on a single shoot may be affected. Once you’ve found infected leaves, no chemical control will be effective. Actually, no fungicide has been found very effective in combatting this condition. However, control can be accomplished in the home garden by simply pinching off and destroying infected leaves. Disease activity usually stops with warmer weather. A best management practice to curb infection is to reduce overhead watering during cool, wet weather periods of spring. Great news, this condition does not cause any long-term issues with the plant.

For more information regarding fungal issues in landscape plants, contact your local county extension office.

Fun camellia fact: The young leaves of the species, Camellia sinensis, are processed for tea, one of the world’s most popular drinks. Please see UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Tea Growing in the Florida Landscape” by Jonathan H. Crane and Carlos F. Balerdi: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS30800.pdf

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Camellias at a Glance” by Sydney Park Brown: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP00200.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

How Did I Get Rust On My Blueberries?

Normally we think of rust as something that deteriorates metal, but a number of different fungal rusts can affect plants in the garden.  Rust disease can affect corn plants, cedar trees, and even blueberry bushes.  Just like the broad range of plant species that can be plagued by rust, there are a number of species of rust fungal spores floating around and ready to infest your garden.  This article will focus on leaf rust of blueberry.

Blueberry rust on top of a leaf.

Blueberry leaf rust on the top of a leaf. Photo Credit: Philip Harmon, University of Florida/IFAS Extension.

Leaf rust of blueberry in Florida is caused by the fungus Pucciniastrum vaccinii.  Although the common name of the disease is “leaf rust”, the disease can also infect the stems and fruit of blueberry plants.  The disease causes small, round spots visible on the tops of leaves.  Spots will multiply and the leaves will eventually yellow and fall off.  Young stems and green fruit can also become infected as the disease progresses.  Bright orange lesions will form on stems and fruit as the thousands of microscopic spores conjoin.  The clusters of spores are easily wiped or washed off of plant material.  When spores dry out, they become airborne and can be transferred to nearby plants.

Blueberry leaf rust on fruit.

Blueberry leaf rust on fruit. Photo Credit: Philip Harmon, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

The rust fungus thrives in hot, humid, wet conditions.  A number of cultural practices can be adopted to reduce disease progression and survival.

  • Irrigation

    Disease persistence can be reduced by limiting the amount of water that contacts the plant leaves.  Water the base of plants or install drip irrigation for your bushes rather than watering from overhead.  If overhead irrigation is the only option, then water plants in the morning rather than in the evening.  This allows the leaves to dry out over the course of the day.

  • Pruning

    Removal of approximately 25% of the oldest canes in late winter before spring growth begins will stimulate the production of new canes and should result in plants with canes of different ages and will provide a good mix of vigorous branching and fruit production.  Moderate summer pruning can also improve yield and shoot growth. When pruning, cut out vigorous shoots that are growing well beyond the desired canopy height and are in the interior portion of the bush.  This will promote a more open growth habit and help with air circulation on the remaining plant material.  Some vigorous canes developing from the ground and growing on the outside of the bush can be topped to stimulate branching and flower bud formation.

  • Mulch

    Pine bark mulch helps with establishment of young plants and helps keep soil pH low in existing plantings.  A layer of aged pine bark 3 inches deep extending about 2 feet out from the plants will provide a good growing medium for surface feeder roots.  Pine straw can be used if pine bark is unavailable.  Mulch also moderates soil temperature, helps keep weeds at bay, and adds organic matter to the soil.  Make sure to keep mulch raked back about three inches away from the plant canes to provide good air circulation to the roots.

Hopefully this article has given you some tips to have a good blueberry crop for years to come.  For more information on growing blueberries in Florida, please visit the University of Florida/IFAS EDIS Publication: Blueberry Gardener’s Guide.

Be Proactive to Ward Off Armillaria Root Rot

Be Proactive to Ward Off Armillaria Root Rot

Recently, an Extension Agent in the Florida Panhandle received a picture of some mushrooms popping up in a client’s garden.  These particular mushrooms were in a spot where leftover mushroom compost had been dumped.  The compost was previously used to grow oyster mushrooms and the client was hopeful that she had more oyster mushrooms growing in her yard.  Unfortunately, the lab results came back stating the mushrooms in question were Armillaria spp.

Armillaria spp.

Armillaria spp. in the garden. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension.

Armillaria spp. cause root rot of trees and shrubs throughout the world.  The fungus infects the roots and bases of trees, causing them to rot and eventually die.  Some species of Armillaria are primary pathogens that attack and kill plants, but most are opportunistic pathogens that are attracted to unhealthy or stressed plants.  Fruiting structures of the fungi can be recognized by the clusters of yellow to brown-colored mushrooms that emerge during wet conditions.  However, the mushroom caps sometimes never form and the plant material needs to be inspected more thoroughly to find the disease culprit.  Infected plants may have wilted branches, branch dieback, and stunted growth and should be removed and replaced with resistant species.

White mycelial fan under the bark of a root.

White mycelial fan under the bark of a root infected with Armillaria tabescens. Photo Credit: Ed Barnard

Management – The best method for controlling Armillaria root rot is with proper plant installation and maintenance.  Planting plant material at the proper depth will allow the roots to breathe and reduce the opportunity for the roots to rot.  Pruning tools should be sanitized between plant material.  Proper irrigation and fertilization will also reduce the risk of plant disease and root rot.  Lastly, you can choose to plant a diverse landscape with resistant species.

For more information on Armillaria root rot and a comprehensive list of resistant species, please view the EDIS publication:  Armillaria Root Rot