Pawpaw – A Fruit with an Identity Crisis

Pawpaw – A Fruit with an Identity Crisis

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native edible that is often overlooked and misunderstood.  Not only does it produce a delicious fruit that looks like a mango and tastes like a banana, but it is also an aesthetic landscape plant.  This fruit is slowly gaining popularity with younger generations and a handful of universities (Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri) are working on cultivar improvements.

A pawpaw tree in the woods.

A pawpaw tree growing in the woods. Photo credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

The pawpaw is native to the eastern United States (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8), however it’s closest relatives are all tropical such as the custard apple, cherimoya, and soursop.  The pawpaw, along with these fruits, are known for their custard-like texture which may be a unpleasant for some consumers.  Pawpaws are relatively hardy, have few insect pests, and can still produce fruit in partial shade (although they produce more fruit when grown in full sun).

Pawpaws perform best in moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0.  They are found growing wild in full to partial shade, but more fruit are produced when trees are grown in full sun.  However, pawpaws need some protection from wind and adequate irrigation in orchard settings.  Trees can grow to between 12 feet to 25 feet tall and should be planted at least 15 feet apart.  In the Florida Panhandle, flowers bloom in early spring and fruit ripen from August to October depending on variety and weather.

Young pawpaw fruit

Young pawpaw fruit growing on a small tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

A number of improved cultivars of pawpaws have been developed that produce more fruit with more flavor than native seedlings/saplings.  The University of Missouri has conducted trials on the following pawpaw cultivars:  ‘Sunflower’; ‘PA Golden’; ‘Wells’; ‘NC-1’; ‘Overleese’; ‘Shenandoah’; ‘Susquehanna’; and ’10-35′.  Most of these cultivars performed well in southern Missouri, however yields may differ in the Florida Panhandle.  The full results of the trial can be found in the “Pawpaw – Unique Native Fruit” publication.

Pawpaws can be propagated by seed or cuttings.  Unlike most fruit trees, pawpaws are usually true to seed meaning that saved seed produces a tree with similar characteristics to the parent tree.  To save seeds, place fresh seeds in a bag of moist peat moss and refrigerate for 3 to 4 months before planting.  To vegetatively propagate, take cuttings (pencil thin in diameter) in the winter and store in a refrigerator until early spring.  Cuttings should be chip budded onto seedling rootstock during the spring.  Please visit this publication from the University of Nebraska for more information on chip budding.

Pawpaw fruit are ready to harvest when they are slightly soft when gently squeezed.  Fruits picked prior to being fully ripe, but after they start to soften, will ripen indoors at room temperature or in a refrigerator.  Already-ripe fruit will stay fresh for a few days at room temperature or for a few weeks in the refrigerator.  To enjoy pawpaw fruit throughout the year, scoop out the flesh, remove the seeds, and place the flesh in freezer bags and freeze.

Whether you want to add more native plants to your landscape or you are a rare and unusual fruit enthusiast, pawpaw may be the tree for you.  They can be utilized as a focal point in the garden and provide delicious fruit for your family.  For more information on pawpaw or other fruit trees, please contact your local Extension Office.

Those Pesky Deer

Those Pesky Deer

White tailed deer. Photo credit: Rebekah D. Wallace University of Georgia bugwood.org.

There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of deer in the panhandle, especially when it comes to them strolling in my yard looking for something tasty to eat. My vegetable garden suffered repeated assaults by hungry deer this past fall and winter. The garlic and cayenne pepper-based products only worked for a few days when freshly applied. I had to try something new this spring.

And my new method has worked. I purchased a motion activated high impact sprinkler that can be set to activate day or night. It has worked like a charm! There are various vendors but I purchased mine through a hardware store online for about $70. I put a splitter on my closest outdoor spigot and have a dedicated hose running to the sprinkler. This allows me to also have a regular hose for watering attached to the spigot.  The hose must be turned on all the time. One problem that I am hoping to avoid this summer is that the water in the hose may get too hot in the summer heat and split the hose, so I am looking to maybe trench to keep the hose and the water inside a bit cooler.

Motion activated impact sprinkler protecting the vegetable garden from ravenous deer. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

You can also choose plants that deer do not like to eat such as live oak, dogwood, muhly grass, coneflower and black-eyed Susan. However, keep in mind that when food is scarce deer will forage on plants that they normally would not eat. Southern magnolia is considered quite deer resistant but the one I planted this past winter was mostly defoliated by deer.

The University of Florida has a publication with many other strategies on controlling deer: Coping with Deer Damage in Florida.

 

Growing Lavender in the Coastal South

Growing Lavender in the Coastal South

Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteer Carol Perryman shares information to help choose and grow lavender in the herb garden.

If you want to grow lavender in our hot & humid climate you must follow a few considerations which can be “do or die” rules. Will your lavender be an annual or a perennial? Hybridizers are always busy at work but, in the meantime:
Choose the right variety. (English lavender cannot easily be grown in our climate.)
1.Spanish Lavender- Lavandula stoechas- 18 to 24” tall, lighter scent, early bloomer & long blooming, drought & heat tolerant, good for mild winters, gray/green foliage, magenta-pink flowers with purple bract shaped like a pineapple with bunny ears.
2.’Goodwin Greek Gray’ Lavandula dentata x L. lanata – 2 to 3 feet tall & wide, silvery/gray toothed edged leaves, short spikes of deep purple to blue blooms, heat & humidity tolerant, good to 15 degrees F in winter,
3.French Lavender- Lavandula dentata -3 feet tall, lighter scent, summer bloomer & long blooming, heat tolerant (Protect from frost.), narrow gray & green leaf varieties, “dented” lavender colored flower buds that make up flower head/bract.
4. Sweet Lavender- Lavandula heterophylla – Tolerant of heat & humidity & cold tolerant to 15 degrees F. 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall, gray/green leaves &bright lavender flowers. Allow to dry between watering.
5. ‘Phenomenal’ Lavandula x intermedia – This is a newer evergreen hybrid developed for extreme heat or cold. It is disease resistant, tolerates our humidity, 24” x 32” high & wide with blue to purple blooms and gray/green leaves.

herb garden planting

Lavender in the Escambia County Extension herb garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Choose your site well or consider growing in pots.
1. LIGHT – Full sun.
2. DRAINAGE – Focus on drainage. MUST be well-draining site or pot or modified to be so.
3. SOIL – Loose almost neutral soil.
4. AIRFLOW – Focus on air circulation which will help dry off the leaves after rain. Space appropriately.
5. WATER – Focus on water source. Lavender does not like to be watered overhead. A dripline
is best or water by hand around roots, not on leaves. Check water requirements for your chosen variety.
6. MULCH- Whether in the ground or in pots, use light-colored gravel or small rocks as mulch
to help reflect sunlight & heat to help keep foliage dry. Heat & light reflected off a nearby brick, stone, or stucco wall, help keep foliage dry too.
7. ACCESS- Must be able to deadhead & prune. Lavender only blooms on new growth. In our climate it should be pruned back about 1/3 of it’s height & shaped to keep the mound-like shape in early January unless we have an extremely cold winter. If so, then early spring. You can prune lightly after deadheading spent blooms to promote new growth throughout bloom season. Add 1 inch of composted materials around plant each spring or lightly fertilize with slow time-release fertilizer. Do not over fertilize. Lavender doesn’t need much fertilizer.

Lavender may grow best for you in a container.

Lavender may grow best for you in a container. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

If you are new at growing lavender, try pots. You could try several varieties in different locations to better understand which conditions & locations will work best in your garden. The beauty of pots is their portability. If one location doesn’t work, you can move the pot.

All lavender is edible. You can use the leaves or flowers, fresh or dried. Fragrant lavender is a wonderful addition to your garden although in our climate, most lavenders are not going to be long lived. If you have found “the spot” in your own little microclimate & your lavender thrives year after year, consider yourself lucky.

Odd Looking Caterpillar Becomes Beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly

Odd Looking Caterpillar Becomes Beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly

One of the things to do while stuck at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, is to look for caterpillars and butterflies in your landscape. I’ve noticed giant swallowtail butterflies (Papilio cresphontes) a little early this year. The giant swallowtail is one of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in our area. Its larval stage is known as the orangedog caterpillar. This unusual name comes from the fact that it feeds on young foliage of citrus trees.

Orangedog caterpillar. Photo credit: Donald Hall, University of Florida

The orangedog caterpillar is mostly brown with some white blotches, resembling bird droppings more than a caterpillar. When disturbed, it may try to scare you off by extruding two orange horns that produce a pungent odor hard to wash off.

I’ve had some minor feeding on citrus trees in my landscape from orangedog caterpillars. But I tolerate them. I’m not growing the citrus to sell. Sure the caterpillars eat a few leaves but my citrus trees have thousands of leaves. New leaves eventually replace the eaten ones. I leave the caterpillars alone. They eat a few leaves, develop into chrysalises and then emerge as beautiful giant swallowtail butterflies. The whole experience is a great life lesson for my two teenagers. And, we get to enjoy beautiful giant swallowtail butterflies flying around in our landscape and still get plenty of fruit from the citrus trees. It is a win, win, win.

In some cases, the caterpillars can cause widespread defoliation of citrus. A few orangedog caterpillars can defoliate small, potted citrus trees. Where you cannot tolerate their feeding habits, remove them from the plant. But consider relocating the caterpillars to another area. In addition to citrus, the orangedog caterpillars will use the herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and rue (Ruta graveolens) as a food source. Some butterfly gardens plant citrus trees to provide food for orangedog caterpillars so that they will have giant swallowtail butterflies. So you could plan ahead and grow some fennel, rue or find a butterfly garden in your area for the purpose of relocating the larvae.

Yellow giant swallowtail butterfly on pink flowers of garden phlox

Yellow giant swallowtail butterfly on pink garden phlox flowers. Photo credit: Larry Williams

The adult butterflies feed on nectar from many flowers, including azalea, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod, dame’s rocket, bouncing Bet and swamp milkweed. Some plants in this list might be invasive.

Keep in mind that mature citrus trees can easily withstand the loss of a few leaves. If you find and allow a few orangedog caterpillars to feed on a few leaves of a mature citrus tree in your landscape, you and your neighbors might get to enjoy the spectacular giant swallowtail butterfly.

More information on the giant swallowtail butterfly is available online at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in134.

Video: Home Grown Cucumbers

Video: Home Grown Cucumbers

Cucumbers are a favorite fruit of many gardeners and with a little routine care, you can harvest fresh fruit from your own home garden. Learn some basic information about starting your own cucumbers In the Backyard Garden with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

 

What are these bumps on my pecan trees?

What are these bumps on my pecan trees?

I was recently sent some pictures of some unusual growths on pecan tree leaves.  At first glance, the growths reminded me of the galls caused by small wasps that lay their eggs on oak leaves.  However, after a little searching it became apparent this wasn’t the case.  These galls were caused by the feeding of an aphid-like insect known as phylloxera.

Leaf galls caused by pecan phylloxera.

Leaf galls caused by pecan phylloxera. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

The feeding from the phylloxera causes the young leaf tissue to become distorted and form a gall that encloses this female insect called a “stem mother”.  These insects are rarely seen, but the hatch from over-wintering eggs in March/April just after budbreak.  Once hatched, these “stem mothers” crawl to the new leaves and begin feeding.  Once the gall forms, they start to lay eggs inside the gall.  The eggs hatch inside the gall and the young phylloxera begin to feed inside the gall and the gall enlarges.  The matured insects break out of the gall in May and some will crawl to new spots on the leaves to feed and produce more galls.

Pecan stem damage from phylloxera.

Pecan stem damage from phylloxera. Photo Credit: University of Georgia

There are two common species of phylloxera that infect the leaves.  The Pecan Leaf Phylloxera seems to prefer young trees and the Southern Pecan Leaf Phylloxera prefers older trees. The damage from each of these insects is nearly indistinguishable.  Damage from these insects is usually not severe and merely an aesthetic issue.

Once the damage is discovered on a tree, it is too late to control the current year’s infestation.  There are currently no effective methods for control of phylloxera in home gardens.  Soil drench applications witha product containing imidacloprid have been limited in their effectiveness.