Loquat trees provide nice fall color with creamy yellow buds and white flowers on their long terminal panicles. These small (20 to 35 ft. tall) evergreen trees are native to China and first appeared in Southern landscapes in the late 19th Century. They are grown commercially in subtropical and Mediterranean areas of the world and small production acreage can be found in California. They are cold tolerant down to temperatures of 8 degrees Fahrenheit, but they will drop their flowers or fruit if temperatures dip below 27 degrees Fahrenheit.
A beautiful loquat specimen at the UF/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County
Leaves – The leaf configuration on loquat trees is classified as whorled. The leaf shape is lanceolate and the color is dark green with a nice soft brown surface underneath. These features help give the trees their tropical appearance.
Flowers – 30 to 100 flowers can be present on each terminal panicle. Individual flowers are roughly half an inch in diameter and have white petals.
Fruit – What surprises most people is that loquats are more closely related to apples and peaches than any tropical fruit. Fruit are classified as pomes and appear in clusters ranging from 4 to 30 depending on variety and fruit size. They are rounded to ovate in shape and are usually between 1.5 and 3 inches in length. Fruit are light yellow to orange in color and contain one to many seeds.
A cluster of loquat flowers/buds being pollinated by a honey bee. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County
Propagation – Loquat trees are easily propagated by seed, as you will notice as soon as your tree first bears fruit. Seedlings pop up throughout yards containing even just one loquat tree. It is important to note that the trees do not come true from seed and they go through a 6- to 8-year juvenile period before flowering and fruiting. Propagation by cuttings or air layering is more difficult but rewarding, because vegitatively-propagated trees bear fruit within two years of planting. Sometimes mature trees are top-worked (grafted at the terminal ends of branches) to produce a more desirable fruit cultivar.
Loquat trees are hardy, provide an aesthetic focal point to the landscape, and produce a tasty fruit. For more information on growing loquats and a comprehensive list of cultivars, please visit the UF EDIS Publication: Loquat Growing in the Florida Home Landscape.
Attractive roselle fruit. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
Just before the recent cold weather I harvested seed pods from my roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa, and made the most delicious and nutritious iced herbal tea.
You may have heard other names for this plant of Asian or African origin: bissap, red sorrel, Indian sorrel, Jamaica sorrel, Florida cranberry or jelly okra. Whatever name you call it, it has been grown in Florida since the late 1890’s.
Roselle leaves and fruit. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
People around the world enjoy consuming roselle in many ways. In addition to making a beverage from the fleshy fruit, it is used to make jams, jellies, relishes, syrup and added to salads. Harvest the fruit when it is large (as in the photo) but before it gets tough. Leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked into dishes. Even the seeds can be made into a high protein meal or ground into a coffee substitute.
Roselle fruit showing the unripe green seedpod surrounded by the fleshy calyx. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
My lone roselle plant provided hundreds of fruits and was so easy to grow. In the spring it started as a small 3-inch seedling and by November it grew to over 4 feet tall and wide. Roselle can grow 6 to 7 feet tall. It’s not too picky on soil type if it gets plenty of sun and consistent moisture. Few pests are attracted to roselle. However, deer will eat this down to the ground, as they will any hibiscus. Since my garden is plagued by hungry deer, I placed the roselle in the back of a landscape bed with a border of plants unappetizing to the deer. Expect roselle to start blooming in mid-summer and continue through frost. Blooms only last one day before forming the equally attractive fruit.
Roselle flower. Photo credit: Sally Menk, Florida Master Gardener Volunteer.
Roselle is a tropical plant and susceptible to frost in northwest Florida. To have seeds for next year, let some of the fruit stay on the branches to let the seed pods turn yellow/brown and ripen. There are also many online seed companies that carry seed.
For more information:
UF IFAS Gardening Solutions: Roselle
More on Roselle from Purdue Extension
“Here we go ‘round the mulberry bush” is still sung by small children today. There are lots of different versions of the lyrics. But each usually describes a daily or weekly task list. In fact, the rhyme began in 1840 as a cadence for female prisoners exercising at the Wakefield Prison in England. There happened to be a Black Mulberry (Morus nigra) growing in the yard. Black Mulberry is a slow-growing short tree, so as a young tree it appears bushy.
Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) is the native Florida species. It tends to grow more upright, but is still a small tree. Additionally, there are White (Morus alba) and Pakistan (Morus macroura) , as well as, many hybrid Mulberries that will grow in the Florida panhandle. White Mulberry is a fast growing tall tree that is so aggressive that it is classified as an invasive species. It can rapidly seed natural areas and become the dominant species. But, the Pakistan Mulberry is a small tree that develops a characteristic crooked, gnarled trunk and a large fruit. It can be pruned as a bush easily.
Growing the mulberry bush can add a unique winter feature to the landscape while producing food for the birds. Yet, the plant is short enough that the fruit can be harvested without having to shake the tree and gather up the fruit from the ground before the birds get all the berries.
Mulberries are self-pollinating and only require about 400 chill hours. A chill hour is each hour that the temperature remain between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. After 400 cumulative hours the plant is able to flower. The fruit matures in the late spring to early summer. The birds will be sure to notify everyone when it’s time. Pakistan Mulberry can produce 4 inch long berries.
Mulberries will perform well if planted this winter. Plan on pruning them back each year if the bush effect is desired. It can take a year or two to get fully rooted. Don’t be surprised to see some fruit drop off prematurely as the tree/bush gets established. Also, pay attention to where the mulberry is installed. Windy spots will knock off fruit. What birds eat, they deposit. Mulberries will stain the surfaces they land on. If the fruit is walked through, the staining can be moved to indoor surfaces.
When picking fruit don’t forget the gloves unless dark stained fingers is the new look you’re trying to create.
For more information on mulberries: http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/trees/mulberry.html
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’. 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. 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.
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.
More and more homeowners are incorporating edible plants into their home landscape in order to enjoy the fresh taste of fruits and vegetables. Another trend to consider this coming cool season is to start a few common flowers that can serve as flavor enhancements for many of your dishes.
There are numerous plants that we commonly grow that have edible flowers but before striking out on your first taste test, be sure to research first. Always remember the common saying that every flower is edible once. Find a reputable reference guide from a friendly neighborhood Extension office for a list of common edible flowers, then be ready to start from seeds. It is best not to purchase transplants from an ornamental nursery unless you are sure of all the treatments for that plants. Nurseries are often selling these for beauty alone, not with intention that they will be eaten.
Here are a few edible flowers to try:
Pot marigold or Calendula is a wonderful cool season flower on its own. Brightly colored orange or yellow flowers improve the drab colors of our cool season and plants are sturdy annuals for borders, mass plantings, or in containers. Petals have a peppery flavor and add spice to salads and sandwiches. You may also add flowers to soups, fishes and butters for added coloring. Calendula petals can be a saffron substitute.
Calenduala is easily started from seeds and will reseed in your garden once established. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
The well known dianthus is a great transition plant as our days cool and warm up again the spring. Use as front of the border plantings or in containers as a filler. When harvesting petals of dianthus, you will want to remove the white petal base which is a little bitter. The flavor is a little more delicate than cloves so you can add petals to punches, desserts, and fruit salads.
If you like a little more spice, try nasturtiums. We often plant these after the last frost and they grow until we get too hot. Since our fall weather is so unpredictable, you may be able to start some seeds for a fall planting and have flowers before our first cold spell. Either way, nasturtium flowers are often sliced for salads and sandwiches as a mustard or pepper substitute. You can also mince flowers to add to a butter. If you let some flowers go to seed, collect the unripe seeds to make a caper substitute vinegar.
Grow nasturiums during our transition times of spring and fall. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
If you are going to use edible flowers from your garden remember to keep all non food labeled pesticides away from plants. Harvest flowers at their peak after the dew dries. Separate petals from other flower parts and if you have allergies be sure to remove any pollen. Place flowers in a moist towel in the refrigerator if you will not use them immediately. Rinse carefully so not to damage tender petals.
There are many other ornamental plants that offer edible flowers you may want to consider growing in the future. These flowers not only enhance the look of the dish but can offer unique flavoring from a locally grown source – your own backyard.
Though Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) fruit isn’t much more than a thick green hull, slime and seeds and the plant itself is impossibly irritating to the skin, few plants are as integral to Southern heritage. In my mind, okra is among the best vegetables Panhandle gardeners can grow. Not only is it a gorgeous plant – Okra belongs to the Mallow family which also includes beauties like Hibiscus and Cotton – but it’s exceedingly versatile in the kitchen, excellent fried, grilled, roasted, boiled (though you have to acquire a taste for slimy textures to enjoy this method) and most famously, as a thickening agent in Cajun gumbo. Because of this exalted status in Southern culture, whether you enjoy eating okra or not, it’s almost mandatory here to include the plant in one’s garden. Most gardeners stick with the old standard varieties such as ‘Clemson Spineless’ or ‘Cowhorn’ and there is nothing wrong with them, however, these plants are almost too prolific for most gardens (growing upwards of 6-7’), especially for those of us growing in the close confines of raised beds. In the search for a less rambunctious but still ultra-productive cultivar, this summer I trialed ‘Jambalaya’, an F1 hybrid developed by Sakata Seed in 2012, with impressive results!
‘Jambalaya’ Okra in the author’s garden.
From my experience growing the cultivar this summer, ‘Jambalaya’ merits consideration in the garden, and is a must for raised bed gardeners, for two primary reasons. First, it was bred to be compact and is considered a dwarf cultivar. This is an awesome attribute, as I typically end the growing season picking okra from a small ladder! Most seed purveyors tout the plant as reaching a maximum height of 3-4’ and while this estimate might be a little conservative, I can attest that ‘Jambalaya’ is greatly reduced in height compared to the standard cultivars. The second advantage of growing this variety is that it begins producing very early relative to its peers and bears heavily. ‘Jambalaya’ fruit begin to ripen in about 50 days, about ten days to two weeks earlier than ‘Clemson Spineless’, a definite advantage if rotating behind a late maturing spring crop like potatoes as I typically do. Though ‘Jambalaya’ is a dwarf plant, in no way are yields reduced. My specimens have produced continuously since late-July and will continue to do so as long as adequate fertility and consistent harvesting are provided.
‘Jambalaya’ flower & fruit production.
Like any other okra cultivar, ‘Jambalaya’ has a couple of basic requirements that must be met for plants to thrive. In general, all okra cultivars love Southern summers and patience sowing seed is recommended, allow the soil to warm to at least 70 degrees before planting. Okra also prefers full sun, at least 6 hours per day, any less and yields will be reduced and plants will stretch towards the light. Belonging to the Mallow family, okra requires consistent moisture, particularly when in the flowering and fruiting phase. Finally, it is critical to keep up with your okra harvest as the plants produce! Okra pods grow quickly and should be harvested when they are no more than 3-4” long and still tender, larger pods are tough to the point of being inedible!
‘Jambalaya’ in the author’s garden.
Whether you’re new to the okra growing game or you’re a seasoned gumbo gardener, I highly encourage you to give ‘Jambalaya’ Okra a look next summer. While ‘Jambalaya’ is available through many seed sources, Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells a conveniently small package perfect for backyard gardeners, though they’ll be happy to provide larger quantities as well. In ‘Jambalaya’ you’ll find a nice compact plant that won’t outgrow your space, provide you a summer long harvest of tender green pods, and will rival the ornamentals in your landscape for the title of prettiest plant on your property! Happy gardening and as always, if you have questions about vegetable gardening or any other horticultural or agronomic topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office!