Fall 2016 Satsumas. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat
One question that repeatedly pops up in my Extension work is “When do I harvest fruit or vegetable X ?” This fall, the question of “when should I harvest my citrus?” has been a choice topic! The most common citrus in the Florida panhandle is the satsuma, Citrus unshiu, so it makes sense to limit this article to that species.
Harvesting satsumas can be a confusing activity for new citrus enthusiasts. Fall seasons in the panhandle tend to be extremely variable, from cold and wet to warm and dry or any combination thereof. To complicate matters, citrus is often grown in a protected microclimate in the garden. Thus, another variable is added to the decision tree.
Some harvest considerations to take note of:
- Sometimes the fruit is ready to harvest even when some green remains on the fruit
- Not all fruit on a given tree will be ready at the same time
- It’s a good idea to harvest a few fruit per tree and taste test….this will be a good indicator of the readiness of the other fruit on the tree
- A general trend to consider is that the longer the fruit remains on the tree, the sweeter it will become
Image Credit Matthew Orwat
When satsuma ripen, they become slightly soft. That’s a good indicator that they are ready to harvest. This softness makes them extremely easy to peel but poses a challenge when harvesting. If they are simply pulled off of the tree, some peel will be left on the tree and the fruit will be compromised. Such a fruit would have to be consumed quickly. To solve this problem satsuma are clipped off the tree, leaving a tiny bit of stem attached to the fruit. This allows the fruit to be stored and transported.
When a hard freeze is approaching (5 hours below 28ºF), it is important to harvest the fruit before this event whether or not they are ripe. Hard freezes will ruin the texture of the fruit and cause them to begin the rotting process.
Since a hard freeze is forecast for Friday December 9th 2016 for part of the Florida Panhandle, consult your local weather forecast and make your decisions accordingly. For an in-depth discussion on citrus fruit harvesting and cold tolerances, please consult this publication from Texas A& M University. Additional articles are available on cold protection and frost readiness here.
In Northwest Florida gardeners are fortunate since it is possible to grow ample supplies of vegetables throughout the winter months. While the Florida Panhandle does receive the occasional hard freeze, many winter vegetables such as radish, onion, lettuce, carrot and the various cole crops, can easily withstand mild freezes.
When a hard freeze occurs, defined by temperatures that dip below 28°F for over five hours, it is important to be prepared with frost cloth, cotton sheets or other suitable material. Frost cloth is a good option since it protects plants from morning frosts while still allowing for a little air transfer. It is a synthetic fabric which offers 4-8 degrees of protection and is available through many online greenhouse and agricultural suppliers. Old cotton sheets, often found at thrift stores for very low cost, offer good protection from frost damage. With both of these products, ensure that the coverage extends completely to ground level with no gaps, to not allow cold air to infiltrate from the bottom.
While these methods will not provide enough protection to allow summer vegetables to be grown during winter months, it can be beneficial in reducing frost and freeze damage to winter vegetable crop.
Do not use plastic covers, since they radiate cold and heat more readily. Even if they protect the plants from the cold, they can quickly trap heat in when the sun rises and “cook” the plants.
Additionally, it is important to keep vegetables well-watered at all times, but this is especially true during frost events since moist soil holds more heat. Healthy, appropriately watered plants withstand cold stress at greater rates.
Happy gardening over the Holiday Season!
While palms may survive, or even thrive, for years in climates cooler than those to which they are native, eventually they will experience temperatures cold enough to cause injury. Here in Northwest Florida, it was January 2014. Unfortunately, much of the damage was not evident until the summer of 2015. The palms held on with stored food reserves.
When cold damage is severe, plant tissues are destroyed and water uptake into the plant may be reduced for years. Many times it is only the protected bud that will remain alive. The stem slowly weakens until it can’t support the weight of the crown and it collapses.
Winter is upon us again. So, if you still have palms in the landscape, be prepared, should we experience some extreme weather. Here’s a reminder of what to do.
One of the most common problems associated with freezes is that the freeze-killed lower portion of the spear leaf is degraded by secondary fungi and bacteria that are always present in our natural environment. Palm owners are often anxious to trim off the damaged leaves following a cold weather event. Avoid the temptation to remove these fronds until danger of additional freezes has passed. Even dead leaves provide insulation to the critical bud.
As the weather warms, the dead fronds need to be removed from around the bud so that the spear can begin to dry out. Drenching the bud area with a copper fungicide will reduce the secondary microbes. Repeat applications will need to continue as the palm leaves develop. Copper fungicides, unlike other fungicides, are active against bacteria and fungi. Be cautious to not use a copper nutrient spray rather than a fungicide. Delay fertilizer application until new fronds have developed. The best analysis for palms is 8-2-12 + 4Mg. Utilization of proper palm fertilization can improve cold hardiness of palms.
Palms damaged by cold can still show symptoms six months to a year following a freeze. New leaves in the spring may appear mis-shaped. Usually the palm will outgrow the damage. However, sometimes the palm loses its ability to take up water. If there is a sudden collapse of the fronds in the crown during the first hot days, the palm may die. There is nothing that can be done to save the palm.
North Florida’s gardeners are facing a new set of challenges dealing with the effects of cold weather. However, a little planning and creativity can make plant protection in the landscape a relatively simple process.
Covering plants to protect from frost. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.
Many homeowners and landscape managers want to know when plants will need protection. The point of freezing is a good rule of thumb for most temperate zone plants.
It is worth noting there is a difference in the terms used for cold weather conditions. Frost, freeze and hard freeze all describe different circumstances.
- Frost is when water vapour freezes on surfaces. It usually happens on clear nights with still air and can happen when reported air temperatures are above freezing.
- Freezing is when cold air moves in and causes temperatures to drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This condition commonly involves low humidity and wind, making drying out a big problem for plants.
- A hard freeze is when temperatures dip below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Some tropical plants will survive a few degrees below freezing for very short periods, but extended periods of freezing or heavy frost may require lights or other heat used safely in combination with covering the plant.
Some plants can be moved indoors for the holidays and incorporated into the interior décor, rather than cramming them last-minute into a chaotic bundle when a freeze looms.
Get prepared by identifying old sheets, blankets and drop cloths which can be used as covers for tender or tropical zone plants which must remain outside. Test potential covers beforehand to assure all plants will be thoroughly covered.
It is best if the covers enclose the plant entirely without crushing it. Heavy blankets are great insulation, but only a good idea on the sturdiest of plants.
A tomato cage or other support structure can be used to keep the weight off the plant. Covers also need to be secured at the ground with pins or weights to assure cold air does not enter from below and collect under the cover.
Finally, keep storage bins handy and remove the covers in the daytime if temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Monitor weather reports and react accordingly so tender and tropical plants see spring 2016.
Covering a row of lettuce with frost cloth at Turkey Hill Farm. Photo by Turkey Hill Farm.
While most of Florida does not have to worry about freezing winter weather, the Florida Panhandle is certainly an exception. North Florida experiences a few hard freezes – temperatures less than 28°F for over five hours – every year. Although most of our cold weather occurs in January and February, we can expect our first frost around the second week of November. Therefore, it is important for gardeners to be prepared.
Most of the Panhandle is in zone 8b, which means average minimum temperatures are between 15 and 20°F. Nights – especially consecutive nights – that get this cold can “burn” the tips of even the toughest vegetables, such as collards and kale. It is also important to remember that if you live in a more rural area, temperatures will be slightly cooler, relative to the city. Frost is also more likely to occur on clear nights, as heat that radiated down from the sun during the day will escape the atmosphere at night, if clouds are not present. Also, if you were late getting your fall garden started, it is even more important to protect your vegetable plants, as young plants are more susceptible to cold weather.
Young plants are more susceptible to cold weather, so be sure to use cold protection. Photo by Molly Jameson.
One strategy home gardeners can use to protect their plants during cold weather is to use frost cloth. Frost cloth is a breathable polyester fabric that is light weight and heat-retentive. It can moderate temperatures about six to eight degrees Fahrenheit. Use it on all of your garden plants if there is a hard freeze, but do not cover cold hardy vegetables in mild frosts, as their flavor can actually become sweeter in cool weather, and the plants will become more tolerant to the cold.
Frost cloth can be found at most plant nurseries, and it can last multiple years if you take care of it. Use wire hoops to keep the cloth off smaller crops, as ideally the cloth should not touch the plant. Most importantly, the cloth must touch the ground at all points to be effective, as it works by trapping heat that radiates from the soil and increases the humidity around the plant.
In the morning, do not remove frost cloth too early, as quick thawing can actually cause the most severe damage. Wait until the outside air temperature is about 50 to 60°F. Since frost cloth is breathable, if temperatures do not reach 50 to 60°F during the day, you can leave it on multiple days.
Frost cloth in high tunnel at Turkey Hill Farm. Photo by Turkey Hill Farm.
Sheets or blankets (not plastic) can be a frost cloth substitute, but there are disadvantages, such as not allowing proper air circulation or not being large enough to reach the ground.
Another strategy that can help keep your garden safe from cold weather is to keep your plants well watered, as frost damage is actually dehydration. When ice crystals form on the leaf surface, it draws moisture from the leaf tissue. Damage will therefore be less severe if the plant is not already drought-stressed. You can also mulch around the base of your plants with wood chips or straw to help moderate soil temperature and retain moisture.
Being prepared for cold weather will help keep your vegetable garden going strong all the way into the spring. Remember that healthy plants will be more resistant to cold weather than unhealthy plants, and investing in a few sheets of frost cloth can go a long way to ensure your veggies survive our chilly North Florida winters.
Florida homeowners enjoy a wide range of landscape and citrus plants and often times desire a tropical or semitropical appearance to their landscapes. Many landscape plants are often planted past their northern limit such as here in Northwest Florida, although microclimates differ dramatically. Tropical and subtropical plants can be used in the landscape, but they must be protected or replaced if necessary during cold weather. A good variety of tender and hardy plants should be planted in order to prevent total devastation of the landscape by extremely cold weather.
The site selection for tender plants should be number one on your list when preparing for a freeze. Tender ornamental plants need a higher site with good air drainage, and not in a low area where cold air settles. Arranging tender plants along fences or other barriers to protect them from cold winds improves the plants’ cold protection, especially from very hard freezes.
Poorly drained soils result in weak shallow roots which are more susceptible to cold injury. Plants grown with the correctly applied rate of nutrients will tolerate colder temperatures better and recover from cold injury faster than plants grown with little or no added nutrients. Be aware that late fall fertilizing of nutrient deficient plants or fertilization before unseasonably warm periods can result in a late growth which is more susceptible to cold injury.
Ornamental plants that are planted under large tree canopies can have more cold protection and require less cold prevention for the owner.
Watering landscape plants before a freeze can help protect plants. A well watered soil will absorb more solar radiation than dry soil and will reradiate heat during the night by as much as 2°F . However, saturated soil conditions can damage the root systems of most plants over a few days, so make sure the ground is well drained.
Avoid late summer or early fall pruning which can alter the plant hormonal balance resulting a flush of new growth. This new growth is more susceptible to cold injury. Healthy plants are more resistant to cold than plants weakened by disease, insect damage, or nematode damage. Routine inspection for pests and implementation of necessary control measures are essential.
Here are a few methods for plant protection. Plants in pots or containers must be moved indoors where heat can be available to them. Containers that have to be left outdoors should be protected by mulches around the container or root ball of plants in the landscape to reduce heat loss from container sidewalls.
Cold Protection for Veggies!
Coverings can help protect plants more from frost than from extreme cold. Covers that extend to the ground and are not in contact with plant foliage can lessen cold injury to the plant. Foliage in contact with the cover is often cold burned or injured because of heat transfer from the foliage to the colder cover. Some examples of excellent plant covers are cloth sheets, quilts or black plastic. If plastic covering is used, it is extremely important to remove the covering during the day to provide ventilation of trapped heat. A light bulb under a covering also is a simple method of providing heat to ornamental plants in the landscape during the night hours. Cold Damage on Fruit Tree
Pictures By Eddie Powell
Immediately after the frigid weather has passed, plants need to be checked for water loss. The foliage could be losing water vapor or transpiring on a sunny day after a freeze while water in the soil or container medium is frozen. Apply water to thaw the soil and provide available water for the plant. Soils or media with high soluble salts should not be allowed to dry out because salts would be concentrated into a small volume of water and can burn plant roots. Root burn can cause the roots to dry out and not take up water to the plant.
Pruning should be delayed until freezing temperatures have risen or until new growth appears to ensure that live wood is not removed. Dead, unsightly leaves may be removed as soon as they turn brown after a freeze if a high level of maintenance is desired. But it is best to wait until the threat of freezing weather is gone. Cold injury may appear as a lack of spring bud break on a portion or all of the plant, or as an overall weak appearance. Cold injury is usually found in the upper portion of the plant. Branch tips may be damaged while older wood underneath is free of injury. Cold injured wood can be identified by examining the cambium layer under the bark for black or brown coloration. Prune these branches back to a bud 2-3 inches behind the point of discoloration.
For more information on freeze protection of plants see:
Cold Protection of Landscape Plants