The Chickasaw plum is covered in beautiful small white flowers in the spring. Photo credit: UF IFAS
The native Chickasaw plum is a beautiful smaller tree (12-20 ft mature height) that is perfect for front yards, small areas, and streetscapes. True to its name, the Chickasaw plum was historically an important food source to Native American tribes in the southeast, who cultivated the trees in settlements well before the arrival of Europeans. They typically harvested and then dried the fruit to preserve it. Botanist-explorer William Bartram noted the species during his travels through the southeast in the 1700’s. He rarely saw it in the forests, and hypothesized that it was brought over from west of the Mississippi River.
One of the first trees to bloom each spring, the Chickasaw plum’s white, fragrant flowers and delicious red fruit make it charmingly aesthetic and appealing to humans and wildlife alike. The plums taste great eaten fresh from the tree but can be processed into jelly or wine. Chickasaw plums serve as host plants for the red-spotted purple butterfly, and their fruit make them popular with other wildlife. These trees are fast growers and typically multi-trunked.
Almost any landscape works for the Chickasaw plum, as it can grow in full sun, partial sun, or partial shade, and tolerates a wide variety of soil types. The species is very drought tolerant and performs well in sandy soils.
The plum is in the rose family and has thorns, so it is wise to be aware of these if young children might play near the tree.
Winter is ideal tree-planting time in Florida. While national Arbor Day is in spring, Florida’s Arbor Day is the 3rd Friday of January due to our milder winters. This year, Escambia County’s tree giveaway will include Chickasaw plums, so if this tree sounds like a great addition to your landscape, come visit us on January 19 and pick one up.
For more information about tree selection in northwest Florida, contact your local county Extension office.
A grape vineyard. Credit: Peter Andersen, UF/IFAS.
The classic muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia). Credit: Carl Hunter. USDA-PLANTS Database.
This is the time of year to be on the watch for purple-stained sidewalks and driveways – a sign that ripe muscadine grapes are falling from above. The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is a native Florida vine that has been enjoyed by Native Americans, colonists, and contemporary Floridians alike. In addition to the classic muscadine and scuppernong, a light-colored variety of muscadine, there are five other native species of grape (Vitis spp.) to be found growing in natural areas or along woodland edges. All are edible, however, the muscadine has the largest, tastiest fruit.
Many north Florida gardeners have some species of grape growing in their landscapes and consider it a weed due to its aggressive growth. Unfortunately, since the vines are functionally dioecious (separate male and female plants) and most wild plants are male, it is unlikely that those annoying grapevines at the garden’s edge will ever bear fruit. But every now and again, luck strikes! That’s why finding a purple-stained sidewalk or parking area is such an exciting event. I have some of these locations saved in my memory to visit this time of year, especially since all the grapevines in my own property have yet to bear one fruit! If necessary, control methods for grapevine in a landscape include repeated pruning back or the use of herbicides. Muscadines and other grapes are intolerant of shade so will eventually perish if cut back and located under a canopy of trees or shrubs.
The bronze-colored scuppernong. Credit: Peter Andersen. UF/IFAS.
Good News! There are plenty of varieties bred for the backyard and commercial fruit grower. Since muscadines are native, they require little, if any, pesticides, making them a great choice for a sustainable landscape or orchard. The vines can be grown up an arbor or a complete vineyard trellis system can be built for maximum harvest. A UF/IFAS fact sheet called “The Muscadine Grape” (publication #HS763) contains all the information needed to choose the right variety, design a vineyard, and implement the best pruning, irrigation, and fertilization schedule.
Whether fresh off the vine or in jams or wine, muscadines are a sweet, summery treat for Floridians.
Mrs. Henry C. Mills in 1966 with her African violets at the North Florida Fair
flower show. Photo by Dan Stainer/State Archives of Florida.
Growing up, as soon as I entered the fair gates, I always headed straight for the rides. If I was lucky, I was able to get an unlimited pass strapped around my wrist and didn’t need to worry about rationing any tickets. Although I usually didn’t remember the names of particular rides – they were clear in my imagination. The spaceship, the circular mini roller coaster, the alien arms… and of course, the Ferris wheel. It wasn’t until I was about a dozen rides in – and starting to feel a little queasy – that the fun houses and win-a-goldfish-by-throwing-a-ring or shoot-a-basketball-for-a-giant-stuffed-tiger games drew my attention. After that, I was ready for funnel cake. Maybe even a corn dog and an assortment of fried cheese, pickles, and the like. Inevitably, I would eat too much and be out of commission for any more rides I was hoping to squeeze in – or squeeze into! This is when I might finally make my rounds through one or two of the giant warehouse-looking buildings that lined the way to the exits, where I knew there was at least a llama or a goat to be fed at the petting zoo.
Instead of simply attending the North Florida Fair this year, submit your garden’s best for competition. Photo by North Florida Fair.
But when I started volunteering at the Leon County Animal Shelter as part of the 4-H Pet Partners at age 12, I was introduced to these buildings in a whole new light. We were assigned the task of creating papier-mâché cats and dogs to display at the fair to help build awareness of pet overpopulation. I remember my dog well – he was beagle-like, with long droopy paper ears and stiff pointy legs that I struggled to keep balanced. The day we went to set up our display, my adrenaline soared, as I knew our creations were to be judged and ribbons to be bestowed. Ever since, I no longer view the fair buildings as a last stop – rather, I relish my stroll through each of them, as they contain so many handmade treasures, many of which are adorned with blue rosettes of triumph.
The tradition of displaying and competing for the best quality handiworks at the fair goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where merchants sold and traded agricultural goods that had been grown over the summer and freshly harvested in the fall. Naturally, competitions arose during these times, as they strove for the finest products.
Today, fairs reflect the personality of an area, and nearly universally include judges who inspect home grown fruits and vegetables, flowers, preserved foods, and baked goods entered into competition by the community. The North Florida Fair awards about $80,000 in cash prizes to citizens who create and grow various items. Anyone living within the 24 counties that comprise North Florida – from the Suwannee, west to the Alabama line – is eligible to enter as many of the exhibit categories as they would like.
A youth showcasing his prize winning chicken at the North Florida Fair. Photo by Aly Donovan.
The exhibits are arranged into various departments, such as Home Agriculture, Capital City Garden Club Flower Show, Poultry, Baked Goods, and Fine Arts and Crafts. Within each department, there are various classes that are split into certain age divisions (i.e., youth only) or experience levels (i.e., amateur vs. professional). Under the Home Agriculture department there are 42 classes, including 13 classes covering fresh vegetables. The Capital City Garden Club Flower Show department has 13 classes, including annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, fruiting shrubs, trees, and vines, succulents, and much more. If you would like to submit something you’ve grown, now is the time to begin planning, as this year’s fair is set for November 8-18.
All of the details for each department and class can be found on the North Florida Fair website (http://northfloridafair.com/), under the Exhibitors tab. Pay close attention to the application and submittal deadlines for each specific category, as most items are due for judging the week prior to the fair opening.
So, let nostalgia win you over as you prepare your home-grown vegetables and flowers for submittal to the North Florida Fair. You might just earn a blue ribbon to be displayed for all fair attendees to admire, either as they walk off a full stomach in preparation for more rides, on their way to the exits, or just as they get started creating their own fond fair memories.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The swollen base and smooth gray bark of the swamp blackgum are identifying characteristics in wetlands. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
In the river swamps of northwest Florida, the first tree to come to mind is typically the cypress. The “knees” protruding from the water are eye-catching and somewhat mysterious. Sweet bay magnolia is an easily recognizable species as well, with its silvery leaves twisting in the wind. The sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana) is a relative of the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) in many of our yards, but its buds and leaves are smaller and it is found most often in very wet soils.
However, the often-unsung trees of the swamps are the tupelo and blackgum trees, including three species of Nyssa that go by a variety of overlapping common names. In the western Panhandle, one is most likely to see a swamp tupelo/swamp blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora). The trees are tall—60-100’ at maturity—and have unremarkable elliptical green leaves. However, those leaves turn a lovely shade of red in the fall before dropping in the winter. Their most distinguishing characteristic year-round–but especially in the winter–is its swollen lower trunk, which expands at the base to twice or three times the size of the remaining trunk. These buttresses, also found on bays (more subtly) and cypress (along with knees), are an adaptation to stabilizing a tree growing in large pools of wet, loose soil or standing water.
A young blackgum tree in full fall color. Photo credit: UF IFAS Extension
The swamp tupelo has two more relatives in the region, water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) and Ogeechee lime/tupelo (Nyssa ogeche), both with hanging edible (but tart) fruit. In the early days of William Bartram’s explorations of Florida, explorers used the acidic Ogeechee lime as a citrus substitute. Typically found in a narrower range from Leon County east to southeast Georgia, the Ogeechee lime is the nectar source for the famous and prized multi-million dollar tupelo honey industry.
Blackgum or tupelo trees (missing the “swamp” in front of their common name—aka Nyssa sylvatica) are actually excellent landscape trees that can thrive in home landscapes. Like their swamp cousins, the trees perform well in slightly acidic and moist soil, although they can thrive even in the disturbed, clay-based soils found in many residential developments. Blackgums can grow in full sun or shade, are highly drought tolerant, and can even handle some salt exposure. Their showy fall color is a nice addition to many landscapes, and the fruit are an excellent source of nutrition for native wildlife.
Register today for the 2018 Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference! The Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference is scheduled for February 19th & 20th. On the 19th we will go on an afternoon farm tour in Baldwin County, AL that will end with dinner (included) at Auburn University’s Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope. Educational sessions with guest speakers from University of Florida, Auburn University, and Texas A&M University will be held on February 20th where topics will include Citrus Production, Vegetable Production, Protected Ag Production, Marketing/Business, Food Safety, and Fruit & Nut Production. A full list of topics can be found here. Fifty dollars (plus $4.84 processing fee) covers the tour and dinner on the 19th and educational sessions, breakfast, and lunch on the 20th! The complete agenda is now available. Use your mouse or finger to “click” on the image below for full screen viewing.
Make sure to register by Wednesday, February 14th! – Registration Link