Pomegranates in the Panhandle

Pomegranates in the Panhandle

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’.

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.

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.

Pomegranate fruit affected by anthracnose.

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.

Make a Plan for Next Year’s Chamberbitter Management

Make a Plan for Next Year’s Chamberbitter Management

Weeds identification and management is still one of the most common questions we receive at the local UF IFAS Extension office.  Learn about the chamberbitter weed that can grow in turf and ornamental beds and the multi faceted approach that is necessary for management In the Garden with Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Creepy Weeds Indicate Problems

Creepy Weeds Indicate Problems

“There are these weeds spreading all over my yard. They have little round leaves that are real close to the ground and creep in every direction. I keep trying to get rid of them by mowing my grass shorter, but they are killing my grass. What are they and how do I get rid of them?” Here at the Extension office, this is a conversation I have had nearly daily for the past month. We are here to help with identification and control of many landscape problems, including weeds.

However, my first word of advice is to change the mowing practice. Short, spreading weeds cannot be mowed out. You need to do just the opposite. Mowing as high as possible (3-4”) will help to reduce weeds by shading them out, therefore, reducing their spread.

In every instance, the weeds have been common lespedeza (Kummerowia striata (Thunb.) Schind syn. Lespedeza striata) and/or prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata syn. Chamaesyce maculata). Both grow close to the ground with a spreading habit. Both have small, rounded leaves and produce small, light-colored flowers. But, if you look close, there are significant differences that will help with identification.

Small three-leaved spreading plantCommon lespedeza, also known as Japanese clover, is prostrate summer annual that forms 15-18 inch patches. The stems are wiry.  It has dark green trifoliate Three-leafed with parallel veins and pink flower(arranged in threes) leaves with three oblong, smooth leaflets. Leaflets have parallel veins nearly at right angles to a prominent mid-vein. Its leaves have smooth edges and a short spur at the tip of each leaflet. Flowers appear in late summer with small pink to purple, single flowers found in leaf axils on most of the nodes of the main stems. As common lespedeza matures, the stems harden and become woody.

Prostrate spurge is a summer annual broadleaf weed that spreads by seed. The leaves are oval in shape, small, and opposite along the stem. As it matures, a red spot may form in the center of the leaf, earning it the common name spotted spurge. Another distinct characteristic is the stem contains a milky sap that oozes when the stem is broken. Light pink to white-colored flowers appear from early-summer through the fall.Small rounded leaved spreading plant

Both are annual,broadleaf weeds, so there are several post-emergent herbicides available to kill the ones present. Don’t forget the pre-emergent herbicide application in late winter though. These weeds can drop plenty of seed. The importance of knowing which weed you have is more about the message they are trying to send you. These weeds can indicate other issues that may be part of the reason the grass is thinning and allowing the weeds to take over in the first place.

Common lespedeza is a legume. It thrives when water is plentiful and soil nutrients are low. If this is the weed “taking over” your yard, you need to get a soil test and evaluate your watering habits. Improving fertility and reducing soil moisture will naturally weaken common lespedeza.

If your thin patches of declining grass are being replaced with spurge, it may be time to submit a sample for a nematode assay. Research has shown that spurge is a weed that can thrive with high populations of nematodes. Turfgrass species are easily harmed by nematodes (microscopic roundworms that imbed into and on grass roots). If the assay indicates harmful population levels, unfortunately there are few options for reduction of the nematodes. However, several ornamental plants are tolerant. So, you may need to consider creating a landscape bed area rather than continuing to battle poor-looking grass.

Weeds can serve as indicators to soil conditions that may need to be addressed. Learning to identify weeds may teach you more than just their names.

Dirt is Good for You

Dirt is Good for You

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Jimenez at Unsplash.com.

Gardeners have always known, down to their bones, that getting down and dirty in the soil is good for you. My grandmother was a staunch believer in the beneficial, calming effect of pulling weeds and digging in the garden when she was angry or frustrated with life.

Pulling weeds, digging up plants, planting new plants and seeds, mixing in good compost to a new landscape bed – these are joys that bring gardeners into intimate contact with soil and all the abundant life within. Gardeners love that smell of good fertile soil. As do nature lovers of all sorts. Hikers love the earthy smell as they tromp through the woods – especially after a nice rain when the fragrance is especially fresh and sweet.

What causes the aroma that we are experiencing? Much of it is bacteria. Good bacteria. Healthy soil is a complex ecosystem containing a great biodiversity of species of plants, fungi, animals and bacteria. And much research is being done to identify and learn about the thousands of species living under our feet.

Scientists are now suggesting that a fatty acid found in the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae may alleviate stress and stress related disorders in humans. Gardeners have always known there was something about the soil that was good and healthy for us. Now, we have the science to back it up!

Happy Gardening!

New Flavors with Edible Flowers

New Flavors with Edible Flowers

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.

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Not Your Typical Coneflower – Cutleaf Coneflower Rudbeckia lacineata

Until plans were underway for our UF/IFAS Demonstration Butterfly Garden, I had never heard of Cutleaf Coneflower, Rudbeckia lacineata. Master Gardener Volunteer Jody Wood-Putnam included this gem in her garden design and introduced me and many of our visitors to a new garden favorite.
Although in the same genus as your common Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia fulgida or R. hirta) this perennial has very distinct differences. Rather than the low growing, hairy, oblong leaves of Black-eyed Susan, Cutleaf Coneflower has smooth pinnately lobed leaves with serrated edges. The leaves are still clump forming but form an almost bush-like shape. By mid to late summer, tall flower spikes emerge and are covered in bright yellow flowers bringing the overall height of the plant over 5 feet tall!
Cutleaf Coneflower is native to North America with several variations adapted to different regions including the Southeast and Florida. This perennial performs well in full sun to part shade and needs a lot of space. Mature plants can reach 3’ wide by 10’ tall and may require staking. The plant can spread through underground runners, so be sure to give it lots of space. In North Florida leaves may be evergreen if winter is mild. Cutleaf Coneflower is a good wildlife attractant providing nectar and pollen for many insects and if you leave the flowers on to mature the seed the is eaten by songbirds, including goldfinch.
To see this plant in person, stop by the UF/IFAS Demonstration Garden at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City, FL. If during normal business hours, check in for available seeds from our Pollinator Garden. 850-784-6105
More information about Cutleaf Coneflower see https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/rudbeckia-laciniata-var-humilis/