Fruit Tree Grafting Tips and Scion Selection

Fruit Tree Grafting Tips and Scion Selection

It’s mid-February, cloudy, and cold. It’s time to get outside and take cuttings for fruit and nut tree grafting. The cuttings that are grafted onto other trees are called scions. The trees or saplings that the scions are grafted to are called rootstocks. Grafting should be done when plants start to show signs of new growth, but for best results, scion wood should be cut in February and early March.

Scion Selection

Straight and smooth wood with the diameter of a pencil should be selected for scions. Water sprouts that grow upright in the center of trees work well for scion wood.  Scions should be cut to 12-18″ for storage. They should only need two to three buds each.

Scions

Scions ready for grafting. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Scion Storage

Scions should be cut during the dormant season and refrigerated at 35-40°F until the time of grafting. If cuttings are taken in the field or far from home, then simply place them in a cooler with an ice pack until they can be refrigerated. Cuttings should be placed in a produce or zip top bag along with some damp paper towels or sphagnum moss.

Grafting

It is better to be late than early when it comes to grafting. Some years it’s still cold on Easter Sunday. Generally, mid-March to early April is a good time to graft in North Florida. Whip and tongue or bench grafting are most commonly used for fruit and nut trees. This type of graft is accomplished by cutting a diagonal cut across both the scion and the rootstock, followed by a vertical cut parallel to the grain of the wood. For more information on this type of graft please visit the Grafting Fruit Trees in the Home Orchard from the University of New Hampshire Extension.

Bench Graft

A bench graft union. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Achieving good bench graft unions takes skill and some practice. Some people have better success using a four-flap or banana graft technique. This type of graft is accomplished by stripping most of the bark and cambium layer from a 1.5″ section of the base of the scion and by folding the back and removing a 1.5″ section of wood from the top of the rootstock.  A guide to this type of graft can be found on the Texas A&M factsheet “The Four-Flap Graft”.

Grafting is a gardening skill that can add a lot of diversity to a garden. With a little practice, patience, and knowledge any gardener can have success with grafting.

Ornamental Grass Pruning – A Winter Task

Ornamental Grass Pruning – A Winter Task

The term “ornamental grass” is a catch-all phrase used to describe grasses and “grass-like” plants.  Individual species are adapted to a wide variety of landscape sites (i.e., wet or dry, sun or shade, hot or cold climates, and varied salt tolerance). Growth habits range from low ground covers to intermediate shrub-like plants to very tall hedge-like plants. Ornamental grasses are very dynamic; the size, shape, texture, and color of grass changes with every season.

Deciduous Ornamental Grass

Grasses with foliage that dies in the winter and remains dormant until the weather warms in the spring are considered deciduous.  The winter character of deciduous ornamental grasses adds tremendous interest to the winter garden when contrasted with evergreen plants or structures such as walls or fences.  The dried foliage of deciduous grasses creates sound as it expands and contracts in response to changes in temperature or moisture, while interaction with wind creates movement in the garden. For these reasons, pruning of the dead foliage and inflorescences is not recommended at the time of the first frost.

Pruning of ornamental grasses should be done in late winter or early spring, just prior to new shoot growth.  In Northwest Florida, gardeners should target the end of February to prune ornamental grasses.  For deciduous grasses, such as Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), the old foliage may be completely removed within inches of the soil. Be cautious to not remove the growth point by leaving the grass clump at least 4 inches high.  For evergreen grasses, such as muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), the ragged leaves can be removed to neaten the appearance of the plant without shortening all the way to the ground. So, depending on the damaged portions, the remaining grass clump can be 6-18 inches high after pruning.  Grasses recover quickly from a heavier pruning.  Within a few months the plant will have completely regrown.  If desired, old flower stalks and seed heads may be removed any time they no longer have a neat appearance.  For more information on ornamental grass species and growing tips, please visit the EDIS Publication: Considerations for Selection and Use of Ornamental Grasses.

Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

There is an old saying that rings true in pretty much any situation – “You get what you pay for.”  Gardening tools, especially pruners, are no exception.  We’ve all been there, fumbling around with a pair of rusty, dull, cheap garden pruners that just barely get the job done.  Unfortunately, they can also do considerable harm to the plants you’re trying to improve, as anything short of a nice, sharp, clean cut introduces the potential for insect/disease infestation and will produce a wound that takes much longer to heal, if it ever heals properly at all.  You wouldn’t want your doctor to start hacking away at you with a dirty, second-rate scalpel.  Don’t subject your plants to the same treatment!  While I’m not advocating blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting your garden tool shed with top of the line everything, investing in a pair of quality bypass hand pruners will pay dividends many years into the future and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable!

The classic Felco #4 bypass hand pruners. Photo courtesy of Walton County Master Gardener Andrea Schnapp.

Found in three designs, from old-fashioned anvil pruners that smush and smash their way to a cut, to ratcheting pruners that make short work of larger branches but tend to be cumbersome and complicated, to bypass pruners that produce clean cuts in a scissor-like manner, hand pruners accomplish many tasks in the landscape.  From cutting small limbs, to harvesting vegetables, to deadheading annual flowers and everything in between, there isn’t a more frequently used, versatile tool.  Therefore, it makes sense to buy a quality pair that will perform excellently, still be snipping long after your pruning days are over (if you take care of them), and that are comfortable enough you will enjoy using them.  When shopping for your pair of “forever” pruners, there are a few things to look for.

  • Only use bypass style pruners. Your plants will appreciate it.
  • Look for heavy duty pruners with frames made from quality aluminum or stainless steel; they won’t rust and won’t easily bend or break.
  • Buy pruners with replaceable parts. This is especially key because springs eventually rust and gum up and blades break and will eventually lose their ability to hold an edge over time (though you can and should resharpen them).

There are two commonly found brands that fit all three above criteria, albeit at different price points.  For a high quality “budget” blade, various models from Corona do an excellent job for the money ($20-30) and won’t hurt your feelings too badly if you happen to lose a pair.  Should you decide to splurge a little, Felco makes sharp, indestructible pruners, in multiple models around $50 to fit all size hands.  Felco has become the horticulture industry standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a nursery owner or landscaper that didn’t own a pair (or two).

Corona ComfortGel bypass hand pruner. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Regardless of which brand you buy (and there are many more than the two above listed) a pair of well-made pruners, if taken care of, should last a lifetime and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable for you and your plants!  If you have any questions about gardening tools or equipment or any other horticulture or agronomic topic, feel free to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.  Happy Gardening!

 

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

We are back with new topics and guest speakers for 2021! All sessions are Thursdays at noon CDT or 1:00 p.m. EDT.

There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:

1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at https://zoom.us/signup). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one week before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)

 

Date

Topic

Panelists

12-1 pm CDT

2/4/2021

Weeds
Reference links

Dr. Chris Marble, Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

3/11/2021

Spring Vegetables

Dr. Josh Freeman, Matt Lollar, Sheila Dunning, Evan Anderson

4/8/2021

Lawns

Dr. Bryan Unruh, Dr. Pat Williams, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

5/13/2021

Herbs

Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Mary Salinas, Trevor Hylton

6/10/2021

Ornamental & Turf Diseases

Dr. Phil Harmon, Stephen Greer, Larry Williams

7/29/2021

Beneficial Insects: Predators!

Dr. Adam Dale, Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Danielle Sprague

8/12/2021

Open landscape topics Q&A

Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson

9/9/2021

Beginning Beekeeping

Amy Vu, Ray Bodrey, Evan Anderson

10/14/2021

Invasive Species

Dr. Stephen Enloe, Dr. Pat Williams, Dr. Gary Knox, Sheila Dunning, Ray Bodrey

11/4/2021

Houseplants

Marc Frank, Dr. Pat Williams, Stephen Greer

12/9/2021

Selecting and Maintaining Trees

Larry Figart, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

Missed a session and want to catch up?
All webinars are archived with closed captioning on our YouTube Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Playlist.

 

 

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

The last several weeks have brought consistently cool weather to the Panhandle, with a few downright cold nights dipping well below freezing.  Though winter isn’t officially here, that won’t happen until December 21st, grass mowing season is definitely over and, if you’re like me and didn’t cover your raised bed garden on those nippy nights, vegetable growing has also slowed significantly.  So, what are us horticulturally minded folks with cold-weather cabin fever to do?  It’s time to take advantage of sweat-free temperatures, break out the shovels and pruners, and get to work in the landscape!

Master Gardeners demonstrate correct tree planting techniques.

The months of December through February are ideal times for planting new trees and shrubs.  The reasons for this are simple.  Days are short, rain tends to be plentiful, temperatures are cool, and plants are mostly dormant.  While newly installed plants need water to become established regardless of when they are planted, demand for supplemental irrigation is significantly less in winter (one of our rainiest seasons) and the chances of a new planting dying from thirst is slim relative to warmer months.  Also, planting in winter gives trees and shrubs several months of above ground dormancy to focus their resources below ground, recover from the shock of transitioning from a nursery container into your native soil, and produce valuable roots that will help it get through its first summer.  Think about it.  Would it be easier for you to start and finish a major outdoor project in July with one bottle of water to drink or in December with an ice chest full?  Plants prefer the same!

Not only is winter perfect for planting, tis the season for pruning many species too, deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall) in particular!  The first reason to prune these species in the winter is to give the plants several months to begin healing before growth resumes in spring and insect and disease pressure ramps up again.  Many serious pests and diseases of trees are most active during warm, wet weather and all of them have easier access to attack trees through open wounds.  Prune in winter to help avoid unwanted pest and disease infestations.  Also, dormancy has conveniently knocked the leaves off deciduous species’ branches, allowing us a clear view of the tree’s crown and giving us the ability to make clear, clean, strategic pruning cuts.  Proper pruning can help maintain a strong central leader that produces a stately, straight tree and remove dead and diseased branches that could cause problems in the future.

While planting in the winter is always ideal and we just outlined several reasons pruning now can be good, not all plants should be pruned when dormant.  For instance, old-fashioned hydrangeas and azaleas that produce blooms from the previous season’s growth.  Pruning these in the winter removes all the flower buds that would have bloomed the next summer and what’s the point of an azalea or hydrangea that doesn’t bloom?  Also, many small trees and shrubs, like Crape Myrtle and Vitex, may never need pruning if you site them where they will have room to mature without encroaching on other plants or structures.

If you have any questions about planting trees and shrubs, what, when, and how to prune, or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!  Enjoy the weather and happy gardening!

Why Did They Cut My Trees?

Why Did They Cut My Trees?

Utility tree trimming truck

Utility tree trimming truck

With hurricane season upon us, evidence of preparation is all around us.  Tree trimmers, contracted by the local electrical utility companies, have been removing trees, branches and other vegetation that is “too close” to power lines.  Many homeowners are concerned over the practice.

In order to prevent power outages, the federally approved Vegetation Management Reliability Standard, FAC-033-2, requires utilities to manage vegetation growth along the path of power lines to prevent contact.  A minimum clearance of fourteen (14) feet between trees and transmission lines in the right-of-way must be maintained at all times in order to achieve service reliability and public safety.

By Florida Statute 163, an electric utility is granted easement or right-of-way on private property in order to build and maintain electric power lines.  Vegetation maintenance allows for the mowing of vegetation within the right-of-way, removal of trees or brush within the right-of-way and selective removal of tree branches that extend within the right-of-way by the electric utility personnel, licensed contractors or International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborists.  The choice of how to trim trees and manage vegetation growth near a power line (e.g. pruning, herbicides, or tree removal) is primarily made by the electric utility, subject to state and local requirements and laws, applicable safety codes, and any limitations or obligations specified in right-of-way agreements.  An individual may contact the utility company to obtain a copy of the right-of-way agreement for their property.

Overpruned trees along powerline

Over-pruned trees along power line

Sometimes, it appears to some that excessive vegetation has been removed.  But, remember the utility companies are required to maintain the appropriate clearance “at all times.”  For example, in the summer, power lines sag as they expand from rising air temperatures and heavy use.  Also, wind and future growth must be taken into account when determining where to prune.  Electric utilities usually prune or remove vegetation to a distance greater than the minimum clearances to account for all these factors.  However, in many instances, removal of the tree would be more aesthetically pleasing and could avoid leaving a hazardous tree in the landscape.  But, that is not part of their contract.  That decision must be made by the property owner.

Tree trimming around power lines may seem like a local issue, but vegetation growth also affects interstate transmission lines. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that electric utility service interruptions cost businesses and communities tens of billions of dollars annually.  Tree contact with transmission lines was the leading cause of the August 2003 blackout that affected 50 million people in the Northeastern United States and Canada.  In fact, that particular blackout prompted Congress to pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to establish the Vegetation Management Reliability Standard.

Should we have a storm that impacts Northwest Florida, remember that the clearing of trees and branches provides faster access for first responders, line repair crews, and other emergency service personnel.  So, as you watch the preparation work being done, think about where you will be planting a tree so that it can reach full maturity without threatening power lines, therefore, not requiring “ugly pruning!”

Spacing between trees and powerlines

Spacing between trees and power lines

The urban forest is much different from a natural forest.  Trees often develop a form that is more susceptible to breakage when grown in developed commercial and residential environments.  As a result, trees need preventive pruning to develop strong structure.  Research and observation show that well pruned trees can create a more wind resistant urban forest.

Pruning to create stronger tree structure is an ongoing process.  To minimize the likelihood of tree damage it is necessary to reduce the length of limbs with a weak attachment to the trunk and to balance the canopy by reducing the length of limbs on the side where weight is concentrated.  Do not remove interior branches, as this concentrates foliage at the tips of branches and causes them to break in strong winds.

Limbs that are more than ½ the diameter of the trunk and multiple trunks of similar size must be reduced in order to form strong branch unions and eliminate co-dominant leaders.  A reduction cut is pruned back to a smaller lateral branch.  Good pruning cuts avoid cutting into the collar.  The collar is the swollen area at the base of the branch where it joins the trunk.  The tissue is rich in energy reserves and chemicals that hinder the spread of decay.

Preventative pruning only applies to woody tree species.  Palms need fronds to protect the bud and provide nutrients for growth.  Arborists report that results from previous storms revealed that palms that had been “hurricane pruned” suffered more damage than those that were not pruned.  Do not wait until the last minute to prepare your trees for hurricane season.  Take action now.  For more information on pruning visit: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/pruning.shtml.

If you want professional help evaluating your trees or performing the proper corrective actions, visit:  https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist to locate a Certified Arborist working in your area.