Our landscapes are becoming important spaces for many animals to find food, water, and shelter. You can enjoy many beautiful plants while supplementing the diet of a favorite garden visitor, the hummingbird. Learn about a couple of nectar plants for hummingbirds and how to properly install your hummingbird feeder In the Garden with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Spring is a wonderful time of year. After months of dreariness and bare branches, bright, succulent green leaves and flowers of every kind and color have emerged. So too, have emerged gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts ready to tackle all their home and landscape improvement projects planned over the winter. However, this is also the time, when folks first start paying attention to their plants again, that strange, seemingly inexpiable plant problems crop up!
All plant problems can be divided into two categories: biotic problems, or issues caused by a living organism (think insects, fungus, and bacteria), and abiotic problems, issues that arise from things other than biotic pests. It’s the first category that people generally turn to when something goes wrong in their landscape or garden. It’s convenient to blame problems on pests and it’s very satisfying to go to the local home improvement store, buy a bottle of something and spray the problem into submission. But, in many of my consultations with clientele each spring, I find myself having to step back, consider holistically the circumstances causing the issue to arise, scout for pests and diseases, and if I find no evidence of either, encouraging the person to consider the possibility the problem is abiotic and to adopt patience and allow the problem to correct itself. Of course, this is never what anyone wants to hear. We always want a solvable problem with a simple cause and solution. But life isn’t always that easy and sometimes we must accept that we (nor a pest/disease) did anything wrong to cause the issue and, in some cases, that we ourselves actually caused the problem to happen in the first place! To illustrate, let’s consider two case studies from site visits I’ve had this spring.
Cold damage on Boxwood hedge
Three weeks ago, I got a call from a very concerned client. She had gotten her March issue of a popular outdoor magazine in the mail, in which was a feature on an emerging pathogen, Boxwood Blight, a nasty fungus decimating Boxwood populations in states north of us. She had also noticed the Boxwoods in front of her house had recently developed browning of their new spring shoots across most the hedgerow. Having read the article and matching the symptoms she’d noticed to the ones described in the magazine article, she was convinced her shrub was infected with blight and wanted to know if there was a cure. Agreeing that the symptoms sounded similar and wanting to rule out an infection of an extremely serious pathogen, I decided to go take a look. Upon inspection, it was obvious that Boxwood Blight wasn’t to blame. Damage from disease generally isn’t quite as uniform as what I saw. The new growth on top of the hedge was indeed brown but only where the eaves of the house and a nearby tree didn’t provide overhead cover and, to boot, the sides of the hedge were a very normal bright green. Having gone through a recent cold snap that brought several mornings of heavy frost and knowing that the weeks before that the weather had been unseasonably warm, causing many plants to begin growing prematurely, all signs pointed toward an abiotic problem, cold/frost damage that would clear up as soon as the plant put on another flush of growth. The client was delighted to hear she didn’t have a hedge killing problem that would require either adopting a monthly fungicide regime or replacing the hedge with a different species.
Damage to ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum from pressure washing siding with bleach.
The very next week, another client asked if I would come by her house and take a look at a hedge of ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum that lines her driveway, whose leaves had “bleached” out, turning from their normal chartreuse to a bronzy white color. This time, having seen similar issues with this particular plant that almost always involved an infestation of Spider or Broad Mites, I figured this was a cut and dry case that would end with a call to her pest control company to come spray the offending bugs. However, though the leaf damage looked similar, I was not able to locate any existing pests or find evidence any had been around recently, rather it appeared the leaves had been exposed to something that “bleached” and burned them. Puzzled, I began asking questions. What kind of maintenance occurs on the plants? Have you fertilized or applied any chemicals recently? Nothing. Then, near the end of our conversation, the client mentioned that her neighbor had pressure washed their house on a windy day and that she was irritated because some of the soap solution had gotten on her car. Bingo. Leaf burn from pressure washing solution chemicals. This time I was guilty of assuming the worst from a pest when the problem quite literally blew in on the wind from next door. Again, the client was relieved to know the plant would recover as soon as a new flush of growth emerged and hid the burned older leaves!
This spring, I’d encourage you to learn from the above situations and the next time you notice an issue on plants in your yard, before you reach for the pesticides, take a step back and think about what the damage looks like, thoroughly inspect the plants for possible insects or disease, and if you don’t find any, consider the possibility that the problem was abiotic in nature! And remember, if you need any assistance with identification of a landscape problem and want research-based recommendations on how to manage the problem, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.
Blooming amaryllis flower. Photo by Logan Boatwright
Are you tired of seeing only green from your shrubs such as boxwood or yew? Are the areas next to your home walls, fences, terraces, tree islands, gate entrances, and/or borders barren? Do you want to add color to these areas? You may want to consider planting these areas with the beautiful amaryllis (Hippeastrum x hybridum).
Amaryllis grows from a tough, dependable bulb that will bloom during the spring after winter dormancy. The strap-shaped leaves will emerge first and grow about 1.5 inches wide, up to three feet long, and persist much of the year in Florida. They are reduced later in the summer and ultimately die back from frost.
In the late winter, bulbs will eventually produce one to three leafless stalks, or scapes, that will each have two or more trumpet-shaped flowers. Flowers come in a variety of forms and shapes: from single and double, miniature or large. Flower colors can be red, bright pink, shades of pink, orange, white, rose, or even salmon. It does not stop there! The flowers may even be striped and multi-colored. Amaryllis can create a striking focal point when they are planted in clusters of 10 or more of similar color.
Double flowers of amaryllis. Photo by Logan Boatwright.
Amaryllis may be planted anytime of the year, but winter is best. They are sun- and shade-tolerant, but planting in light shade is best since leaves will yellow in full sun and plants bloom poorly in heavy shade. Amaryllis prefer well-drained sites to prevent bulb and root rots.
For the best amaryllis performance, till and amend the soil with a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic matter and 2 to 3 pounds of 6-6-6, or a comparable amount of other complete fertilizer per 100 square feet. Plant 12 to 15 inches apart. Amaryllis can greatly benefit from at least one fertilizer application in the early spring and two to three applications during the growing season.
Many blooms from multiple amaryllis bulbs. Photo by Logan Boatwright.
After flowering it’s a good practice to remove the stalks, unless seeds for planting are desired. If the bulbs become crowded, dig and separate them out. Doing this will encourage large, uniform flowers.
Go out, plant a few amaryllis plants today, and be ready to. To learn more about Amaryllis, please follow this link.
Blooming amaryllis plant. Photo by Logan Boatwright.
Carrots growing in a large container.
After tending a home vegetable garden for any length of time in the Panhandle, you begin to learn some things. Tomatoes are awfully hard to grow. Raised beds drastically lower the difficulty of gardening in general. You should never plant mint in a permanent veggie garden. Swiss Chard has to be started early because it grows as molasses creeps. Of all of these anecdotal maxims I’ve discovered, the one with the most flavor return on my gardening investment is that carrots should always be a part of your cool season garden. A fresh carrot out of the garden is hard to beat. The difference between a grocery store carrot and one fresh out of your own garden is astonishing and will change your culinary life. Though carrot season in Florida is just ending (my final batch was harvested yesterday), it’s the perfect time to learn about growing carrots here and plan to get some in the ground this fall!
There are a number of reasons to grow and eat carrots. They’re obviously very healthy, though I dispute the whole eat carrots and you’ll have great eyesight thing – apparently I acquired the taste for them too late to help. They go well in more dishes than they don’t. However, the real two reasons you should supplement your grocery store carrot purchases with home grown harvests are that they’re so easy to grow and that there are so many more options than the standard long, thin orange varieties adorning the produce aisle shelves.
Though carrots are remarkable easy to grow, they do ask a couple of things of gardeners. They are a cool season vegetable and are generally planted from seed beginning in late August through early September in the Panhandle, though successive plantings can continue through at least February if you want to extend your harvest. Also, like many other root vegetables, carrots don’t transplant well so direct seeding in the garden is a must. But before you even consider seeding, care must be taken to make sure the soil bed you’ll be seeding in has been properly prepared. One of the few ways to fail growing carrots is to not start with a loose soil free from any potential obstructions. If the development of the carrot root is disturbed by anything during the germination and growing process (this includes manure aggregates or other clumpy soil, sticks, rocks or even a hard layer of soil hiding under your loose compost), the end product will be deformed. To prevent this, thoroughly till your raised bed soil to at least 12” and break up any larger soil particles that are left with your hands. If you don’t get your soil bed perfect though, fear not, deformed carrots are definitely edible, they just won’t look like they’re supposed to and are more difficult to clean and process!
Deformed carrots due to clumpy compost!
Once you’re ready to plant, I’ve found it easier on poor eyes and fumbling fingers like mine to sprinkle the tiny carrot seeds in shallowly furrowed rows 10”-12” apart and thin the seedlings later, rather than trying to individually space seeds the recommended 1”-3” apart. Finally, these colorful little veggies love water and require good fertility. To ensure good expansion of the edible root, maintain consistent moisture and fertilize at planting with a good slow release fertilizer. Additional fertilizer applications may be required later in the growing season as most carrots take around ten weeks to gain maturity.
‘Sugarsnax’ (orange) and ‘Malbec’ (red) carrots
In this age of online catalogs, farmer’s markets, and demanding consumers who crave interesting food, the selection of carrot varieties available for gardeners to grow has never been better. Among the hundreds of individual cultivar options are several broad types of carrots you’ll need to choose from. You’re probably familiar with the Imperator types. These are the extra-long, durable carrots most often find in stores. If you have a deep raised bed or other large container, Imperator varieties can be extremely rewarding! I grew the Imperator-type ‘Sugarsnax’ this year and highly recommend it for ease of growing, size and flavor. Next up are the Nantes types. These carrots are medium length and cylindrically shaped. Sometimes called “storage” carrots, these types tend to store well for long periods of time after harvest and retain their flavor well. I’ve tried a few over the last several years and can recommend ‘Bolero’ and ‘Napoli’ with confidence. There is even a carrot type for those of you with shallow raised beds (8” or less) that can’t accommodate the previously listed types! Chantenay type carrots are excellent performers in these situations as they are generally a bit shorter and possess a conical shape with roots wider at the top and tapering to the tip, making a deep soil bed a bit less critical. Finally, there are even some excellent cultivars of carrots in colors other than orange! That’s right, you can grow white, purple, yellow, and even red carrots! I’ve done very well with ‘Purple Haze’ (purple with orange interior), ‘White Satin’ (creamy white color), and ‘Malbec’ (deep, rich red) and highly recommend all three. Keep in mind that the red and purple carrots tend to lose their color when cooked, so the greatest effect is seen when eaten fresh. All of these cultivars can be found at nearly any of the numerous online and catalog seed retainers such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Burpee, and others.
As you can see, carrots are an easy to grow, extremely rewarding vegetable for the home gardener; give some a try in your raised beds next fall! And as always, if you have any questions about growing carrots or any other gardening related question, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office!
Winter is in full swing and home grown produce is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But it should be! It’s time again to start thinking about spring vegetable gardening. While a number of crops can be started by direct seeding in the soil, success rates are higher when plants are started indoors or in a covered structure. In order to be successful, it’s important that you follow some simple steps.
Seedless watermelons planted in a 128-cell flat. Photo Credit: Gene McAvoy, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Hendry County
- Transplant Trays/Flats – Trays are made from different materials such as plastic, polystyrene, and compostable materials. Different cell sizes are also available. Generally, smaller cells are used for smaller seeds and larger cells are used for larger seeds. It’s important to think of the life cycle of the crop. For example, lettuce and other leafy greens have much shorter life cycles compared to tomatoes. Because of this, they have smaller root systems at transplant time and may not develop a good rootball in a large cell. Therefore, lettuce would perform better in a smaller cell.
- Media – It’s important that you choose a germination mix instead of a potting mix. Definitely don’t use garden soil! Germination mixes are typically a combination of finely ground peat, perlite, and other soiless substrates.
- Seed – Purchase seed from a reputable source with a germination guarantee. If you save seeds for future gardening, then store them in a cool, dry place. Seed can be stored in the refrigerator. However, do expect the germination rate of stored seeds to diminish over time. Coated seed is recommended for smaller seeds to make seeding easier and more efficient. Seeds should be planted in media at a depth of approximately 3 times the diameter of the seed. Check the seed package for additional planting recommendations. For more germination and storage information please see this publication from the University of Nebraska.
- Fertilizer – Too much fertilizer can result in leggy and possibly burned plants. A 20-10-10 (or similar ratio N-P-K) water-soluble product is generally used in commercial production. Rates are dependent on crop, sunlight, and temperature. The media should be kept moist, but not continually wet.
Well-grown kale transplants ready for field planting. Photo Credit: Gene McAvoy, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Hendry County
Seeds can take up to 14 days to germinate depending on species and conditions. Most transplants are ready for the garden by 6 to 8 weeks. To improve success rate and accelerate production time, most farmers harden off their transplants before planting. Hardening off is the process of stressing the transplants for about a week. Generally, transplant trays are taken out of the greenhouse (or other transplant area such as a window sill) and set outside. Watering frequency is reduced and fertilization is halted. It’s important that the plants aren’t completely neglected, but just stressed enough to prepare them for the elements. A good place to put the trays is under a tree in partial shade. After this hardening off period, the transplants are ready for your garden. Hopefully these tips will make you a more successful gardener!