Growing Fruits with Limited Space

Growing Fruits with Limited Space

There are fruit types that grow well in North Florida and that do not require a lot of space. For high yields they do need a spot that gets direct sun for at least half the day. An area only 10 by 10 feet can support a gratifying amount of fruit production.

Some of the best fruit choices for small areas are rabbiteye blueberries, blackberries and muscadine grapes.

The rabbiteye blueberry is native to the Southeastern United States. Blueberries require a soil pH below 5.3. So, it’s advisable to have your soil tested to find out what the pH is before planting. Mixing peat moss into the soil can lower the pH, if needed. There are many rabbiteye blueberry cultivars. Be sure to plant at least two cultivars together for pollination. Here is a link with more information on blueberries for Florida.

All of the other fruits like a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Garden lime can be used to raise the pH but only if you have the results of a reliable soil test indicating how much lime is needed. Your County Extension Office can help you determine how to have your soil tested.

Blackberries are productive if you select the correct cultivars. Cultivars adapted to Florida produce large, attractive fruit. Some are self-fruitful while others require a pollinator. Some have thorns while others are thornless. Some grow more erect while some have a trailing growth habit, requiring trellising. ‘Brazos’ is a late fruiting cultivar that does well in our area and does not require cross-pollination but it does have thorns. Here is a link with more information on blackberries for Florida.

The muscadine grape was one of the pleasant surprises found by the early colonists in the Southeastern United States. An extensive breeding program has resulted in many improved cultivars. Scuppernong is a variety of muscadine. Other popular varieties include ‘Cowart’, ‘Fry’, ‘Carlos’, ‘Summit’, ‘Higgins’, and ‘Nesbitt’. There are many others. Some are self-fruitful while others require a pollinator. There are cultivars that produce bronze, black, red or purple fruit. Some cultivars produce larger fruit, some have a higher sugar content and are sweeter. Muscadines are ready to harvest in late summer to early fall. Some mature early season, mid-season or late season, based on the cultivar. Here is a link with more information on muscadines for Florida.

Even though these fruit plants can be grown with limited space, they do require some care, including correct fertilization and pruning. Mid-December to mid-February is the best planting time for these fruit plants.

Preventive Tree Care Before High Winds Strike

Preventive Tree Care Before High Winds Strike

Recently, I spent some time with my uncle at his home in Perry, Florida. Perry specifically and Taylor County as a whole were one of the hardest-hit areas from Hurricane Idalia. My uncle said that most of the powerline poles had been replaced in his and surrounding neighborhoods as a result of this storm. Some were still being replaced when I was there. Every home in the area had large amounts of tree debris cut and piled up along the streets for pickup. Most every pile had the remains of large pine trunks intermingled in the debris.

Tree debris along street following hurricane Idalia in Perry, FL
Tree debris along street following Hurricane Idalia in Perry, Credit Larry Williams

The only damage to my uncle’s home was from a neighbor’s large pine tree. The top of that tree was blown through the air and slammed into his roof, puncturing the roof and leaving a large hole through the bottom of the garage ceiling. In addition to the direct wind damage and resulting downed trees, with a storm such as Idalia, there will be much follow up removal and pruning of leaning, partly uprooted, and damaged trees.

Trees are an important part of our ecosystem, economy, landscape and heritage here in North Florida. As a matter of fact, Taylor County began a Pine Tree Festival in 1955 to help educate the public about the timber industry in that area. Now known as the Florida Forest Festival, the goal of the festival is to promote the benefits of our state’s forests as well as to celebrate people who protect and work in them. The 68th Annual Florida Forest Festival is scheduled to take place in Perry on October 28, 2023. Here is a link with more information on the festival:

It is important to not wait until a storm event such as Idalia to inspect and manage trees on your property. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when preventing tree damage. Even without a major storm, we have relatively high winds associated with our frequent thunderstorms here in Florida. Compared to many parts of the United States, we live in a fairly high-risk area for storm damage with lots of large trees.

Professional help sometimes is your best option when dealing with trees. Property damage could be reduced by having a professional arborist evaluate unhealthy, injured or questionable trees to assess risk and treat problems.

Hiring a certified arborist can be a worthwhile investment. To find a certified arborist in your area, contact the International Society of Arboriculture at 888-472-8733 or at In addition, here is a UF/IFAS Extension link with a wealth of information related to trees and hurricanes:

Different Pruning Methods for Different Plants

Different Pruning Methods for Different Plants

Anyone can prune but not everyone prunes correctly. In order to prune correctly, you need to understand how plants respond to pruning.

When a pruning cut is made on a stem or limb, new growth will develop just a few inches below the cut. This is because of a hormone that is produced in the terminal bud (the bud at the end of a branch or twig). This hormone prevents dormant buds located directly below the terminal bud from growing. So, when you routinely shear plants, a lot of dense, new growth will be produced near the outer portions of the plant. This eventually results in less light reaching the interior portions of the plant, foliage within the canopy becomes sparse and the plant appears stemmy or hollow.

Thinning generally is a better method of pruning most shrubs. Thinning is cutting branches back to a lateral branch, a lateral bud or the main trunk. Basically, a thinning cut is the complete removal of a branch or stem for the purpose of thinning or opening up the plant. Thinning encourages new growth within the interior portions of the plant, reduces size and provides a fuller, more natural looking plant compared to plants that are routinely sheared.

Keep in mind the desired results when pruning. If you plant a row of shrubs that will serve as a hedge or screen, begin pruning them the same year that you plant. Many times, people wait several years before pruning a newly planted hedge Doing so can result in little growth at the base of the plants, which means a privacy hedge that can be seen through. Because of the fact that new growth on plants only occurs a few inches below the cut, you should begin pruning early to encourage a compact growth habit.

Pruning time varies among plants. Plants that are not grown for their showy flowers such as holly, boxwood and privet can be pruned during late winter, spring and summer months. Avoid pruning during fall or early winter because the new, tender growth produced as a result of pruning will be subject to cold injury.

Plants that bloom before May such as azaleas, forsythia, spirea and climbing roses should be pruned shortly after they bloom. It is best to avoid pruning plants in this category later than July because they set flower buds in the fall.

Plants that bloom after May such as crape myrtle, gardenia, bush roses and abelia can be pruned just prior to spring growth in late February or early March.

Avoid severely pruning junipers, cedar, arborvitae and other narrow-leaf evergreen plants because it may cause them to die outright.

Don’t Water When it’s Already Wet

Don’t Water When it’s Already Wet

It amazes me that even under flood conditions, people still water their lawns.

I’m sure you’ve seen it too – we get enough rain to cause some areas to flood and yet you see irrigation systems going full blast.

Lawn irrigation spray head running
Lawn irrigation should be applied on an as needed basis. Credit: Larry Williams

We should water our lawns, landscapes and gardens on an as-needed basis. The way that some people water their lawns is as logical as saying that a pet dog needs a drink of water at 4 p.m. everyday. This is not true. When watering, we are simply replacing water that is lost. This is true when we drink water ourselves, when we provide water for a pet dog, or when we provide water for our lawns, landscapes and gardens.

An irrigation system is a great tool when used to supplement rainfall. Irrigating too much not only wastes water but it also is the cause for many lawn problems such as shallow, weak root systems, leaching of fertilizer and numerous lawn diseases. Cutting the irrigation timer to off and operating the system manually will solve many lawn problems.

Also, there are tools to prevent an irrigation system from coming on during rain or when adequate rainfall has occurred. As a matter of fact, it has been state law in Florida for every automatic irrigation system to have a rain shutoff device installed since 1991.

Florida Statutes, Chapter 373.62 – Water conservation; automatic sprinkler systems states, “Any person who purchases and installs an automatic lawn sprinkler system after May 1, 1991, shall install a rain sensor device or switch which will override the irrigation cycle of the sprinkler system when adequate rainfall has occurred,”

Rain sensors are available, inexpensive and are not difficult to install. Rain shutoff devices really do work when installed properly. If you do not feel qualified to install such a devise on an existing system, check with a reputable irrigation company.

Water only when lawn indicates that water is needed. When the grass needs water, leaf blades fold along the midrib – like a book closing, footprints remain in the lawn long after being made and the lawn turns grayish in spots, indicating it needs water.

When 30 to 40 percent of the lawn shows these signs of water need, turn the irrigation system on and let it run long enough to apply one-half to three-quarters inch of water. Don’t water again until the lawn begins to show these signs of water need. Watering this way will develop a deep-rooted lawn and landscape. Here’s a UF/IFAS Extension link with more information on lawn and landscape irrigation.

Weak Lawns Respond to Warmer Soil & Correct Care

Weak Lawns Respond to Warmer Soil & Correct Care

Now that we are moving into warmer soil temperatures, weak areas in lawns will have a better chance of making some recovery. However, this is highly dependent on whether or not correct lawn maintenance practices are followed. These practices include fertilizing, mowing and watering correctly.

Many North Florida lawns came out of winter weak and thinning this spring. In areas of the lawn where there is at least sixty percent cover of the desirable type of lawn grass, recovery is possible. But where there is less than sixty percent desirable cover, reestablishment should be considered.

Applying the correct type and amount of fertilizer will promote lawn recovery. To maintain a healthy Florida lawn, it’s critical to use a fertilizer with adequate potassium. In most cases, use a lawn fertilizer with equal amounts of nitrogen (first number) and potassium (third number) such as 8-0-8, 10-0-10, 15-2-15 or similar analysis. Phosphorus (second number) should be low or zero unless you have the results of a reliable soil test indicating that more phosphorus is needed. Err on the side of being light handed when applying fertilizer to the lawn. In North Florida, most lawns will do just fine with an application in spring no earlier than mid-April and a second application in summer no later than mid-September.

Follow these mowing practices for a healthy lawn.

  • Never remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade height at any one time.
  • Here’s the recommended mowing height in inches for each lawn grass: bahia – 3 to 4; centipede – 1.5 to 2; standard St. Augustine cultivars – 3 to 4; dwarf St. Augustine cultivars (Captiva and Seville) – 2 to 3; zoysia cultivars suitable for home lawns- 2 to 2.5; bermuda – .5 to 1.5.
  • Keep mower blades sharp.

Follow these irrigation practices for a deeper rooted and drought tolerant lawn.

  • Turn your automatic sprinkler system off and learn to operate it manually on an as-needed basis. Your lawn needs water when leaf blades start to fold in half lengthwise or when footprints remain visible in the lawn long after being made. Irrigate when at least 30% of the lawn shows these signs of water need.
  • Apply ½ – ¾ inch of water when you do irrigate. Place empty, straight-sided cans in the area being irrigated to see how long it takes to reach this amount.
  • Irrigate during early morning for more efficient water use and to minimize lawn diseases.

Here is a link to a UF/IFAS Extension publication on Best Management Practices for a Florida lawn.