Planting Depth Problems Continue

Planting Depth Problems Continue

Several times each month I am diagnosing shrub and tree problems in Escambia County that are related to the same issue, improper planting.  Symptoms of this problem can be slow growth, leaf browning, and dieback.  Sometimes under stressful weather conditions like drought, plants completely die. 

The trunk was covered with several inches of soil. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Shrub stems should never be below the soil level. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

This is a difficult sight for homeowners who have invested time and money in a tree or shrub to enhance the landscape.  In some cases, the planting issues can be fixed but there are other times when a new plant will need to be installed. 

The good news for homeowners is that this is a completely preventable issue.  The University of Florida has excellent publications with photos about installing and caring for trees and shrubs.  My Panhandle colleagues and I have also shared numerous articles and videos on proper plant installation. 

Care must be taken during installation to set your plant at the correct depth.  Even if a landscaper or nursery is installing the plant for you, check their work.  Make sure the rootball is cut or sliced, it is not set below grade, that any straps holding the rootball are cut after it is set, and proper backfilling occurs without soil over the top of the rootball. 

You don’t want to find out later in the season or even year’s later that your plant declined just because of planting problems. 

Cut Back Tropical Milkweed

Cut Back Tropical Milkweed

Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, has become a commonly grown monarch host plant in many gardens. It grows very well in our climate and survives into Fall and Winter during many years. This long life of Tropical milkweed is not necessarily a good trait for the monarch butterfly. In the Fall, monarchs are in migration mode and need to move out of our area to overwinter in warmer climates. Live host plants that are found during migration may interrupt the process. An additional problem is that Tropical milkweed may be host to a disease caused by a parasite that can impact the health of Monarch butterflies. The best tip to help our migrating Monarch butterflies, is to cut back your Tropical milkweed to the ground each Fall or better yet, grow native milkweeds that usually die back on their own.

Fall into Action – Winter Weeds & Turfgrass

Fall into Action – Winter Weeds & Turfgrass

Weeds are basically unwanted plants or plants growing out of place. Proper identification and some understanding of how and why weeds are present in a lawn are important when selecting the best management tactics. All turf weeds can be grouped into one of three life cycles: annual, biennial, or perennial.

Annual: Produces seeds during one season only

Biennial: Produces seeds during two back-to-back seasons

Perennial: Produces seeds over many seasons

Knowing the types of weed previously present in an area also can help one to be better prepared and what control measures to employ in the future.

Weeds may appear in multiple categories, either broadleaf, grass, or Sedges/rushes.

Lawn with winter annual weeds in early spring
Winter annual weeds in lawn in early spring. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Broadleaves, or dicotyledonous plants, have two cotyledons (seed leaves) when the weed seed germinates.

Appearance: Broad, flat leaves with net-like veins and usually have showy flowers.

Common types: Clover, ground ivy, dandelions, chickweed, plantain, henbit, beggarweed.

Grasses are monocotyledonous plants that have only one cotyledon, or seed leaf, present when seedlings emerge from the soil.

Appearance: Narrow leaves with parallel veins in their true leaves. Hollow rounded stems.

Common types: crabgrass, goosegrass, crowfoot grass, bull grass, annual bluegrass, alexander grass, cogon grass, torpedo grass, and smut grass.

Sedges/rushes. Both favor a moist habitat. Appearance: triangular-shaped, solid stems, while rush stems are round and solid.

Common types: yellow and purple nutsedge and, to some degree, globe, Texas, annual, and water sedge.

One of the first steps in managing weeds is to have a healthy dense lawn/ turf to provide shade that prevents seed germination. Having a healthy lawn depends on turf species selected – making sure you put the right plant and right place. Other factors that influence a heathy turf and a reduced amount of weeds include proper cultural control, fertilizing regularly, mowing at the appropriate height, watering deeply, reducing traffic, pest control, and sanitation. If you only have a few bothersome weeds in your lawn, you may be able to dig them up by hand—but if your lawn is overrun with weeds, you may need to start from scratch. If you decide to start from the beginning, you have a choice ahead of you. Do you want to lay down seed or sod? There are pros and cons to each.


Pros: Less expensive, more variety

Cons: Takes longer to germinate, can only lay at certain times of year depending on grass type


Pros: Instant grass, can lay any time of year, requires little maintenance

Cons:  More costly, less variety in grass can mean less healthy lawn overall

To prepare the soil after either method, make sure you till it down to roughly 6 to 8 inches.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications (Weed management for Florida lawns) or contact your local Extension Office!

Pruning Hydrangeas

Pruning Hydrangeas

We grow many types of hydrangeas in North Florida. In order to prune your hydrangeas at the correct time of year, you need to identify which types you have in your garden.

Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) comes in mophead and lacecap flower forms. They bloom on old wood, so prune in summer after blooming is finished. Repeat bloomers, such as ‘Endless Summer’ bloom on both old wood from the previous year and on the current season’s wood. You can prune after the first bloom and still get a bloom later in the season.

Hydrangea macrophylla. Photo by Beth Bolles,
UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
A native hydrangea that blooms on old wood, so prune after flowering. This type requires little pruning, only
to maintain size and shape.

Oakleaf hydrangea. Photo by Beth Bolles,
UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)
These shrubs bloom on new wood, so prune in winter or early spring before new growth emerges. ‘Limelight’ and ‘Pee Gee’, are examples of this type. Plants only require pruning to shape or thin out the shrub.

Limelight hydrangea. Photo by Beth Bolles,
UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Here are some additional pruning tips for your hydrangeas.

For all types, check for winter-damaged wood in early spring. Remove all dead branches before buds start to open.
Some plants need rejuvenation pruning. Old wood may die back or be less productive, so in early spring remove very old stems at the base. This stimulates new growth.
Deadheading flowers (cutting off spent blooms at a set of leaves) can happen as needed.

Plan on Doing a Fall Garden, Plan Now!

Plan on Doing a Fall Garden, Plan Now!

Yay, we are halfway through with August and our summer is winding down!  This is the perfect time to start prepping for that fall garden.   Growing a productive fall vegetable garden requires thoughtful planning and good cultural practices.  This process consists of selecting a site, planning the garden, preparing the soil, choosing the seeds and plants, planting a crop, and nurturing the plants until harvest time.  In the Florida Panhandle it can be a challenge to get cool season crops started; there is a balance in starting them early enough to allow them to mature (50-60 days) before a hard frost and getting them through the end of a hot summer.

August and September are the main planting times for a fall garden.  There are several cool-season crops and a final crop of warm-season vegetables that can be planted.  Some good warm season crops are lima beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes.  Going into September it will be a good time to establish strawberry plants.  Some good vegetables to start growing just around the corner are broccoli, carrots, cabbage, collards, mustard, and Swiss chard.  Herbs that do well are cilantro, parsley, and lemongrass. Mint, oregano, and thyme should be planted in containers as they tend to spread. Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil will also do well in September. See Herbs:

Transplants from the local garden center will get the garden off to a fast start while seeds will offer more varieties to choose from.  It is also important to think about your location.  A vegetable garden can be in the ground, a raised bed, or even grown in containers.  Your plants will need more than just a place to grow.  They will also need sunlight, water, air, soil, fertilizer, and care.  Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of sunlight.   Keep an eye out for pest problems such as insects, diseases and weeds because they will continue to flourish in warm temperatures and high humidity. To help conserve soil moisture a layer of newspaper and mulch can be placed between the rows.  Mulch also aids in weed control. 

Raised beds are an excellent way to get started with gardening. Photo by Molly Jameson.

The result of a beautiful, successful vegetable garden is fresh produce to eat, share with neighbors, family, and friends and even the possibility to sell your harvest.  With patience and practice your gardening skills will improve every year!  Follow the above few tips and you will be well on your way to a great harvest!  For more information about starting a fall garden or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy Gardening

Math for the Home Gardener

Math for the Home Gardener

Math isn’t always fun! Here is Euclid explaining math in Raphael’s The School of Athens. Credit: Creative Commons.

There are a lot of things gardeners need to know to cultivate a beautiful landscape. Between plant zones, scientific names, soil chemistry, and pest identification, being a gardener takes curiosity and willingness to learn new things. Unfortunately, one topic that needs to be well understood, especially when it comes to applying pesticides and fertilizers, is a subject that many cringe when they hear it – mathematics!

Some of the most common mathematical concepts to have a good grasp on for gardening include area, converting decimals to percentages and vice versa, estimating volume and converting units, and determining how much fertilizer to be applied based on your fertilizer grade.

Here’s a couple tips to help you gardeners out with math.


Most often, we need to know the square footage of our gardens. Rectangles are straightforward, you multiply length (in feet) by width (in feet) to get feet squared. Since most yards are not rectangles, we sometimes need to use other shapes to best calculate the area, such as circles and/or triangles. The area (A) of a circle is , where “π” is 3.14 and “r” is the radius (half of the diameter or the distance from the center to the edge). Remember that the little raised 2 means you multiply the radius by itself twice, not by two.

Most of the time, square feet is the best area unit to use. But just in case you need to know, one acre equals 43,560 square feet. So, if you find your lawn is 10,000 square feet, that means you have 0.23 of an acre (10,000/43,560).

Get your calculator’s out! Credit: iStockphoto.

Percent Conversions

This one may be better understood by most, but this becomes important later when we determine fertilizer needed or doing volume conversions. Basically, any percent can be divided by 100 to convert it to a decimal that can be used easily in other calculations. For example, 15% is the same as 0.15 (15/100). The easy way to remember is that 100% is the same as one, and 50% is the same as 0.5.

Volume Estimation and Conversions

Determining volume is required when figuring out how much mulch is needed for a garden bed or soil required for a raised bed. Converting one unit to another is especially important when determining how much pesticide product is needed to prepare a mixture.

For mulch and soil, the cubic feet (cf) or cubic yards (cy) are needed to figure out how many bags or truckloads will be needed. Most bulk products are sold by the cubic yard. Since we are dealing with volume, we need three measurements, the length, width, and depth. If we want to add three inches of mulch to a 500 square foot garden, we multiply the 500 by 0.25 feet (3”/12” equals 0.25 inches) to get 125 cubic feet. That is about 62 bags of mulch from the hardware store, which are often sold in 2 cubic foot bags. If we divide 125 cubic feet by 27 (three feet in a yard so 3’ x 3’ x 3’ = 27) we now have the answer in cubic yards and find that we need about 4.5 cubic yards of mulch. One cubic yard is roughly a half of a full-size pickup truck bed.

When it comes to converting liquid volume units to help with pesticide mixtures, fortunately we have the internet to help. However, it is a good idea to at least be familiar with converting ounces to gallons and vice versa. Since 128 ounces equals 1 gallon, to go from gallons to ounces you multiply by 128. For example, 0.5 gallons equals 64 ounces (0.5 x 128). To go from ounces to gallons, we just divide by 128. For example, 192 ounces equals 1.5 gallons (192/128).

Applying the proper amount of fertilizer keeps your landscape healthier and protects local waterbodies. Credit: UF/IFAS.

Calculating Fertilizer Needed

Okay, bear with me, as we are about to do some hard math and piece together several of the above concepts. First of all, most fertilizer rates are provided by extension resources and given in terms of pounds of a particular nutrient for a set area, usually 1,000 square feet. For example, when using slow-release fertilizer a homeowner should apply no more than one pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. To figure out how much actual fertilizer to apply to meet the recommendation, we will need 1) the recommended rate, 2) the size of the lawn, and 3) the fertilizer grade on the product (the three numbers that represent the percent N, P, and K). Our rate is one pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. The size of our lawn is 50 feet by 30 feet, so 1,500 square feet. We are going to use a 16-0-8 fertilizer. Now, here is the hard part! To figure out how much of our 16% nitrogen fertilizer will provide one pound of nitrogen, we need to convert 16% to a decimal (16/100 = 0.16) and then divide the amount of fertilizer we need by that number – 1 pound/0.16 – to find that 6.25 pounds of our fertilizer product are required for each 1,000 square feet. Since we have 1,500 square feet, we need to multiply our answer by 1.5, which gives us a total of 9.4 pounds.

Math is hard and there are usually many methods to get the same solution. When using pesticides and fertilizers in the home landscape, it’s important to make sure we’re using the right amount of materials to minimize the chance of harming ourself, our plants, and the local environment. If you need help, or would like someone to check your work, contact your local extension office.