You’re in the right hands if you want to grow pumpkins in Florida. While growing pumpkins can be tricky in Florida’s hot and humid climate, you can successfully grow Sunshine State pumpkins with the proper planning and care. Pumpkin is a popular vegetable in the cucurbit family. It shares this family with members of summer and winter squash. The pumpkin varieties differ from those called squashes by having coarser, more intensely flavored flesh and rinds that are softer at maturity than the winter squashes but harder than the summer squashes. Pumpkins refers to certain varieties of C. pepo L., C. moschata Duch. ex Poir., C. mixta Pang., and C. maxima Duch. Local tradition and common usage may dictate that a particular variety is called a squash in one area of the country and a pumpkin in another.
Pumpkin Varieties Choosing the right pumpkin variety is a major decision when growing pumpkins in Florida. Not all pumpkin varieties are suited to Florida’s warm and humid climate. Seminole Pumpkin is a native pumpkin variety well-suited to the state’s warm and humid environment. Traditionally grown by the Calusa, Creek, and Miccosukee peoples, Seminole pumpkins remain one of the tastiest and most reliable for Florida gardens. Seminole pumpkins are known for their hardiness and resistance to disease and pests. The Big Max variety is known for producing giant pumpkins that can weigh up to 100 pounds or more. Big Max pumpkins do well in Florida’s warm climate but may require extra care to prevent pests and diseases. The Jack-o-Lantern variety is the classic Halloween pumpkin for carving and decorating. Look for types suited to warm climates, such as “Funny Face” and “Big Moon.” The Pie Pumpkin variety is best used for cooking. If you plan to use your pumpkins for cooking, look for pie pumpkin varieties such as “Small Sugar” and “Early July.” These pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than carving pumpkins and are ideal for making pies, bread, and other baked goods.
Most pumpkin varieties need around four months to reach maturity. Pumpkins should be seeded by early July to be ready for Halloween. Spring pumpkins planted in March or April can be stored for use in October and November (though long storage is difficult in Florida). Early August seeding provides a fall crop for late November. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil for your pumpkin patch. Pumpkins can be grown in small gardens or containers if you need more space. Plant your pumpkin seeds about 1 inch deep and should be placed 6 feet in either direction, except for the bush types. Plant 3-4 seeds per hill, then thin when the plants are 2-4 inches tall.
Once your pumpkin seeds have sprouted, it’s time to start caring for your plants. Pumpkins need consistent moisture to grow, so be sure to water them regularly. Aim to give your plants about 1-2 inches of water per week. Water thoroughly after planting to help the seeds settle in. Climbing varieties like Seminole can be trellised for more space while using slings to support larger fruits. Use a balanced fertilizer to help your pumpkins grow strong and healthy. Apply the fertilizer according to the package instructions. Pumpkins do well with large amounts of compost. Place compost under each hill before seeding. Side dress with a handful every three weeks or as needed. Keep an eye out for pests such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles, which can damage your plants. If you notice any signs of pests or disease, treat your plants with a pesticide or fungicide as needed.
Like other cucurbits, pumpkins need bees for pollination to produce fruit. Bees are the primary pollinators for pumpkins, so make sure to plant flowers and other plants that attract bees to your garden. Each plant holds male and female flowers, and knowing the difference between them is essential. Male flowers have a long, thin stem and no fruit behind the flower. Female flowers have a swollen, bulbous base that will eventually become pumpkins. It’s essential to have a good balance of male and female flowers to ensure a proper fruit set. If large-size fruits are desired, keep only two fruits on the vine. Once two fruits are the size of baseballs, remove all others as they form.
Harvest and Storage
Pumpkins are ready to harvest when the skin is hard, and the stem is dry and brown. Cut the stem about 2 inches above the pumpkin. After harvesting, allow your pumpkins to cure in a cool, dry place for 10-14 days. Curing helps the skin to harden and protect the pumpkin from pests and diseases. Once your pumpkins are cured, store them in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. Avoid storing them on concrete or damp surfaces, which can cause them to rot. Pumpkins keep for a few weeks, but long-term storage of 1–4 months is challenging in Florida. Store them in a dry (70% RH) and cool (50–60°F) place where possible.
It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year. It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.
Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all. This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well.
Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within. Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals. This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase. If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process. Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services.
Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth. Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful. If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration. Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site. If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings. The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance. Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range). Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information.
The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light. Space should be considered both above and below ground. With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height? If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option. Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant. If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas. Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option. Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil. If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment.
The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one. As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking. Enjoy your gardening experience.
Many of the Mexican petunia plants, Ruellia simplex, growing in the landscape along the Gulf Coast are covered in white patches. The leaves appear to be growing fur, actual hairs, much denser than the dust of powdery mildew fungus. Excessive development of leaf trichomes, or surface hairs is referred to as erinea. The “fuzz” is the plant’s response to the feeding of eriophyid mites, also called gall mites. These native tiny, microscopic mites feed on the Mexican petunia leaves and stems, causing the plant to produce the white velvety masses. The distorted tissue provides shelter so the mites can continue to feed without being impacted by the weather or contact pesticide applications. Hot, dry conditions favor mite population increases. We have had plenty of that. However, the native mites are not likely to kill the invasive Mexican petunia, so they are not acting as an effective biological control for the plant.
Control of this native eriophyid mite begins with heavy foliage removal. Cutting the plants back to just a few inches above the ground removes the infested portion of the plant. The pruned parts need to be placed in a tightly sealed plastic bag before being sent to the landfill. If the location allows burning on-site, that is an even better option. Remember that these mites can feed on many other plants if allowed to escape. They have caused galls in crape myrtle, loropetalum, and hollies, as well as, vectoring diseases like rose rosette.
Then comes the tough decision. If the Mexican petunia is not one of the new sterile cultivars should the new growth be protected as it grows back? If you didn’t plant them or don’t remember what they were called when you purchased them, there is still a way to determine whether they are the invasive Mexican petunia or not. Invasive Mexican petunia produces seed after flowering. Were there any seed pods on the pruned parts? If so, you may consider killing off the entire planting. Several applications of a total vegetation herbicide with surfactant will remove them, leaving you a spot for a new purple flower, maybe a porterweed (Stachytarpheta), verbena or blue salvia.
If your plants are sterile (have no seed pods), an application of horticultural oil and/or a miticide like abamectin sprayed with each flush of new growth will produce a pretty bed of purple flowers in a short period of time.
Recently our area has experienced multiple severe wind events. You may have noticed some light to moderate damage to some of the trees in your yard. You may have even experienced severe damage or a complete failure of a tree on your or a neighbor’s property. While a complete failure or severe damage pose obvious hazards and need removal, it is the more minor to moderate damage that often raises questions on how to address the issue. Hanging broken branches are often called “Hangers” in forestry or tree care circles. These are often smaller to mid-sized branches which have partially broken off but are still lodged in the tree. After several weeks to a month the foliage starts to die and turn brown, and these “hangers” become obvious in trees that received damage. How do you assess these and when should you get a professional involved? Do they pose a potential health issue if not removed?
These broken limbs are becoming quite noticeable as they die and turn brown. It is important to make good decisions on how to handle these hanging dead branches and how to maintain your tree. Often these hangers are more unsightly than anything else, especially if they are small. Larger ones may pose a risk of damage or injury if they are located over a structure or may fall in an area frequented by people. Most of these hangers will break and dislodge over time, especially in wind events. You should consider the risk posed by the hanging limb, the difficulty and cost of addressing it, and the risk posed by the limb falling. For trees that got noticeable damage with several larger limbs broken, having some repair and rejuvenation pruning done is often good for tree health. You may be able to address some issues yourself if you are handy with a pole pruner and the broken limb is in reach. Anyone attempting even light tree work should be aware of risks posed by falling limbs and use of pole saws. Remember to never attempt to climb trees yourself or perform tree trimming from a ladder or height, as this is fundamentally unsafe. Even limbs which may be safely reached from the ground with a pole pruner can pose risks of injury. If you are attempting to remove some of these hangers with a pole pruner, be very cautious and use good safety techniques. You need to make sure the branch has a landing zone, and you are well clear of it when using a pole saw or pruner. Be aware of vines and other entanglements, and do not work around or within the right of way of electrical or other lines. Larger limbs and those not reachable from the ground should be considered outside the scope of homeowners and left to professionals.
Here is a quick reference guide for how to size up any broken or damaged limbs in your tree and address the situation
Small branches and branch tips with a diameter of the broken branch is 1 inch or less and the branch is hanging or lodged. These size hangers pose little risk and are mostly unsightly. They should fall out of the tree on their own over time. These may be trimmed out slightly behind the break of those within reach of a pole pruner.
Small to Medium branches-1-3 inches in diameter. The branch has partially broken or has completely broken and is lodged in another branch. Branches this size can do some light to moderate damage if they fall on a roof, fence, or other structure. If the branch overhangs areas where people or pets frequent it could cause injuries if it fails. If the branch does not pose a hazard or danger it should dislodge on its own over time. Consider removing these if they pose a risk. They can be removed from the ground with a pole pruner or pole saw but be very cautious as branches this size can easily injure someone that is in the fall zone. Consult a professional if a lift or climbing is required.
Large Canopy Branches 3 inches and larger. These are significant branches and can hold a significant amount of weight. If they are partially broken, hung, or lodged in the tree they may come out at any time and do significant damage or cause injury. These branches are beyond the tools and scope of homeowners, and the damage may require some recovery pruning to keep the tree healthy. Consult with a professional and consider having the damage removed and tree properly trimmed.
Main Branch and Trunk Failures- This is significant damage to the tree which can make it unsound or susceptible to disease in the future. If large main branches have failed, the top has completely failed, or part of the trunk has cracked or split from the damage; major damage has occurred and the tree may not recover. If your tree has suffered this level of damage consult a professional with a tree service and have a certified arborist examine the tree.
It can be hard to tell from the ground what level of damage a tree sustained until the brown foliage appears past the break. Once you can identify what type of damage occurred you can better determine what action is needed. For small branches it may be best just to wait for them to come out naturally or prune them out if this can be done safely with a pole pruner. For larger branches or more severe damage a professional is the best bet. For those hangers that pose a risk to structures or people in an area removal is best, as these could fall at any time and cause damage or injury. Remember never to attempt tree work yourself especially if it involves climbing or working from heights. You can find a certified arborist at www.treesaregood.org to address large limbs and significant damage. A good arborist can help you rehabilitate a tree that has had only moderate damage from a storm. If you are unsure of where to start with a tree that has wind damage, consult your local extension office for some advice.
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.
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. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/irrigation
We are nearing the end of the NO MOW MARCH launch that several counties participated in this month. Maybe you have been mowing this month because you live in an area where it is required or maybe you were able to go the whole month but now you are wondering what’s next. The fact is that keeping a lawn healthy can maximize plant use and minimize environmental adverse impacts. In this article we will talk about the steps to help keep a healthy lawn.
Mowing is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a good quality lawn. When using proper mowing practices along with fertilization and irrigation, you can increase the density of your turfgrass. This produces a tighter lawn that the weeds cannot compete with and naturally reduces those unwanted weeds. Cutting height and frequency are the most important factors to consider when mowing. This will vary by turfgrass species, cultivar, and maintenance level of lawn desired. If too much leaf tissue is removed at one mowing cycle it can cause your turfgrass to stress. Over time the damage could be insects, disease, drought and sunscald. Leaf clippings are beneficial to the turf and give back nutrients and organic matter to the lawn. Some other helpful tips are to keep your mower blades sharp, do not mow grass when wet (I know this can be very difficult when we get into the rainy season.), and if you have several properties that you are mowing it is good to remove clippings and weed seeds from the mower. These tips can help improve the appearance and greatly reduce insect and disease infestation. For more details on your specific type of lawn refer to this document: ENH10/LH028: Mowing Your Florida Lawn (ufl.edu)
Turf can benefit from fertilization but only if done correctly. Timing and the appropriate rate can help maintain a healthy Florida-Friendly lawn. The turf roots and shoots need to be actively growing and this can vary depending on the use of the area, water stress (presence of rain or irrigation) and the environment of where the grass is grown. For North and Central Florida active growth occurs from spring through fall. Our neighbors down in South Florida can see growth year-round. Fertilizing when your grass is dormant not only wastes time and money, but it may also contribute to nutrient leaching or runoff. This is the perfect time of year to do a soil test to see exactly what nutrients are available and what your soil is lacking. This article will give you more insight on soil testing for Florida turfgrasses SL 181/SS317: Soil Testing and Interpretation for Florida Turfgrasses (ufl.edu)
There are many benefits to having healthy turfgrass. It can slow stormwater from moving to water bodies. Healthy turf can filter and remove contaminants and help protect our ground water. Leaching and erosion are also reduced when you have healthy dense turfgrass. In Florida there are environmental stresses that may alter the required management level and health of the turf. Using proper cultural practices can alleviate the effects of stress. For instance, during times of drought do not try to fertilize until water is available, increase mowing heights in shaded areas to avoid thinning, and avoid effects of vehicle and foot traffic on stressed turf. ENH979/EP236: Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn (ufl.edu)
Just by hitting on some of these key aspects such as the mowing height, cultural practices and the timing and rate of your fertilizer can make a difference in the health of your turf. Remember a healthy dense turf means less weeds and less insect and disease pressure later in the season. For more information or questions concerning your lawn please contact your local extension office!