Correcting 3 Common Tomato Growing Mistakes

Correcting 3 Common Tomato Growing Mistakes

2022 has been a good tomato growing year for many Panhandle gardeners, myself included.  It would have been difficult to have better climatic conditions to aid a terrific tomato harvest.  After enduring a late frost just before Easter, the Panhandle then experienced two mild months in April and May that combined with nearly a month of dry weather during fruit development to deliver an excellent fruit set season with minimal disease and insect pressure.  However, despite the favorable growing conditions, I have talked with several gardeners that once again struggled to yield a good crop of fresh garden tomatoes.  Why is that?  With the Panhandle tomato home gardening season nearing its conclusion, now is a perfect time to revisit 3 of the most common mistakes that prevent an excellent harvest!

Not Starting Early – Since Memorial Day, the rain and heat have really ramped up.  These hot, wet conditions are perfect for developing tomato plant problems like fungal and bacterial diseases, not to mention the fact that tomato plants will stop setting fruit once nighttime temperatures rise above 75 F.  While spraying fungicides preventatively can certainly help decrease disease incidence, the absolute best thing a gardener can do is try to get ahead of the disease-bringing heat and humidity by starting plants early when more favorable growing conditions prevail.  So, what is early?  I try to have tomato transplants in the ground by March 15 or soon after*.  If you plan to grow plants from seed, they should be started indoors mid-January for planting outdoors in mid-March.  Most tomato varieties take between 60 and 80 days to mature after planting, so a mid-March planting date normally yields harvestable tomatoes by the middle of May, comfortably beating the June disease deadline.  *Planting early means protecting plants from occasional late frosts.  Be prepared!

Not Scouting Your Plants – Pest and disease problems are a lot easier to manage if caught early and the best way to do that is to spend time with your plants.  If you scout (just walking by and giving plants a short inspection) daily, you’ll learn what tomato plants and the beneficial insects that hang around all the time are supposed to look like an and be able to spot abnormalities and bad bugs when they occur.  While tomato diseases and pest outbreaks can certainly cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time, they don’t reach disastrous levels immediately – be vigilant and catch them early!

Not Fertilizing and Watering Correctly – It takes a lot of energy for a tomato plant to grow a nice, bushy plant AND yield an abundance of America’s favorite vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you ask).  To produce that necessary energy, gardeners must ensure plants receive adequate nutrition and water.  Here’s my general prescription.  At planting, apply a general purpose, slow-release fertilizer according to the label rate (for example, Osmocote, Harrell’s, or similar) and gypsum (a calcium supplement that helps prevent blossom end rot) at one pound per hundred square feet of garden.  Then, supplement later in the season with a quick-release general purpose fertilizer sufficient to drive growth and fruit development.  Watering is more of an ongoing concern.  For the first couple of weeks of the tomato plant’s life, you can get by with watering once a day or every other day.  As the plants get larger and the days get hotter however, watering twice daily is often needed to prevent wilting down in the heat of the day.  Allowing tomato plants to wilt, even for a little while, is an excellent way to encourage blossom end rot and a subpar harvest!

When tomato season rolls around in 2023, remember to start early, scout often, and water and fertilize correctly.  Follow those few tips and you’ll be well on your way to a great harvest in 2023!  For more information about growing tomatoes or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office at 850-674-8323 or email d.leonard@ufl.edu.  Happy Gardening!

 

 

Using Clover as a Winter Garden Cover Crop

Using Clover as a Winter Garden Cover Crop

One of the major recent movements in production agriculture has been the widespread adoption of cover crops.  This practice gives farmers a host of benefits, from erosion prevention to nutrient retention and recycling.  However, using cover crops isn’t just for large scale farming operations.  Hobby vegetable gardeners can absolutely employ similar systems on a smaller scale to reap the same benefits.  For the past two years, I’ve used Buckwheat to provide a soil building cover during the heat of summer between spring and fall gardens.  This winter, after my fall greens garden succumbed to frost, I decided to employ the same tactic with a mix of Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), White Clover (Trifolium Repens), and Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) to enhance my soil during the coldest months until spring tomato planting arrives!

Clover mix used as a cool season cover crop in raised beds. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.

While there are many different species of plants (rye, oats, wheat, various brassicas, etc.) that can be planted in November or December as cool season covers to deliver benefits like winter weed suppression, enhance soil organic matter, retain and harvest leftover nutrients, and provide habitat for beneficial insects, I chose Clover for an additional reason.  In addition to the above benefits, Clover is a legume and also fixes atmospheric nitrogen, making it available for subsequent plantings!  Not only is Clover an excellent soil cover, but it also provides some nitrogen fertilizer to the following vegetable garden!

Growing Clover, while not quite as simple as Buckwheat or small grain covers like oats and rye, is relatively easy for most gardeners.  The first step is selecting which clover species and/or variety to grow.  I chose a mix of Crimson, White, and Red Clover simply because I had several pounds of each left over from a previous field planting.  However, any one of the three may be used by themselves or in various combinations.  All are excellent choices for garden cover crops and have similar growing requirements.  Crimson Clover is the most readily available, but all three species can be found at most farm and garden supply stores.

The next step is to prep your garden beds for clover seeding.  I thoroughly remove weeds from my raised beds, lightly till the top couple of inches of soil, and rake to provide a level surface.  Since clover seed is tiny, a smooth, clean seedbed is a must for excellent germination.  Once this is done, your next should determine how much seed to plant.  Recommended clover seeding rates are usually given on a per acre basis and range from 3-4 lbs/acre (White Clover) to 20-25 lbs/acre (Crimson Clover).  Given these seeding rates, planting in a 4’x8’ (32 ft2) raised bed is only going to require a miniscule amount of seed.

Clover mix used as a cool season cover crop in raised beds. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

To ensure a good stand while minimizing risk of overplanting, I mix equal parts clover seed and either sand, vermiculite, or other media similar in size to clover seed and hand scatter over the surface of my beds, making sure to uniformly cover the entire bed.  If you think the stand is too thick, you can always hand-thin after emergence.

As a group, clovers prefer moist soil that is not allowed to dry out completely.  This isn’t usually a problem given the Panhandle’s frequent rainy cold fronts in winter, but if rainfall is inconsistent, some irrigation will be required.  Supplemental fertilizer isn’t normally necessary when planting a clover cover in vegetable gardens because nutrients remaining from the previous veggie crops are usually sufficient for growth and development (N especially is not needed as legumes produce their own through N fixation).  2-3 weeks before you’re ready to plant your spring veggies, chop the clover cover into the top few inches of your bed to terminate it and release its nutrients back into the garden.  It’s that easy!

Planting a winter legume cover crop like clover is a great way to harness the benefits of cover crops for your spring veggies and enhance the aesthetics of your otherwise barren and drab garden beds!  For more information about growing winter cover crops or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy Gardening!

Landscape  Q & A

Landscape Q & A

On August 12, 2021, our panel answered questions on a wide variety of landscape topics. Maybe you are asking the same questions, so read on!

Ideas on choosing plants

What are some perennials that can be planted this late in the summer but will still bloom through the cooler months into fall?

Duranta erecta ‘Sapphire Showers’ or ‘Gold Mound’, firespike, Senna bicapsularis, shrimp plant, lion’s ear

Where can native plants be obtained?

Dune sunflower, Helianthus debilis. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.

Gardening Solutions: Florida Native Plants  – see link to FANN: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/native-plants.html

What are some evergreen groundcover options for our area?

Mondo grass, Japanese plum yew, shore juniper, ajuga, ferns such as autumn fern.

What are some ideas for partial morning sun butterfly attracting tall flowers to plant now?

Milkweed, salt and pepper plant, swamp sunflower, dune sunflower, ironweed, porterweed, and salt bush.

I’m interested in moving away from a monoculture lawn. What are some suggestions for alternatives?

Perennial peanut, powderpuff mimosa, and frogfruit.

We are new to Florida and have questions about everything in our landscape.

Florida-Friendly-Landscaping TM Program and FFL Web Apps: https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/

https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/apps/

UF IFAS Gardening Solutions: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/

What are some of the top trends in landscaping today?

Houseplants, edible gardens, native plants, food forests, attracting wildlife, container gardening, and zoysiagrass lawns

Edibles

Artwork broccoli is a variety that produces small heads. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.

What vegetables are suitable for fall/winter gardening?

Cool Season Vegetables: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/cool-season-vegetables.html

North Florida Gardening Calendar: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP451%20%20%20

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/vh021

How can I add herbs to my landscape?

Herbs in the Florida Garden: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/herbs.html

My figs are green and hard. When do they ripen?

Why Won’t My Figs Ripen: https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/rbogren/articles/page1597952870939

What is best soil for raised bed vegetable gardens?

Gardening in Raised Beds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP472

And there are always questions about weeds

How can I eradicate cogongrass?

Chamber bitter is a troublesome warm season weed in our region. Photo credit: Brantlee Spakes Richter, University of Florida, Bugwood.org

Cogongrass: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/WG202

Is it okay to use cardboard for weed control?

The Cardboard Controversy: https://gardenprofessors.com/the-cardboard-controversy/

What is the best way to control weeds in grass and landscape beds?

Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP141

Improving Weed Control in Landscape Planting Beds: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP52300.pdf

Landscape practices

Can ground water be brackish and stunt plants?

Reclaimed Water Use in the Landscape: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ss545

How can I prevent erosion from rainwater runoff? 

Stormwater Runoff Control – NRCS: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/water/?cid=nrcs144p2_027171

Rain Gardens: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/rain-gardens.html

And https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/articles/rain-garden-manual-hillsborough.pdf

What is the best time of the year to propagate flowering trees in zone 8B?

Landscape Plant Propagation Information Page – UF/IFAS Env. Hort: https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/lppi/

Which type of mulch works best on slopes greater than 3 percent?

Landscape Mulches: How Quickly do they Settle?: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FR052

When should bulbs be fertilized?

Bulbs and More – UI Extension: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/bulbs/planting.cfm

Should I cut the spent blooms of agapanthus?

Agapanthus, extending the bloom time: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/agapanthus.html

http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/2020/10/07/extending-bloom-time/

Plant questions

Monarch caterpillar munching on our native sandhill milkweed, Asclepias humistrata. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF IFAS Extension.

I planted native milkweed and have many monarch caterpillars. Should I protect them or leave them in nature?

It’s best to leave them in place. Featured Creatures: Monarch Butterfly: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/IN/IN780/IN780-Dxyup8sjiv.pdf

How does Vinca (periwinkle) do in direct sun? Will it make it through one of our panhandle summers? Can I plant in late August?

Periwinkles  and  No more fail with Cora series: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/periwinkles.html#:~:text=Plant%20your%20periwinkles%20where%20they,rot%20if%20irrigated%20too%20frequently.

Insect and disease pests

What to do if you get termites in your raised bed?

The Facts About Termites and Mulch: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN651

How to combat fungus?

Guidelines for ID and Management of Plant Disease Problems: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/mg442

Are there preventative measures to prevent diseases when the humidity is very high and it is hot?

Fungi in Your Landscape by Maxine Hunter: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/marionco/2020/01/16/fungi-in-your-landscape/

 

If you missed an episode, check out our playlist on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp0HfdEkIQw&list=PLhgoAzWbtRXImdFE8Jdt0jsAOd-XldNCd

 

Five Reasons for Lack of Fruiting in Figs

Five Reasons for Lack of Fruiting in Figs

Q. One of my two fig trees has produced a few figs. The other one, which is the largest and healthiest tree, has never had a fig on it. Both where planted six years ago. Why is it not producing?

Section of mature fig tree with ripe fruit

Mature fig tree with fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams

A. It may be a matter of age and being overly vigorous. When a fruit tree is younger, it puts most of its energy into producing leaves and shoots. Until the plant becomes mature and slows down in the production of leaves and shoots, it will produce few to no fruit. It may take a year or two more for your tree to slowly and gradually switch from producing mostly leaves and shoots to producing and maturing some fruit. Patience is needed.

Be careful to not overdo it in fertilizing and/or pruning your fig tree. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, or severely pruning the tree will result in the tree becoming overly vigorous at the expense of setting and maturing fruit. This includes fertilizer that the tree may pull up from a nearby lawn area. A tree’s roots will grow outward two to three times beyond its branch spread into adjacent lawn areas.

The end result of being heavy handed with fertilizing and/or overdoing it in pruning is the same – it forces the plant to become overly vigorous in producing leaves and shoots at the expense of producing and maturing fruit.

In addition, the following is taken from an Extension publication on figs and includes the most common reasons for lack of fruiting, in order of importance.

  1. Young, vigorous plants and over-fertilized plants will often produce fruit that drops off before maturing. If plants are excessively vigorous, stop fertilizing them. Quite often, three of four years may pass before the plant matures a crop because figs have a long juvenile period before producing edible quality fruit.
  2. Dry, hot periods that occur before ripening can cause poor fruit quality. If this is the case, mulching and supplemental watering during dry spells will reduce the problem.
  3. The variety Celeste will often drop fruit prematurely in hot weather regardless of the quality of plant care. However, it is still a good variety to grow.
  4. An infestation of root-knot nematodes can intensify the problem when conditions are as described in item 2.
  5. You could have a fig tree that requires cross-pollination by a special wasp. This is a rare problem. If this is the case, then it will never set a good crop. The best way to resolve this is to replace the plant with a rooted shoot of a neighbor’s plant you know produces a good crop each year.
Strawberries, a Cold Hardy Delight in Florida

Strawberries, a Cold Hardy Delight in Florida

Who doesn’t like strawberries, right? Backyard gardeners grow these low-growing herbs throughout the state and there is a significant commercial industry too, as Florida’s climate is ideal for cool season production.

Strawberries like well-drained sandy soils, so they’re a perfect fit for many areas in the Panhandle. Strawberries should be planted in the months of October or November as the plants are quite cold hardy. Shorter days and temperatures between 50°F and 80°F are ideal for fruit development.

Photo Credit: Cristina Carriz, UF/IFAS

Strawberries are also very versatile. You can plant them in the ground, in raised beds or even containers. Transplants should be planted 12” to 18” apart, with 12” row spacing. For best results, use a rich soil balanced with compost and sandy soil and both fertilize and water regularly. Mixing in 2 ½ pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer into a 10’ x 10’ bed space should be sufficient to start. A sprinkle of fertilizer applied monthly throughout the growing season should also help ensure a solid yield.

Berry production begins to ramp up roughly 90 days after planting, but plants will continue to produce throughout the spring. When the weather gets warmer, the plants start to expend energy into producing runners instead of fruit. These runners will be new fruit producing plants for next season.

Transplants can be purchased from most garden centers. There are many varieties on the market, but “Florida-Friendly” cultivars include “Sweet Charlie”, “Camarosa”, “Chandler”, “Oso Grande”, “Selva”, and “Festival”. “Camarosa” has proven to be the most productive variety in North Florida. Any of these varieties are capable of producing two pints of fruit per plant.

As stated earlier, Florida has a significant strawberry industry and UF/IFAS has a supporting role. The UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC) is home to the Strawberry Breeding Program. Cultivars are developed by traditional means, for the Florida commercial industry on an 11,000+ acres research site. Appearance, shelf life, sweet flavor and disease resistance are just some of the areas of selected breading research that is conducted on site. There is also a white strawberry soon to be released!

Photo Credit: Cristina Carriz, UF/IFAS

For more information, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found at the website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/fruits/strawberries.html

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.