There aren’t many more frustrating things than growing seemingly healthy tomatoes, those plants setting an abundance of flower and fruit, and then, once your tomatoes get about the size of a golf ball, having the fruit rot away from the base. This very common condition, called Blossom End Rot (BER), is caused one of two ways: by either a soil calcium deficiency or disruption of soil calcium uptake by the plant. Fortunately, preventing BER from occurring and then realizing an awesome crop of tasty tomato fruit is relatively simple and home gardeners have a couple of possible preventative solution!
Blossom End Rot damage. Photo Courtesy Larry Williams, Okaloosa County Extension.
- Soil Test & Lime if Needed. The only way to really know if your soil calcium level is sufficient is through a soil test. A complete soil test through the UF Soil Lab or other lab measures both raw nutrient levels and pH. Testing for pH is especially critical. For calcium, either already in the soil or in a supplement you apply, to be available to tomato plants, soil pH needs to be between 6.0-7. In more “acidic” soil pH below 6, nutrients like iron and aluminum become more available to your tomato plants, outcompeting calcium for uptake into the roots. We don’t want that. If your soil test indicates a pH below 6, it will give a lime recommendation somewhere between 3-5 lbs/100 ft sq of garden area to raise the pH to the sweet spot between 6.0-7.0 where your tomatoes will thrive.
- Use a Non-Lime Calcium Supplement. If you’ve had your soil tested and your pH is fine, adding more lime as a calcium supplement isn’t helpful. Using lime as an additional calcium source can actually lift pH above that 6.0-7.0 zone and cause other problems. At this point, once pH is where we want it, I like to add a non-lime calcium supplement. There are lots of options here. Traditional fertilizers labeled for tomatoes and veggies tend to have a good calcium content in the 6-10% range and work great. However, if you’re into organic gardening or just don’t need the extra nutrient value of a complete fertilizer, Gypsum is a good calcium supplement and is widely available. Regardless of which non-lime source you choose, apply at planting or shortly after and follow label rates for best results.
- Water Properly. Consistent watering is key in helping ward off BER. Though we know BER is generally
Healthy ‘Big Beef’ tomatoes grown in 2019 with a pH of 6.5, amended with Gypsum at planting, and watered regularly each day! Notice no BER. Photo courtesy the author.
caused by calcium deficiency, it can be induced by creation of distinct wet and dry periods from non-regular watering, interfering with calcium uptake and availability to the plant. So, while you may have adequate soil calcium, if you don’t water correctly, the condition will happen anyway! It’s also good to keep in mind that mature tomato plants use large quantities of water daily, so during the heat of summer, plants in containers may need to be watered multiple times daily to maintain consistently moist soil. Think about it, you don’t drink 8 glasses of water when you wake up and then never drink again throughout a hot day. A tomato is no different. Allowing your plants to wilt down before providing additional water ruins productivity and can induce BER.
Blossom End Rot, while one of the more destructive fates of tomatoes, is totally preventable by a little legwork early in the growing game from you! Soil test and change pH with lime if needed, add a shot of calcium through a tomato blend fertilizer or non-lime supplement like gypsum, and water regularly! Do these three things and you’ll be well on your way to a great crop of early summer tomatoes. If you have any questions about tomato blossom end rot or any other horticulture or agricultural topic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office. Take advantage of this beautiful spring weather and get in the garden today! Happy gardening.
Cruciferous vegetables, mostly cool-season annuals in the Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae) family, are part of a healthy diet, prized for their high fiber content and unique sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates. This vegetable family includes things many of us love (or love to hate) like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard, turnips, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage. They’re also commonly grown in Panhandle gardens. However, as anyone who has grown these species knows, some are easier than others. For example, kale and radish are among the easiest of all plants to grow. But get beyond the basics and folks often run into difficulty with species like broccoli and cabbage. The high rainfall/humidity and frequent warm spells experienced here during the growing season often lead to serious pathogen problems, dooming my garden in years past. However, this winter, thanks to a couple of new cultivars, ‘Capture’ Cabbage and ‘Burgundy’ Sprouting Broccoli, I’ve enjoyed a plentiful supply of tasty crucifers!
4’x 8′ raised bed planted with ‘Capture’ on 24″ centers.
‘Capture’ Cabbage, developed by Bejo Seeds of California as a mid-season “white” fresh market cabbage for the South, has been an outstanding performer in my garden this year. Touted as highly resistant to Black Rot and Fusarium Yellows (by far the two most devastating pathogens of Cabbage), I had to try it for myself. I planted seeds 24” apart in my standard 4’ wide x 8’ long x 12” deep raised beds filled with mushroom compost and aged pine bark. Seedlings were fertilized once about three weeks after germination with a general purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer. The plants that developed have been extremely vigorous (I’m glad I paid attention to plant spacing guidelines on the seed packet!) and have not shown ANY evidence of disease, even through an unusually warm and wet winter that would have hammered older susceptible varieties. My plants have begun to develop heads and should be ready for harvest and the kitchen in just a couple more weeks! If you’ve had problems getting a cabbage from germination to head formation and harvest without serious disease pressure, give ‘Capture’ a try next fall!
‘Burgundy’ Broccoli in the author’s raised bed garden.
‘Burgundy’ Broccoli, developed by Elsom Seeds in the United Kingdom, is a unique variety sure to turn heads in your garden. True to its name, the prolific florets are a deep, purple color. Though the central “head” on ‘Burgundy’ is quite small, that’s not the primary feature anyway. Considered a “sprouting” broccoli, this cultivar puts out an abundance of side shoots that make ‘Burgundy’ sort of a cut-and-come-again broccoli, allowing for a long harvest window. Another advantage from a disease avoidance perspective is the short maturity time (the time from planting seeds to having harvestable shoots) of around 40 days! For perspective, a “regular” heading broccoli has a maturity of around 60 day, lots more time for problems to happen. In the same growing conditions described above for cabbage, ‘Burgundy’ performed amazingly well for me, growing strong, healthy stalks, large, unblemished leaves and an abundance of purple shoots with a nice flavor profile!
If you want to enjoy homegrown broccoli and cabbage but disease pressures have made your previous efforts unproductive, give ‘Capture’ Cabbage and ‘Burgundy’ Broccoli a try! These two selections have made it easier than ever to enjoy unique, homegrown, healthy cruciferous veggies. Keep these and other quality, disease-resistant cultivars in mind when planning your winter garden in 2020!
A couple weeks ago, I was on a site visit to check out some issues on Canary Island Date Palms. The account manager on the property requested a site visit because he thought the palms were infested with scale insects. He noticed the issue on a number of the properties he manages and he was concerned it was an epidemic. From a distance, lower fronds were yellowing from the outside in and the tips were necrotic. These are signs of potassium deficiency with possible magnesium deficiency mixed in.
Transitional leaf showing potassium deficiency (tip) and magnesium deficiency (base) symptoms. Photo Credit: T.K. Broschat, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Nutrient deficiencies are slow to correct in palm trees. It’s much easier to prevent deficiencies from occurring by using a palm fertilizer that has the analysis 8N-2P2O5-12K2O+4Mg with micronutrients. Even if the palms are part of a landscape which includes turf and other plants that require additional nitrogen, it is best to use a palm fertilizer with the analysis previously listed over a radius at least 25 feet out from the palms. However, poor nutrition wasn’t the only problem with these palms.
Upon closer look, the leaflets were speckled with little bumps. Each bump had a little white tail. These are the fruiting structures of graphiola leaf spot also known as false smut.
Graphiola leaf spot (false smut) on a Canary Island Date Palm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Graphiola leaf spot is a fungal leaf disease caused by Graphiola phoenicis. Canary Island Date Palms are especially susceptible to this disease. Graphiola leaf spot is primarily an aesthetic issue and doesn’t cause much harm to the palms infected. In fact, the nutrient deficiencies observed in these palms are much more detrimental to their health.
Graphiola leaf spot affects the lower fronds first. If the diseased, lower fronds are not showing signs of nutrient deficiencies then they can be pruned off and removed from the site. All naturally fallen fronds should be removed from the site to reduce the likelihood of fungal spores being splashed onto the healthy, living fronds. A fungicide containing copper can be applied to help prevent the spread of the disease, but it will not cure the infected fronds. Palms can be a beautiful addition to the landscape and most diseases and abiotic disorders can be managed and prevented with proper pruning, correct fertilizer rates, and precise irrigation.
Seldom do we find the answer to a problem as being easy. More often, a difficult and complicated answer is what’s needed. However, the solution to a healthy lawn rebound may be found simply by adjusting your mower height and mowing schedule.
Mowing strategy is an important variable that keeps a lawn healthy and flourishing, no matter the species or cultivar of grass. Mowing too high can lead to an undesirable look and cause unwanted thatch buildup, which can create a favorable environment for pests and diseases. Mowing too low can weaken the root system causing thinning, which allows space for weeds to invade. Another problem with mowing too low is that it affects nutritional needs. Lawn grasses generate food for themselves through a process called photosynthesis. A healthy leaf surface area is needed to effectively accomplish this. If the lawn is mowed too low, then leaf surface area is lost. The grass can literally starve itself.
Table: Suggested mowing height for lawn grasses. Frequency of cut will vary based on species and time of year. Credit: L. E. Trenholm, J. B. Unruh & J. L. Cisar, UF/IFAS Extensio
Not all lawn grasses should be mowed at the same height, as show in the table above. Fine textured grasses like Bermuda and Zoysia matrella can be cut significantly lower than coarse textured grasses, such as Bahia or St. Augustine. Not sure of the type of lawn grass you have? Visit this site https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_book_florida_lawn_handbook_3rd_ed to review the Florida Lawn Handbook or contact your local county extension office for questions.
Mowing schedule is the other side of the coin. How often to mow ultimately depends on how fast your grass grows. By nature, Bermuda will grow quickly and Zoysia is somewhat slower growing. Regardless, summer months are when warm-season lawn grasses grow more rapidly. Historically, lawn grasses begin a dormant-slow growth stage in October and continues through March. Fertilizer schedule also plays a role in grass growth rate. So how often do you need to mow? This rate is best determined by the amount of growth since the last cutting, rather than the number of days which have elapsed. You should mow often enough so that no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the total leaf surface is removed at any given mowing. In other words, leave twice as much leaf surface as you cut off. Remember, incremental adjustments should be made to your current practices. Never drastically change the height of the grass. If the lawn has been allowed to grow too long, you should gradually lower the mowing height on successive cuttings.
What are some other helpful tips? Always use a well-adjusted mower with a sharpened blade. You may find it easier replace your blade each year or every 2 years than periodic resharpening. Dull mower blades do a tremendous amount of damage with uneven cuts. This will cause gashes and splits in the leaf where fungal and bacterial pathogens can thrive. Never mow grass when it’s wet, either. Dry grass cuts are cleaner cuts and won’t clog the mower deck. If you have built up thatch, it’s a good idea to attach a bag to your mower that will catch clippings. These clippings will be great additions to your compost pile or to use as natural mulch. If no thatch problems exist, mowing without a bag will distribute clippings throughout the lawn, and the clippings will decompose into nutrients for the root system.
With proper mowing strategies, along with fertilizing & watering, your lawn grass can bounce back. For more information contact your local county extension office.
Information for this article provided by the UF/IFAS Extension EDIS Publication, “Mowing Your Florida Lawn”, by L. E. Trenholm, J. B. Unruh & J. L. Cisar: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/LH/LH02800.pdf
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Though Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) fruit isn’t much more than a thick green hull, slime and seeds and the plant itself is impossibly irritating to the skin, few plants are as integral to Southern heritage. In my mind, okra is among the best vegetables Panhandle gardeners can grow. Not only is it a gorgeous plant – Okra belongs to the Mallow family which also includes beauties like Hibiscus and Cotton – but it’s exceedingly versatile in the kitchen, excellent fried, grilled, roasted, boiled (though you have to acquire a taste for slimy textures to enjoy this method) and most famously, as a thickening agent in Cajun gumbo. Because of this exalted status in Southern culture, whether you enjoy eating okra or not, it’s almost mandatory here to include the plant in one’s garden. Most gardeners stick with the old standard varieties such as ‘Clemson Spineless’ or ‘Cowhorn’ and there is nothing wrong with them, however, these plants are almost too prolific for most gardens (growing upwards of 6-7’), especially for those of us growing in the close confines of raised beds. In the search for a less rambunctious but still ultra-productive cultivar, this summer I trialed ‘Jambalaya’, an F1 hybrid developed by Sakata Seed in 2012, with impressive results!
‘Jambalaya’ Okra in the author’s garden.
From my experience growing the cultivar this summer, ‘Jambalaya’ merits consideration in the garden, and is a must for raised bed gardeners, for two primary reasons. First, it was bred to be compact and is considered a dwarf cultivar. This is an awesome attribute, as I typically end the growing season picking okra from a small ladder! Most seed purveyors tout the plant as reaching a maximum height of 3-4’ and while this estimate might be a little conservative, I can attest that ‘Jambalaya’ is greatly reduced in height compared to the standard cultivars. The second advantage of growing this variety is that it begins producing very early relative to its peers and bears heavily. ‘Jambalaya’ fruit begin to ripen in about 50 days, about ten days to two weeks earlier than ‘Clemson Spineless’, a definite advantage if rotating behind a late maturing spring crop like potatoes as I typically do. Though ‘Jambalaya’ is a dwarf plant, in no way are yields reduced. My specimens have produced continuously since late-July and will continue to do so as long as adequate fertility and consistent harvesting are provided.
‘Jambalaya’ flower & fruit production.
Like any other okra cultivar, ‘Jambalaya’ has a couple of basic requirements that must be met for plants to thrive. In general, all okra cultivars love Southern summers and patience sowing seed is recommended, allow the soil to warm to at least 70 degrees before planting. Okra also prefers full sun, at least 6 hours per day, any less and yields will be reduced and plants will stretch towards the light. Belonging to the Mallow family, okra requires consistent moisture, particularly when in the flowering and fruiting phase. Finally, it is critical to keep up with your okra harvest as the plants produce! Okra pods grow quickly and should be harvested when they are no more than 3-4” long and still tender, larger pods are tough to the point of being inedible!
‘Jambalaya’ in the author’s garden.
Whether you’re new to the okra growing game or you’re a seasoned gumbo gardener, I highly encourage you to give ‘Jambalaya’ Okra a look next summer. While ‘Jambalaya’ is available through many seed sources, Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells a conveniently small package perfect for backyard gardeners, though they’ll be happy to provide larger quantities as well. In ‘Jambalaya’ you’ll find a nice compact plant that won’t outgrow your space, provide you a summer long harvest of tender green pods, and will rival the ornamentals in your landscape for the title of prettiest plant on your property! Happy gardening and as always, if you have questions about vegetable gardening or any other horticultural or agronomic topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office!
As an unabashed plant enthusiast who’s been experimenting with new plant introductions (some not really “new”, just new to me) in his own landscape, and his parent’s yard before that (sorry guys for the ‘Charmed Wine’ Oxalis that now pops up unwanted every spring) for nearly two decades now, at this point I’m pretty hard to impress. However, last year Andrea Schnapp, a UF/IFAS Walton County Master Gardener, introduced me to a newish plant that has since changed the way I choose plants to color shady pots and planting beds, a little native of tropical South America called Bush Violet (Browallia spp.), specifically the hybrid ‘Endless Illumination’.
Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ on the author’s back porch.
For decades, the standard bedding plant for color in the shade in the Deep South has been Impatiens walleriana. However, in the last few years, a new disease called Impatiens Downy Mildew has wreaked habit on the bedding plant species, virtually eliminating it as a serious player in the horticulture industry. Fortunately, the fine folks at Proven Winners introduced ‘Endless Illumination’ a couple of years ago to fill the niche formerly occupied by old-fashioned Impatiens. And boy, is ‘Endless Illumination’ aptly named. The unending masses of star shaped flowers are an absolutely brilliant purple hue that does indeed light up shady areas in the landscape. I’ve encountered few plants put forth such a proliferous display of flowers for as long of a time as this Browallia selection has, and it doesn’t even require deadheading!
Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ flowers.
In addition to having one of the more striking color displays of any bedding plant, Browallia happens to be a vigorous grower with an extremely hardy constitution. I’ve found ‘Endless Illumination’s mature size as listed on the sales tag as being a little conservative, instead of the 16” tall x 14” wide stated, my samples have consistently grown more than the 16” listed in height and doubled the width, no complaints here as this just means more flowers! And though my experience with Browallia has strictly been in containers so far, it has weathered heat and bounced back from drought like a champ. It’s not super important to know that the container it occupies is sited under my back porch roof and therefore is subjected to human induced drought by my forgetting to water it, good performance in droughty conditions is good performance in droughty conditions! Finally, Browallia requires the bare minimum of fertilizer to thrive. A good topdressing of a slow-release fertilizer (rates according to the product’s label, of course) at planting and an identical refresher dose mid-summer have induced great performance and no noticeable nutrient deficiencies.
Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ flowers
A quick note before we adjourn, when perusing nurseries next spring for Browallia, you’ll likely encounter the sister cultivar of ‘Endless Illumination’ with white flowers, named ‘Endless Flirtation’. I’d encourage you to stick with the purple flowers of ‘Endless Illumination’ as I’ve found, through personal growing experience and anecdotes from other growers, ‘Endless Flirtation’ to be noticeably fussier than and not nearly as attractive as its sister plant.
Sometimes, the misfortunes of one plant are a merely an opportunity for another plant to claim its place in the flower bed. Browallia ‘Endless Illumination’ has taken the spot occupied by Impatiens walleriana and quickly become a garden favorite. Look for this awesome little annual in garden centers next spring! And remember, if you have any questions about this newly introduced plant or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office! Happy gardening!