Go Bananas in Your Landscape!

Go Bananas in Your Landscape!

Bananas are a great choice for your landscape, whether as an edible fruit producer or simply as an ornamental, giving your space a tropical vibe.

Bananas are native to southeast Asia, however, grow well across Florida. Complementary plants that can be paired with bananas in the landscape are bird of paradise (banana relative), canna lily, cone ginger, philodendron, coontie, and palmetto palm, just to name some.

Bananas are very easy to manage during the warmer months. Bananas are water loving, and that’s putting it lightly. Planting in vicinity of an eave on your home is a good measure for site suitability. Roof rainwater will drastically increase the growth of the banana tree and decrease the need for supplemental irrigation. Banana trees will need full sun and high organic moist soils create the best environment. For nutrition, a seasonal one-pound application of 6-2-12 fertilizer is a good practice to sustain older trees. Young trees should be fertilized every two months for the first year at a rate of a half-pound.

Musa basjoo

Musa basjoo is one of the most cold hardy banana varieties. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension

If there is a con to banana trees, it’s their cold hardiness. Some varieties fair well and others some not so much. ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ (Musa acuminate) is a popular variety that is found in many garden centers in the state. It produces fruit very well, but it is not very cold hardy. ‘Pink Velvet’ (Musa velutina) produces fruit with a bright pink peel, but isn’t very cold hardy either. A couple of cold hardy ornamental varieties are the ‘Japanese Fiber’ (Musa basjoo) and ‘Black Thai’ (Musa balbisiana), which is by far the most cold hardy, with the ability to easily combat below freezing temperatures.

freeze damage on a banana tree

Freeze damage on a banana tree. Photo Credit: Ray Bodrey, University of Florida Extension – Gulf County

Regardless of cold hardiness, in many cases, banana trees will turn brown after freezing temperatures occur or even if the temperatures reach just above the freezing mark, but will bounce back in the spring. Until then, it’s important not to prune away the brown leaves or trunk skin. These leaves act as an insulator and help defend against freezing temperatures. Usually, the last freezing temperatures that may occur in the Panhandle are around the first of April. So, to be safe, pruning can begin by mid to late April. When pruning, be sure to be equipped with a sharp knife, gloves and work clothes. Banana trunk skin and leaves can be quite fibrous and the liquid from the tree can stain clothing and hands.

So, what’s the best variety of fruiting bananas? Most ornamental bananas do not produce tasty fruit. If you are looking for a production banana, ‘Lady Finger’, ‘Apple’, and ‘Ice Cream’ are popular varieties, but are better suited for the central and southern parts of the state.

For more information, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article can be found on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website.

Also, for more information see the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Banana Growing in the Florida Home Landscape”, by Jonathan H. Crane and Carlos F. Balerdi.

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Leon County’s Spring 2021 Seed Library Program Starts February 13

Leon County’s Spring 2021 Seed Library Program Starts February 13

Sugar snap peas prefer to be planted when the soil is cool and the pods are delicious raw or cooked. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Sugar snap peas prefer to be planted when the soil is cool and the pods are delicious raw or cooked. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Leon County’s Spring 2021 Seed Library Program Starts February 13

Although we are still experiencing the coolness of winter, the spring gardening season is right around the corner. To get a head start on the heat that will start taking over by May – and certainly by June – it is important to have a spring garden plan. If you want to start your veggies from seed, certain crops, such as tomatoes, need to be seeded soon for best results. Other warm-loving crops, like squash and cucumbers, also benefit from an early start to beat the life cycles of many common pests.

Need seeds to start your garden? Well, if you live in Leon County, you are in luck. Starting on February 13, 2021, residents of Leon County can “check out” up to three sample seed packets per month with their library card as part of Leon County’s Seed Library Program. The vegetable seeds can be checked out from any of the seven library branch locations. Leon County residents can apply for a library card online at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library online card application page (https://lcpl.ent.sirsi.net/custom/web/registration/).

A young volunteer helped pack seeds from home for the Spring 2021 Leon County Seed Library Program. Photo by Jeanne Breland.

A young volunteer helped pack seeds from home for the Spring 2021 Leon County Seed Library Program. Photo by Jeanne Breland.

Here are the vegetable seed varieties that will be available starting February 13:

  • Italian Large Leaf Basil. This is a fast-growing plant, with four-inch-long green leaves that have an anise flavor and a sweet aroma.
  • Jackson Wonder Butterbeans. A high yielding heirloom, these beans produce pods with three to five reddish colored beans in each. When dried, the beans develop a mottled pattern.
  • A & C Pickling Cucumber. Plants are productive, producing many straight, dark-green fruits that are great for pickling when they are four to six inches long. Eaten fresh, they can be grown out to 10 inches.
  • Edisto 47 Melon. Plants prosper in hot, humid climates and produce mildly sweet five-pound cantaloupes in about 90 days.
  • Burmese Okra. Plants have very large leaves and at about 18-inches tall, produce slender curved 9 to 12 inch okra pods that are virtually spineless. Under 10 inches, pods can be eaten raw and are less viscous than some other varieties.
  • Sugar Snap Peas. Plants produce sweet, crisp pods that can be eaten raw or cooked. Seeds germinate well in cool soil and plant growth is vigorous, requiring support.
  • Corno di Toro Sweet Bell Pepper. This productive pepper, whose name translates to “Horn of the Bull,” produces thick horn-shaped fruit that is flavorful and great eaten raw or cooked.
  • Butternut Waltham Squash. This winter squash produces four-to-five-pound fruits with necks that are thick, straight, and cylindrical. The flesh of the fruit is smooth and has a flavor that sweetens with storage.
  • Black Krim Tomato. This Russian heirloom has indeterminate growth and produces 8 to16 ounce, brown-to-red fruit with a deep smoky flavor. The shoulders of the tomatoes are brownish green and darken with more heat and sunlight.
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomato. This deep-red small cherry tomato has indeterminate growth and produces soft fruit that is very sweet and full of flavor.

Whether you are located in Leon County or not, everyone is welcome to join us Saturday, February 13, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Via Zoom, agents with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County will discuss spring vegetable gardening techniques and food waste prevention. There will also be a live cooking demonstration showing how to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home, featuring vegetables available in the Spring 2021 Seed Library Program.

For more information about the Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop, please visit our Eventbrite page: https://spring2021leoncountyseedlibrary.eventbrite.com. There is no cost to attend the workshop, but registration is required.

Happy spring gardening!

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.

 

Why Are My Oranges Sour?

Why Are My Oranges Sour?

From time to time we get questions from clients who are unsatisfied with the flavor of the fruit from their citrus trees.  Usually the complaints are because of dry or fibrous fruit.  This is usually due to irregular irrigation and/or excessive rains during fruit development.  However, we sometimes get asked about fruit that is too sour.  There are three common reasons why fruit may taste more sour than expected: 1) The fruit came from the rootstock portion of the tree; 2) The fruit wasn’t fully mature when picked; or 3) the tree is infected with Huanglongbing (HLB) a.k.a. citrus greening or yellow dragon disease.

Rootstock

The majority of citrus trees are grafted onto a rootstock.  Grafting is the practice of conjoining a plant with desirable fruiting characteristics onto a plant with specific disease resistance, stress tolerance (such as cold tolerance), and/or growth characteristics (such as rooting depth characteristics or dwarfing characteristics).  Citrus trees are usually true to seed, but the majority of trees available at nurseries and garden centers are grafted onto a completely different citrus species.  Some of the commonly available rootstocks produce sweet fruit, but most produce sour or poor tasting fruit.  Common citrus rootstocks include: Swingle orange; sour orange; and trifoliate orange.  For a comprehensive list of citrus rootstocks, please visit the Florida Citrus Rootstock Selection Guide.  A rootstock will still produce viable shoots, which can become dominant leaders on a tree.  In the picture below, a sour orange rootstock is producing a portion of the fruit on the left hand side of this tangerine tree.  The trunk coming from the sour orange rootstock has many more spines than the tangerine producing trunks.

A tangerine tree on a sour orange rootstock that is producing fruit on the left hand side of the tree.

A tangerine tree on a sour orange rootstock that is producing fruit on the left hand side of the tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Fruit Maturity

Florida grown citrus generally matures from the months of October through May depending on species and variety.  Satsumas mature in October and taste best after nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s.  Most tangerines are mature in late November and December.  Oranges and grapefruit are mature December through April depending on variety.  The interesting thing about citrus fruit is that they can be stored on the tree after becoming ripe.  So when in doubt, harvest only a few fruit at a time to determine the maturity window for your particular tree.  A table with Florida citrus ripeness dates can be found at this Florida Citrus Harvest Calendar.

Citrus Greening

Citrus Greening (HLB) is a plant disease caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, which is vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid.  The disease causes the fruit to be misshapen and discolored.  The fruit from infected trees does not ripen properly and rarely sweetens up.  A list of publications about citrus greening can be found at the link Citrus Greening (Huanglongbing, HLB).

A graphic of various citrus greening symptoms.

A graphic of various citrus greening symptoms. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Citrus Rust Mite is a Mostly Cosmetic Problem

Citrus Rust Mite is a Mostly Cosmetic Problem

Citrus Rust Mite “sharkskin” closeup – Image Credit Matthew Orwat, UF / IFAS Extension

In recent years, not a summer has gone by in which I did not see citrus rust mite (CRM) damage in a garden. I thought this year would be the first. Unfortunately, recently I saw my first rust mite damage of the year.

Unlike the myriad of pests that have been recently introduced into Florida from abroad, the citrus rust mite (Phyllocoptruta oleivora) has been documented as present in Florida since the late 1800s. Along with its companion, pink citrus rust mite (Aculops pelekassi) It can be a major summer pest for satsuma mandarins grown in the Florida Panhandle gardens.

Citrus Rust Mite (CRM)  damage manifests itself on fruit in two ways, “sharkskin” and “bronzing“. Sharkskin is caused when mites have fed on developing fruit, and destroyed the top epidermal layer. As the fruit grows, the epidermal layer breaks and as the fruit heals, the brown “sharkskin” look develops. Bronzing occurs when rust mites feed on fruit that’s nearer to mature size. Since the skin is not fractured by growth, the fruits develop a polished bronze look. In both cases, the interior of the fruit may remain undamaged. However, extreme damage can cases cause fruit drop and reduced fruit size. Regardless of the condition of the interior, damaged fruit is not aesthetically pleasing, but fine for slicing or juicing.

“Sharkskin Damage” to fruit caused by past feeding by the Citrus Rust Mite. Image Credit, Matthew Orwat

If a CRM population is present, they will begin increasing on fresh spring new growth in late April, and usually reach peak levels in June and July. By August the damage has often already been done, but is first noticed due to the increased growth of the fruit. Depending upon weather conditions, CRM can have a resurgence in October and November, just as Satsuma and other citrus is getting ready to be harvested, so careful monitoring is necessary. For more information, check out this publication: Guide to Citrus Rust Mite Identification.

Sun spot resulting from where citrus rust mite avoids feeding on most sun exposed portion of the fruit. Image and Caption courtesy of EDIs publication HS-806

If control of CRM is warranted, there are several miticides available for use, but it is not advisable for home gardeners to use these on their citrus plants since they will also kill beneficial insects.  Horticultural oil is an alternative to miticide, which is less damaging to beneficial insects. Several brands of horticultural oil are formulated to smother CRM, but care must be taken to not apply horticultural oil when daytime temperatures will reach 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Application of oils at times when temperatures are at this level or higher will result in leaf and fruit damage.

Although Citrus Rust Mite (CRM) has the potential to be aesthetically unsightly on citrus fruit in the Florida Panhandle, strategies of monitoring and treatment in homeowner citrus production have been successful in mitigating their damage.

Clean Up for the Fall Vegetable Garden

Clean Up for the Fall Vegetable Garden

A common question for gardeners at the end of the season is if one should till the soil or use no till practices.  Opinions vary regarding this question, even among Extension Agents.  However old crops harbor insects, both good and bad.  This phenomenon was noticed on some recently cut back tomato plants.  The intention was to cut the leftover spring garden tomatoes back to encourage fall production.  Instead, a host plant for mealybugs was provided.

Whitefly larvae on a tomato plant.

Mealybugs on a tomato plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that possess a covering of flocculent, white, waxy filaments.  They are about 1/8 inch in length and usually pinkish or yellowish in color.  Mealybugs have piercing-sucking mouthparts which they use to siphon fluids from the leaves, stems, and sometimes roots of many ornamental and vegetable plants.  Mealybug damage produces discolored, wilted, and deformed leaves.

One very common example of an insect pest likely to claim residence in your garden’s crop residue, are squash bugs. They like to overwinter on squash, cucumber, and other cucurbit crop residue.  If you choose to not till your garden and leave a portion of last seasons crop in your garden, then you should consider applying an insecticide to your spent crop at the end of the season.  A product containing a pyrethrin or pyrethroid as an active ingredient would be a good broad spectrum insecticide to control any pest that may reside on plant residue.  More information on pyrethrins and pyrehtroids can be found at the EPA webpage: Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids.  If you choose to apply an insecticide, it is important that you follow the information on the label regarding pollinator protection.  Another option is to plant a trap crop on the edge of your garden to help attract pest insects away from your desired crops.  More information on trap crops can be found in the EDIS PublicationIntercropping, Pest Management and Crop Diversity.

An adult squash bug on a zucchini leaf.

An adult squash bug on a zucchini leaf. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

So the answer to the till or no till question is…it depends.  It is really up to the gardener.  Yes, the residue from crops will add nutrients and organic matter to your soil, but it could also increase pest pressure in your garden.  If you don’t plan to remove crop residue and don’t plan to till, then keep an eye out for what could be hiding in your garden.