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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- An infestation of root-knot nematodes can intensify the problem when conditions are as described in item 2.
- 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.
We have many choices of fruit that can be grown in the Florida Panhandle. For us hobby or dooryard growers, fruit trees can be an interesting crop to manage and most find it to be a beautiful addition to home landscapes. However, temperature and variety selection are key.
Blueberry Crop at UF/IFAS Plant Science Research & Education Unit. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS
Most fruit trees grown in the Panhandle are more temperate varieties, rather than tropical and subtropical fruits. Depending on the variety, winters in northern Florida may be too cold or may be too long for some fruit trees. Cold hardiness is a term used on fruit tree labels and reference guides. This refers to the plant’s ability to survive cooler or even freezing temperatures. In contrast, summer heat can also play a role in survivability. Some varieties are intolerant to excessive heat and humidity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a Plant Hardiness Zone Map that is helpful in selecting a variety of fruit tree: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/. This is a standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants will thrive in their location. Northern Gulf County is in Zone 8b (15 to 20 degrees F), while coastal Gulf is in Zone 9a (20 to 25 degrees F).
Chilling requirement is another important topic when deciding on variety. Temperate zone fruit go through a “rest period” during the dormant months. For these fruit trees, a minimum length of time of cooler weather is needed for proper flowering to occur once favorable temperatures arrive. This rest period is essentially a reset. For the Panhandle, temperatures below 45 degrees F are known as chilling temperatures. The number of hours during the fall and winter that reach below this temperature equals the total chilling hours. For the Panhandle, this is rarely fewer than 500 hours. A plant that does not receive ample chilling will most likely be slow in bud and leaf development. Leaf expansion will be in increments throughout the year instead of in one period. On the other hand, colder, longer winters can cause fruit trees to end the rest stage early and begin to bud as soon as warmer temperatures arrive. This circumstance can cause cold injury later, as the Panhandle is historically known for late cold spells.
Citrus is a dooryard fruit, however it’s a subtropical fruit tree and not technically temperate. However, there are some varieties that thrive in the Panhandle. Another key to growing citrus, is to select varieties with different fruit maturity seasons. This way you can enjoy citrus year-round.
Some examples of dooryard fruit trees and varieties that are suitable for northern Florida are:
Apple: ‘TropicSweet’, ‘Anna’, ‘Dorsett Golden’
Blueberry: ‘Rabbiteye’, ‘Climax’, ‘Highbush’
Grapefruit: ‘Marsh’, ‘Ruby Red’
Orange/Mandarin: ‘Navel’, ‘Parson Brown’, ‘Valencia’, Satsuma
Peach: ‘Gulfcrest’, ‘Gulfking’, ‘Gulfprince’
Pear: ‘Ayers’, ‘Baldwin’, ‘Kieffer’
Pecan: ‘Elliot’, ‘Stuart’, ‘Moreland’
So, where do I find information on varieties? The UF web publication “Dooryard Fruit Varieties” is a great resource. Also contact your local county extension office for more information.
Information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Dooryard Fruit Varieties” by J. G. Williamson, J. H. Crane, R. E. Rouse, and M. A. Olmstead: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG24800.pdf
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
Citrus canker symptoms on twigs, leaves and fruit. Photo by Timothy Schubert, FDACS
Citrus canker was found for the first time in the Florida panhandle in Gulf Breeze in southern Santa Rosa County in November 2013. Since that time, citrus canker has spread widely in the Gulf Breeze area and just recently in 2020 was found in two locations in Panama City and Panama City Beach in Bay County.
Citrus canker is a serious bacterial disease that only infects citrus trees. It will not infect any other plant species nor is it a threat to human health. Severely affected trees experience substantial leaf loss and premature fruit drop and serve as a source for infecting nearby citrus. The disease spreads through wind, rain, and transportation of infected plant material from other locations.
This highly contagious disease has no cure although progression of the disease can be slowed through the use of copper-based products. This publication guides the homeowner on using copper.
Citrus canker lesions on leaves are raised, rough and visible on both sides of the leaf. Photo by Timothy Shubert, FDACS.
Not all citrus varieties are equally susceptible to this disease. Grapefruit, lemon, and lime are some of the most vulnerable while tangerine and tangelo varieties are among the most resistant.
What should you do if you suspect your citrus is infected with this disease?
- Look at this guide for more information and compare the symptoms on your tree to the photos. Lesions on the leaves penetrate through the leaf so they are visible on the upper and lower leaf surfaces, are rough, and have a yellow halo. The lesions look similar on the fruit and stems. Lesions (or cankers) on the stems usually indicate a longer standing infection of a year or more.
- Consult your local Horticulture Extension Agent to confirm the diagnosis and obtain more information and control/removal strategies.
- Proper removal of infected trees is recommended to prevent the spread of citrus canker but is not mandatory. The best way to dispose of infected trees is through cutting them down and burning them onsite; this ensures than none of the plant material leaves your yard to infect other areas. Consult your local burn regulations before burning. Stray leaves, branches and fruit should be raked and burned or double bagged for the trash. Please avoid disposing of any of your citrus trees by putting them by the side of the road for pickup by the county yard waste recycling or regular waste disposal. The bacterium will survive in the plant tissue and be spread to other neighborhoods in the county. You can, however, double bag infected plant material in sturdy bags and place it in the trash.
For more information please see:
UF IFAS Gardening Solutions: Citrus
Citrus Culture in the Home Landscape
UF IFAS Extension Online Guide to Citrus Diseases
The weather is warmer and plans and planting for spring vegetable gardens are in full swing. Last week many vegetable gardening topics were addressed in our Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE program. Here are all the links for all the topics we discussed. A recording of last week’s webinar can be found at: https://youtu.be/oJRM3g4lM78
Home grown Squash. Gardening, vegetables. UF/IFAS Photo by Tom Wright.
The place to start is with UF’s ever popular and comprehensive Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf
Many viewers expressed interest in natural methods of raising their crops. Take a look at Organic Vegetable Gardening in Florida https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS121500.pdf
The Square Foot Vegetable Planting Guide for Northwest Florida helps plan the layout of your garden https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/leon/docs/pdfs/Vegetable-Square-Foot-Planting-Guide-for-Northwest-Florida-mcj2020.pdf
Maybe you would like the convenience of starting with a fresh clean soil. Gardening in Raised Beds can assist you. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep472 Also see Gardening Solutions Raised Beds: Benefits and Maintenance https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/raised-beds.html
Here is a guide to Fertilizing the Garden https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh025
The Florida Panhandle Planting Guide will help you decide what to plant and when: https://www.facebook.com/SRCExtension/posts/4464210263604274
The Ever-Popular Tomato
To start your journey to the best tomatoes, start with UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions – Tomatoes https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/tomatoes.html
If you are looking to grow in containers: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/leon/docs/pdfs/Container-Gardening-Spacing-Varieties-UF-IFAS-mcj2020.pdf
Vegetable grafting is gaining in popularity, so if interested, look at this Techniques for Melon Grafting: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs1257
Blossom end rot occurs when irrigation is irregular and the calcium in the soil does not get carried to the developing fruit. The U-Scout program has a great description of this common problem: https://plantpath.ifas.ufl.edu/u-scout/tomato/blossom-end-rot.html
Our moderators talked about some of their favorite tomato varieties. Josh Freeman is partial to Amelia, a good slicing tomato. Matt Lollar shared some of the best tomato varieties for sauce: Plum/Roma types like BHN 685, Daytona, Mariana, Picus, Supremo and Tachi. For cherry tomatoes, Sheila Dunning recommended Sweet 100 and Juliette.
Whatever variety you choose, Josh says to pick when it starts changing color at the blossom end and bring it indoors to ripen away from pests.
Garden Pest Management
Let’s start with an underground pest. For those of you gardening in the native soil, very tiny roundworms can be a problem. Nematode Management in the Vegetable Garden can get you started: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/NG/NG00500.pdf
Leaffooted bugs are quite a nuisance going after the fruit. Here is how to control them: http://extension.msstate.edu/newsletters/bug%E2%80%99s-eye-view/2018/leaffooted-bugs-vol-4-no-24
Cutworms are another frustration. Learn about them here: https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/hort/2020/02/27/cutworms-the-moonlit-garden-vandals/
Maybe your tomatoes have gotten eaten up by hornworms. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pests-and-diseases/pests/hornworm-caterpillars.html
There are beneficial creatures helping to control the pest insects. Learn to recognize and conserve them and make for a healthier environment. Natural Enemies and Biological Control: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN12000.pdf
If the beneficials are not numerous enough to control your pests, maybe a natural approach to pest control can help. Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in197
Fungal and bacterial problems can also plague the garden. Go to Integrated Disease Management for Vegetable Crops in Florida for answers: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/PP/PP11100.pdf
Get control of weeds early and consult Controlling Weeds by Cultivating & Mulching https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/controlling-weeds-by-cultivating-mulching/
Companion planting is a strategy that has been around for ages and for good reason: https://www.almanac.com/companion-planting-chart-vegetables Some good flowering additions to the garden that Sheila talked about are bee balm, calendula, marigold, nasturtiums, chives, and parsley.
And Some Miscellaneous Topics…
Peppers are another popular crop. Get some questions answered here: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/vegetables/pepper.html
When can we plant spinach in Northeast Florida? http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/nassauco/2017/07/15/q-can-plant-spinach-northeast-florida/
Figs are a great fruit for northwest Florida. Get started here: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG21400.pdf and with this https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/homefruit/fig/fig.html
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 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. 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.
It’s mid-February, cloudy, and cold. It’s time to get outside and take cuttings for fruit and nut tree grafting. The cuttings that are grafted onto other trees are called scions. The trees or saplings that the scions are grafted to are called rootstocks. Grafting should be done when plants start to show signs of new growth, but for best results, scion wood should be cut in February and early March.
Straight and smooth wood with the diameter of a pencil should be selected for scions. Water sprouts that grow upright in the center of trees work well for scion wood. Scions should be cut to 12-18″ for storage. They should only need two to three buds each.
Scions ready for grafting. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Scions should be cut during the dormant season and refrigerated at 35-40°F until the time of grafting. If cuttings are taken in the field or far from home, then simply place them in a cooler with an ice pack until they can be refrigerated. Cuttings should be placed in a produce or zip top bag along with some damp paper towels or sphagnum moss.
It is better to be late than early when it comes to grafting. Some years it’s still cold on Easter Sunday. Generally, mid-March to early April is a good time to graft in North Florida. Whip and tongue or bench grafting are most commonly used for fruit and nut trees. This type of graft is accomplished by cutting a diagonal cut across both the scion and the rootstock, followed by a vertical cut parallel to the grain of the wood. For more information on this type of graft please visit the Grafting Fruit Trees in the Home Orchard from the University of New Hampshire Extension.
A bench graft union. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Achieving good bench graft unions takes skill and some practice. Some people have better success using a four-flap or banana graft technique. This type of graft is accomplished by stripping most of the bark and cambium layer from a 1.5″ section of the base of the scion and by folding the back and removing a 1.5″ section of wood from the top of the rootstock. A guide to this type of graft can be found on the Texas A&M factsheet “The Four-Flap Graft”.
Grafting is a gardening skill that can add a lot of diversity to a garden. With a little practice, patience, and knowledge any gardener can have success with grafting.