Growing Tomatoes: GIP Live Reference Materials

Growing Tomatoes: GIP Live Reference Materials

The February Q&A on Growing Tomatoes offered valuable tips for the home gardener to be successful with tomatoes in 2022.  Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked.

Let’s start out with the panels favorite tomatoes including hybrids and heirlooms.

Evan:  Supersweet 100, Sungold
Larry:  Amelia, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple
Sam: Better Boy, Tasti Lee, Sweethearts
Matt: Mountain Magic, Mountain Rouge, Bella Rosa
Daniel: Black cherry and Big Beef

Why are tomatoes red?

Can we grow tomatoes year around?

I have very sandy/loamy soil. Do I have a chance at successfully growing tomatoes?

What is the best time to start tomatoes in North Florida?

If one grows in raised beds, should one rotate where in the bed tomatoes are planted?

If you plant tomatoes in mid-March, how long will they continue to produce fruit?

I’m thinking of trying hydroponic gardening on a few tomato plants this year. Do you think a 50/50 mix of perlite and vermiculite would be a good approach for a soil medium? I’d like to use 5-gallon buckets and keep maintenance to a minimum.

What tomatoes grow best in inland Bay County? Coastal vs inland considerations.
Best type for all day sun (speak to tomatoes light requirements)

What is the best tomato variety for Northwest Florida? I need one go-to variety for both regular tomatoes and cherry type.

How to get more tomatoes, less vine?

My tomatoes get black on the bottom and rot. What causes this and how do I prevent it?

Do tomatoes need a lot of water?

Why do my tomatoes split/burst/crack while on the vine?

Any suggestions for how to handle especially wet years like last summer? My tomatoes really suffered.

How do I keep the leaves from getting dark spots that spread and kills foliage? 

How do you string tomatoes vine to a stake?

What causes catfacing?

 

Every year I’m having trouble with an amazing amount of insect infestations on my tomatoes & peppers I grow in containers. What can I do to help?

How do marigolds (which variety) or basil aid tomatoes?

Please talk about save tomato seeds to grow. Some can’t afford to buy potted tomato plants.

Can you add nutrients into the soil from last year’s tomatoes to reuse again this year?

Leopard Plant is Made for the Shade

Leopard Plant is Made for the Shade

Several years ago the Escambia County Master Gardener Volunteers added a Leopard plant, Farfugium japonicum to the office demonstration gardens.  This was a new plant for me and I was immediately impressed with look and performance of this plant in a filtered shade garden.

Leopard plant’s attractive leaves and flowers make it an accent in the shade garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Although not native to the United States, Leopard plant make an interesting addition to the Florida garden.  The large green leaves can provide a tropical look throughout the entire year since it is hardy in growing zones 7-10.  An added bonus of the Leopard plant are spikes of bright yellow flowers in the fall and winter months. When you use Leopard plant as a mass planting, it certainly becomes the focus in our cooler months.

Leopard plant on display in Downtown Pensacola. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

There are many cultivars of Leopard plant and the selections with white (‘Argenteum’) or yellow (‘Aureomaculatum’) patterns on the leaves give the plant it’s common name.  There are also cultivars with curled or crinkled leaves.  All plants will thrive in partial shade with some additional water when rainfall is lacking.  The clumps will continue to enlarge so you can often share a piece with a friend after a few years.

Leon County’s Spring Seed Library Program Starts February 12

Leon County’s Spring Seed Library Program Starts February 12

Join us via Zoom on Saturday, February 12, for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Graphic by Molly Jameson.

Join us via Zoom on Saturday, February 12, for our Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop. Graphic by Molly Jameson.

Believe it or not, spring is right around the corner! For gardeners, this is the time to start thinking about our spring season garden plan and starting seeds. Many spring vegetables, such as tomatoes, benefit from an early start indoors or in a greenhouse, planted in containers. This gives them a greater chance to avoid the intense heat of summer and beat many insect and disease life cycles.

Need seeds to start your garden? Well, if you live in Leon County, you are in luck. Starting Saturday, February 12, 2022, 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/).

Here are the vegetable seed varieties that will be available starting February 12:

  • Mammolo Basil. Mammolo basil has an Italian aroma and a bushy, compact growth habit that is great for containers.
  • Maxibel Haricot Vert Beans. Maxibel Haricot Vert produces prolific beans with long, slender pods and tender texture.
  • Natsu Fushinari Cucumbers. Natsu Fushinari is a deep green Japanese-type of cucumber with eight-inch fruit and glossy skin. It has resistance to diseases in high heat.
  • Little Fingers Eggplant. Little Fingers eggplant produces clusters of tender, long, deep purple fruit that can be harvested small or large.
  • Pinkeye Purple Hull Southern Peas. Pinkeye Purple Hull Southern is a semi-bushy, early-season pea that produces prolific dark purple pods. It has resistance to many diseases.
  • Bull Nose Peppers. Bull Nose is an old pepper variety, dating back to the mid-to-late 1800s, and has medium to large, sweet fruit that is great for cooking or salads.
  • New Zealand Spinach-like Greens. New Zealand spinach is not a true spinach, but it loves the heat and produces succulent leaves that are excellent cooked or fresh in sandwiches.
  • White Scallop Squash. White Scallop is a high-yielding Native American heirloom that produces scallop-shaped fruit great for frying or baking.
  • Homestead 24 Tomatoes. Homestead 24 is a semi-determinate tomato that has medium to large red fruit developed for hot, humid climates, making it great for Florida gardens.
  • Amy’s Sugar Gem Tomatoes. Amy’s Sugar Gem grows tall, vigorous vines and produces sweet, large red cherry tomatoes.
  • Moon and Stars Watermelon. Resembling the night’s sky, Moon and Stars watermelon has a dark green rind with bright yellow spots. It has speckled yellow leaves and seedy, but very sweet, bright red flesh.

Whether you are located in Leon County or not, everyone is welcome to join us Saturday, February 12, 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 healthy eating. There will also be a live cooking demonstration showing how to prepare healthy meals and snacks at home, featuring vegetables available in the Spring 2022 Seed Library Program.

For more information about the Leon County Seed Library Virtual Workshop, please visit our Eventbrite page: https://seedlibraryworkshop2022.eventbrite.com. There is no cost to attend the workshop, but registration is required.

Happy spring gardening!

Video: Container Planting Tips

Video: Container Planting Tips

At one time or another, we have all added rocks or broken pieces of clay pots to the bottom of a container to improve drainage. This practice can actually have the opposite effect, causing the potting soil to stay too moist. Since many container-grown plants like good drainage, we end up with plant issues. Learn the method for potting up a plant that allows your soil to have good drainage with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Winter Planting and Spring Preparing

Winter Planting and Spring Preparing

Violas. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension

It is freezing cold this week and hard to believe that we are already talking about “What to Plant” and “What to Do” to get started early. In North Florida there are cool-season annuals that can be planted now. The list includes pansies, violas, petunias, and snapdragons. As we are coming to the end of January it is time to plant crinum, agapanthus and gloriosa lily bulbs.  Make sure to mulch these areas after planting to protect them from the cold temperatures. This is also the month to plant camellias, which these come in many colors and forms that your local nurseries will carry this time of year. If you haven’t planted all your cool season crops there is still time to do that now such as broccoli, kale, carrots, and lettuce. Irish potatoes can be planted now as well.

Now you might be asking “What can I do?”. January is a great time to prune non-spring flowering shrubs and trees to improve their form. This is a good time to plant deciduous fruit trees, this will give their roots time to develop before the warmer spring temperatures. Since existing trees are dormant, it is a good time to prune and fertilize them. When the temperatures are near freezing many of the tender plants will need to be covered to minimize damage.  It’s a good time to plant a tree.  Hurricane-resistant trees include live oaks, bald cypress, cabbage palms, and southern magnolias.  It’s time to remove those dead spent seed pods on your crape myrtles and removing any crossing branches and twiggy growth will improve the appearance and the form of the plant.

Potatoes planted in mid-February were ready to harvest in mid-May in Bay County. Photo: Vicki Evans, UF/IFAS Master Gardener of the plant.

As we go into February it will soon be time to apply a preemergence weed killer to your lawns to prevent warm-season weeds. Temperatures must rise to 65°F for 4 to 5 consecutive days before you do a preemergence application and make sure you are not using a weed and feed fertilizer.  Citrus and other fruit trees can be fertilized at this time. The amount and frequency will depend on the age and type of fruit tree you are growing.  Avoid pruning Citrus until spring to avoid any injury since cold temperatures are still possible.  It is time to prune those roses this month to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form.  After the pruning is complete you can fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch.  They should begin blooming within 8 to 9 weeks after being pruned.

Dianthus, pansies, violas, and dusty millers are annuals that can take a chill and should be planted in February.  You can continue to plant crinum and agapanthus this month and add on amaryllis and rain lily bulbs as well.  If it has been dry make sure to provide plenty of water for the bulbs to establish and continue to protect them from the cold by adding mulch. Trees and shrubs will begin to bloom this month including red maples and star magnolias. Continue planting potatoes throughout the month and towards the end of February warm-season crops like tomatoes and pepper can be planted but be prepared to protect them from any late frosts.

Grow Your Own Christmas Tree

Grow Your Own Christmas Tree

Christmas is among my favorite holidays.  The religious significance, music, lights, amazing food, fellowship with family, and giving and receiving gifts all lend something special to the season.  However, the tradition that arguably gets the most attention is selecting and putting up a Christmas tree!  Those that participate in the festivities and put up a Christmas tree have three options:  purchasing an artificial tree, purchasing a real tree, or growing your own.

While I like the convenience of a pre-lit tree as much as anyone, artificial trees don’t do a whole lot for the environment or sustainable US agriculture.  They are almost exclusively produced overseas and contain non-biodegradable plastics.  Not the best.  If you select option two and choose to purchase a real tree, you’ll help support a sustainable US agriculture industry!  According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are ~25-30 million Christmas trees sold annually in the US and 350 million more currently growing on Christmas tree farms waiting their turn!  Purchasing real Christmas trees also ensures that the over 100,000 Christmas tree farm workers remain employed, and the 1/3 million acres US Christmas tree farms comprise will remain non-developed “green spaces”!

But for the green-thumbed Christmas enthusiast that’s willing to put in a little time and effort, there is a third choice – growing your very own Christmas tree right at home!  In the Panhandle, there are several species, Florida natives and not, that make wonderful Christmas trees and are easy to grow!

Red Cedar makes a fine Florida Christmas tree!

Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) – This Florida native is the classic southern evergreen.  Growing quickly to the desired heights of 4’-10’, emitting a “Christmas tree smell”, and possessing dark, dense foliage, Red Cedar makes an excellent Christmas tree!  Red Cedar performs very well in most soils but does not like wet feet and will not tolerate continuously saturated areas.

Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) – A hybrid of Alaskan Cedar and Monterrey Cypress, Leyland Cypress is recognized as one of the most popular Deep South grown Christmas trees for good reason.  Leylands grow exceptionally fast, are a desirable forest green color, and have a naturally conical shape!  Though not recommended as long-term landscape trees in Florida due to disease susceptibility, Leylands do very well in short Christmas tree rotations.

Thuja ‘Green Giant’ – ‘Green Giant’ is a cultivar of Thuja and is similar in appearance to Leyland Cypress.  Though not quite as deep green in color as Leyland, ‘Green Giant’ also grows rapidly (up to 3’-4’ annually), tolerates many soil conditions, and has no serious insect/disease issues.

Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica var. arizonica) – Arizona Cypress is the Christmas tree for those who would normally choose to be different by purchasing a blue, silver, or white artificial tree!  Famous for its striking blue/silver foliage, Arizona Cypress is native to the American Southwest but thrives in the drier sandy soils found in many parts of the Panhandle.

Sand Pine (Pinus clausa) – The quintessential “Cracker Christmas Tree”, Sand Pine is native to the deep sandy ridges of Florida.  Normally thought of as a scrubby, low-value tree, when shaped a little, the short-needled Sand Pine makes an excellent Christmas tree!  Obviously preferring a dry, sandy site but capable of growing nearly anywhere, Sand Pine has no pest or disease issues and grows fast!  If you want a true, old-school Florida Christmas tree, Sand Pine is it.

Regardless of the species you choose, implementing the following few maintenance tips and expectations will lend best results:

  • Cut/remove J or circling roots before planting.
  • Plant just higher than ground level.
  • Refill the hole with native soil from the site.
  • Regular irrigation for the first several months of their lives is necessary and trees will benefit from supplemental fertilizer applications twice a year (spring and mid-summer).
  • Shaping trees each summer with hedge shears to achieve the desired dense, compact shape will allow for a uniform tree with no “holes”.
  • Plant several trees per year to ensure a nice tree come December, just in case.
  • Florida grown Christmas trees will NOT have the exact look of fir or spruce. Adjust expectations accordingly.
  • Most Florida grown Christmas trees do NOT have rigid branches and cannot support heavy ornaments. Again, adjust expectations accordingly.

While Christmas tree species that perform well in the Panhandle will not have the exact look of a classic fir or spruce sourced from the Carolinas, they certainly mimic the look and there is something to be said for walking outside and harvesting your own tree to put presents under!  For more information on growing your own Christmas trees or other horticultural topics, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office!  Happy New Year!