Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

There is an old saying that rings true in pretty much any situation – “You get what you pay for.”  Gardening tools, especially pruners, are no exception.  We’ve all been there, fumbling around with a pair of rusty, dull, cheap garden pruners that just barely get the job done.  Unfortunately, they can also do considerable harm to the plants you’re trying to improve, as anything short of a nice, sharp, clean cut introduces the potential for insect/disease infestation and will produce a wound that takes much longer to heal, if it ever heals properly at all.  You wouldn’t want your doctor to start hacking away at you with a dirty, second-rate scalpel.  Don’t subject your plants to the same treatment!  While I’m not advocating blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting your garden tool shed with top of the line everything, investing in a pair of quality bypass hand pruners will pay dividends many years into the future and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable!

The classic Felco #4 bypass hand pruners. Photo courtesy of Walton County Master Gardener Andrea Schnapp.

Found in three designs, from old-fashioned anvil pruners that smush and smash their way to a cut, to ratcheting pruners that make short work of larger branches but tend to be cumbersome and complicated, to bypass pruners that produce clean cuts in a scissor-like manner, hand pruners accomplish many tasks in the landscape.  From cutting small limbs, to harvesting vegetables, to deadheading annual flowers and everything in between, there isn’t a more frequently used, versatile tool.  Therefore, it makes sense to buy a quality pair that will perform excellently, still be snipping long after your pruning days are over (if you take care of them), and that are comfortable enough you will enjoy using them.  When shopping for your pair of “forever” pruners, there are a few things to look for.

  • Only use bypass style pruners. Your plants will appreciate it.
  • Look for heavy duty pruners with frames made from quality aluminum or stainless steel; they won’t rust and won’t easily bend or break.
  • Buy pruners with replaceable parts. This is especially key because springs eventually rust and gum up and blades break and will eventually lose their ability to hold an edge over time (though you can and should resharpen them).

There are two commonly found brands that fit all three above criteria, albeit at different price points.  For a high quality “budget” blade, various models from Corona do an excellent job for the money ($20-30) and won’t hurt your feelings too badly if you happen to lose a pair.  Should you decide to splurge a little, Felco makes sharp, indestructible pruners, in multiple models around $50 to fit all size hands.  Felco has become the horticulture industry standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a nursery owner or landscaper that didn’t own a pair (or two).

Corona ComfortGel bypass hand pruner. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Regardless of which brand you buy (and there are many more than the two above listed) a pair of well-made pruners, if taken care of, should last a lifetime and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable for you and your plants!  If you have any questions about gardening tools or equipment or any other horticulture or agronomic topic, feel free to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.  Happy Gardening!

 

Proper Tree Planting

Proper Tree Planting

A newly planted tree with water retention berm.

A planted tree with water retention berm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Often, Extension agents are tasked with evaluation of unhealthy plants in the landscape.  They diagnose all sorts of plant problems including those caused by disease infection, insect infiltration, or improper culture.

When evaluating trees, one problem that often comes to the surface is improper tree installation.  Although poorly installed trees may survive for 10 or 15 years after planting, they rarely thrive and often experience a slow death.

Fall/winter is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida.  Here are 11 easy steps to follow for proper tree installation:

  1. Look around and up for wire, light poles, and buildings that may interfere with growth;
  2. Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible;
  3. Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk;
  4. Slide the tree carefully into the planting hole;
  5. Position the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface;
  6. Straighten the tree in the hole;
  7. Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball;
  8. Slice a shovel down in to the back fill;
  9. Cover the exposed sides of the root ball with mulch and create water retention berm;
  10. Stake the tree if necessary;
  11. Come back to remove hardware.
A hole being dug for a tree to be planted.

Digging a properly sized hole for planting a tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Removing synthetic material from the root ball.

Removing synthetic material from the root ball. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height.

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida – Santa Rosa County

For more detailed information on planting trees and shrubs visit this UF/IFAS Website – “Steps to Planting a Tree”.

For more information Nuttall Oaks visit this University of Arkansas Website.

Why Did They Cut My Trees?

Why Did They Cut My Trees?

Utility tree trimming truck

Utility tree trimming truck

With hurricane season upon us, evidence of preparation is all around us.  Tree trimmers, contracted by the local electrical utility companies, have been removing trees, branches and other vegetation that is “too close” to power lines.  Many homeowners are concerned over the practice.

In order to prevent power outages, the federally approved Vegetation Management Reliability Standard, FAC-033-2, requires utilities to manage vegetation growth along the path of power lines to prevent contact.  A minimum clearance of fourteen (14) feet between trees and transmission lines in the right-of-way must be maintained at all times in order to achieve service reliability and public safety.

By Florida Statute 163, an electric utility is granted easement or right-of-way on private property in order to build and maintain electric power lines.  Vegetation maintenance allows for the mowing of vegetation within the right-of-way, removal of trees or brush within the right-of-way and selective removal of tree branches that extend within the right-of-way by the electric utility personnel, licensed contractors or International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborists.  The choice of how to trim trees and manage vegetation growth near a power line (e.g. pruning, herbicides, or tree removal) is primarily made by the electric utility, subject to state and local requirements and laws, applicable safety codes, and any limitations or obligations specified in right-of-way agreements.  An individual may contact the utility company to obtain a copy of the right-of-way agreement for their property.

Overpruned trees along powerline

Over-pruned trees along power line

Sometimes, it appears to some that excessive vegetation has been removed.  But, remember the utility companies are required to maintain the appropriate clearance “at all times.”  For example, in the summer, power lines sag as they expand from rising air temperatures and heavy use.  Also, wind and future growth must be taken into account when determining where to prune.  Electric utilities usually prune or remove vegetation to a distance greater than the minimum clearances to account for all these factors.  However, in many instances, removal of the tree would be more aesthetically pleasing and could avoid leaving a hazardous tree in the landscape.  But, that is not part of their contract.  That decision must be made by the property owner.

Tree trimming around power lines may seem like a local issue, but vegetation growth also affects interstate transmission lines. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that electric utility service interruptions cost businesses and communities tens of billions of dollars annually.  Tree contact with transmission lines was the leading cause of the August 2003 blackout that affected 50 million people in the Northeastern United States and Canada.  In fact, that particular blackout prompted Congress to pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which lead the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to establish the Vegetation Management Reliability Standard.

Should we have a storm that impacts Northwest Florida, remember that the clearing of trees and branches provides faster access for first responders, line repair crews, and other emergency service personnel.  So, as you watch the preparation work being done, think about where you will be planting a tree so that it can reach full maturity without threatening power lines, therefore, not requiring “ugly pruning!”

Spacing between trees and powerlines

Spacing between trees and power lines

The urban forest is much different from a natural forest.  Trees often develop a form that is more susceptible to breakage when grown in developed commercial and residential environments.  As a result, trees need preventive pruning to develop strong structure.  Research and observation show that well pruned trees can create a more wind resistant urban forest.

Pruning to create stronger tree structure is an ongoing process.  To minimize the likelihood of tree damage it is necessary to reduce the length of limbs with a weak attachment to the trunk and to balance the canopy by reducing the length of limbs on the side where weight is concentrated.  Do not remove interior branches, as this concentrates foliage at the tips of branches and causes them to break in strong winds.

Limbs that are more than ½ the diameter of the trunk and multiple trunks of similar size must be reduced in order to form strong branch unions and eliminate co-dominant leaders.  A reduction cut is pruned back to a smaller lateral branch.  Good pruning cuts avoid cutting into the collar.  The collar is the swollen area at the base of the branch where it joins the trunk.  The tissue is rich in energy reserves and chemicals that hinder the spread of decay.

Preventative pruning only applies to woody tree species.  Palms need fronds to protect the bud and provide nutrients for growth.  Arborists report that results from previous storms revealed that palms that had been “hurricane pruned” suffered more damage than those that were not pruned.  Do not wait until the last minute to prepare your trees for hurricane season.  Take action now.  For more information on pruning visit: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/pruning.shtml.

If you want professional help evaluating your trees or performing the proper corrective actions, visit:  https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist to locate a Certified Arborist working in your area.

Plant Propagation Tips

Plant Propagation Tips

It’s always fun to add new plant to the landscape.  And it’s even more fun to propagate your own plant material.  The question is, what plant propagation method is best?  The answer depends on a number of factors such as:

  1. How much time and money is available?
  2. Is a uniform crop desired or is trait variation preferred?
  3. What is the plant species being propagated?

Plants can be propagated either by seed (sexual propagation) or by segments of vegetative material (asexual propagation).  Sexual propagation takes far less time and effort because new plants are being started from the seeds (offspring) of parent plants.  This type of propagation promotes genetic diversity because offspring may not have the exact characteristics of the parent plants.  Sexual propagation increases the possibility of hybrid vigor, which is the improved quality of plant material to that of parent plants.  Asexual propagation usually takes more time, but generally ensures that propagated plants will maintain the same characteristics as the parent plant.  For some species it may be the only way to pass on desired traits to subsequent generations and it may be the only way to propagate certain species.  A plant produced vegetatively can become larger than a plant produced by see in the same amount of time.

Tips for Successful Sexual Propagation

  • Seed Collection – Seeds should be collected when fruit is ripe, just before they fall to the ground.  In general, seeds should be cleaned, dried, and stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (in a refrigerator).  However, palm seeds should be planted immediately after harvesting and cleaning.
  • Seed Dormancy – Some seeds have thick seed coats the inhibit germination.  Some seeds need to be scarified (breaking of the seed coat) and/or stratified (stored in a specific environment) in order to germinate.
  • Seed Sowing – Seeds can be germinated in flats or other suitable containers in a seed starting media.  Seeds should be planted at a depth of two to three times their diameter, but no deeper than 3 inches.  Cycad seeds should be planted just below the medium surface.
Seeds stored in an envelope.

Seeds stored in an envelope. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Tips for Successful Asexual Propagation – In general, asexual propagation is the propagation of plant material from cuttings of stems, leaves, and/or roots.

  • Rooting Hormones – Increase rooting percentage, hasten root initiation, increase the number of roots per cutting, and increase root uniformity.  Auxin based rooting hormones (Indolebutyric acid (IBA) and Naphthalenacetic acid (NAA)) are available in dry or liquid forms.  It is important to use the correct concentration for the particular plant species because over application can cause damage to cutting base.
  • Sticking Cuttings – Cuttings should be stuck in the medium only deep enough to support the cuttings and hold them upright (1/2″ to 1″ deep).
  • Post-Rooting Care – Fertilization should be applied as soon as roots emerge from the cuttings.  However, overfetilization can increase soluble salts and burn roots.

Examples of Asexual Propagation

  • Softwood Cuttings – Taken from woody plants usually three to four weeks after a new flush of growth.  Commonly propagated species using this method include: crape myrtle; magnolia; oleander; azalea; jasmine; and boxwood.
  • Semihardwood Cuttings – Similar to softwood cuttings, but the lower portion of the cutting has become lignified (woody).  Usually taken from new shoots six to nine weeks after a flush of growth.  Commonly propagated species using this method include: camellia; pittosporum; junipers; and some hollies.
  • Hardwood Cuttings – Taken from the previous season’s growth, just before or during the dormant period.  Commonly propagated species using this method include narrow-leaved evergreens and deciduous species during the dormant season after leaves have dropped.
  • Leaf Cuttings – Comprised of only the leaf blade or the leaf blade and petiole (leaf stalk).  Cuttings are stuck upright in the propagation medium with the basal end (petiole end) of the leaf inserted into the propagation medium.  Commonly propagated species using this method include begonias and peperomias.
  • Root Cuttings – Taken in late winter or early spring from two to three-year-old plant material.  Plants propagated by root cuttings may not reproduce true to type if they are budded or grafted.  Commonly propagated species using this method include: plumbago; bayberry; oakleaf hydrangea; and yucca.
Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings.

Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

This article provides only a brief overview of propagation methods and techniques.  For more information on plant propagation please visit University of Florida Plant Propagation Glossary or Plant Propagation Techniques for the Florida Gardener.  Please be advised that some plant material is patented and it is illegal to propagate patented material without written authorization or licensing of the patent holder. If it is patented, a notation of patent number will be on the tag.

Opportunity for Professional Training

Opportunity for Professional Training

People with lawn care equipmentNo previous experience or accreditation it required to be a landscaper in the state of Florida. So when homeowners are searching for service providers, it is important that they question potential companies about their skills. One good measure is completion of voluntary certifications such as the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP). The FCHP program has been the industry’s standard for measuring horticulture and landscape knowledge since 1984. The training is also useful for property managers, homeowner associations and retail garden center employees, or anyone that wants to know more about Florida’s plants and their care.

 

Plants are complex and variable living things that range from microscopic to the largest of living organisms. With steady population growth in the state of Florida, environmental damage risks created by the use of improper products and practices has continually risen. State and federal natural resource protection agencies have restricted certain horticultural practices, as well as, fertilizer and pesticide application. It takes scientific knowledge to maintain lawns and landscapes, not just a “green thumb” in order to keep plants healthy while reducing contamination to the soil, air and water that we all need.

 

The Florida Certified Horticulture Professional training covers 16 areas, including identification, fertilization, irrigation, pest management, safety and business practices. Lecture and hands-on activities are utilized at each session. The 70-hour course will enhance anyone’s knowledge and will provide the basis for professionals to deliver a skilled service to clientele.

 

If you are a green industry worker or a concerned citizen interested in attending a FCHP preparatory course, there is an opportunity here in Crestview. Beginning Thursday, January 16, 2020 and continuing for 10 weeks to March 19, 2020, the Okaloosa County Extension office will be providing training for $175, which included the newest hard copy manual. Contact Sheila Dunning, 850-689-5850, sdunning@ufl.edu for more information.

Time To Control Winter Scales

Time To Control Winter Scales

Scale insects on a cabbage palm.

Scale insects on a cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto). Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

This week I was on a couple site visits to look on some cabbage palms (Sabal palmetto) and some banana shrubs (Michelia figo).  The palms had a white, waxy substance on their frond petioles and the banana shrubs had white specs on the tops of their leaves.  Upon further investigation, I realized the waxy substance and specs were both different species of scales.  Scale insects are serious pests of a number of ornamental plants.  Here in Florida there are 13 different families of scales with the most common being armored scales, soft scales, and mealybugs.  Scales have piercing-sucking mouthparts which they use to siphon fluids from the leaves, stems, and sometimes roots of many ornamental plants.  Heavy infestations cause extensive leaf yellowing, premature leaf drop, branch dieback, and eventually plant death.

Scale Biology

The life cycle of a scale begins with eggs being laid beneath wax coverings or beneath the adult female.  Eggs typically hatch in 1 to 3 weeks.  The newly hatched nymphs, called crawlers, move around a plant until they find a spot to feed.  Once a feeding site is located, their piercing sucking mouthparts are inserted into the plant and the crawlers begin to feed and grow.  The males of many scale species develop wings as adults and fly to other plants to reproduce.

magnolia white scales

Magnolia white scales on a banana shrub (Michelia figo). Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Armored Scales

Armored scales get their armor by secreting a waxy covering over their bodies that is not attached.  The scale lives under this covering and uses it as a protection to feed under.  Armored scales can be almost any color or shape and range anywhere from 1/16 to 1/8 inch in diameter.  For females, these shapes range from circular to oval to long and slender.  The males typically have coverings that are more elongate and smaller than the females.  As adults, the males are tiny, winged, gnat-like insects and are rarely seen.

Gloomy scale, Melanaspis tenebricosa, with armored covering removed.

Gloomy scale (Melanaspis tenebricosa) with armored covering removed. Photo Credit: A. G. Dale, University of Florida/IFAS

Soft Scales

Similar to armored scales, soft scales secrete a waxy covering, but it is attached to their bodies.  Soft scales can be a number of colors, shapes, and sizes and range anywhere from 1/8 to 1/2 inch in diameter.  Their shapes vary from spherical to nearly flat.

Population of adult and immature tuttle mealybugs (Brevennia rehi) on a blade of zoysiagrass.

Population of adult and immature tuttle mealybugs (Brevennia rehi) on a blade of zoysiagrass. Photo Credit: Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida/IFAS

Mealybugs

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 plants.  Mealybug damage produces discolored, wilted, and deformed leaves.

Scale and Mealybug Management

  • Cultural Control – Plant inspection prior to purchase or installation is the first line of defense against a scale or mealybug population.  Make sure to inspect the undersides of leaves and plant stems.  Infested sections of plants can be pruned and plant material should be cleaned from the planting area and discarded.  Also, you can increase air flow and decrease humidity by proper installation and pruning.  Over-fertilizing can also increase pest populations.

Larva of a brown lacewing (Neuroptera: Hemerobiidae) preparing to attack and feed on an aphid. The black-colored aphid to the right was probably parasitized by a wasp. Photograph by Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida.

Larva of a brown lacewing. Credits: Lyle Buss, University of Florida.

  • Biological Control – Predators, such as ladybugs and green lacewings, are usually present in large enough numbers to suppress scales and mealybugs to a desirable threshold.  However, broad-spectrum insecticides and bad weather can reduce predator numbers.  Look for signs of predation by inspecting dead scales for jagged holes in their waxy coatings.  If predation signs are present, use more selective chemical controls and oils as opposed to broad-spectrum products.
  • Chemical Control – Timing is everything when it comes to managing scale and mealybug insects.  Crawler activity is more pronounced with the flush of new plant growth in the spring.  Before application, prune infested plant parts off first to promote greater penetration of insecticides into the foliage.  Dormant Oils are often used in the winter to smother scale insects. These are good choices to implement because they don’t harm non-target or beneficial insects. Care must be taken to read the label and use them at the correct temperature, since use in hot weather may burn foliage. Contact products (acephate, bifenthrin, carbaryl, etc.) must be applied to inhibit the crawler stages of these insects and systemic products (acetamiprid, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, etc.) can be used on the sessile growth stage.  Plants should be sprayed thoroughly to the point of drip or “run off” from leaves, twigs, and stems.  Repeated applications may still be necessary even if the timing is right, as crawler populations are often large and crawlers like to hide under old waxy scales.  Systemic drenches are also a viable option.  With good spray coverage, horticultural oils can kill scales at all stages of growth.  Refer to the product label for phytotoxicity and temperature guidelines.  Even after successful treatment, the outer coatings of the scales may remain on the plant material for weeks, which can be unsightly.  The best way to determine if scales are dead is to squeeze them.  They will be dry when squeezed if they are dead and they will ooze liquids if they are living (they were at least alive to the point of being squashed).

For insect identification and additional information on scale control, please see:

A Guide to Scale Insect Identification

UF/IFAS Featured Creatures

Your County Extension Office