Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: Do we have a native phlox plant?

 

Phlox subulata

Phlox subulata

A:    Actually, we do have a native phlox, Phlox subulata, which is commonly found from cold-hardiness zones 7-10. The plant goes unnoticed during the year because it blends in with the grass and other surrounding parts of the landscape until flowers emerge in late winter and spring. It is one of the signals to us of the arrival of spring. Flower colors vary from red and lavender to pink and white, depending on the cultivar grown. Plants grow no more than about 6 inches tall, forming thick clumps and a good ground cover. The stiff leaves are narrow, growing to about an inch long and perhaps to 1/16 inch wide.  It tolerates most any kind of soil, with most sunlight situations although full sun helps it flower best. Native phlox is not salt tolerant.  Cultivars include ‘Crimson Beauty’—red flowers; ‘Emerald Cushion’—pink flowers; ‘Millstream’—white with a crimson eye; ‘Millstream Daphne’—dark blue flowers; ‘White Delight’—white flowers. Powdery mildew is the most common disease on this plant. The disease causes a white powdery growth on the leaves.

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Q: This last freeze really caused many of my plants, especially the perennials, to wilt and die. I cannot stand the way they look; can I cut them back now?

Cold damage on plants

Cold damage on plants

A:  This is a repeat question every time we have freezing temperatures so I reused an old Garden Talk answer. I know it is frustrating to have the landscape not look perfect. We have been spoiled by the last year’s warm winter temperatures which only occasionally reached the low thirties. However, most of us knew this kind of freezing winter damage would eventually happen. It is currently January and we may receive more cold temperatures; no one knows absolutely what will happen in the next few weeks. If you can stand it, consider waiting until the middle of March before removing all the tender, dead tissue. What you may find are some new, tender leafy growths underneath. These new growths are being protected by the dead leaves and given a warm place to grow. If you remove these dead leaves, you will remove the protection to the new growth by exposing them to cold temperatures and wind. If a freeze does occur, this new growth will likely be killed too.  So, we would prefer you wait, however, if you feel you cannot wait until March; then do what you must. Take special care of the new growth by covering it with sheets or towels when cold temperatures or winds occur then remove it when the sun and warmer temperatures return. Do not worry; most of the perennials will come back once the warm temperatures return so please consider waiting.    


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Q: I have a Calamondin citrus tree in my yard and I have no idea what to do with the fruit since it is too sour to eat.

Calamondin flower

Calamondin flower

A:   Calamondin, Citrus mitis, is an acid citrus fruit originating in China and introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s.  It can be eaten but the fruit is quite tart. So, what can you do with the fruit?  The whole fruit has been commonly used in cooking with chicken, seafood and fish.  The juice has been used as flavoring in beverages, baked goods, sauces, marmalade, and soups. Calamondin is generally used as an ornamental citrus with some landscapers selecting it to replace typical hedges.  It is incredibly cold-hardy, able to survive in temperatures as low as 20ºF beating out other cold-hardy citrus such as kumquat and satsuma tangerine, The fruit is small, generally only about 1 – 1.5 inches in diameter. It should be used within a week of harvesting as the fruit does not store well. Calamondins make a very good patio tree and can be easily grown in a large container. It is best to place citrus is a very sunny area although it can produce fruit well with some late afternoon shade.  Irrigating too much or too little can be a problem for fruit production but generally it is better to err on the side of less rather than more water. Fertilize using a slow-release citrus fertilizer in March, June and September.  You can use 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 fertilizer for fruit trees once every six weeks starting in March through September.  Pruning is only required to keep the tree the size you desire.


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Q: What is wrong with my grapefruit? Can I eat it?

A:    I believe you have a disease called Greasy spot or Greasy spot rind blotch (GSRP).  Greasy spot is caused by a fungus and commonly found on grapefruit, Hamlin oranges, and tangelos. Greasy spot rind blotch (GSRB) is particularly problematic for fresh fruit grapefruit and this occurs on the rind of the grapefruit as the spots join to form larger areas called blotches. The spores from the fungi produce in the decaying leaf material from the tree.  The spores are taken up by the wind and attach to the underside of the grapefruit leaves forming black spots with yellow halos.  When the weather conditions are perfect (moist and warm) the spores multiply causing damage to the leaves and ultimately the fruit rind.  The highest levels of spore production usually occur during the months of April through June causing infection to occur from June through September. Best management practices for controlling the disease is to be sure to clean up leaf litter from under the tree and apply horticulture oil and/or copper once in mid-May to June with the second application in late July. Although the rinds of the fruit look poor, the fruit is still edible.  Greasy_spot_rind_blotch_UFIFAS


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Q: What is this green insect? It looks like a little fish to me.

A:   Thanks for bringing in this interest insect. The insect is an adult Cuban cockroach, Panchlora nivea. It is interesting to note the immature (nymphs) Cuban cockroaches are brown in color and change to the pale green color after several molts. They are also known as banana cockroaches. Cuban cockroaches are generally not household pests as they prefer to live in leaf litter, under logs and around landscape shrubbery in the organic mulches.  Since they are originally from warmer climates they often do not survive the cold winters here in Northeast Florida.  Like many other cockroaches, they are active during the evening hours but have been known to be take flight around porch lights. Keeping any of the outdoor cockroaches out of the house can be done by ensuring tight seals around windows and doors as well as caulking around bathroom and kitchen drain pipes.  One other interesting note is because of their attractive color, they have been known to be kept as pets in sealed aquariums or kept as food for insectivores – not my cup of tea, but hey, to each his own.  Cuban_cockroach


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Q: I have this scary looking slime growing all over my yard. What is it and how do I control it?

Nostoc_CommuneIIA:   At first glance, I thought this might have been some sort of jelly fungi but after further research and after calling a fellow Extension agent, we discovered it to be blue – green algae called Nostoc commune.  This alga is known by other common names such as star jelly or witch’s butter – neither of which really describes how creepy it looks.  I felt at any moment something strange would rise up from it – reminiscent of a creature from Ghost Busters!   The strange jelly-like structure can occur during warm temperatures when accompanied by high levels of moisture and/or rainfall. It is also an indicator of compacted soil and/or too much irrigation.  It will dry out if the water or rainfall diminishes but it has only gone into dormancy.  More than likely it will return if the conditions are right.  Star jelly appears in areas where the lawn grass is already weak – however it is important to emphasize the algae does not cause the death of the grass.  In fact, star jelly can grow on hardscapes such as driveways and sidewalks.  When applied regularly, some fungicides will help control star jelly but probably not get rid of it permanently. If you decide to use a fungicide, be sure it is labeled for application on lawns and follow the directions on the label.  Applying to much of the product, aside from breaking the law, can cause more problems for the lawn grass. The best suggestion in controlling star jelly is to loosen up the soil by aeration and reduce irrigation if watering is contributing to the problem.  Another interesting fact – in some Asian cultures, star jelly is eaten although I would not recommend taking it up from your yard and trying it.