Thursday, December 18, 2008

Water Management District Changes Their Mind on Planting sod

From the SWFWMD web-site

The Tampa Bay region continues to suffer from the effects of a three-year drought. The region is experiencing an extreme water shortage and water restrictions have been tightened. The District’s Governing Board recently modified the water restrictions to allow for the establishment of new construction and lawn replacement (sod, plugs and other turfgrass material). The changes include:

  • Restricting the new construction and turfgrass replacement establishment period to 30 days total.
  • On days 1-15, beginning the day of installation, the new or replacement turfgrass may be watered every day of the week.

  • On days 16-30, the new or replacement turfgrass may be watered approximately every other day. Unless otherwise specified by a local ordinance, even-numbered addresses may only water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Odd-numbered addresses may only water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts for the Gardener

Andy Wilson, Horticulturalist

The University of Florida Bookstore has a great variety of books, flashcards, posters and other helpful references for the gardener on your gift list. Check out the selections here:
Among the selections is Growing Orchids: Easier Than You Think!, a DVD with lots of information on selecting and growing orchids:

Florida Native Christmas Trees

Andy Wilson, Horticulturist

Southern red cedar (Juniperus virginana) and sand pine (Pinus clausa) are two Florida natives that are grown commercially for both cut and potted Christmas trees. Both southern red cedar and sand pine can be planted in the landscape after use and both are drought tolerant once established. The southern red cedar also has good salt tolerance. Want the experience of selecting your own tree to cut on a Christmas tree farm? Check out this listing of Florida Christmas tree farms from the Florida Department of Agriculture:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Care of Cut Christmas Trees

Andy Wilson, Horticulturist

The single most important thing to do to keep cut Christmas trees fresh is to keep the base of the trunk immersed in water at all times once it is brought into the home. Most research has failed to show any real benefit from additives to the water like corn syrup, bleach, etc. Depending on the size of the water reservoir in the tree stand it will probably be necessary to check the water level at least once a day. The tree’s ability to absorb water is usually improved by making a fresh cut at the bottom of the trunk before placing the tree in the stand.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cold Protrection for Landscape Plants

By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension agent

January can bring frost or maybe freezing temperatures and here in Pinellas County we have tropical plants in our landscapes, so these cold spells can be damaging. If you have plants outside or in the landscape that may be damaged by cold, plan on what you will need to do to protect them.

One of the best protections against cold damage is a healthy plant. Provide the proper location and growing conditions for your plants. Cold sensitive plants are best planted in parts of the landscape where they will have protection from cold winds and away from areas where cold air settles. Fences, dense shrubs, overhead tree canopy and even buildings can help protect tender plants. Avoid heavy fertilizations in the fall. Also avoid heavy pruning in the early to late fall which can encourage a flush of new growth that will be more sensitive to cold damage.

If a freeze or frost is expected, you should hand water the root zone of your cold sensitive plants thoroughly. It is best not to do overhead watering during a freeze. Growers do this to protect valuable crops like strawberries, but it is difficult for a homeowner to judge the correct amount of water to use. It may also go against the water restrictions in your area. Plants in containers are more vulnerable than plants in the ground. They are more easily transported to a shelter, inside, or the garage. Some plants like orchids may need to be moved inside to shelter if the temperature will get down below 50 degrees.

Have on hand blankets, sheets, newspapers, bricks, large rocks, and large boxes to cover cold sensitive plants. You should cover them before the sun goes down. Covers should extend all the way to the ground and be weighted down with bricks or rocks. By covering all the way to the ground you will trap some of the heat that the ground has absorbed during the day. If you have a particularly valuable cold sensitive plant you can build a shelter over it, cover it with a blanket and put a light under the shelter to provide heat. Be very careful that the light does not touch the covers and cause a fire.

Check out our short video below for tips for protecting plants from a frost or freeze and also what to do after a freeze.

For additional information on cold protection for your plants, access the UF/IFAS publications on line at:, call our lawn and garden help line at 727 582-2110 or visit our web site at .

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fall in Pinellas County

By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

We have had some cold weather early this year which has created some wonderful red, orange and gold colors in our trees and other landscape plants. Deciduous plants – those that loose their leaves in the fall – seem to magically turn colors with shorter days and colder temperatures. But, it seems that the combination of these two factors do not combine together in Pinellas County very often to produce these vibrant colors.

When a deciduous plant begins preparations for dormancy, the green colored chlorophyll begins to break down. But chlorophyll is not the only pigment inside leaves. There are other colored pigments that are masked by the intense green chlorophyll. These other pigments include carotenoids and anthocyanins. Carotenoids create the bright yellows and oranges and anthocyanins impart a red color.

It was believed that these colors simply appeared after chlorophyll breaks down, and that they served no function. However, research shows that in many plants, anthocyanins are not simply unmasked, but produced by leaves during the fall (Lee et al., 2003). There is very good evidence that the anthocyanins work like a sunscreen so that the plants can continue to take nutrients from the leaves as they fade (Yamasaki, 1997; Chalker-Scott, 1999; Matile, 2000).

All of this science aside, it is very nice to enjoy some lovely fall colors in our area for a change.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Replacing sod prohibited under new water restrictions

By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

The new water restrictions released a few weeks ago by the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) state that lawn renovations are to be avoided. There has been some confusion about this issue. Now SWFWMD has clarified this by stating that there is a prohibition against planting sod for lawn renovation, and they have asked governments to enforce this point. Robyn Felix, a spokes women for SWFWMD has stated that anything that causes you to need more water is unacceptable.

We sometimes forget that Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties are suffering from drought and this fact puts our drinking water at risk. We are now in the dry months of the year and do not expect any significant rain until next summer.

All this being said, some exceptions do exist. You can plant sod in communities that use reclaimed water that comes from a municipal treatment plant. This does not include irrigation water that comes from surface water sources like lakes and ponds, and also does not include well water. Also, sod can be planted for new construction homes and along roadways that have bare soil.

Grass does not grow as much during our colder weather, so waiting until warmer weather is a probably good idea. However, homeowner associations may ask you to re-sod if your lawn looks unacceptable. Ms. Felix said that SWFWMD will intercede with the homeowner association if the homeowner sends them a copy of their citation or letter requiring a renovated lawn.

Please see my November 4th blog post below for discussion of the complete water restrictions.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Coming Soon to a Landscape Near You….Yellowing Leaves on Hibiscus and Gardenias.

By Andy Wilson

It’s understandably alarming to a home gardener. A hibiscus or gardenia plant that looked fine a couple of weeks ago suddenly has many bright yellow leaves on it. What could it be? Nothing about the care of the plant changed, so what’s causing the yellowing?

A common cause of this type of leaf yellowing in late fall, winter and spring in our area is fluctuating winter temperatures. Just the recent (and somewhat unseasonable) dip of temperatures down into the 40’s was enough to trigger this yellowing on gardenias and hibiscus. This yellowing does no permanent damage to the plant and if it is otherwise healthy it will more than replace the lost leaves when vigorous growth resumes next spring.

Since we often experience a number of these warm-to-cool-and-back-again cycles until late spring, you may see repeated appearances of this type of yellowing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Landscape Watering Restrictions Tightened

Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

The continuing drought conditions prompted the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to tighten landscape watering restrictions for Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco counties. SWFWMD reports that we are entering the dry season with extremely low water supplies in storage to cover our water needs. Two years of drought has left the District with a rainfall deficit of 16 inches. And, on top of this news, forecasts predict drier than normal conditions through next spring.

The current one day per week watering restrictions continue in effect with several additional restrictions:

      • Restricting the time for hand-watering or micro-irrigation for non-lawn landscaping to before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
      • Postponing turfgrass renovation, such as replacing lawns.
        Reducing the 60-day allowance for new plant establishment.

      • Reducing the time aesthetic fountains and waterfalls may.
      • Requiring water utilities and other local enforcement officials to increase their enforcement efforts, including requirements to issue citations without having first issued a warning.

      To access the whole press release from SWFWMD on the Internet, go to:

      The city of St. Petersburg has slightly different watering restrictions for water customers. Information can be found on the Internet at:

      Customers who use reclaimed water for irrigation will have different restrictions depending on the source of their reclaimed water. Please check with your supplier for current information regarding reclaimed water.

      Pinellas County:
      St. Petersburg:

      Water is a precious commodity that we need to conserve at every opportunity.

      Thursday, October 23, 2008

      Please Help Us Help You!

      Here at Pinellas County Extension we strive to deliver the most current research based information available.

      This year we began using blogs like this one and several others to make that information even more accessible. To help make sure that you as the reader are getting the most from our blogs we would like you to take a short survey. Please select the link below to access the online survey. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and your responses will be completely anonymous.

      Thank you for your time and continued support.

      Monday, October 6, 2008

      Flowers for Fall and Beyond

      By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

      It is starting to get cooler and here in Florida that means that we can plant a wider range of annual flowers for color in the landscape. Some people say that fall and winter in central and south Florida is like spring in the rest of the country. So, as it gets cooler you can start thinking about planting geraniums, alyssum, wax begonia, impatiens, Marguerite daisy, pansy, lobelia, petunias, verbena, dianthus, nasturtium, and many more.

      Decide which flowers you want to plant and then prepare the bed area. Incorporate organic matter and a complete slow release fertilizer into the soil. Now you are ready to purchase and plant your flowers. Choose plants that are short, uniformly green and that do not have browning leaves. Look carefully for signs of fungus or insect pests too. Transplants that are in bud, but not in full bloom will establish better and give you the best display.

      We can still have some very warm days and rain is not as reliable, so be sure to water your new plantings every day that we don’t have rain for about two weeks. Then you can cut back and only water when the soil feels dry. Applying an organic mulch will help retain water in the soil, but be careful to leave about a 2 – 3 inch area around the base of each plant free of mulch. Mulch around the base can encourage fungal disease.

      Annual flowers grow very fast so you may need to give them some additional fertilizer about midway through the growing season. Keep the dead flower heads cut off and you should be able to enjoy these flowers until the spring.

      For additional information, see the University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication Bedding Plants: Selection, Establishment and Maintenance at

      Tuesday, September 9, 2008

      Veggie Gardening Educational Video

      Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

      Did you miss attending our Vegetable Gardening Class on August 9th? Or, are you looking for information on veggie gardening in Pinellas County? You can now view the video version on your computer at The link is in the right hand column titled "Vegetable Gardening Pinellas County Style". The program is two hours long. There is also a link to many veggie gardening resources on this same web page just below the video link.

      Tuesday, August 19, 2008

      Growing Veggies in Containers

      Pam Brown, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Agent

      Have you ever tasted a tomato that actually ripened on the vine? Or eaten broccoli that was cooked as soon as it was harvested? If so, you know the joys of growing your own vegetables. With concerns about the safety of some vegetables, the distance they travel to our tables, and the pesticides used in other countries, it makes sense to try to grow at least some vegetables for ourselves. Fall through spring is the prime time for growing veggies here in this part of Florida.

      Many of us do not have room for a full fledged vegetable garden. But, properly planted and tended containers can produce quite a bounty of vegetables. You must choose the site for your containers carefully since vegetables require at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun, especially those producing fruit like tomatoes and peppers. Lettuce and other greens can stand a little less full sun.

      Many kinds of containers are suitable for growing vegetables. They will need to be large enough to hold the mature plant. A five gallon planter, bucket, can, or basket will be large enough for one tomato, pepper, or eggplant. Commercially available window boxes or other “grow boxes” that are specifically designed for vegetable gardening are also appropriate. Just remember, it is imperative that there be holes in the bottom for drainage in any container you choose to use.

      It is best to use a commercial growing medium or potting soil to fill your containers. You should not use soil from your landscape since this can possibly add weed seeds, diseases, nematodes and harmful insects. Choose a potting soil that contains some sand and perlite for drainage. The main function of the growing medium is to provide the vegetable plants and their roots with the three necessary ingredients for growth - nutrients, water and air.

      Vegetables grow fast and need a consistent source of water and fertilizer. Many containers will need to be watered every day once the plants start to mature. Allowing the plants to wilt from lack of water will reduce the yield and also affect the taste. Choose a slow release fertilizer with Magnesium and micro nutrients or one of the fertilizers labeled specifically for vegetables. Incorporate fertilizer into the growing medium at planting following directions on the label for the amount to use. Never use turf fertilizers for vegetables. The ratio of nutrients is not appropriate.

      There are always pest challenges. Look at your plants often and watch for caterpillars, whiteflies, aphids, and other insects. Many times there will be beneficial insects that come along to help control the bad ones. But, if not, be sure that any pesticides that you use are labeled for vegetable gardens. Try the least toxic pesticide first.

      I cannot cover all of the information that is necessary for growing veggies in this space. You can access the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” on the Internet at: In addition, this Vegetable Gardening Topic index provides publications on all veggie gardening topics including organic gardening and pest control. Vegetable Gardening in Florida by James Stephens is the best book for gardening information. It is a great resource and contains the best pictures of insect pests and diseases of vegetables.

      I wish you successful gardening and good eating.

      Friday, August 15, 2008

      Summertime rain and pesky mosquitoes

      By Cindy Peacock Pinellas County Extension Horticulturist

      It is nice that we are getting so much rain. But, everyday rain can cause mosquito problems. When water collects around the house in containers like tires, gutters, and bird baths, you will experience an increase in mosquitoes in two to three days. There are about 70 species of mosquitoes in Florida. They breed in rain pools, floodwater, roadside puddles, and practically at any temporary body of fresh water. Eggs are laid by female mosquitoes in dry areas and when it rains the eggs hatch into mosquito larva in the standing water. It only takes three days for the mosquito to become an adult. There are some helpful things you can do around your home before and after it rains to prevent mosquitoes from maturing.

      Remove or empty small containers, examples: paint buckets, toy buckets, aluminum cans.
      Cover or empty large containers, example: rain barrels, wheel barrels, kiddy pools.
      Change outside pet water bowls regularly.
      Flush bird baths every two days.
      Empty or flush plant saucers and rooting plants in jars.
      Cover or remove tires.
      Clean out gutters.
      Turn canoes and small boats over or cover them.
      Chlorinate swimming pools and empty kiddy pools.
      Stock ornamental ponds with fish, example: minnows, gold fish.
      Flush water from bromeliads or treat them every 30 days with Bt mosquito granules.
      Remove debris from ditches so the water can flow.
      Fill in any low spots in your yard, if possible.

      If everyone in your neighborhood will do these simple tasks around their homes, you will have less domestic mosquitoes in the area.

      Thursday, July 24, 2008

      Mushroom Mania

      By Jean Field, Pinellas County Extension Horticulturalist

      Eeek! Mushrooms in my lawn…that means fungus. I must kill them. What can I spray them with? There must be something I can use!” These are the questions we get from panic-stricken homeowners right after a heavy rain. Don’t worry; these mushrooms don’t harm the landscape or your lawn. They thrive on moisture and the decomposition of organic matter in soil. If you have mushrooms, your soil is both moist and it contains organic matter…not such a bad situation after all.

      Don’t like they way they look? You can remove them by hand or mow them. To prevent them from sprouting, simply reduce the moisture you give to your landscape. Daily rains promote good mushroom growth. If you hand-remove the mushrooms, you will have fewer in the future. Be sure to wear gloves when removing mushrooms and wash your hands well when finished.

      Still want to eat home-grown mushrooms? Consider buying a do-it-yourself kit from mail-order suppliers. You can grow shitake, oyster, Portobello and other flavorful mushrooms to satisfy your cooking delights.

      Remember, never eat any mushrooms you find in your garden or in the woods. Many poisonous mushrooms in Florida look very similar to the harmless ones.

      Visit this site for more information:

      Tuesday, July 15, 2008

      Want a flower to make you happy?

      By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent
      Try planting some Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) seeds or better yet, buy some plants for instant effect. These plants form a clumping, two-foot-tall mound of foliage topped with large, bright yellow flowers. They need full sun and well drained soil. Being very drought tolerant and salt tolerant as well makes Black-eyed Susan a wonderful flower for our gardens in Pinellas County. Plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart for mass planting. You can also sew seed directly into the garden bed. The seed germinates in 5 – 10 days once the soil temperature reaches 70 – 75 degrees, and they produce flowers 10 – 14 weeks later. Once the seeds germinate and have several true leaves, thin the plants to the recommended planting distance. Leaving the planting too thick can decrease air flow around the mature plants and increase the incidence of fungal diseases.

      This flower can make you happy just looking at it. The cultivars available today are a far cry from the roadside Black-eyed Susans of the past.

      For more information, check out this link:

      Tuesday, June 3, 2008

      Spanish Moss or Ball Moss - Is it killing my tree?

      By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

      In short, the answer is no to the question – “Is it killing my tree”? Spanish moss and ball moss are two of Florida's 16 native bromeliad species. Both are epiphytes, or air plants. Epiphytes can attach root structures to their host plant, but, they do not parasitize this plant; they simply use it for support. If air plants become so thick that they shade the leaves of the tree, growth could be slowed down. You usually see more air plants on weakened or damaged plants because they may also have thinner foliage. This allows more light into the branches, thus stimulating the growth of the air plants. So, air plants grow faster on stressed trees because the trees are weakened, but do not cause poor tree growth.

      Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is found hanging from tree limbs, especially live oak and cypress. It is gray when dry and light green when wet. It can hang down from tree branches in streamers up to 20 feet long. The small flowers are pale green or blue, and fragrant at night. Stems and leaves are slender and curly. Spanish moss has no roots; the leaves catch water and nutrients from moisture and dust in the air.

      Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata) is gray-green and found on tree branches or telephone wires. It is often mistaken for a small clump of Spanish moss. It grows in clumps 6-10" in diameter on most kinds of trees. Tiny seeds are blown by the wind until they land on a tree branch. They stick fast and develop root-like attachments to the outside of the bark.

      Ball moss is able to convert nitrogen in air into a form that plants can use like fertilizer. Except for beans and peas, most plants cannot do this. So, when ball moss falls to the ground and decomposes, it provides a little more fertilizer for other plants.

      For more information about Spanish and Ball mosses, please access the UF/IFAS Extension publication Florida’s Native Bromeliads at:

      Both photos are courtesy of Ed Gilman, Professor at University of Florida/IFAS

      Wednesday, April 9, 2008

      Don’t Feed the Chinch Bugs!

      By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Agent, Pinellas County Extension

      This time of year we are thinking about how a little fertilizer could green up our St. Augustine lawn. But, if you overdo the fertilizer, you may be growing more than grass.

      A new University of Florida study suggests that by repeatedly using large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer, you can create just the right environment for an explosion of Southern chinch bugs. Chinch bugs are the number one insect pest of St. Augustine, the state’s most popular lawn grass.

      In the study, Southern chinch bugs produced the most eggs on St. Augustinegrass fed the equivalent of 2 pounds nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per month. This is a worst-case scenario, but not unrealistic considering that people sometimes over fertilize in their zest to have the greenest lawn in the neighborhood.

      The turfgrass experts at the University of Florida advise us to use no more than 1 pound of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn, a recommendation found in the document “St. Augustinegrass for Florida Lawns,” available at

      These findings were presented in Jacksonville on March 14, 2008 at an Entomological Society of America meeting.

      Wednesday, March 26, 2008

      Repotting African Violets

      By Jane Morse and Pam Brown, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Agents

      African violets (Saintpaulia species) are popular house plants that grow under light conditions found in the average home. The African violet plants available for purchase are often planted too deeply for them to thrive, making repotting necessary. Repotting can be a little tricky, so we have provided a short video to show you how. Additional information on the care of African violets is available in the University of Florida/IFAS publication “African Violets” at