Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Post-Storm Flooding and Your Landscape

Wow, have we seen a lot of rain thanks to Tropical Storm Debby! Many parts of Pinellas County are completely saturated and some are still dealing with standing water. Many plants in the landscape are not tolerant of standing water. Under these conditions the roots are unable to get oxygen and essentially the root system suffocates. Some plants can tolerate up to a week or so in these flooded conditions while others will be damaged after only a day or two. Recovery from this situation is just as varied, as some plants will recover in just one growing season while others may decline and die. Healthy established plants will generally fare better than older stressed plants and young seedlings. Here are some of the symptoms that you might see above-ground if your plants have root damage from standing water:
-leaf yellowing or browning
-droopy foliage
-leaf drop
-leaf and stem wilting
-stem and limb die-back
-plant death
There are some things you can do after this occurs to lessen the damage to some plants. If you have container plants that have been flooded put them up on blocks, bricks, gravel, etc. to allow the drainage of excess water. Due to erosion you may have sediment, mulch, etc. deposited on your plants after the water recedes. Carefully remove this sediment so as not to harm the roots. You may also have exposed tree roots where the soil was washed away. These roots should be covered with soil to protect them. Try to return the soil to its original depth/condition, as putting too much soil on the roots will also reduce the oxygen available to them. The goal is to return to pre-flood conditions as soon as possible. Furthermore, according to the University of Florida, “trees showing signs of flooding stress should have up to ½ the leafy tree canopy removed to reduce the stress imposed by soil conditions. Reducing the size of the canopy will improve the chances for tree survival”. It is recommended that you consult an arborist for this activity.

Wet soils are also favorable for a number of soil-borne root and crown rots including Fusarium spp. and Phytophthora spp. These organisms are responsible for a number of root and crown rots that are potentially fatal. Keep a watchful eye on your landscape after flooding for symptoms that often look similar to drought stress like wilting or a dull appearance to leaves. Contact Extension if you suspect these infections as there are different control and sanitation methods that may help manage the spread of the organisms. Different plant species and root and crown rot species call for different responses that would be too numerous to explore here. So, keep an eye on your landscape and an umbrella at the ready.

Finally, this post mainly addresses freshwater flood impacts.  If you have experienced salt or brackish water flooding you will want to flush the plants root zone and rinse the plant with fresh water once the salt water recedes.  Carefully wash away sediment and debris as well.  After a thorough rinsing and flushing use the above methods to promote drainage and aeration as much as possible. 

Good luck- and consider this a warning from Mother Nature.  Be sure to have a hurricane plan in place for your family, pets, property, and landscape!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Vegetable Gardening: Can you stand the heat?

Okra crop
If you come to us from up north, this is the time of year you would normally enjoy vegetable gardening. That’s not usually the case here in Florida. Sure, there’s plenty of sunshine and usually lots of rain… but the heat, oh my, the heat. Most crops people really want to grow just won’t perform in our subtropical summer temps, and it can be downright brutal to weed your garden mid-July. But what if you are determined to garden in the summer anyway? Besides sunscreen and lots of water to hydrate yourself, what do you need to know?

Fresh watermelons
Summer crops for Florida are limited. Things like watermelon, black-eyed peas, okra, and sweet potatoes are best this time of year. If you are more interested in getting ready for the more diverse fall vegetable gardening season, black-eyed peas are a great choice. They are legumes and the help fix nitrogen in their roots. If you grow these as a cover crop and turn the plants into the soil before they produce peas, you will help nourish your soil with more nitrogen for the fall. You can grow and harvest the peas if you like, but this will reduce the amount of nitrogen put back into the soil.

Okra flower
 Sweet potatoes are healthy (superfood anyone?) and they grow on rather beautiful vines. Growing this crop is a great way to keep down weeds in your garden while keeping it beautiful all summer long. I don’t have much to say about okra- can you tell I’m not a fan? But, if you like gumbo this is the crop for you! Finally, watermelon is a fun crop, and a summertime favorite that would be ready late August or early September if you got it planted right now. You’re going to need some space for this one, as watermelon vines can grow up to 12’-16’ long! Plan accordingly.

All of the usual tips and techniques apply when gardening in the summer as well. Things like mulching to keep down weeds and scouting for pests regularly to avoid infestation are always great advice. Keep an eye on plants to make sure they are getting enough water. We usually get plenty of water from rain in the summer, but not always. Be sure to avoid letting your garden wilt in the extreme summer heat. Plants grown in containers will need more frequent watering to avoid this. For this and much more about vegetable gardening- at any time of year- please visit This handy link will give you the tools to succeed in your Florida garden any time of year, including planting dates, best varieties for Florida, and times to harvest.

Or you could just hit the beach… it’s hot out there!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Is your landscape storm-ready (Part 3)

Part 3: Properly Training Your Trees for Wind Resistance

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Jane Morse. Jane Morse is the Pinellas County Commercial Horticulture Extension Agent. This is part two of a three-part series.

Trees are like children. When they are young they need lots of training to make sure they grow up strong, straight and healthy. Proper pruning is extremely important for good tree structure and the health of the tree. The most wind-resistant tree form is one that has a single leader or trunk with evenly spaced branches. There should be no narrow forks or branches leaving the trunk and if there are multiple trunks with sharp V angles these are very likely to split apart in a storm. Tree branches should retain 2/3 of their canopy.

The palm on the top has
been improperly pruned.
The one on the bottom
has been pruned properly.
Palms, on the other hand, should never have their fronds removed above a horizontal line, or less than a 90 degree angle off of the trunk. The so-called “hurricane cut” is the worst cut of all for palms. Palms treated in this manner are robbed of food and vigor, and will be more likely to sustain severe damage or death from a hurricane. See these links for more about pruning: For suggestions on choosing a tree care professional, check this website:

Having trees that are beautiful, strong, healthy and wind-resistant just takes a little know how. Now that you know what to look for, go outside and inspect your trees. Make sure they have good structure and enough space for their root systems. If a tree needs help, contact a certified arborist who can advise you about pruning steps that can be done to create good structure, or for possible removal if the tree is hazardous.

And if a tree does fall or have to be removed, plant a new one. But plant a more storm-resistant one and make sure it gets regular pruning while young. See this link for a tree pruning schedule: