A Time to Celebrate Trees

I’ve always enjoyed trees in one way or another – climbing them as a kid, eating their fruits, using them to build tree houses, etc. As an adult, I still enjoy and appreciate trees for their beauty and benefits. Can you imagine our parks, roadsides, schoolyards, and landscapes without trees?

Trees were everywhere in my small hometown in Georgia. I remember two large pecan trees growing on either side of our driveway. As a child, I claimed one tree as my own, and my twin sister claimed one as her tree (and I better not touch it). But, I not only touched it, but I also climbed it, too. It wasn’t the best climbing tree, though. But It produced the best pecans. I think that’s really why she picked the tree.

I remember a large black cherry tree in our backyard. It was a good climbing tree. It was one of the tallest black cherry trees I’ve ever seen. Some birds like the ½ inch fruit produced by black cherry trees. The seeds will go through their digestive system, remain viable and then germinate from bird droppings. This is probably how the tree I climbed got its start.

There were many other types of trees in our yard. We had various fruit trees, including peach, plum, apple, and pear. While in high school, I had the responsibility of caring for the fruit trees. Actually, I volunteered to do this because, at the time, I was involved in FFA and agriculture, horticulture, and forestry classes. We had an outstanding Vocational Agriculture and FFA program at my high school.

I remember cracking black walnuts with a hammer on our concrete drive to get to this nut’s “meat.” By the time the extremely hard-shell breaks into tiny pieces, you’re left with small bits of walnut meat to carefully pick through and separate from the bits of shell. My mother planted the tree. She collected a single walnut and planted it. It grew into a nice tree, but I don’t think my dad cared for the tree. The walnut fruit with husk included is about 2 inches in diameter. Most years, a bearing tree will produce an abundance of walnuts to be picked up off the lawn and driveway. This was the case with our tree. My dad usually had the job of picking up the walnuts.

Arbor Day allows everyone to celebrate, recognize, appreciate, and plant trees. Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Friday in January. I encourage you to take time to enjoy the trees around you, and if you can, plant a tree. There just might be some child that will remember you for doing so.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Extension and Electricity

In 2021, having electricity in our homes may be taken for granted. But did you know that the UF/IFAS Extension Office played a major role in getting electricity out to rural areas in Okaloosa County?

In 2001, John Hentz, Jr. shared his involvement in getting electricity to rural areas in Okaloosa and Walton Counties back in 1940.

Hentz became the County Agricultural Agent in Okaloosa County in 1940. He described Okaloosa as an “agricultural county” with the only paved roads being Highway 90 through the center of the county, Highway 98 “skirting the coast,” Highway 20 through Niceville and Valparaiso, a paved road from Crestview to Laurel Hill, and a paved road through Baker into Blackmon. All other roads were dirt.

Hentz explained that Crestview, Milligan, Baker, Laurel Hill, Niceville, Valparaiso, and Fort Walton Beach had electricity furnished by Gulf Power, but the “smaller villages” and rural areas had no electrical service.

During this time, Rural Electric started to get established around the country through the federal Rural Electrification Administration (REA) during the Roosevelt administration. The REA was created to bring electricity to farms. Nearly ninety percent of farms lacked electricity due to the high costs to get it to rural areas.

As a County Agent, Hentz recognized the need and value for rural areas to have electricity. With help from a few residents near Holt, Hentz arranged a public meeting at the “Holt schoolhouse” and invited John Hudson, County Agent in Santa Rosa County, as a speaker to explain the REA plan and its operation, as Santa Rosa already had electricity through the REA. Hentz said that the school auditorium was packed. He continued with this project in Baker, Blackmon, Escambia Farms, Laurel Hill, and Svea, holding public meetings in local schools and churches.

Once organized, REA officials from Washington took over. Hentz said that they sent a young engineer from Atlanta to map the project using his car’s odometer, locating each applicant. Hentz stated, “I rode every mile of it with him and identified every applicant.”

As with any project, there were challenges and resistance. Hentz remembered one farmer who didn’t want anything to do with this “newfangled” electricity that could “burn his barn down.” In one community, Hentz was accused of running some sort of “scheme” to get money. There was resistance to obtaining right-of-way by some property owners to run the electrical lines, etc.

Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, CHELCO now serves more than 56,000 accounts, providing electrical service to rural areas in Walton, Okaloosa, Holmes, and Santa Rosa counties.

Hentz stated, “The Choctawhatchee project became a reality, and it changed people’s way of life in the outlying rural areas. With Rural Electricity’s coming, people could live in the country and have most of the town living comforts. The Choctawhatchee Electric Coop was in full operation by late summer of 1941.”

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

New Year’s Resolution

Avoid “calendar” control of lawn pests

Q: I plan to install a new St. Augustine lawn in 2021. Can you provide a calendar schedule for applying insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides to a lawn in North Florida?

A: It’s difficult or impossible to offer a “schedule” or “calendar” approach to pest control on a lawn. Pests should be treated as needed. The primary pests of St. Augustinegrass are chinch bugs and gray leaf spot fungus. Chinch bugs are most active during the hotter, drier weather of spring and summer. Gray leaf spot is mostly active during warmer, wet weather. Mole crickets and large patch fungus are not as much a problem as chinch bugs and gray leaf spots. Mole crickets are wrongly blamed for many lawn problems. It’s best to target the immature stage of the mole cricket, which means treating during June or July. Large patch is the most active during the cooler weather of spring and fall. Weeds should be dealt with based on the type of weeds your lawn has. But it is not a given that you’ll have to treat any of these pests regularly. Learn to monitor for these pests and treat the lawn only as needed. Correct maintenance (fertilizing correctly, watering on an as-needed basis, and mowing at the correct height) is the major factor.

Additional information on growing a Florida lawn, including pest identification and management, is available online at https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/yourfloridalawn or through contacting my office.

You may also be interested in the UF/IFAS Extension North Florida Gardening Calendar, available at this link. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep451.

Below is a sample of things to do for the month of January. You’ll find that calendar items for North Florida lawns begin to happen more in the spring and summer months.

In the vegetable garden, Irish potatoes can be planted now. Start with healthy seed pieces purchased from a local nursery or online seed catalog. Continue planting cool-season crops, including broccoli, kale, carrots, and lettuce. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_vegetable_gardening.

Plant deciduous fruit trees to give their roots time to develop before the warm, dry spring months. Prune and fertilize existing trees. See Temperate Fruit for the Home Landscape: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_home_temperate_fruit.

Be ready to cover tender plants to minimize damage. Frost or freezes are likely this month and next. See Cold Protection and Chilling Damage of Landscape Plants: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_landscapes_and_cold.

Celebrate Florida Arbor Day (the third Friday of January) by planting a tree in your yard or community. Consider a hurricane-resistant tree, such as live oak, bald cypress, cabbage palm, or crape myrtle. See Arbor Day in Florida: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_arbor_day.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Seafood: A Holiday Tradition

By Rhett Register

On Christmas Eve, many Italian Americans join family and friends for a fish and seafood dinner. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, as some call it, seems to have its origins in Southern Italy and was introduced to America in the 1800s. Eating fish prior to certain holidays is a widespread Catholic practice.

Maurizio Martinelli, Florida Sea Grant Coral Disease Response Coordinator, comes from a family that has kept this tradition for as long as he can remember.

“We cook all day then bring our family and friends together to have this big fish feast,” says Martinelli.

While there are some staples — for example, a salted cod dish called baccalà — there is also room for trying new things, Martinelli explained. After all, seven is a pretty high number of seafood dishes to prepare, with many people making even more.

Fortunately, Florida Sea Grant recently finished its second season of Facebook Live seafood cooking demonstrations. The “Seafood at Your Fingertips” webpage has more than two dozen seafood preparation videos, recipes and blog posts. When restaurants closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Florida Sea Grant agents and partners decided to put the series together, filming themselves preparing some of their favorite seafood dishes to encourage people to cook seafood at home.

Recipes range from the one-step oysters on the half shell from Vincent Encomio, to Chris Verlinde’s crab cakes, which require a little more preparation. All of them are worth it. Seafood is healthy and, if properly chosen, can have a low environmental impact.

The latter is especially important to Martinelli. Since beginning to study marine science, his role in preparations of the Christmas Eve meal has changed. “I’ve gone from being just a sous chef to helping find fish that are more sustainable,” he says. “This can be a good time to try out new fish recipes, maybe using local seafood.”

Interested in adding fish to your holiday meal? Visit Florida Sea Grant’s “Seafood at Your Fingertips” for an ocean of seafood recipes and video demonstrations: flseagrant.org/seafood/seafoodatyourfingertips.

Winter Weather is Here

Winter is finally here, and that means consistent nights of watching for dropping temperatures.  Tropical plants and newly installed shrubs are susceptible to cold injury.  Those colorful, blooming plants that have added a tropical look to the landscape all summer may begin to suffer when the temperatures drop below 50o F.  Leaves may turn yellow and flowering stops. These plants will need to be moved inside or have a temporary greenhouse built around them.  But, hardy plants that haven’t established a sufficient root system will need additional attention when the temperatures drop dramatically.

The ability of plants to endure a freeze depends on the species and the weather leading up to the extra cold night.  Gradual decreases in temperatures help plants acclimate to winter.  A sudden one-day drop of 40-50 degrees results in a rapid freeze that causes ice to form inside the plant cells.  Leaf and stem tissue expand so quickly that it splits, resulting in parts of the plant incapable of transporting water and nutrients, as well as performing photosynthesis.  However, it may be late the following spring before the damage is noticed, when that section of the plant has slowly starved to death. 

Additionally, plants can experience desiccation or dry out.  This happens when dry winds and solar radiation result in the loss of more water from the leaves than can be transported by a cold root system.  The resulting symptom is marginal and/or tip burning of leaves that leads to totally brown leaves.

Freezes (when the temperature drops to 32o F) are characterized as radiational or advective.  Radiational freezes occur on calm, clear nights when heat radiates from plants’ surfaces, making them colder than the air due to the rapid loss of heat.  If there is moisture in the air, ice will also form on the surfaces.  Under these conditions, ice forms between plant cells rather than within the individual cells.  Most hardy plants can tolerate these types of freezes if they are properly hydrated.

Advective freezes occur when cold northern winds move rapidly, dropping temperatures quickly and causing widespread foliage desiccation. Cultivation and maintenance practices can impact a plant’s ability to endure extended periods of low temperatures.  Shade-tolerant species installed under the canopy of a tree typically display less injury from radiational freezes because the trapped heat from the ground and the overhead foliage creates a microclimate.  Well-watered soil around a plant will absorb solar radiation during the day and re-radiate heat overnight, raising the plants’ temperature.

Shrubs that are not pruned in the late summer or fall have leaves that withstand frost and wind.  The removal of foliage late in the growing season triggers a flush of new growth that is very sensitive to lower temperatures. The same response can result from fertilizer applications after plants have slowed down in growth.

So, what can you do to prepare for upcoming freezing temperatures?  Begin by avoiding pruning and fertilizing at the end of the season and making sure that the plants have been watered within 24 hours of a cold night.  Next, insulate against water loss and increase heat radiation by adding a three-inch of mulch and covering the trunks of sensitive trees with a commercial tree wrap.  Then, consider what needs to be covered.  Frost cloth or other breathable fabrics can trap heat for the night and provide a protective layer from frost settling on the leaves.  It needs to be placed by mid-afternoon and removed the next day when temperatures are above 32o F.  Plastic is not recommended unless the timing regime can be followed reliably and a structure is used under the material to keep the plastic off the foliage.  Anchoring of the cover is critically important in the event of an advective freeze.

Finally, turn off the sprinkler system.  Commercial agriculture often uses a running irrigation system to keep the leaf surface temperatures near. Still, not below 32o F. Sprinkling utilizes latent heat released when water changes from a liquid to a solid state.  The thin layer of ice melts and re-freezes on the surface throughout the night, without ice forming within the plant tissues.  For the technique to work, sprinkling must begin as freezing temperatures are reached and continue until thawing is complete.  Landscape systems are not designed to deliver the amount of water over the length of time required to accomplish this frost protection.

When the cold nights have passed, don’t forget to check your plants for water. But, wait until winter has passed before pruning out the frost-damaged stems.

Sheila Dunning, UF/IFAS Commercial Horticulture Extension Agent

Winter Weather and Bananas

Growing bananas in North Florida is somewhat of a novelty. However, they can be grown here, and the plants can produce bananas.

Banana plants are attractive, adding a tropical appearance to the landscape. But being tropical means that they are best suited for more tropical areas. To have a better chance of producing banana fruit to eat with our colder winter weather here in North Florida, I’ll share information from a retired UF/IFAS Extension fruit crops specialist in today’s article.

Banana plants usually require 12 to 18 months to produce a flower stalk. The fruit takes four to eight months to mature, depending on temperature during the growing season.

When winters are mild or when the plants are protected, the stalk may survive the winter and produce fruit in the second year. When winters are cold, below 25 degrees, the tops are usually killed, which results in no fruit being produced.

Some people grow bananas by potting the plants in tubs each fall and carrying them through the winter inside. Others build an insulating wrap of pine straw around the trunk, enabling the plant to survive outdoors during the winter.

Mulching is helpful because it conserves moisture, reduces weeds, and protects the rhizomes (underground stems) from winter freezes. Water regularly and deeply during the summer if rainfall is poor. If the soil is extremely wet, root rot may develop.

Producing good fruit on banana plants requires plenty of water and fertilizer. Adjust soil pH to 5.5 to 6.5 before planting. Fertilize monthly with one pound of 6-2-12, or similar analysis, fertilizer per plant from late spring through summer.

Banana plants should be pruned. In the beginning, let only one main stalk develop from each rhizome. After six months, allow a replacement sucker to grow because the main stalk is removed after fruiting. You can use unneeded suckers to establish new plants. The rhizomes may be dug up and divided to propagate more plants.

Cavendish is probably the banana variety best adapted to Florida. The plant grows about seven feet tall, produces good quality fruit, and is slightly more cold-hardy than the others.

Many of the ornamental banana plants grown in Florida produce small fruit that is full of hard seeds and usually are not edible. These are grown as landscape plants which add a tropical look to the landscape.

For more information on growing bananas, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or use the following link to access an Extension publication on growing bananas in the home landscape. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg040

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Plants With Holiday Significance

Several plants are strongly associated with the Christmas season, including mistletoe, poinsettia, holly, and the Christmas tree. The history, symbolic meaning, and legends of these plants are interesting.

The Christmas tree is said to date back to the eighth century. St. Winifred, missionary to the Scandinavians, supposedly chopped down a large oak. As the tree fell, it left a tiny fir tree unharmed in its path. After seeing how unblemished the tree was among the huge oak debris, Sir Winifred proclaimed to the townspeople that the tree should be a symbol to represent endless life. Its branches point to heaven and stay evergreen and full of life. He called this fir the tree of the Christ Child and advised all townspeople to cut a fir tree, take it into their homes, gather around it and celebrate the birth night of Christ. “Use it to shelter loving gifts and acts of kindness and brotherhood,” he said.

The Christmas tree as we know it was introduced in England during the reign of Queen Victoria. She decreed that a tree be brought to the palace and decorated each year for the Christmas season. Candles were placed on the tree to symbolize the Light of the World, and gifts were exchanged as reminders of all gifts from above.

Just how mistletoe became associated with kissing during the holiday season is a mystery. It’s thought to be based on a Scandinavian legend. It seems Balder, a Scandinavian god, was struck down by Loki, an evil spirit, using an arrow made from mistletoe. Seeing the attack, Frigga, the mother of Balder, declared that the plant must never again serve as a symbol of mischief. Being the goddess of love and beauty, Frigga is said to have kissed anyone passing under the mistletoe. One mistletoe custom calls for the boy to remove a berry from a mistletoe plant and give it to the girl after a kiss. When no berries are left, the mistletoe loses its spell, and no more kisses are available. Be cautious as mistletoe is poisonous if eaten.

Holly, being evergreen, is said to symbolize everlasting life. The prickly leaves symbolize the crown of thorns, the berries are said to have been white before the crucifixion but turned crimson like drops of blood afterward. Holly was a sacred plant of the Druids in ancient Britain.

Our present-day poinsettia plant was a weed growing wild in Mexico when it was discovered by Joel Poinsett and brought to this country in 1836. In fact, by the time Poinsett got to the plant, the Mexican people had been collecting the prized flowers for years and decorating their mangers with them as symbols of the star of Bethlehem.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County

Does your sago look flocked?

Some people use a generous dusting of artificial snow on their Christmas tree to create a winter wonderland feeling. This is referred to as a flocked Christmas tree. But if your sago “palm” looks like it has been flocked, it probably means that a pest is involved. I’ve had homeowners describe their sago plant as having been flocked like a Christmas tree wanting to know what caused this.

More than likely, the cause is a troublesome scale insect pest.

This scale is called the cycad aulacaspis scale. It is native to Asia and was first reported in Florida in 1996 in the Miami area. It is now considered to be established in Florida but is commonly found on sago plants throughout Florida.

This scale will infest the sago fronds (leaves) so densely that the leaves will completely be coated with a white crust, giving the plant that frocked appearance. This crust is composed of several layers of scales, both living and dead. The living scales insert their needle-like mouthparts into the plant tissue and suck out the plant sap. As a result, heavily infested leaves turn yellow, eventually, turn brown, and die. Cycad scale can be difficult to control because of the unusually dense populations, their rapid spread, the lack of natural enemies, and the fact that this scale can infest the roots.

Cycad scale is prolific in their reproduction. Female scales produce 100 eggs or more during their lifetime. Eggs are deposited underneath the female scale’s waxy protective covering. The eggs hatch in approximately 8-12 days. Newly emerged young disperse by “crawling” to a feeding site. Depending on the temperature, females mature, mate, and produce another generation in 21-35 days.

Control is difficult, usually requiring repeat treatments with horticultural oils or approved systemic insecticides. Before treatment, wash infested plants with high-pressure water sprays to dislodge dead and live scales. Then apply the horticultural oil or insecticide, such as imidacloprid, at recommended rates. Complete coverage is essential. No single product will kill all the insects on your plants or prevent recolonization for extended periods. 

Applications may not be necessary during winter and should be stopped when active scales are not present. However, an apparently clean plant may still harbor scales on its roots, so monitoring during the following spring is important. Removal of heavily infested leaves may reduce population density but should not be done frequently because it may reduce plant vigor. Careful disposal of removed leaves is necessary to avoid spreading scales to other plants.  

More info is available at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in253. Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Limited Commercial Pesticide License Training Class

Do you or an employee need to obtain the Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance pesticide license?  There will be an in person class on Thursday, January 14, 2021 in Pensacola.  This class is limited to 15 people so register early.  Class begins at 8:00 a.m. 

The online registration is https://www.eventbrite.com/e/limited-commercial-pesticide-training-and-exam-2021-tickets-128055261735. There can be no walk-ins and registration ends on Monday, January 11. 

If you will be taking the examination that day, you must also pay your $150 examination free through the FDACS website, https://aesecomm.freshfromflorida.com/Default.aspx. Follow the Structural/Residential Pest Control link to fill out your application and pay the testing fee.  

Just so you are aware, UF requires that when you come onto the property and into our facilities, that you wear a face mask/covering.  Because we also will need our tables spaced apart, we will be in the 4-H building (3730 Stefani Road, Cantonment), just next door to the main Extension office

For more information, contact Beth Bolles at bbolles@ufl.edu.  

Virtual Town Hall

You’re Invited: COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall
Dr. Glenn Morris from the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute and Director of SCCAHS will provide the latest updates on COVID-19 transmission and vaccines. Please submit questions when registering as we are compiling frequently asked questions to be answered during the live event.

The Town Hall will be held on January 26, 2021, at 1:00 p.m. EST. Register by clicking the link below.