Sunday, August 29, 2010

Give them a yard, they'll take the soot

I have mentioned all the rain we have had in the past few weeks here in Charleston. It has finally let up enough that I could really get out there and get some work done. I went to the back where all my Citrus are located, what I found was a little disturbing. It looks as if my Citrus have been fighting fires for the past week! They are covered in soot. I am pretty sure there have been no fires close to the plants and I know they quit smoking sometime last year. SO........
All kidding aside, they are covered in soot, but it has nothing to do with anything combustible. It is actually a sooty mold.

Sooty molds are dark fungi that grow on honeydew excreted by sucking insects, like Aphids, Mealybugs and Whiteflies. The latter being my problem. I thought I had gotten rid of the little white flying pains in the butt.
Sooty molds occur in all parts of North America. Capnodium citri is associated with Whiteflies and scale pests on citrus. There are other species of the mold that are associated with other pests on other plants. Basically they are all the same.
Honeydew is a sweet, clear, sticky substance secreted by the insects such as the Whiteflies. The honeydew drops from the insects to the leaves and twigs. Wind-blown sooty mold spores that stick to the honeydew then have a suitable medium for growth. Kind of like that jelly like stuff you played with in high school biology class. When the spores germinate, they send out black fungal strands that cover the plant tissue and cause the discoloration.
Although sooty molds do not infect plants, they can indirectly damage the plant by coating the leaves to the point that sunlight penetration is reduced or inhibited. Without adequate sunlight, the plant’s ability to carry on photosynthesis is reduced, which may stunt plant growth. When it can't produce food, it starves. Coated leaves may also prematurely die, causing leaf drop. Most plants will tolerate a small amount of coverage. Fruits or vegetables covered with sooty molds are edible. Simply remove the mold with a solution of mild soap and warm water. The mold itself can also be sprayed away or rubbed off with your finger.
As seen in these pictures:

Treating sooty mold is best done by treating the source of the problem first. Get rid of the sap sucking pests. If you don't, the mold will return. Luckily, there is a cure that will kill two pests with one spray. Horticultural oils. If one of the horticultural oils is used for control, it also has the advantage of helping to loosen the molds from the plant surface. This hastens the weathering away of the sooty molds. However, it may still linger on your plants for months, even after the pests have been eradicated. Horticultural oils are available at most garden centers and big box stores. There is one problem though, it can not be used in intense heat. The oil will basically do what oils do to food, cook it! Cooler weather, overcast days, or in the evening are the best times. PLEASE, make sure you follow the label directions!
Just as a side note, plants are not the only thing affected by sooty mold. If an object is under a tree or plant that has sap sucking insects present, it can be covered in the soot.
Just remember, rid yourself of the insects first, then you can clean your object.
I got lucky, it was a cloudy, cooler weekend, so I sprayed my trees with Neem oil.
Sooty mold is not as bad as it looks, it can be a major problem, but with a little work, your plant will be fine......unless they take up smoking again!!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Strawberry Guava

My apologies if you stumble across this blog in hopes to find a recipe for a Strawberry Guava Pie. This is about the plant with that name, not two different ingredients.
It is a well known fact that the Southeast, at least my little neck of the woods, has gotten it's fair amount of rain....and then some!! In the past two weeks I have recorded 13+ inches of rain in my yard. This would be very welcomed news if my part of the neighborhood block was not at the bottom of the bowl. ALL the rain water collects out in back. And of course it is right in front of my exotic tropical fruit collection. The weeds, mud and water had gotten so bad back there I avoided it like the plaque. Well, I had had enough, so I took my weedeater and attempted to wade through the La Brea Tar Pits. The mud and water and three foot weeds were just a flying, I am sure had anybody been around, it would be all over Youtube right now. Anyway, while I was back there, I noticed my Strawberry Guava (Psidium cattleianum) was finally starting to ripen. The fruits are smaller this year, I guess I should have thinned them a sure wasn't from lack of water!!

Strawberry Guava, also known as Cattley Guava, is Dark red and is actually distantly related to Allspice and Eucalyptus trees.
It is a fairly slow growing tree that will reach heights of 6-14 feet high. It has slender, smooth, brown bark on the stems and branches The leaves are evergreen glossy, and somewhat leathery.
The flavor of the fruit is slightly acid and said to have a Strawberry like taste. Personally I don't taste it, though I do enjoy the flavor of the fruit.
The Strawberry Guava is believed to be native to the lowlands of eastern Brazil, especially near the coast. It is cultivated to a limited extent in other areas of South America and Central America and in the West Indies, Bermuda, the Bahamas, southern and central Florida and southern California.
It propagates very easily from seed. As a matter of fact, if you have any friends from Hawaii, DON'T mention that you grow this plant. It is the worst pest in Hawaii's rain forests. The feral pigs that inhabit the islands love the fruit. The seeds pass through their digestive tracts unharmed and are often deposited in soil disturbed by the pigs. Dense wild plantings can suppress growth and establishment of native species, and support high populations of crop damaging fruit flies. It is on Hawaii's invasive species list. It is also considered a weed tree on Norfolk Island and has escaped into the wild on Jamaica.
The Strawberry Guava is hardier than the common Guava (Psidium guajava) another of it's distant relatives, and can survive temperatures as low as 22 degrees. It can succeed wherever Citrus is grown without any problem.
This plant will grow in soils that would not support any other fruit tree. It likes lots of water, especially when fruiting, but it is also very drought tolerant.
It is a long lived tree. In 1884, a commercial planting of about 3,000 trees was established at La Mesa, California, it was still producing 50 years later. No word on if it still producing today.
The Strawberry Guava is usually reported as disease and pest free. The Caribbean fruit fly attacks the fruits in southern Florida and wherever else this pest exists. In India, birds compete with humans for the ripe fruits. The fruit is very perishable and will only last 3-4 days once picked, at room temperature.
You can eat the fruit right off the tree. It is made into tart fillings, Jams, Jellies, Sherbet and in some places made into a punch.
There is a Yellow version that I don't have yet. I found this picture online of what that looks like.

I hope to be able to get one soon.
I have a Pineapple Guava (Feijoa sellowiana), but this again is another whole different plant, distantly related, but still different.

And yes, I actually do have a regular Guava also. Maybe one day, I will be able to make a mixed Guava fruit cocktail.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Like Lichens

I received an e-mail the other day from a woman that needed some scale identified on her Citrus and she also wanted to know what was growing on her Cherry tree. In case you are wondering, the scale was Cottony Cushion Scale, easy enough to eradicate. The stuff growing on her Cherry tree was also easy to identify, it was Lichens. The way to pronounce this is "Like-Ins".
They are among the most interesting organisms on the planet. Just so that there is not a mad dash to rid your tree, rocks, gravestones or whatever you have them growing on, they will cause you, nor the thing they are growing on, any harm. Although the Lichens are attached to the bark or penetrate into it a short distance, they do not enter the inner bark where food is transported, and hence do not rob the tree of nourishment.
A Lichen is a plant. It has no leaves, stems or roots, but like other plants it makes its own food using energy from sunlight. When a lichen is wet from rain or dew it grows actively, but when it dries out in Summer, it stops growing. However, the lichen does not die, but instead lies dormant until the next rain starts it growing again. They can come in many forms: paint-like rusts; scalloped, wrinkled sheets; lace-like pads; bushy tufts; unkempt strands of black, gray or green "hair". You have probably seen some and never even realized, that is what you are looking at.

What is amazing about these things is every Lichen species is actually composed of two, possibly even three,  distinct species of  organisms. One species is a kind of fungus. Usually the other species is an algae, but sometimes it can be a photosynthesizing bacterium known as a cyanobacterium. Sometimes all three organisms are found in one Lichen.
Lichens first appeared about 400 million years ago so they have been around for a long time. Some individual species have been around for at least 25 million years and maybe for as long as 70 million years. Obviously, they have figured out the essentials of good living!.
If you have Lichens on your trees it is a good sign.  Minerals in the air such as tiny, dust-like particles of soil are carried by the wind to the surface of Lichens. There, dissolved in rainwater, they are taken up by the lichen and used for growth. Small amounts of airborne minerals, the amounts found in clean air, are beneficial to the Lichens. However, it is possible to get too much of a "good" thing. Large amounts of minerals, such as the amounts found in polluted air, will poison the Lichens and kill them. Whether we live in a city or way out in the country, each of us would like to have the assurance that the air in our own neighborhoods is clean, right?
Wouldn't it be nice if there was a measuring device that was cheap, that can be used anywhere, and that responds to many kinds of airborne pollutants? Lichens, especially those which grow on trees, can provide just such a device. If you are planning on moving into a new area, drive around and look on the trees, especially older trees, you see Lichens, you probably have pretty clean air.
I highly don't recommend trying it, but Lichens are eaten by many different cultures across the world.
In Japan, one species, Umbilicaria esculenta, is considered a delicacy where it is eaten as a soup or in salads. In the Northern Tundra, Reindeer and Caribou eat loads of Lichens. Lichens can make up half the food these animals will consume during the Winter. They are dug up from below the snow by the hungry animals. Eskimos harvest and store these Lichens as part of the Winter feed for their animals. Very few lichens are actually poisonous, but those high in vulpinic acid or usnic acid are toxic. Most poisonous Lichens are yellow. I would consider these like mushrooms, unless you know exactly what you are doing, don't eat them!
There are also other uses, both current and in years past, that are rather interesting.
Extracts from many species were used to treat wounds in Russia in the mid-twentieth century.
In Mediterranean countries red and purple dyes were long made from species of Roccella. A brown dye has also been manufactured from Parmelia omphalodes. Lichen dyes are still sometimes used for Harris Tweed, but the production of more modern dyes and ecological concerns over the amount of Lichens harvested have pretty much rendered Lichen dyes obsolete. Lichens are still used in the perfume industry though. It is estimated that around 9,000 tons of lichens are used this way each year. Lichens are also used as packaging materials by some florists and one study revealed that about 18,000 tons of Cladonia stellaris was exported from Finland to Germany and other European countries for this purpose.
Lichen is used in model railroading and other modeling hobbies as a material for making trees and shrubs.
So next time you are walking through the woods, take a look around you, the Lichens you see might be in your next bottle of perfume or that little tree in your child's train set.
Happy Growing!

Added 12-29-2010
This is my entry into an Epiphyte contest. I hope you enjoy it!
To see the contest, please go to:
Make sure you enter.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I wouldn't sleep there!

Some of the things they came up with in the Medieval Times for torture were amazing. The rack, The Iron Maiden of Nuremburg and the Judas Cradle were some of the more devious devices. I contend that I can grow a plant just as wicked and have a cool name for it. I am talking about "The Bed of Nails" plant (Solanum quitoense).

This is a young one, pretty cool huh?
They are a member of the nightshade family, which include the Tomato, Potato, Peppers and Eggplants.
The usually spineless Naranjilla (Spanish for "little orange") is believed to be indigenous and most abundant in Peru, Ecuador and southern Colombia. The forms found in the rest of Colombia and in the central and northern Andes of Venezuela and interior mountain ranges of Costa Rica may vary from partly to very spiny. Apparently mine came from the later.
They are a spreading, herbaceous shrub that can grow to 8 feet in the wild. I have never gotten mine over 3 feet. On the ones with spines, there are many of them on the petioles, midrib and lateral veins, on the top and on the underside of the leaf.
The flowers are very similar to what you see on its relatives, the peppers, tomatoes, etc.
The plant does best in a rich, organic soil. It also grows well on poor, stony ground. However, it must have good drainage. They prefer morning to early afternoon sun. Keep moist, not wet, especially when fruiting. If they suffer too much from drought, the fruit will be smaller and less juicy.
They are usually propagated by seed. I wouldn't say the seeds are small but, there are about 140,000 seeds to the pound.
The seeds come from a little fruit, slightly smaller than a golf ball. This fruit is covered by a brown furry coat until it is ripe. When you are ready to eat it, you can rub the fuzz off.  In Florida, where they are produced commercially, the field workers remove the hairs by stooping down and rubbing the fruit in dry grass. You need to be careful with these hairs, they can be very irritating to some people. I use a paper towel to get the tiny little hairs off.
In this picture they look like tiny tomatoes, but in actuality they are orange.
The taste, to me anyway, is kind of sweet and very crunchy.... like sesame seeds. Fully ripe Naranjillas soften and ferment very quickly. Fruit picked when half colored will remain in good condition at ordinary temperatures for 8 days. They can be stored for 1 or 2 months at 45-50 degrees.
A healthy plant can bear 100 to 150 fruits a year. A good annual yield is 135 fruits per plant. This results in 25,000 lbs per acre! I guess with that kind of production, I should tell you some of its uses.
Ripe Naranjillas, freed of the hairs, may be casually consumed out-of-hand by cutting in half and squeezing the contents of each half into your mouth. It can be used in Ice Cream, Sauces and made into Pies. Sherbet and jelly are also possibilities.  But the most popular use of the Naranjilla is in the form of juice. For home preparation, the fruits are washed, the hairs are rubbed off, the fruits cut in half, the pulp squeezed into an electric blender and processed briefly; then the green juice is strained, sweetened, and served with ice cubes as a cool, foamy drink. I don't seem to get enough fruit or have enough self control to try the drink, I am usually eating them as I walk around the yard.
The only major pest problem is Rootknot Nematodes. If you grow them in a container, which is advised anywhere north of Florida, these are not a problem. If you want to try them in the yard, treat them as annuals and again, you should not have to worry about the nematodes if you practice a good rotation of your crops.
While I was doing some research on my Bed of Nails plant, I came across something that kind of wrecked my whole torture idea. Apparently,the bed of nails has been used in India for relaxation exercises, meditation and yoga for thousands of years. They literally lay down on a mat of nails for 20-40 minutes, a few times a week as needed. The pain relief is due to the pressure from the bed of nails activating the body’s own production of endorphins, ‘natural painkillers’, which are also released during exercise, sex, kissing, caressing and when you eat dark chocolate. Endorphins give pain relief and a sense of physical well-being.
Oh well, I guess I will keep trying to come up with some kind of "Torture Plant", maybe something that eats things.....hmmm,....Though,...I think that has been done already too!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Seed or Not to Seed

Wow, the debate between whether you can or can not grow Citrus from seed is amazing. I often wonder if the whole debate is so the average person will not try growing their own tree from the grocery store fruit and will be dependent on "Big Citrus" to get their trees and fruit. This is probably a little cynical on my part, but this is what I do know.
The current Florida citrus industry developed from 16th-century Spanish introductions of sour orange, sweet orange, lemon, lime, and citron from either seeds or seedlings. Citrus was spread further by Indians and by pioneers who settled the rivers and lakes of north Florida and the eastern Florida seaboard. Does this mean that all those citrus trees produced bad fruit? I don't think so.
Granted, the amount of time that a citrus tree will produce fruit is much longer than if you grafted one. The average wait time can be anywhere from 2-3 years upwards to 12+ years. The seedling trees will also tend to be very thorny. The biggest debate is whether they will come true to type. In other words, if you plant a good tasting sweet orange will it be the same? According to Dr. Carl Campbell at the University of Florida Extension research center, almost any sweet orange will come true from seed, as well as key limes, grapefruit, tangerine and tangelo. Two varieties that will not come true from seed are the temple orange and pomelo (Grapefruit grandfather). Meyer lemon also falls under this category.
There are some advantages to growing your trees from seed. One obvious advantage is that it is much less labor intensive to simply sow citrus seeds and eliminate the grafting step. Another advantage is that the seedling will most likely be free from viruses that sometimes get into the budwood that is used for grafting large numbers of trees.  There has never been an instance where a citrus disease has been proven to have been introduced by seed. My favorite advantage is price! You can buy a great tasting piece of fruit for what, fifty cents to a dollar, depending on time of year? If you get three seeds in it, that equals sixteen to thirty three cents a tree. Now if you compare that to twenty five to forty five dollars per tree, what kind of savings are we talking? It's a no brainer. Of course, this brings us back to the time issue again. Key Limes are your earliest producer from seed, averaging 2-3 years. Your oranges, lemons, Persian limes, tangerines will be in the 5-7 year ballpark. The grapefruit and pomelo will be the longest, taking anywhere from 8-12 years. So patience is most definitely a virtue.
Okay, so you found a fantastic orange that you just have to have more of in the future. It has five seeds in it and you want to try growing it. After extracting seeds, rinse them thoroughly in water and plant them as soon as possible. Citrus seeds do not do well drying out like most seeds, they rapidly lose their viability. You will want to use a good potting mix, keep it damp, not wet. I tell people that you want the consistency of a damp sponge. When planting, place seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in the pot.  Be sure the seeds get enough sunlight, warm soil temperatures, and stay moist. Under ideal conditions, seeds will take about two weeks to germinate.
Like I mentioned, seedling trees will be thorny. If these pose a problem, clip them off with nail clippers. This will not cause any harm to the tree.  As the tree gets older, the thorns will stop being a problem. 
Now, to be completely truthful, there is always the possibility that the fruit you will get may or may not be the exact same as the fruit you ate. Bees travel great distances to collect pollen. Most citrus that you get in the store have come from very large groves of the same variety. If the fruit you happen to be eating came from the fringe of the grove and a very busy bee was coming from a different grove, there is a slight chance of cross pollination.  Even thought there is a book out there, circa 1971, that suggests that if you plant a lemon seed you might get a grapefruit, the chances that you get what you want is pretty good. Besides, there are only three possibilities of what the fruit will taste like.....not as good, as good as, or better than.....two out of three ain't bad!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Swap! .....and some Thank You's!!

I started this blog back in January of this year. I wanted a way to extend the Master Gardener Mission of education. I also wanted this to be fun and inspiring, so that more people would get out and try things they never would have before.  I hope that I have done that for all my followers. I would like to take this time to THANK all of them, as of this writing, I am now at 30. I am also amazed at how many people have viewed my little piece of the internet. I looked at the stats before I started this post, a whopping 5441 people have viewed my blog, just since May. There are views from such places as Shri Lanka, Luxembourg, Australia and Sweden....just to name a few. I am honored that people from around the world have taken time to read my ramblings.
Today, I wanted to start getting the word out about the upcoming Fall Plant Swap. I have been doing the one in the Spring for 7 or 8 years now, last year was the first Fall one I had done. They have been so popular that I am doing it again.
What is a plant swap?
It is pretty much what it sounds like, you bring plants and you swap them. I have a little bit of a twist though.
Yes, everybody brings plants and we do swap them, BUT, how we swap them is the fun part.
All of the plants get laid out in the designated area, no rhyme or reason as to where or in any particular groupings. At the predetermined time, I yell GO and everybody chooses one plant. They then take that plant back to their vehicle or in some little spot, out of the way of all the action. When everybody returns, we do it all over again, this continues on until all the plants are gone. It sounds like there would be total chaos, but it actually goes very smoothly. Of course, the very first round, people tend to "guard' their first acquisition just before I say go....all the better to get there early to scout.
I also encourage everybody that attends to bring some kind of pot luck dish. After all the plants have been swapped, we sit around to eat, socialize and discuss the cool new plants we just got.
Hosting a plant swap of your own is really VERY easy.
Here are the key things you need to get started:
1) A place to hold it. This could be a park, school playground, or even a plant person with a very large yard and plenty of parking. Bathrooms are also a VERY big plus! Always check to see what kind of regulations or permission you might need to use whatever you may choose. If you want to do the pot luck after, it is even better if there are picnic tables.
2) Publicity. This can be the tricky part. There are many websites that can help you, Gardenweb,, are just a few that I know about. Starting your own Blog is useful. Then there is the local newspaper, library bulletin board, your local Master Gardener or Extension Agent. I tend to avoid garden centers, they may think you are competing with them. The sky is the limit as to who you can get to advertise your swap. If you know one plant person, tell them. They are sure to know somebody else and so on and so forth. Just as a side note, don't be discouraged if your first or second swap isn't what you expect. My very first swap only had 7 people show up, the last Spring Swap I had, there was 75 people and some 800 plants swapped!.
There is a fine line as to too early and too late to start publicizing. Too early and people may forget. Too late and people do not have enough time to start cuttings, seeds or such. I always start about 8 weeks out. Then an occasional e-mail or blog posting just as a little reminder.
3) Have Fun.
If there are people there that can ID plants, that is a super bonus. I have tried to get people to tag their plants, but there are many that do not even know what they are growing. I get the, "My grandmother gave it to me and she didn't know" or the "it's green and has a pink flower". This is where all my Master Gardener friends come in handy.
If you think you will want to do this again, ask for e-mail address'. If the people that show up have fun, they will gladly give it to you for a chance to do it again.
And that really is all there is to it.
The flyers that you use can be as plain or as fancy as you want. Here is a sample of what I use:

Do you have extra Tomato plants?
Plant WAY too many Marigolds?
Looking to trade for something you don’t have?
September 25th, 10am set-up and browse....11am swap...immediately afterwards...LUNCH!
 This year we are having it at Park Circle in North Charleston, by the Gazebo. There are picnic tables, bathrooms and LOTS of room for kids to play and even more room for plants, parking and food.
Pretty much everybody in Charleston is familiar with Park Circle....there are numerous ways to get to it, depending on which way you are coming. If you want or need directions you can E-mail me at, I will get it and respond ASAP.
The way we swap will be the same... the basic Free For All. I will say go, everybody will grab ONE (1) plant and take it to their hiding area. After everybody has a plant, we repeat the process. Nice and Simple!
I always get asked, what should I bring? Basically, if it grows, it goes!! Shrubs, saplings, houseplants. I also encourage folks to bring garden art, chicken wire, no longer needed tools, garden hoses, pots...if it is garden related, it will go also.
We will have plates, napkins, silverware and such, Please bring your own drinks and food for as many as you can. We like to do a Pot Luck style picnic and encourage everybody to stick around and participate. The socializing afterwards is as much fun as the swap itself, please try to give yourself enough time to stay and enjoy yourself!

I would like to invite you to my swap on September 25th, 2010 at 10am. I hope to see LOTS of you holding plant swaps of your own in the near future. Please e-mail me if you have one, I would love to see how it goes. Any questions? I would love to help answer anything you might have, to make it a little easier for you.
Here are some pictures from my last swap:

Happy Growing! (and swapping)