By Lesley Arrandale

After a mild start to the season, 2018 has brought us the coldest winter snap since 1989, including flurries of snow just a few miles west and north of Duval County. While our climate is not tropical, many of the plants that grace our landscapes are from more southerly areas and will have really suffered unless well protected.

It may be tempting to tidy up after freezing temperatures have done their worst, but to save plants’ potentially still living root systems as well as top growth, leave the major clean up till spring when new growth will show exactly how much of a plant is still alive. This article describes how we may best protect our plants and since the winter is still young it could prove useful:

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Gardening is potentially fraught with difficulties, and it may sometimes feel like a battle to stay ahead of adverse weather, insect pests, and diseases in our own yards and gardens. Unfortunately there are wider problems that need national or even international cooperation. For example, there is currently an emerging problem in Europe, namely a bacterial disease called Xylella fastidiosa. This has been active in parts of the U.S. and Brazil for years, although not yet in Florida, and affects some ornamental plants as well as olive trees and grapes.

Florida has a proactive approach to dealing with cases of invasive pests and diseases. In the case of sudden oak death, action by the state successfully isolated nursery specimens carrying the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum which causes the disease. It’s hard to imagine the south without its majestic oaks. Unfortunately, another more successful invader, the redbay ambrosia beetle has wreaked havoc in our coastal areas, where it has caused the fungus on which it feeds to outright kill many of the native redbay trees (Persea borbonea) and swampbay (P. palustris), and it is threatening the economically important commercial avocado (P. americana) grown in south Florida.

This may sound like a call to arm yourselves with a battery of chemicals, but please don’t. Take regular care of your plants, and scout for insects and diseases. If you find a problem that is difficult to remedy, the Extension Service can help. Master Gardeners have the resources to help you determine what’s wrong, and if there’s a potentially serious problem they can take the next steps to help ensure the insect or disease doesn’t spread.

Either photograph your problem plant material or insect and email the Extension Office, at Photographs should be high quality, and show clearly the plant or insect. Describe how the problem began and progressed. Or visit the office at 1010 N. McDuff Ave. from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. –  3:30 p.m. where you can discuss the situation with a master gardener. You can also telephone to ask for advice on (904) 255-7450, but a picture or specimen would be easier to diagnose. Plant material should be double bagged, and insects should be sealed in a clear container in a little rubbing alcohol to preserve them.

Check out the January/February issue of A New Leaf: There are plenty of pointers for keeping the garden in tip top shape: the regular sections on “What to Plant” and “What to Do” are invaluable.

On Feb. 24, the Extension Service will host the annual program “A Day of Gardening.” It is always very popular, so register early. You’ll find details in A New Leaf.

Lesley Arrandale is a Master Gardener with the Duval County Cooperative Extension Service/City of Jacksonville Agriculture Department, which is a partnership between the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the City of Jacksonville.


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