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frequently asked Florida gardening questions

Here’s what our customers ask us most often…

Q. Is it safe to use reclaimed water on my vegetable garden and fruit trees?

A. Here’s the answer from the Rockledge Wastewater Department:

1. Irrigation of edible crops that will be peeled, skinned, cooked or thermally processed before consumption is allowed. Direct contact of the reclaimed water with such edible crops is allowed.

2. Irrigation of tobacco or citrus is allowed. Direct contact of the reclaimed water with tobacco or citrus is allowed, including citrus used for fresh table fruit, processing into concentrate, or other purposes.

3. Irrigation of edible crops that will not be peeled, skinned, cooked, or thermally processed before consumption is allowed if an indirect application method that will preclude direct contact with the reclaimed water (such as ridge and furrow irrigation, drip irrigation, or a subsurface distribution system) is used.

4. Irrigation of edible crops that will not be peeled, skinned, cooked or thermally processed before consumption using an application method that allows for direct contact of the reclaimed water on the crop is prohibited.

Q. What are the restrictions on lawn watering in our area?

Any  mandatory lawn-watering restrictions depend on the time of year and your house address. Get current info about watering restrictions at the St. Johns River Water Management District website floridaswater.com.

Q. When are fertilizer restrictions in effect in Brevard County?

From June 1 through September 30, Brevard County bans the use of lawn and shrub fertilizers, in order to give the Indian River Lagoon a rest from the run-off of nitrogen and phosphorus. This is particularly important during the rainy season.

In recent years, unprecedented algae blooms have choked off tens of thousands of acres of seagrass in the lagoon. Seagrass is important source of food and shelter for marine life in the lagoon. The seagrass die-off was followed by the mysterious deaths of large numbers of manatees, dolphins, and pelicans. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorous, the active ingredients in most fertilizer, is widely suspected of feeding the lagoon’s algae blooms.

Q. Should I fertilize when I first plant?

A. It really depends on what you plan to fertilize with. Synthetic granular fertilizers can cause root burn to new transplants. A natural, slow-released fertilizer, such as Espoma brand, can be used with success at the time of planting. “Dynamite” or Osmocote are also safe to use at planting time.

Q. What is the best time of year to grow vegetables in Florida?

A. We have two main planting seasons for veggies in Florida — fall and spring. Most vegetables thrive during these months. There are also several cool-season veggies that carry through the winter, including lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and many herbs. One of the most important factors in good crop production is the addition of plenty of organic matter (such as compost or cow manure) at the time of planting.

Q. How far apart should I plant my plants?

A. Spacing of plants should be determined by the mature growth of the particular plant, as well as the effect that you are trying to obtain. If you are aiming for solid coverage, such as in a hedge, most shrubs should be planted 3 to 4 feet apart. Annuals and perennials can be planted much closer to give a full, solid mass of color (12 to 18 inches apart). Trees, on the other hand, need a lot of room for root development and canopy growth. Depending on the type of tree, a general rule would be approximately 20 feet apart. Keep in mind that crowded plants, including rose bushes, are more likely to develop insect and disease problems.

Q. What is that black stuff on the leaves of my gardenia (or citrus, shrubs, etc.)?

A. That’s likely to be sooty mold — a black, powdery-looking substance that grows on the secretion of insects (known as “honeydew”). This secretion can be left by aphids, mealy bugs or scale and the cure is to control the insect. If you don’t see the insect on the affected plant, take a look above the plant as it could be that the insects are present on a plant above. Treat the infested plant with a horticultural oil spray, such as All-Season Oil Spray or Organacide or Insectidical Soap.

Q. Why are my palm fronds yellowing and looking “frizzy”?

A. Palms are very heavy feeders, especially in our sandy Florida soils. It’s important to put them on a regular fertilizing schedule of every two months if you’re using a granular fertilizer. We recommend Leonard’s 11-4-11, since it’s a slow-released fertilizer with all of the micro-nutrients that palms require. Sierra blend Osmocote is also quite effective on palms and lasts up to six months.

Q. One of my queen palms has died rather suddenly. The lowest fronds turned brown first and within a few weeks the entire palm was dead. What killed it, and what can I do to keep my other palms healthy?

A. The symptoms you describe are those of a new disease called “Fusarium decline.” This is a fungus disease that kills primarily queen palms, but occasionally also kills Washingtonia palms. There is no chemical cure or prevention for this disease; infected palms always die. Since this is a new disease there is still much about it that is unknown, such as how it is spread. The current recommendations of the University of Florida scientists who are studying this disease are: Do not plant another palm, especially a queen palm, where one has died. In addition, after pruning a palm, especially queen palm, sterilize your pruning tools by soaking them in a 25% bleach solution for 5 minutes before pruning the next palm. Remove dead palms as quickly and completely as possible.

Q. What is that gorgeous pink (yellow, white, etc.) tree or shrub that I see blooming all over the county right now?

A. Our Brevard County climate and landscape provide a succession of seasonal beauty. Come in, and we’ll tell you what’s in beautiful bloom!

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