ASK WENDY

Rain barrels do more than provide ‘friendly' irrigation


Rain barrels are a great way to collect rainwater for use in your landscape. (Courtesy of Wendy Wilber)

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 10:43 a.m.

Q: I am thinking about putting a rain barrel to catch the water that comes off of my gutter. Do you have any tips?

A: Rain barrels are a great way to collect rainwater for use in your landscape. You also can use the collected rainwater to fill ponds and fountains or to even wash the lovebugs off of your car. One inch of rain over 1,000 square feet of roof area generates more than 620 gallons of water. Even a light rain would easily fill a 50-gallon rain barrel.

Some of the local garden centers carry rain barrels that can be quickly installed to capture the water from a gutter. The barrel can be sealed to the gutter to make a tight connection, which will keep leaf litter and mosquitoes out.

You also can make your own barrel from a recycled pickle barrel, available at local feed stores.

This barrel would need to have a nozzle and overflow spout installed. Contact the UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension office at 955-2402, and I will send you easy plans to convert a plastic pickle barrel into a rain barrel. With this style of rain barrel you do not need to necessarily attach it to a gutter because the top is a large, screened opening. Simply place it underneath a down spout that has a steady stream of water when it rains.

Both styles of rain barrels needs to be placed up on blocks to create enough pressure to get decent water flow. Some gardeners even attach a soaker hose or a drip irrigation hose to the barrel. Your rain barrel will be an excellent addition to your Florida-Friendly Landscape.

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Q: What type of blackberry does best in our area? Are they easy to grow?

A: Blackberries can be an easy fruit to grow. We have native blackberries in Florida, and they often grow along fence lines or in pastures. I know folks who stake out their favorite blackberry patch in advance so they can beat the deer and the birds to the delicious berries.

The recommended varieties for Florida are early fruiting trailing types like Oklawaha and Flordagrand. Brazos and Kiowa are later fruiting, semi-erect types. The trailing types need to be trained to a trellis or a support system. Brazos, Tupi and Kiowa will grow more like a bush.

In the last decade or two, blackberry growers have been trying thornless blackberries in their plantings. Varieties such as Arapaho, Navaho, Apache, Ouachita and Natchez have good-size berries and no thorns on the stems or canes. In ongoing field trials at the University of Florida, the Natchez cultivar seems to be producing the most fruit. These cultivars are self-pollinating. But it is good practice to plant several different blackberry cultivars together to promote cross pollination. Plant them 2 to 4 feet apart and leave 3 to 5 feet or more for a row.

You will need to prune your blackberry plants to keep the plant vigorous and healthy. Blackberry fruit is produced on the current year's growth on a stem called a floricane. Once fruiting is over, sometime in mid-summer, you will prune out the floricanes. The stems that are left will produce fruit the following year. A good pruning helps to keep diseased stems and leaves away from your blackberry patch.

Fertilize blackberries in late spring or early summer using a complete balanced fertilizer like a 10-10-10 at - to -pound per plant. The main challenge you will probably face is weed control under the blackberry plants. A heavy mulch layer between the plants can help with this, but you will probably have to do some cultivation (hoeing) as well. For more information on blackberries and other fruits, visit the UF/IFAS Extension website at www.solutionsforyourlife.com

Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at wlwilber@ifas.ufl.edu.

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