Weather to blame for azaleas' poor show
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 1:28 p.m.
Q: This year, my azaleas weren't as beautiful as in years past. The flowers didn't all bloom at the same time, and, when they did, there were brown spots on the flowers and they sort of melted. What happened?
A: Azaleas are a Southern favorite and standard in most North Central Florida gardens.
The old-fashioned Southern indica azaleas are "one-hit wonders" and normally put on a beautiful show in late February to early March.
This year, the weather delayed the bloom by about two weeks, and many of the cultivars, like Formosa, George L. Taber, Mrs. G. G. Gerbing and Southern Charm, didn't bloom in unison. More consistent temperatures next year should get them to flower at the same time.
The spots on the blooms are another problem called petal blight. It is caused by a fungus, and also is referred to as Ovulinia petal blight. It only damages the flowers. It is worse in years we have wet, cool weather during the flowering period.
The symptoms start as pale or white spots on the flower petals. The spots enlarge quickly and then the blossom collapses and is slimy. The fungal spore germination occurs when temperatures are in the mid-60s with mist and fog.
The pathogen can persist through the rest of the year as a small, compact mass of the fungal strands (sclerotia) in the fallen diseased flowers, or lying on the mulch below. When the flowers start to form in the spring, spores germinate and infect the flower. The best thing you can do to break the cycle is to rake up the spent flowers from under the shrub, and consider replacing the mulch, if possible.
Use of fungicides is not normally recommended because you can control the disease by removing the flowers and replacing the mulch. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate for a more beautiful azalea bloom for you next year.
For more information on growing azaleas, visit the University of Florida/IFAS Extension website at www.solutionsforyourlife.com.
Q: My new eggplant and pepper seedlings that I just planted have been snapped off 1 to 2 inches above the ground. What is doing this, and how can I stop it?
A: It is more than likely a cutworm caterpillar that is nibbling and snipping off the tops of your young seedlings.
These are brown or green plump caterpillars that hide in the garden soil. If you touch one, it would curl into a "C" shape. Normally, we don't see them because they eat at night.
They mow down seedlings at about soil level. On older plants, you might see channels or scars on the stems.
The best way to deal with them is to make a cutworm collar. Take a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll and cut it into 2-inch tall rings. Place these cylinders around each small seedling directly on the ground with the seedling in the center. Cutworms usually won't climb over these barriers.
Also, crop rotation will help to keep populations down. Some of my farming friends say that letting the chickens scratch through the garden at the end of the season helps to keep caterpillar populations down.
For more information about vegetable gardening, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Master Gardeners volunteers at 955-2402.
Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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