Zoysia a slow-growing grass, not a panacea
Q: I keep reading about Zoysia grass. Stories say it grows sideways and doesn't need to be mowed as often or watered as often, and only needs to be fertilized once a year. Is this true or all hype? I live in north Pinellas on a corner lot. The side of the house that has the most yard faces south with no trees. The front of the house faces east. I don't have a lot of money, but I want to fix up this house as much as possible. Would you also recommend some ground covers that are fast growing, with or without flowers?
Darlene Smith, Palm Harbor
A: Those colorful ads look good, but they are mostly hype. Zoysia will grow here and it doesn't need to be mowed as often because it is a slower grower. However, it needs water and fertilizer and it won't cover from a plug; because of its slow growth, it can't compete with weeds. A Zoysia called "Empire" can be purchased as sod, but it is maintained like St. Augustine grass.
Some tough, full-sun ground covers to consider are sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), a great creeping native with purple flowers, and perennial peanut (Arachis spp.), another creeper with golden yellow flowers. You may also want to consider Bahia grass, our most drought-tolerant turf, with some plant beds and lots of mulch. Keep in mind that any plantings will require water to get established. Another suggestion it to do your landscape in stages.
Florida red maple grows all over state
Q: Here is a photo from a tree in our neighborhood that I wasn't able to identify. It's a mature tree about 20 feet tall, and the entire canopy is covered with these red seed clusters. Just like a jacaranda when it's in flower, there are no leaves on the tree. It's absolutely outstanding with that bright red color!
Judy VanNess, Clearwater
A: Your lucky find is a Florida red maple, Acer rubrum. The seed that you have pictured, from the tree, is called a samara. As they fall from the tree, they look like little helicopters. The red maple prefers wet swampy areas but will grow upland; it's a good tree for retention ponds. It is native all over the state and grows to 40 feet.
Orange tree has signs of terminal virus
Q: We have a 30-plus-year-old orange tree that has been well taken care of. The fruit is great and plentiful. Last year and again this year, surface bark on the trunk and main branches is coming off in patches (3 by 6 inches), exposing a white layer that looks almost like corduroy. The tree pruner and the sprayer said to paint the areas with copper sulfate (a fungicide?). Do you agree? We have tried to find copper sulfate with no luck with the exception of one nursery that could get copper crystals or copper sulfate in 50-pound bags.
Carl and Judy Graber, Largo
A: I have some sad news regarding your orange tree. Based on the age of the tree and the patches of sluffing bark, your tree has psorosis, one of five viruses that attack citrus. Unfortunately, there is no cure, so copper applications will be of no help. Copper helps with fungus and bacterial infections, not viruses. Psorosis is not contagious and over time will cause a slow decline of the tree. As the disease progresses, parts of the tree will die out and fruit size and fruit set will diminish. Plant a new tree now and by the time your current tree is ready for burial, your new tree will have you back in juice.