Fruit trees will do well in mostly sunny spots
Q: I'd like to cut back on grass in my back yard and put in some landscaped beds and fruit trees.
On the side that has better drainage, with all-day sun and power lines that are about 15 feet high, I want to put in a "miniature" mango tree.
On the side that does not drain as well, has 75 percent sun and no power lines, I want to put in an orange tree.
Is a mango tree feasible for this climate zone? Do the miniature ones grow well? I would like to eat the fruit from both trees. Are there certain types that you recommend? Conrad Firszt
A: Fruit trees will all produce more fruit in full sun, so your area with 75 percent sun is workable. With pruning, dwarf mango varieties such as Irwin, Carrie, Julie or Ice Cream will do well on the side with power lines.
When to plant? Considering last winter's freeze and the very cold weather we've had this week, it would be best to plant mango in late February; temperatures of 29 degrees and below will cause some damage; the older the tree the better.
Orange trees are quite tolerant of cold and can be planted anytime. A southern exposure would be best. Citrus needs a well-drained soil, so you will want to mound your orange tree. With occasional pruning, you can keep all orange trees under 20 feet. Refer to the link edis.ifas.ufl.edu and search citrus varieties. My favorite is the Minneola tangelo. It's easy to peel, extremely juicy and sweet. One resource among numerous garden centers in the bay area is Jene's Tropicals in St. Petersburg. Call (727) 344-1668 or go to www.tropicalfruit.com.
Fertilize oaks and palms twice a year
Q: I read your column and find lots of helpful hints. Can you help me with a couple of questions? How often should one fertilize oak and palm trees? (They are 6 months to 2 years old.) And why does my crape myrtle get a black fungus on it — and how do I eradicate it? Thanks for your help. Lisa Doucet
A: Your oaks and palms should be fertilized twice a year, in May and October, with an 8-2-12 plus micronutrients and 50 percent slow-release nitrogen and potassium.
Unfortunately, the sooty mold on your crape myrtle is probably caused by whitefly, which secretes honey dew that the fungus feeds on. Eliminate whitefly, eliminate sooty mold. This is easier said than done.
Let the leaves fall this year, but rake them up and discard. Next year, place yellow sticky traps in the tree. When you see the tiny whiteflies on your sticky traps, spray, mostly under the leaves, with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil with neem. The soap or oil kills the adults and the neem makes the larvae kids for life, never to mate before death. Two or three applications may be needed.
As a side note, the overuse and misuse of insecticides have created whiteflies that are resistant to most insecticides.
Odiferous stinkhorn fungus is harmless
Q: I purchased some red mulch earlier this year and later in the year there were some firm white packets growing, similar to mushroom material and about 1 1/2 inches wide. They grew into "blooms" after several days. I didn't notice any smell, but they looked wet, and flies and other insects were hanging around. What are they and what should I do about them? C.L. Gary, Madeira Beach
A: You've run into a lattice-type stinkhorn fungus. They begin as a spore (a microscopic seed), which is how fungi and ferns reproduce. Then they grow into a bunch of white threadlike masses (mycelium) within the mulch. If you move the mulch around you will see the mats of mycelium. After the fungus decides to fruit you get the egg stage, then the beginning of its orange body, with its odiferous spore sac, which is eaten by flies. The body will shrivel after a couple of days. The fungus does no harm to plants, dogs, cats or humans. But it's a most unpleasant smell as they pop open.
Correction: Fig whitefly, not thrips, dropped those ficus leaves
The Dec. 4 question on ficus trees and leaf drop misidentified the culprit as thrips, a common enemy of ficus but not the cause of the current leaf drop problem. Fig whitefly is the culprit, a new pest to our area, moving up from Miami.