Get that olive tree out of the pot
Q: I have a Mediterranean olive tree that has been in a pot for about four or five years. Some of the leaves are turning yellow and falling. The tree is about 6 feet tall. I have pruned it occasionally. It is in a protected area near the house.
What can I do to slow the falling of the leaves, and what kind of fertilizer can I use? It has bloomed once, but no fruit were produced. Arlette
A: The probable cause of the yellowing leaves is because it has been in a pot for that amount of time. It will be wickedly pot-bound (all roots, hardly any soil) which means any water runs right through the pot. The constant drying is causing the oldest leaves to turn yellow and fall.
Your olive, Olea europaea, needs to be planted in the yard to free its roots. Once planted, it should flower and have a slim chance of fruiting. Most cultivated varieties of olives require a pollinator to produce fruit, but you may get lucky and have the Arbequina cultivar, which is self-fruiting.
Once it is happy in its new home, six to eight weeks, fertilize following the label directions with a quality 10-0-10 in February, May and October and you just might get some olives.
Vegetable gardening is different here, Chicago transplant finds
Q: I recently moved to Florida from Chicago and live in Lithia, in a fairly new community that was at one time entirely farmland. I have prepared a bedding area outside of our lanai. My back yard has a southwestern exposure. I put in new topsoil and cow manure. I planted seeds (vegetables and herbs) plus tomato plants last May. The plants and seeds looked good in the beginning, but then all the vegetables dried up. The tomato plants never grew to their full height and the tomatoes were very small with only two to four per plant. I planted again in September, but again the tomatoes are not growing well. What is the secret? In Chicago I had a beautiful garden with vegetables and herbs that flourished. Peppers and tomatoes grew like a bush and with a wonderful harvest. I can't imagine not having a garden in the Sunshine State. I'm very disappointed.
Angie DiSilvestro, FishHawk Ranch
A: It might be easier to move back to Chicago!
To be successful at veggie gardening in Florida, you have to plant at the right times for the two seasons: late February to early March for the spring garden, and late August to early September for the fall garden. (Think Valentine's Day and Labor Day.)
Second, our soil is a definite issue for those who have come from a part of the country where you have real soil for your garden. In our warm, sandy soil, microscopic organisms called nematodes attack root systems. The damage causes fruit to die while very young, and also stunts root vegetables, hence the name "root knot." There is no effective control.
Rather than to try to amend the soil with organic products, it is easier and more fruitful (no pun intended) to build a raised bed with 2- by 10-inch lumber placed on the ground and filled with a quality potting mix, not topsoil, from your local nursery. No under liner is needed.
Start a compost pile and add cooked compost each season to fill your frame. Your other choice is filling large nursery containers with the same quality potting mix.
You will also need a good reference: Vegetable Gardening in Florida by James Stephens (available at some local bookstores or online at www.ifasbooks.com) covers watering, fertilizing, spacing, which crops are best for the warm season versus the cool season — all the information necessary to become a successful Florida gardener.