Helping Storm-Damaged Trees


Though I’m no arborist, I have helped my fair share of damaged trees. This hurricane season has broken the limbs and trunks on a lot of beloved trees – and I’d like to see people save the ones they can.

S writes:

“Thought you might have some insight on how to handle a badly wounded tree.  Hurricane Irma ripped my neem trees lower branches off and took a sizeable chunk out of her bark.  Should I smear vaseline on the wound and lightly bandage to keep bugs from getting into the tree?  How would you handle such a problem?  Lost almost all of my bananas, papayas and all the rest of my fruit trees were sadly laying on the ground, looked like they went 10 rounds with Tyson in his prime!  We’ve restaked most of our trees, hopefully they’ll make it.  Have been working on my fruit forest for a few years now, so it was devastating at first to see the destruction.”

My answer:

Don’t coat them with anything. Just saw the broken branches/trunks off a little bit below the damage. Make the cuts on a slight diagonal. The trees will heal as they can and put out new growth. When they do, select the best-looking shoots and eliminate the rest. Since they’re a few years old, the root system should give them plenty of strength to regrow.

Irma caused some damage in The Great South Florida Food Forest Project. Fortunately, my sister Christi (Miss Yamfit) was there to help clean up after the damage – and take some pictures I could share here.

Tithonia diversifolia plants were knocked around:

whipped-tithonia-2 whipped-tithonia

Moringa trees were snapped and stripped:


A chaya shrub was pushed to the ground:


And, worst of all, our beloved acerola cherry was blown over.

This is what it looked like before:


And this is what it looks like now:


The tree was blown to the ground and the trunk partially snapped. Christi called to ask what they could do to save it and I recommended cutting it back to a few feet tall, propping it back up, keeping it watered so it’s not under stress, and praying over it.

Dad and I planted this tree back in 2013 after he removed an old schefflera from the corner of the house. It was one of his favorites, bearing an abundance of sweet cherries off and on all year. We’re all hoping it lives.

The fallen chaya isn’t a big deal, as chaya reproduces easily via cuttings. And the rest of the mess? Well, it doesn’t seem like much compared to Dominica, Puerto Rico, Texas, Barbuda and the many other places where serious storm damage took place.

If you have a busted up tree, prune it back to good wood, prop it up if you can, take really good care of it and hope for the best. Some species will spring right back – others won’t. Time will tell.

Ambrosia Beetles are Totally Boring


Well, those boring Ambrosia beetles are back:

ambrosia beetle frass

Ambrosia beetles have made a home in this frost-roasted Mexican sunflower stem

See the sawdust puffs coming out of the sides of these frost-damaged Mexican sunflower stems? That’s the “frass” (a sciency word for insect droppings) from what is likely a species of Ambrosia beetle.

Despite the Ambrosia beetle’s boring tendencies, I still find them quite an interesting species in part because of their relationship with fungi. They carry the spores on their bodies and later feed on the resulting fungi that grow through the plants they bore into.

As UF puts it:

“When the beetles bore into the sapwood of the host tree, the galleries formed from the beetle boring are inoculated with the fungal spores, which then germinate and infect the host tissue (Atkinson and Peck, 1994; Thomas, 2007). The fungus continues to grow in the galleries and adjacent sapwood, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients in the tree. The fungus grows on the living wood of the tree, and the redbay ambrosia beetle adults and larvae feed on the fungus.”

Interesting, eh?

The other part of interest I have in these beetles is purely an economic one.

I was once asked by a customer to provide them with two almost-bearing-age pecan trees. I bought the trees wholesale, but they still cost me almost $100 apiece – and you need TWO different varieties for pollination, so they had to be sold as a matched set.

The day he arrived to pick them up was right around this time of year. The trees were still asleep for the winter and had been waiting in my nursery for a few weeks. It was evening when my customer arrived and had already gotten dark. We went to load the trees into his vehicle when I noticed the tell-tale curlicues of dust emerging haphazardly from the base of one of the two trees… like this:

ambrosia beetles frass

The evidence of ambrosia beetles is hard to miss

“Wait,” I said, “I can’t sell you these trees!”

“Why not?” he replied, puzzled.

“This one has been attacked by beetles. They’re in the stem right now, spreading fungi and chewing their way through the wood.”

“But… it’ll live, right?” he said, somewhat unsure at this point.

I shook my head in frustration. “I don’t think so. Not the whole tree. It’ll probably come back from the roots, sure, but it won’t be the grafted, full-size tree you ordered.”

He ended up leaving without the trees, and with my apologies.

I was very, very frustrated at that. My nursery ran on tight margins, plus I wanted to deliver on my promises, plus I had driven two hours to pick those trees up originally… and then these stupid little beetles come along and drill into my hard work.

Strangely, they only attacked one of the trees. I later sold the other one at my cost to a friend that had two other pecans in her yard and wanted a third. The tree was already 12′ tall – it was a monster – and it’s not much taller and growing happily in her food forest.

Ambrosia Beetles and Laurel Wilt


This bay tree was killed by ambrosia beetles carrying laurel wilt

You never know where the ambrosia beetle will strike… and the most troublesome right now is the “redbay” ambrosia beetle, at least in terms of economic impact.

The biggest fear right now is the damage they do to avocado trees and other members of the bay laurel family. Further down in the UF article I quoted earlier it reads:

“In Asia and the United States, the redbay ambrosia beetle appears to be most attracted to woody plants in the Lauraceae (laurel) family although there are reports in Asia of the beetle attacking some plant species in Fabaceae, Fagacea, and Dipterocarpaceae (Fraedrich et al., 2008).

Florida has numerous species in the Lauraceae family; some of these are forest species, some of ornamental value, and one, avocado, is a major commercial fruit crop species (Mayfield et al., 2008c; Ploetz and Peña, 2007). At present, the Florida avocado industry covers about 7,400 acres and is estimated to be worth about $13 million annually (Pollock and Perez, 2007).

In the southeastern United States, the reported hosts of the redbay ambrosia beetle/laurel wilt pathogen have included the redbay (P. borbonia), silk bay (P. borbonia var. humilis), swampbay (P. palustris), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and avocado (P. americana) (Mayfield, 2007; Mayfield, 2008). The laurel wilt pathogen has also been recovered in the southeastern United States from diseased plants of pondberry (Lindera melissifolia), camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), and pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) trees.”

That’s a lot of potential hosts and it means that if you plant avocado trees in your yard, you’re likely to have other plants nearby that host the redbay ambrosia beetle. They’ll happily bore your trees to death.

I’ve posted on laurel wilt before and my thoughts on fighting back.

There’s really nothing I know of that will totally stop the beetles from boring in the spring, but my bet is that integrating lots of species and encouraging genetic diversity in avocados is a start.

The weirdest thing I’ve seen the ambrosia beetles attack is a Jerusalem thorn tree I planted in my food forest. I’ve seen them on cassava as well.

Are they in your yard right now – and if so, what are they attacking?

Growing Arrowroot

Growing Arrowroot title image

Maranta_Arundinacea_illustrationGrowing arrowroot is very, very easy.

That said, I only mention the crop in passing in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening because of the processing it takes to actually eat it without getting a mouthful of fibers. All I write is:

“Arrowroot is very easy to grow and beautiful to look at, but the yields are small. Roots require extra processing. It’s good as a non-recognizable background sort of survival crop if you’re worried about the end of the world and someone stealing your sweet potatoes… but not really much of a staple.” -Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening, Chap. 6

Though the young roots don’t only contain some fibrous strings, the older roots are basically inedible… except for their starch. So how do you harvest the starch out of arrowroot? Here’s a good post.

I’ll probably make arrowroot flour at some point myself; however, it’s not high on my priority list, particularly since I can just grow huge piles of yams instead with much less work.

Despite that fact, I really love growing arrowroot as an attractive member of the herbaceous layer in my food forest.

A couple of days ago I recorded a video on growing arrowroot and dug up one of my plants to harvest the roots. Check it out:

Even if you weren’t growing arrowroot for the starch, it would be worth growing because it’s such an attractive and care-free plant.

The video doesn’t do it justice since it’s entering the dormant season and dying back. They’re a lot prettier in the spring. Here’s all you need to do to start growing arrowroot in your own garden.

Growing Arrowroot

Arrowroot, or as its friends call it, Maranta arundinacea, is a tropical plant with some quite beautiful variations as well as some attractive cousins you’ve likely seen for sale as houseplants.


Maranta leuconeura. Photo credit Drew Avery. CC license.

Though some sources report that growing arrowroot requires shade, I’ve had it do well in almost full sun along the path in the center of my food forest.

I’ve grown it in full shade as well, though that plant was less productive. Half-sun seems to be the sweet spot. If you get good rainfall and have decent soil, the yields increase. My arrowroot plants are fed with nothing but rotting wood chip mulch from the power company tree trimmers and that’s been enough for them to produce decent yields of roots. I pulled one from a rich and moist garden bed and got about 4 times the roots from it as from the one in the video above. Location, location, location!

That said, they really are a low-care perennial.

When to Harvest Arrowroot

When you’re growing arrowroot and it starts to die in the fall, don’t fear. It’s just going into dormancy. They’ll freeze to the ground in winter and come back again in the spring, much like ginger.

Growing Arrowroot

That’s the time I pull the roots. Give them a year of growth and they’ll usually make at least a half-dozen or more harvestable roots. Give them two years and you’ll get a lot more than that.

Where To Buy Arrowroot Plants


I got my arrowroot starts from Grower Jim and I recommend him as a source. That link will take you to his write-up on growing arrowroot and there’s a link at the bottom of his article where you can order roots.

Is it Worth Growing Arrowroot?

As a survival crop, arrowroot has the advantage of being basically unknown, making it invisible to thieves. On the down side, it’s not the best to eat fresh due to its many fibers.

That said, I’ve eaten the raw roots by chewing them up and spitting out the fibers. The starch has a cool, smooth flavor that’s rather refreshing. It’s also quite digestible. You may not enjoy eating arrowroot like you’d enjoy eating Idaho potatoes, but they could keep you fed if everything fell apart.






Name: Arrowroot
Latin Name: Maranta arundinacea
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: Some reports on helping digestion
Cold-hardy: Dieback perennial
Exposure: 3/4 sun to shade
Part Used: Roots
Propagation: Roots
Taste: Unoffensive
Storability: Great in ground, good in the fridge
Ease of growing: Very easy
Nutrition: Low
Recognizability: Low
Availability: Low

Growing Seminole pumpkins in the food forest


Yesterday you got to see one of my home-grown calabazas. Today I have a picture of a little Seminole pumpkin growing in the front-yard food forest:

Yes, I am on a squash and pumpkin kick.

Last fall around the time of my post on the 2014 sweet potato harvest from my food forest, Andi and I were talking back and forth and alternating between growing sweet potatoes and squash as ground cover in a food forest system. This spring I planted multiple squash seeds in fertilized pits out front and let them go – they’re just starting to produce now.

However, a lot of the sweet potatoes have come back as well. No matter how hard I try, I never seem to dig all the roots out and I invariably have plenty of them coming up the next year. We’ll see how they do. Usually the pest load gets to be too high when they grow in the same spot more than once or twice.

If you haven’t checked out the Seminole Pumpkin Project page I created, go check it out here.

If you have photos and details on growing Seminole pumpkins in your gardens, let me know – I’d love to post what you’re growing. This is a wonderful Florida heritage and I want to document the varieties as best as I can for the sake of anyone interested in studying or growing this incredible heirloom.


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The Great South Florida Food Forest Project: June 2015 Video Update!


I was just down in Ft. Lauderdale and filmed another update on The Great South Florida Food Forest Project:

It’s coming along, though the dry weather has given some of the plants a beating. Later this year after the rains kick in things are going to look a lot better.

Growing a South Florida food forest is really, really easy. Need some food forest inspiration? Pick up a copy of my book!

Support this site: shop on Amazon using this link. It doesn’t cost you a penny and it helps pay for my hosting!

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: Yet more to see!

south florida food forest

A beautifully messy South Florida food forest.

One of the interesting things about creating a food forest and then not visiting it for over a year is that you get to see it progress or devolve in jumps.

Yesterday I mentioned that some of the trees and plants we added are now deceased – and we also saw many of the interesting “weeds” that have popped up to fill in the herbaceous layer.

That’s the way a forest works. If you don’t fill in all the gaps in your food forest, something else will. As you can see in the image above, there’s a lot going on in the understory layers – most of which is not edible. My chaya is looking good though the cassava is not happy… and they’re surrounded by some weird neighbors. Ferns, Spanish needle, green and purple wandering Jew, Mother-in-law tongues, Surinam daisies… it’s quite a pretty mess. You could probably start an ornamental nursery with the cuttings from this patch of un-mown jungle.

To the left of the main food forest is the perennial salad garden I created a couple of years ago. The survivors there include a thriving katuk, a spindly monk’s cap/Turk’s cap hibiscus and the longevity spinach.

Up above, the coconut palm is bearing more nuts than it ever has:

I planted that tree when I was 15. A couple of years ago Dad and I weeded out the asparagus fern from around its base and planted that salad garden. It really likes being without the competition of those root-strangling asparagus ferns.

As does the Natal plum out front:

There were multiple fruit on this bush when I showed up. It used to look really sad until we took out the asparagus fern and gave it a new lease on life. Now it’s covered with blooms and fruiting regularly. I’m hoping to grow some of these up here in North Florida. Though it’s a stretch, I have seen one growing without frost protection in Citra. Definitely worth trying.

Another happy tree is the mango Mom planted out back 4-5 years ago.

The piles of mulch and lack of grass competition have made this mango a stellar producer. It’s easily 14′ tall right now and loaded – absolutely loaded – with fruit.

If I had to guess right now, I’d say that this South Florida food forest project is already yielding about 300-400lbs of food every year, mostly thanks to the starfruit, the mangoes and the acerola cherry. One the chocolate pudding fruit, avocado, tamarind, canistel and other trees kick in… it’ll get ridiculous.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the other trees we added last week.

(To see all the posts on The Great South Florida Food forest Project, go here!)

Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

The Great South Florida Food Forest Project Update, May 2015: Successes!

pathway through a south florida food forest

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I haven’t been able to visit The Great South Florida Food Forest Project for over a year.

My last pictures were taken way back in February of 2014 and posted here.

I was finally able to visit last week and see how the ecosystem is evolving. Rachel took a bunch of pictures which I’ll be sharing with you over the next few days.

There have been some exciting developments and some disappointing failures.

One notable success is the acerola cherry tree my dad and I planted back in March of 2013.

Here’s what it looked like then (it’s the little tree beneath the red shutter in the middle of the frame):

Here’s what it looks like now:

Unlike a true cherry, the acerola cherry produces prodigious quantities of delicious sweet/tart fruit year-round.

Another great success is the tropical almond tree.

Here it is back in July of 2013:

And here it is now:

Less than 2 years – from seed! Pretty amazing.

Another success story is the tamarind tree we planted near the driveway.

Here’s what it looked like back in July 2013:

And here it is now:

Look at the caliper on the trunk:

Beautiful trees and delicious.

Another success is the chocolate pudding fruit tree. Though it’s not gotten a lot bigger, it’s filled out… and it’s blooming!

Chocolate pudding fruit, also known as black sapote, are incredibly delicious members of the persimmon family.

Here’s what the fruit looks like:

Amazing. Hopefully we’ll have some soon.

A final great success is the starfruit tree.

Here it is in a shot from March 2013:

It’s the tree on the bottom left – just about 4′ tall back then.

Here it is now:

starfruit growing in a south florida food forest

It’s about 12′ tall and has been bearing BUCKETLOADS of fruit twice a year.

Very encouraging.

Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of the failures in the south Florida food forest project – stay tuned!


Support this site – buy David’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest on Amazon!

Grafting Pear onto Hawthorn

hawthorn tree for grafting
hawthorn tree for grafting

The victim, pre-surgery

I’ve read that it’s possible to use wild hawthorn trees as a root stock for pear, though I’ve never had the chance to try grafting pears onto hawthorn until now.

While doing a horticultural analysis of a client’s property in prelude to installing a food forest, I discovered a large number of hawthorn trees on the premises (probably Crataegus flava).

Though they have edible fruit, they’re generally said to be bland and only really good for jellies.

Since the trees are thriving on highly drained humus-deficient sand, if it’s possible to add pears to their tops, they’d serve as a hardy rootstock rather than trying to establish new pears.

I shared the idea with the property owner and he was intrigued. The answer: “Go for it!”

I love folks like that.

Since my own pears were still dormant when we discussed the idea, I cut a good amount of dormant scions from multiple trees and refrigerated them until this last week when we started phase one of the food forest installation.

To start on the tree, I cut off quite a few of the crossing and smaller branches, then picked out which limbs would support my pear scions.

(I use this parafilm tape and this Japanese pruning saw. It’s simply got to be tried to be believed – I can carve through 4″ of oak in half a minute.)

Once I did the initial clean-up, I started grafting pear onto hawthorn branches. Here’s what the tree ended up looking like:


And here are some close-up shots:

I tied the grafts tightly with flagging tape before wrapping them in the parafilm.

It’s very important to have a tight fit between rootstock and scion. My friend Steven also told me one of the most common reasons for grafting failure is having the scions dry out, so I’m now quite meticulous with my parafilm wrapping or wound seal application (I lost my bottle of sealer somewhere so it was just parafilm on this hawthorn).

Due to the wavy nature of hawthorn growth (the branches are all zigzags) it wasn’t easy to line up my pear scions. Most of the grafts are cleft grafts, though I also performed a few somewhat shaky whip-and-tongue grafts as well, just to see which would work.

I will report in the future on whether or not they took. If they do, I’ll be thrilled and will have opened up another avenue for food forest fruit production. If not, I will have invested an hour of my life in the pursuit of an enticing possibility that didn’t pan out but will have taught me something new.



Learn more about growing fruit trees in David the Good’s book Create Your Own Florida Food Forest.

Summer Rain in My Florida Food Forest


Since the cold was making me sad, I looked around for some images from my food forest during warmer days and I found some video of a heavy rain from this last summer.

I can’t wait until the warm weather and jungle greenery are back. I’ve had just about enough winter.

By the way, the song in the video is from my album The Brainspider Affair.

You can find it on iTunes… if you feel like listening to weird, weird music.

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What To Plant in a Florida Orchard

Luscious purple Florida-grown figs.

Last night I noticed this comment on the high-density orchard post over at The Brilliant Homestead:

Most people think “apples” when they hear orchard. What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard? –Phyllis Franklin


Thou art in luck: trees are one of my favorite topics!

For those of you who don’t know Phyllis, she is a writer with her own homesteading blog “Evolution of a Farm Girl.”

Even better, she’s a homeschooling mom. (Since I was raised by a homeschooling mom, I’m rather partial to that rare and wonderful breed of lady.)

Now: trees.

The question, “What would I plant in a Florida front-yard orchard?” is not easy to answer without knowing a location.

The one thing I wouldn’t plant anywhere in the state is citrus. Just don’t do it – you’ll lose the tree.

That aside, here are my recommendations.

Trees for a South Florida Orchard

A fragrant lychee.

In south Florida and large parts of coastal Florida, your options are incredible. My in-laws, for example, bought a house that had a small mango orchard planted in the front yard. The trees are now gigantic and bear incredible quantities of mangoes which bring them a decent side income during mango season.

My parents have a tamarind, a canistel, an acerola cherry and a jabuticaba tree in their front yard in Ft. Lauderdale. In the side yard they have a fig and a tropical almond. Out back there’s a chocolate pudding fruit, a mango, a Key Lime, a coconut palm, multiple bananas, cattley guavas, Surinam cherries, dragon fruit cactus, a Grumichama, a starfruit, plantains, papayas and probably a few more trees I can’t remember (they’re all parts of The Great South Florida Food Forest Project).

If you wanted an orchard in South Florida, all of those trees would be excellent choices.

I’d also add:


Sapodilla (Mmmm)
Jackfruit (Largest fruit in the world)
Longan (high market value)
Lychee (high market value)
Custard apple
Cashew (a fruit AND a nut!)
Macadamia (Awesome nut, nice big tree)
Soursop (anti-cancer!)
Ackee (poisonous unless harvested at the right time)
Loquat (grows in north and south Florida)
Jamaican cherry (delicious)
Tropical guava
Cinnamon (large tree and very beautiful)
Peruvian apple cactus
Coffee (Yep, it grows into a small tree)
Nutmeg (probably marginal)


…and probably a hundred more tropical trees.

The quantity of fruit you can grow down there is astounding. I’d bet on at least a 1,000 species since the Tropics are BY FAR a much more productive region than the world’s temperate zones.

Trees for a Central/North Florida Orchard

A tangy loquat.

The further north you move in the state, the more your options dwindle.

That said, you do pick up a few new species that cannot be grown in the southern tip of the state, such as plums, peaches and pears.

The transition isn’t immediate, but basically once you have overnight lows that go below the upper 20s, your tropical trees become a hard-to-grow liability rather than good orchard fodder.

My favorite three N/C Florida fruit trees are mulberries (white, black, Persian and Pakistan), Japanese persimmons (be sure to get both astringent and non-astringent types – they both have their uses on the homestead) and loquats. Finding improved loquat varieties isn’t easy but they’re worth buying since they bear larger and sweeter fruit than the landscaping seedling trees usually found for sale.

After those, I would add these trees to my North Florida orchard:

Pears (“Pineapple” is my favorite – tough and disease-resistant. Orient is a good pollinator.)
Plums (UF varieties)
Peaches (UF varieties or seedlings from locally-picked fruit)
Apples (Anna, Dorsett, Tropic Sweet, Ein Shemer. None are particularly easy to grow here)
Pecan (gets big, but has high market value)
Chestnut (fast producer of sweet nuts – get two “Dunstan” types)
Nectarine (UF varieties)
Avocado (cold-hardy types such as Lila and Mexicola. Subject to early death via disease.)
Bananas (Raja Puri, Orinoco, Red Dwarf, Ice Cream all survive cold)
Pomegranates (Note: some spontaneously die. Don’t get attached!)
Autumn olive
Goumi berry
Black cherry (gets tall – hard to harvest – flavor is amazing)
Japanese raisin tree (rare)
Sichuan Pepper
Jujube (Chinese)


Among these trees there are many cultivars and variations that should keep you quite contented as you plan. I currently prefer a food forest to an orchard; however, an orchard is better than having just a couple of trees… and a couple of trees are still better than lawn.

As you plant I would mix up the species rather than keeping them together in blocks of the same type. That makes it harder for pests to jump from tree to tree. Running chickens through the orchard on a regular basis also feeds the trees and knocks back potential pest problems.

Along with these trees, you can add a couple of wires for grapes as a nice upgrade. Or build an arbor.

Now go, Phyllis. Plant!



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