January 26, 2009

Pruning Basics

By Pam Brown, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent, Pinellas County Extension

We prune plants, especially trees and shrubs, for many reasons. One of those reasons should not be just because everyone else does it this way. Crape myrtles are often improperly over-pruned because people see it done that way and think that is the proper way.

There are two basic pruning cuts for woody plants, heading cuts and thinning or removal cuts. A heading cut (Image 1) removes part of a branch back to a side bud and allows all of the buds on that branch to sprout, resulting in a flush of new branch growth. This can be appropriate for hedges and other dense shrubs, but is not appropriate for trees. A thinning cut (Image 2) is the removal of a branch back to where is grows out from the trunk or a branch back to where is grows from another branch, also called a reduction cut (Image 3). This can result in a more open appearance to shrubs and is most appropriate when pruning trees since it does not produce a flush of weak new branches.

When removing branches large and small using thinning or removal cuts, pay close attention to the branch bark ridge and the branch collar. This ridge is usually rough and always darker than the surrounding bark and is fairly obvious on most trees and shrubs (See Video). Angle the cut so it ends just above the branch collar beneath the branch. If the collar is not obvious, make the cut at a right angle to the top of the branch. Cutting into the branch collar can cause decay in the trunk if this tissue is damaged.

One of the main reasons for pruning trees is to reduce the risk of the tree breaking or falling during storms. In the forest, most trees grow straight with a trunk and main side branches spaced around the trunk. This occurs primarily because of competition with the other trees for sunlight. In the landscape, because of increased access to sunlight, many branches grow straight up and as tall as the main trunk resulting in multiple trunks. This can lead to heavy limbs with narrow V-shaped angles where they are attached to the main trunk. These V-shaped attachments contain bark tissue squeezed between the trunk and the branch resulting in a very weak attachment to the trunk. Weak attachments are more likely to break in high winds or can split from the tree just from the weight of the branch. It is important to recognize these multiple trunks or branches and prune them so that they remain smaller and shorter than the main trunk. This involves using the reduction cut described above or the complete removal of some branches with very narrow or V- shaped attachment angles as shown in the illustration (Image 4).

One last thing to remember if you live at the waters edge, mangroves are protected and cannot be trimmed without a permit. For complete information about mangrove trimming in Pinellas County go to:

For more information on pruning visit It's Hurricane Season – Are your Trees in Shape? , the UF/IFAS Extension publication, Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs at:, and Dr. Gilman’s extensive web site on pruning at:

January 20, 2009

100 years of Florida 4-H

Betty Lipe, 4-H Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

This year marks a milestone in Extension--it is the Florida 4-H Centennial! The 4-H program, which began in 1909 in north Florida with boys in corn clubs and girls in tomato clubs, has now expanded to the 4-H program it is today. Today Pinellas County 4-H Youth Development programs reach over 8500 4-H members ages 5-19, with 6-hours or more of education annually in dozens of project areas and develop leadership, citizenship, and other important life skills.

In the early 1900’s separate programs were conducted for boys and girls. The clubs met in the schools with the Agricultural Agents teaching agricultural projects to boys and Homes Economic Agents teaching home and family topics to girls. The school programs were supplemented with county and regional fairs, which gave 4-H members opportunities to show off their completed projects and compete for awards. 4-H members were able to participate in agricultural judging teams, and went to regional, state and national contests. Today 4-H members have the opportunity to participate in Marine Ecology, Forest Ecology, Consumer Choices, and many more teams, which give youth a chance to travel and meet people outside of their communities while they are learning.

In 1963 the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida was established and changes came to the 4-H program. The program moved from being school based to being replaced by volunteer led community or project clubs. The 4-H leader was empowered to take on a more active mentoring and teaching role with young people.

For a time line of 4-H in Florida, visit
If you would like to read the full history of Florida 4-H visit and visit the “Countdown to the Florida 4-H Centennial.” There are pictures from various eras, as well as much more on the history.

Counties and Districts across the state are planning a number of Centennial events. Here is a sampling of the events:
  • The official start of the celebration starts at the Florida State Fair. Come see the 4-H exhibits and play 4-H putt-putt golf at the Ag Hall of Fame building. The Florida State Fair runs from February 5-16.
  • District IX Council is hosting a Florida 4-H Centennial Celebration on January 31st from 10:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M., at Selby Public Library in Sarasota County. This event will have an open house format, featuring interactive booths and displays designed to highlight a variety of 4-H program areas. There will also be hands-on activities, crafts, games, face painting, a marine science touch tank, and more. At this event, attendees can take part in our Centennial Community Service Initiative by making cards to be sent to deployed military personnel. The goal to make at least 100 cards!
  • The Pinellas County 4-H Foundation is planning a Centennial Banquet Friday, March 13, 2009. The banquet will take place at Banquet Masters in Pinellas Park. Tickets for adults will be $50.00 and will include dinner, entertainment, and a guest speaker. Please contact the 4-H office at 582-2215 for more information.
  • Across the state, 4-H members are planning tree-planting activities with the goal of planting 100 trees per county. Local clubs will be working with their families, schools, and municipalities to achieve this goal.

January 14, 2009

This February Take a Class from Pinellas County Extension with Some One You Love

Pinellas County Extension offers residents a wide variety of classes to help them make sustainable decisions. On-line registration is available for all classes. New this month, Solutions in 30, lunch break on-line classes.

The classes being offered in February are:

Solutions in 30:
February 4th - Green at Work
February 11th - Green Celebrations
February 18th - Saving Money By Going Green
February 25th - The Green Family

Pesticide CEUs:
February 11th Contract Basics: What You Need to Know

Families and Consumers:
February 7th – Get Cooking Demonstration: Mouth Watering Strawberry Know How

February 14th – Get Cooking Demonstration: the Wonderful World of Herbs
February 19th - Families Cooking Together Series Begins

Lawn and Garden:
February 5th - Florida Style Gardening: Concepts of Landscape Design
February 19th - Florida Style Gardening: Landscape Design Clinic

4-H Youth:
February 14th – The Wonderful World of Herbs

Sustainable Living:
February 12th - Green Living Webinar
February 12th – Green Office Webinar

You can register for classes at look for the online registration button on the right hand side.

January 12, 2009

Save Some Green by Saving Energy

James Stevenson, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Do you have the resolve to save some money in 2009? By adopting some new habits with regards to energy use in the home, you may find yourself a little better off at the end of every month. Savings on energy costs may be put toward efficiency upgrades of existing homes and appliances, and incentives are available to offset these costs as well.

This winter we have been reminded of why Pinellas County is so densely populated; the weather has been GORGEOUS! There have been a few days, in fact, when some of us may have switched on the air conditioning. According to UF researchers, 40% of an average Florida home’s energy costs are attributed to Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning (HVAC) system use. You can imagine that research also shows that it is the cooling aspect that uses the majority of that 40%. There are simple steps to reduce the resultant cost of this use, without sacrificing comfort.

Start with your settings. If you have a programmable thermostat--and good for you!--make sure you are using it properly and efficiently. For times when no one will be in the home, have the thermostat react accordingly be either shutting off or adjusting to a higher or lower temperature depending on the weather. Temperatures at night can also be adjusted to provide comfort without running all-out. Savings from programmable thermostats have been estimated at $150/year.

Settings for temperatures have been established for optimum efficiency at 78°F in the summer and 68°F in the winter. After adjusting these settings, engage the ceiling fans. Ceiling fans need to be kept clean, balanced and working properly. It is recommended to use a clockwise setting in winter and counter-clockwise setting in summer. And, just like lighting, be sure to turn fans off when you leave the room. Fans work by cooling our skin, so there is no benefit to have them running if the room is unoccupied.

Make sure your HVAC system is running efficiently by maintaining a strict regime of filter-changes (there are re-usable filters available) and seasonal inspection/service. If your system is more than 10 years old, you may consider replacing with a more efficient system. Again, incentives are available to help offset the cost of a new system. See the references at the end of this article for more information.

Other sources of energy consumption include the 21-25% of each bill attributed to appliances and “plug-load.” As with your HVAC system, ensure the stove, washer/dryer and other small appliances are working efficiently and are used properly. Small changes really do add up! For instance, a toaster or toaster-oven would be a far better (and cheaper) option for making that cheese-toast than the broiler of the oven. Be sure to keep the lint-trap of your dryer clean and clear in-between uses. An inspection/service to the duct to the outdoors may be in order if you’ve never had one done before. A blocked duct can increase drying time significantly. As we have mentioned before, there are secret energy-saps all over most homes. Those appliances that have a stand-by mode (especially TVs, chargers, and computer equipment) are using energy as long as they are plugged in. It would benefit you to unplug them, and save 5% of your energy costs in the process. For a power bill of $200, that is $10 you have now saved.

Lighting and refrigeration account for 11% each of home energy use. We’ve advocated compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in the past, and there are more and more varieties of CFL available regularly—one for nearly every use in illuminating the home. Always remember to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

Many families have a second refrigerator in their home. This is often the LAST refrigerator that had stopped working to its utmost efficiency. Ironically, these are often relegated to one of the hottest rooms in the home—the garage—where they continue to strain to cool a few over-flow items. Is this second refrigerator really necessary? Consider going without and you might be amazed at the savings.

Finally, an energy-bear can be found in the water heater. The US Department of Energy recommends a setting of 120°F for most homes. Often manufacturers set the thermostat at 140°F this represents an additional energy cost and can lead to scalding and an accelerated rate of mineral build-up. If you plan to be away from home for more than 3 days, consider shutting the water heater off completely (PLEASE refer to your owner’s manual before making any changes to the settings.) A blanket of insulation, if properly installed around the heater itself and the conducting pipes, will also help the system run smoothly and cost-efficiently.

Progress Energy has a list of incentives you may wish to refer to should you be interested in up-grades to your home or appliances therein. See:

The US Department of Energy provides a comprehensive list of energy efficient practices and products:
The University of Florida Family and Consumer Sciences Department of IFAS has several fact-sheets on saving energy in the home:,,

January 5, 2009

Jump-start Your New Year

By Karen Saley, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Well, another year has gone by and you are probably reviewing what you have accomplished this past year and what you still need to work on. Now is the time we all think about what we didn’t get accomplished in the last twelve months and vow to make it happen in the next twelve months. Whether it’s losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, or giving up those cigarettes, this is the year it’s going to happen. Easier said than done, right?

The tradition of the New Year's Resolutions dates back to 153 B.C. Janus, a mythical king of early Rome was said to have two faces which allowed him to look back on past events and forward to the future. Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions as many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies.

Now is the time to stop looking back and prepare for the wonderful year ahead. Here are a few tips to help you jump-start your new year and keep you on track with your New Years resolution.

Make a plan
You’ve heard the old saying “make a plan or plan to fail.” Choose a goal that is realistic and set up the steps to reach that goal. Sometimes a goal can seem overwhelming so break it down into smaller steps that are easier to achieve. Every step that you complete will give you a sense of accomplishment and the encouragement to continue toward your larger goal.

Put it in writing
It can be easy to let our goals slowly fade away over time, but if you have your goal written down and posted where you can look at it every day, it will be a constant reminder of what you are trying to achieve. Try not only writing the goal, but state the reasons why you chose that goal. If it’s losing weight state the reasons you want to lose weight, i.e. it will help control my diabetes or hypertension, it will allow me to play with my children without running out of breath, etc. These reasons make the goal more personal and serve as a reminder of the importance of the goal in making your life better.

Create a routine
Habits are things you do without even thinking about it. They develop over time and can be difficult to break even when they may no longer be serving you. Two ways to break an old habit and create a new one is replacement and consistency. It is often difficult to just stop doing something you have always done. Try replacing the behavior instead. If you eat ice cream every evening try eating a piece of fruit instead. Practice the new behavior as often as you can, but if you happen to slip don’t beat yourself up. Enjoy the fact that you ate the ice cream and get back on track the next day.

Think positive
We can all fall into the rut of negative thinking and self criticism. Of course this serves no purpose so get out of the habit of negative thought and be kind to yourself. Reprogram your self talk to only positive thoughts. One school of thought is that we bring into our lives what we focus on so focus your thoughts on what is good in life and see yourself achieving your goals.

Be flexible
No one is perfect. There will be times when your enthusiasm and commitment to your goal will be high, making it easy to follow those steps to fulfillment. Then there will be the times when you question whether or not your goal is really all that important and worth the struggle. At times like this, reflect on why you chose that particular goal in the first place. There was a reason the change you are striving for is so important. Remind yourself of that reason and get back on the track to success.

Starting a new year can be fun and exciting with a new opportunity to make an important change in your life. The key is choosing a goal that is realistic and making it valuable. For more helpful hints on how to keep your New Year’s resolutions visit

Website References