Tree debris snowman

Storm debris turned into holiday cheer in Bayou George. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

By the time this article publishes, we will be more than 70 days since Hurricane Michael toppled or damaged an incredible number of trees in the Panhandle. Enormous piles of once stately shade trees line the streets in neighborhoods and business districts in. The cleanup efforts have been phenomenal, over 4 million cubic yards of storm debris picked up in Bay County to date, but there is still a long way to go in the recovery process.

So, as gardeners, how can you help our community get back on track amidst your own struggles to recover? A few Florida Friendly Landscaping™ Principles come to mind.

  • #1 Right Plant, Right Place – as you rebuild your landscapes, make sure to choose the appropriate plant for the location. Consider mature size and give those plants space to thrive!
  • #4 Mulch – do you have bare ground that will eventually become landscape beds or turf but no resources or time to replant yet? Consider mulching the area to keep soil from eroding and to help improve soil though decomposition of natural products. Hint – see Recycling for free sources!
    • Mulch tips https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/MulchBrochure.pdf
      • keep mulch 12 inches from tree trunks
      • recommended depth in beds or under dripline of tree canopy (excluding within 12” of trunk) is 2-3 inches
      • leave an 18-24 inch buffer around building foundations mulch free to reduce conducive termite conditions
  • Potted plant on stump

    Dress up stumps with plants and whimsical designs. Photo: D_VanderMeer, UF/IFAS Master Gardener

    #7 Recycle – driving around town I have seen some really creative uses for stumps, trunks, and branches that homeowners have constructed and messages of hope that bring a smile to my face. Another method of recycling is to use the chipped vegetative debris as mulch, either available as “utility mulch” by cities and counties or you may have some in your own yard right now.

    • Utility mulch does come with some words of caution because there is an increased risk of introducing weeds to your landscape with untreated storm debris. However, if you need mulch for pathways or planting beds you will be helping your community’s cleanup effort by reducing waste accumulation. Just watch for “volunteer” plants and manage as needed.

In Bay County, there are 4 locations where you can load and haul off your own utility mulch from storm debris

  • Under the Oaks Park – 5843 E. U.S. 98, Panama City, FL 32404
  • G. Harder’s Park – 8110 John Pitts Rd., Panama City, FL 32401
  • Chapman Park – 2526 Rollins Ave., Bayou George, FL 32404
  • Laird Park – 6310 Laird Park Rd., Panama City, FL 3240

For sources in your county, check with your Solid Waste Department for utility mulch availability.

Julie McConnell

UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Horticulture Agent
B.S. Horticulture, Auburn University
M.S. Entomology, University of Florida