Shrubs can serve many purposes in a landscape and have been used in both mass plantings and as accent features. They can include plants that offer colorful blooms, food for pollinators, and screens for less than favorable views.
We tend to think that shrubs will be permanent feature in our landscapes, because many are hardy and adapted to our climate. Like any other plant you may choose for your yard, shrubs may not live forever and there are a wide variety of reasons a shrub may need replacement after years of solid performance.
Let’s use any example from my own yard of the Dwarf yaupon holly, Ilex vomitoria ‘Nana.’ Back in 2001, I planted three hollies, spaced with plenty of room to grow, in a border area of my landscape. The plants grew well forming mounds about 3.5 feet high and 4 feet wide. Since the ‘Nana’ holly is a naturally mounding shrub, it did not require pruning and once established, rainfall supplied needed water.
Yaupon holly with dieback after 17 years in a landscape. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Over the past year, several areas of branch dieback have developed in all plants. After finally deciding that the dieback was unattractive enough to warrant plant removal, I began cutting the plants back. I discovered dead interior branches, girdling roots, and some internal stem discoloration. In other words, there are many factors that have led to poor plant performance. Another issue is a large Loropetalum hedge (planted by my neighbor) that shades one side of the plant.
Girdling roots often develop when rootballs have not been properly prepared during installation. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
What could I have done to help these plants stay healthier for many more years? I could have prepared the rootball better for planting by shaving off the edges or supplied a little fertilizer on occasion in my sandy soil. These practices may have extended the life of the plants for several more years, but they may not have made a difference. Sometimes shrubs decline and die. I am accepting that not everything performs at an outstanding level in our climate. Also, there is an end point for some of my favorite plants in the yard. Some may outlive me while others thrive for a few years or a decade or so.
The bright side of loss of my Yaupon hollies is that I get to plan for a feature for the new year. Maybe something for pollinators and birds to last the next 17 years.
As Hurricane Michael was barreling through the Panhandle region, wasp populations were at their highest of the year. Winds and flooding destroyed many of the nests of paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets and now wasps may be aggressive as they defend themselves or remnants of their nests. All are capable of multiple stings that are very painful. It is very likely that you will encounter stinging wasps as they scavenge for food and water, as well as seek shelter among debris and exposed trash.
Many people are stung by paper wasps after storms. They are not attracted to traps.
Here are a few pointers to help deal with stinging wasps.
- Try not to swat at wasps flying around or landing on you. You may be less likely to receive a sting if you can flick them off.
- Some wasps are attracted to the sap from broken or recently cut trees. Look before you reach. Wear gloves and other protective clothing when moving debris in case you disturb foraging or nesting activities.
- Wasps are also attracted to sugars and water. Try your best to keep food and drink cans covered. Completely close garbage containers or bags that contain food debris.
- Repellents are not effective against wasps. There are pesticides labeled to spray on smaller paper wasp nests if you find one in a spot close to people’s activity. These are usually aerosol pyrethroids or pyrethrins. Make sure you read the label carefully and use the product as directed.
- Do not use non labeled products like gasoline to manage wasps. This is not only illegal but can be dangerous to yourself and the environment.
- There are traps for yellowjackets that you may purchase or make. These only manage those wasps flying around, not any remaining in a ground nest.
Here is a Do It Yourself Yellowjacket trap from UF IFAS Extension.
- Cut the top 1/3 off your 2 liter bottle so that you have 2 pieces.
- Add a bait (fermenting fruit or beer) to the bottom of the plastic bottle.
- Invert the top portion of the bottle into the base, forming a funnel.
- Hang or place traps so they are about 4 to 5 feet above the ground. For safety, place them away from people.
A homemade trap to catch yellowjackets. Photo by Alison Zulyniak
Just when you think your battle against weeds is over for the summer, cooler nighttime temperatures and shorter days spark the beginning of a new crop of your least favorite plants. The question of many homeowners is how did all the weeds get to my landscape?
There are many ways that weeds make it to the landscape. They can be brought in with new soil, mulch, container plants, dropped by birds, delivered on the fur of animals, carried by wind, or on the deck of a lawn mower. If that is not enough to depress you than also realize that regardless of outside sources of weeds, your landscape already has plenty onsite that you don’t even know about.
The deck of a lawn mower can collect plant debris, including seeds, that are spread through the landscape. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
In the soil, there is a large number of weed seeds ready to germinate when the conditions are just right. Understanding how your common landscape practices can encourage or discourage the germination of these seeds, can help you begin to manage some weed infestations.
Many of the seeds of common annual weeds are very small. They require exposure to sunlight in addition to the proper temperatures and moisture to germinate. Sunlight is critical though and seeds will not germinate without adequate sunlight. If the small seeds are deep in the soil, you will probably never know they are there. When you turn soil or disturb soil such as when installing plants, you bring the small seeds close to the surface and closer to light. They can then be stimulated to germinate. The next thing you know is that you have an area covered in weed seedlings.
What does this mean for your gardening practices? Try your best to block sunlight from hitting exposed soil. You can do this by keeping a healthy turf, free of thinning spaces. A 2-3 inch layer of mulch in plant beds and vegetable gardens will reduce weed seed germination. Finally when you are installing plants in an established bed, try not to mix soil with surrounding mulch. Seeds will easily germinate within the mulch if it becomes mixed with soil.
It is inevitable that your landscape will have some weeds but a few easy gardening practices can reduce some of your weed frustrations.
A very popular landscape shrub installed by both professionals and homeowners is Loropetalum or Chinese fringe. This shrub offers attractive foliage and flowers along with being evergreen.
When you visit a nursery to select this plant for your landscape, realize that there are now many selections of Loropetalum available. Learn about a few of the common selections in this recording of ‘In the Garden’, with UF/ IFAS Extension Escambia County Horticulture Agent Beth Bolles, so that you are successful at matching the appropriate plant with your landscape needs.
Burrow made by the female Cicada killer. Photo Credits: Beth Bolles, Horticulture Agent
During the summer months, landscapes are alive with insect activity. The majority of insects found in home landscapes are not harmful, although the sight of a few may cause some concern. One insect appears to be threatening but is not is the cicada killer, the largest wasp in Florida.
During the warmer months, female cicada killers make ground burrows that consist of several cells for raising a few young. There is an entrance hole, which often remains open, surrounded by a small mound of soil on one side of the entrance. The female makes this ground burrow after mating and then captures cicadas to add to the individual cells. The cicadas will serve as food for the developing wasp larvae that emerge from laid eggs.
Although the females are able to sting, they are not overly aggressive wasps. The males do make more aggressive flights around people but are unable to sting. When enjoying your landscape, just be aware of ground burrows and the flight of the female wasps into the burrows. If you are lucky, you may even see a wasp with a cicada in tow.
Cicada killers should not be treated in most landscapes. If you are unable to tolerate the wasps, you may reduce their habitat by covering open sandy areas with mulch or a groundcover. This does not completely prevent their ability to nest but will certainly reduce suitable nesting spots. For more information on cicada killers visit: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in573.
This article is being revisited as part of our ‘Best Of’ series. August, 2012.