My obsession with plants started with the purchase of my first house in Waverly, Alabama in the late 90s. I bought a house with seven acres and of that about 1.5 acres was a fenced yard. The landscape was not very appealing, so I was on a mission to make it beautiful yet functional for my dogs. The only problem was, as a new homeowner, I had very little expendable income for my burgeoning plant habit. This dilemma forced me to be a resourceful gardener.
Shop the discount rack at garden centers
- Many retail garden centers (especially mixed use stores with limited plant space) will discount plants simply because they are no longer flowering. Plants look perfectly healthy but are just not considered “retail ready” anymore, so rather than hold them over until they bloom again and appeal to most shoppers the stores tend to mark them down.
- Plants are either growing or they are dead, so it is common to find some outgrowing their container and are getting “potbound” which means the root system is outgrowing the pot. Potbound plants are hard to keep watered without wilting and the solutions are to transition to a larger pot or plant in the ground. Most garden centers are not equipped to pot up overgrown plants to larger containers, so the easier solution is to sell them quickly. If you purchase a plant with circling roots be sure to trim the bottom and score (slice) the root ball to encourage roots to spread laterally.
- Avoid plants that appear diseased (leaf spots, brown stems, mushy parts, rotting odor) or have active feeding insect activity.
Compliment other gardeners’ plants
- When you get gardeners together, they inevitably start swapping plants. I really don’t have an explanation for this other that good old southern hospitality, but I’ve noticed over the years that when you express appreciation of plants to other people they tend to end up in your own yard. Ask if you can take a pinch (for cuttings) or offer to divide a clump of crowded perennials and you are on your way to a trunk full of plant babies.
- I can’t recommend this for multiple safety reasons, but I have been known to photographs plants in my travels then strike up a conversation with a homeowner who insisted I take one home.
Experiment with basic propagation techniques
- Grow flowers from seed. Either purchase seeds (usually under $2/pack) or collect seed heads from spent flowers in your own garden. After flowers fade, allow them to set seed then either crush and distribute in other parts of your garden or store in a cool, dry place until you can swap with friends.
- Division – clumping perennials such as daylilies, cast iron plant, iris or liriope can be dug up and cut into smaller pieces with a shovel or machete. You only need to be sure to have buds on top and roots on the bottom to make a new plant. Other plants create offshoots that can be removed from the parent plant. Examples of these are agave, cycads, and yucca.
- Cuttings – the list of plants that can be propagated from stem cuttings is endless but a few that are very easy are crape myrtle, hydrangea, and coleus.
- Patented plants can not be propagated.
For more information read Plant Propagation Techniques for the Florida Gardener or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
Walking around my yard I’m always on the lookout for changes – both good and bad. I look to see which plants are leafing out or flowering. I scout for plant disease symptoms, insect damage, and weeds. I’ve learned over the years that when I spot a plant out-of-place before condemning it as a weed, I need to make sure it isn’t really a bonus plant!
This spring my yard has really changed. After losing numerous mature trees the sun is shining in new spots. Last fall I also had a bit of unexpected seed and vegetation dispersal to say the least, so I’m getting lots of surprises in the landscape. A few bonus plants I’m seeing and leaving alone are oak seedlings, black-eyed Susan, sunflowers, Angelina sedum, dotted horsemint, and verbena.
These plants might not be exactly where I would have placed them, but if they are not located somewhere that will be a maintenance problem, they can stay where they landed. Many of these plants are taking advantage of dry, non-irrigated sites and providing welcome vegetative groundcover that will help prevent erosion. The bonus is that they all provide food or shelter for birds and/or bugs!
How do you tell the difference between a weed and a plant you would like to keep? The key is to pay attention to plant features other than flowers. Start looking at foliage shape, texture, color, growth habit, and how leaves are arranged on the plant. Other characteristics are stem color and shape – some plants have square stems, others have ridges we refer to as “wings” in horticulture terms, tendrils on vines, all of these can be distinctive and recognizable before the obvious flowers form. Keep notes with pictures of plants at different life stages until you commit them to memory. Eventually you’ll be able to walk through your landscape and quickly note the differences which will help conserve those bonus plants and get weeds under control before they get too prolific.
Below are links to sites that might be outside your regular bookmarks. These resources show more than just the pretty flowers and have detailed information on life cycle and growing conditions.
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
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.
Finding professional landscape services for your home or business can be difficult. Unlike many skilled trades in Florida, landscapers/groundskeepers are mostly unregulated. No state exams exist to determine mastery of the basic skills required to perform lawn or landscape maintenance. Ultimately, consumers are left on their own to determine who to hire.
As UF/IFAS Extension Agents, we cannot endorse or provide referrals to companies; however, we can offer some guidance to help you with your search for qualified professionals.
- Be an informed consumer. You don’t have to be an expert in landscapes. Instead you should have an idea of what you envision for your landscape. Familiarize yourself with the type of turf grass and plants you want and learn what the basic maintenance is for their upkeep.
The Florida Friendly Landscaping™ program is a great place to start. Most Extension offices have free books on how to care for Florida landscapes. Or you can find online resources at www.floridayards.org
- Fertilizer and pesticide applications DO require state certifications.
Commercial landscape fertilizer applicators must obtain state certification.
- Fertilizer applicators for hire must maintain the Limited Urban Fertilizer Applicator Certification (Chapter 482.1562, Florida Statutes). Each applicator must have an individual certification. No one can “work under” another applicator’s certificate.
- Pesticide applicators (any substance applied with the intent to kill or inhibit growth of weeds, insects, nematodes, fungi, bacteria, etc.) have two options depending on application site and qualifications.
- Residential or commercial building turf pesticide applicators must hold the Commercial Lawn & Ornamental Pest Control License or be a current Employee Cardholder of the Certified Pest Control Operator
- Residential or commercial ornamental beds (trees, shrubs, flowers) pesticide applicators can hold either Commercial Lawn & Ornamental, as above, or Limited Commercial Landscape Maintenance Certification
- You can check to see if the applicator has a current certification by visiting http://aessearch.freshfromflorida.com/PersonSearch.asp You must enter the applicator’s legal name (name listed on his driver’s license, no nicknames) or their certification number (this will start with two letters)
- Ask about affiliations with professional organizations. Although landscapers are not required to obtain state certifications (excluding fertilizer and pesticide applicators), many take the extra steps to increase knowledge and keep up with industry standards and trends. Voluntary participation in organizations such as Florida Pest Management Association (FPMA), Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA), Florida Turfgrass Association (FTGA), Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), International Association of Arboriculture (ISA), etc. Some of these groups offer certification programs for professionals to help them increase knowledge.
- Word of mouth/observation. If you see a landscape that looks good, ask who they use and if they are pleased with their service. Talk to friends and colleagues for recommendations.
- Check references. Always ask for references and contact them. Yes, they may only give you the names of happy clients, but you can still ask questions to get a feel for the type of service offered and assess the longevity of the company.
Landscape professionals looking for certification classes should visit Green Industries in the Panhandle Upcoming Events page.
In 2016, I wrote an article for Gardening in the Panhandle called “Attract Pollinators with Dotted Horsemint” introducing readers to this tough native plant that supports native pollinators. If you have flowers in your garden, you probably have pollinators and a whole lot of other insects but if you want a plant that lets you observe a really diverse palate of bugs dotted horsemint Monarda punctata.
When I find I have some downtime at home I have a habit of wandering the yard looking for interesting insects. Admittedly, I usually have my phone in hand hoping to get a great photo or video of my arthropod visitors, but it is a productive task, too. As strange as it may sound, I can count this hobby as part of my integrated pest management landscape maintenance strategy – scouting!
My favorite plant to visit on my scouting run is normally not afflicted with pests, but it hosts so many different insects it always gets a stop on my rounds. When dotted horsemint is in full flower it is visited by a lot more than pollinators. I’ve recorded daily visits from assassin bugs, ants, beetles, flies, dragonflies, spiders, thread-waisted wasps, honey bees, butterflies, and moths.
Here’s a photo album of frequent visitors to my dotted horsemint from this summer – enjoy!