As a boy in a small town in Georgia we had a St. Augustinegrass lawn. My dad started the lawn before I was born. That lawn was still doing fine when I left for college at age seventeen. I don’t remember weeds in the lawn during summer months. I do fondly remember winter “weeds” in that lawn.
To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to what
Blue Easter egg hidden in chickweed. Photo credit: Larry Williams
would have been a plain palette of green. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter and early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.
Wild geranium, another common winter annual, offered another good hiding place for Easter eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves.
Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover & hop clover mix. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers were good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.
I never remember my dad using any weed killer, he rarely watered. The lawn was healthy and thick enough to be a deterrent to summer weeds. But during fall and winter as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, winter annual weeds would run their course.
I’ve heard that the sense of smell provides our strongest memories. I remember the first mowing of the season with the clean smell of chlorophyll in the spring air. It was refreshing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annual weeds were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, played on and typically not worried with.
Most people have winter weeds in their lawns that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with these weeds and they are still here. Most lawns have countless numbers of winter annual seeds awaiting the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.
Be careful when bringing firewood indoors. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Your firewood pile could be “bugged.” Many insects like to overwinter in wood. A wood pile is an ideal place for some insects to survive the winter. They don’t know that you intend to bring their winter home indoors during cold weather.
During colder weather, you can unknowingly bring in pests such as spiders, beetles and roaches when you bring in firewood. It’s best to bring in firewood only when you are ready to use it. Otherwise, those pests could become active and start crawling around inside your house. Many insects are potential problems indoors and there are usually control options once insects move into your home. However, preventing the insects from getting inside is the best approach.
If you store wood indoors for short periods of time, it is a good idea to clean the storage area after you have used the wood. Using a first-in, first-out guideline as much as possible will reduce chances of insect problems.
It’s best to keep your wood pile off the ground and away from the house. This will make it less inviting to insects and help the wood dry. It’s not difficult to keep the wood off the ground. The wood can be stacked on a base of wooden pallets, bricks or blocks, which will allow air movement under the wood. The wood can also be covered with a waterproof tarp or stored in a shed. Regardless of how it is stored, avoid spraying firewood with insecticides. When burned, insecticide treated wood may give off harmful fumes.
Some critters that live in firewood can be harmful to humans. To avoid a painful sting or bite from insects, spiders or scorpions (no Florida scorpion is considered poisonous, but they can inflict a painful sting), it is a good practice to wear gloves when picking up logs from a wood pile.
Firewood can be a good source of heat during our cold weather. If you’re careful with how you handle your firewood, hopefully it will warm you, not “bug” you.
Native yaupon holly with bright red winter berries. Photo credit: Larry Williams
Holly plants are sometimes associated with Christmas. Their dark evergreen leaves and bright red berries fit right in with the Christmas Season. Some people intentionally plant hollies for the purpose of eventually using this desirable combination of green and red to create a more festive Holiday Season. But what if your hollies never produce berries?
The reason may be because you have a male plant. Male holly plants never produce berries. Holly plants are either male or female. The botanical term for this is dioecious. If a male plant is selected, it will produce male flowers and pollen but never set fruit.
One way to know that you’ve selected a female holly is by purchasing a plant with berries. However, you still will need a male plant nearby or no berries will be produced. Generally one male plant is adequate to insure pollination and good fruit set of berries on all female plants in a landscape. Your next-door neighbor may have a male holly plant that would serve as a pollinator for your hollies. Pollen produced by male flowers is transported by bees from distances up 2 miles. And because we are blessed with a number of native hollies in North Florida, chances are good that there will be a male holly within the appropriate distance in the wild to take care of the pollination.
The holly genus (Ilex) offers a terrific variety of plants from which to choose. Some horticulturists estimate that there are about 700 species worldwide. And there are a great number of cultivated varieties! When selecting a holly for your landscape, it is important to know that most dwarf holly cultivars don’t produce fruit as they are propagated by cuttings from male plants. Not all hollies have spiny leaves. For example, many of the Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) have spineless leaves. There are hollies that grow tall, eventually making a tree. There are dwarf hollies that grow to only three to five feet in height. There are hollies with variegated leaves. And even though most hollies are evergreen, there are a few deciduous hollies that make nice additions to North Florida landscapes such as Ilex ambigua (Ambiguous Winterberry) and Ilex decidua (Possumhaw holly). Some hollies produce bright red berries but berry color varies from red, orange, yellow and even black or white, depending on variety. There are weeping forms available such as the weeping yaupon holly. There are those that have a very narrow, upright growth habit.
For more info on this diverse and interesting group of plants, visit the below UF/IFAS Extension webpage.
Larry teaching Master Gardener Volunteers about the connection of their landscapes to the watershed
Larry is the Residential Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator with UF/IFAS Extension in Okaloosa County. He has served in this position for 26 years assisting County residents in developing and maintaining Florida-Friendly lawns, landscapes and gardens.
Larry says that Extension has been impactful in his life since he was a youth. He remembers a “County Agent” bringing tomato plants to his elementary school class, providing instructions on how to grow them and providing each student with their own tomato plant to take home for a tomato growing competition though the local Extension 4-H youth program. Being familiar with land-grant universities and their research and Extension publications, he frequently used this resource in completing course work at both Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) and at the University of Georgia, earning degrees in agriculture and agriculture education. He later earned a Master of Education degree from the University of West Florida.
It was a high school agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor who was the main influence for Larry pursuing a degree as an Agriculture Teacher himself. While teaching high school as an agriculture/horticulture teacher and an FFA Advisor, Larry introduced his students to Extension by having the County Extension Director as a guest speaker in the classroom and working with the Extension office with agriculture events, including youth livestock shows as well as other FFA and 4-H youth events. When deciding to leave teaching high school, it was
Larry teaching youth about gardening
the local County Extension Director who asked Larry if he had ever considered a career with Extension. That planted a “seed” that Larry pursued, serving as an Extension Agent in two unban Counties and one rural County in Georgia and currently serving as an Extension Agent in Okaloosa County, FL. Larry was the first Horticulture Agent and established the Master Gardener Volunteer program in Okaloosa County.
Larry has worked in the areas of agriculture, forestry and horticulture, but horticulture is his passion. He has been employed with a large commercial greenhouse operation, a retail garden center, a landscape company, operated a city greenhouse and nursery, worked as a city arborist and owned and operated his own landscape business.
Larry writes a weekly garden column for the Northwest Florida Daily News and has a weekly garden radio program for WAAZ 104.7 in Crestview.
He enjoys spending time with his two children, providing learning experiences for youth and adults through Extension Education and doing some gardening himself. He says, “Never underestimate the impact you’ll have on youth when teaching them about gardening.”
Nice fall crop of satsuma fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams
When asked what kind of citrus to grow here in North Florida, my default response is satsuma. I usually get a funny look, followed by an attempt by the person who’s asking to repeat the name satsuma. The individual may ask, “What is satsuma… is that a citrus?” I guess the person expected to hear orange, grapefruit, lemon or maybe tangerine.
Satsuma is a type of citrus, technically classified as a mandarin and is sometimes referred to as satsuma mandarin. The satsuma mandarin is a good candidate for the North Florida citrus enthusiast for a number of reasons.
- Historically, mature dormant trees have survived minimum temperatures of 14°F to 18°F when budded/grafted to a cold-hardy rootstock such as trifoliate orange or swingle, a trifoliate orange cross. Young trees are not as cold-hardy but, due to their smaller size, are more easily covered with a cloth such as a sheet or lightweight blanket for protection during freezes.
- Satsuma fruit are ready to harvest October through December, ripening before the coldest winter temperatures. This is not true with most sweet citrus types such as oranges, which are harvested during winter months. Harvesting during winter works well in Central and South Florida where winters are mild but does not work well here in extreme North Florida. The potentially colder winter temperatures of North Florida are likely to result in the fruit on sweet oranges freezing on the tree before they are ripe, potentially ruining the fruit.
- Our cooler fall temperatures result in higher sugar content and sweeter fruit.
- Fruit are easily peeled by hand, have few to no seed and are sweet and juicy.
- Trees are self-fruitful, which means that only one tree is needed for fruit production. This is important where space is limited in a home landscape.
- Trees are relatively small at maturity, reaching a mature height of 15 to 20 feet with an equal spread.
- Branches are nearly thornless. This may not be true with shoots originating at or below the graft union. Shoots coming from the rootstock may have long stiff thorns. These shoots should be removed (pruned out) as they originate.
Satsuma fruit are harvested in fall but trees are best planted during springtime when temperatures are mild and as soil is warming. Availability of trees is normally better in spring, as well. For additional cold protection, purchase a satsuma grafted on trifoliate orange rootstock and plant the tree on the south or west side of a building. There are a number of cultivars from which to choose.
For more info on selecting and growing satsuma mandarin, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the following website.