Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

There is an old saying that rings true in pretty much any situation – “You get what you pay for.”  Gardening tools, especially pruners, are no exception.  We’ve all been there, fumbling around with a pair of rusty, dull, cheap garden pruners that just barely get the job done.  Unfortunately, they can also do considerable harm to the plants you’re trying to improve, as anything short of a nice, sharp, clean cut introduces the potential for insect/disease infestation and will produce a wound that takes much longer to heal, if it ever heals properly at all.  You wouldn’t want your doctor to start hacking away at you with a dirty, second-rate scalpel.  Don’t subject your plants to the same treatment!  While I’m not advocating blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting your garden tool shed with top of the line everything, investing in a pair of quality bypass hand pruners will pay dividends many years into the future and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable!

The classic Felco #4 bypass hand pruners. Photo courtesy of Walton County Master Gardener Andrea Schnapp.

Found in three designs, from old-fashioned anvil pruners that smush and smash their way to a cut, to ratcheting pruners that make short work of larger branches but tend to be cumbersome and complicated, to bypass pruners that produce clean cuts in a scissor-like manner, hand pruners accomplish many tasks in the landscape.  From cutting small limbs, to harvesting vegetables, to deadheading annual flowers and everything in between, there isn’t a more frequently used, versatile tool.  Therefore, it makes sense to buy a quality pair that will perform excellently, still be snipping long after your pruning days are over (if you take care of them), and that are comfortable enough you will enjoy using them.  When shopping for your pair of “forever” pruners, there are a few things to look for.

  • Only use bypass style pruners. Your plants will appreciate it.
  • Look for heavy duty pruners with frames made from quality aluminum or stainless steel; they won’t rust and won’t easily bend or break.
  • Buy pruners with replaceable parts. This is especially key because springs eventually rust and gum up and blades break and will eventually lose their ability to hold an edge over time (though you can and should resharpen them).

There are two commonly found brands that fit all three above criteria, albeit at different price points.  For a high quality “budget” blade, various models from Corona do an excellent job for the money ($20-30) and won’t hurt your feelings too badly if you happen to lose a pair.  Should you decide to splurge a little, Felco makes sharp, indestructible pruners, in multiple models around $50 to fit all size hands.  Felco has become the horticulture industry standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a nursery owner or landscaper that didn’t own a pair (or two).

Corona ComfortGel bypass hand pruner. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Regardless of which brand you buy (and there are many more than the two above listed) a pair of well-made pruners, if taken care of, should last a lifetime and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable for you and your plants!  If you have any questions about gardening tools or equipment or any other horticulture or agronomic topic, feel free to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.  Happy Gardening!

 

Soil has Many Names, Just Not the “D-word”

Soil has Many Names, Just Not the “D-word”

For all my years in the classroom, I never let students say the “d-word” when discussing soil science.  In some instances, we had a “d-word” swear collection jar of a quarter when you used the term and even today, I hesitate from spelling the word out in text due to feedback from all those I have corrected.  In case you still need a clue on the “d-word”, it ends in irt.

As a horticulturist for 46 years, I have read, heard, and been told many secrets to growing good plants.  I still hold firm that without proper knowledge of how soil works, most of what we do is by chance.  Soil is a living entity comprised of parent material (sand, silt, and clay), air, water, organic matter (OM), and microorganisms.  It is this last item which makes our soils come to life.  If you have pets, then you know they need shelter, warmth, air, water, and food.  From this point forward think of soil microorganisms as the pets in your soil.  If you take care of them, they will take care of your plants.

Sandy Soil

Sandy soil without any organic matter at the Wakulla County Extension office.

There is a huge difference in habitat from a sandy soil to a healthy soil with a good percentage of OM (5% – 10%).  In one gram of healthy soil (the weight of one standard paper clip), you can have bacteria (100,000,000 to 1,000,000,000), actinomycetes (10,000,000 to 100,000,000), fungi (100,000 to 1,000,000), protozoa (10,000 to 100,000), algae (10,000 to 100,000), and nematodes (10 to 100) (1).  A teaspoon of healthy soil can contain over four billion organisms (2).  These microorganisms are part of the soil food web and they form a relationship between soil and your plants.  They help convert nutrients to useable forms and assist with other plant functions.

The question becomes how to take care of your soil pets.  For years we have performed practices that compromise these populations.  Growing up we put all of our grass clippings in the weekly trash.  We know now how valuable those clippings are and to leave them be.  Two practices still common today though are tilling and raking leaves.

OM Soil

Master Gardener Volunteer vegetable bed with organic matter added.

Tilling has a limited purpose.  If I place a layer of organic matter on top of the ground, then tilling incorporates the OM which feeds my pets.  Excess tilling of soil introduces large amounts of oxygen which accelerates the breakdown of OM thus reducing our pet populations over time.  Another adverse result from tilling is disturbing the soil structure (how the parent materials are arranged) which can reduce pore spaces thus limiting water percolation and root growth.  There is a reason agriculture has adapted no-till practices.

Raking leaves (supposedly the sign of a well-kept yard) is removing large amounts of OM.  Do you ever wonder why trees in a forest thrive?  All of their leaves fall to the ground and are recycled by the microorganisms.  Each of those leaves contains macronutrients (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium) and micronutrients (boron, copper, chlorine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc) which are necessary for plant growth.  You would be hard pressed to find all those nutrients in one fertilizer bag.  So recycle (compost) your leaves versus having them removed from the property.

We are in our off season and tasks such as improving soil health should be considered now for soils to be ready in spring.  Remember a little organic matter at a time and never work wet soils.  As your OM levels build over the years, remember to change your watering and fertilizing schedules as the soil will be better adapted at holding water and nutrients.  Soil tests are still recommended before fertilizing.

If you would like more tips on improving your soil, contact me or your local county horticulture extension agents.  For a more in depth look at caring for your soils, read The Importance of Soil Health in Residential Landscapes by Sally Scalera MS, Dr. A.J. Reisinger and Dr. Mark Lusk (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss664).

  1. Chapter 2: Soils, Water, and Plant Nutrients.  Texas Master Gardener Training Manual.
  2. The Importance of Soil Health in Residential Landscapes. 2019.
Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

If you plan to purchase a container tree or shrub this cool season, it is important to follow a few important steps during installation. UF IFAS Extension Escambia County shows you how to find the root flare and remove excess soil above the root flare. These are a couple of steps that will help ensure your plant has a good chance at thriving in the landscape. #plantingdepth #treeinstallation

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Photo credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Landscapes are an ever-changing setting that can be fun to view as the seasons come and go.  We all have differing ideas of what an exceptional landscape should be.  The point to always keep in mind is what you and your family like.  Are you considering the Florida-Friendly Landscaping elements?  You always want to keep a healthy, attractive environmental sound landscape.  This brings many interesting design concepts to the table.

The kitchen table is exactly where a landscape design needs to begin.  My dad was just the opposite, he would receive or buy plants on impulse.  Load up all these three-gallon plants, take them home and plant without consideration the long-term growth, color combinations, time of bloom and many more topics.  He just loved working in the yard and growing plants.

Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

There are basic principles of landscape design that are used as a guide. While I may stray from them from time to time, I always return to these principles.  Just keep in mind that a landscape is an ever-changing living setting that we will always work to improve.  The visual elements are based on what you see first when you enter a setting and are usually the vibrant high impact plants that may include bright bloom color, size of plant, focal plantings, leaf size and others.  The other side of the visual is the subtle presence of low impact plants with softer colors, small leaves, lower growing plant size.  This visual group often is planted en mass with a flow of plants to create a calming effect for the visitors to your landscape.

When the form of the plant is being considered, there are several points to keep in mind.  Will it have a three-dimensional impact in the landscape setting?  Is the landscape a small backyard or a one-acre open setting?  What are the maintenance requirements of the plant(s) as they mature in size?  A large tree can dominate a small area, but it may be just what is needed for shade with low plantings around it.   In a large setting, multiple large trees may be needed to create a focal point.  I have seen some wonderful tree alleys that help in directing the flow of the landscape down drives, walks, and paths.  These forms should be considered for all plants in the landscape including, trees, shrubs, groundcovers and even hardscapes.

Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Up next is the texture of the plant(s).  Are you looking for large and coarse or small, “softer” leaves?  You may find finely textured plants along paths or at entry areas to steps, softening the hardscape of the steps.   Are the large leaved plants open and airy, allowing light to flow through?  Large coarse leaved plants may be found at the back of landscape beds with fine textured smaller plants in front creating a three-dimensional look or even used as a focal point to pull the gaze of the eye to a determined location.

Color in the landscape has just as much impact as the plant texture, size and form.  Color can bring a bold or a soft statement.  The color is often thought of from blooms, but leaves too change in color with the seasons, from a fresh new bright green, purple, red or other colors in the spring to deeper, more mature colors as summer comes in.  Trunks can also bring unique colors to the landscape from subtle yellows to cinnamon.

There are so many things to think about when creating a long-term vision for your landscape.  Many options come in the decisions that will need to be made.  Do your research and always contact your local Extension office for more information!

 

 

 

Property Law and Tree Damage

Property Law and Tree Damage

Even healthy live oaks need maintenance and occasional trimming to stay safe. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

After storms, Extension agents are routinely asked about whose responsibility it is to maintain a tree along a property line. This becomes particularly important in a situation where a property owner’s tree or branch falls and causes damage to their neighbor’s home or possessions.

To clarify this often contentious issue, reference to legal experts is necessary. In a series of publications called “The Handbook of Florida Fence and Property Law,” two attorneys and a University of Florida law student explain several statutes that give us direction. The section on “Trees and Landowner Responsibility” goes into further detail and cites case-law, but for ease of reading it is summarized below.

Situation 1: Removing a healthy tree on a shared property line.
If two neighbors share a tree on their property line and one of them wants to remove it, the adjoining landowner must give their permission. Removing trees can impact property value, heating/cooling bills, or aesthetic value. Without a neighbor’s consent, the landowner cutting down a tree can be legally liable for damages.

Hurricanes can have serious impacts on trees in their path. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Situation 2: Responsibility for overhanging branches and roots.
A big storm hits your neighborhood, with tons of rain, wind, and lightning. You wake up in the morning and see that a large branch fell from your neighbor’s tree and crushed your kids’ basketball goal. If branches from the neighbor’s tree were otherwise healthy, they are not responsible for any damages resulting from the tree. If it was dead, however, and their negligence contributed to the branch falling, they will be responsible for damages.
Keep in mind that if the neighbor’s tree/branches/roots are in good health but interfering with something in your yard, you may trim them at your own expense. The same goes for your tree hanging in their yard, so while it’s not required, it’s always good to have a conversation first to let them know your plans.

 

After Hurricane Ivan, this tree's root system completed uprooted and destroyed and adjacent fence. Photo credit: Beth Bolles

After Hurricane Ivan, this tree’s root system completely uprooted and destroyed and adjacent fence. Photo credit: Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension

Situation 3: Hurricane Sally blew your neighbor’s tree over and into your yard.
Just like the situation with branches and roots, the same principle goes for an entire tree falling on adjoining property—if the tree was alive, it’s the responsibility of the person whose yard it fell in. If it was dead when it fell, it’s the responsibility of the tree’s owner to pay for damages.

In a complicated situation involving property damage, the saying, “good fences make good neighbors” only goes so far. Be sure to note the health of your trees throughout the year and trim back dead or dying branches. If you see serious decay or have concerns about a tree’s health, contact your county Extension office or a certified arborist. Finally, if the circumstances aren’t easily determined, be sure to contact a licensed attorney and/or your insurance company for direction.

Try Chinese Pistache for a Small Tree Selection

Try Chinese Pistache for a Small Tree Selection

Many people often request a recommendation for a small tree that will be suitable for their landscape and one to consider is the Chinese Pistache, Pistachia chinensis. Although not a native tree, Chinese Pistache does not have invasive potential so it can make a suitable option for both commercial and residential landscapes.

Berries also offer nice fall color. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

The best features of Chinese Pistache are the fall color it offers with orange leaves, followed by clusters of salmon berries. It will lose its leaves as days shorten but you can enjoy the textured bark during the winter season. Compound leaves offer interest as well during the spring and summer. Adding some medium to fine textured foliage plants under and around trees will provide a nice landscape display.

Chinese Pistache has been an attractive feature in the Escambia County Demonstration Garden for over 20 years. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

A positive feature of Chinese Pistache is that once it is established, it is tolerant of drought.  Expect trees to be about 25 to 30 feet in height with a 20 to 25 foot spread.  Each tree will have it own unique branch structure and some pruning will be required when trees are young to develop strong connections.  You may plant as a full sun tree to provide a little dappled shade for your garden or use as an understory tree in partial shade.