Camellias:  Color Through the Cold

Camellias: Color Through the Cold

Pink flowwer with yellow stemens exposed

Camellia sasanqua ‘Kanjiro’ at the South Carolina Botanical Garden

 

Red and white flower

Bi-color Camellia varieties add character to the winter garden

Camellias have been a part of the landscape in the Southeastern United States for over 200 years. They are native to Asia and were introduced near Charleston, South Carolina in 1786. The common name camellia refers to varieties and hybrids of Camellia japonica and to lesser known varieties of C. sasanqua and C. reticulata. The growing conditions in Northwest Florida are well suited for many camellia varieties. Camellias can serve several functions in the landscape including foundation plantings, screens, accent plants, background groupings and hedges. Maximum benefit can be achieved by mass plantings or groupings. Single plants should be focal point in beds rather than randomly placed throughout the lawn. Camellias flower in the fall and winter when their display of colorful blooms is most appreciated. During the remainder of the year their evergreen foliage, interesting shapes and textures, and relatively slow growth make camellias excellent landscape plants. Some camellia growers enjoy competing in flower shows and manipulate the flower buds to achieve larger and earlier flowers. This involves removing competing flower buds and applying gibberellic acid (a plant hormone). Individual cultivars can be selected for size and form ranging from small and irregular to large and upright. Texture and foliage color also differ among the various species and multiple varieties. Midseason flowering varieties that bloom from November through January are best suited for Florida conditions. Warm fall temperatures may prevent early varieties from flowering properly.

Camellia ‘Vernalis Yuletide’ at the South Carolina Botanical Garden

Late-blooming selections may attempt to send out new leaves before the end of the flowering period which results in “bullnoses”. Bullnosing is characterized by poor quality flowers which do not open fully and may even drop while still tight buds. Extended dry periods while in the bud stage can make the condition more likely. While flowering, camellias need 1 inch of water applied each week. Camellias perform best in partially shaded locations which are enhanced by good drainage and air movement. Fertile, acidic soils high in organic matter are preferred. The soil must be well drained because camellias will not grow in wet areas. Do not plant them in areas with a high water table and/or hard pan. This will result in a shallow root system which is more susceptible to injury during dry periods. Camellias should be installed where cold air can move in and out freely, but the area should be protected from strong northwest winds. Plantings under established trees or in areas that has structures to block the wind are usually injured less by cold temperatures. These conditions enable the plants to gradually thaw or warm in the morning before being exposed to direct sunlight. Dense shade may result in sparse foliage and poor flowering. Camellias exposed to full sun may appear yellow-green, but may yield more flowers. Either situation id stressful to the plants and can lead to pest problems. Tea scale is the most common insect on camellias. Scales generally feed on the underside of leaves and may not be noticed until large populations have developed. Symptoms include very small elongated white and/or brown raised “flakes” on the underside of leaves that turning yellowish in color.

How to Plant a Tree Correctly

How to Plant a Tree Correctly

A newly planted tree with water retention berm.

A planted tree with water retention berm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Often, Extension agents are tasked with evaluation of unhealthy plants in the landscape.  They diagnose all sorts of plant problems including those caused by disease infection, insect infiltration, or improper culture.

When evaluating trees, one problem that often comes to the surface is improper tree installation.  Although poorly installed trees may survive for 10 or 15 years after planting, they rarely thrive and often experience a slow death.

Fall is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida.  A couple of weeks ago beautiful Nuttal Oak was planted at Bagdad Mill Site Park in Santa Rosa County, FL.  Here are 11 easy steps to follow for proper tree installation:

  1. Look around and up for wire, light poles, and buildings that may interfere with growth;
  2. Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible;
  3. Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk;
  4. Slide the tree carefully into the planting hole;
  5. Position the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface;
  6. Straighten the tree in the hole;
  7. Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball;
  8. Slice a shovel down in to the back fill;
  9. Cover the exposed sides of the root ball with mulch and create water retention berm;
  10. Stake the tree if necessary;
  11. Come back to remove hardware.
A hole being dug for a tree to be planted.

Digging a properly sized hole for planting a tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Removing synthetic material from the root ball.

Removing synthetic material from the root ball. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height.

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida – Santa Rosa County

For more detailed information on planting trees and shrubs visit this UF/IFAS Website – “Steps to Planting a Tree”.

For more information Nuttall Oaks visit this University of Arkansas Website.

Create Your Own Fall Color with Annual Foliage Plants

Create Your Own Fall Color with Annual Foliage Plants

Florida is known for many things, however sweeping vistas of hillsides covered in the orange, red, and yellow foliage of fall is not one of them.  Our long, hot summers and short, cool (not cold) winters, and lack of anything of substance resembling a season in between, precludes the fall color show our neighbors to the north enjoy.  Don’t settle for synthetic Halloween decorations or faux painted leaves to add festivity to the autumn landscape design.  When football season kicks off and summer blooming annuals begin to fade, it’s time to reach into the horticultural toolbox and pull out a couple fall-y Florida Friendly annual foliage species, perfect for the balmy Panhandle “autumn”: ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and ‘Petra’ croton.

‘Alabama Sunset’ Coleus in mixed container – Photo Courtesy Andrea Schnapp

The first plant to consider when looking for outstanding heat tolerant foliage is the common coleus (Solenostemon scuttellarioides), particularly the cultivar ‘Alabama Sunset’.   As the name indicates, ‘Alabama Sunset’ offers leaves in shades of red and yellow, perfect for designing fall containers or mixing into planting beds.  This popular summer annual is known for its ability to add interesting color and texture to shady areas.

Recently with the arrival of the ‘sun coleus’ series (to which ‘Alabama Sunset’ belongs), coleus is permissible in situations with greater sunlight.  Coleus is incredibly easy to grow and easy to find since nearly every nursery stocks at least a few cultivars.  What’s more, these plants are generally free of pests and disease problems!  Even sun coleus does appreciate a little protection from the hot afternoon sun and occasional deadheading of flowers.

‘Petra’ Croton. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.

 

The second plant in the fall foliage arsenal is ‘Petra croton’ (Codiaeum variegatum ‘Petra’).  Primarily known as a tropical foliage or indoor houseplant, Petra croton is criminally underused in fall landscape and container design.  Petra croton sports bold magnolia-sized leaves striped with colors of yellow, red, orange, and black. A great Halloween plant to complement those front-porch Jack-O-Lanterns!

Like coleus, Petra croton is extremely easy to grow either in a container or in the ground.  It should be located in either in full sun or partial shade and watered through establishment. Otherwise, this species is quite drought tolerant and can be killed with kindness if watered too frequently!

Although croton is a perennial shrub in the tropics, in Northwest Florida it may be killed by frost and best treated as an annual.  Croton can be expected to reach 30-36” in height in a single season, its size and the boldly colored foliage make it a true focal point in the autumn landscape!

Appalachian-grade fall color may be unattainable in the Panhandle in the literal sense, but with these novel plant selections the autumn mood may be present even as the emerald waves hit the sugar white sand.  By using annual foliage plants that possess traditional fall colors throughout their life cycle, anyone can add a splash of Autumn to their mixed containers or landscape beds.  ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus and ‘Petra’ croton are the perfect match for this time of year, pairing ease of culture with bold, seasonal color.  Plant a couple today!

Florida Native: Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris

Florida Native: Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris

Versatile, easy-care, beautiful, native – what’s not to love about muhly grass?

Muhly grass is a hardy landscape choice with dramatic fall blooms. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

How is it versatile? It makes a perfect border along a fence or structure. Plant it in a single or double row depending on available space. Use a single plant as a specimen in a smaller landscape. Muhly grass can also be planted in mass to serve as groundcover in a larger landscape.

What makes it easy-care? Since it only grows into a 3-foot-tall mound, there is no need to continually prune it as you would have to do for many landscape shrubs that serve a similar function. Plant muhly grass in areas where you only want to have plants grow to a 3-foot height, such as under windows or along a short fence. This clumping grass can be pruned in late winter to remove dead leaf blades, but it is not necessary. There are few pest and disease issues and its’ fertility needs are low. This tough plant can handle both drought and inundation with water. Perfect for a rain garden! Flowering is best in full sun, but it can take part sun as well.

What’s so beautiful about a grass? In the fall, abundant pink to pinkish/purple blooms cover the canopy of the grass and add color to the fall landscape. The wispy blooms move with the breezes and add interest with their movement. The new cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ blooms as early as August and into the winter. If pink is not your color, there is a form with white blooms known as ‘White Cloud’.

Consider adding some muhly grass to your landscape. You will love it as I do.

 

Blackgum/Tupelo trees: At home in the river or your backyard

Blackgum/Tupelo trees: At home in the river or your backyard

The swollen base and smooth gray bark of the swamp blackgum are identifying characteristics in wetlands. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In the river swamps of northwest Florida, the first tree to come to mind is typically the cypress. The “knees” protruding from the water are eye-catching and somewhat mysterious. Sweet bay magnolia is an easily recognizable species as well, with its silvery leaves twisting in the wind. The sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana) is a relative of the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) in many of our yards, but its buds and leaves are smaller and it is found most often in very wet soils.

However, the often-unsung trees of the swamps are the tupelo and blackgum trees, including three species of Nyssa that go by a variety of overlapping common names. In the western Panhandle, one is most likely to see a swamp tupelo/swamp blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora). The trees are tall—60-100’ at maturity—and have unremarkable elliptical green leaves. However, those leaves turn a lovely shade of red in the fall before dropping in the winter. Their most distinguishing characteristic year-round–but especially in the winter–is its swollen lower trunk, which expands at the base to twice or three times the size of the remaining trunk. These buttresses, also found on bays (more subtly) and cypress (along with knees), are an adaptation to stabilizing a tree growing in large pools of wet, loose soil or standing water.

A young blackgum tree in full fall color. Photo credit: UF IFAS Extension

The swamp tupelo has two more relatives in the region, water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) and Ogeechee lime/tupelo (Nyssa ogeche), both with hanging edible (but tart) fruit. In the early days of William Bartram’s explorations of Florida, explorers used the acidic Ogeechee lime as a citrus substitute. Typically found in a narrower range from Leon County east to southeast Georgia, the Ogeechee lime is the nectar source for the famous and prized multi-million dollar tupelo honey industry.

Blackgum or tupelo trees (missing the “swamp” in front of their common name—aka Nyssa sylvatica) are actually excellent landscape trees that can thrive in home landscapes. Like their swamp cousins, the trees perform well in slightly acidic and moist soil, although they can thrive even in the disturbed, clay-based soils found in many residential developments. Blackgums can grow in full sun or shade, are highly drought tolerant, and can even handle some salt exposure. Their showy fall color is a nice addition to many landscapes, and the fruit are an excellent source of nutrition for native wildlife.

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

Photo by Sydney Park Brown UF/IFAS

Holly has been considered sacred in some cultures because it remained green and strong with brightly colored red berries no matter how harsh the winter, even when most other plants would wilt and die. According to Druid lore, hanging the plant in homes would bring good luck and protection.

Later, Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid practices and developed symbolism to reflect Christian beliefs.  Today, the red berries are said to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross when he was crucified.  Additionally, the pointed leaves of the holly symbolize the crown of thorns Jesus wore on his head.

Several holly species are native to Florida.  Many more are cultivated varieties commonly used as landscape plants.  Hollies (Ilex spp.) are generally low maintenance plants that come in a diversity of sizes, forms and textures, ranging from large trees to dwarf shrubs.

The berries provide a valuable winter food source for migratory birds; however, the berries only form on female plants.  Hollies are dioecious plants, with male and female flowers on separate plants.  Both male and female hollies produce small white blooms in the spring.  Bees are the primary pollinators, carrying pollen from the male hollies 1.5 to 2 miles, so it is not necessary to have a male plant in the same landscape.

Several male hollies are grown for their compact formal shape and interesting new foliage color. Dwarf Yaupon Hollies (Ilex vomitoria ‘Shillings’ and ‘Bordeaux’) form symmetrical spheres without extensive pruning.  ‘Bordeaux’ Yaupon has maroon-colored new growth.  Neither cultivar has berries.

Hollies prefer to grow in partial shade but will do well in full sun if provided adequate irrigation. Most species prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils.  However, Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and Gallberry (Ilex glabra) naturally occur in wetland areas and can be planted on wetter sites.

For a more comprehensive list of holly varieties and their individual growth habits refer to ENH42 Hollies at a Glance: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg021