Landscape activities have already begun in our Panhandle counties with cleanup, mulching, raking, and pruning. Our mild temperatures and days with sunshine spur us to jump into our landscape preparations for the spring growing season.
This year before you send all your debris to the compost pile or patch up thinning turf areas, consider that some landscape imperfections may actually be good for local wildlife.
We all know how important it is to plant nectar attracting plants for bees but there are other easy practices that can help promote more native bees in local landscapes. There are some solitary native bee pollinators that will raise young in hollow stems of plants. Instead of cutting all your old perennial or small fruit stems back to the ground, let some stay as a home to a native pollinating bee. This does not have to detract from the look of the landscape but can be on plants in the background of a border garden or even hidden within the regrowth of a multi stemmed plants. Plants that are especially attractive to native bees have a pithy or hollow stems such as blackberry, elderberry, and winged sumac.
The hollow stems of upright blackberries can be home to solitary bees. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Another favorite site for solitary bees is in the ground. These ground nesting solitary bees should not be compared to yellow jacket wasps. Solitary bees are not aggressive. Mining or digger bees need some bare soil surfaces in order to excavate small tunnels for raising a few young. Maybe you have an area that does not need a complete cover of turf but is fine with a mixture of turf and ‘wildflowers’. A few open spaces, especially in late winter and early spring will be very attractive to solitary bees.
Beneficial solitary bee mounds in the ground of a winter centipedegrass lawn area. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
One of our fastest disappearing homes for wildlife are natural cavities. In residential sites, we often prune or remove limbs or trees that are declining or have died. If the plant or tree is not a hazard, why not leave it to be a home for cavity nesting birds and mammals. If the dying tree is large, have a professional remove hazard pieces but leave a trunk about 10-15 feet tall for the animals to make a home. You may then get to enjoy the sites and/or sounds of woodpeckers, bluebirds, owls, flying squirrels, and chickadees.
Florida is home to some amazing and gorgeous plants that are underused and underappreciated in the home landscape. One such plant is an evergreen and easy-care large shrub or small tree known as black titi or buckwheat tree, botanically known as Cliftonia monophylla.
Pink-flowered variety of black titi, Cliftonia monophylla. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
Black titi or buckwheat tree. Photo credit: Chris Evans, University of Illinois, bugwood.com
Black titi is commonly found in wet areas and at the edges of swamps in USDA hardiness zones 7B through 9A from Louisiana through the Florida panhandle and into South Carolina. This is a perfect plant for those areas of your landscape that are low and consistently moist.
Early spring brings clusters of small white flowers at the tips of the branches. Occasionally one can find the pink-flowered variety of black titi in the native nursery trade. These fragrant flowers provide an early season nectar source for bees in February and March. The flowers give way to golden-amber seed pods that resemble buckwheat. The seed pods turn a pleasing orange-brown and persist on the plant through winter. The shiny dark green evergreen leaves along with the seed pods provide an additional ornamental quality to the tree in fall and early winter.
Black Titi golden-amber fruit. John Ruter, University of Georgia, bugwood.org
For more information:
Florida Honey Bee Plants
USDA Plant Database
Florida Native Plant Society
No previous experience or accreditation it required to be a landscaper in the state of Florida. So when homeowners are searching for service providers, it is important that they question potential companies about their skills. One good measure is completion of voluntary certifications such as the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP). The FCHP program has been the industry’s standard for measuring horticulture and landscape knowledge since 1984. The training is also useful for property managers, homeowner associations and retail garden center employees, or anyone that wants to know more about Florida’s plants and their care.
Plants are complex and variable living things that range from microscopic to the largest of living organisms. With steady population growth in the state of Florida, environmental damage risks created by the use of improper products and practices has continually risen. State and federal natural resource protection agencies have restricted certain horticultural practices, as well as, fertilizer and pesticide application. It takes scientific knowledge to maintain lawns and landscapes, not just a “green thumb” in order to keep plants healthy while reducing contamination to the soil, air and water that we all need.
The Florida Certified Horticulture Professional training covers 16 areas, including identification, fertilization, irrigation, pest management, safety and business practices. Lecture and hands-on activities are utilized at each session. The 70-hour course will enhance anyone’s knowledge and will provide the basis for professionals to deliver a skilled service to clientele.
If you are a green industry worker or a concerned citizen interested in attending a FCHP preparatory course, there is an opportunity here in Crestview. Beginning Thursday, January 16, 2020 and continuing for 10 weeks to March 19, 2020, the Okaloosa County Extension office will be providing training for $175, which included the newest hard copy manual. Contact Sheila Dunning, 850-689-5850, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
The Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has always been a favorite tree since it is associated with my childhood home in Tennessee. I always enjoyed the evergreen leaves and large white flowers. In my parent’s yard, the southern magnolia had branches to the ground that allowed the large leaves to stay hidden in a self- mulching area. I never recall the tree begin called messy because of this growth style.
A Southern Magnolia in a Tennessee winter. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Many landscapes today may not have room for a southern magnolia that can grow an average of 60 feet in height with an average spread of 25 feet. Because it’ qualities are still desirable, nursery professionals have developed southern magnolia cultivars that are very popular as landscape features due to different growth habits, leaf sizes, and hardiness to our area’s weather. Although the cultivars will be different from the old favorite southern magnolia in growth form and size, homeowners should still do their homework to make sure trees are located in spots for plants to reach proper height and width growth. Also, like I mentioned for my parent’s tree, many of the new cultivars look best if the lower limbs are not removed.
If you or your landscaper are considering a Southern magnolia cultivar, here are a few details about some you may find available.
‘Little Gem’ dwarf southern magnolia has been the go-to magnolia for new landscapes. The dark green leaves are smaller and the plant will be more compact than the traditional southern magnolia. It is often misplaced in landscapes because of these features. Trees still grow about 25 feet high with a spread of 15 feet.
‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is a very attractive magnolia when given room to grow. Foliage is very attractive with shiny green above and brown on the undersides. This plant can grow 40 to 50 feet in height with a spread averaging 20 feet. Plan not to prune lower limbs to maintain a beautiful form.
Bracken’s Brown Beauty as an accent tree in a lawn area. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Bracken’s Brown Beauty flower. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
‘Southern Charm’ magnolia, registered as Teddy Bear is also a compact plant. It grows upright to about 20 feet with a spread about 15. You still have the beautiful green and brown leaf color along with 6 inch wide flowers.
A female striped lynx spider protects her egg sac. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
With Halloween just behind us, some of us may still have fake spiders in our yards and cotton webbing all over the shrubbery. Spiders (along with bats) are among those creatures feared and demonized in folklore this time of year. It is important to remember, however, that both organisms are important predators and managers of our insect population.
Last week during a walk on the Extension property, I came across a large brown spider hovering protectively near her egg sac. Perched in a newly planted pine tree, I saw no obvious web. Instead, the spider loosely wrapped the pine’s needles with silk, forming a support structure for the relatively large egg sac.
Newly hatched striped lynx spiderlings on silk scaffolding covering a plant. Photograph by Laurel Lietzenmayer, University of Florida.
On further research, I learned that this female striped lynx spider (Oxyopes salticus) would have mated just once, after responding to a male’s courtship display (involving drumming and elaborate leg touches). She would have produced the egg sac 1-4 weeks after mating, attaching it to the pine needles, and will tend to it until her young emerge 20 days later. Up to five days after hatching, lynx spiderlings disperse by “ballooning” from the plant—they release a silk thread into the air, allowing the wind to carry them off like a tiny skydiver. Those spiderlings will mature into adults by 9 months, living their entire lifespan in just one year.
During that year, though, lynx spiders are important predators of pest insects. Instead of catching bugs in a web, they stalk their prey like a big cat—hence the name, “lynx.” They prey on many fly species, but also on bollworms and green stinkbugs that are major pests of cotton and soybean crops. These spiders are beneficial and highly vulnerable to insecticides.
Gardeners are always fighting the endless weeds that pop up in landscape and flower beds. When homeowners put in a new landscape bed and want to prevent future weed invasions, many think that putting down landscape fabric is a great way to keep the weeds from emerging and protect the newly planted trees, shrubs or perennials.
An example of failure of landscape fabric to control weeds less than 2 years after planting. Note the peeking through at the edges. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
Is Landscape fabric a good choice? Why or why not?
If landscape fabric is not covered up, sunlight will degrade the fabric. When mulch is placed on top of the fabric (and we all do want to cover it up – the fabric is not very attractive) the mulch breaks down into soil. Inevitably, weed seeds blow in and settle and germinate and grow on top of landscape fabric. And here you are with a weed problem. Weeds also find their way into the openings cut for desirable plants and along the edge of the fabric.
Landscape fabric is porous when put in place to allow water to pass through, but as time passes, the pores can get clogged and water penetration is restricted – rain and irrigation runs off and the plants you meant to protect are not getting the water they need.
Maybe the worst effect is that the landscape fabric creates unfavorable soil conditions. A healthy soil is key to good plant health. One thing soil needs to have is an exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen between the soil and the atmosphere. Recent studies from Washington State University demonstrated that gas movement between the soil and the atmosphere is restricted about 1,000 times more when landscape fabric is present than when areas have only wood mulch.
So, if landscape fabric is not a good choice, what is?
Mulch made from wood, bark, fallen leaves and pine needles. See Gardening Solutions: Mulch for sustainable ideas.
For more information:
Improving Weed Control in Landscape Planting Beds