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
More and more homeowners are incorporating edible plants into their home landscape in order to enjoy the fresh taste of fruits and vegetables. Another trend to consider this coming cool season is to start a few common flowers that can serve as flavor enhancements for many of your dishes.
There are numerous plants that we commonly grow that have edible flowers but before striking out on your first taste test, be sure to research first. Always remember the common saying that every flower is edible once. Find a reputable reference guide from a friendly neighborhood Extension office for a list of common edible flowers, then be ready to start from seeds. It is best not to purchase transplants from an ornamental nursery unless you are sure of all the treatments for that plants. Nurseries are often selling these for beauty alone, not with intention that they will be eaten.
Here are a few edible flowers to try:
Pot marigold or Calendula is a wonderful cool season flower on its own. Brightly colored orange or yellow flowers improve the drab colors of our cool season and plants are sturdy annuals for borders, mass plantings, or in containers. Petals have a peppery flavor and add spice to salads and sandwiches. You may also add flowers to soups, fishes and butters for added coloring. Calendula petals can be a saffron substitute.
Calenduala is easily started from seeds and will reseed in your garden once established. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
The well known dianthus is a great transition plant as our days cool and warm up again the spring. Use as front of the border plantings or in containers as a filler. When harvesting petals of dianthus, you will want to remove the white petal base which is a little bitter. The flavor is a little more delicate than cloves so you can add petals to punches, desserts, and fruit salads.
If you like a little more spice, try nasturtiums. We often plant these after the last frost and they grow until we get too hot. Since our fall weather is so unpredictable, you may be able to start some seeds for a fall planting and have flowers before our first cold spell. Either way, nasturtium flowers are often sliced for salads and sandwiches as a mustard or pepper substitute. You can also mince flowers to add to a butter. If you let some flowers go to seed, collect the unripe seeds to make a caper substitute vinegar.
Grow nasturiums during our transition times of spring and fall. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
If you are going to use edible flowers from your garden remember to keep all non food labeled pesticides away from plants. Harvest flowers at their peak after the dew dries. Separate petals from other flower parts and if you have allergies be sure to remove any pollen. Place flowers in a moist towel in the refrigerator if you will not use them immediately. Rinse carefully so not to damage tender petals.
There are many other ornamental plants that offer edible flowers you may want to consider growing in the future. These flowers not only enhance the look of the dish but can offer unique flavoring from a locally grown source – your own backyard.
We are always on the lookout for an attractive plant for our landscape. At the nursery, some plants have a more difficult time gaining our attention. They may not be as showy, possessing neither colorful flowers nor bold foliage. In these cases, we could be missing out on low maintenance plant that offers its own form of beauty in the right landscape spot.
One plant that I love is the Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia), especially the spreading form ‘Prostrata’. In the nursery container, this plant is nothing special but once established in the landscape it performs well. The conifer type leaves are an attractive dark green and the ‘Prostrata’ selection is low growing to about 2 to 3 feet. An advantage too is that growth is slow so it won’t take over or require routine pruning.
Japanese plum yews grow best in partial shade and once established will be fine with rainfall. For a shadier side of the home, the spreading plum yew has a place as an evergreen foundation plant too.
Japanese plum yew in a shaded garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
If the ‘Prostrata’ selection is too low growing for you, consider the ‘Fastigiata’ cultivar that will grow upright to about 8 feet with a 5 foot spread.
A year old planting of upright Japanese plum yew in filtered light. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Rachel Mathes, Leon County Horticulture Program Assistant
Article by Rachel Mathes, Leon County Horticulture Program Assistant
Sensory gardens are a great way to involve children and people with special needs with gardening. Gardens provide a no-judgement zone for creative expression and allow us to get down in the dirt every now and then. Because sensory gardens are designed to be appreciated by more than just the sense of sight, they are an approachable way for disabled and non-disabled users alike. By engaging taste, feel, smell, hearing, and more, sensory gardens allow visitors of all ages and circumstances to engage in gardening.
To make your own sensory garden, think about what feeling you would like to experience while visiting your garden. Do you want a calm healing place of introspection or perhaps a vibrant playful area for engaged learning in nature? Having a theme can help you choose the different elements you would like to include in your sensory garden, which can be an entire yard or as small as a container. They are being used more and more in memory care units of nursing homes as well as preschools and elementary schools, but you can make your own right at home.
Water features provide enticing sounds for human visitors and a water source for wildlife. Can you spot the honeybee enjoying the fountain? Photo by Rachel Mathes.
The sound of moving water is calming to many, so a small fountain can be a great addition to your sensory garden. It will also benefit local wildlife by offering them a small watering hole. As long as the water is moving, mosquitos should not be a problem, but mosquito dunks or even the incorporation of mosquito fish are easy solutions to solving mosquito problems in small ponds or fountains. Some plants to consider for their sounds include false indigo (Baptisia australis), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and mountain oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). False indigo produces seed pods great for rattling, and when it is windy, switchgrass and mountain oats provide a gentle rustle.
A variety of textures offers the gardener a safe place to interact with nature without worrying about the dangers of poison ivy and other plant irritants. Plants like muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) offer a multitude of interactions as they sway in the wind, have bright white and pink blooms, and can be braided together in a variety of patterns. The native sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is a low growing ground cover that puts out pink powderpuff flowers and folds up when touched. Some other plants to explore by touch are lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine), maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis), the mildly dangerous points of aloe, and the many textures of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).
There are plenty of smelly plants to entice your nose in the garden. From rosemary to dill, mint and beyond, many herbs do very well here in the Florida Panhandle. Lemon balm and lemongrass bring a punch of citrus without the need for a big citrus tree. Beyond herbs, pine needles give a resinous scent when compressed, gardenias offer heavy sweetness from their voluminous white blooms, and sweet almond verbena (Aloysia virgata) delights with a vanilla almond aroma that carries pleasantly in the wind.
Fragrant blooms can offer pleasant aromas to enhance a sensory garden. Photo by Rachel Mathes.
When it comes to tasting in a sensory garden, fruits and vegetables are an obvious choice. Plenty of annual vegetables can be grown year-round, from leafy greens in the fall, winter, and early spring, to tomatoes and peppers in the summer. Blackberries are an easy to grow favorite in this part of the state, are available as thornless varieties, and take well to growing on a trellis in small spaces. A great edible that many children favor in the Demonstration Garden at the Leon County Extension Office is cranberry hibiscus. The bright red leaves of new growth are a sweet and sour treat they equate to Sour Patch Kids candy. The older leaves can be added into stir fries and salads and the flowers can be cooked into a syrup for making purple lemonade. Herbs can be used for their taste factor as well. But if your sensory garden will be visited by the general public without supervision, I recommend clear delineation for the tasting area so that no one eats anything unpalatable or poisonous by accident.
When setting up your sensory garden, be sure to involve your intended audience. Small children thrive when given a job to do and will enjoy planting sweet herbs alongside you. Even regular maintenance of the garden can involve the participants you hope to engage. The simple acts of weeding and watering can foster a sense of responsibility and empowerment as the visitors gain sensory enrichment through these activities and see the fruits of their labor with time.
Rachel Mathes is the Horticulture Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Leon County.
Everyone likes their privacy. Usually, a large eight-foot privacy fence is built for that reason. That option tends to be expensive. What is a different approach for a similar result? A natural wall!
One advantage of having a natural wall is that a homeowner has options when choosing plants. When it comes to choosing plants for a natural wall, the first thing to decide is if a wall needs to be year round or seasonal. Size would be the next factor to determine.
Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) has the capability of growing 40 to 60 feet in height and 15 to 20 feet in width. There are some smaller varieties to pick from, but where is the fun in having a small wall?
Another plant option that would require pruning, but make an excellent natural wall is Japanese Yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus). This specimen will grow 30 to 40 feet tall and 20 to 25 feet in width if left unpruned, however, it is a slow grower. Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) comes in several selections of various sizes so the height range is 3 to 20 feet. The width range is 5 to 15 feet.
The Emerald Green Arborvitae is a fast grower that would be ideal for the homeowner who does not want a tall wall. It keeps a tight pyramid shape that will reach heights up 12 to 14 feet and needs 4 to 6 feet of space. Green Giant Arborvitae or Thuja Giant (Thuja standishii x plicata ‘Gre) is an excellent tree to pick for a natural wall. It has the capability to reach 50 to 60 feet in height and spreads out 12 to 20 feet at maturity. This arborvitae is considered to be a fast grower since it can increase more than 24” per year.
The larger selections of Loropetalum are other shrubs that homeowners have used to establish their privacy wall. One can expect a height up to 15 feet if left unpruned and pinkish to purple strap-like flowers, which makes for a great wall height.
‘Yoshino’ Japanese cryptomeria
Photo by Karen Russ, ©HGIC, Clemson Extension
A yaupon holly cultivar (Ilex vomitoria ‘Roundleaf’). John Ruter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org Creative commons license.
Thuja plicata: Giant Arborvitae. Credit: Ed Gilman, UF/IFAS
Podocarpus macrophyllus or Japanese Yew. Credit: UF/IFAS
These plants are some of the selections homeowners may choose to start their natural walls. Given time, these shrubs will develop into a dense screen for the interruption of unwanted light or noise. To learn more about the aforementioned plant material, contact your local UF / IFAS extension agent.
Nobody likes weeds in their garden. Weeds are not only ugly, they can host insects and diseases that later spread to your garden. This situation commonly occurs when weeds belong to the same plant family as the desired landscape or vegetable species, but some insects and diseases have diverse palettes. For example, I recently witnessed a looper caterpillar on a pokeweed plant.
Looper damage on a pokeweed plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County
Loopers are common pests of vegetable gardens and in the landscape. Probably the most common loopers found in North Florida gardens are cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) and soybean loopers (Chrysodeixis includens). Cabbage loopers can be found feeding on cabbage, of course, as well as leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, chrysanthemums, and snapdragons. Weeds that attract this looper are lambsquarters, dandelions, and curly dock. Soybean loopers like to feed on sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, geraniums, and sunflowers. They can also be found feeding on oxalis, kutzu, and lantana.
Looper found on pokeweed plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County
Although weeds can be hosts for pests, they may be used advantageously. Trap crops can be planted at a garden’s perimeter or windward portion to attract pests away from the desired crop. A trap crop draws the pest crop away from the main crop. The trap crop is then destroyed or sprayed with insecticide when the pest insect is found feeding on it. This allows for a reduction or elimination of insecticidal use on the desired crop. However, it is important that both the trap crop and the desired food crop or ornamental crop are regularly scouted to keep track of pest populations.
For more information on trap crops and other insect and disease diversion methods you can read the EDIS Publication: Intercropping, Crop Diversity and Pest Management.