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.

April is National Safe Digging Month!

April is National Safe Digging Month!

This month, recognized by the Senate and Florida’s governor, reminds diggers why calling 811 before all outdoor digging projects is important to your safety. Before installing a mailbox, fence, deck, garden or tree make sure to call Sunshine 811 to have underground lines marked. 811 is the free national number designated by the Federal Communications Commission.  It notifies utility companies, who in turn send their professional locators to identify and mark the appropriate location of underground line with paint and flags in colors that identify the utility type.  The following colors represent the seven various utilities: red, orange, blue, green, yellow, purple and white.  To see which colors correspond with each utility go to: http://www.call811.com/faqs/default.aspx.

 

Hitting an underground utility line while digging can cause injuries, utility service outages to an entire neighborhood and damage to the environment. Failure to call before digging results in one unintentional utility hit every eight minutes nationwide.  You could also be financially affected with costly fines and high repair costs.

 

Calling 811 in Florida is the law. At least two full business days before digging, do-it yourselfers and professional excavators must contact 811 by phone to start the process of getting underground utility lines marked.  This is a free service.  Be sure that all utilities have been marked before grabbing the shovel.  Follow up on your one call ticket by contacting 811 again on the third day.  For more information on Florida’s law, visit www.Sunshine811.com.

Low Maintenance Ground Cover for Hot, Dry Sites

Low Maintenance Ground Cover for Hot, Dry Sites

Shore juniper forms a thick groundcover and tolerates hot, dry sites. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

We all know that when you have bare ground in Florida, eventually something unwanted moves in or the soil moves out. To avoid either of these negative outcomes, a good practice is to grow robust vegetative groundcovers, especially if the soil slopes and is at high risk of eroding. Turfgrass is one option, but what if you don’t enjoy caring for a lawn or the site is difficult to maintain or even unsafe to mow? An often overlooked option in our area is Shore Juniper Juniperus conferta.

Although some people find this plant less than exciting, its easy to explain why it can be a good option in certain situations.

  • Easy to find at nurseries
  • Inexpensive
  • Low water requirements once established (you’ll need to turn the irrigation off on these!)
  • Salt tolerant
  • Evergreen
  • Cold tolerant
  • Low, spreading growth habit (won’t block view)
  • Do not require pruning (junipers cannot tolerate heavy pruning!)

A common cultivar of shore juniper is Blue Pacific Juniper which grows to be about one foot tall but spreads two to three feet wide. The new foliage has a blue cast that gives it the common name. It creeps along the ground and will provide good ground cover to sloping sites. This plant should be planted on 3 foot centers so they have room to expand without crowding. Plant in well-drained soil and apply two inches of mulch on bare soil between plants to reduce weeds while the plants are filling in. Only water until established, then stop automated irrigation and only water as needed. Read more at Establishing Shrubs Florida Landscapes.

The Grass is Getting “Hungry”

The Grass is Getting “Hungry”

(UF/IFAS photo Thomas Wright)

Northwest Florida’s weather patterns can present challenges to maintaining a health lawn. Heavy rains promote fast growth and relentless sunshine causes lawns to fade.  In the last 200 days we have received at least 68 days of rain.  While the rest of Florida was experiencing record drought, the Panhandle was experiencing torrential downpours.  With every drop of rain your spring fertilizer is being metabolized by the lawn, reducing how many nutrients remain in the soil.  Even the best slow-release fertilizer will only last 3-4 months.  The message is: “It’s time for more fertilizer.”

A healthy lawn is an important component of the urban landscape. Not only do lawns increase the value of a property, they also reduce soil erosion, filter stormwater runoff, cool the air, and reduce glare and noise.  A healthy lawn effectively filters and traps sediment and pollutants that could otherwise contaminate surface waters and groundwater.  Lawns require nutrients throughout the growing season to stay healthy.  In Northwest Florida the growing season is typically April to October.

Proper fertilization consists of selecting the right type of fertilizer and applying it at the right time and in the right amount for maximum plant uptake. The type of fertilizer should be based on a soil test, available through UF/IFAS Extension. The timing of application and amount of fertilizer is dependent on the research-based recommendations for the grass species and the fertilizer analysis of the product being used.

Chart excerpted from Florida Friendly Landscaping publication

Select only a fertilizer that states that the product is for use on residential turf. Do not use a fertilizer meant for flower or vegetable gardens on lawns. By Florida Administrative Code, Rule 5E-1.003, the Urban Turf Rule requires that the fertilizers being applied to residential lawns are labeled for the site and the application rates be followed.  Typically, these products will contain both slow-release nitrogen and low or no phosphorus.  Slow-release nitrogen will provide a longer-lasting response from the grass and reduces the potential for burning. For more information on the Urban Turf Rule go to: http://www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP35300.pdf.

With frequent rain the soil is also losing iron. Keep in mind that the green fading to yellow appearance in your lawn may be an iron deficiency.  Before applying your summer fertilizer put out a liquid chelated iron.  It will improve the health of the lawn while you are trying to find a dry day to fertilize.  While it is necessary to water in fertilizer with ¼” of water to reduce burn potential and volatilization, never apply fertilizer when heavy rain is expected.  The rainfall over ¼” can encourage runoff and/or leaching of that fertilizer, which can be costly and environmentally harmful.

Butterfly Gardening

Blue Morpho Butterfly feeding on banana. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

Have you been thinking about creating a butterfly garden but don’t know where to start?

Afraid it’s too much upkeep or has to look wild and untamed?

Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo: J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

Spend a Saturday morning with the UF/IFAS Master Gardeners of Bay County to see how to design, install, and maintain a colorful low maintenance butterfly garden.

Next Saturday, June 3rd, is the free Butterfly Gardening Workshop in Panama City at the UF/IFAS Extension Office at 2728 E. 14th Street. Come learn about butterfly gardening and see our vibrant garden.

Please register ahead of time so that we can supply enough materials for all attendees by calling 850-784-6105 or sign up online.

Tired of Turf? Try Groundcover Alternatives Instead!

If you’re like me, growing turfgrass is often more of a hassle than anything else.  Regardless of the species you plant, none tolerates shade well and it can seem like there is a never-ending list of chores and expenses that accompany lawn grass:  mowing (at least one a week during the summer), fertilizing, and constantly battling weeds, disease and bugs.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an acceptable alternative, at least for the parts of the lawn that get a little less foot traffic or are shady?  Turns out there is!  Enter the wonderful world of perennial groundcovers!

Perennial groundcovers are just that, plants that are either evergreen or herbaceous (killed to the ground by frost, similar to turfgrass) and are aggressive enough to cover the ground quickly.  Once established, these solid masses of stylish, easy to grow plants serve many of the same functions traditional turf lawns do without all the hassle: choke out weeds, provide pleasing aesthetics, reduce erosion and runoff, and provide a habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife.

The two most common turfgrass replacements found in Northwest Florida are Ornamental Perennial Peanut (Arachis glabra) and Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum); though a native species of Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) is gaining popularity also.  All of these plants are outstanding groundcovers but each fills a specific niche in the landscape.

Perennial Peanut Lawn

Perennial Peanut is a beautiful, aggressive groundcover that spreads through underground rhizomes and possesses showy yellow flowers throughout the year; the show stops only in the coldest winters when the plant is burned back to the ground by frost.  It thrives in sunny, well-drained soils, needs no supplemental irrigation once established and because it is a legume, requires little to no supplemental fertilizer.  It even thrives in coastal areas that are subject to periodic salt spray!  If Perennial Peanut ever begins to look a little unkempt, a quick mowing at 3-4” will enhance its appearance.

Asiatic Jasmine

 

Asiatic Jasmine is a superb, vining groundcover option for areas that receive partial to full shade, though it will tolerate full sun.  This evergreen plant sports glossy dark green foliage and is extremely aggressive (lending itself to very rapid establishment).  Though not as vigorous a climber as its more well-known cousin Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), Asiatic Jasmine will eventually begin to slowly climb trees and other structures once it is fully established; this habit is easily controlled with infrequent pruning.  Do not look for flowers on this vining groundcover however, as it does not initiate the bloom cycle unless allowed to climb.

Sunshine Mimosa

For those that prefer an all-native landscape, Sunshine Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), also known as Sensitive Plant, is a fantastic groundcover option for full-sun situations.  This herbaceous perennial is very striking in flower, sending up bright pink, fiber-optic like blooms about 6” above the foliage all summer long!  Sunshine Mimosa, like Perennial Peanut, is a legume so fertility needs are very low. It is also exceptionally drought tolerant and thrives in the deepest sands.  If there is a dry problem spot in your lawn that receives full sun, you can’t go wrong with this one!

As a rule, the method of establishing groundcovers as turfgrass replacements takes a bit longer than with laying sod, which allows for an “instant” lawn.  With groundcovers, sprigging containerized plants is most common as this is how the majority of these species are grown in production nurseries.  This process involves planting the containerized sprigs on a grid in the planting area no more than 12” apart.  The sprigs may be planted closer together (8”-10”) if more rapid establishment is desired.

During the establishment phase, weed control is critical to ensure proper development of the groundcover.  The first step to reduce competitive weeds is to clean the site thoroughly before planting with a non-selective herbicide such as Glyphosate.  After planting, grassy weeds may be treated with one of the selective herbicides Fusilade, Poast, Select, or Prism.  Unfortunately, there are not any chemical treatments for broadleaf weed control in ornamental groundcovers but these can be managed by mowing or hand pulling and will eventually be choked out by the groundcover.

If you are tired of the turfgrass life and want some relief, try an ornamental groundcover instead!  They are low-maintenance, cost effective, and very attractive!  Happy gardening and as always, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office for more information about this topic!