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!
In the Panhandle, fall is the prettiest season for wildflowers. Our roadsides and woodlands are covered with pinks, whites, yellows, blues, purples, and even a little red here and there. Pretty as it may be, the beautiful wildflower look isn’t super appropriate for most yards. It would look unkempt, a little “wild” if you will, would be hard to manage and is probably best enjoyed in natural areas. However, we can bring some of the native colors of fall into our landscapes in a much lower maintenance, refined manner with two Panhandle species that pair excellently together, Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) and Darrow’s Blueberry (Vaccineum darrowii).
Muhly Grass and Darrow’s Blueberry in a local landscape. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Muhly Grass, the native grass with the pinkish/purple panicles blooming right now, has gained much popularity in recent years, earning a reputation as a near pest/disease free, drought tolerant, attractive landscape plant. Operating in lieu of more traditional low growing shrubs in landscapes, Muhly is an airy, greenish gray bunch grass growing about 3-4’ tall and wide, lending informal, coastal texture to landscapes most of the year and really shining in fall during its flowering season. Once established, it never needs extra water, prefers little fertilizer, and only needs a rejuvenation prune (or burn – the Leonard preferred method. It’s fun and mimics the role of fire in Muhly’s native ecosystems!) every couple of years to keep it looking tidy.
Unlike Muhly Grass, Darrow’s Blueberry has not caught on broadly in the landscape industry but is no less deserving. This native blueberry species only grows a couple of feet tall, produces edible fruit that wildlife enjoy, and adds an unusual blue green color to landscapes via its tiny-leaved, evergreen foliage. It prefers the same sites as Muhly and is part of the reason they pair so well together. Our mostly sandy, well drained soils work just fine, but both plants can handle soils that are occasionally wet. A bonus, Darrow’s also has tiny, bell shaped flowers in spring that attract all manner of beneficial bee species. This makes it a must in any native pollinator garden!
As good as these species are alone, I think they are better together. In my family’s yard, we created a loose screen of widely spaced (8’ apart) Muhly Grass specimens around a pool, in the spirit of giving the area a “coastal” airy feel, and interspersed Darrow’s Blueberry in between.
The pink Muhly Grass flowers pair nicely with the green blue foliage of Darrow’s Blueberry. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
The look has been outstanding, particularly in the late summer/early fall. The pinky purple flowers of Muhly Grass complement the green-blue foliage of the blueberries nicely and provide easy, lasting color without having to worry about planting finicky annuals or perennials each season.
Landscaping with natives does not have to look wild and unkempt, nor does it have to be drab and unattractive. Combining native yet showy plants like Darrow’s Blueberry and Muhly Grass makes for an unusual, refined, nearly no-maintenance feature in your landscape. Look for these and other neat native plants at native nurseries and independent garden centers around the Panhandle. If you’d like more information on native grasses, blueberries or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office! Happy Gardening!
In late July, Larry Kinsolving, a Jackson County Master Gardener, noticed an insect pest in the beautiful, large azalea bushes that frame the front entrance to his home in Marianna, Florida. The azalea caterpillar is found in Florida from late summer to early fall on azaleas and other plants including blueberries. If left undetected, the caterpillars can defoliate (eat up the leaves) of much of a plant. In general, caterpillars seldom kill the plants they feed on, but the stress caused by defoliation can reduce flowering or fruiting the following spring, if it becomes a serious problem. Larry shows you how easy it is to find and remove this pest from your azalea bushes. While the caterpillar appears hairy, it is harmless to humans and can be handled without concern.
Oleander caterpillars, which are active on some oleanders during summer, can provide a number of gardening lessons.
Oleander caterpillar moth on lantana flower. Photo credit: James Castner, UF
The adult moth is striking in appearance. The bluish to purplish moth has white dots on its black wings. The moths resemble wasps as they fly in and around oleander shrubs.
It’s the orange caterpillars with black spots and black hairs that cause problems for some gardeners.
Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. In order to enjoy watching butterflies and moths feeding on the nectar of flowers, some of the caterpillars must survive to become adult butterflies and moths. This is lesson number one.
Oleander caterpillars usually only feed on oleander plants. Oleanders are native to areas of Europe and Asia. This is lesson number two.
Oleander caterpillar, Photo credit: Paul Choate, UF
Oleander caterpillars benefit by us planting their food source in Florida.
This relationship between pest and plant is referred to as the key plant, key pest concept. Some other examples include St. Augustinegrass and chinch bugs, gardenias and whiteflies, crape myrtles and crape myrtle aphids, azaleas and azalea caterpillars, camellias and tea scale, roses and black spot, pecans and pecan scab, squash and squash vine borers.
Understanding this concept can be helpful in designing a “low maintenance” landscape.
When you plant roses, you plant everything that goes with roses, including the time and money required to maintain them. This applies to St. Augustinegrass, pecan trees, squash and oleanders. This is lesson number three.
Oleander caterpillars can temporarily damage the appearance of oleanders. But they cause no long-term damage for the plant. This is lesson number four. The damage is aesthetic. Oleander caterpillars can consume great numbers of leaves. However, if the plant is otherwise healthy, new leaves will be produced and the plant will continue to grow. The damage is temporary; there will be no evidence the plant ever had a problem.
To spray or not to spray for oleander caterpillars has to do with a person’s tolerance level.
If you can’t tolerate having oleander caterpillars around and the temporary aesthetic damage they cause, consider the use of Bacillus thuringiensis. It is sold under a number of brand names and many times is referred to as Bt. This bacterium only controls caterpillars so it is friendlier for the beneficial insects. When using any pesticide, always follow the label directions and precautions.
Here are links to UF/IFAS Extension publications with more info.
Austin N. Fife, PhD student, Entomology
University of Florida IFAS
North Florida Research and Extension Center
Phyllocoptes fructiphilus: a new threat for Florida roses
Figure 1: Phyllocoptes fructiphilus . Image Credit Austin N. Fyfe, UF / IFAS
Phyllocoptes fructiphilus Kefier is a microscopic plant-feeding arachnid belonging to a group of spindle-shaped mites known as Eriophyoid mites. Eriophyoid mites are second only to spider mites in their economic importance and potential for plant damage: some species create galls, others deform plants with their feeding activity, and a few species are capable of spreading viruses. Fortunately, eriophyoid mites very host specific and P. fructiphilus only feeds on plants in the genus Rosa, which includes all of the true roses which we are familiar with.
P. fructiphilus does not cause damage by its feeding alone, but is a pest due to its relationship as the vector of an emaravirus: Rose rosette virus (RRV). RRV infection creates Rose Rosette Disease (RRD), with the following symptoms: witches’ brooms/rosetting, deformed flowers, increased prickle density, elongated shoots, reddened leaves and stems, and increased die-back which ultimately kills the rose host. RRD is the most serious disease of roses, creating millions of dollars of losses for growers. Rose Rosette Disease and the mite have invaded the southeastern United States as the non-native Rosa multiflora (Thunb) has spread invasively towards the eastern coast and by the introduction of infected roses from out of state into Florida.
Figure 2: EDDMapS. 2020. Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System. The University of Georgia – Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. Available online at http://www.eddmaps.org/
RRD was initially detected in Florida in 2014 on 15 plants; however, the plants were destroyed and P. fructiphilus were not detected on the roses after that time.
In early 2019, a survey of predatory mites on roses found eriphyoid mites in samples obtained while surveying roses in Leon County, Florida. The mites were sent to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Department of Plant Industry (FDACS-DPI) and were all identified as P. fructiphilus by Dr. Sam Bolton. To date, none of these roses have shown signs or symptoms of RDD and none of these plants have tested positive for presence of the virus.
Figure 3: Black dots indicate individual sites which have been surveyed for Phyllocoptes fructiphilus. Orange dots indicate a number of sites with populations of P. fructiphilus detected in Leon county, Florida. No symptoms of Rose Rosette Disease have been seen on these plants to date. Image Credit Austin N. Fife, UF / IFAS
This is the first recorded instance of P. fructiphilus in Florida and is worrisome despite the absence of the virus. Fortunately, RRV is currently not established in Florida. However, the presence of P. fructiphilus, along with past detections of RRV in Florida warrants an increase in monitoring efforts for the mite and virus in Florida.
Figure 4: Typical symptoms of Rose Rosette Disease. Image Credit Austin N. Fife, UF / IFAS
How can I identify roses that have Rose Rosette Disease?
It is difficult to identify the symptoms of RRD in the field for a few reasons. Primarily, there are different growth habits for different rose cultivars. What appears to be ‘excessive thorniness’ in one cultivar may be normal for another, and is can be easy to mistake the redness of new flush with symptoms of the RRD. In addition, glyphosate damage from improper use of Roundup or similar products can have a very similar appearance to diseased roses. The best way to verify RRD infection is to use molecular testing for the virus. Identifying the presences of eriophyoid mites is useful for diagnosis, but they are too small to see with pocket loupes and are difficult to find unless there are large numbers of mites. To properly identify an eriophyoid mite as P. fructiphilus requires the use of a compound microscope with a specially prepared microscope slide of the mite, as well as reference materials and a trained individual who knows what characters to look for.
What to do if I suspect that my roses are infected with Rose Rosette Disease?
We recommend reporting suspected cases of RRD to your local extension agency or the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Where should I send my samples?
Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy: https://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-pathology-clinic/
Mathews Paret, Director, Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic – UF NFREC (850) 875-7154, firstname.lastname@example.org
UF/IFAS Disease Diagnostic Center in Gainesville:
- 392-1795, email@example.com
2570 Hull Rd Gainesville, FL 32603
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Plant Industry
1-888-397-1517 Helpline (352) 395-4600 (Helpline Number, Outside of the United States) DPIHelpline@FDACS.gov
The Doyle Conner Building 1911 SW 34th St. Gainesville, FL 32608
Figure 5: Phyllocoptes fructiphilus is a refuge-seeking mite ,which hides under rose sepals, which are covered in tiny glandular plant hairs known as trichomes that protect the mites. Image Credit: Austin N. Fife, UF / IFAS
How Can I Manage Rose Rosette Disease?
Currently, there are no commercially available rose cultivars known to resist Rose Rosette Disease or Phyllocoptes fructiphilus. A major difficulty lies in the cryptic nature of these mites, which hide underneath the rose sepals. It is important to consider this when considering which control methods to use. Methods which require direct contact with the mites to kill them are unlikely to work.
This makes it difficult for chemical applications which require contact with the pest to work.
Keeping that in mind, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of RRD and prevent the spread of the mite:
- Eliminate infected wild roses nearby
- Heavy pruning followed by horticultural oil spray may reduce populations of the mite, but cannot prevent a viral infection from spreading.
- Space plants so their leaves and roots don’t touch
- Dispose of diseased roses properly: bag up infected materials and dispose of in areas away from other roses
- After removing infected plants, spray remaining plants with miticides recommended at https://roserosette.org/control/
- Spray uninfected plants adjacent to removed (infected) plants
The dog days of summer are here with high temperatures and humidity. While this sultry weather forces humans to retreat to air conditioning, our gardens suffer because the high night temperatures cause temperate plants to stop flowering, lose vigor and pause growth. By August, many plants in the garden look as bedraggled and wilted as we feel after mowing the grass or trying to weed.
‘Moy Grande’ Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.)
All is not lost: the fading flowers and fizzling foliage of traditional garden plants can give way to heat-loving tropicals! Plants that are native to tropical and subtropical climates are naturally adapted to heat, humidity and rain, easily standing up to the worst that our north Florida summers can throw at them. Tropicals offer bright flowers, bold texture and exuberant growth just when the rest of your garden melts in the heat. Tropical plants include trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, groundcovers or annuals, and there are tropicals for full sun, part sun or shade.
Tropical Plants for North Florida
Top tropicals for north Florida gardens are palms, bananas, hibiscus, and gingers. Palms are the iconic symbol of the Tropics. Native subtropical palms can give you the palm vibe without the worry of cold hardiness. These include cabbage palm and related palmettos in the genus Sabal, paurotis palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and needle palm (Rhapiophyllum hystrix). Non-native European fan (Chamaerops humilis), jelly (Butia spp.), windmill (Trachycarpus spp.), date (Phoenix spp.), Washington (Washingtonia spp.) and other palms also grow well and are cold hardy in north Florida. Most palms grow best in full to part sun but palmettos, saw palmetto and needle palm can handle more shade. Saw palmetto, needle palm and most palmettos grow 3 to 6 ft. tall. European fan, jelly, paurotis and windmill palms grow 10 to 20 ft. tall, while cabbage, Washington and date palms often exceed 40 ft. For best appearance, palms often require special fertilizer (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep261).
Hardy Yunnan Banana (Musa yunnanensis)
Characterized by their large, bold leaves, bananas are another plant group associated with tropical weather and full sun. Hardier forms of banana that thrive here include Chinese yellow (Musella lasiocarpa), pink (M. velutina), basjoo (Musa basjoo), Yunnan (M. itinerans), and hardy Yunnan (M. yunnanensis). Chinese yellow and pink bananas grow about 5 ft. or more in height, whereas the others have mature heights of 20 ft. or more. Bananas benefit from planting in a location that blocks strong winds so as not to shred the leaves. Depending on the severity of our winter, these bananas may lose some or all leaves but they usually regrow in late spring once warm weather arrives.
The large, colorful and exotic-looking flowers of tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) are associated with the tropics, though this hibiscus is less cold hardy here and is perhaps best enjoyed as a container plant. Other notable hibiscus for north Florida include Confederate rose (H. mutabilis), rose-of-sharon or althea (H. syriacus), and hardy hibiscus (many hybrids of H. moscheutos and other native species). Varying in height from 3 (hardy hibiscus) to 12 ft. (confederate rose), hibiscus thrives in full sun and moist, even wet, soil. Their summer flowers come in colors of white, lavender, pink and red and range in size from a few inches (althea) to the size of dinnerplates (hardy hibiscus)! Except for rose-of-sharon, these hibiscus die back in winter and re-emerge again in late spring.
‘Disney’ Ginger Lily (Hedychium coccineum)
Gingers are also symbolic of the tropics. Many produce complex or colorful flowers and often flowers or other plant parts are aromatic. Ginger lily (Hedychium spp.), spiral ginger (Costus spp.) and shell ginger (Alpinia spp.) have fragrant and colorful racemes or spikes of flowers that appear at the tops of stems 4 ft. to 6 ft. or more tall. Hidden ginger (Curcuma spp.) and true ginger (Zingiber spp.) are lower growing with flowers appearing in “cones” on tops of separate, short stems. Finally, the patterned leaves of peacock ginger (Kaempferia spp.) make a beautiful summer groundcover. Gingers grow best in part sun to part shade.
There are many other tropical plants including coral tree (Erythrina × bidwillii and E. crista-galli), pride-of-barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), fatsia (Fatsia japonica), selloum philodendron (Thaumatophyllum bipinnatifidum), canna lily (the non-invasive Canna × generalis hybrids), peregrina (Jatropha integerrima), elephant ear (non-invasive Alocasia spp. types), Begonia spp. (annual, angelwing and rhizomatous types) and Caladium selections. Bamboos have a tropical look, but many grow aggressively and may be invasive in north Florida. Two recommended clumping bamboos are common bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris; growing 15 ft or more tall) and Chinese garden bamboo (Drepanostachyum falcatum; growing 12 ft. or more tall).
Cockspur Coral Tree (Erythrina crista-galli)
“Tropical” does not necessarily mean “non-native” as there are many Florida natives that provide summer color or texture and are heat loving yet cold hardy in north Florida. These include some palms (cabbage, palmetto, paurotis), ashe magnolia (Magnolia ashei), switchcane (Arundinaria gigantea, a native bamboo), hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus, H. moscheutos and others), golden canna (Canna flaccida), and maypop passionflower (Passiflora incarnata).
Disadvantages of Tropicals
Use of tropicals in your garden does have a downside. Most tropicals are water hogs and need regular irrigation. This isn’t a problem if our area experiences the normal patterns of summer thunderstorms. However, if we don’t receive regular rainfall, tropical plants create the burden of having to water them regularly or else their flowers wilt and leaves droop.
Another disadvantage of tropicals is the “off-season” appearance. Though they thrive in summer heat, they grow slowly during the cooler temperatures of spring and fall and some disappear altogether in winter. Some tropicals are not winter hardy in north Florida and must be replanted each year or undergo elaborate cold protection strategies to help them survive. Other tropicals will over-winter, but often are burned back by frosts, requiring labor to cut back the dead foliage and stems. Finally, tropicals usually require warm weather for growth to resume, and tropicals that die back will produce gaps in your landscape during winter, spring and early summer.
‘Portora’ Giant Elephant Ear (Alocasia sp.)
At the other extreme, some tropicals have such exuberant growth that they are invasive in north Florida. For example, almost all running types of bamboo and many clumping bamboos are invasive, other than those mentioned previously. Also avoid non-native canna (Canna indica), elephant ears (Colocasia and Xanthosoma spp.), Lantana (sterile forms are OK), and some non-native passionvines (Passiflora spp.). If you have questions about a plant’s invasiveness, check the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas, https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/.
Using Tropicals in North Florida
Tropicals are best used as accent plants to draw attention in summer when they look their best and the rest of the garden looks its worst. When used as accents, place them throughout the landscape so that winter damage or absences aren’t noticed. Concentrations of tropicals in one area will look great in summer but could look like a mass of dead foliage in winter! To create an entirely tropical-looking planting in north Florida, combine tropical plants with cold-hardy tropical lookalikes (a topic for another time!).
Plant tropicals in late spring once temperatures warm because they will grow slowly or even experience damage at temperatures below 50°F. Best practices for tropicals are to place them in the appropriate exposure for the particular plant (sun, part sun or shade) and keep them mulched. One common characteristic of tropicals is their need for soil moisture, necessitating irrigation to supplement rain. A rich soil or applications of organic mulches or compost can provide nutrients for growth, or light fertilizer applications in summer can boost growth.
Tropicals come alive in the heat of summer. When used in north Florida gardens, tropical plants provide pops of color, luxuriant growth and big, bold, dramatic texture that rescue our gardens from the doldrums of summer!