Drought-Tolerant Landscape Plants

Drought-Tolerant Landscape Plants

When we go through dry periods in North Florida some residents become interested in drought-tolerant plants to include in their landscapes. The need for irrigation can be reduced when drought-tolerant plants are used. But don’t overuse these plants. Remember we have periods of rainy weather, too.

Gulf Muhly Grass in Flower

Gulf Muhly Grass in Flower. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Some drought-tolerant plants have poor tolerance to the other extreme – too much water. There are a few plants that can tolerate both extremes but they are the exception. Avoid using drought-tolerant plants on naturally wet or poorly drained sites. But if you have the typical deep sandy well drained soil Florida is famous for, you’d do well to include some drought-tolerant plants on your site.

Drought-tolerant plants are especially well suited for areas that receive little to no irrigation.

Some plants are genetically better able to withstand drought. They have a built-in tolerance of drought. Many of our Florida native plants are designed to grow in our poor water holding sandy soils. Many of the plants native to arid areas of the world possess high drought-tolerance. These plants have characteristics that allow them to better survive dry weather. These features include thicker or waxier leaves, large surface root areas or deep roots and the ability to drop leaves in drought and regain them when moisture is adequate.

Beautyberry with clusters of bright purple berries

Beautyberry with fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams

It’s important to realize that these plants must first establish a root system before they can cope with severe dry weather. Plan to irrigate during dry periods for the first season to allow them to become established.

Some outstanding trees to consider include crape myrtle, redbud, Chinese pistache, cedar (Cedrus species), hawthorn (Crataegus species), American holly, yaupon holly, Southern red cedar (Juniperus species), Live oak, Sand live oak, winged elm, pond cypress and bald cypress. Some people are surprised to learn that pond cypress and bald cypress have high drought-tolerance because these trees are associated with swamps, many times growing in standing water. But once established on a dry site, they exhibit very good drought-tolerance.

Some outstanding shrubs with drought-tolerance include glossy abelia, dwarf yaupon holly, Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis species), beauty berry (Callicarpa americana), pineapple guava, junipers, oleander, spiraea, blueberry or sparkleberry (Vaccinium species), viburnum, Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and coontie (Zamia pumila).

Close up of pineapple guava in bloom

Pineapple guava in bloom. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Some outstanding drought-tolerant groundcovers to consider include beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), daylily, juniper, lantana, liriope, rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides), Asiatic jasmine and society garlic. Many of the ornamental grasses such as Gulf muhly are good choices as well.

For more ideas on developing a Florida-friendly, water wise landscape, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the below website. https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/index.html

Why Let Your Own Backyard be a Source of Worry?

Why Let Your Own Backyard be a Source of Worry?

In times like these, it seems that our own perceived “problems” pale in comparison to the “big picture.”  In my day-to-day work, I have the opportunity to help people solve problems with their landscapes, lawns and gardens. I enjoy the problem solving part of my job as an extension agent.

Lawn with winter annual weeds in early spring

Winter annual weeds in lawn in early spring. Photo credit: Larry Williams

You’d be surprised how upset some people can be about a few weeds, a dying petunia or a tomato with a crack in it. They’ll let small things like this upset their entire world. It’s as if they think we live in a perfect world when it comes to expectations for the plants in their own landscape.

It has become apparent to me that too many people spend too much time letting too many small things bother them too much.

When my twin sister, Linda, and I were growing up in a small town in middle Georgia, an elderly couple (Mr. and Mrs. Hunt) would crack pecans and give the shelled halves to us to eat. They’d hand the shelled pecans to us over the fence that separated our yards. At five or six years old this was a treat for my sister and me.

I remember their landscape. I remember Mrs. Hunt sweeping their dirt driveway lined with coconut sized rocks. She used handmade brooms. I remember their pink flowering dogwoods in spring. I remember their old-fashioned yellow and orange daylilies during summer. I remember the fascination of seeing red spider lilies seemingly come from nowhere in the fall underneath deciduous trees as they displayed their autumn colors. I remember Mrs. Hunt letting me smell a flower from a sweetshrub plant, which reminded me of sweet apples. The deep red blooms and dark green leaves of this shrub complemented the white wooden wall on the east side of their home.

Mulberry tree with fruit

Mulberry tree with fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams

I remember climbing a large mulberry tree in their backyard and picking and eating the berries. I remember watching Mr. Hunt prune grapevines growing on an overhead trellis. I remember learning about the history of a ginkgo tree planted just outside a chicken pin in their side yard. I remember watching hummingbirds flying in and out of the reddish orange funnel-shaped blooms of a large trumpet vine growing on an old metal frame of a water tank.

I don’t remember the weeds, even though I know there must have been weeds in the Hunt’s landscape. I know there was the occasional pecan that didn’t fill out or that was worm infested. And I’m sure an occasional plant had to be replaced. But these are not the things that made lasting impressions for me.

The big picture is not the weeds, the dying petunia plant or the pecan with a worm in it. Sure you will have weeds in your yard and certain plants that don’t survive. Just don’t let these things become the source of worry. In my opinion, a landscape should be a source of pleasure, a place to learn and a place to pass along lasting memories.  Besides, with all the things there are to worry about in this world (as recent days have revealed), why let your own backyard be one of them?

For a Unique Landscape Native, Give Needle Palm a Try!

For a Unique Landscape Native, Give Needle Palm a Try!

There aren’t a lot of quality landscape plant options that fit the description nearly every homeowner desires:  native, low-maintenance, slow-growing, pest free, drought tolerant while tolerating wet soils, loving both sun or shade, and green year-round.  Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is the rare plant that checks all those boxes and deserves consideration when adding plants to your landscape!

6 year old Needle Palm in a local landscape. Photo courtesy the author

Needle Palm is an endangered native, growing in a narrow range in the coastal Southeastern US, Calhoun and Liberty counties included.  It is primarily found in the understories of wet wooded areas along slopes, ravines, and bottoms; if you’ve ever hiked the Apalachicola Ravines or Torreya State Park trails, you’ve likely encountered Needle Palm in the wild!  Being native is nice, but what makes Needle Palm an outstanding landscape option?

Needle Palm is the prettier, more refined cousin of Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens), which it is sometimes confused with.  Unlike the rambling, aggressive, stiff-leaved palmetto, Needle palm possesses “softer”, finely cut, lustrous evergreen leaves, allowing it to add amazing texture to any landscape.  Also, unlike palmetto, it doesn’t need a yearly “cleaning” to prune out brown, dead leaves, rather its leaves persist green and clean for many years!  You might not want to reach into the interior of a Needle Palm plant anyway, as generally unseen 6-8” namesake “needles” surround the base of its trunk.  Needle Palm grows very slowly, eventually reaching 8’ tall or so, but is more often seen in the 4-6’ range in landscapes.  This is absolutely a shrub that will never outgrow its welcome.  It is a nearly trunkless palm, almost always appearing as a shrub, though with extreme old age it can begin to look a bit like a small tree with a muted trunk.  With outstanding aesthetics and a low-maintenance growth habit, Needle Palm has a place in nearly any landscape.

Mature needle palm, 6′ tall and wide. Photo courtesy the author.

In the landscape, Needle Palm does best when sited with some shade in the afternoon but also thrives in full sun.  They appreciate regular water during establishment but survive on their own without any extra irrigation after!  Needle Palm also doesn’t need much in the way of supplemental fertilization.  They do look their best with a light spring application of a general purpose, slow-release fertilizer, but this is not required.  Needle Palms are not afflicted with the pest and pathogen problems the much more commonly used non-native Sago Palms (Cycas revlolutas) attracts.  I’ve grown Needle Palm for 6 years in the landscape and have never noticed any pest or disease issues.  With Needle Palms becoming more common in the nursery trade, I don’t see a place in most landscapes for the inferior, high-maintenance, insect infested Sagos.  If you want the tropical, textured look of Sagos, plant Needle Palm instead.

Needle Palm is an extremely attractive, low-maintenance Northwest Florida native plant that you should absolutely seek out and add to your landscape!  If you want more information or have any questions about Needle Palm or any other landscape/garden topic, please give your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office a call.  Happy Gardening!

 

Florida Natives: Black Titi

Florida Natives: Black Titi

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.

Evergreen shrub with spikes of pink flowers.

Pink-flowered variety of black titi, Cliftonia monophylla. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

Photo of titi tree with white blooms

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

Some Camellias Won’t Flower Well in North Florida

Some Camellias Won’t Flower Well in North Florida

Q. I have a camellia plant that is about 25 years old. It forms flower buds but the buds never fully open. The plant otherwise looks healthy. Is there something that I’m doing or not doing that causes this?

 

Dark pink sasanqua camellia bloom

Sasanqua camellia bloom, Photo credit: Larry Williams

A. I have seen this happen over the years. There are a number of possibilities for why this happens. If the camellia cultivar is otherwise known to do well in the area, the problem could be caused by one or more of these factors.

 

  • Stress (primarily drought stress could inhibit buds from opening)
  • Freeze damage
  • Too many buds on the plant to allow each and every bud to open

 

However, with this being the norm for your camellia plant for that many years, it may be the wrong camellia variety in the wrong place.

 

Camellias have been so common in our Southern landscapes that some people think they are native to our area. However, camellias are native to Asia. They were first brought to America during the latter part of the 1700’s.

 

Years ago, people planted any camellia they could get their hands on because camellias weren’t as common or available and definitely had a more limited selection.

 

Some camellia cultivars are simply not well adapted to the Gulf Coast and, as a result, will not flower well even though they may grow well here. This is why some varieties are favored in Seattle, some do better in California, some do better in New England and others perform well here in the South.

 

Even though camellias are a common sight in shady Southern gardens now, not all camellias will perform well here. So, it is important to do some homework before purchasing and planting just any old camellia.

 

As stated in the UF/IFAS Extension publication Camellias at a Glance, “There are numerous species of Camellia, but the types commonly grown as landscape shrubs in Florida are Camellia japonica, Camellia sasanqua, and hybrids of these.” This publication is available online at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP00200.pdf or from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County.

 

Sasanqua and japonica camellias come in whites, pinks, reds, double and single flowers and sizes from four to twenty feet tall.

 

The sasanqua types bloom as early as October while the japonica types begin flowering later.

It is possible to select a few different varieties, instead of just one, to extend the color in your landscape from weeks to months. Selecting camellias for staggered flowering times can provide color all fall and winter long.

 

When purchasing camellias, research the bloom times of varieties for your area.

Opportunity for Professional Training

Opportunity for Professional Training

People with lawn care equipmentNo 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, sdunning@ufl.edu for more information.