Choosing a Tree for Your Landscape

Choosing a Tree for Your Landscape

American fringetree Chionanthus virginicus), a native deciduous small tree with delicate blooms in spring. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

January and February are ideal months for adding a tree or two to your landscape in the Florida panhandle. In the cooler weather, the ground stays moist for a longer time, which helps prevent drought stress and the drying out of the rootball. Also, the winds are generally milder, and the tree will have a chance to get established and anchored in before the wilder winds of summer roll in.

Before investing time and money in a tree, take a few minutes and be sure that the species you choose is right for your particular landscape.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Whether the area can accommodate the ultimate size of the tree, both height and width, and not grow into overhead wires, streetlights, or your house.
  • Are there any underground utilities or septic? A call to 811 can check on where your utilities are.
  • The hardiness zone for the tree. Be aware that zone 8 or 9 in the western United States is a different climate with respect to moisture than the same zone 8 or 9 in Florida.
  • Whether the tree can thrive in your soil – sandy, loam or clay, loose or compacted, high and dry, or wet and low.
  • The amount of sun it requires.
  • Whether you want native species that provide food and habitat for native birds and animals.
  • Salt-tolerance if located on the coast.
  • Wind tolerance, especially if located on the coast. Many fast-growing trees are brittle and susceptible to breakage.
  • Whether you prefer an evergreen or deciduous tree. Evergreen trees, like hollies, provide a natural screen all year while some deciduous trees, like maple and bald cypress, provide fall color.
  • Is the tree messy, dropping large seed pods, fruit, or leaves?
  • The color and shape of leaves and flowers and other ornamental qualities.
  • Whether the tree species has known disease or pest issues.

Florida red anise (Illicium floridanum), a small tree/large shrub for shady locations. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.

Once you choose what species of tree you will add to your landscape, here’s information on Selecting Quality Trees from the Nursery.

Optimum tree health and vigor also depends on the correct methods of Planting and Establishing Trees.

And this site has even more comprehensive information on trees and shrubs: University of Florida/IFAS Landscape Plants.

Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

Upgrade Your Gardening with Quality Pruners!

There is an old saying that rings true in pretty much any situation – “You get what you pay for.”  Gardening tools, especially pruners, are no exception.  We’ve all been there, fumbling around with a pair of rusty, dull, cheap garden pruners that just barely get the job done.  Unfortunately, they can also do considerable harm to the plants you’re trying to improve, as anything short of a nice, sharp, clean cut introduces the potential for insect/disease infestation and will produce a wound that takes much longer to heal, if it ever heals properly at all.  You wouldn’t want your doctor to start hacking away at you with a dirty, second-rate scalpel.  Don’t subject your plants to the same treatment!  While I’m not advocating blowing hundreds or thousands of dollars outfitting your garden tool shed with top of the line everything, investing in a pair of quality bypass hand pruners will pay dividends many years into the future and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable!

The classic Felco #4 bypass hand pruners. Photo courtesy of Walton County Master Gardener Andrea Schnapp.

Found in three designs, from old-fashioned anvil pruners that smush and smash their way to a cut, to ratcheting pruners that make short work of larger branches but tend to be cumbersome and complicated, to bypass pruners that produce clean cuts in a scissor-like manner, hand pruners accomplish many tasks in the landscape.  From cutting small limbs, to harvesting vegetables, to deadheading annual flowers and everything in between, there isn’t a more frequently used, versatile tool.  Therefore, it makes sense to buy a quality pair that will perform excellently, still be snipping long after your pruning days are over (if you take care of them), and that are comfortable enough you will enjoy using them.  When shopping for your pair of “forever” pruners, there are a few things to look for.

  • Only use bypass style pruners. Your plants will appreciate it.
  • Look for heavy duty pruners with frames made from quality aluminum or stainless steel; they won’t rust and won’t easily bend or break.
  • Buy pruners with replaceable parts. This is especially key because springs eventually rust and gum up and blades break and will eventually lose their ability to hold an edge over time (though you can and should resharpen them).

There are two commonly found brands that fit all three above criteria, albeit at different price points.  For a high quality “budget” blade, various models from Corona do an excellent job for the money ($20-30) and won’t hurt your feelings too badly if you happen to lose a pair.  Should you decide to splurge a little, Felco makes sharp, indestructible pruners, in multiple models around $50 to fit all size hands.  Felco has become the horticulture industry standard and you’d be hard pressed to find a nursery owner or landscaper that didn’t own a pair (or two).

Corona ComfortGel bypass hand pruner. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Regardless of which brand you buy (and there are many more than the two above listed) a pair of well-made pruners, if taken care of, should last a lifetime and make your gardening experience much more enjoyable for you and your plants!  If you have any questions about gardening tools or equipment or any other horticulture or agronomic topic, feel free to contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.  Happy Gardening!

 

Not all Holly Plants Produce Berries for Christmas

Not all Holly Plants Produce Berries for Christmas

Native yaupon holly with bright red berries

Native yaupon holly with bright red winter berries. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Holly plants are sometimes associated with Christmas. Their dark evergreen leaves and bright red berries fit right in with the Christmas Season. Some people intentionally plant hollies for the purpose of eventually using this desirable combination of green and red to create a more festive Holiday Season. But what if your hollies never produce berries?

The reason may be because you have a male plant. Male holly plants never produce berries. Holly plants are either male or female. The botanical term for this is dioecious.  If a male plant is selected, it will produce male flowers and pollen but never set fruit.

One way to know that you’ve selected a female holly is by purchasing a plant with berries. However, you still will need a male plant nearby or no berries will be produced.  Generally one male plant is adequate to insure pollination and good fruit set of berries on all female plants in a landscape. Your next-door neighbor may have a male holly plant that would serve as a pollinator for your hollies. Pollen produced by male flowers is transported by bees from distances up 2 miles. And because we are blessed with a number of native hollies in North Florida, chances are good that there will be a male holly within the appropriate distance in the wild to take care of the pollination.

The holly genus (Ilex) offers a terrific variety of plants from which to choose. Some horticulturists estimate that there are about 700 species worldwide. And there are a great number of cultivated varieties!  When selecting a holly for your landscape, it is important to know that most dwarf holly cultivars don’t produce fruit as they are propagated by cuttings from male plants.  Not all hollies have spiny leaves. For example, many of the Japanese hollies (Ilex crenata) have spineless leaves. There are hollies that grow tall, eventually making a tree. There are dwarf hollies that grow to only three to five feet in height. There are hollies with variegated leaves. And even though most hollies are evergreen, there are a few deciduous hollies that make nice additions to North Florida landscapes such as Ilex ambigua (Ambiguous Winterberry) and Ilex decidua (Possumhaw holly). Some hollies produce bright red berries but berry color varies from red, orange, yellow and even black or white, depending on variety. There are weeping forms available such as the weeping yaupon holly. There are those that have a very narrow, upright growth habit.

For more info on this diverse and interesting group of plants, visit the below UF/IFAS Extension webpage.

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/shrubs/holly.html

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

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!

 

 

 

Property Law and Tree Damage

Property Law and Tree Damage

Even healthy live oaks need maintenance and occasional trimming to stay safe. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

After storms, Extension agents are routinely asked about whose responsibility it is to maintain a tree along a property line. This becomes particularly important in a situation where a property owner’s tree or branch falls and causes damage to their neighbor’s home or possessions.

To clarify this often contentious issue, reference to legal experts is necessary. In a series of publications called “The Handbook of Florida Fence and Property Law,” two attorneys and a University of Florida law student explain several statutes that give us direction. The section on “Trees and Landowner Responsibility” goes into further detail and cites case-law, but for ease of reading it is summarized below.

Situation 1: Removing a healthy tree on a shared property line.
If two neighbors share a tree on their property line and one of them wants to remove it, the adjoining landowner must give their permission. Removing trees can impact property value, heating/cooling bills, or aesthetic value. Without a neighbor’s consent, the landowner cutting down a tree can be legally liable for damages.

Hurricanes can have serious impacts on trees in their path. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Situation 2: Responsibility for overhanging branches and roots.
A big storm hits your neighborhood, with tons of rain, wind, and lightning. You wake up in the morning and see that a large branch fell from your neighbor’s tree and crushed your kids’ basketball goal. If branches from the neighbor’s tree were otherwise healthy, they are not responsible for any damages resulting from the tree. If it was dead, however, and their negligence contributed to the branch falling, they will be responsible for damages.
Keep in mind that if the neighbor’s tree/branches/roots are in good health but interfering with something in your yard, you may trim them at your own expense. The same goes for your tree hanging in their yard, so while it’s not required, it’s always good to have a conversation first to let them know your plans.

 

After Hurricane Ivan, this tree's root system completed uprooted and destroyed and adjacent fence. Photo credit: Beth Bolles

After Hurricane Ivan, this tree’s root system completely uprooted and destroyed and adjacent fence. Photo credit: Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension

Situation 3: Hurricane Sally blew your neighbor’s tree over and into your yard.
Just like the situation with branches and roots, the same principle goes for an entire tree falling on adjoining property—if the tree was alive, it’s the responsibility of the person whose yard it fell in. If it was dead when it fell, it’s the responsibility of the tree’s owner to pay for damages.

In a complicated situation involving property damage, the saying, “good fences make good neighbors” only goes so far. Be sure to note the health of your trees throughout the year and trim back dead or dying branches. If you see serious decay or have concerns about a tree’s health, contact your county Extension office or a certified arborist. Finally, if the circumstances aren’t easily determined, be sure to contact a licensed attorney and/or your insurance company for direction.

Outdoor Living in Your Landscape

Outdoor Living in Your Landscape

Living in Northwest Florida brings many wonderful opportunities to be outside enjoying all the things nature has to offer.  Outdoor living can become an extension of your home life.  Planning and placing a creatively planned landscape space to be a part of this outdoor living adds so many dimensions for all to enjoy.

Outdoor Living, Courtesy UF / IFAS Gardening Solutions page.

Creating a relaxing space outside of your home needs to take in many considerations before planning begins.  These spaces should take into account the creative thoughts of the homeowner.  Do you enjoy grilling, sitting quietly to take in the sights and sounds of nature, gardening, hedges and walls for private areas, enjoying shady or sunny spots and many other considerations?  Do you most like spending your time outside during the day or evening?  Will lighting be needed?  How much space do you have?  What types of furniture will be selected to create those small sitting spots?

 

Soil types around your home should be a part of plant selections and include water movement considerations during the design process.  The northwest area of Florida ranges from sandy coastal to sandhill sands to clay soils in the northern area of many panhandle counties.  It is recommended to take soil samples to determine soil needs prior to placing the first plant into these outdoor spaces.  With soil moisture ranging from wet to dry, certain plants perform well in wet sites and others in dry sites. That information should be a part of landscape planning decisions.

How do you envision these enjoyable areas and link to the home design?  Flowing from the front entry through the home out to the backyard, you need to keep in mind what you and your family want to see and enjoy.  What will it look like as the settings mature and change?  Will there be walkways connecting the outdoor rooms.  What types of walk materials will be used, stone, gravel, wood, turfgrass or another creative material?  Are specific plant settings desired that may include a vegetable, flower or herb garden?

Mitigating the influence of insect pests needs to be a consideration when creating an outdoor living space in the panhandle.

Building a fire wise landscape is an important consideration also as the risk of wildfire in the state is always present during drought periods.  Selection of plants that are fire resistant should be a priority. Enjoying time with family around the firepit is a pleasant experience.  Keep in mind to plan, place and use firepits wisely.  Have a firepit safety plan ready.

Outdoor living spaces also include recreation areas, both on and off your property. We are fortunate to have bike friendly roadways, especially in quiet neighborhoods.  When biking, always follow the rules and regulations of the road.  While out enjoying your pedaling adventure, you may want to take along the fishing equipment.  If these are part of your plans think about storing supplies in locations with easy access.

There are a lot of questions that will need to be addressed before outdoor living spaces are created.  One important consideration: outdoor spaces should be a comfortable place to visit and may be a quiet place for contemplation or  a fun setting for friends and family.  Thought should be given to hiring a professional landscape company to assist in making these wonderful settings a reality.   Enjoy your outdoor living space!