One of my favorite native plants is winged sumac. I like this plant not only for its ornamental beauty, but also for its fruit that can be dried and used as seasoning and to make tea. So you can understand my concern when one of my prized winged sumac plants had distorted leaves.
Eriophyid mite damage on winged sumac. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
After doing a little research and speaking with one of our UF/IFAS Specialists, I was able to determine that the leaf distortion was caused by eriophyid mites. Mites are not insects and are more closely related to spiders. They normally have four pairs of legs, however eriophyid mites only have two pairs of legs. They are microscopic, elongate, spindle-shaped, and translucent.
An eriophyid mite. Photo Credit: USDA, Agricultural Research Service.
Eriophyid mites cause galls (sometimes called witch’s broom) on various species of ornamental shrubs. Symptoms include early and late bud distortion, distorted leaves, and possibly plant death. In fact, the species Phyllocoptes fructiphilus is the vector for the viral disease of roses called Rose Rosette Disease. Sometimes the damage can be confused with herbicide damage.
Control options are currently being evaluated for eriophyid mites in the home landscape. Removing distorted plant material and removing it from the site can help prevent the spread of mites. If you suspect eriophyid mites are the cause of your distorted plants then samples should be collected. To collect samples: 1) Prune off symptomatic plant material and immediately place into a vial with rubbing alcohol; 2) label with collection date, plant species, and location; 3) mail to the Landscape Entomology Lab in Gainesville at P.O. Box 110620, Gainesville, FL 32611.
For more information on eriophyid mites and the sampling process, please see the fact sheet “Unusual Galls on Woody Ornamentals” from Erin Harlow and Dr. Adam Dale.
For more information on other mites that could be infesting your landscape, please go to this link from the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, FL.
American Beautyberry Fruit.
Photo credit: Larry Williams
American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) puts on quite a show during late summer and fall with its bright purple fruit. I have some of these plants in my landscape and they are beginning to show color now with their profusion of berry-like fruit found along the thin branches, resulting in the plant taking on a weeping habit.
Each fruit is only about 1/3 inch in diameter but collectively form roundish clusters that encircle the stems. The berries are particularly showy in September and October. They remain on the plant, even after its leaves have dropped, into early winter if not eaten by birds and other wildlife.
Many species of birds will eat beautyberry fruit including robins, cardinals, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, finches and towhees. Birds are a major method of seed dispersal for this plant.
One of my neighbors noticed my plants a number of years ago and commented, “I had never thought about using this plant in a landscape.” He grew up in Northwest Florida and had always been used to seeing American beautyberry plants growing in the wild as they are native. The plant is not well suited for manicured, formal landscapes but can be useful in a naturalized garden.
Even though I consider the showy fruit its best attribute, the small, lavender flowers tightly bunched together along the stems during June to August are attractive, as well.
American beautyberry is a deciduous shrub without much ornamental value during the winter. But during the growing season, its somewhat course, fuzzy, light-green leaves look good in a setting with other darker-leaved shrubs.
It grows well in part shade/part sun as an understory plant beneath larger trees such as pines and oaks.
Be sure to allow enough room for this sprawling shrub to develop into its mature size of three to eight feet in height with an equal spread.
It may also be used as an informal screen or even as a specimen plant. But avoid using it where it will require regular shearing as the flowers and fruit are produced on new growth.
Thinning out old or low-growing branches is a better method of pruning this plant. American beautyberry may self-seed but I have not seen this to be a bothersome problem.
America beautyberry is somewhat available in the nursery trade and is fairly easy to propagate from stem cuttings. It can be propagated from seeds, as well. In addition to the purple fruiting types, look for cultivars such as ‘Russell Montgomery’ that produce white fruit. There are also other nonnative species of Callicarpa worth looking at, such as C. dichotoma and C. japonica.
Each time I travel to central and south Florida and observe the wonderfully flamboyant tropical flora, I am reminded of the unique and frustrating climatic characteristics of Northwest Florida. Our weather is tropical enough through the summer to sustain virtually everything our friends to the south grow, but winters north of the Big Bend are just cold enough to prevent long-term success with most tropical species. However, the genus that is maybe most synonymous with tropical color, the Hibiscus (it even has its own texting emoji!), contains several species that are hardy through our winters. The best landscape plant of these hardy Hibiscus species is creatively (sarcasm) called Hardy Hibiscus or Giant Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) and is an absolute star in the Panhandle, bringing the beauty of the tropics to your yard!
Hibiscus ‘Starry Starry Night’ – Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard
Rose Mallow is a native perennial species that occurs in sunny wetlands across the eastern U.S. This species can grow 7-8’ in height in its natural, unimproved state and possesses the largest flowers of any hardy perennial, some varieties easily eclipse 12” in diameter. Rose Mallows bloom through the heat of our long summers and return reliably each winter unfazed by frost. The flowers also happen to be a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds and bring beneficial wildlife to the landscape. These characteristics and the trend towards the use of pollinator friendly, low-maintenance native perennials in landscapes quickly made Rose Mallow a jewel for plant breeders and now virtually all major horticultural brands have a line of Hardy Hibiscus available at garden centers, in varying sizes, flower color and leaf color/form. Recent breeding efforts have focused on introducing plants with enormous, richly colored flowers held on compact plants with attractive foliage. The results have yielded two series and three individual cultivars that I consider superior selections and are more than worthy of inclusion in your garden:
- Summerific® Series by Proven Winners. This series is comprised of four robust (up to 5’ in height) cultivars, ‘Cherry Cheesecake’ (bicolor magenta and white flowers), ‘Berry Awesome’ (purplish lavender flowers), ‘Cranberry Crush’ (a red you really have to see to believe), and ‘Perfect Storm’ (notable for its deep purple foliage).
- Luna Series by Monrovia. This series is notable for its ultra-compact (3’ in height or less) size and characteristically large flowers. It is also composed of four cultivars, ‘Luna Red’ (deep red), ‘Luna Blush’ (white, fading to pink near flower margins), ‘Luna Pink Swirl’ (pictured and my favorite, bicolor swirly flowers), and ‘Luna White’ (white with a red center).
Hibiscus ‘Luna Pink Swirl’ – Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard
- ‘Starry Starry Night’ by Walter’s Gardens. (Pictured) This cultivar combines dark purple to black leaves with swirled pale and dark pink flowers. It has performed very well in my landscape and if I could only grow one, this might be it.
- ‘Lord Baltimore.’ The classic, large growing cultivar with bright red flowers that is widely available and easily found. An oldie (introduced in 1955) but a goodie.
- ‘Midnight Marvel’ by Walter’s Gardens. A “hot off the press” new cultivar that is currently difficult to find due to popularity, though some online outlets have them available in small sizes. This one is worth your patience. Sporting deep red blooms on near black foliage, there’s nothing else like it in the landscape.
In addition to being gorgeous plants, Rose Mallows are extremely versatile in the landscape and could not be easier to grow. Because the size varies so greatly (from the diminutive 30” tall ‘Luna’ series to the 8’ tall unimproved species), there really is a place for one in every garden. I like to use the smaller cultivars in large containers to facilitate moving them around where their floral display has the greatest impact or to create a tropical effect where in ground plantings are not an option (pool decks, patios, etc). The larger cultivars make spectacular specimen plantings in perennial and shrub beds and even make a really dense, striking hedge (just know they disappear in the winter). Be sure to give them as much sun as possible, as this will enhance the number of flowers on each plant and darken the foliage on the cultivars with purplish/black leaves. Too little sun will result in fewer flowers and lighter green foliage. As wetland plants, Rose Mallows enjoy regular water, either from rainfall or irrigation; they will let you know when they need it – their large leaves readily wilt under drought stress, somewhat like Hydrangea.
For low-maintenance, native, pollinator friendly, cold-hardy tropical color, you need look no further than Rose Mallow. These perennial shrubs come in all sizes and colors and fit any landscape! Look for the above listed series and cultivars at better garden centers and online retailers and enjoy the oohs and ahhs elicited when people first get a glimpse of Hardy Hibiscus in your landscape! Happy Gardening!
Mrs. Henry C. Mills in 1966 with her African violets at the North Florida Fair
flower show. Photo by Dan Stainer/State Archives of Florida.
Growing up, as soon as I entered the fair gates, I always headed straight for the rides. If I was lucky, I was able to get an unlimited pass strapped around my wrist and didn’t need to worry about rationing any tickets. Although I usually didn’t remember the names of particular rides – they were clear in my imagination. The spaceship, the circular mini roller coaster, the alien arms… and of course, the Ferris wheel. It wasn’t until I was about a dozen rides in – and starting to feel a little queasy – that the fun houses and win-a-goldfish-by-throwing-a-ring or shoot-a-basketball-for-a-giant-stuffed-tiger games drew my attention. After that, I was ready for funnel cake. Maybe even a corn dog and an assortment of fried cheese, pickles, and the like. Inevitably, I would eat too much and be out of commission for any more rides I was hoping to squeeze in – or squeeze into! This is when I might finally make my rounds through one or two of the giant warehouse-looking buildings that lined the way to the exits, where I knew there was at least a llama or a goat to be fed at the petting zoo.
Instead of simply attending the North Florida Fair this year, submit your garden’s best for competition. Photo by North Florida Fair.
But when I started volunteering at the Leon County Animal Shelter as part of the 4-H Pet Partners at age 12, I was introduced to these buildings in a whole new light. We were assigned the task of creating papier-mâché cats and dogs to display at the fair to help build awareness of pet overpopulation. I remember my dog well – he was beagle-like, with long droopy paper ears and stiff pointy legs that I struggled to keep balanced. The day we went to set up our display, my adrenaline soared, as I knew our creations were to be judged and ribbons to be bestowed. Ever since, I no longer view the fair buildings as a last stop – rather, I relish my stroll through each of them, as they contain so many handmade treasures, many of which are adorned with blue rosettes of triumph.
The tradition of displaying and competing for the best quality handiworks at the fair goes all the way back to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, where merchants sold and traded agricultural goods that had been grown over the summer and freshly harvested in the fall. Naturally, competitions arose during these times, as they strove for the finest products.
Today, fairs reflect the personality of an area, and nearly universally include judges who inspect home grown fruits and vegetables, flowers, preserved foods, and baked goods entered into competition by the community. The North Florida Fair awards about $80,000 in cash prizes to citizens who create and grow various items. Anyone living within the 24 counties that comprise North Florida – from the Suwannee, west to the Alabama line – is eligible to enter as many of the exhibit categories as they would like.
A youth showcasing his prize winning chicken at the North Florida Fair. Photo by Aly Donovan.
The exhibits are arranged into various departments, such as Home Agriculture, Capital City Garden Club Flower Show, Poultry, Baked Goods, and Fine Arts and Crafts. Within each department, there are various classes that are split into certain age divisions (i.e., youth only) or experience levels (i.e., amateur vs. professional). Under the Home Agriculture department there are 42 classes, including 13 classes covering fresh vegetables. The Capital City Garden Club Flower Show department has 13 classes, including annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, fruiting shrubs, trees, and vines, succulents, and much more. If you would like to submit something you’ve grown, now is the time to begin planning, as this year’s fair is set for November 8-18.
All of the details for each department and class can be found on the North Florida Fair website (http://northfloridafair.com/), under the Exhibitors tab. Pay close attention to the application and submittal deadlines for each specific category, as most items are due for judging the week prior to the fair opening.
So, let nostalgia win you over as you prepare your home-grown vegetables and flowers for submittal to the North Florida Fair. You might just earn a blue ribbon to be displayed for all fair attendees to admire, either as they walk off a full stomach in preparation for more rides, on their way to the exits, or just as they get started creating their own fond fair memories.
Camellias are a Panhandle favorite, as the flowers can highlight a landscape with bright, vibrant colors in fall and winter. However, spring time can bring about these colors in a negative way, in the form of leaf gall.
The camellia is native to Asia and brought to America in the late 1700’s. These plants have proven to be a dependable addition to the southern landscape with minimal care. When camellias are correctly planted and cared for, minimal disease problems arise. However, camellias can contract leaf spot, dieback, root rot and bud and leaf gall.
Camellia Gall Credit: Patty Dunlap, Gulf County Master Gardener.
Leaf and bud galls are caused by the fungus Exobasidium vaccinia. The gall appears as thickened, waxy and enlarged leaves or buds during the cool spring months. One or several leaves on a single shoot may be affected. Once you’ve found infected leaves, no chemical control will be effective. Actually, no fungicide has been found very effective in combatting this condition. However, control can be accomplished in the home garden by simply pinching off and destroying infected leaves. Disease activity usually stops with warmer weather. A best management practice to curb infection is to reduce overhead watering during cool, wet weather periods of spring. Great news, this condition does not cause any long-term issues with the plant.
For more information regarding fungal issues in landscape plants, contact your local county extension office.
Fun camellia fact: The young leaves of the species, Camellia sinensis, are processed for tea, one of the world’s most popular drinks. Please see UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Tea Growing in the Florida Landscape” by Jonathan H. Crane and Carlos F. Balerdi: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS30800.pdf
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Camellias at a Glance” by Sydney Park Brown: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP00200.pdf
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
H. macrophylla ‘Bloomstruck’
Photo courtesy of Andrea Schnapp
Generally, when folks find out what I do for a living, among the first questions asked is “What is your favorite plant?” Being somewhat of a plant nerd, that can be a tough question to answer! However, I usually circle back to the same answer, “Hydrangea”. There are many reasons my fellow gardeners and I love hydrangeas. It’s undeniable that few plants conjure more fond memories of summers gone by or cause more impulse purchasing at nurseries than a hydrangea in full, billowy bloom. Additionally, few specimen shrubs give more floral firepower and ask so little of the gardener in return. My own love affair with hydrangea stems from my first propagation experience, a softwood cutting of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ (taken with the help of someone who knew a lot more about what they were doing than I did) that, seemingly magically, sprouted roots in a makeshift greenhouse, a cypress box with an old, crusty, sliding glass door. Hydrangeas hooked me. However, even with all of those attributes to its name, Hydrangea, as a genus, remains underappreciated and underutilized in modern landscapes. Let’s shed some light on the two primary reasons for gardeners’ failure and frustration with hydrangeas in the landscape and highlight some of the best Hydrangea species and cultivars to look for at the nursery!
First, hydrangea has a reputation as being a high water user. As the name (hydrangea comes from “hydor”, which is Greek for water) might suggest, hydrangeas are indeed water sensitive. However, this does not necessarily mean they require more or less water than other plants, rather they simply betray drought quicker than most other plants. This feature makes hydrangea particularly useful in the landscape as an indicator plant. As a general rule, hydrangeas (particularly those planted in too much sun) wilt in the afternoon heat; this is totally normal. However, if the plants remain wilted the next morning, it is an indicator to the gardener that irrigation is required! If they don’t get irrigation soon after telling you they need it, the plants may begin to decline. Rather than being viewed as a drawback, think of this feature as an early warning system. Name another plant that looks out for us gardeners like that!
The second primary reason people fail with hydrandea is improper site selection. Attempting to grow hydrangea in full sun in Florida leads to less than spectacular results. All species of hydrangeas are most happy when sited to receive at least some afternoon shade, if not filtered shade throughout the entire day. Exposure to blistering afternoon sun is problematic and results in increased wilting from heat stress, increased irrigation requirements and “bleached” flower coloration. Remember, there are fewer frustrating things than growing the right plant in the wrong place!
Now that you know how not to fail with hydrangeas, it’s time to select the proper plant for your property! Three primary species perform noticeably better here than the rest of their kin and deserve the gardener’s consideration in Northwest Florida: H. macrophylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea), H. quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea), and H. paniculata (Panicle Hydrangea).
H. macrophylla, the old-fashioned hydrangea everyone’s grandmother grew, is truly one of the standouts in the shady, Southern landscape and commands attention when in flower. Sporting giant “mopheads” of inflorescences in gorgeous hues of blue (or pink, depending on soil pH), H. macrophylla is an extremely low maintenance plant, requiring only periodic irrigation and infrequent fertilizer; H. macrophylla even tolerates salt spray and can be grown on the Gulf Coast! By far, the greatest percentage of questions I receive concerning H. macrophylla involve plants not flowering because of pruning at the wrong time of year. For best flowering results, time pruning of once-blooming traditional cultivars like ‘Nikko Blue’ soon after flowering is finished in late summer. These plants set flower buds on the previous season’s wood; pruning older cultivars in the fall or winter may rejuvenate the plant but will prevent flowering the next year! Fortunately, over the last twenty years, advances in Hydrangea breeding have given gardeners the option of planting remontant cultivars that bloom on current season’s wood. Commonly sold remontant cultivars like ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Penny Mac’, ‘Bloomstruck’, and ‘All Summer Beauty’ have an early summer flower display like the traditional types but then continue to flower periodically throughout the rest of the summer! Even better, they may be pruned at any time without worry of damaging the next season’s flower show!
H. quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea) Photo Courtesty of Andrea Schnapp
Those looking to diversify their hydrangea collection should next look to the native Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia). The Oakleaf Hydrangea is a Florida native, growing wild on the steep, shady ravines along the northern end of the Apalachicola River. If the plants never flowered, the Oakleaf would be worth planting; its massive leaves, oak-shaped as the name suggests, can grow up to a foot in length and provide some of the best fall foliage color available to Floridians. However, the real show, as with all hydrangea species, are the flowers. This species flaunts 8”-10” white, panicle shaped flowers that are held elegantly above the coarsely textured foliage. In addition to these features, Oakleaf Hydrangeas couldn’t be easier to grow; obtaining heights up to 10’ and asking very little of the gardener other than adequate irrigation and some shade in the heat of the day! Look for the author’s favorite cultivars: ‘Alice’, ‘Semmes Beauty’, and ‘Snowflake’. Each of these cultivars and selections of the common species H. quercifolia perform very well in Northwest Florida.
H. paniculata ‘Quickfire’
Photo courtesy of Andrea Schnapp.
Finally, the newest hydrangea species introduced to Florida gardens, H. paniculata, has made significant inroads in the landscape industry over the last decade. Primarily grown as the cultivar ‘Limelight’, H. paniculata overcomes some of the weaknesses of the two aforementioned species, namely it tolerates full-sun and persists on much less water, making it a potentially more sustainable plant for many landscapes. This plant, like the remontant H. macrophylla cultivars, blooms on new wood and even seems to enjoy a hard pruning each winter; plants pruned this way seem to be more vigorous the next season and produce larger greenish-white flower panicles than unpruned specimens. Though it is a relative newcomer, H. paniculata, particularly ‘Limelight’, is a worthy addition to any landscape.
As you can see, there is a hydrangea for every yard and no true Southern landscape is complete without a few. When perusing your local garden center this summer, look for the selections and species mentioned above, plant properly, and enjoy the ensuing annual flower show for many years into the future! Who knows, you may be hooked by hydrangeas as I once was!