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.

Bald Cypress:  The Most Adaptable Tree for Panhandle Landscapes

Bald Cypress: The Most Adaptable Tree for Panhandle Landscapes

Lately, to survive in Panhandle landscapes, plants must be able to tolerate extremes.  Summertime temperatures over 100 degrees F, hurricane force winds up to 150 mph, deluges of 1’ of rain in a single day, spring and fall month-long droughts, and the wild winter weather swings we’re experiencing right now.  That’s quite a tall order for most plants to bear, however one of our best native trees handles all of the above conditions with relative ease, the stately Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum).  Though Bald Cypress primarily inhabits flatwood “dome” swamps and areas along the periodically flooded edges of waterways and other wetlands and most folks think of it as just “water tree”, the species is more than capable of handling anything Florida’s climate can throw at it, including thriving in home landscapes.

Bald Cypress in mid-January. Notice the excellent branching structure and the buttressed lower trunk. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.

While there are lots of pretty trees in the Panhandle’s natural areas, not many of them possess the longevity, adaptability and well-behaved nature that makes Bald Cypress a great landscape tree.  Bald Cypress are capable of living for hundreds of years and grow steadily to a normal landscape height of 50-60’, truly perfect for a specimen shade tree.  The species also possesses a strong, wide spreading root system and a special above ground root adaptation, known colloquially as “knees”, that enable Cypress to reach deep to outlast droughts, grow unfazed even when the water rises, inhabit many different soil types, and resist hurricane force winds.  While some homeowners object to the presence of Cypress knees in their yard, as the above ground structures can damage mower blades and make for uneven terrain, I’ve found an easy solution is to simply keep the area under the tree’s canopy mulched and forgo mowing there altogether.  It looks nice and means less grass to cut!

Bald Cypress isn’t just a big, tough, adaptable tree, it’s also gorgeous.  The bright green, finely cut, featherlike leaves give the trees an airy appearance in the spring and summer, nicely offsetting common coarse textured yard trees like Magnolia, Sycamore, Red Maple, and others.  However, it is in the fall and winter when Bald Cypress really shines.  Though Florida is not known for its fall foliage, Cypress is a notable exception!  When the weather gets cool, Bald Cypress leaves transition from green to a yellowish orange before finally arriving at a beautifully unique, rusty, orange-brown color.  There isn’t another species out there with a similar show.  The foliage holds deep into winter before finally falling to reveal the attractive branching structure, sweeping buttressed lower trunk, and peely gray bark underneath, completing the four-season show.

Bald Cypress foliage on December 31, 2020. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.

In addition to being a near perfect landscape tree, Bald Cypress embodies much of what folks admire about life in the South, living the slow life near the water and enduring everything that’s thrown at it with grace and strength.  Other than possibly the Live Oak, Bald Cypress is the tree that comes to mind first when I think about the tree that most represents where we come from.  From their majestic, buttressed trunks, to the Spanish Moss that hangs loose from their limbs, to the slow, dark water than meanders nearby, the species is iconically Southern.   When looking for an impossibly tough, adaptable, and attractive tree, one could do a whole lot worse than Bald Cypress.

If you have any questions about Bald Cypress, other landscape tree options, or any horticultural topic, please reach out to your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office.  Happy gardening!

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

We are back with new topics and guest speakers for 2021! All sessions are Thursdays at noon CDT or 1:00 p.m. EDT.

There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:

1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at https://zoom.us/signup). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one week before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)

 

Date

Topic

Panelists

12-1 pm CDT

2/4/2021

Weeds
Reference links

Dr. Chris Marble, Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

3/11/2021

Spring Vegetables

Dr. Josh Freeman, Matt Lollar, Sheila Dunning, Evan Anderson

4/8/2021

Lawns

Dr. Bryan Unruh, Dr. Pat Williams, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

5/13/2021

Herbs

Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Mary Salinas, Trevor Hylton

6/10/2021

Ornamental & Turf Diseases

Dr. Phil Harmon, Stephen Greer, Larry Williams

7/29/2021

Beneficial Insects: Predators!

Dr. Adam Dale, Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Danielle Sprague

8/12/2021

Open landscape topics Q&A

Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson

9/9/2021

Beginning Beekeeping

Amy Vu, Ray Bodrey, Evan Anderson

10/14/2021

Invasive Species

Dr. Stephen Enloe, Dr. Pat Williams, Dr. Gary Knox, Sheila Dunning, Ray Bodrey

11/4/2021

Houseplants

Marc Frank, Dr. Pat Williams, Stephen Greer

12/9/2021

Selecting and Maintaining Trees

Larry Figart, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams

Missed a session and want to catch up?
All webinars are archived with closed captioning on our YouTube Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Playlist.

 

 

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

The last several weeks have brought consistently cool weather to the Panhandle, with a few downright cold nights dipping well below freezing.  Though winter isn’t officially here, that won’t happen until December 21st, grass mowing season is definitely over and, if you’re like me and didn’t cover your raised bed garden on those nippy nights, vegetable growing has also slowed significantly.  So, what are us horticulturally minded folks with cold-weather cabin fever to do?  It’s time to take advantage of sweat-free temperatures, break out the shovels and pruners, and get to work in the landscape!

Master Gardeners demonstrate correct tree planting techniques.

The months of December through February are ideal times for planting new trees and shrubs.  The reasons for this are simple.  Days are short, rain tends to be plentiful, temperatures are cool, and plants are mostly dormant.  While newly installed plants need water to become established regardless of when they are planted, demand for supplemental irrigation is significantly less in winter (one of our rainiest seasons) and the chances of a new planting dying from thirst is slim relative to warmer months.  Also, planting in winter gives trees and shrubs several months of above ground dormancy to focus their resources below ground, recover from the shock of transitioning from a nursery container into your native soil, and produce valuable roots that will help it get through its first summer.  Think about it.  Would it be easier for you to start and finish a major outdoor project in July with one bottle of water to drink or in December with an ice chest full?  Plants prefer the same!

Not only is winter perfect for planting, tis the season for pruning many species too, deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall) in particular!  The first reason to prune these species in the winter is to give the plants several months to begin healing before growth resumes in spring and insect and disease pressure ramps up again.  Many serious pests and diseases of trees are most active during warm, wet weather and all of them have easier access to attack trees through open wounds.  Prune in winter to help avoid unwanted pest and disease infestations.  Also, dormancy has conveniently knocked the leaves off deciduous species’ branches, allowing us a clear view of the tree’s crown and giving us the ability to make clear, clean, strategic pruning cuts.  Proper pruning can help maintain a strong central leader that produces a stately, straight tree and remove dead and diseased branches that could cause problems in the future.

While planting in the winter is always ideal and we just outlined several reasons pruning now can be good, not all plants should be pruned when dormant.  For instance, old-fashioned hydrangeas and azaleas that produce blooms from the previous season’s growth.  Pruning these in the winter removes all the flower buds that would have bloomed the next summer and what’s the point of an azalea or hydrangea that doesn’t bloom?  Also, many small trees and shrubs, like Crape Myrtle and Vitex, may never need pruning if you site them where they will have room to mature without encroaching on other plants or structures.

If you have any questions about planting trees and shrubs, what, when, and how to prune, or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!  Enjoy the weather and happy gardening!

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

If you plan to purchase a container tree or shrub this cool season, it is important to follow a few important steps during installation. UF IFAS Extension Escambia County shows you how to find the root flare and remove excess soil above the root flare. These are a couple of steps that will help ensure your plant has a good chance at thriving in the landscape. #plantingdepth #treeinstallation

Proper Tree Planting

Proper Tree Planting

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/winter is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida.  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.