Distorted Leaves Caused by Mites

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

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.

Eriophyid Mite

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.

Overwhelmed by Weeds

Overwhelmed by Weeds

Just when you think your battle against weeds is over for the summer, cooler nighttime temperatures and shorter days spark the beginning of a new crop of your least favorite plants.  The question of many homeowners is how did all the weeds get to my landscape?

There are many ways that weeds make it to the landscape. They can be brought in with new soil, mulch, container plants, dropped by birds, delivered on the fur of animals, carried by wind, or on the deck of a lawn mower.  If that is not enough to depress you than also realize that regardless of outside sources of weeds, your landscape already has plenty onsite that you don’t even know about.

The deck of a lawn mower can collect plant debris, including seeds, that are spread through the landscape. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

In the soil, there is a large number of weed seeds ready to germinate when the conditions are just right.   Understanding how your common landscape practices can encourage or discourage the germination of these seeds, can help you begin to manage some weed infestations.

Many of the seeds of common annual weeds are very small.  They require exposure to sunlight in addition to the proper temperatures and moisture to germinate.  Sunlight is critical though and seeds will not germinate without adequate sunlight.  If the small seeds are deep in the soil, you will probably never know they are there.  When you turn soil or disturb soil such as when installing plants, you bring the small seeds close to the surface and closer to light.  They can then be stimulated to germinate.  The next thing you know is that you have an area covered in weed seedlings.

What does this mean for your gardening practices?  Try your best to block sunlight from hitting exposed soil.  You can do this by keeping a healthy turf, free of thinning spaces.  A 2-3 inch layer of mulch in plant beds and vegetable gardens will reduce weed seed germination.  Finally when you are installing plants in an established bed, try not to mix soil with surrounding mulch.  Seeds will easily germinate within the mulch if it becomes mixed with soil.

It is inevitable that your landscape will have some weeds but a few easy gardening practices can reduce some of your weed frustrations.

Camellia: Think Before You Limb Up

Camellia: Think Before You Limb Up

A few months ago I visited a property that had been renovated to clean up some limbs that were in danger of falling on the house.  Pruning tree limbs that are in danger of hitting a structure is always a good idea, but it’s important to look at the impacts this practice may have on the rest of a landscape.  Any time the light profile of a landscape is changed, current and future plant selection must be considered.  One often seen example occurs when trees grow to full size and shade out the lush lawn that’s underneath.  However, in this case, removal of limbs allowed more light to shine on some beautiful, old camellia bushes.

Camellia Planting and Care

Camellias do best in locations that receive filtered sunlight and are protected from the wind.  They like acidic, well-drained soils.  Trees and shrubs are generally planted 2″ to 3″ above the soil grade.  (2″ to 3″ of root ball should be exposed above the soil grade when the tree/shrub is planted.)  To help improve root oxygen exposure and help prevent a root rot situations, camellias can be planted slightly shallower than the previously stated recommendation.  For more plant establishment guidelines, please visit:  UF/IFAS Planting and Establishing Trees Guide

Scenario and Diagnosis

As mentioned above, the property in question was visited to diagnose sick camellia bushes.  Upon further inspection of the property, asking about recent changes to the landscape, and inspecting the bushes, it was clear that the camellias were receiving too much sunlight.  Sunlight damage was expressed by large brown sunscald spots on the yellowing leaves.

Sunscald on Camellia

Sunscald damage on camellia leaves. Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

The camellias had also been pruned incorrectly.  Camellias require minimal pruning.  They are normally pruned to control size or promote a tree form structure if desired.  Any pruning should be done before flower buds form in late summer.

Over Pruned Camellia

An incorrectly pruned camellia bush. Photo Credit: Jed Dillard

Solution

The best solution in this scenario was to dig up the affected camellias and move them to a location with more shade.  Sun loving shrubs were suggested as options to replace the camellia bushes.  It’s important to note that Camellia sasanqua cultivars are usually more tolerant of sunlight than Camellia japonica cultivars.  The recommendations were based on the Florida Friendly Landscaping principle of “Right Plant, Right Place”.

If you’re trying to find the right plants for you own yard, then you should check out the Florida Friendly Landscaping Interactive Plant Database.  The database gives you plant selection options for each area of your yard based on location in the state, plant type, and soil and light conditions.

Bring the Color of Hawaii to the Panhandle with Ti Plant!

Too often, would be gardeners travel to exotic locales, become intoxicated with the beautiful floral display of Plumeria, Jatropha, Bird of Paradise and Bougainvillea, and come home with visions of homemade leis picked from the garden dancing in their heads.  As anyone who has attempted to grow any of the aforementioned plants in the Panhandle will tell you though, fulfilling those visions in the landscape are easier said than done!  However, not all is lost for the gardener wanting to bring the tropics home.  A tropical feel in the landscape can be achieved, you just have to look beyond the aforementioned flowering plants that will have long since succumbed to winter frost by the time they mature and begin flowering and instead to tropical foliage plants that can be enjoyed for a season and easily (cheaply too!) replaced the following spring.  Of all the tropical foliage options available for Panhandle landscapes, my favorite is the Ti Plant, sometimes called Hawaiian Ti.

Ti Plant foliage

Even if you have never heard of Ti, you have probably seen it.  The strap like, 12-18” long, purple and pink striped leaves are hard to miss and add an unmistakable tropical flair in the landscape!  Ti Plants grow generally in single, unbranched stalks, though most commercial growers combine several plants into a single pot to give a bushy, multi trunked appearance that looks more appealing on a retail nursery bench.  These plants will easily reach 4-6’ in height in a single warm season, providing a powerful punch of pink/purple all summer long.  In addition to its considerable attractiveness, Ti boasts a cosmopolitan constitution, as it will grow in sun or shade, outside or inside.  Of course, some cultural do’s apply to Ti broadly, regardless of where it is grown, as well as a few don’ts.

In general, Ti will be more colorful in brighter light.  Though it grows well in shade, its leaves tend to lose their luster and fade to a dull purple in full shade.  Similarly, though it will survive in full, all day sun, Ti’s foliage tends to bleach a bit in these conditions and can turn a whitish gray.  It is best to shoot for somewhere in the middle for the most vivid foliage color.  If growing indoors, give Ti as much light as you can.  If growing outdoors, full sun through midafternoon is appropriate, as is bright shade throughout the day.  Be sure to give Ti plants consistent moisture, as they will readily wilt down under prolonged drought conditions.   As with watering, Ti prefers a consistently fertile soil and will appreciate a topdressing of a complete, slow release fertilizer (made by Osmocote, Harrell’s and others) at planting, with a follow up application 60-90 days later (possibly more frequently depending on temperature and frequency of watering).

Ti plant in a mixed container – Photo Courtesy Daniel Leonard

Though Ti performs well planted in the ground in Northwest Florida as an annual specimen to brighten a border (think of it like a supersized Coleus), it really gets to shine in large, mixed containers.  Ti’s upright growth habit and traffic stopping color make it the perfect thriller in the widely used “thriller, filler, spiller” container design.  Because Ti can grow quite large relative to other common container plants, a large 20-45 gallon container is necessary to facilitate optimum root growth and plant development.  If a smaller container is chosen, water management will become an issue as the Ti plant’s root mass will quickly crowd the container.  I prefer glazed ceramic or concrete containers as these are often painted in bright colors that complement Ti’s foliage, do not allow as much air exchange as terra cotta planters (soil in terra cotta containers dry very quickly in hot, dry weather), and are heavy enough that tall Ti plants won’t cause them to blow over in windy conditions.  Mix smaller, mounding filler plants and trailing spiller plants under and around Ti in containers.  For a striking contrast in color, choose companion plants in white, yellow, orange or chartreuse (remember, plants don’t have to flower to be colorful, vivid foliage plants like coleus or caladium work too!).

Regardless of how you use Ti Plant, you’ll find it to be one of the most high value color plants in the landscape.  Plant one today and happy gardening!

Heating up with Hardy Hibiscus

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!