Fall Color Without Popcorn Trees

Fall Color Without Popcorn Trees

As the trees begin to turn various shades of red, many people begin to inquire about the Popcorn trees. While their autumn coloration is one of the reasons they were introduced to the Florida environment, it took years for us to realize what a menace Popcorn trees have become. Triadica sebifera, the Chinese tallowtree or Popcorn tree, was introduced to Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1700s for oil production and use in making candles, earning it another common name, the Candleberry tree. Since then, it has spread to every coastal state from North Carolina to Texas, and inland to Arkansas. In Florida it occurs as far south as Tampa. It is most likely to spread to wildlands adjacent to or downstream from areas landscaped with Triadica sebifera, displacing other native plant species in those habitats. Therefore, Chinese tallowtree was listed as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Noxious Weed List (5b-57.007 FAC) in 1998, which means that possession with the intent to sell, transport, or plant is illegal in the state of Florida. The common name of Florida Aspen is sometimes used to market Popcorn tree in mail-order ads. Remember it’s still the same plant.

Although Florida is not known for the brilliant fall color enjoyed by other northern and western states, we do have a number of trees that provide some fall color for our North Florida landscapes. Red maple, Acer rubrum, provides brilliant red, orange and sometimes yellow leaves. The native Florida maple, Acer floridum, displays a combination of bright yellow and orange color during fall.  And there are many Trident and Japanese maples that provide striking fall color.  Another excellent native tree is Blackgum, Nyssa sylvatica. This tree is a little slow in its growth rate but can eventually grow to seventy-five feet in height. It provides the earliest show of red to deep purple fall foliage. Others include Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, Sumac, Rhus spp. and Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. In cultivated trees that pose no threat to native ecosystems, Crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia spp. offers varying degrees of orange, red and yellow in its leaves before they fall. There are many cultivars – some that grow several feet to others that reach nearly thirty feet in height. Also, Chinese pistache, Pistacia chinensis, can deliver a brilliant orange display.

                                                                  Young Trident maple with fall foliage. Photo credit: Larry Williams

There are a number of dependable oaks for fall color, too. Shumardi, Southern Red and Turkey are a few to consider. These oaks have dark green deeply lobed leaves during summer turning vivid red to orange in fall. Turkey oak holds onto its leaves all winter as they turn to brown and are pushed off by new spring growth. Our native Yellow poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera, and hickories, Carya spp., provide bright yellow fall foliage. And it’s difficult to find a more crisp yellow than fallen Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, leaves. These trees represent just a few choices for fall color. Including one or several of these trees in your landscape, rather than allowing the Popcorn trees to grow, will enhance the season while protecting the ecosystem from invasive plant pests.

For more information on Chinese tallowtree, removal techniques and native alternative trees go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ag148.

 

A Pretty Problem: Invasives Which Bloom in Autumn

A Pretty Problem: Invasives Which Bloom in Autumn

Lantana and Mexican Petunia blooms

Lantana, on the left, and Mexican Petunia, on the right, are both exotic invasive plants which can displace many native species and disrupt the natural balance.

Autumn is usually considered the season of colors in the natural parts of north Florida, and other locations in North America. This tonal attribute is commonly credited to the foliage changes as the growing season ends.

Maples, sweet gums, hickory and many others make their contributions to the natural palette of shades and hues which have existed since long before human habitation in the area. Even some of the native plants add to the display.

Goldenrod and dogfennel add highlights to the brilliant display as winter, believe it or not, approaches. Unfortunately there are some attractive shades in the exhibition which are an indication of exotic invasive plants which have pushed out native.

Both lantana and Mexican petunias are currently blooming, but an indication of problem species. Both were introduces as ornamental plants, but quickly escaped into the wild where they could colonize unchecked.

Lantana (Lantana camara) is a woody shrub native to tropical zones of North and South America. It flowers profusely throughout much of the growing season.

Because of the plant’s ornamental nature, many different flower colors exist, but the most frequent color combinations are red and yellow along with purple and white. Lantana is now commonly found in naturalized populations throughout the southeastern United States from Florida to Texas.

It is currently ranked as one of the top ten most troublesome weeds in Florida and has documented occurrences in 58 of 67 counties. Curiously, despite the bad reputation it is still found in home and commercial landscapes.

As part of its arsenal of conquest, Lantana produces allelochemicals, or plant toxins, in its roots and stems. These allelochemicals have been shown to either slow the growth of other plants or totally remove them.

Some of these same chemicals give lantana an acrid taste and deter insects or other animals from consuming the leaves. Of importance to pet and livestock owners, these leaf toxins are damaging to animals.

If animals consume the leaves, they often begin to show symptoms of skin peeling or cracking. Once animals show these symptoms, there is little or no treatment that can reverse the process.

Although lantana’s leaves are poisonous, its berries are not. Birds readily consume the fruit and are responsible for much of the seed’s distribution over wide areas.

Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex) is a native of Mexico, but also the Antilles and parts of South America. Its tolerance of varying landscape conditions makes it a common choice for difficult to plant areas and has contributed to it popularity and wide use.

Mexican petunia tolerates shade, sun, wet, dry, and poor soil conditions. It is a prolific bloomer with flowers in shades of purple and pink peaking in the summer, but with the potential to also bloom in spring and fall in some parts of Florida.

Environmental tolerance, abundant seed production, and an ability to easily grow from plant cuttings have all promoted the spread into natural areas bordering developments. The Mexican petunia has been credited with “altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives” according to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council in 2011.

Given the continued popularity of both species, plant breeders have developed sterile, non-reproducing cultivars which do not have the negative characteristics of these problem plants. It is recommended using only the sterile type so autumn’s colors continue to be natural.

To learn more about north Florida’s colorful invasive plants, contact the local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Click here for contact information.

Restoring the Health of Pensacola Bay, What Can You Do to Help?  – A Florida Friendly Yard

Restoring the Health of Pensacola Bay, What Can You Do to Help? – A Florida Friendly Yard

We have been posting articles discussing some of the issues our estuaries are facing; this post will focus on one of the things you can do to help reduce the problem – a Florida Friendly Yard.

Florida Friendly Landscaping saves money and reduces our impact on the estuarine environment.
Photo: UF IFAS

The University of Florida IFAS developed the Florida Friendly Landscaping Program. It was developed to be included in the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods (FYN) program, HomeOwner and FYN Builder and Developer programs, and the Florida-Friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries (GI-BMP) Program in 2008.

 

A Florida Friendly Yard is based on nine principals that can both reduce your impact on local water quality but also save you money. Those nine principals are:

 

  • Right Plant, Right Place – We recommend that you use native plants in the right location whenever possible. Native plants require little fertilizer, water, or pesticides to maintain them. This not only reduces the chance of these chemicals entering our waterways but also saves you money. The first step in this process is to have your soil tested at your local extension office. Once your soil chemistry is known, extension agents can do a better job recommending native plants for you.
  • Water Efficiently – Many homeowners in the Florida panhandle have irrigation systems on timers. This makes sense from a management point of view but can lead to unnecessary runoff and higher water bills. We have all seen sprinkler systems operating during rain events – watering at that time certainly is not needed. FFY recommends you water only when your plants show signs of wilting, water during the cooler times of day to reduce evaporation of your resource, and check system for leaks periodically. Again, this helps our estuaries and saves you money.
  • Fertilize Appropriately – No doubt, plants need fertilizer. Water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide produce the needed energy for plants to grow, but it does not provide all of the nutrients needed to create new cells – fertilizers provide needed those nutrients. However, plants – like all creatures – can only consume so much before the remainder is waste. This is the case with fertilizers. Fertilizer that is not taken up by the plant will wash away and eventually end up in a local waterway where it can contribute to eutrophication, hypoxia, and possible fish kills. Apply fertilizers according to UF/IFAS recommendations. Never fertilize before a heavy rain.
  • Mulch – In a natural setting, leaf litter remains on the forest floor. The environment and microbes, recycling needed nutrients within the system, break down these leaves. They also reduce the evaporation of needed moisture in the soil. FFY recommends a 2-3” layer of mulch in your landscape.
  • Attract Wildlife – Native plants provide habitat for a variety of local wildlife. Birds, butterflies, and other creatures benefit from a Florida Friendly Yard. Choose plants with fruits and berries to attract birds and pollinators. This not only helps maintain their populations but you will find enjoyment watching them in your yard.
  • Manage Yard Pests Responsibly – This is a toughie. Once you have invested in your yard, you do not want insect, or fungal, pests to consume it. There is a program called the Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) that is recommended to help protect your lawn. The flow of the program basically begins with the least toxic form of pest management and moves down the line. Hopefully, there will not be a need for strong toxic chemicals. Your local county extension office can assist you with implementing an IPM program.
  • Recycle – Return valuable nutrients to the soil and reduce waste that can enter our waterways by composting your turfgrass clippings, raked leaves, and pruned plants.
  • Reduce Stormwater Runoff – ‘All drains lead to the sea’ – this line from Finding Nemo is, for the most part, true. Any water leaving your property will most likely end in a local waterway, and eventually the estuary. Rain barrels can be connected to rain gutters to collect rainwater. This water can be used for irrigating your landscape. I know of one family who used it to wash their clothes. Rain barrels must be maintained properly to not produce swarms of mosquitos, and your local extension office can provide you tips on how to do this. More costly and labor intensive, but can actually enhance your yard, are rain gardens. Modifying your landscape so that the rainwater flows into low areas where water tolerant plants grow not only reduces runoff but also provides a chance to grow beautiful plants and enhance some local wildlife.
  • Protect the Waterfront – For those who live on a waterway, a living shoreline is a great way to reduce your impact on poor water quality. Living shorelines reduce erosion, remove pollutants, and enhance fisheries – all good. A living shoreline is basically restoring your shoreline to a natural vegetative state. You can design this so that you still have water access but at the same time help reduce storm water runoff issues. Planting below the mean high tide line will require a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, since the state owns that land, and it could require a breakwater just offshore to help protect those plants while they are becoming established. If you have questions about what type of living shoreline you need, and how to navigate the permit process, contact your local county extension office.

Santa Rosa Sound
Photo: Dr. Matt Deitch

These nine principals of a Florida Friendly Yard, if used, will go a long way in reducing our communities’ impact on the water and soil quality in our local waterways. Read more at http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/about.htm.

Backyard Shiitake Mushrooms: a Tasty and SAFE DIY Project

Backyard Shiitake Mushrooms: a Tasty and SAFE DIY Project

Have you ever eaten a wild mushroom and then wondered afterwards if you might have made a mistake? If you are prone to forage outdoors for tasty treats from nature, I’ll bet you have. The problem is, unless you are harvesting one of a few “foolproof” species of edible fungi, positive identification can be very challenging. Oft-times wild mushroom harvesters take a notion to branch out and seek new varieties that are outside of the identification capabilities of the novice mycologist. This is where folks begin treading on dangerous ground and may be at risk for gastrointestinal distress;

Properly inoculated shiitake logs can be quite productive

with symptoms that may range from a mild upset stomach to permanent damage or death.

Yes, death!

Everyone has heard about poisonous mushrooms but few people realize that some of the deadliest species are look-alikes for some of the tastiest species. And you would not be able to distinguish the difference by nibbling a sample. Even a small sample of some of the “bad actors” can be lethal, leading to painful symptoms and organ failure. If this scares you out taking a risk then this article has served a good purpose.

If you wish to enjoy a safe, tasty experience with a highly-prized mushroom species, just take up the hobby of growing your very own shiitake mushrooms. Shiitake comes from the root Japanese “shii” (meaning oak) and “take” (for mushroom). Shiitake mushrooms are a billion dollar industry in Asia with 92% of the world production coming from Japan. Many culinary and medical uses have been identified. This species was only available as dried mushrooms in the US until 1972 but with the removal of a ban on importing live fungi a commercial industry has blossomed.

Hardwood logs are the key, with oak being a preferred tree species. There are six considerations if you are to be successful:

1. You must acquire living Shiitake inoculum (the mycelial or rooting stage) already growing on a wood medium, usually hardwood dowels or sawdust (internet search will yield many providers).
2. Proper cutting and handling of the logs to be inoculated is important. Cut trees close to the time of inoculation (2 weeks max.), 4-8 inch diameter and 3-4 feet long.
3. Inoculate by drilling holes in the logs, inserting the living inoculum/spawn and seal the holes with melted wax to retain moisture. A single log may have 30-40 holes drilled in it.
4. Place logs in a shady/moist environment (i.e. under the canopy in a woodlot with at least 75% shade).
5. Maintain logs by wetting during dry spells. A sprinkler or mister run for a couple of hours a day works well.
6. Proper harvesting and storage is most important and information is available in many places online.

Shiitake fruiting is usually triggered by changes in temperature and humidity so spring and fall are key times to check your logs. It does not take long for a mushroom to go from the early “pinning” stage to mature, so weekly checks are advised. Significant tropical weather events will also stimulate fruiting. Logs produce mushrooms for at least two years, until the nutrients in the wood are used up.

Don’t be in a hurry though, as the full colonization of the log by the mushroom mycelium will take up to 9 months before mushrooms begin to appear. Remember, beware the risks of harvesting wild fungi. A small-scale shiitake growing operation is a safe alternative for getting your “mushroom-fix.” Also, be ready to compete with a squirrel or two for your crop as they know a good thing when they see it too.

Plant Them High and Water Well

Plant Them High and Water Well

We plant trees with the intention of them being there long after we are gone. However, many trees and shrubs fail before ever reaching maturity.  Often this is due to improper installation and establishment.  Research has shown that there are techniques to improve survivability.  Before digging the hole:

  1. Look up. If there is a wire, security light, or building nearby that could interfere with proper development as it grows, plant elsewhere.
  2. Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible. Shallow is better than deep! Many people plant trees too deep. A hole about one-and-one-half the diameter of the width of the root ball is recommended. Wider holes should be used for compacted soil and wet sites. In most instances, the depth of the hole should be LESS than the height of the root ball, especially in compacted or wet soil. If the hole was inadvertently dug too deep, add soil and compact it firmly with your foot. .
  3. Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk. If this is buried in the root ball then remove enough soil from the top so the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk is at the surface. Burlap on top of the ball may have to be removed to locate the top root.
  4. Slide the plant carefully into the planting hole. To avoid damage when setting a large tree in the hole, lift the tree with straps or rope around the root ball, not by the trunk. Special strapping mechanisms need to be constructed to carefully lift trees out of large containers.
  5. Position the plant where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface. It is better to plant a little high than to plant it too deep. Remove most of the soil and roots from on top of the root flare and any growing around the trunk or circling the root ball. Once the root flare is at the appropriate depth, pack soil around the root ball to stabilize it. Soil amendments are usually of no benefit. The soil removed from the hole and from on top of the root ball makes the best backfill unless the soil is terrible or contaminated. Insert a square-tipped balling shovel into the root ball tangent to the trunk to remove the entire outside periphery. This removes all circling and descending roots on the outside edge of the root ball.
  6. Straighten the plant in the hole. Before you begin backfilling have someone view the plant from two directions perpendicular to each other to confirm that it is straight. Break up compacted soil in a large area around the plant provides the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil. This will hasten root growth translating into quicker establishment  Fill in with some more backfill soil to secure the plant in the upright position.
  7. Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball. Synthetic burlap needs to be completely removed from the root ball; treated burlap can be left in place. String, strapping, plastic, and other materials that will not decompose and must be removed from the trunk at planting. Remove the wire above the soil surface from wire baskets before backfilling.
  8. Apply a 3-inch-layer of mulch.  To retain moisture and suppress weeds cover the outer half of the root ball with an organic mulch. Do not cover the stem of the plant or the connecting root flare.
  9. Water consistently until established. For nursery stock less than 2-inches in caliper, this will require every other day for 2 months, followed by weekly 3-4 months.  At each irrigation, apply 2 to 3 gallons of water per inch trunk caliper directly over the root ball. Never add irrigation if the ground is saturated.

 

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly

According to Druid lore, hanging the plant in homes would bring good luck and protection. Holly was considered sacred because it remained green and strong with brightly colored red berries no matter how harsh the winter.  Most other plants would wilt and die.

Later, Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid practices and developed symbolism to reflect Christian beliefs.  Today, the red berries are said to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross when he was crucified.  Additionally, the pointed leaves of the holly symbolize the crown of thorns Jesus wore on his head.

Several hollies are native to Florida.  Many more are cultivated varieties commonly used as landscape plants.  Hollies (Ilex spp.) are generally low maintenance plants that come in a diversity of sizes, forms and textures, ranging from large trees to dwarf shrubs.

The berries provide a valuable winter food source for migratory birds.  However, the berries only form on female plants.  Hollies are dioecious plants, meaning male and female flowers are located on separate plants.  Both male and female hollies produce small white blooms in the spring.  Bees are the primary pollinators, carrying pollen from the male hollies 1.5 to 2 miles, so it is not necessary to have a male plant in the same landscape.

Several male hollies are grown for their compact formal shape and interesting new foliage color. Dwarf Yaupon Hollies (Ilex vomitoria ‘Shillings’ and ‘Bordeaux’) form symmetrical spheres without extensive pruning.  ‘Bordeaux’ Yaupon has maroon-colored new growth.  Neither cultivar has berries.

Hollies prefer to grow in partial shade but will do well in full sun if provided adequate irrigation. Most species prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils.  However, Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and Gallberry (Ilex glabra) naturally occurs in wetland areas and can be planted on wetter sites.

Evergreen trees retain leaves throughout the year and provide wind protection. The choice of one type of holly or another will largely depend on prevailing environmental conditions and windbreak purposes. If, for example, winds associated with storms or natural climatic variability occur in winter, then a larger leaved plant might be required.

The natives are likely to be better adapted to local climate, soil, pest and disease conditions and over a broader range of conditions. Nevertheless, non-natives may be desirable for many attributes such as height, growth rate and texture but should not reproduce and spread beyond the area planted or they may become problematic because of invasiveness.

There is increasing awareness of invasiveness, i.e., the potential for an introduced species to establish itself or become “naturalized” in an ecological community and even become a dominant plant that replaces native species. Tree and shrub species can become invasive if they aggressively proliferate beyond the windbreak. At first glance, Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), a fast-growing, non-native shrub that has a dense crown, might be considered an appropriate red berry producing species. However, it readily spreads seed disbursed by birds and has invaded many natural ecosystems. Therefore, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has declared it illegal to plant this tree in Florida without a special permit. Consult the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s Web page (www.fleppc.org) for a list of prohibited species in Florida.

For a more comprehensive list of holly varieties and their individual growth habits refer to ENH42 Hollies at a Glance: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg021