Trees provide shade, aesthetics, and perspective to the landscape.  However, they only serve as burdens if not properly selected and maintained.  To help determine what trees do best under certain conditions and to provide information on tree care, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about trees.

Florida maple beginning to exhibit fall color. Photo credit: Larry Williams, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Okaloosa County

Tree Selection

Some trees grow faster than others.  That’s not always a good thing, but if you’re trying to select a tree that grows fast and will provide shade in your yard then you might want to give the following species a try.  Click on the links for more information.

A lot of times you’ll read a particular tree species prefers moist, well-drained soil.  Some coastal soils are very well drained and require supplemental irrigation after establishment to keep some species alive.  One tree that does well in sandy, well-drained soils without supplemental irrigation is the sand live oak.  Another tree, that would never win a popularity contest, but does well in sandy soils is the sand pine.  This tree has a gnarly growth habit, which would make it an interesting focal point in the landscape.  Turkey oaks are another option for dry spots.

There are a lot of fruit tree species that can be grown successfully in the panhandle.  The key to good fruit production is selecting trees that are adapted to the average number of chill hours (usually calculated by the number of hours between 34ºF and 45ºF) your yard receives on a yearly basis.  Some peaches, plums, and nectarines have been developed for our climate.  Citrus such as satsumas and tangerine hybrids grow well in the panhandle, but sometimes require cold protectionPersimmons, loquats, and pears are other fruit trees that grow well.

If you already have mature trees in your yard, then you may be looking for smaller, understory trees to enhance your landscape.

Living this far south, you often have to really seek out trees that change color in the fall.  Dogwoods, Florida maples, and blackgum trees all have great fall color.  Some of the red oaks also have nice fall color.  Two that come to mind are the nuttall oak and the Shumard oak.

Trees can cause a lot of damage if planted too close to sidewalks or buildings.  To determine if a tree will fit in a confined space, you will need to consider its mature trunk flare diameter.

Florida is the southern extreme for growing ginko trees.  If you decide to plant a ginko tree, make sure to select a male cultivar to avoid stinky, slippery fruit.

To successfully plant a tree, you need to start with a healthy tree.  If the tree you purchase was grown in a pot, make sure it isn’t rootbound and doesn’t have encircling roots.  You also should inspect the tree’s form, branching structure,  and look for the presence of included bark.  Please read “Selecting Quality Trees from the Nursery” for more tips on what to look out for when purchasing a healthy tree.

Some trees are more tolerant than others of high winds and flooding.  Please read this publication about tree failure from hurricanes to help determine what tree species are better adapted to these weather events.

Santa Rosa County Master Gardener Pruning a Stone Fruit tree at the WFREC. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Tree Maintenance

Armillaria is a common fungal pathogen that infects trees from their roots.  Other major diseases are more specific to certain species.  A more comprehensive list of tree and shrub diseases can be found on the Ask IFAS website.

Tree establishment period depends on a lot of factors.  Once a tree is established, it’s roots can be equal to about three times the distance from the trunk to the dripline.

Part of the beauty of a bald cypress is its knees.  However they can also be a nuisance for mowing and other yard maintenance.  The purpose of cypress knees is a bit of a mystery and there are a lot of theories on the subject.

Fallen leaves can help add nutrients back to your yard.  Even if you are trying for a manicured lawn, you may want to rake up the leaves and use them elsewhere in the landscape.

Regardless of the species, most fruit trees benefit from a good pruning.  Deciduous fruit trees should be pruned to maintain good branch structure and form, while citrus may benefit from a light hedging.

Trees are a wonderful addition to any landscape, but it’s important you select the right tree for the right place.  Hopefully this article provided some information to guide you in the right direction.


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