A hummingbird gathering nectar from a firespike (Odontonema strictum) flower. Photo Credit: Knolllandscapindesign.com
Do you enjoy watching a variety of birds and butterflies in your landscape? Have you ever watched squirrels get into the birdfeeder? Children may learn about wildlife by watching through a window. Food, water, cover, and space are four essential elements that will create the best habitat for wildlife. Food could be as simple as adding feeders to attract birds to your yard but having a habitat that sustains them is important. Florida wildlife and Florida native plants evolved together and are often interdependent. It is a must to understand what sustains the species you are wanting to attract to your area. Different species prefer different food/plants. Insects also provide birds a food source for their young.
Water can be bird baths, man-made ponds, and natural bodies of water such as streams, lakes, ponds on your property. When relying on a bird bath for your water supply make sure the water is fresh and clean. Shallow water (1-1.5 inches) is better than deep (over 3 inches). Birds like sloping sides and a textured surface; they prefer to walk into water rather than dive in headfirst. Place the bath 5 to 10 feet from a protective cover like shrubs or trees. This needs to be close enough for the birds to be able to reach safety if there is danger from predators. A small outpost for birds to land on near the bath can help them check for predators before heading to the bath.
Cover will provide a place to raise young and should have vertical layers for animals to use for safety, shelter, and nests. Examples of cover that could be added to the landscape are snags that give food for woodpeckers and nesting perches. Or build your own nesting boxes that are species specific for owls, bees, and bats. All bats eat insects and substantially reduce the number of nocturnal insects in a neighborhood.
The permanently wet detention pond lined with cypress trees and sawgrass also provides habitat for fish, birds, and reptiles. Photo Credit: Carrie Stevenson, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Escambia County
Lastly it is important to think of your space. Create large patches of good habitat that span several landscapes or consider working with your neighbors to link the backyard habitats and create a larger area. It is all about the “Right Plant, Right Place” concept and understanding the area you are working with and the possibilities. When you go into the last step of planting and attracting wildlife have a plan and know what you would like to attract. Do your research on what you will need for that wildlife and use your resources, ask your local extension agent for ideas and suggestions!
Many plants in our native landscape provide much of what attracts wildlife and provides them with at least one of the four essential elements. The article “Planting for Wildlife Habitat!” will give you some ideas of plants and trees that do well in the North Florida area and will help to attract the wildlife you desire!
Humans and wildlife find Chickasaw plums delicious. Photo credit: University of Florida/IFAS
There are many trees that can be a great addition to your space that will provide one of the four essential elements food, water, cover, and space. Persimmon thrives in a wide variety of conditions from wet or sandy soil to lowlands or uplands. Deer actively seek out persimmon trees, eating every fruit that is within reach as well as leaves and twigs in the fall and winter. Other wildlife that enjoys the persimmon trees are squirrel, fox, bear, coyote, raccoon, opossum, and various birds including wild turkey. The nectar from flowers provides a significant food resource for pollinator species like bees. These trees are either male or female and at least 3 should be planted together to ensure pollination. Live Oak is a solid tree that many people in this area said survived Hurricane Michael. It provides acorns for food and deep shade. Black Cherry is a host plant for Red-Spotted purple and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Bitter fruit matures during the summer to fall and is used for jams, jellies, or liqueurs. Fruits are highly prized by birds and other wildlife. Wild cherry cough syrup is made from the reddish-brown, fragrant and bitter inner bark. Yaupon Holly is another tree that birds and wildlife feed on the berries throughout the winter when food is scarce. Leaves have the highest caffeine content of any other plant native to North America. Some other trees to consider are Basswood, Red Cedar, Florida Hop tree, Elderberry, Slippery Elm, Sassafras, Chickasaw Plums, and the Toothache Tree.
While yard work is important to maintain an attractive lawn, if done successfully, the resident can spend quality time in other pursuits like watching the wildlife from the front porch.
There are many plants that for the longest time I thought were only a nuisance to the everyday gardener, but I truly learned the phrase “Right Plant, Right Place” with these next few plants that I am going to mention. Smilax is a vine with thorns that is nearly impossible to get rid of and gets into our shrubs and landscape. But in the right place smilax provides shelter and food for wildlife. It has a blue-black berry in the spring and provides medicine, food, and dyes for humans. There are 2 species of smilax that are only found in the panhandle. Dog Fennel is native to fields, woodland edges, and roadsides and can be used as an insecticide and antifungal. It has feather like leaves that are very aromatic. Blackberry can grow wild and it is an all-around amazing plant for vitamins. It’s fruit can help fight cancer and decrease cardiovascular disease. Leaves and bark are useful medicinally and leaves can be used as a tea. The last plant I must mention is the Beauty Berry. It is known for its late fall bright purple fruits called drupes, not berries. This plant attracts birds for food in the fall time in North Florida. The drupes can also be used for jams and jellies. Other plants that are great for attracting wildlife are Spiderwort, Dewberry, and Spanish Needle.
Some of the many benefits of starting your own home garden are having fresher, more nutritious produce, the positive effects on physical and mental health, increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and a potential cost savings. Also there are many advantages to starting a garden in the spring with transplants. You avoid bad weather, achieve earlier and higher yields, avoid insect and disease issues, and can choose the best and strongest plants to add to your garden.
Using a self-watering container is an excellent option if you find yourself away from the garden this summer. Photo by Molly Jameson.
Now is the time to start planting seeds indoors for warm season crops such as tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, okra, summer squash, watermelon and many more. It is important to consider the number of days to harvest, planting zone, and location to plant. Buy seeds from a reputable source and check the expiration dates/sell-by dates and follow the packet.
For some vegetables, buy transplants from your local nursery. Photo by Molly Jameson.
When seeding the containers follow instructions for the seeding rates, spacing and depth on your seed packet. Smaller seeds can be broadcast over the surface and larger seeds will need to be covered with soil. Temperature and humidity are important for germination. Your packet will be specific on how deep to plant the seeds and a range of how long it will take to germinate. Label your container with the vegetable name and date seeded. You may find yourself like me and thinking you will remember what it is only to be guessing what you have as it germinates!
Most seeds started indoors will be ready for the garden in 4 to 6 weeks. Transplants must be hardened off first which means you should reduce the amount of water and stop fertilizing 1-2 weeks before they are ready to go into the garden. The seedlings will need a good bit of sun/light and moisture once they germinate to avoid leggy and stretchy plants.
The next step is to care for your transplants. As you have taken the time to seed them, watch them grow, and then put the plants into their new home it is important to set them up for success. Monitor the transplants for insect and disease on a weekly basis. Make sure the garden is free of weeds before the plants go into the ground. Weeds will fight for the same water and nutrients as the transplants. Transplant when the environmental conditions are best. This means to plant them in the morning, on a cloudy/overcast day, and when there is not a big storm in the forecast. When taking the little transplant out of the pot be careful to not disturb the roots and do not pack the soil around the roots.
If you have any questions on spring gardening please contact your local extension office for more information.
Violas. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension
It is freezing cold this week and hard to believe that we are already talking about “What to Plant” and “What to Do” to get started early. In North Florida there are cool-season annuals that can be planted now. The list includes pansies, violas, petunias, and snapdragons. As we are coming to the end of January it is time to plant crinum, agapanthus and gloriosa lily bulbs. Make sure to mulch these areas after planting to protect them from the cold temperatures. This is also the month to plant camellias, which these come in many colors and forms that your local nurseries will carry this time of year. If you haven’t planted all your cool season crops there is still time to do that now such as broccoli, kale, carrots, and lettuce. Irish potatoes can be planted now as well.
Now you might be asking “What can I do?”. January is a great time to prune non-spring flowering shrubs and trees to improve their form. This is a good time to plant deciduous fruit trees, this will give their roots time to develop before the warmer spring temperatures. Since existing trees are dormant, it is a good time to prune and fertilize them. When the temperatures are near freezing many of the tender plants will need to be covered to minimize damage. It’s a good time to plant a tree. Hurricane-resistant trees include live oaks, bald cypress, cabbage palms, and southern magnolias. It’s time to remove those dead spent seed pods on your crape myrtles and removing any crossing branches and twiggy growth will improve the appearance and the form of the plant.
Potatoes planted in mid-February were ready to harvest in mid-May in Bay County. Photo: Vicki Evans, UF/IFAS Master Gardener of the plant.
As we go into February it will soon be time to apply a preemergence weed killer to your lawns to prevent warm-season weeds. Temperatures must rise to 65°F for 4 to 5 consecutive days before you do a preemergence application and make sure you are not using a weed and feed fertilizer. Citrus and other fruit trees can be fertilized at this time. The amount and frequency will depend on the age and type of fruit tree you are growing. Avoid pruning Citrus until spring to avoid any injury since cold temperatures are still possible. It is time to prune those roses this month to remove damaged canes and improve the overall form. After the pruning is complete you can fertilize and apply a fresh layer of mulch. They should begin blooming within 8 to 9 weeks after being pruned.
Dianthus, pansies, violas, and dusty millers are annuals that can take a chill and should be planted in February. You can continue to plant crinum and agapanthus this month and add on amaryllis and rain lily bulbs as well. If it has been dry make sure to provide plenty of water for the bulbs to establish and continue to protect them from the cold by adding mulch. Trees and shrubs will begin to bloom this month including red maples and star magnolias. Continue planting potatoes throughout the month and towards the end of February warm-season crops like tomatoes and pepper can be planted but be prepared to protect them from any late frosts.