Reducing Your Lawn Size Options

Reducing Your Lawn Size Options

Photo Courtesy:  Stephen Greer

Lawn areas come in all sizes and shapes.  Some are large open expanses providing long views and others are smaller versions surrounded by shrubs and trees creating a more private and secluded setting.  There are a number of reasons for reducing the size of a lawn with some coming into play with your decisions.  A home lawn is often an important part of the landscape that provides a place to play outdoors from picnicking, tossing the ball to taking a quite stroll.

Maintaining a healthy lawn is important to an overall performance of this part of the landscape.  Several factors are involved in the success in keeping a strong and resilient lawn.  Understanding the needs of a grass to remain healthy involve soil testing to address soil pH and nutrient needs plus water challenges.  Misuse of fertilizer and over irrigation can be costly to you and to the overall health of the lawn. These decisions can lead to reducing lawn size to managing cost or removing underused areas.

There are big benefits to reducing your lawn from saving time in mowing, trimming and other manicuring needs to saving energy costs involving the lawn mower not to mention reducing pollution from the mower or weed eater.  The reduced amounts of pesticides needed to manage weeds and disease to the lawn saves time and money.

Another way to look at the reducing the size of our lawn is there will be more space for expanding plant beds and potential tree placement.  These settings increase the opportunities for a more biodiverse landscape providing shelter, protection and food options for birds and other wildlife.

Photo Courtesy:  Stephen Greer

The lawn can serve as a transition space that leads from one garden room space to another, while still offering a location to bring the lawn chair out to enjoy all that is around your lawn.  Lawns and the landscape are ever changing spaces, especially as your trees and shrubs grow and mature to sizes that can directly impact the lawn performance.  Often levels of shade will diminish edges and other areas of the lawn.  This often will define the reduction of the lawn size moving going forward.  Just remember that lawns and landscapes occupy a three-dimensional space involving the horizontal, vertical and overhead spaces.  Just look around and think about what is best for you, your family and the setting.Are you more interested in developing other parts of the landscape?  With many of us spending more time at home over the last year plus it gave time to think about the outdoor areas.  Growing our own vegetables may be a new or expanding part of the landscape with the use of raised beds or interplanting into the existing landscape.   Gardening can assist in reducing stress while at the same time providing that fresh tomato, lettuce, herbs and other fun healthy produce.

What ever your decisions are enjoy the lawn and landscape.  For additional information, contact your local University of Florida IFAS Extension office located in your county.







New Home Construction and Impacts of Existing Plants

New Home Construction and Impacts of Existing Plants

As we have all observed communities are growing in the Panhandle through new home construction or through renovation of existing properties.  This article will address new home construction.  Many questions come to mind as construction begins with some of these questions needing to be addressed prior to start of construction.  Determining impacts on the plant resources that already exist on the site should be included in the planning, design, construction and post-construction phases to be successful in achieving a healthy vibrant landscape for all to enjoy.

Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer

Homes in community developments are being located on smaller lots in groups with conservation areas saved for the open spaces for all to enjoy.  An older term for this was new urbanism and now is often referred to as conservation or clustered development.  This type of development identifies and encourages environmentally friendly habitats for plants and animals creating a biodiversity within a walkable neighborhood designed to protect yet allow residence to enjoy some of the Northwest Florida beauty.

How can the objectives of building the new home desired, manage to protect the healthy plants already existing on the site?  These challenges are difficult to answer but there are steps to accomplish both.  For this article I will address construction and tree protection.

Protecting existing trees during the construction and post-construction phases takes expertise and a plan.  First, consider hiring a professional arborist or urban forester to assist in this plan development.  Understanding the existing trees on site prior to construction from the variety, location, visual impacts, size, overall health and location on the property are a good start.  How do you protect the selected trees?  First identify the trees that will need to be removed.  Look for unhealthy stressed trees, significant limb death already occurring, poor crown growth (thinning) and other observations.

Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer

The next step is to make a sight plan that needs to include grading needs for the home, drainage on the property, existing trees and surrounding vegetation, property lines, set back requirements, driveway location, utility placements and site of home.  Flag trees that will be impacted and will need to be removed during the construction.

Following the sight plan, a tree protection plan needs to occur.  This must happen before construction begins and include all parties involved to make sure all are in agreement.  This is the stage where the group can identify conflicts involving tree protection and construction.  Oversight by the owner, contractor and equipment operators is critical.  A tree protection zone must be identified and implemented before construction.  This typically involves setting up a fence around the protected trees and vegetation to restrict access of equipment and potential damage to the root system.  A rule of thumb is to maintain a radius of at least 1.25 feet of protected area for each 1 inch of tree trunk diameter.  An example would be a 12-inch diameter tree trunk with good protection at 15 feet to best protection at 30 feet of radius.

Photo Courtesy:  Stephen Greer

The point is to give the best chance of a health survival of the tree during this soil and site disturbance as the construction process progress all the way to post construction with the removal of the protective fencing.  Difficult decisions may need to be made of selecting trees to protect but will be needed.  Enjoy the successes and plan for creating a new landscape that includes part of conserving plants that were there before and going forward.

Magnolia Tree a Tradition

Magnolia Tree a Tradition

There is a tall stately tree that can be found throughout the southeastern states, native in nature with a lustrous green leaf the southern magnolia is like no other tree.  This amazing tree can be found from the edge of deep woodlands to the back of the tall sand dunes in the panhandle of Florida, all the way down the Florida Peninsula.  The leaves provide a consistent evergreen providing a year-round presence in the landscape.  Spring brings up small plate sized creamy white blooms with a wonderful fragrance with multiple blooms opening over 3 to 5 weeks. The magnolia can serve as a specimen tree or a back drop to allow other plants to be enjoyed.

Magnolia Tree in the Landscape. Photo courtesy Stephen Greer

Often the magnolia is envisioned to be this 80-foot tall by 40-foot-wide tree with an upright pyramidal shape with the branches reaching to the ground and up to 8-inch-long shiny green leaves.  There are other shapes and sizes in the landscape industry that have been found in many different ways from seedling research that has taken place at several of our land grant universities including the University of Florida.  Other magnolia with different growth and bloom habits have been found growing in nature.  Below are a few of these exceptional species that were selected by the keen eye of a nurseryman or a plant specialist.  Next come decades of field grown observation to determine if the plant characteristics are consistent with cuttings taken and rooted to grow more trees.  This is one way to see if the same look and growth continues in multiple plants.

Magnolia Bloom in Spring

Magnolia Bloom. Photo courtesy Stephen Greer

If you grow trees from collected seeds, the new seedlings will show variable growth patterns and likely not present a consistent growth or leaf form from tree to tree.  This is the reason for taking cuttings from a magnolia with the desired growth habit, leaf size and color, bloom color and fragrance.

Several cultivars have risen to the top in popularity in the landscape industry over the last 30 to 40 years.  One of the most popular large magnolias is ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’.  It was selected in a seedling field when one of the universities had completed research and invited a local nurseryman to come take any he wanted before the field was turned under for other plant research.  Many were dug and field planted at the nursery with one showing many desired characteristics.  With its dark rusty brown lower leaf and deep green top.  It was observed for a number of years with cuttings taken.  One major observation was its tolerance to cold weather.  They had a winner and began to introduce it into the plant industry.  ‘Little Gem’ is another magnolia that is quite popular for its dwarf (slower) upright growth habit.  It first was considered a hedge plant with a dense leaf canopy from bottom to top.  The challenge is the plant density opens up as it matures with it ultimately reaching approximately 30-foot tall by 20-foot wide.  The surprising part of this smaller magnolia is its bloom is similar in number, yet 3 to 5 inches in size in large numbers as the other southern magnolias.  Next there is a few weeks rest period and then sporadically blooms all summer and early fall.  There are so many magnolias that could be mentioned I just don’t have enough article space, so it will stop with ‘Claudia Wannamaker’.  This magnolia is an old stand by that has been found to be moderately salt tolerant and can be found growing near coastal settings.  The leaf wax layer is slightly thicker allowing for a little more protection from the salt.  It has a more open multi-truck growth allowing for wind to pass through more easily.  The challenge is finding one in the landscape industry.

Contact your UF IFAS Extension office in your county with questions.  Enjoy this wonderfully unique tree.




Landscaping with Native Plants

Landscaping with Native Plants

Landscaping with native plants brings opportunities and challenges while adding diversity and beauty to the home.  There are many factors that come into play to successfully grow plants.  As gardeners, we all want things to look exceptional for all to enjoy.  Native plants have evolved over long periods of time naturally in a given region without intervention, bringing much needed diversity to natural areas and landscapes.  A big plus for natives are the flowers presented for the local bee populations and other pollinators assisting in the continuation of the plant species potentially established over thousands of years.

Landscape of Native Plants.

Landscape of Native Plants. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS Extension Santa Rosa County

Native plants have evolved in natural communities and are found to be interdependent not only plant to plant yet with soil type, soil microbial activity through bacteria and fungus, specific site location and others though biodiversity of these living communities.  Part of this community is often referred to as the soil web creating the connections of billions upon billions of organisms in the critical survival of the plants, insects and other animals we see.  The first steps when considering native plants for your landscape are to do your research and contact your local Extension office.  Some questions to consider may include: Does it grow best in well drained sand or wet soils or require high in organic matter?  Will full sun, part-shade to full shade be needed?

Coontie Palm in landscape.

Coontie Palm in Landscape. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS Extension Santa Rosa

Plants that are native and non-native are often seen in the same landscape setting.  Consideration should be taken to determine if either of the groups are aggressive in expanding beyond the intended plant setting.  Before moving on, non-native is in reference to plants that are introduced to a plant community that came from a totally different plant location.  An example of that location being hollies from southeast Asia or South America or even a different area of the United States.  Many have been researched and observed for many years under managed situations before being introduced into the local landscape nursery markets.  Once in a while a plant is introduced that has not gone through a long rigorous study and can become naturalized outside of its normal plant zones and establish as an invasive species.  This highly adaptable aggressive habit can, and often will colonize a given location out competing the native plants.  Kudzu is a good example of an invasive exotic plant that is naturalized in the southeastern U.S.

As gardeners there are opportunities to have positive impacts on some of these diminished native habitat areas that can be threatened by growth of urban and rural areas in Florida.  Establishing native plants areas into the landscape with proper soil preparation, managed water needs and more gives that chance for this interdependent system of plants, animals and nonliving elements to remain established with big impacts.

Virginia Sweetspire.

Virginia Sweetspire. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, UF IFAS Extension Santa Rosa County

Native plants can be a working part of the garden from wonderful flowers, season color change, leaf foliage of multiple sizes and shapes to feed the insects that feed the birds, leaves and nuts that feed so many other animals for us to enjoy seeing.  Balance is such a big part of being a successful gardener.  Remember not all native plants are suitable for landscape spaces, do your research and ask for assistance from the experts to determine if it is the right plant for the right place.



Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Photo credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Landscapes are an ever-changing setting that can be fun to view as the seasons come and go.  We all have differing ideas of what an exceptional landscape should be.  The point to always keep in mind is what you and your family like.  Are you considering the Florida-Friendly Landscaping elements?  You always want to keep a healthy, attractive environmental sound landscape.  This brings many interesting design concepts to the table.

The kitchen table is exactly where a landscape design needs to begin.  My dad was just the opposite, he would receive or buy plants on impulse.  Load up all these three-gallon plants, take them home and plant without consideration the long-term growth, color combinations, time of bloom and many more topics.  He just loved working in the yard and growing plants.

Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

There are basic principles of landscape design that are used as a guide. While I may stray from them from time to time, I always return to these principles.  Just keep in mind that a landscape is an ever-changing living setting that we will always work to improve.  The visual elements are based on what you see first when you enter a setting and are usually the vibrant high impact plants that may include bright bloom color, size of plant, focal plantings, leaf size and others.  The other side of the visual is the subtle presence of low impact plants with softer colors, small leaves, lower growing plant size.  This visual group often is planted en mass with a flow of plants to create a calming effect for the visitors to your landscape.

When the form of the plant is being considered, there are several points to keep in mind.  Will it have a three-dimensional impact in the landscape setting?  Is the landscape a small backyard or a one-acre open setting?  What are the maintenance requirements of the plant(s) as they mature in size?  A large tree can dominate a small area, but it may be just what is needed for shade with low plantings around it.   In a large setting, multiple large trees may be needed to create a focal point.  I have seen some wonderful tree alleys that help in directing the flow of the landscape down drives, walks, and paths.  These forms should be considered for all plants in the landscape including, trees, shrubs, groundcovers and even hardscapes.

Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Up next is the texture of the plant(s).  Are you looking for large and coarse or small, “softer” leaves?  You may find finely textured plants along paths or at entry areas to steps, softening the hardscape of the steps.   Are the large leaved plants open and airy, allowing light to flow through?  Large coarse leaved plants may be found at the back of landscape beds with fine textured smaller plants in front creating a three-dimensional look or even used as a focal point to pull the gaze of the eye to a determined location.

Color in the landscape has just as much impact as the plant texture, size and form.  Color can bring a bold or a soft statement.  The color is often thought of from blooms, but leaves too change in color with the seasons, from a fresh new bright green, purple, red or other colors in the spring to deeper, more mature colors as summer comes in.  Trunks can also bring unique colors to the landscape from subtle yellows to cinnamon.

There are so many things to think about when creating a long-term vision for your landscape.  Many options come in the decisions that will need to be made.  Do your research and always contact your local Extension office for more information!