Guidelines for Hiring a Landscape Professional

Guidelines for Hiring a Landscape Professional

Garden and landscape maintenance can be relaxing, but it can also be stressful. Sometimes you may just not have the time or the patience to get all the work done. In that case, you may choose to hire a professional to get your yard to looks its best. A number of things should be considered when selecting a company. First of all, make sure you find a company that provides the services needed. You probably don’t want to hire a business that specializes in planting food plots if you need some trees removed from around your house. And you may not want to hire a company that manages sports fields if you want some trees and shrubs installed. Please find a checklist below of some things to consider when choosing a landscape professional.

Applying the proper amount of fertilizer keeps your landscape healthier and protects local waterbodies. Credit: UF/IFAS.

Insurance, Licenses, and Certifications – Make sure to hire professionals who meet all state and local license and insurance requirements for the work they are are contracted for.

  • General Liability Insurance – General liability insurance protects against bodily injury, property damage, and personal injury. Ask for proof of this coverage.
  • Workers’ Compensation Insurance – Worker’s compensation insurance provides medical and wage benefits to employees who are injured or get sick at work. More information on this coverage can be found at myfloridacfo.com.
  • Pesticide Applicator License – A pesticide applicator license is required for individuals spraying pesticides in and around your home. Some licenses allow the applicator to spray your entire landscape while others only grant the applicator to lawfully spray ornamental beds and shrubs around the home. You can search for applicators by name or license number at Licensed Pesticide Applicator Search.
  • Fertilizer Applicator License – A fertilizer applicator license is required for individuals applying fertilizer to turf and ornamentals on your property. You can search for applicators by name or license number at Licensed Pesticide Applicator Search.
  • FNGLA – The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) certifies landscape professionals on their landscape installation and/or maintenance expertise. You can search for certified individuals at FNGLA Certifications.
  • FFL – The Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program offers a Florida-Friendly Landscaping Certified Professional (FFLCP) certification to individuals are familiar with the latest UF/IFAS recommendations and who implement the 9 Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles by using environmentally friendly landscape management practices. A list of certified individuals can be found at Florida-Friendly Landscaping Certified Professionals Listing.
  • ISA – The International Society of Arboriculture certifies landscape professionals and arborists on their expertise on tree care and installation. You can search for certified arborists at Certified Arborist Search.

In addition to checking for accreditations, a number of questions can be asked to determine if a company meets your needs. These questions will help determine whether the company follows environmentally friendly landscape management and installation practices.

  • Does the landscape professional understand irrigation system design and know how to calibrate an irrigation system?
  • Does the landscape professional maintain mowing and pruning equipment and tools to make clean cuts?
  • Does the landscape professional maintain turf at the appropriate height for the species/cultivar being grown?
  • Does the landscape professional follow UF/IFAS fertilizer recommendations for fertilizer rates and products?
  • Does the landscape professional apply fertilizer only when turf and ornamentals are actively growing?
  • Does the landscape professional use soil tests to help determine fertilizer needs?
  • Does the landscape professional regularly check turf and ornamentals for insect pests and diseases?
  • Does the landscape professional follow recommendations for plant installation and spacing?

These are just a few things to consider when hiring a landscape professional/company. After reviewing qualifications and asking tough questions you’ll also want to consider cost. Make sure to consider the scope of work of the companies that gave you quotes. For more comprehensive guidelines, please check out the UF/IFAS Publication Guidelines for Hiring a Florida-Friendly Landscape Professional.

Pecan Trees in the Home Landscape

Pecan Trees in the Home Landscape

Pecans are a flavorful and nutritious nut and an essential component of a southerner’s diet. The trees also provide nice shade and intense fall color to landscapes throughout the south. However, not all pecan tree varieties are suited for the Florida panhandle. There are a number of things you should consider before planting a pecan tree.

Pecan tree grove in North Florida. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.

Site Selection – Pecan trees are native to the river valleys of North America. They perform best in deep, fertile, well-drained soils. The key is that the soil is well-drained. Pecan trees will not do well in soils that hold a lot of water and do not drain quickly. Pecan trees also need space to grow. Trees should be planted at least sixty feet apart and at least sixty feet from other large trees and structures. This will allow adequate light for the trees produce a good crop.

Disease Resistance – Pecan scab is the most detrimental pecan disease in the southeast. Trees advertised as scab resistant in the past may have become more susceptible over time. A few varieties that seem to be available at tree farms and have maintained their scab resistance are ‘Caddo’, ‘Elliot’, ‘Lakota’, and ‘Gafford’. Newer varieties that currently have good scab resistance are ‘Avalon’, ‘Huffman’, and ‘Whiddon’. However, these newer varieties may be more difficult to find at nurseries and farm stores.

Pollination – Pecan trees produce both female and male flowers on the same tree. Trees are split into two pollination groups. Type I pollinators produce mature pollen before their female flowers are receptive and Type II trees produce receptive female flowers before their pollen is mature. Timing of flower maturity may change with tree age, but it is a good practice to plant a Type I tree along with a Type II tree to ensure a good crop in each tree. A pollination compatibility chart can be found at UGA Pecan Compatibility Chart.

Planting – Commercially, pecan trees are most commonly planted as bare-root transplants, but container-grown trees can also be used. Bare-root trees are usually cheaper and more readily available. They should be planted while dormant, between December and March and should be planted the day they are delivered. If the root system looks dry, soak the trees in water for a few hours before planting. Container-grown trees can be planted any time of the year, but they have the best chance of survival if planted during dormancy. Trees should be planted at the depth they stood at the nursery or the depth they were planted in a container. Planting holes should be at least 18 inches wide and only native soil should be used to fill in the hole. The main causes of death in young trees are planting too deep and inadequate moisture during the first two years following planting.

Pecan trees provide focal points in the landscape and a tasty treat for the belly. For more information on growing pecans and the benefits of pecans please see these Pecan Publications from the University of Georgia.

The Very Rare Pseudoscorpion

The Very Rare Pseudoscorpion

Sometimes the tiniest creatures can freak you out! One creature that may give you the chills is the pseudoscorpion. Pseudoscorpions are arachnids like other traditional scorpions, but they lack the stinging tail. They can range from 2 to 8 millimeters in length, so they often go unnoticed. Pseudoscorpions have four pairs of legs and two body regions. In addition to their legs, they possess a pair of pincer-like claws called pedipalps. Pseudoscorpions are light brown in color and are teardrop shaped similar to a tick. Their pedipalps are about twice as long as their body regions.

An adult pseudoscorpion. Photo Credit: Steve Jacobs, Sr. – Penn State Extension

Pseudoscorpions are often found in bathroom sinks and tubs and are not dangerous. They eat small arthropods such as caterpillars, flies, ants, beetle larvae, and booklice. Most species are tropical, but they can be found throughout the continental United States.

Female pseudoscorpions produce 20 to 40 eggs, at one time, that they carry beneath their abdomens. After the eggs hatch, the young stay with their mother for several days. Sometimes they ride on her back during this time. Adult pseudoscorpions can live up to four years.

If anything, pseudoscorpions are beneficial, as they are predators of nuisance insects. It is not recommended to use pesticides to control these arachnids.

Be Careful of Residual Herbicides: Buying and Selling Hay/Straw for Garden Mulch and Compost

Be Careful of Residual Herbicides: Buying and Selling Hay/Straw for Garden Mulch and Compost

This article was written by Kacey Aukema, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Walton County.

I recently met with a home gardener who brought in tomato plants showing strange symptoms on the leaves. Together we puzzled over the odd leaf-curling symptoms that were affecting their tomato beds, but not other areas of the garden. Upon further investigation it was revealed that hay, used as mulch, had recently been spread around the tomatoes, but not in other areas of the garden. It quickly became apparent that the symptoms were likely related to herbicide residual on the hay that was used. The herbicide aminopyralid was the potential culprit. In this case the residual herbicide was not enough to outright kill the growing tomato plants. However, it was interfering with their growth and development and is a cautionary tale reminding us how important careful sourcing of hay used in mulch or compost can be.

What is aminopyralid and how does residual herbicide affect non-target plants through mulch, compost, etc.?

Aminopyralid is a herbicide active ingredient found in several popular pasture products such as GrazonNext™, Milestone™, Chapparral™ and similar products. This and other similar chemicals have residual activity and can be retained in plant tissues, animal manure, and soil, which makes them a very useful for controlling certain troublesome broadleaf weeds in grass pastures for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, this residual activity increases the potential for causing trouble in vegetables or other crops when hay or animal manure from aminopyralid treated pastures is mistakenly used for mulch, compost, etc. In Florida, aminopyralid containing pasture herbicides are often used as the “go to” for control of hard to control weeds like horsenettle and tropical soda apple which are potentially toxic to livestock. Tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant are in the same genus (Solanum) as those weeds and are therefore very susceptible to this herbicide as are many other vegetable and other broadleaf crops.

Residual aminopyralid damage on a tomato plant.

Residual aminopyralid damage on a tomato plant. Photo Credit: Kacey Aukema, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Walton County

How can I know if hay is safe to be used for mulch or compost?

Before acquiring hay to be used as mulch or to compost for vegetable beds, be sure to ask if the hay is free of herbicides with residual activity. Find out what was sprayed on the field in the last two seasons before the hay was harvested. Given that hay destined to be used as mulch or compost is usually old and spoiled, management history of a particular hay bale is likely to be hard to pin down. Do not trust hay to be used for mulch or compost in vegetable beds if prior spray management details are unknown. Also consider that well-stored hay may retain residual herbicide better and for a longer period of time than weathered hay, as the active ingredient is less subject to weathering and biological breakdown.

Those who use broadleaf herbicide products with residual activity such as those containing aminopyralid are subject to follow herbicide label guidelines. For instance, supplemental labeling of GrazonNext HL™ (including FL, AL, and GA) indicates that hay/straw from fields sprayed in the past 18 months should not be used for compost, mulch, or mushroom spawn. When in doubt refer to the label of the particular herbicide product used on hay you purchase for any restrictions and/or reach out to your local county extension agent if you have questions about a specific herbicide product. Relevant use restrictions and considerations like in this example should be conveyed between hay producer and buyer.

Perhaps you already have some hay for mulch/compost with an unclear management history, or you would like to double-check and be sure that it is safe. How could one test it to see if it was safe to use?  There is a test called a “bioassay”, conducted by growing susceptible plant seedlings like tomatoes or beans in small pots with the hay/compost/mulch in question incorporated into the potting soil. Then, the test plants can be observed to see if any herbicide symptoms develop to know whether the material is safe to use, before using the hay over a larger area or garden where there would be more risk. For more information on how to conduct a bioassay see: Herbicide Residues, in Manure, Compost, or Hay. Similar in-field bioassays are also recommended when rotating areas out of pasture and into other crops when pasture herbicides with residual activity were used. If susceptible crops like peanuts are grown in areas where such herbicides were used in the recent past they can be damaged, as in this case in an older Panhandle Agriculture Newsletter post.

When used according to label instructions, herbicides with residual activity are very useful for control of broad-leafed weeds in pasture and hay fields and may reduce the spread weeds through seed coming in on purchased hay. However, problems can emerge when hay from fields treated with these products change hands without the use restrictions and considerations being adequately explained. Therefore, caution should be taken by both producer and buyer to avoid damaging sensitive crops when hay or livestock manure are used for mulch or compost.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Turfgrass & Groundcovers

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Turfgrass & Groundcovers

Turf lawns provide an excellent groundcover that hold soil in place, filter pollutants, and are beautiful.  However, turfgrass may not be your first groundcover choice, due to heavy shade, landscape layout, or just personal preference.  In that case, there are a lot of alternative groundcovers on the market.  To help determine what groundcovers do best under certain conditions and to provide information on lawncare and groundcover maintenance, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about groundcovers.

'Needlepoint' Perennial Peanut

‘Needlepoint’ Perennial Peanut in a yard. Photo Credit: Daniel Leonard, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Calhoun County

Turfgrass/Groundcover Selection

The University of Florida/IFAS has a long list of publications on alternatives to turfgrass.  The comprehensive list can be found at Ask IFAS: Groundcovers.

One of the groundcovers that does well in full sun and has beautiful yellow flowers is perennial peanut.  More information on perennial peanut can be found in the publication “Guide to Using Rhizomal Perennial Peanut in the Urban Landscape”.

Groundcover options for the shade include Algerian ivy, Asiatic jasmine, and mondo grass.  Read more about these and other shade friendly species at “Gardening Solutions: Groundcovers for the Shade”.

Frogfruit can tolerate full sun and partial shade.

You could also create a wildflower meadow in a sunny spot.  More wildflower information is available at Ask IFAS: Performance of Native Florida Plants Under North Florida Conditions.

White clover is a groundcover that may be best suited in a mix with other groundcover species.  The publication “White Clover” provides some excellent information on growing this plant.

A number of factors come into play when you are choosing a turfgrass species.  Some species are more tolerant of shade than others and maintenance levels are species and variety specific.  The “Choosing Grass for Your Lawn” webpages can help answer some common questions.  For additional information on turfgrass species a list of EDIS publications and other UF/IFAS websites is available at Ask IFAS: Your Florida Lawn.  (Note: Buffalograss is not recommended for Florida.)

Overseeding is not a recommended practice for home lawns, but information is available at the webpage “Overseed Florida Lawns for Winter Color”.

Management of Turf and Groundcovers

Fertilizing a lawn.

Fertilizing a lawn. Photo Credit: University of Florida

Turfgrass requires the right amount of care.  To help maintain a good looking yard, follow the management practices in the publication “Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn”.

A soil sample is a good place to start to determine the root of the issues you may have in your lawn.  Follow these simple steps to collect and submit a sample for accurate analysis.

Weed management can be difficult in turf and other groundcovers.  Cultural, mechanical, and chemical controls can help keep weeds under control.  The “Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns” provides control options for the majority of weeds you’ll encounter in your lawn.  More information on weed control in turf alternatives can be found in the publication “Improving Weed Control in Landscape Beds”.

Virginia buttonweed is a common weed that is often difficult to control.  Doveweed can also be difficult to control.

The publication “Adopting a Florida Friendly Landscape” outlines the nine principals to help you design, install, and maintain a landscape that will thrive in our climate.

Fertilizer is required to maintain a healthy lawn.  A list of lawn fertilization publications and links can be found at Ask IFAS: Lawn Fertilizer.

Lawns in the southeast are susceptible to a number of different diseases mostly thanks to our hot and humid weather.  But there are some preventative and curative practices you can implement to help keep disease under control.  The “Turfgrass Disease Management” publication answers a lot of questions about disease control.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.