Storm Cleanup an Opportunity for Practicing Florida Friendly Landscaping Principles

Storm Cleanup an Opportunity for Practicing Florida Friendly Landscaping Principles

Small debris recently littered area lawns, but these materials are no “trash”. Credit: Adobe Stock

Hurricane Idalia recently tore through the Big Bend area, battering the coast and taking down trees, leaving thousands out of power. While much of the panhandle was safe from the strong winds and storm surge, we still got some gusty weather, and likely had some amount of cleanup to do following the storm. Fortunately for us, this time, it’s mostly a lot of small branches and leaves versus entire trees that our fellow gardeners are cleaning up to the east of us. In addition to being thankful that larger branches didn’t fall here, consider turning those small bits and pieces over to wildlife while collecting your wheelbarrow loads of debris. This is a great opportunity to practice sustainable landscape practices and a few Florida-Friendly Landscaping Principles.

The UF/IFAS Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program has nine principles that it encourages Florida homeowners to practice in their landscape to conserves Florida’s natural resources. Three of the nine principles can be practiced by choosing how you manage the debris that has fallen – #4 Mulch, #5 Attract Wildlife, and #7 Recycle Yard Waste.

A mockingbird enjoys perching at the brushpile. Credit: Adobe Stock.

The first reaction when looking out at your landscape after a storm is typically “Ugh, there’s a lot of stuff to clean up.” We often want to “clean it up” and get it back to a sea of perfect cut grass, or at least sort of nice grass. However, the small branches and leaves that fall can be a great resource for wildlife, can provide mulch around a tree, and letting them rest reduces the need for you to haul all that stuff up to the road and all that goes into picking up, transporting, and processing the material.

The larger branches (four to six inches in diameter and larger) can be used for firewood or a naturalistic bed edging. Otherwise, they can go into a large brushpile. Smaller sticks and branches are perfect for one large brushpile, or, if a large pile doesn’t meet your aesthetic desires, a series of small piles scattered or hidden behind some shrubs is a good compromise. The leaves and really small stuff (branches no larger than a pencil) can be raked up for mulch, added to the brushpile(s), or just left in place to naturally rot away and/or get shredded up by the mower.

Many small, pencil size twigs, along with leaves, can be left in place as a mulch. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

No matter how you leave the debris, consider how important this material is for all sorts of wildlife. Dead wood supports microbes, fungi, and animals up and down the food chain and even adds to your soil organic matter. While it may not look “clean” to us, those bits of “trash” are gold to many critters, especially small insects that bring birds to the yard. So, during cleanup, consider leaving little treats here and there for wildlife and spend less time hauling it to the road! For more information about the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Principles, visit the UF/IFAS Florida Friendly Landscaping Program website.

Smart Tools for Backyard Wildlife ID

Smart Tools for Backyard Wildlife ID

It’s hot, but the birds are still singing, the bees, including annoying yellow jackets, are buzzing, and the plants continue blooming. While many north Florida gardeners are hesitant to do much gardening in this heat, there’s plenty in the landscape to keep us entertained. One of the many benefits of gardening is observing all of the wildlife that visits, whether for pure enjoyment of watching nature or for keeping life lists of every bird, beetle, snake, or wildflower you’ve ever seen. However, many of us may not know exactly which bird, etc. that we’re looking at, much less hearing in the distance. Fortunately, there’s an app for that!

You may already be familiar with the many online tools, but here are a couple that are easy to use, assuming you know how to download an app on your smartphone, and go beyond an id based on visual similarity to other online photos with no consideration of your location.

We’ll start with my favorite app for plants, insects, and other critters you can easily capture with a camera – iNaturalist. Once you set up your account, you can begin to upload “Observations” with saved photos or directly with your phone’s camera. iNaturalist does have the option for uploading sound “Observations” as well, which I’ve used to upload frog calls. It uses your location to provide you with a list of potential species, and which one it feels is the most likely. The great thing about iNaturalist is someone else, often someone with experience identifying that organism, follows up to confirm or suggest another option. When enough identifiers agree, your “Observation” is considered research-grade. Another great feature of iNaturalist is that once the “Observations” are considered research-grade, biologists around the world can use the app to learn more about plant and animal population dynamics. Turning you into a research assistant/gumshoe naturalist. iNaturalist should only be used for wild populations, nothing planted or domesticated. They have a slimmed down version called Seek that can be used for identifying landscape plants.

List of “Observations” in iNaturalist. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.
The INaturalist user interface when uploading a new species. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS

Another easy-to-use app from our land-grant friends, and bird lovers, at Cornell University is the Merlin Bird ID app. The great feature of this app is the ability to record bird chatter and let the app figure out the bird species present. Once the recording is over, you can save it and even dial in on the different species and the call it made. With the touch of a finger, you can then learn more about each species. The Merlin Bird ID app also utilizes your location data and allows for uploading pictures and/or using a step-by-step guide to help figure out what you may have seen.

The Merlin Bird ID app allows you to record bird species by sound, photo, or with a step-by-step ID. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.
The results of a sound recording from my backyard. Credit: Grace Diez-Arguelles.

The heat may be miserable, but the sounds and sights of the garden can be quite a treat this time of year. Once you learn more about the critters that share your landscape, hopefully you’ll be encouraged to provide them more of the things they need to thrive – water, shelter, and food, in the form of a diverse landscape. Maybe it will give you ideas for more plantings later, when it cools off a bit!

I should highlight that both apps are free with no obnoxious ads that pop up while you have them open. They both also allow you to make lists and keep track of your observations. When visiting a new part of the world, they also let you explore what species may be near and new to you.

For more information on attracting wildlife to your landscape, please visit the Gardening with Wildlife site and read Landscaping Backyards for Wildlife: Top Ten Tips for Success. Of course, you can always contact your local extension office for assistance.

Incredible Crinums

Incredible Crinums

It’s always nice to find an easy-to-grow landscape plant that stuns with its beauty. The many varieties of Crinum lilies do just that and are a great addition to the north Florida landscape. Crinum lilies are not truly a lily, but a member of the Amaryllis family which also includes other familiar north Florida landscape plants such as onions (Allium), agapanthus (Agapanthus), daffodils (Narcissus), and other “lilies” such as spider lily (Hymenocallis) and hurricane lily (Lycoris). While there is one species of Crinum that is native (Crinum americanum), most of our cultivated species originate in Africa and/or Asia.

Crinums are considered to be among the largest of the true bulbs. Most should be treated with caution since they can be poisonous to children and pets, mostly through ingestion of plant tissue. Their leaves are typically long and strap-like with a glossy green color. The flowers are the real treat, appearing on the ends of bare stems, typically held above the plant’s foliage. The flowers can be used for cut flowers, too.

Below are some of the more common Crinums that can be successfully grown in north Florida:

Crinum asiaticum

Giant Crinum, or poison bulb, is the largest of the Crinums and one of the more common ones to see in the landscape. The bright white flowers with showy, purple-tinged stamens are impressive.

The giant Crinum’s stunning bloom. Credit: Mark Tancig

Crinum zeylanicum

This Crinum is often called the milk-and-wine crinum for the white and red striped flowers.

The milk-and-wine Crinum. Credit: The Trustees of the British Museum, Creative Commons.

Crinum x amabile

The Queen Emma Crinum is a hybrid of the first two – C. asiaticum and C. zeylanicum. It has the size and shape of giant Crinum with maroon-tinted flowers and leaves.

The Queen Emma Crinum. Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Creative Commons.

Crinum moorei

This Crinum goes by the common name natal lily and is native to the southern horn of Africa. This species has wider leaves than most with the natural flower color being a light pink. There is a white-flowered cultivar named ‘Alba’.

Crinum moorei, variety ‘Alba’ used in a container. Credit: Erik Taanman, Creative Commons.

Crinum x powellii

This Crinum is a hybrid between C. moorei and C. bulbispermum. The most common cultivar is the ‘Cecil Houdyshel’ which has fragrant, rose-colored flowers.

In the landscape, these can be used as specimen plants, especially the giant Crinum or Queen Emma Crinum, or planted in mass. They all prefer full sun but wouldn’t mind afternoon shade, and can handle partial shade, though blooms may be less showy. Most prefer moderately-drained soil, but can handle sandy sites with irrigation, especially during dry times. These plants come from warm climates and may get zapped by our winter cold snaps. Fortunately, their bulbs, have stored energy to flush out new growth the following spring. Pests and diseases are few, with grasshoppers and leaf spots in the summer being the main concerns.

There are many hybrid Crinums available to experiment with but look for those that are hardy to Zone 8. You can read more about Crinums on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website or contact your local county extension office.

My Little Pretties

My Little Pretties

Hopefully, you are enjoying No Mow March. With the extra time provided by not mowing, you can spend more time trying to observe the diverse array of flowering plants coming up in your lawn. Often these are considered weeds, but a weed is just a plant you don’t like growing where you don’t want it. However, if we can find some beauty in these plants and appreciation for their role in supporting wildlife, then maybe we can turn it around and start thinking of them as wildflowers. As a trained botanist, I’m interested in all the flowers and think of how they grow, what eats them, what pollinates them, how their seeds are dispersed, and what niche do they fill in the ecosystem, even if that ecosystem is my residential landscape. Below are a couple of my favorite plants that come up in my infrequently mowed and/or unmowed lawn during the early spring.

Early Violet (Viola palmata)

This is the one that got me started leaving areas of the yard unmowed or infrequently mowed. Those violet-colored flowers were just too pretty to mow over, and I began giving them a wide berth. Now, I have little meadows of these native violets that spring up every year and give me great pleasure to observe.

How could you mow these violets down? Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Earthsmoke (Fumaria officinalis)

Not only is this one pretty, but it has one of the coolest common names of a plant that I know of. This non-native relative of the poppy plant has delicate foliage, reminiscent of the native columbine, with flowers mostly a light purple, but with a touch of dark purple towards the tips. The flowers also have a strange little twist to them. Part of my fondness for this plant is also tied to a memory from college. I was learning how to use dichotomous keys at the time and was so proud to have successfully keyed this one out. My identification was confirmed by our taxonomy professor, who I greatly admired, and I think he was a little proud of me, too!

Earthsmoke is a delight to find mixed in with the lawn. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Smallflower Fumewort (Corydalis micrantha subsp. australis)

This one is related to earthsmoke, but in a different genus and just happens to be a native. It also has similar delicate foliage and a twist in the flowers, but these come in yellow.

Smallflower fumewort is a common early spring wildflower. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Mock Bishopsweed (Ptilimnium capillaceum)

This native carrot family relative, with small flower clusters and delicate, wispy leaves, is not one that jumps out at you as being super showy. However, being a carrot relative, it is a great larval host plant for the swallowtail butterflies.

This delicate carrot family member is a host to swallowtail caterpillars! Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Horrid Thistle (Cirsium horridulum)

The common name says everything about how most people view thistles. Thistles definitely get a bad reputation due to those spiny leaves, but our six native species are a boon for pollinators. Being in the Aster family with many flowers grouped together, it provides lots of easily accessible pollen and nectar resources. This one is also a known host plant for the little metalmark and painted lady butterflies, which somehow find their way around all of those spines. I really enjoy the artistic symmetry of the leaves, and also the spines that surround the flower in bud, especially when the dew has collected on it and the light hits it just right.

Every thistle has it’s thorns! Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Southern Dewberry (Rubus trivialis)

Probably another hard sell for leaving in the yard, but this prickly native plant rewards animals, including us, with delicious fruit. This one is best left in a low trafficked area where it won’t grab you.

A tasty wildflower. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Venus’ Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata)

This native beauty ties for second coolest common name, which is a reference to the shiny covering of the seed. Related to bellflowers and lobelias, Venus’ looking glass shoots up in the early spring and has beautiful purple blooms atop a wispy inflorescence (flower stalk). You’ll find several pollinators visiting this lovely little wildflower.

Venus’ looking glass. Credit: Sam Mwenda, Creative Commons.

No Mow March is a perfect opportunity to spend time learning more about the non-turf species living in your lawn. There’s a lot more than the list above and your local extension office can help you identify what you’re seeing. You can also use the iNaturalist app for help in identifying these little pretties. If you use iNaturalist during March, please add them to our No Mow March project. For more information on No Mow March, please visit https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/escambia/lawn-and-garden/no-mow-march/.

Be on the Lookout for Crape Myrtle Bark Scale

Be on the Lookout for Crape Myrtle Bark Scale

Being a gardener in Florida is exciting. We have many plants to choose from and the weather is mostly pleasant but always seeming to surprise us. One disadvantage of living in such a place, in addition to having so many growing zones, landscape nurseries, and major shipping ports, is that invasive species that land in Florida don’t like to leave. One newcomer in the lineup of invasive pests is the crape myrtle bark scale (Acanthococcus lagerstroemiae). This invasive insect pest made its way from Texas and, as of a few weeks ago, the only Florida sighting had been in Santa Rosa County. Unfortunately, this pest has now been confirmed in Leon County. Landscapers and gardeners in north Florida should learn how to identify this pest and what options are available for control.

The crape myrtle bark scale, as the name suggests, has a pretty specific host – the crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia spp.). However, in the United States, this scale has also been found feeding on our native beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Due to the widespread planting of crape myrtles, these should be the gardeners primary focus when looking for this new pest. If present on the tree, it is hard to miss. These scales feed on the bark and are a snow-white color. Being a scale, they produce honeydew that is then covered in black sooty mold. So, if you see a crape myrtle with black branches, look closely and you may see the white scales. If you crush these scales and they leave a pink goo on your fingers, then you very likely have crape myrtle bark scale. Of course, you can send a picture or sample to your local county extension office for confirmation.

Black sooty mold and white scales along the trunk and branches are a tell-tale sign of crape myrtle bark scale. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

If you do happen to find crape myrtle bark scale in your own landscape, or one that you manage, proper control is important to prevent it from moving along any further. Since scales suck on sap and are protected by an outer shell, systemic insecticides are the preferred product for effective control. These include the neonicotinoids, such as imidacloprid (Merit) and dinotefuran (Safari). The larval stage can be controlled with a horticultural oil, sometimes mixed with another insecticide like bifenthrin (Talstar), however, this will not control the adults. Another option is to completely remove the tree and burn all of the plant material.

Excessive sooty mold has turned these branches black. Be on the lookout for crape myrtles looking like this to help identify crape myrtle bark scale. Credit: Jim Robbins, Univ. of Ark. CES. Retrieved from bugwood.

The crape myrtle bark scale can significantly reduce the aesthetic value of crape myrtles due to the black sooty mold that covers the bark. It is also known to reduce flowering and can lead to thinning of leaves. Since crape myrtles make up a big part of our managed landscapes, let’s all work together to scout for this pest and control it when found. If you have questions, please contact your local county extension office.

Difference in flowering due to crape myrtle bark scale damage. Credit: Jim Robbins, Univ. of Ark. CES. Retrieved from bugwood.

For more information, please see this UF/IFAS document and this Clemson website for more photos and control information.