Creating Space for Wildlife

Creating Space for Wildlife

Bald eagles and other large birds of prey have made a comeback in Florida.

Florida has all the elements of a wild animal’s paradise. The state has abundant rain and water sources, lush vegetation, plenty of food, and tons of nesting and hiding places. In our state and national parks, conservation easements, open waters, and acres of ranch land, large populations of animals can thrive. Particularly in areas with fewer people, healthy populations of even large animals like black bears, alligators, and panthers can maintain substantial territories. However, human migration into and throughout Florida is increasing at as steady a rate as ever. Retirees have long fled their cold northern winters to move part or full time to Florida. Now, the ability for many working people to telecommute from anywhere has made it attractive for younger families from all over the country to join us.

A black bear helps himself to a drink from the swimming pool of a Florida home. Photo provided by Patty Underwood/FWC

With more people comes the need for more housing. Some are content with high rise condos that leave a smaller footprint, but these are often located right on the water and can displace coastal wildlife and vegetation. For the thousands of families moving in weekly, more subdivisions, roads, stores, and schools are necessary. Inevitably, these lead to human-wildlife interactions that may or may not be positive experiences. In fast-growing south Santa Rosa County, I see almost daily reports of large black bears in backyards and trash cans. For smaller mammals, the threat of being hit by a car is unfortunately very common. For nearly every call we get about an exciting manatee sighting, we get word of a nerve-wracking interaction with a snake.  As civilization moves closer to forested, once-wild areas, wildlife can be squeezed out, left without the protection of natural cover and drawn to human food and habitat.

A lush backyard landscape surrounds a recognition sign from the National Wildlife Federation. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

There are plenty of ways we can co-exist, though. A Florida-friendly yard is a wildlife-friendly yard, and those who go the extra mile can even be recognized by the National Wildlife Federation for their efforts. There are several steps one needs to take to become wildlife-friendly. The most important include providing food, water, and cover, so the animals’ basic needs are met. Actions like removing invasive species, keeping pets supervised when outdoors, and adding layers of vegetation are also excellent ways to attract and protect native creatures.

While small and medium sized animals can find shelter in a single yard, it takes neighborhood cooperation to be a haven for something larger, like deer, bears, birds of prey, or large tortoises. Some neighborhoods are designated from the beginning to include conservation easements that serve as amenities to the neighborhood. They include trails, shady waterfront areas, and plenty of space for wildlife. It is important when moving into one of these neighborhoods that each homebuyer understands and respects the purpose behind conservation areas. Residents of older, existing neighborhoods can also work together to designate common areas and stretches of adjoining yards as wildlife-friendly corridors, allowing more animals to use the space safely.

A gopher tortoise burrow is noted by a sign in a local city park. The tortoise is co-existing peacefully with its neighbors! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In my own neighborhood in the city limits, a gopher tortoise has moved in and become a neighborhood mascot of sorts! When alerted to the presence of its burrow, the city brought in a sign explaining the animal’s protected status and crucial role in the environment. Floridians share their citizenship with thousands of other species. These breathtaking birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and insects are integral to the health of our land and water. By taking steps to look out for their well-being, we are also providing for our own.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weeping Yaupon Offers Year-Round Interest to the Landscape

Weeping Yaupon Offers Year-Round Interest to the Landscape

If you are looking for an interesting native plant that attracts wildlife and makes a statement, look no further than Weeping Yaupon Holly Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’. The weeping growth habit with olive green leaves and white bark are attractive year-round. A bonus are the showy bright red berries that attract birds in the fall and winter. It is a cultivar of Yaupon Holly Ilex vomitoria which is tolerant of variable light and soil conditions making it a very adaptable plant.

Weeping Yaupon is a small evergreen tree that grows 15-30 feet tall with a mature width of 6-12 feet. Once established it has a high tolerance to drought conditions and is also able to sustain salt spray making it a good fit for coastal landscapes.

For more information visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST312

Outdoor Living in Your Landscape

Outdoor Living in Your Landscape

Living in Northwest Florida brings many wonderful opportunities to be outside enjoying all the things nature has to offer.  Outdoor living can become an extension of your home life.  Planning and placing a creatively planned landscape space to be a part of this outdoor living adds so many dimensions for all to enjoy.

Outdoor Living, Courtesy UF / IFAS Gardening Solutions page.

Creating a relaxing space outside of your home needs to take in many considerations before planning begins.  These spaces should take into account the creative thoughts of the homeowner.  Do you enjoy grilling, sitting quietly to take in the sights and sounds of nature, gardening, hedges and walls for private areas, enjoying shady or sunny spots and many other considerations?  Do you most like spending your time outside during the day or evening?  Will lighting be needed?  How much space do you have?  What types of furniture will be selected to create those small sitting spots?

 

Soil types around your home should be a part of plant selections and include water movement considerations during the design process.  The northwest area of Florida ranges from sandy coastal to sandhill sands to clay soils in the northern area of many panhandle counties.  It is recommended to take soil samples to determine soil needs prior to placing the first plant into these outdoor spaces.  With soil moisture ranging from wet to dry, certain plants perform well in wet sites and others in dry sites. That information should be a part of landscape planning decisions.

How do you envision these enjoyable areas and link to the home design?  Flowing from the front entry through the home out to the backyard, you need to keep in mind what you and your family want to see and enjoy.  What will it look like as the settings mature and change?  Will there be walkways connecting the outdoor rooms.  What types of walk materials will be used, stone, gravel, wood, turfgrass or another creative material?  Are specific plant settings desired that may include a vegetable, flower or herb garden?

Mitigating the influence of insect pests needs to be a consideration when creating an outdoor living space in the panhandle.

Building a fire wise landscape is an important consideration also as the risk of wildfire in the state is always present during drought periods.  Selection of plants that are fire resistant should be a priority. Enjoying time with family around the firepit is a pleasant experience.  Keep in mind to plan, place and use firepits wisely.  Have a firepit safety plan ready.

Outdoor living spaces also include recreation areas, both on and off your property. We are fortunate to have bike friendly roadways, especially in quiet neighborhoods.  When biking, always follow the rules and regulations of the road.  While out enjoying your pedaling adventure, you may want to take along the fishing equipment.  If these are part of your plans think about storing supplies in locations with easy access.

There are a lot of questions that will need to be addressed before outdoor living spaces are created.  One important consideration: outdoor spaces should be a comfortable place to visit and may be a quiet place for contemplation or  a fun setting for friends and family.  Thought should be given to hiring a professional landscape company to assist in making these wonderful settings a reality.   Enjoy your outdoor living space!

Garden Ideas – Les Furr’s Sunflower Screen

Garden Ideas – Les Furr’s Sunflower Screen

Veteran Master Gardener, Les Furr shares an idea he and his wife had to hide an ugly debris pile following Hurricane Michael. He planted a temporary sunflower screen to block something ugly with something beautiful. Sunflowers can be planted along a road or fence, and provide a lovely addition to your property. The seed can be saved and frozen to provide beauty to your property year after year.

Celebrate our Pollinators This Week (and Every Week!)

Celebrate our Pollinators This Week (and Every Week!)

For the 13th year we celebrate National Pollinator Week June 22-28 to bring awareness to the importance of our pollinators and the challenges they face. This is an opportunity to learn about ways to protect pollinators in our own landscapes. Every one of us can make a difference.

When we hear the word ‘pollinator’ most of us immediately think of honeybees. They are very important but there are so many other creatures that are important pollinators:

  • Native bees – Florida alone has over 300 species of bees
  • Hummingbirds – their long beaks can reach into long, tubular blooms
  • Bats – they pollinate over 500 plants including banana, mango, and agave (used to make tequila)
  • Beetles – considered to be a messy and minor pollinator; they pollinate the native paw paw
  • Butterflies – a minor pollinator as most have long legs that keep them perched above the pollen
  • Flies – pollinators of a variety of native plants

According to the USDA, 75% of flowering plants and about 35% of food crops around the globe rely on these animals for pollination. Without pollination, these plants would not reproduce or provide us food.

So, what can the average person do to make a difference?

  • Plant what bees and butterflies love!
  • Avoid using any insecticide unless it is absolutely necessary. Predators like assassin bugs, dragonflies and birds help to keep pests in check. Our songbirds rely on protein-rich insects (especially caterpillars) to feed their growing babies.
  • Don’t treat areas where pollinators are visiting the flowers, whether in the lawn or the landscape beds.
  • If you need to apply an insecticide to the lawn, mow first to remove the blooms from any weeds. Always follow the label instructions carefully.
  • Avoid using a systemic insecticide on plants that bloom and attract pollinators. The insecticide can remain in plants for a long time.

Happy gardening during National Pollinator Week!

For more information:

Pollinator Partnership: Pollinator Week Activities

US Fish & Wildlife Pollinator Site

Native Insect Pollinators of the Southeastern United States brochure

Purdue University: Protecting Pollinators in Home Lawns and Landscapes

Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides