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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native edible that is often overlooked and misunderstood. Not only does it produce a delicious fruit that looks like a mango and tastes like a banana, but it is also an aesthetic landscape plant. This fruit is slowly gaining popularity with younger generations and a handful of universities (Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri) are working on cultivar improvements.
A pawpaw tree growing in the woods. Photo credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
The pawpaw is native to the eastern United States (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8), however it’s closest relatives are all tropical such as the custard apple, cherimoya, and soursop. The pawpaw, along with these fruits, are known for their custard-like texture which may be a unpleasant for some consumers. Pawpaws are relatively hardy, have few insect pests, and can still produce fruit in partial shade (although they produce more fruit when grown in full sun).
Pawpaws perform best in moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. They are found growing wild in full to partial shade, but more fruit are produced when trees are grown in full sun. However, pawpaws need some protection from wind and adequate irrigation in orchard settings. Trees can grow to between 12 feet to 25 feet tall and should be planted at least 15 feet apart. In the Florida Panhandle, flowers bloom in early spring and fruit ripen from August to October depending on variety and weather.
Young pawpaw fruit growing on a small tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County
A number of improved cultivars of pawpaws have been developed that produce more fruit with more flavor than native seedlings/saplings. The University of Missouri has conducted trials on the following pawpaw cultivars: ‘Sunflower’; ‘PA Golden’; ‘Wells’; ‘NC-1’; ‘Overleese’; ‘Shenandoah’; ‘Susquehanna’; and ’10-35′. Most of these cultivars performed well in southern Missouri, however yields may differ in the Florida Panhandle. The full results of the trial can be found in the “Pawpaw – Unique Native Fruit” publication.
Pawpaws can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Unlike most fruit trees, pawpaws are usually true to seed meaning that saved seed produces a tree with similar characteristics to the parent tree. To save seeds, place fresh seeds in a bag of moist peat moss and refrigerate for 3 to 4 months before planting. To vegetatively propagate, take cuttings (pencil thin in diameter) in the winter and store in a refrigerator until early spring. Cuttings should be chip budded onto seedling rootstock during the spring. Please visit this publication from the University of Nebraska for more information on chip budding.
Pawpaw fruit are ready to harvest when they are slightly soft when gently squeezed. Fruits picked prior to being fully ripe, but after they start to soften, will ripen indoors at room temperature or in a refrigerator. Already-ripe fruit will stay fresh for a few days at room temperature or for a few weeks in the refrigerator. To enjoy pawpaw fruit throughout the year, scoop out the flesh, remove the seeds, and place the flesh in freezer bags and freeze.
Whether you want to add more native plants to your landscape or you are a rare and unusual fruit enthusiast, pawpaw may be the tree for you. They can be utilized as a focal point in the garden and provide delicious fruit for your family. For more information on pawpaw or other fruit trees, please contact your local Extension Office.
Landscape activities have already begun in our Panhandle counties with cleanup, mulching, raking, and pruning. Our mild temperatures and days with sunshine spur us to jump into our landscape preparations for the spring growing season.
This year before you send all your debris to the compost pile or patch up thinning turf areas, consider that some landscape imperfections may actually be good for local wildlife.
We all know how important it is to plant nectar attracting plants for bees but there are other easy practices that can help promote more native bees in local landscapes. There are some solitary native bee pollinators that will raise young in hollow stems of plants. Instead of cutting all your old perennial or small fruit stems back to the ground, let some stay as a home to a native pollinating bee. This does not have to detract from the look of the landscape but can be on plants in the background of a border garden or even hidden within the regrowth of a multi stemmed plants. Plants that are especially attractive to native bees have a pithy or hollow stems such as blackberry, elderberry, and winged sumac.
The hollow stems of upright blackberries can be home to solitary bees. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Another favorite site for solitary bees is in the ground. These ground nesting solitary bees should not be compared to yellow jacket wasps. Solitary bees are not aggressive. Mining or digger bees need some bare soil surfaces in order to excavate small tunnels for raising a few young. Maybe you have an area that does not need a complete cover of turf but is fine with a mixture of turf and ‘wildflowers’. A few open spaces, especially in late winter and early spring will be very attractive to solitary bees.
Beneficial solitary bee mounds in the ground of a winter centipedegrass lawn area. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
One of our fastest disappearing homes for wildlife are natural cavities. In residential sites, we often prune or remove limbs or trees that are declining or have died. If the plant or tree is not a hazard, why not leave it to be a home for cavity nesting birds and mammals. If the dying tree is large, have a professional remove hazard pieces but leave a trunk about 10-15 feet tall for the animals to make a home. You may then get to enjoy the sites and/or sounds of woodpeckers, bluebirds, owls, flying squirrels, and chickadees.