There are often questions about who is responsible when storm-damaged trees end up on a neighbor’s property. UF IFAS Escambia County Extension discusses a few common situations using legal interpretations from the UF publication HANDBOOK OF FLORIDA FENCE AND PROPERTY LAW: TREES AND LANDOWNER RESPONSIBILITY.
Stoke’s aster ‘Mel’s Blue’ 20 days after Hurricane Sally’s landfall. Notice how soil was washed away from root ball, all the leaves emerged post-hurricane. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
Hurricanes can wreak havoc in your landscape, but they can also reveal what plants are the toughest and most resilient. It’s a great learning opportunity.
A few weeks ago, Hurricane Sally came along and brought about 10 feet of surge and waves across my landscape and completely covered everything except the tallest trees for about 18 hours. (Fortunately, our house is on stilts and we did not have intrusion into our main living areas.)
As expected, the trees, including Dahoon Holly and Sweetbay Magnolia, took a beating but stayed intact. With their dense fibrous root system, most of the clumping native grasses also stayed put.
Perennial milkweed 3 weeks post-hurricane. New topsoil and compost now covers the rootball. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
The most surprising plant species that survived were about a dozen Stoke’s aster and 3 perennial milkweed. 4-5 inches of soil all around them was washed away, most of the roots were exposed, and the leaves were stripped or dead. The other perennials that had lived nearby were all washed away. To my surprise, within about 10 days after the storm, these two plant species started poking up new stems and leaves.
Here’s a list of some of the plants either in my yard or in the neighborhood that survived Hurricane Sally’s storm surge and may be suitable to add to your coastal landscape:
Dahoon holly, Ilex cassine
Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris
Dwarf Fakahatchee grass, Tripsacum floridanum
Perennial milkweed, Asclepias perennis
Stoke’s aster, Stokesia laevis, specifically the cultivars ‘Mel’s Blue’ and ‘Divinity’
Bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus
Gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides
Bougainvillea, Bougainvillea spp.
Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica
Crapemyrtle, Lagerstroemia spp.
Cabbage palm, Sabal palmetto
Canary Island date palm, Phoenix canariensis
Sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana
Augustinegrass, Stenotaphrum secundatum
And, unfortunately, the rhizomes of the invasive torpedograss also survived.
For more information on salt tolerant and hurricane resistant plants, see:
7 year old Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata) on the edge of a wet weather pond in Calhoun County. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Haunting alluvial river bottoms and creek beds across the Deep South, is a highly unusual oak species, Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata). Unlike nearly any other Oak and most sane people, Overcups occur deep in alluvial swamps and spend most of their lives with their feet wet. Though the species hides out along water’s edge in secluded swamps, it has nevertheless been discovered by the horticultural industry and is becoming one of the favorite species of landscape designers and nurserymen around the South. The reasons for Overcup’s rise are numerous, let’s dive into them.
First, much of the deep South, especially in the Coastal Plain, is dominated by poorly drained flatwoods soils cut through by river systems and dotted with cypress and blackgum ponds. These conditions call for landscape plants that can handle hot, humid air, excess rainfall, and even periodic inundation (standing water). It stands to reason our best tree options for these areas, Sycamore, Bald Cypress, Red Maple, and others, occur naturally in swamps that mimic these conditions. Overcup Oak is one of these hardy species. Overcup goes above and beyond being able to handle a squishy lawn, it is often found inundated for weeks at a time by more than 20’ of water during the spring floods our river systems experience.
The same Overcup Oak thriving under inundation conditions 2 weeks after a heavy rain. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
The species has even developed an interesting adaptation to allow populations to thrive in flooded seasons. Their acorns, preferred food of many waterfowl, are almost totally covered by a buoyant acorn cap, allowing seeds to float downstream until they hit dry land, thus ensuring the species survives and spreads. While it will not survive perpetual inundation like Cypress and Blackgum, if you have a periodically damp area in your lawn where other species struggle, Overcup will shine.
Overcup Oak is also an exceedingly attractive tree. In youth, the species is extremely uniform, with a straight, stout trunk and rounded “lollipop” canopy. This regular habit is maintained into adulthood, where it becomes a stately tree with a distinctly upturned branching habit, lending itself well to mowers and other traffic underneath without having to worry about hitting low-hanging branches. The large, lustrous green leaves are lyre-shaped if you use your imagination (hence the name, Quercus lyrata) and turn a not-unattractive yellowish brown in fall. Overcups especially shines in the winter, however, when the whitish gray, shaggy bark takes center stage. Overcup bark is very reminiscent of White Oak or Shagbark Hickory and is exceedingly pretty relative to other landscape trees that can be successfully grown here.
Overcup Oak leaves in August. Note the characteristic “lyre” shape. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
Finally, Overcup Oak is among the easiest to grow landscape trees. We have already discussed its ability to tolerate wet soils and our blazing heat and humidity, but Overcups can also tolerate periodic drought, partial shade, and nearly any soil pH. They are long-lived trees and have no known serious pest or disease problems. They transplant easily from standard nursery containers or dug from a field (if it’s a larger specimen), making establishment in the landscape an easy task. In the establishment phase, defined as the first year or two after transplanting, young, transplanted Overcups require only a weekly rain or irrigation event of around 1” (wetter areas may not require any supplemental irrigation) and bi-annual applications of a general purpose fertilizer, 10-10-10 or similar. After that, they are generally on their own without any help!
Typical shaggy bark on 7 year old Overcup Oak. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
If you’ve been looking for an attractive, low-maintenance tree for a pond bank or just generally wet area in your lawn or property, Overcup Oak might be your answer. For more information on Overcup Oak, other landscape trees and native plants, give your local UF/IFAS County Extension office a call!
As Hurricane Michael was barreling through the Panhandle region, wasp populations were at their highest of the year. Winds and flooding destroyed many of the nests of paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets and now wasps may be aggressive as they defend themselves or remnants of their nests. All are capable of multiple stings that are very painful. It is very likely that you will encounter stinging wasps as they scavenge for food and water, as well as seek shelter among debris and exposed trash.
Many people are stung by paper wasps after storms. They are not attracted to traps.
Here are a few pointers to help deal with stinging wasps.
Try not to swat at wasps flying around or landing on you. You may be less likely to receive a sting if you can flick them off.
Some wasps are attracted to the sap from broken or recently cut trees. Look before you reach. Wear gloves and other protective clothing when moving debris in case you disturb foraging or nesting activities.
Wasps are also attracted to sugars and water. Try your best to keep food and drink cans covered. Completely close garbage containers or bags that contain food debris.
Repellents are not effective against wasps. There are pesticides labeled to spray on smaller paper wasp nests if you find one in a spot close to people’s activity. These are usually aerosol pyrethroids or pyrethrins. Make sure you read the label carefully and use the product as directed.
Do not use non labeled products like gasoline to manage wasps. This is not only illegal but can be dangerous to yourself and the environment.
There are traps for yellowjackets that you may purchase or make. These only manage those wasps flying around, not any remaining in a ground nest.
Here is a Do It Yourself Yellowjacket trap from UF IFAS Extension.
Cut the top 1/3 off your 2 liter bottle so that you have 2 pieces.
Add a bait (fermenting fruit or beer) to the bottom of the plastic bottle.
Invert the top portion of the bottle into the base, forming a funnel.
Hang or place traps so they are about 4 to 5 feet above the ground. For safety, place them away from people.
A homemade trap to catch yellowjackets. Photo by Alison Zulyniak
A natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael can cause excess standing water which leads nuisance mosquito populations to greatly increase. Floodwater mosquitoes lay their eggs in the moist soil. Amazingly, the eggs survive even when the soil dries out. When the eggs in soil once again have consistent moisture, they hatch! One female mosquito may lay up to 200 eggs per batch . Standing water should be reduced as mush as possible to prevent mosquitoes from developing.
You should protect yourself by using an insect repellant (following all label instructions) with any of these active ingredients or using one of the other strategies:
Oil of lemon eucalyptus
An alternative is to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants – although that’s tough in our hot weather
Wear clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin or apply a permethrin product to your clothes, but not your skin!
Avoid getting bitten while you sleep by choosing a place with air conditioning or screens on windows and doors or sleep under a mosquito bed net.
Now let’s talk about mosquito control in your own landscape.
Let’s first explore what kind of environment in your landscape and around your home is friendly to the proliferation of mosquitoes. Adult mosquitoes lay their eggs on or very near water that is still or stagnant. That is because the larvae live in the water but have to come to the surface regularly to breeze. The small delicate larvae need the water surface to be still in order to surface and breathe. Water that is continually moving or flowing inhibits mosquito populations.
Look around your home and landscape for these possible sites of still water that can be excellent mosquito breeding grounds:
potted plant saucers
tarps over boats or recreational vehicles
rain barrels (screen mesh over the opening will prevent females from laying their eggs)
bromeliads (they hold water in their central cup or leaf axils)
any other structure that will hold even a small amount of water (I even had them on a heating mat in a greenhouse that had very shallow puddles of water!)
You may want to rid yourself of some of these sources of standing water or empty them every three to four days. What if you have bromeliads, a pond or some other standing water and you want to keep them and yet control mosquitoes? There is an environmentally responsible solution. Some bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. israelensis or Bacillus sphaericus, only infects mosquitoes and other close relatives like gnats and blackflies and is harmless to all other organisms. Look for products on the market that contain this bacteria.
Hurricane season probability and predictions. Graphic courtesy NOAA.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season began June 1. NOAA forecasters are currently predicting a relatively normal hurricane season, expecting 10-16 named storms with 5-9 of them becoming hurricanes. While we in the Panhandle dodged the serious damages inflicted upon the state by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, we have already experienced our first named storm. Subtropical storm Alberto left a relatively light touch along the Florida coast, but has inundated western North Carolina with heavy rains, causing floods and mudslides.
Tree damage to homes and property can be devastating, and one of the first instincts of many homeowners when they see a big storm in the Gulf is to start trimming limbs and removing trees. However, it is wise to fully evaluate one’s landscape before making an irreversible decision. Trees are crucial for providing shade (i.e. energy savings), wildlife habitat, stormwater management, and maintaining property values.
Downed trees in a row along a hurricane-devastated street. Photo Credit: Mary Duryea, University of Florida
University of Florida researchers Mary Duryea and Eliana Kampf have done extensive studies on the effects of wind on trees and landscapes, and several important lessons stand out. Keep in mind that reducing storm damage often starts at the landscape design/planning stage!
Select the right plant for the right place.
Post-hurricane studies in north Florida show that live oak, southern magnolia, sabal palms, and bald cypress stand up well compared to other trees during hurricanes. Pecan, water and laurel oaks, Carolina cherry laurel and sand pine were among the least wind resistant.
Plant high-quality trees with strong central trunks and balanced branch structure.
Longleaf pine often survived storms in our area better than other pine species, but monitor pines carefully. Sometimes there is hidden damage and the tree declines over time. Look for signs of stress or poor health, and check closely for insects. Weakened pines may be more susceptible to beetles and diseases.
Remove hazard trees before the wind does. Have a certified arborist inspect your trees for signs of disease and decay. They are trained to advise you on tree health.
Trees in a group (at least five) blow down less frequently than single trees.
Trees should always be given ample room for roots to grow. Roots absorb nutrients, but they are also the anchors for the tree. If large trees are planted where there is limited or restricted area for roots to grow out in all directions, there is a likelihood that the tree may fall during high winds.
Construction activities within about 20 feet from the trunk of existing trees can cause the tree to blow over more than a decade later.
Plant a variety of species, ages and layers of trees and shrubs to maintain diversity in your community