No Mow March: 3 Pollinator-Friendly Shrubs for the Rest of the Year

No Mow March: 3 Pollinator-Friendly Shrubs for the Rest of the Year

No Mow March was an awesome success this year!  Together, by leaving some unmown areas of our lawns and landscapes, we helped create acres of additional valuable pollinator habitat in a critical time of the year.  However, we can’t forget that there are still nine months remaining in which we can provide low-maintenance food and shelter for pollinators and other wildlife in our landscapes this year!  The following are three of my favorite ultra-low maintenance pollinator friendly shrubs for Panhandle landscapes for summer and fall.

Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Chaste tree or vitex, an outstanding Florida-Friendly Landscape shrub/small tree, provides many aesthetic and wildlife landscape benefits throughout the growing season.  Vitex features attractive grayish-green foliage and grows into a nice, rounded shape (10-15’ tall).  However, the primary draw is its summer/fall flower show.  Sporting striking masses of purplish-blue flowers for months on end until frost, Vitex is a pollinator magnet.  Bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and all manner of other pollinators visit vitex when in bloom and birds frequent the shrub in the fall to feed on its seeds.  Simply select a site with full sun and well-drained soil and Vitex will reward gardeners and pollinators for years to come.

Firebush (Hamelia patens)

Firebush is a showstopper for both passers-by and pollinators.  This sorta native shrub (Florida native but does not occur naturally in the Panhandle), is a prolific producer of tubular, bright-red flowers from late spring-through frost.  These flowers are a preferred nectar source for many species of butterflies, Zebra longwing and Gulf Fritillary included, and a favorite of hummingbirds.  Like vitex, birds also enjoy feeding on the berries that follow firebush flowers.  In the Panhandle, firebush tops out at around 6’ tall and about as wide and is often killed back to the ground by frost, regrowing rapidly each spring.  Firebush has no real insect or disease issues in landscapes and prefers the same sites as Vitex and will appreciate as much sun as you can give it and well-drained soil. 

Bright orange-red blooms on a firebush. Photo courtesy UF/IFAS.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

American beautyberry, or just Beautyberry as it is commonly referred to, is a lovely little deciduous shrub native to all parts of Florida and provides benefits to all manner of landscape wildlife.  Though primarily known for its bird-attracting, vibrant purple berry clusters that appear late summer through fall, Beautyberry is a host plant for several butterfly/moth species and its dainty, pink flowers are an early summer favorite of many bees!  Beautyberry grows 5-7’ in height and is extremely adaptable in landscapes as well, thriving in sun or light shade and many different soil conditions. 

American Beautyberry Photo by: UF/IFAS

It’s important to remember that providing pollinator/bird food and habitat in lawns and landscapes is not a one month event, but a year round commitment.  Reducing mowing frequency, reducing pesticide use, planting native trees, including host and nectar annuals/perennials in landscape beds, and yes, planting native fauna friendly shrubs like vitex, firebush, and American beautyberry are all part of maintaining a pollinator-friendly yard!  Plant one (or several) today! For more information on creating pollinator habitat in landscapes or any other horticultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office.

Winter Lawn “weeds,” a Place for Pollinators & Eggs

Winter Lawn “weeds,” a Place for Pollinators & Eggs

As a boy I remember our St. Augustinegrass lawn. I fondly remember winter annual weeds in that lawn.

Many of these so called “weeds” are native wildflowers. And a number of pollinators use these wildflowers.

To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to the lawn. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter to early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.

A pink Easter egg hidden in a mix of clover. Photo Credit: Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension - Okaloosa County
A pink Easter egg hidden in a mix of clover. Photo Credit: Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension – Okaloosa County

Wild geranium offered another good hiding place for eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves. 

Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers provided good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus, clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.

A yellow Easter egg hidden in a mix of clover. Photo Credit: Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension - Okaloosa County
A yellow Easter egg hidden in a mix of clover. Photo Credit: Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension – Okaloosa County

The lawn was healthy and thick enough to limit summer weeds. But during fall and winter, as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, these winter annuals would run their course.

I remember the clean smell of freshly mowed grass in spring with the first mowing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annuals were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, watered only occasionally during dry periods, played on and typically not worried with.

Most lawns have winter annuals that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with them and they are still here. Most lawns have winter annual seeds that await the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.

UF/IFAS Extension agents in the Florida Panhandle are asking you to join in on “No Mow March” in 2023. The idea is to holdup on mowing until the calendar flips to April, allowing pollinators to enjoy these common winter annuals.

Here is a website with more information on No Mow March. On this site, you’ll find a link to sign up to be a participant, check out what Okaloosa and other counties are doing by clicking on “Events” and see more about pollinators, all on this site.

Book & Garden Lovers Unite

Book & Garden Lovers Unite

The UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Pollinator Garden is the proud recipient of a Little Free Library built, stocked, and installed by the Bay County Library Foundation. We were incredibly fortunate the foundation had the perfect box designed and painted by local artist Heather Clements just waiting for the perfect place to be installed!

You might be asking yourself, how does a Little Free Library work? It’s very simple, if you want a book you take one and if you have a book to donate you leave it in the box. Our box includes books for all ages and reading levels including children’s books in English and Spanish and of course gardening and wildlife topics. As people exchange books the titles and topics will change and evolve over time.

If you are in Panama City I hope you will take a moment to pick out a book and enjoy our demonstration gardens at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City and visit the virtual garden for educational information about the garden inventory.

Looking for a Little Free Library near you or Interested in starting one? Visit or contact your local library to find out more information.

#littlefreelibrary #artinthegarden #gardening #bookworm

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
  • 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.

Winter is Tree Planting Time

Winter is Tree Planting Time

Red Maple
Red Maple structure IFAS Photo: Hassing, G.

January to February is the ideal time to plant trees.  During dormancy, all the energy in a tree is in the root system. They will establish very quickly.  In the spring, they will be ready to grow leaves. Planting and establishing trees is all about managing air and moisture in the soil. The exception is palms. They are not technically trees and should only be planted in the late spring and summer. Three of the most common causes of poor plant establishment or tree death are planting too deep, under watering, and over watering. If appropriate trees are planted at the right depth and they are irrigated properly, the trees will thrive for years to come. As simple as this sounds, problems often arise that lead to poor establishment or plant failure.

Following ten critical steps can ensure proper tree planting:

1. Look up for wires and lights. Make sure that the tree species’ mature size will not interfere with any utility lines.

2. Find the topmost root and treat root defects.   After removing the pot from the tree, remove all excess soil on the top of the root ball, until a root that is similar in diameter to the lower branches is located.  That is the topmost root.  Look for any roots that encircle the rootball, particularly close to the trunk.  Remove any roots that will strangle the trunk.  Cut all encircling roots at the point they turn to encourage root branching. Then, rough up or shave off all the roots on the perimeter of the rootball. If the tree is balled and burlapped, use a metal skewer to locate the depth of the topmost root.

Remove an inch or more for extremely rootbound trees.

3. Dig shallow and wide hole. Using the corrected rootball as a gauge, dig the hole slightly less shallow that the rootball.  Loosen the top six inches of soil around the entire rootball.

4. Carefully place tree in hole. Lower the tree into the hole slowly.

5. Position top root 1-2 inches above landscape soil. Make sure that the rootball is above the surrounding soil grade. If balled and burlapped, the nylon straps, metal pins, burlap on top of the rootball, and wire basket above the grade will need to be removed.

6. Straighten tree. Check the tree from two directions at 90% angles from each other.

7. Add and firm backfill soil. Tamp soil with fingers, not feet.  Do not stomp on the soil.  It will compact the soil and reduce the oxygen to the roots.

8. Add mulch.  Apply a 2–3-inch layer of natural mulch out to the perimeter of the trees branches, or beyond if possible.  However, there should be 1 inch or less mulch on top of the rootball.  Do not allow mulch to touch the trunk.

9. Stake and prune if needed.   If there is a strong steady wind, staking is necessary.  Otherwise, don’t stake. Make sure to do all structural pruning is done at planting time.  Establish a central leader and remove crossing branches. But do not remove the lower branches.  Just reduce the length.  The tree needs to bring food to the lower portion of the trunk to increase the diameter.

10. Water the tree. Don’t walk away until the tree has been watered.  Apply at least ½ gallon.  The tree will need to be watered twice a week for 20-30 weeks.  The larger the tree, the more water needed at each event.  However, if the water doesn’t perk in within a few minutes, reduce the amount being applied.  Overwatering can be as harmful as underwatering.

Landscape Lessons from Recent Freezes

Landscape Lessons from Recent Freezes

There are important landscape lessons to learn from recent, early and widespread freezes.

First, know the average climate for the region you live in here in Florida. The work has already been done for you with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Here is a link for the map: Find your zone on the map. Note that Northwest Florida includes zones 8a, 8b and 9a.

The newest map, with interactive features, was updated in 2012.

This map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature and is divided into 10°F zones. It can help you determine which plants are most likely to thrive in your zone. There are areas bordering Alabama, located in the extreme northern portions of Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Holmes Counties, that are in Zone 8a, with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 10 to 15 degrees F. Most of these counties fall within zone 8b, with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 15 to 20 degrees F. The extreme southern portions of these same counties (bordering the Gulf) are in Zone 9a with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 20 to 25 degrees F. As you go south in Florida, you move into Zones 9b, 10a, 10b, and 11a. Zone 10b has an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F. Zone 11a; which includes a small portion of West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, most of Miami and all of the Florida Keys; has an average annual extreme minimum temperature of 40 to 45 degrees F.

Most of the Panhandle is in USDA Hardiness zone 8b.

It seems that some people move to extreme north Florida and think they are in extreme south Florida. They move barely below Alabama or Georgia and want to plant the palms, citrus and tropical plants that thrive in extreme south Florida. If you live in Zone 9a, perhaps you might get by with growing a few plants that are well suited for 9b. But it is wise to mostly grow plants that are known to flourish in the Plant Hardiness Zone where you live. 

Secondly, follow principle one, which is Right Plant, Right Place, as explained in the UF/IFAS Extension Florida-Friendly Landscape™ (FFL) Program. Following this principle results in developing a healthy, low-maintenance landscape by using Florida-Friendly plants that match your site’s soil, light, water and climatic conditions and that require limited supplemental irrigation, potentially less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

More information on the FFL Program is available through this UF/IFAS Extension link ( or from the Extension Office in your County.

Using these tools may be a great goal for 2023 as we replace cold-injured plants.