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 myfloridacfo.com.
  • 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: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov. 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 (https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu) or from the Extension Office in your County.

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

Mulch Guide for Panhandle Gardeners

Mulch Guide for Panhandle Gardeners

Mulch provides nutrients to soil and plants, reduces weed growth, controls soil temperature, and improves the look of lawns and gardens. It gives the landscape a neat, uniform appearance and is an excellent Florida-Friendly choice for hard-to-mow areas and shady spots. One should keep a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch on plant beds. Always leave at least 2 inches of space around tree trunks to prevent rot. Create self-mulching areas under your trees by allowing fallen leaves to stay in place. Though bark and wood chips are typically the most common mulch, other forms are just as beneficial. The following are the best overall mulches for Panhandle gardeners!

Bark and Wood Chips

Bark and wood chips are frequently used on flower beds and around small bushes and shrubs. As they decay, the material provides nutrients to the soil. Both materials are inexpensive and can be found at most gardening supply stores. Cedarwood chips are popular for their repellent properties, keeping fleas and other pests away.

Pebbles and Rocks

Pebbles and rocks are effective in retaining soil moisture and minimizing weed growth. They are excellent mulch alternatives for flower beds. Rocks are economical in cooler climates, where heat retained by rock mulch can extend the growing season. Since rocks do not decompose, they don’t provide nutrients to the soil. If you’re looking for a nutrient-rich mulch alternative, rocks are not a good choice. This can be easily remedied by fertilizing your landscape to provide more nutrients. If you decide to use pebbles or rocks, keep in mind that they can be difficult to remove if you switch to a different type of mulch a season or two.

Leaves and Pine Needles

Leaves and pine needles are an affordable nutrient-rich mulch alternative. Rake and gather fallen leaves each season and redistribute them above your soil. For the best results, one should shred the leaves. Let the shredded leaves dry before adding them to your garden to reduce bacteria growth and pest infestations. Pine needles decompose and add nutrients to the soil, just like other organic forms of mulch. They work best with plants that prefer acidic soil conditions, like holly gardenias, roses, and chrysanthemums. You can buy bundles of pine needles at your local gardening store or gather them from your own trees and spread them around your garden.

Grass Clippings

Grass clippings are a cost-efficient alternative to traditional mulch. However, they must be dried out or composted before use to prevent potentially damaging heat from affecting plants. If you treat your lawn with chemicals, don’t use grass clippings in your flower or garden bed.

Compost

Compost is an affordable mulch alternative and enriches the soil by adding essential nutrients. Apply compost above your garden or lawn in a thin layer. Compost improves the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to your garden. One can make it yourself with discarded vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and water.

Newspaper

Newspapers effectively keep weeds at bay, retain moisture, and regulate soil temperatures. Newspaper is equally functional compared to traditional mulches, but is not as visually appealing as other options. Moisten the newspaper slightly before laying it above the soil so that it stays in place. Then, add a thin layer of organic mulch on top. Apply five to eight sheets of newspaper at a time. If using newspaper without another mulch on top, shred it before applying it to your garden. Newspaper is biodegradable and will deteriorate like other mulches.

Poinsettias

Poinsettias

A Short History

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a plant synonymous with the holiday season. Growing in deciduous forests along the Pacific coasts of southern Mexico it becomes a woody shrub reaching 10-15 feet tall. In 1825 the ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett was taken by the red blooms and brought it home to the United States. He propagated and gifted the plant to friends and a few public gardens. Before long the nursery industry took notice and the plant was on its way to becoming the potted plants we see in stores. Today, an extensive breeding program has created a multitude of colors and leaf patterns available to consumers for the holiday season.

Poinsettias for sale
Poinsettias for sale IFAS Photo: Josh Criss

The Plant

Poinsettia is a member of Euphorbiaceae commonly referred to as the Spurge family. The primary feature of this family is a milky sap or latex produced in the stem tissue. Some may be allergic to the latex, but to most it is at worst a mild irritant. This irritation conjoins a reputation of toxicity which may give some pause toward purchasing one. While a very mild toxicity does exist, you would need to consume very large amounts of the leaves to experience negative effects. That said, it is always best to dissuade consumption by pets and children with this and any other house plants.  The flowers of this plant are somewhat unremarkable and appear in the middle of several red leaf structures. These leaves are actually bracts and are protective structures for the flower. As a tropical plant, frosts and freezes have a detrimental consequence for this plant, but in areas where there is little or no risk of cold it may be used in your landscape after the holidays. In these scenarios, it will grow much as in its native habitat into a shrub.   

Mature poinsettia as a shrub in the landscape
A mature poinsettia planted outside of a home. IFAS photo

Care

When kept inside, keep the temperature around 65F at night and 80F during the day. They need full sun and water only when the soil is dry. It is good practice to remove any water left in pot saucers as this plant performs poorly with wet feet. All-purpose fertilizers should used except while this plant is in bloom. When blooming the plant does not require fertilization. Placed outdoors in a protect area once freeze risk has passed. Keep in mind that the bracts are photosensitive. Around October, theses plants will need 14 hours of complete darkness daily to turn their customary red by Christmas. Keep them covered and completely blacked out as even porch lights will delay color change.      

Poinsettias are a beautiful plant and certainly worth your efforts this holiday season. With some knowledge and a little effort, you may extend their life in our environment through much of the year. For more information on poinsettias, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.

Autumn Brings Changes in our Landscapes

Autumn Brings Changes in our Landscapes

The shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn bring on changes in our shrubs and trees.

Most people expect to see changes in leaf color in deciduous trees and shrubs during fall. But some people become concerned when the leaves on certain evergreen plants begin to turn yellow with the change in the seasons. For many plants this is normal.

Azaleas may lose a few leaves now. These are the older leaves on the branches near the center of the plant. There is no need for alarm by the loss of a few older azalea leaves from now until spring. However, if the younger leaves, those nearest the tip of the shoot, turn yellow or brown there is cause for concern. Poor drainage, lack of water or alkaline soils may cause this condition. Be sure to keep azaleas and other ornamental plants well-watered during dry weather that may occur from now through spring.

Other plants such as gardenias, hollies and camellias may have yellowing leaves now. But as with azaleas, these are the older leaves on the stem near the center of the plant. The mature leaves will drop from the plant from now until spring. This is only the normal aging of older leaves. However, be careful to not confuse this normal process with spider mites, scale, lace bugs, nutrient deficiencies, poor growing conditions or salt injury. Just keep in mind that this normal change in leaf color and leaf drop occurs on the older leaves generally during cooler weather – it’s a seasonal change.

Young red maple with fall foliage. Photo credit: Larry Williams

The leaves of sycamore trees have changed from green to brown by now. Although the sycamore is a deciduous tree, this phenomenon may not be caused by a change in day length or temperature alone. This change in leaf color in sycamores can begin in late summer. Many times, it is the result of sycamore lace bugs feeding on the leaves. By the time the damage is visible, there is little that can be done to correct the problem. However, this problem will take care of itself since sycamore trees will soon be dropping their leaves.

We do have some trees that exhibit beautiful fall foliage this time of year. A few to consider include hickory and gingko for their bright yellow fall foliage, black gum for its early display of brilliant red, purple or orange leaves and Chinese pistache for its late reddish-orange fall show. There are plenty of other good trees to consider for fall color here in North Florida such as dogwood, crape myrtle, Florida maple, sourwood, shumard oak and the list could continue.