Tis the Season for Plant Dieback – Here’s How to React

Tis the Season for Plant Dieback – Here’s How to React

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had multiple questions regarding trees and shrubs that aren’t looking too hot.  These types of calls are common this time of year – it has gotten hot and dry, and plants have fully emerged from winter, causing issues that have been hiding under the surface during the dormant season to manifest as crown or branch dieback.  While there are a wide variety of things that can cause dieback, in most cases a little detective work can help pinpoint the issue.  Let’s look at a few of the most common causes of dieback and some corrective measures that may help restore the plants to health.

The first thing to do when you notice a plant in decline is nothing.  Don’t try and oversaturate it with water.  Don’t run out and dump a bunch of fertilizer around it.  Many times, these panic measures exacerbate the stress the plant is already under.  Instead, I encourage you to give us a call at your local  UF/IFAS County Extension Office.  We can likely help identify the cause of the problem through a site visit to your property or by you sending us diagnostic photos of the plant with a description of what’s been going on with it – the more information you can provide about the plant and the management practices it has experienced, the better (you can email diagnostic images/information to d.leonard@ufl.edu).

The most common cause of tree/shrub dieback that I see arises from improper planting practices.  Most landscape plants should be planted at or just above the surrounding soil level, preferably where the topmost root arises from the trunk.  To accomplish this, planting holes should be dug slightly shallower than the rootball’s height and about twice as wide.  Planting any deeper than that is probably too deep and can cause problems like trunk and root decay, which lead to crown dieback.  Unfortunately, once a plant is planted too deep, it cannot be corrected other than digging up and replanting at the proper depth, which may or may not be possible depending on the size of the tree.  Another common issue that can arise after planting is girdling roots.  This occurs when plants are grown in plastic containers and develop a root system that circles the inner wall of the pot.  If not trimmed, the plant’s root system will continue to grow in this manner, eventually encircling the plant’s trunk, cutting off water and nutrient flow, and leading to crown dieback.  Fortunately, this condition can be prevented by cutting, removing, or redirecting these roots at planting.

The next most common cause of plant dieback occurs due to soil disturbance by people.  It’s easy to forget but the root zone of trees and shrubs can reach out several times farther than the plant is tall and is easily damaged.  Disturbances to the root zone from digging or trenching near trees or compaction from prolonged vehicle travel over the area cause damage that might be slow to appear but can lead to plant decline. If you are doing construction or building near a shrub or tree, try to keep digging machinery as far out of the root zone as possible and avoid repeatedly parking or driving vehicles over the root zone area.  Like below ground root damage, trunk damage that occurs from injury by string trimmers, mowers, or animal feeding activity can all disrupt the flow of water and nutrients in plants and prove deadly.  There is no cure for this type of damage, so employing physical barriers to prevent damage is key.

The last major stress is environmental in nature and is caused by a water imbalance – either too much or not enough.  Dry soil conditions during the planting and establishment phases (first several years after planting) should obviously be avoided if possible – keeping the developing rootzone moist and allowing plant roots to establish in their native soil is critical.  Too much water can also cause problems for trees planted in poorly drained soil.  Excessive moisture leads to root diseases, which ultimately presents as dieback in the canopy.  If planting in an area that tends to stay wet, select a species of plant adapted for that sort of site – some species are more tolerant of “wet feet” than others.  While many people expect disease and insect damage to be the cause of an unhealthy plant, they’re often not the biggest culprit and, if they occur at all, are generally secondary to one of the above issues.

For more information about crown dieback or declining landscape plants, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy gardening!

The Third Place

The Third Place


Have you ever heard of “the third place?” It’s a concept introduced by sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his 1999 book, “The Great Good Place. ” In the book, Oldenburg writes about the need for a space beyond home (the first place) and work (the second place) where people can relax, socialize, and connect with their surroundings. Third places are known for being easy to access, inclusive to all, and free from rigid social structures. They provide a cozy and inviting atmosphere where people can relax and socialize, away from their homes and workplaces. This idea of third places has gained importance in conversations about city planning, building communities, and improving overall well-being. Cities are increasingly focused on creating spaces that encourage social connections and foster a sense of belonging among their inhabitants. “The third place” is an anchor of society and essential for our prosperity and for building strong communities.


Now, let’s think about an unexpected third place – the garden. Gardens aren’t just about plants and flowers; they’re havens where social connections flourish amidst nature’s tranquility. Gardens offer a peaceful escape from the chaos of everyday life, fostering social interaction and community bonding. Whether you’re chatting with fellow gardeners or simply enjoying the beauty of your surroundings, gardens bring people together from all walks of life. They also provide a chance to connect with nature, promoting mindfulness and well-being. From gardening activities to community events, gardens cater to diverse interests and needs, making them versatile spaces for everyone to enjoy. Additionally, many gardens are maintained by volunteers or community groups, fostering a sense of ownership and pride among residents. At their core, gardens embody the essence of “the third place,” offering a blend of natural beauty, social interaction, and community engagement.


Think about your garden for a moment. Remember the people you’ve met and the friends you’ve made while working together. Remember the joy you felt when you all got your hands dirty preparing the soil and planting seeds. Gardens are more than just pretty places; they’re important spots where people from different backgrounds can gather, connect, and feel better surrounded by nature. So, the next time you walk into a garden, think of it as more than just a place with plants and flowers. It’s a friendly place where community grows and friendships bloom at “the third place.”

Sweet Alyssum: The Unsung Hero of Pollinator Crops

Sweet Alyssum: The Unsung Hero of Pollinator Crops

In the realm of pollinator-friendly plants, Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) often flies under the radar despite its remarkable qualities. This delicate flowering plant, with its clusters of tiny blooms, not only adds beauty to gardens but also serves as a vital resource for pollinators.

An exemplary instance is the hybrid series, Easy Breezy™, known for its compact size and remarkable heat tolerance, allowing it to thrive well beyond the spring season. Available in white, pink, and purple variations, this cultivar stands out. Another hybrid, known for its exceptional heat tolerance, is the white-flowering Lobularia ‘Inlbusnopr’, frequently marketed under the trademarked name Snow Princess®.

Let’s explore the many benefits of sweet alyssum as a pollinator crop and why it deserves a place in every garden.

Attractiveness to Pollinators

Sweet alyssum’s petite blossoms, exude a sweet fragrance that acts as a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Its nectar-rich flowers provide a vital food source for these creatures throughout the growing season.

Extended Blooming Period

One of the standout features of sweet alyssum is its prolonged blooming period, which often lasts from spring through fall in favorable climates. This extended flowering season ensures a consistent supply of nectar for pollinators, especially during times when other floral resources may be scarce.

Low Maintenance and Versatility

Sweet alyssum is renowned for its adaptability and ease of cultivation. It thrives in a variety of soil types and is tolerant of both drought and heat, making it an excellent choice for gardeners seeking low-maintenance pollinator-friendly plants. Whether grown in garden beds, containers, or hanging baskets, sweet alyssum adds charm and functionality to any landscape.

Companion Planting Benefits

Beyond its role as a pollinator crop, sweet alyssum offers additional benefits to gardeners through companion planting. Its compact growth habit and dense foliage act as a natural ground cover, suppressing weeds and conserving soil moisture. Furthermore, sweet alyssum is known to attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies and predatory wasps, which help control garden pests.

Encouraging Urban Pollination

In urban environments where green spaces may be limited, incorporating sweet alyssum into landscaping projects can play a significant role in supporting local pollinator populations. Whether in public parks, rooftop gardens, or community plots, the addition of sweet alyssum provides essential forage for pollinators and contributes to urban biodiversity conservation efforts.

Sweet alyssum’s unassuming beauty and pollinator-friendly characteristics make it an excellent educational tool for teaching about the importance of pollination and ecosystem dynamics. They may be small in stature, but its impact as a pollinator crop is undeniable. By incorporating this humble yet vital plant into our landscapes, we can create havens for pollinators and contribute to the preservation of biodiversity for generations to come. Let us embrace sweet alyssum as the unsung hero of pollinator crops.

For more information on sweet alyssum, contact your county Extension office.

Useful links:

Sweet Alyssum – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)

Flowering Annuals for Georgia Gardens.PDF (uga.edu)

What is Titi?

What is Titi?

What is a titi? Google it.  Wiktionary says it is “a New World monkey of the genus Callicebus, native to South America, distinguished by their long soft fur”. But deeper into the definitions you will find “a shrub or small tree of the southern Unites States, having glossy leaves and elongated clusters of flowers, occurring in wet soil conditions”.

Titi is just a common name for two species that grow in the wetlands.  Black titi (Cliftonia monophyla), also referred to as buckwheat tree, is the first to bloom in the spring.  Native seedlings produce clusters of small white flowers at the tip of the branches.  The sweet-smelling blooms provide a nectar source for bees in February and March.  Following pollination, golden-brown seed pods will form, resembling buckwheat grains; hence, the other common name.  The seed persists through the fall, providing added aesthetics and a food source for native and migratory birds.  Pink-flowering sports of the Black titi have been propagated for the native plant nursery trade.  ‘Chipolo Pink’ is one of the most popular (pictured).

The other species is Red titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), also called Swamp titi.  It will send out multiple drooping white flowers in a finger-like cluster from the previous year’s wood.  Blooming begins in the late spring and continues into the summer.  Unfortunately, the nectar has shown to be a source for purple brood disease in bees, a terminal condition for the baby bees.

So, when deciding on native plants for your wetlands edge or rain garden, look for the Black titi and the new cultivars on the market.  Then research other summer-flowering nectar sources like Clethra alnifolia, Sweet pepperbush, and their many new cultivars.

No Mow March is Back for 2024

No Mow March is Back for 2024

Your UF IFAS Extension office in the Northwest District would like you to continue your break from mowing. We invite you to support the 2024 No Mow March campaign by pledging to let your wildflowers grow for pollinators.  This can be throughout the yard or in one particular spot.  During March our turfgrasses are still waking up and many of the flowering wildflowers that are growing offer food to active pollinators.  We are seeing a wide variety of flowers including Toadflax, Common vetch, Lyre-leaved sage, White clover, Florida betony, and Blue violets to name a few.  Take Our Pledge for pollinators.

Lyre-leaved sage, Florida betony, and White clover. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

If you are required to mow the lawn by a Homeowner’s Association, consider a different gardening activity to support pollinators.  Container gardens are very attractive features in a landscape and you can select a wide variety of flowering perennials that pollinators enjoy.  Many herbs like chamomile also grow well in containers and have flowers visited by native bees.

Your traditional landscape design with trees and shrubs can offer flowers for pollinators too.  There are several native shrubs that bloom in March that would beautify any landscape.  Consider native azaleas, Walter’s viburnum, Red buckeye, or Virginia sweetspire.  If you need a low growing border perennial you might consider the native Woodland phlox or Blue eyed grass.

Native azaleas, Walter’s viburnum, and Red buckeye. Photos by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Finally be aware that many native pollinators have nesting activity that is different from the more commonly known honeybee. During March, we see the small dirt piles with a center hole of the native mining bees. These are in lawns, mulch areas, and fields.  These solitary bees make a small chamber to raise a few young bees that will emerge later in the year.  They are not aggressive and activity is seen for a few weeks. 

Native mining bee entrance hole. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

Whether you take a complete break from mowing or add some flowering plants to your March landscape, you can make a difference for pollinators.  Learn more about the Now Mow March campaign by visiting https://go.ufl.edu/nomowmarch and even consider joining our INaturalist No Mow March site to upload your plant and pollinator sightings. 

Creating a Pollinator Paradise: Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Birds to Your Garden

Creating a Pollinator Paradise: Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Birds to Your Garden

In the ever growing urbanization of our world today, green spaces are hard to come by but are so essential to biodiversity conservation. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, play a crucial role in our ecosystem by facilitating plant reproduction. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. However, by making simple changes to your garden, you can create an environment that supports and protects your pollinators. In this article, we will discuss ways to turn your garden into a pollinator paradise.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on flower. Photo taken 09-26-22. UF/IFAS Photo by Cat Wofford.

Choosing Native Plants

Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, making them ideal for supporting native pollinators. Research native species that thrive in your region and incorporate them into your landscape. Aim for a diverse selection of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year to provide a continuous food source for pollinators.

Flowers and insects at the student gardens on the University of Florida campus. Pollinating bee. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Providing Shelter and Nesting Sites

Pollinators need more than just nectar-rich flowers; they also require sheltered spaces for nesting or overwintering. By incorporating features such as brush piles, dead trees, and nesting boxes you are creating habitat diversity for the pollinators. Leaving some areas of bare soil for ground-nesting bees and providing water sources like shallow dishes or birdbaths can further enhance your garden’s appeal to pollinators as well.

Avoid Chemical Pesticides

Chemical pesticides not only can harm pollinators, but they can also directly disrupt ecosystems. Instead of reaching for a spray on the shelf to deter pests, consider using a natural pest control method such as companion planting, handpicking pests, and encouraging natural predators like ladybugs and birds. Certain organic gardening practices not only protect pollinators, but can also promote your garden’s overall health.

Embrace Imperfection

A manicured garden may look appealing, but it can be sometimes inhospitable to our pollinator friends. Create a more naturalistic approach by allowing certain areas of your garden to grow wild. Letting plants go to seed, leaving some leaf litter, and allowing flowers to fade and form seed heads provide valuable resources for pollinators throughout their life cycle.

A butterfly garden at a Florida-Friendly Landscape. UF/IFAS Photo taken by Cat Wofford 9-29-23

Educate and Inspire Others

Because pollinator numbers have rapidly declined in recent years, awareness and education of their importance to our ecosystem is crucial. Spreading the word of their importance and how you can contribute to conservation efforts truly helps the cause. UF/IFAS Extension has made great efforts in hosting workshops, giving presentations, and sharing information through newsletters and social media about the importance of creating pollinator habitats. We encourage you, your neighbors, friends, and community members to join in the movement of creating pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes.

By transforming your garden into a pollinator paradise, you not only enhance its beauty, but also play a vital role in conserving biodiversity. Every flower you plant and every habitat you create contributes to the well-being of bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. Together, we can make a difference and ensure a thriving ecosystem for generations to come.

For more information, please visit: