If you enjoy a walk in some of the Panhandle’s naturally wooded areas you often come across many selections of ferns. One of my favorites to come across is the cinnamon fern, Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.
Green fronds are pinnately compound. Fertile fronds with spores emerge in the center. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
This clumping fern grows to about 2-3 feet in height. It can be larger when there is ample moisture. In the spring, it forms fertile fronds in the center that are reddish-brown in color. The sterile leaves emerge from the base of the plant to form large leaves about 2 feet in length. Leaves will be green most of the year, depending on available moisture, and can offer some fall color as they die back.
A shaded portion of my backyard has four well established cinnamon ferns. I was able to purchase these from a nursery about 20 years ago. Even without moist soils on my property, the ferns do well with average rainfall.
My favorite season for the cinnamon fern is the spring with the contrasting colors of the sterile and fertile leaves. The plants make an attractive display, mixed with ground orchids, toad lily, and the leaf mulch from the live oak tree.
Coarse texture of the ground orchids blend well with the fine textured leaves of the cinnamon fern. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Plan your area carefully if you want to add cinnamon fern since there will not be foliage present in the winter months. Blending these plants with some evergreens creates a low maintenance spot in a shady portion of your landscape.
Article written by Dr. Gary Knox, North Florida Research & Extension Center – Quincy, FL.
‘Gumpo Pink’ flowers are 3 inches in diameter and are pink with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches on petals.
In the times before re-blooming azaleas like Encore®, Bloom-A-Thon® and others, Satsuki azaleas were valued for late flowering that extended the azalea “bloom season”. Even with modern re-blooming azaleas, Satsuki azaleas still are appreciated as refined evergreen shrubs for the sophisticated garden or discerning plant collector.
“Satsuki” means “Fifth Month” in Japanese, corresponding to their flowering time in much of Japan. These azaleas were developed hundreds of years ago from their native Rhododendron indicum and R. eriocarpum. The Japanese selected cultivars more for their form and foliage than for flowering. These beloved plants were used in gardens as sheared boxwood-like hedges or pruned into rounded mounds that might resemble rocks or boulders in classical Japanese gardens. Their size and form also made them well adapted for training as bonsai. Most of the Satsuki azaleas in America were introduced in the 1930s by USDA.
Satsuki azaleas are small evergreen shrubs that flower in April and May in north Florida, long after most older type azaleas have finished. Satsuki azaleas also are known for producing large, mostly single flowers up to 5 inches in diameter in colors of white, pink, red, reddish orange and purple. Often the flowers will include stripes, edging, blotches, spots or flecks of contrasting colors (Sometimes all on the same plant!) with more than 20 different color patterns recorded.
Satsuki azaleas have an elegant subtle charm, quite unlike the flashy, over-the-top, heavy blooming all-at-once Southern Indica azaleas like ‘Formosa’ and ‘George L. Taber’. Typically, Satsuki azaleas display a few large blooms at a time, allowing one to better appreciate their size and color patterns as contrasted against their fine-textured, dark green leaves. To make up for a less boisterous display, Satsuki azaleas flower over a longer timeframe, averaging about 8 weeks, with some flowering an amazing 14 weeks. In another contrast, most Satsuki azaleas grow smaller in size, in my experience reaching about 3 feet tall and wide in a five-year timeframe. The rounded to lance-shaped leaves of Satsuki azaleas also are demure, ranging in length from just ½ inch to no more than 2 inches.
Satsuki azaleas enjoy the same conditions as most other azaleas: light shade and moist, rich, well-drained soil. Mulch regularly to maintain organic matter and help hold moisture. Fertilize lightly and keep the roots evenly moist. Minimal to no pruning is required. Satsuki azaleas also are well adapted to container culture. Their small size and fine textured leaves make these a favorite for bonsai enthusiasts since their small leaves, branching habit and mounded form naturally make them look like miniature mature “trees”.
Sources and Cultivars
Look for Satsuki azaleas in spring at garden centers or year-round at online nurseries. There are hundreds of cultivars but some popular types to look for include:
Gumpo Pink – 3-in. diameter light pink flowers with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches
Gumpo White – 3-in. diameter white flowers with occasional pink flakes and light green blotches
Gyokushin – 3-in. diameter flowers are predominantly white but with light to dark pink dots and blotches
Higasa – flowers are 4 to 5 inches in diameter and are purplish pink with purple blotches
Shugetsu – also called ‘Autumn Moon’, 3-in. diameter flowers are white with a broad, bright purplish-red border
Tama No Hada – flowers are 4 to 5 inches in diameter and are white to pink with deep pink stripes; usually flowers in fall as well as spring
Wakaebisu – 2.5-in. diameter flowers are “double” (hose-in-hose) and are salmon pink with deep pink dots and blotches; this also flowers in fall as well as spring
Chappell, M. G.M. Weaver, B. Jernigan, and M. McCorkle. 2018. Container trial of 150 azalea (Rhododendron spp.) cultivars to assess insect tolerance and bloom characteristics in a production environment. HortScience 53(9-S): S465.
‘Gumpo Pink’ flowers are 3 inches in diameter and are pink with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches on petals.
‘Gyokushin’ flowers are white with occasional pink flecks and light green blotches.
‘Shugetsu’ has 3-inch flowers that have bright purplish-red border on edges of petals.
Galle, Fred C. Azaleas. 1985. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. 486 pp.
Plants with variegated foliage are very popular landscape selections. As flowers fade on other plants, the colors of variegated foliage continue to add interest through multiple seasons.
A very adaptable shrub that has been around for a long time, now has a selection with beautiful variegated foliage. Juliet™ cleyera offers green and white evergreen foliage that can brighten up a garden year around. New foliage adds additional interest with a maroon tinge.
Variegated foliage of Juliet™ cleyera. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County
Like other selections of Cleyera, Juliet™ needs to be matched to an appropriate spot to accommodate its mature size. Shrubs will reach about 8 feet in height with a spread of about 5 feet. Plants may look best when left to grow in a more natural form with light selective pruning. This shrub is probably not suited for planting in front of home windows but used as a specimen or as a nice screen plant.
Once established, cleyera is a low maintenance plant and is adapted to grow well without routine irrigation. My home landscape has very well drained soil and I have not needed to apply supplemental irrigation to two cleyera shrubs in over 20 years. Consider a spot that receives full sun or partial shade for your plants.
An added advantage of cleyera shrubs in general is that bees are attracted to the flowers so it makes an additional nectar source for pollinators in the spring.
Flax lily is a popular perennial that adds interest to garden borders or when planted in mass. Plants can be affected by cold temperatures so a little maintenance as temperatures warm is often necessary. UF IFAS Escambia County Extension shares late winter care of flax lily In the Garden.
The term “ornamental grass” is a catch-all phrase used to describe grasses and “grass-like” plants. Individual species are adapted to a wide variety of landscape sites (i.e., wet or dry, sun or shade, hot or cold climates, and varied salt tolerance). Growth habits range from low ground covers to intermediate shrub-like plants to very tall hedge-like plants. Ornamental grasses are very dynamic; the size, shape, texture, and color of grass changes with every season.
Deciduous Ornamental Grass
Grasses with foliage that dies in the winter and remains dormant until the weather warms in the spring are considered deciduous. The winter character of deciduous ornamental grasses adds tremendous interest to the winter garden when contrasted with evergreen plants or structures such as walls or fences. The dried foliage of deciduous grasses creates sound as it expands and contracts in response to changes in temperature or moisture, while interaction with wind creates movement in the garden. For these reasons, pruning of the dead foliage and inflorescences is not recommended at the time of the first frost.
Pruning of ornamental grasses should be done in late winter or early spring, just prior to new shoot growth. In Northwest Florida, gardeners should target the end of February to prune ornamental grasses. For deciduous grasses, such as Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis), the old foliage may be completely removed within inches of the soil. Be cautious to not remove the growth point by leaving the grass clump at least 4 inches high. For evergreen grasses, such as muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), the ragged leaves can be removed to neaten the appearance of the plant without shortening all the way to the ground. So, depending on the damaged portions, the remaining grass clump can be 6-18 inches high after pruning. Grasses recover quickly from a heavier pruning. Within a few months the plant will have completely regrown. If desired, old flower stalks and seed heads may be removed any time they no longer have a neat appearance. For more information on ornamental grass species and growing tips, please visit the EDIS Publication: Considerations for Selection and Use of Ornamental Grasses.
Lately, to survive in Panhandle landscapes, plants must be able to tolerate extremes. Summertime temperatures over 100 degrees F, hurricane force winds up to 150 mph, deluges of 1’ of rain in a single day, spring and fall month-long droughts, and the wild winter weather swings we’re experiencing right now. That’s quite a tall order for most plants to bear, however one of our best native trees handles all of the above conditions with relative ease, the stately Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum). Though Bald Cypress primarily inhabits flatwood “dome” swamps and areas along the periodically flooded edges of waterways and other wetlands and most folks think of it as just “water tree”, the species is more than capable of handling anything Florida’s climate can throw at it, including thriving in home landscapes.
Bald Cypress in mid-January. Notice the excellent branching structure and the buttressed lower trunk. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
While there are lots of pretty trees in the Panhandle’s natural areas, not many of them possess the longevity, adaptability and well-behaved nature that makes Bald Cypress a great landscape tree. Bald Cypress are capable of living for hundreds of years and grow steadily to a normal landscape height of 50-60’, truly perfect for a specimen shade tree. The species also possesses a strong, wide spreading root system and a special above ground root adaptation, known colloquially as “knees”, that enable Cypress to reach deep to outlast droughts, grow unfazed even when the water rises, inhabit many different soil types, and resist hurricane force winds. While some homeowners object to the presence of Cypress knees in their yard, as the above ground structures can damage mower blades and make for uneven terrain, I’ve found an easy solution is to simply keep the area under the tree’s canopy mulched and forgo mowing there altogether. It looks nice and means less grass to cut!
Bald Cypress isn’t just a big, tough, adaptable tree, it’s also gorgeous. The bright green, finely cut, featherlike leaves give the trees an airy appearance in the spring and summer, nicely offsetting common coarse textured yard trees like Magnolia, Sycamore, Red Maple, and others. However, it is in the fall and winter when Bald Cypress really shines. Though Florida is not known for its fall foliage, Cypress is a notable exception! When the weather gets cool, Bald Cypress leaves transition from green to a yellowish orange before finally arriving at a beautifully unique, rusty, orange-brown color. There isn’t another species out there with a similar show. The foliage holds deep into winter before finally falling to reveal the attractive branching structure, sweeping buttressed lower trunk, and peely gray bark underneath, completing the four-season show.
Bald Cypress foliage on December 31, 2020. Photo courtesy Daniel Leonard.
In addition to being a near perfect landscape tree, Bald Cypress embodies much of what folks admire about life in the South, living the slow life near the water and enduring everything that’s thrown at it with grace and strength. Other than possibly the Live Oak, Bald Cypress is the tree that comes to mind first when I think about the tree that most represents where we come from. From their majestic, buttressed trunks, to the Spanish Moss that hangs loose from their limbs, to the slow, dark water than meanders nearby, the species is iconically Southern. When looking for an impossibly tough, adaptable, and attractive tree, one could do a whole lot worse than Bald Cypress.
If you have any questions about Bald Cypress, other landscape tree options, or any horticultural topic, please reach out to your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy gardening!