Fall color in the Panhandle

Fall color in the Panhandle

Perpetual Question

Do any of the leaves change color down here in the fall?  The most common answer is that there is none here in the land of evergreens.  The prevalence of oaks (Quercus spp.) and pines (Pinus spp.) see to that.  There is hope. Deciduous trees put on a show as the need for photosynthesis reduces. Chlorophyll production stops replaced with anthocyanins and carotenoids.  As they take over, the beautiful display we all love begins. Several tree species thrive in the panhandle and have great autumn foliage. Once you know which, you’ll see a color pallet that would make DaVinci himself drool.   

Tree for all seasons

Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a larger tree growing upwards of 75 feet tall with a 50 foot spread.  The canopy has an early conical shape which evolves into an oval as the tree ages. This tree is excellent for local parks and to provide shade in your front yard.  Red tinged flowers produced in spring combined with multi-shaded leaves provide interest throughout the year.  However, autumn this tree comes into its own. As the days shorten and cool these leaves begin their journey to the ground by taking on shades of yellow, orange, red, or burgundy.   

IFAS photograph Heather Kalaman

Panhandle Delight

A unique tree growing primarily in the Panhandle, the Florida maple (Acer floridanum) puts on an excellent autumn show.  At that time of year, the leaves will change to a muted yellow or orange color.  Reaching 60 feet high and 30 wide this oval canopied tree is ideal for shade or along streets.  Fall is the only time you will see color changes from this tree, but in summer you’ll be treated to that classic maple leaf shape.

IFAS Photograph

An Oddity of a Tree

The bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a tree rife with oddity.  Growing at times as high as 80 feet with a roughly 35 foot spread these trees excel in your lawn. Be wary as when grown in wet environments they develop “knees” thought to help aerate roots in standing water. Ball shaped cones are the primary reproductive organs of this tree. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the color changing needles.  When winter is nigh, they change from pale green to an eye catching yellow or rusty copper. One of the few deciduous conifers, the needles will fall off revealing peeled bark for winter interest.

IFAS Photograph Kathy Warner

To Sum it Up

These are but a few of the trees in north Florida known to change color in the autumn. The list is not overly exhaustive, but there are several in this category.  For more information on landscape trees, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.

Plant of the Week:  Crossandra

Plant of the Week: Crossandra

Crossandra in a back porch containter. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

In Florida, selecting the right plant for a sometimes-shady spot can be tough.  Generally, plants that can handle the stress of even a few hours of direct summer sun are considered “full-sun” plants.  Many plants that are recommended for “partial shade” either don’t flower as well in shade as they would in sun or have a weak constitution and wilt with any direct sunlight.  For these problematic, sometimes shady, sometimes not spots, the plant Crossandra (Crossandra infundibuliformis) can be perfect!

Crossandra is a tender perennial (or annual depending on how cold our winters get) native to India and Sri Lanka and closely related to Shrimp Plant and Mexican Petunia.  Growing slowly to about 3’ in height, clad with deep, dark, glossy leaves that remind me of the Coffee plant, and flaunting vivid orange flowers, Crossandra plants certainly lend a unique, tropical look to landscapes.  Like its more well-known cousins, Crossandra can grow in full shade but really thrives with 3-4 hours of direct sun daily and lots of heat and humidity.  These characteristics make the species the perfect summertime Panhandle porch plant!   

Adding to the list of accolades, Crossandra is also super simple to grow!  Apply a slow-release starter fertilizer at planting, supplement monthly after that with a general-purpose garden fertilizer, water regularly, and enjoy stunning orange flowers all summer!  As a bonus, if you’re a fan of the University of Florida, put Crossandra in a Gator blue pot and have the most festive porch around just in time for football season to kick off in a few weeks! 

Happy Gardening!

Houseplants Struggling?  Take Them Outside in the Summer. 

Houseplants Struggling?  Take Them Outside in the Summer. 

It seems like every time I pick up a home and garden type magazine, the cover photo is dotted with flowering orchids and indoor foliage plants that are inevitably in pristine condition.  However, years of experience troubleshooting issues with both my own interior plants and those for clients tell a different story.  All too often, indoor potted plants languish for years, barely alive, until they finally succumb.  I’ve taken several to the plant graveyard just past the edge of the back yard because of this exact scenario.  In recent times though, I’ve figured out a way to mostly avoid pitiful looking indoor plants – take them outside in the warm months!

To appreciate the perks of getting your indoor plants outdoors, it’s helpful to first think about why most interior situations aren’t very conducive to plant growth.  There are three primary reasons houseplants fail:  not enough light, improper watering, and low humidity.  Most plant species grown for interiorscapes hail from the tropics where they grow in the understory of large trees, receive bright, filtered sunlight, and experience abundant moisture and humidity.  These conditions are VERY hard to mimic in the typical American house unless you huddle all your plants near windows, take steps to increase humidity (which doesn’t play super well with furniture and other household items), and really tune in your watering.  Taking indoor plants outside to play in the Panhandle summers just really makes the whole situation much easier!

A Jade Plant that had languished indoors during the winter beginning to perk up outside! Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

Now that you’ve made the decision to move your indoor plants out, figuring out where to site them is the next step.  I’ve found that, with few exceptions, houseplants prefer to be in a bright area but away from direct sunlight – under mature trees, on a covered porch, anywhere that doesn’t get direct sunlight will do!  It is also a great idea to place plants near a watering source.  If a hose doesn’t easily reach the spot or it’s inconvenient to tote a watering can to them, your plants won’t get watered regularly and will suffer.  You’ll be surprised how much water plants use when they’re in conditions conducive to growth so be sure to check pots every couple of days to prevent droughty conditions!   Once in these new and improved growing conditions, your houseplants will also respond very well to a little extra fertilizer.  A good general prescription is a topdressing of a slow-release fertilizer using the recommended label rate as soon as you bring them outside and following that up once each month with a supplemental liquid fertilizer. 

Keeping houseplants happy in the Florida summer is easy and begins with getting them outside.  Find a spot with bright, indirect light, keep them watered well, add a little fertilizer, and watch them grow like they never have before!  For more information on growing houseplants or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.  Happy gardening!

The Beauty of Cinnamon Fern

The Beauty of Cinnamon Fern

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.

 

Satsuki Azaleas: Elegant small evergreens with oversized flowers

Satsuki Azaleas: Elegant small evergreens with oversized flowers

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.

Background

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.

Description

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.

Culture

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

References:

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.

 

Year ‘Round Interest with Juliet™ Cleyera

Year ‘Round Interest with Juliet™ Cleyera

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.