The plants you bring home from garden centers and nurseries may look beautiful in your landscape, but they might be invasive species that could escape your yard and quickly spread into natural areas, becoming an ecological and economic nightmare. Florida’s climate makes a cozy environment for a variety of plant species, including the non-native ones. To avoid contributing to the problem, homeowners, landscapers, and plant lovers should carefully select alternative sterile cultivars or other native plants.
The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) created a list of invasive plants that was published every two years through 2019. Professional botanists and others perform exhaustive studies to determine invasive plants that should be placed on the lists. Invasive plants are termed Category I invasives when they are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives.
In 2020 the Florida Invasive Species Council (FISC) took over this task. They began by standardizing invasive species terminology. FISC has adopted the following definitions as described in the publication “Invasive Species Terminology: Standardizing for Stakeholder Education” from the Journal of Extension (Iannone et al. 2020). For details on the new terminology go to: https://floridainvasivespecies.org/definitions.cfm. Words like “exotic”, “alien”, and “naturalized” have been removed from educational material due to individual interpretation concerns. The term “invasive” can only be applied to nonnative species. Many previous informational publications referred to aggressively growing native plants as invasive. This use is no longer accepted. Here are some sample definitions:
Invasive: A species that (a) is nonnative to a specified geographic area, (b) was introduced by humans (intentionally or unintentionally), and (c) does or can cause environmental or economic harm or harm to humans.
Nuisance: An individual or group of individuals of a species that causes management issues or property damage, presents a threat to public safety, or is an annoyance. Can apply to both native and nonnative species.
On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, the Okaloosa County Master Gardener Lecture Series topic will be “Plant This, Not That”. This program will introduce the invasive plant species that pose an ecological threat to Florida ecosystems and some alternatives that provide a similar aesthetic value. For more information and to register, click on this Eventbrite link.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been hot outside. Like really, scorching, hellacious, dog days hot. In this weather pattern we’ve been in, it’s hard to make yourself do non-essential stuff outside that doesn’t involve swimming and so our gardens go by the wayside. In my opinion, that’s totally okay! Give yourself a rest from the garden and landscape chores for the next couple of weeks and get your fall gameplan ready. The following are some things to think about over the next few weeks to prepare yourself for the coming cooler weather!
Get your soil tested. If you’re an in-ground vegetable gardener or just like to have an attractive lawn/landscape, performing a simple soil test can offer either peace of mind that your soil’s pH and fertility is good or give you a nudge to schedule some needed amendments. Though I don’t recommend fertilizing lawn grass this late and there’s no need to fertilize the garden before it gets planted in mid-late September, you can certainly begin to source and price fertilizer for the appropriate time based on your test results. However, now IS the perfect time to get lime out in a vegetable garden if your pH has sunk beneath the recommended 6.5. Lime takes weeks to months to begin to alter soil chemistry so the sooner the better if it is needed!
Order seeds. While I love to support local farm stores and plant nurseries, you are limited with the vegetable and flower varieties you can plant by what they have in stock. I enjoy trying new/improved and heirloom plant varieties each year and, most of the time, these can only be found by ordering online. For the latest in vegetable and cut flower varieties with a nice mix of heirloom cultivars thrown in also, I can recommend Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, and other similar purveyors – all of these are great places to look. Continue to purchase your more common standbys through local outlets but, this year get different and try new things by ordering online!
Develop a garden/landscape plan. I doubt there’s a gardener amongst us who wouldn’t like to rearrange things a bit outside. Maybe you planted your lettuce a little too closely together last year, you’ve been dreaming of installing a new flower bed, or you really want to do a full garden/landscape renovation. The best way to be successful at any of these things is to get outside (or at least look out from behind a window in the A/C), take stock of what is already there, the space that is or might be available, research what plants or varieties might do well in your yard/garden (your local UF/IFAS Extension office is a great resource for this), and begin to sketch your ideas out. This planning step WILL save you time and money by ensuring you don’t purchase too many plants, by picking plants that will do well, and ensuring you install everything at the correct time.
So, take advantage of the heat, stay inside, and work up your garden gameplan together this August – fall is just around the corner. For help with soil testing, recommendations on plant varieties to purchase, or working up a garden/landscape plan tailored to you, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Stay cool and happy gardening!
Trying to rejuvenate your flower beds can be challenging during these hot days and warm nights. This presents a chance to carefully select and plant varieties that not only endure but thrive in the scorching summer season. Luckily, Florida gardeners have many options, including bulbs. Bulbs are known for their ability to flourish and produce beautiful flowers year after year with proper care. Three of these, Aztec Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily, can be planted during the month of August.
The Aztec Lily, a tender perennial bulb, belongs to the Sprekelia genus in the amaryllis family and is one of only three known species. Among them, Sprekelia formosissima stands out for its striking and showy flowers. Growing from 12 to 36 inches, Aztec Lillies are typically colored from scarlet to deep crimson, though there are also pink and white varieties available. Each bulb has the potential to produce multiple flower stalks annually, usually in sequence rather than all at once. The flowers exhibit bilateral symmetry, resembling the velvety appearance of an orchid. Aztec Lilies should be planted in full shade to part sun and can tolerate acidic and alkaline soil. These plants are incredibly versatile and well-suited for various landscaping purposes, such as mass planting, border decoration, adding accents to garden designs, and attracting butterflies to butterfly gardens.
The Walking Iris, Neomarica spp., is a clumping herbaceous perennial, growing to a height of 18 to 36 inches. These plants boast attractive light green leaves and small Iris-like flowers that bloom periodically throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Although the flowers have a short lifespan, they still add a delightful splash of color, making the Walking Iris an interesting addition to any landscape. The Walking Iris thrives in both full and partial shade, making it a versatile choice for your garden. While it can adapt to various soil types, it truly flourishes in moist areas. When grouped together in shady areas, the Walking Iris creates a lovely and eye-catching display. Its upright foliage, coupled with the occasional blooming flower, makes a bold statement in the overall landscape.
Native to Florida, the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis latifolia) is a captivating perennial featuring alluring foliage and fragrant white blossoms. This clumping plant exhibits long, dark green leaves that emerge from an underground bulb, gracefully reaching a height of 24 to 36 inches. During the summer and fall seasons, the Spider Lily adorns itself with numerous white flowers, known for their enchanting fragrance, remarkable longevity, and delicate appearance. For optimal growth, place your Spider Lily in either full sun or part shade, and ensure the soil is well-drained. With its rapid growth, the spider lily serves as an excellent ground cover option, spreading its beauty across the landscape. Alternatively, it can be strategically planted in borders or highlighted as a specimen plant, adding charm and elegance to any garden or landscape design.
In the world of flora, the Aztec Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily stand out as captivating gems worth exploring. Each possessing its unique allure and charm, these three species display nature’s diversity and ingenuity. For more information about summer bulbs, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year. It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.
Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all. This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well.
Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within. Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals. This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase. If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process. Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services.
Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth. Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful. If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration. Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site. If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings. The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance. Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range). Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information.
The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light. Space should be considered both above and below ground. With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height? If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option. Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant. If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas. Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option. Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil. If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment.
The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one. As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking. Enjoy your gardening experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.