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.

Summer Tasks

Summer Tasks

Summer should be the time to relax and enjoy the fruit of all the hard work performed in the landscape over the previous winter and spring.  However, there are still some essential tasks that need to be completed during the summer.  Perform them in short energy bursts early in the morning or late in the evening.

1. Aerate Your Lawn

If your yard is starting to look weak and thin, even with fertilizing and proper moisture, it may need aeration.  Aeration, which is creating channels into your lawn, allows water and nutrients to reach the deep roots of your grass more efficiently.

To test if you need to aerate your lawn, shovel up a patch of grass to a depth of at least four inches.  If the layer of thatch is a half-inch thick or higher, your yard would benefit from aeration.  There are self-drive aeration machines and tractor-pulled devices you can rent to make quick work of large areas.  For smaller areas, simply punching multiple holes with a pitchfork will do the job.

2. Fertilize

Gardener fertilizing yard
Commercial landscape fertilizer applicators must obtain state certification.

Turf grass often displays a yellow color during the mid-summer rainy seasons due to the heavy rains flushing nitrogen away from plant roots. If your lawn is looking sad and yellow, chelated iron can often give a temporary green-up. Iron is not a replacement for nitrogen, but it can work well during our summer rainy season.

If you soil test revealed a potassium or magnesium deficiency, summer is a good time to make the last corrective application.  Potassium (K) is an essential macronutrient. Fertilizer bags typically show the percentage of potassium in a product as the third number displayed on the front of the bag (e.g., the “8” in 16-2-8). Potassium acts as a “vitamin” for turf grass, increasing root strength, disease resistance and cold hardiness.

Magnesium (Mg), also a macronutrient, is essential for the production of chlorophyll, necessary for photosynthesis, and also plays a part in the movement of carbohydrates from leaves to other parts of the plant.

3. Don’t Mow Too Short

It’s a natural inclination to want to mow your grass as short as you can, so you have the longest time until you have to mow it again. However, giving your grass a buzz cut every time you mow can hurt your lawn over time.

While some turf grasses can be mowed relatively short, like Bermudas and some Zoysias, most grass types shouldn’t be cut shorter than two-and-one-half to four inches high.  Mowing shorter than that can damage the growth point and leave it susceptible to disease and pest infestation.  It can also dehydrate the grass and lead to long term damage.

5. Water Infrequently but Deeply

One common mistake made by many is watering too often and too shallow.  When only given frequent shallow waterings, grass will begin to grow their roots upwards to take advantage of the small amounts of water, which makes weak and unhealthy.  The grass becomes even more dependent on water and very susceptible to disease and insect attack.

Try watering only once or twice a week, but for a considerably longer time so that the water can penetrate deeper into the soil and encourage downward roots.  Ideally, each irrigation zone is calibrated to determine the length of time it take to deliver ½ – ¾ inch.  Then set the system to run every 3-4 days for that number of minutes.  While checking the irrigation delivery system, make sure the rain shut-off device is working and set to the same ½ – ¾ inch.

6. Prevent Mosquitoes

Summer rains on a nearly daily basis lead to lots of standing water. In less than one inch of water, hundreds of mosquitoes can hatch 3 -5 days later. Not only are these blood-sucking pests annoying, but they can also transmit dangerous diseases like West Nile and Zika Virus.  Even without disease, their bites are painful and irritating.

To prevent mosquitoes, make sure no standing water is allowed to remain in your yard, either in low points or in empty containers like flower pots or wheelbarrows.  Any amount of stagnant water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Take a walk around the yard, dumping out water and disturbing the oak and magnolia leaves that are acting a collection cup.  Treat birdbaths and water features with floating “donuts” specifically designed to kill mosquito eggs.

While getting tasks done in quick morning trips to the yard, make sure to keep hydrated.  Heat exhaustion can happen fast.

Save the Water for the People

Florida is rapidly urbanizing with 1,000 people a day moving into the state.  Many cities in the panhandle have experienced accelerated growth rates over the past ten years. Crestview is one of the seven areas in the state with a population growth of 19% or greater, and the only one located in the panhandle.  The 2030 predictions for Florida are another 6 million people, with counties containing military personnel increasing the quickest.

All of these people need water to meet their daily living needs.  The average person in the United States uses 101.5 gallons of water per day.  Residential water use comprises 61% of the public supply category.  This category is responsible for the largest single portion (43%) of groundwater withdrawal in Florida.  The Floridan aquifer spans an area of about 100,000 square miles in the southeastern United States, including all of Florida, as well as, portions of three other states.  At the current statewide population growth rate, Florida is facing a 300 million gallon per day shortfall of future water needs, possibly as early as 2030.

lawn sprinkler spraying waterTurfgrass is a key landscape component and often the most commonly used single type of plant in the residential landscape. However, on a hot, sunny day in midsummer, the average lawn uses 125 gallons of water per 1,000 square feet.  Although Florida has a humid climate where the precipitation rate, on average, is greater than the evapotranspiration rate, the low water-holding capacity of the soil makes irrigation necessary for the high quality landscapes desired by homeowners.  But, watering the yard requires an entire household to skip a shower, not wash anything and avoid cleaning.  Or, we need to find ways to use a different source of water for irrigation and conserve the potable water for the people.

While the use of reclaimed water for landscape plants has become a standard in many parts of Florida, it has limited availability in the panhandle.  However, there are many ways to reduce and conserve potable water use for those with in-ground irrigation systems.  First, make sure you have a functional rain shut-off device.  By design it will prevent the system from running when it has recently rained.  On average, the panhandle has received rain about every 4 days this year.  Besides, Florida law requires a rain shut-off device for all irrigation systems, new or old.

Then, calibrate each zone to determine the length of time required to deliver ½ inch of water.  This can be determined by placing 10 or more, short, straight-sided containers throughout the irrigation zone.  Run the system and look at each container, measuring the depth with a ruler.  Adjust the run time so the system only delivers ½ inch.  Now set the clock to run 2-3 times a week for that length of time.  It’s that simple.  And the water savings is significant. For these and many other irrigation tips, visit askIFAS at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/.

Calibrate Your Irrigation System for a Healthier Lawn

Calibrate Your Irrigation System for a Healthier Lawn

Calibrating or determining the rate of water your sprinkler system applies is an easy job.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Obtain 5 to 10 straight-sided empty cans such as tuna fish or soup cans.
  2. Place the containers randomly within the irrigated area so that they catch the water when the irrigation system is running. This needs to be done for each irrigation zone, separately.
  3. Turn the water on for 15 minutes.
  4. Use a ruler to measure the depth of water in each can. The more exact your measurement, the better your calibration will be. Measurements to the nearest 1/8 inch are adequate.
  5. Determine the average depth of water collected in the cans (add up the depths of water measured in each can and then divide by the number of cans).
  6. To determine the irrigation rate in inches per hour, multiply the average depth of water times four. For example, if you collected an average of ¼ inch of water in the cans as a result of letting the irrigation run for 15 minutes, the irrigation zone would need to run for 30 minutes to apply ½ inch of water, or 45 minutes to apply ¾ inch of water, etc.

It’s best to do this calibration exercise during the same time of day the system normally runs so that water pressures are similar.

 

Spread head irrigating lawn

Irrigating lawn. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Here’s why calibrating your system is important.

When a timer/controller is set to come on frequently for short intervals of time (every other day for 20 minutes for example), the result will be a shallow, weak root system and a lawn that becomes dependent on its shallow roots being watered frequently. Also, watering frequently benefits certain weeds such as dollarweed and nutsedge while weakening the lawn.

To develop a deep, strong root system and a lawn that will go through hot, dry weather in better shape without requiring water as often, switch the automatic timer to manual.

 

Watering a lawn on an as needed basis is the best way to water correctly and develop a deep-rooted lawn. This is the reason for calibrating your irrigation system. You should apply ½ to ¾ inch of water to the lawn only when the grass indicates that water is needed. When the grass needs water, the leaf blades fold along the midrib (like a book closing). Also, footprints or tire tracks remain in the lawn long after being made. And, the lawn turns grayish in spots, indicating it needs water.

When 30 to 40 percent of the lawn shows these signs of water need, turn the irrigation system on and let it run long enough to apply ½ to ¾ inch of water. Don’t water again until the lawn begins to show these signs of water need. Don’t water when adequate rain has occurred.

The best time to observe these signs of water need is during the evening when the grass is not in full sun or under heat stress. It’s best to irrigate during early morning hours to prevent lawn diseases and to minimize water lose due to wind and evaporation. The lawn grass is a great indicator for when most other established plants in a landscape need water as well.

Thinking about Planting a Tree?

Thinking about Planting a Tree?

Need tips on planting and caring for trees?  The primary focus in care of your newly planted tree is root development. It takes several months for roots to establish and newly planted trees and shrubs do not have a very strong root system. Start by digging the hole in a popcorn bowl shape. Once planted, backfill around the root system, but be careful not to compact the soil as this will hinder root growth. Be sure to keep the topmost area of the root ball exposed, about one to two inches. A layer of mulch will be applied here.

Frequent watering is much needed, especially if you are planting in the summer. Water thoroughly, so that water percolates below the root system. Shallow watering promotes surface root growth, which will make the plant more susceptible to stress during a drought. Concentrate some of the water in a diameter pattern a few feet from the trunk. This will cause the root system to grow towards the water, and thus better establish the root system and anchor the tree.

Figure: A Traditional Staking Option. Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS Extension.

Mulch is important in the conservation of soil moisture. Pine needles, bark, wood chips, and other organic materials make a great mulch. A three inch layer of mulch will usually suffice. It’s important to keep the mulch a few inches from the trunk as mulching too close to the tree trunk can cause rot.

You should always prune the bare roots of trees during planting. These exposed roots in containers can be damaged in shipping and removing some of the roots will help trigger growth. Pruning some of the top foliage can also reduce the amount of water needed for the plant to establish, as well. Trees and shrubs grown and shipped in burlap or containers usually need very little pruning.

Newly planted trees often have a difficult time establishing if the root system cannot be held in place. Strong winds and rain can cause the plant to tip over. Avoid this by staking the plant for temporary support. A good rule of thumb to determine staking need is if the trunk diameter measures three inches or less, it probably needs some support! Tie the stake to the plant every six inches from the top. However, only tie the trunk at one spot. Don’t tie too tightly so that the tree has no flexibility. This will stunt the growth of the tree.

Following these tips will help ensure your tree becomes well established in your landscape. For more information please contact your local county extension office.

Information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Planting and Establishing Trees” by Edward F. Gilman and Laura Sadowiski: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf%5CEP%5CEP31400.pdf

Supporting information also provided by UF/IFAS Extension Forestry Specialist Dr. Patrick Minogue, of the North Florida Research Education Center in Quincy, Florida.

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

As a boy in a small town in Georgia we had a St. Augustinegrass lawn. My dad started the lawn before I was born. That lawn was still doing fine when I left for college at age seventeen. I don’t remember weeds in the lawn during summer months. I do fondly remember winter “weeds” in that lawn.

To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to what

Bluish Easter egg hidden in chickweed

Blue Easter egg hidden in chickweed. Photo credit: Larry Williams

would have been a plain palette of green. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter and early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.

Wild geranium, another common winter annual, offered another good hiding place for Easter eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves.

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover and hop clover mix

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover & hop clover mix. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers were good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.

I never remember my dad using any weed killer, he rarely watered. The lawn was healthy and thick enough to be a deterrent to summer weeds. But during fall and winter as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, winter annual weeds would run their course.

I’ve heard that the sense of smell provides our strongest memories. I remember the first mowing of the season with the clean smell of chlorophyll in the spring air. It was refreshing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annual weeds were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, played on and typically not worried with.

Most people have winter weeds in their lawns that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with these weeds and they are still here. Most lawns have countless numbers of winter annual seeds awaiting the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.