Amarylis – The Botanical Fashion Statement

Amarylis – The Botanical Fashion Statement

Gardening is a year-round activity here in the deep South. As the rest of the states bundle up for the upcoming winter, North Florida’s gardens are bustling with activity. There is still plenty to do this November in North Florida. Amongst the many tasks include planting the subtropical amaryllis, Hippeastrum spp. It’s a beloved choice for gardeners due to its hardy nature and minimal maintenance requirements. The good news is, you can welcome these wonderful amaryllis into your garden this November, bringing a burst of beauty to your outdoor space in the coming spring without much fuss.

Amaryllis is a low maintenance, reliable bulb for Florida. Credit: fotofrogdesigner/iStock/Thinkstock, © fotofrogdesigner

CHARACTERISTICS

Imagine flowers that open up like grand trumpets, each one stretching up to a generous six inches in diameter. What’s more, these magnificent blooms don’t make a solo appearance; they often arrive one after the other, as if in a graceful floral procession. Amaryllis doesn’t just shine in one color but offers a whole palette of choices – from vibrant reds, warm oranges, and delicate pinks to the purest of whites. And for those who adore the extraordinary, there are amaryllis varieties with stunning stripes as well. The plant itself boasts glossy, elongated leaves, each one measuring about 1.5 inches wide and 18 inches in length. With amaryllis, nature’s paintbrush knows no bounds.

PLANTING

For amaryllis in North Florida, it’s ideal to plant them during November and December. Find a spot with some sunlight and good drainage, not too much shade or full sun. These bulbs are tough; just dig a hole deep enough, but for top performance, prepare the soil by tilling it, mixing in organic material and some complete fertilizer. Plant bulbs about a foot apart, with their necks above the ground. Water them when you first plant and keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged until they’re settled in.

CARE

Amaryllis plants can keep on blooming if they get what they need and the bulbs can be left in the ground for years. To keep them happy, put some mulch down when you plant and get rid of any weeds that show up. In the growing season (from March to September), you can feed them with fertilizer, but be sure to follow the instructions on the label. When they’re growing and blooming, make sure the soil stays moist. Once they’re established, they can handle dry spells and only need water if it’s been super dry for a while. After the flowers are done, you should remove the old flower stems, and this not only keeps things looking nice but also helps prevent diseases. Every now and then, amaryllis might get a fungus problem called “red blotch” or “leaf scorch,” and you might also spot some chewing insects like caterpillars or grasshoppers.

Red blotch disease of Amaryllis. Credit: Bob Rutemoeller

LANDSCAPE USES

Amaryllis creates a stunning landscape display when planted in masses of 10 or more, all with the same vibrant color. You can place them right at the base of evergreen shrubs to create a beautiful backdrop. If your house and shrubs have dark colors, go for amaryllis with bright, eye-catching flower colors. On the other hand, if your house and surroundings are light or white, the darker-colored amaryllis will really stand out. These versatile plants have many uses in your landscape, whether you’re decorating terraces, creating tree islands, sprucing up slopes, adding a welcoming touch near a gate, enhancing borders, or simply scattering them around for a pop of spring color.

Amaryllis has many landscape uses. Credit: squirrel77/iStock/Thinkstock, © squirrel77

The beautiful amaryllis offers a glimpse into the resilience and wonder of nature, reminding us that even in the face of changing seasons, life and beauty continue to thrive. Why settle for ordinary blooms when you can have the show-stopping drama of amaryllis? This November, ditch the dull and dive headfirst into the dazzling world of these majestic bulbs.

 For more information about growing amaryllis, contact your local UF/IFAS county extension office.

Propagating Plants by Layering

Propagating Plants by Layering

Vegetative plant propagation is a way for one plant to create another plant without the need for pollination to occur. This process is often much faster in achieving a new plant than growing from seed.  The genetics of the parent plant can be carried on through this vegetative propagation method.  There are many methods to propagate plants and the one covered in this article was taught to me by my grandmother many years ago – layering.  Layering is a science and an art and has been performed by humans for over four thousand years. 

Propagating plants by layering can be accomplished in several ways, including simple, tip, air, mound, compound, and runner production layering methods.  Many plants in nature propagate by layering accidentally when long, low-lying limbs contact the soil around the plant and are eventually covered by leaves from other surrounding trees and shrubs.  This creates an organic cover over a part of the limb and keeps the area moist.  This creates the situation for adventitious roots to develop at the soil contact area.  This occurrence is called simple layering and is often mimicked by gardeners in the landscape.  Not all plants respond to this type of propagation, but several common species that do are azaleas, jasmine, viburnum, climbing rose, and grapevines. 

Unlike simple layering, tip layering involves digging out a shallow 3–4″ hole, which will allow space to bend the end of the branch down into the hole with the tip out the other side.  Then, simply cover the hole to keep the branch in the ground.  It may take something with a little weight placed over the covered hole to keep the branch from popping out.  A brick or rock may be all that is needed.  Both methods will take months for enough roots to develop before clipping the branch with a new plant ready to be dug and set somewhere new.  For best results with both simple and tip layering, begin either in early spring with last seasons growth or late summer, utilizing that current year’s growth. 

Simple layering
Simple layering. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County

Air layering is a fun adventure to rooting a new plant and can be used with both outdoor and indoor plants.  It can be used on outdoor plants like camellia, azalea, maples, and magnolia, or indoor plants including weeping fig, rubber tree, and dieffenbachia.  This type of layering requires a bit more planning and preparation than simple or tip layering.  If the plant has a bark layer surrounding the cambium layer (this is the growing part of the limb and trunk and appears green) this area will need to be removed with a sharp clean knife.  Choose a 1- ½ inch long area of the limb and scrape this area to remove the cambium layer located just beneath the bark. This is done to prevent the outside limb area from reconnecting back to the limb portion connected to the plant.  Sphagnum moss will be needed to wrap around the wound site to create a rooting zone.  Be sure to soak the moss with water by immersing it in a bucket of water, then squeeze it out.  Wrap the moss with plastic wrap, making sure the moss is fully covered and tucked inside of the plastic.  Both ends of the plastic wrap need to be secured tightly with twist ties or string.  Make sure it remains tight throughout the 2 – 4 months needed for rooting to occur.  If this process takes place in a sunny location, cover the plastic wrap with tin foil to block out the light. 

Air layering a camelia
Air layering a camelia. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County

There are other methods to layering plants and if you are interested, search online through the University of Florida IFAS EDIS site or contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your local county.  Enjoy growing your new plants. 

Roadside Flowers

Roadside Flowers

As you drive along the highway look out the window at the blooming roadside wildflowers.  Fall is the season of yellow and purple, with splashes of red.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum spp.), many different “daisies” (Aster spp.), tall and short Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and “sunflowers” (Helianthus spp.) brighten up the landscape with the many shades of yellow.  Spikes of Blazing Star (Liatris spp.), clumps of False Rosemary (Conradina canescens), and carpets of Moss Verbena (Verbena tenuisecta) add the purple hues.  Here and there clusters of Red Basil (Calamintha coccinea) grab your attention with their fiery color.

Scarlet calamint, also called Red Basil, with its brilliant red flowers, offer a dramatic contract against the backdrop of scrub, sandhill and coastal dunes where the plant naturally occurs in Florida.  They bloom sporadically throughout the year, peaking in the fall with as many as 100 flowers on a single plant.  It is the only Florida native Calamintha species with red flowers, and its flowers are the largest.

Red Flower
Red Basil (Calamintha coccinea)

When the Spanish Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the eastern shores in 1513 he immediately noticed the vast wealth of wildflowers and promptly name his new discovery the “Land of Flowers”, which is the translation for Florida.  Habitats throughout the state vary greatly.  Changes in elevation by only a few inches can change the soil and impact the types of plants growing there.  Associated birds, butterflies, and other pollinators change as the wildflower species vary.  Florida has one of the highest biodiversity in the United States.

Learning to identify the roadside wildflowers is the topic of the next Okaloosa County Master Gardener Lecture Series.  Join Dave Gordon on Monday, October 23 at the Okaloosa County Extension 3098 Airport Rd. Crestview, FL 32539 from 10 -11 am CDT to learn about what is blooming along the road right of way and how they may be utilized in the landscape. For more information go to:

American beautyberry

American beautyberry

When beautyberries start producing their eye-catching, bright purple fruit in late summer, we start to get lots of questions. People want to know what it is, where can they find it, and can they eat it? While the berries look good enough to eat, it’s best to leave them to the birds and deer. They are not toxic and were used by Native Americans for a root tea to treat fevers, stomach aches, malaria, and more, but the taste has been described as bitter and mealy. Thanks to a generous volunteer, I am lucky enough to have tried beautyberry jelly. A little (or a lot) of sugar can make most anything taste good—and the finished product is a beautiful, translucent shade of fuchsia.

Homemade beautyberry jelly is a real treat for breakfast! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Even more interesting to me was the revelation that researchers have been able to extract compounds from beautyberry that successfully repel pest insects such as ticks and mosquitoes. The study began about 15 years ago, after a Mississippi botanist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service mentioned to a colleague that his grandfather taught him to rub the crushed leaves of beautyberry on his skin. The technique had been used as a home remedy to prevent mosquito bites for people (and horses) for generations. As a follow up experiment, another group of researchers found these same compounds—callicarpenal and intermedeol—successfully repelled black-legged ticks (which transmit Lyme disease) as effectively as DEET. In the last few years, researchers out of Mississippi have worked towards creating natural insect repellents from the compound that are less harsh on human skin that many commercially available brands.

The striking purple berries of the beautyberry shrub attract the attention of people and wildlife, alike. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Aside from its many practical uses, Callicarpa americana is a beautiful native shrub. It has wide green leaves and the brilliant purple berries grow in clusters along its stem. They stay on through late fall and winter in some places, making a beautiful contrast to fall foliage. Beautyberry shrubs can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including sandy and wet soils, full sun, and part shade. Their adaptability makes them a great plant for tight conditions like roadsides or yard edges, but also for nearly any home landscape. The plants can grow to a height of 4-8 feet and spread 3-6 feet wide. The long-lasting berries make them a great wildlife food source later in the cool season than many berry-producing species.

This Heat Really Makes You Appreciate a Shade Tree

This Heat Really Makes You Appreciate a Shade Tree

If there is anything that is more refreshing than the cool shade of a tree on a hot August afternoon, I cannot quite think of it. Here on the Gulf Coast, the thought of the heat in the “Dog Days of Summer” conjures up images of the dogs lying by their owners’ rocking chairs on the veranda – shaded of course by the majestic live oaks out front. If you ever observe older homes in our region, they usually have large established shade trees to shade the house most of the day. In the days before air conditioning, I imagine a world without shade would be intolerable, nigh unlivable. If you have ever had to work on an asphalt parking lot or roof on a 100+ degree August day with no shade, you fully understand the term “heat island”. The steam rising off the same parking lot later after a passing shower or thunderstorm reinforces how hot that surface is.

Man walking a trail in Oak Hammock. UF/IFAS Photo: Thomas Wright.

These past few weeks the oppressive heat has made anything outside unbearable, especially in the heat of the afternoon. You can quickly understand why old farmers in our area worked from sunup to about 10 a.m. or so, then did lighter work in shaded areas or inside. They would go back out and work hard in the cool of the evening too, but you seldom saw anyone out in the open fields during the mid-day heat if it were avoidable. A shade tree in the pasture or up at the house was a welcomed oasis and favorite lunch spot. Going back in the air conditioning just caused you to have more trouble acclimating to the heat and could even cause medical problems if you we very hot and suddenly went into very cool air conditioning. I remember these summer patterns well growing up on the Gulf Coast, and still follow them when doing forestry field work. Being under a closed forest canopy was like being in air conditioning compared to the open sun of a logging deck or pasture. The shade of a tree or a forest canopy offered an amazing relief from the blazing August heat and humidity.

It is impossible to stress enough the importance of individual shade trees and tree cover to our urban areas. Imagine our towns and cities devoid of trees! Imagine Tallahassee without its canopy roads, themselves sort of an early cooling effort for travelers. Without these trees it would make these heat waves, as oppressive as they are already, downright scorching and close to unlivable. If you are doing any gardening or other outdoor activity during these hot days, it is highly likely you seek out a shady area to be in. As that shade moves with the sun through the day it is equally likely that you relocate and follow it as it moves. If you have a neighbor that has no tree cover and shade on their house, and you are on good and friendly terms, ask to compare power bills with them. Odds are their power bill is noticeably higher because they do not have the shade of trees. With all the important features our urban forest provides, we must realize that our trees and the urban forest they form are critical to our urban ecosystem we live in. Yes, I said urban ecosystem; we must remember that we are part of nature too and even though we have altered it to our needs, our urban environment is part of our ecosystem. Trees are the backbone of that here on the Gulf Coast and our cities show it. Gulf Coast cities generally have extensive tree cover, despite our disturbances from Hurricanes.

So, what do these shade trees and urban forests really do for us in terms of actual measurable data? We know from just walking under a tree on a 100+ degree day we can feel the difference but what does it equate to. A study published in the Journal of Forestry in 2018 found that an estimated 5.5 billion urban trees provided an estimated $5.4 billion in energy reduction alone (Nowak and Greenfield 2018). This same study found that Florida was the state with the highest annual urban forestry value with an estimated annual value of $1.9 billion. Those are some impressive numbers and help put the value of urban forests into some monetary terms, but this is just one study. Professionals studying urban forests and their benefits are constantly finding out more on just how valuable our urban tree cover is. A UF-IFAS EDIS publication in 2020 helped to further characterize our urban forests across the state. Urban areas in the Northern part of the state had the highest percentage of canopy cover, with our local Okaloosa-Fort Walton-Destin area being the highest at 74.4% (McLean et al. 2020). Our local Panhandle metropolitan areas all had high canopy cover in the 50% or higher range. That is good news for Panhandle urban areas as this tree cover helps improve quality of life in these areas.

The benefits provided by urban forest cover are not just confined to shade, cooling, and reduced energy use. We get other major benefits from our urban forest and tree cover. The same 2020 UF-IFAS study found that in Florida’s urban areas, trees remove 600,000 tons of air pollutants through their canopies, which results in $605 million in health care savings related to air pollution. Urban tree cover also prevents stormwater runoff into our waterbodies. The study found that Florida’s urban forest cover prevents 50 billion gallons of stormwater runoff, which results in a $451 million saving from avoided stormwater treatment. Those benefits would not be possible without our urban trees. Once you see the numbers, it is clear how our urban forest provides us with so many benefits we rarely see or consider.

When you walk under the shade of a tree or under a forest canopy on these scorching summer days you get an instant reminder of the benefit of that tree cover. The cool relief from the sun and heat is just one of the many benefits our trees and urban forests provide. Trees are one of our favorite parts of the landscape for many reasons and studies that quantify these benefits put in real term just how critical our urban forests are to us. Our tree cover helps clean our air and capture stormwater in our summer downpours.  As our communities grow and expand, we need to be sure to preserve the trees we have and plant new ones as the need arises. By keeping our urban forest cover intact, we can enjoy the cool shade and all the other benefits our urban trees provide.

References and further reading:

Nowak, David J; Greenfield, Eric J. 2018. US Urban Forest Statistics, Values, and Projections. Journal of Forestry. 116(2): 164-177.

McLean, Drew C., Andrew Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, Shawn Landry, Amr Abd-Elrahman, Katie Britt, Mary Lusk, Michael Andreu, and Robert Northrop. 2020. “Florida’s Urban Forest: A Valuation of Benefits: ENH1331/EP595, 11/2020”. EDIS 2020 (6). https://doi.org/10.32473/edis-ep595-2020. ENH1331/EP595: Florida’s Urban Forest: A Valuation of Benefits (ufl.edu)

When It’s Too Hot to Garden.  What to Do?

When It’s Too Hot to Garden.  What to Do?

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!

Soil testing in centipedegrass. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.

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!