Crape Myrtle season is almost upon us. Soon, every roadside, landscape, and gas station parking lot in the deep south will be lit up in gaudy colors from white to hot pink to fire engine red. A well-placed Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia hybrids) can turn even the most boring landscape into a picturesque photo op once summer rolls around. These toughest of flowering trees also ask very little of gardeners to look their best, thriving in many varied settings with a wide range of care given to them. Despite their low-maintenance nature, I see all too many Crape Myrtles languishing in landscapes. While it is difficult to fail with Crape Myrtles, it is not impossible if you site and maintain the trees incorrectly. This summer, follow these three tips to get the most out of the best small tree a southern landscape can offer.
Properly sited, pruned, and maintained crape myrtle. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
- Do not murder your Crape Myrtles. For any reason. No other tree gets lopped off each year to a random height in the belief that it makes it prettier. While your “murdered” crape may indeed produce more flowers the following season, you are permanently damaging the tree, giving rot and decay a foothold, unnecessarily making the tree more susceptible to storm damage, and ultimately shortening the tree’s lifespan. The only pruning that should be done to the species is an occasional “limbing-up” to expose the gorgeous flaky bark underneath and to remove dead or dying branches.
- Don’t plant Crape Myrtles in shade. Crape Myrtles perform their best in 6+ hours of blistering full sun per day. Even light shade at various times during the day will greatly reduce flowering, cause the tree to appear thin, and force it to reach for the sun, creating a leggy look. There are many wonderful small landscape trees like Greybeard, Redbud, and Japanese Magnolia that make excellent Crape Myrtle alternatives in shady sites. If you can’t put a Crape in full sun, plant something else.
- Keep the area under the canopy free of turfgrass. Turf is a wonderful feature in lawns, just not directly under crape myrtles. Grass does an excellent job of scavenging nutrients and water that otherwise would benefit the crape myrtle above. Also, having grass inside the dripline forces homeowners and landscape professionals to cut the grass right up to the trunk. This often leads to soil compaction from heavy mower traffic and damage from lawnmower decks and string trimmers, which damages the thin Crape Myrtle bark and can even girdle and kill the tree. Either kill out the grass and weeds under the canopy with a nonselective herbicide like Glyphosate and then mulch or plant a shade loving groundcover like Asiatic Jasmine.
Crape Myrtle is one of the most rewarding plants Panhandle gardeners can grow as well as one of the easiest. By following just a few best practices, not overpruning, planting only in full sun and keeping the ground free of turfgrass under the canopy, pretty much every landscape can enjoy success with the species. For more information on growing Crape Myrtle and other gardening topics, reach out to your local UF/IFAS County Extension office! Happy Gardening!
Crape myrtles are all around good tree selections for the landscape. When left in their more natural form with just a little selective pruning, crape myrtles can provide shade during our hot summer days. Learn the many qualities of the crape myrtle with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
National Arbor Day is April 30 and although we celebrate Florida Arbor Day in January you may find yourself planting trees right now as Spring Fever sets in. It is a little easier on the tree and the gardener caring for it to plant in the winter, but you can plant year-round if you implement proper care to ensure good establishment.
The most common problems with trees we see at our help desk are related to incorrect installation and establishment. Number one is incorrect planting depth and number two is incorrect watering during establishment. This article will cover a few pitfalls to avoid so that whenever you plant your tree you will increase your likelihood of success!
It is important that tree roots are not too deep so that they can adequately access both water and oxygen needed for survival and root generation. A good rule of thumb is to plant new trees with 10% of the root ball above the natural grade. Also check to be sure the root flare is exposed in trees that have this feature. This may require removing some soil from the top of the root ball as it came from the nursery.
A few common mistakes that lead to incorrect planting depth are listed below:
- Leaving burlap and straps on the top of root balls of balled-and-burlap (B&B) trees
- Piling soil on top of the root ball
- Adding mulch to the root ball
- Laying sod on top of root ball
- Planting on a slope where soil can erode onto the root ball
- Planting level with grade – trees settle and bark mixtures decompose which cause the tree to become deeper than originally planting
- Creating a bed with added soil around trees (this is more common on mature trees and should be avoided)
When planting a tree, measure height and width of the corrected root ball. Dig the hole 90% as deep as the height and 125-150% as wide as the root ball. There is no need to add fertilizer or amendments to the hole, simply plant into the native soil and water appropriately.
Watering Until Tree is Established
The establishment period is the time it takes for a plant to create enough functional roots to adequately uptake water and nutrients needed to survive with little to no supplemental irrigation. In general, smaller/younger plants establish more quickly than larger ones so there are benefits to starting small when choosing trees.
Soil texture, rainfall, time of year, and tree species will factor into how long it takes for a tree to become established but there are a few guidelines to help you plan. Irrigate 2-5 gallons of water per inch trunk caliper during establishment period. Hint- your turfgrass irrigation output is not sufficient for optimum tree root growth. The chart below offers a range of irrigation frequency based on size of tree at installation and whether your goal is for fast growth or just enough to survive.
|Size of Nursery Stock
||Irrigation Schedule for Vigor
||Irrigation Schedule for Survival
|Less than 2” trunk caliper
||Daily: 2 weeks
Every other day: 2 months
Weekly: Until established
|Twice weekly for 2-3 months
|2-4-inch trunk caliper
||Daily: 1 month
Every other day: 3 months
Weekly: Until established
|Twice weekly for 3-4 months
Gilman and Sadowski. “Planting and Establishing Trees.” This document is ENG 1061, one of the Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery Program series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2007. Reviewed February https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP31400.pdf
A biologist with Blackwater State Forest checks longleaf pines for signs of red cockaded woodpecker nests. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
Longleaf pine is a granddaddy among the trees of the Southeastern United States, once covering up to 90 million acres throughout the coastal plain. Tall and stately, slow-growing and dense, it was one of the most desirable trees in the forestry and shipbuilding industry for two centuries. Its sap was used to produce turpentine, tar, and pitch, especially to coat and waterproof the bottoms of wooden ships. Its tall, upright form made for a perfect ship’s mast. Between the years 1830 and 1935, approximately 90% of the Southeast’s old growth longleaf trees were harvested, and much of the land was used for farming or development.
Besides its commercial uses, the longleaf ecosystem supports a wide diversity of other plants and animals. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker nests only in the wood of old (100-500 years!) longleaf pines, and the canopy shades a grassy groundcover often dominated by wiregrass. Gopher tortoises, the endangered indigo snake, and quail also thrive in longleaf pine ecosystems.
A longleaf pine in its grass stage. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The longleaf pine is highly adapted to fire while in its “grass” stage and as an older tree, allowing it to tower over smaller hardwoods that are cleared out in natural and prescribed fires. This clearing allows its own seeds to sprout and thrive, and for low-growing grasses to dominate the understory. Pines can be difficult to differentiate in the southern forest, but longleaf pines have deep (up to 8-12 feet) taproots and long needles—up to 18 inches—in fascicles of two or three. The needles grow in spherical bunches that look like cheerleading pom poms.
As ecologists and foresters have realized the important role these trees play in the landscape, significant efforts have been undertaken to restore much of that habitat on both public and private land. Locally, Blackwater State Forest and neighboring Eglin Air Force Base have replanted and managed thousands of acres of longleaf habitat. Foresters and nonprofits also work with private landowners to reestablish these stately pines.
Bananas are a great choice for your landscape, whether as an edible fruit producer or simply as an ornamental, giving your space a tropical vibe.
Bananas are native to southeast Asia, however, grow well across Florida. Complementary plants that can be paired with bananas in the landscape are bird of paradise (banana relative), canna lily, cone ginger, philodendron, coontie, and palmetto palm, just to name some.
Bananas are very easy to manage during the warmer months. Bananas are water loving, and that’s putting it lightly. Planting in vicinity of an eave on your home is a good measure for site suitability. Roof rainwater will drastically increase the growth of the banana tree and decrease the need for supplemental irrigation. Banana trees will need full sun and high organic moist soils create the best environment. For nutrition, a seasonal one-pound application of 6-2-12 fertilizer is a good practice to sustain older trees. Young trees should be fertilized every two months for the first year at a rate of a half-pound.
Musa basjoo is one of the most cold hardy banana varieties. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension
If there is a con to banana trees, it’s their cold hardiness. Some varieties fair well and others some not so much. ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ (Musa acuminate) is a popular variety that is found in many garden centers in the state. It produces fruit very well, but it is not very cold hardy. ‘Pink Velvet’ (Musa velutina) produces fruit with a bright pink peel, but isn’t very cold hardy either. A couple of cold hardy ornamental varieties are the ‘Japanese Fiber’ (Musa basjoo) and ‘Black Thai’ (Musa balbisiana), which is by far the most cold hardy, with the ability to easily combat below freezing temperatures.
Freeze damage on a banana tree. Photo Credit: Ray Bodrey, University of Florida Extension – Gulf County
Regardless of cold hardiness, in many cases, banana trees will turn brown after freezing temperatures occur or even if the temperatures reach just above the freezing mark, but will bounce back in the spring. Until then, it’s important not to prune away the brown leaves or trunk skin. These leaves act as an insulator and help defend against freezing temperatures. Usually, the last freezing temperatures that may occur in the Panhandle are around the first of April. So, to be safe, pruning can begin by mid to late April. When pruning, be sure to be equipped with a sharp knife, gloves and work clothes. Banana trunk skin and leaves can be quite fibrous and the liquid from the tree can stain clothing and hands.
So, what’s the best variety of fruiting bananas? Most ornamental bananas do not produce tasty fruit. If you are looking for a production banana, ‘Lady Finger’, ‘Apple’, and ‘Ice Cream’ are popular varieties, but are better suited for the central and southern parts of the state.
For more information, contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article can be found on the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website.
Also, for more information see the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Banana Growing in the Florida Home Landscape”, by Jonathan H. Crane and Carlos F. Balerdi.
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
American fringetree Chionanthus virginicus), a native deciduous small tree with delicate blooms in spring. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
January and February are ideal months for adding a tree or two to your landscape in the Florida panhandle. In the cooler weather, the ground stays moist for a longer time, which helps prevent drought stress and the drying out of the rootball. Also, the winds are generally milder, and the tree will have a chance to get established and anchored in before the wilder winds of summer roll in.
Before investing time and money in a tree, take a few minutes and be sure that the species you choose is right for your particular landscape.
Here are some things to consider:
- Whether the area can accommodate the ultimate size of the tree, both height and width, and not grow into overhead wires, streetlights, or your house.
- Are there any underground utilities or septic? A call to 811 can check on where your utilities are.
- The hardiness zone for the tree. Be aware that zone 8 or 9 in the western United States is a different climate with respect to moisture than the same zone 8 or 9 in Florida.
- Whether the tree can thrive in your soil – sandy, loam or clay, loose or compacted, high and dry, or wet and low.
- The amount of sun it requires.
- Whether you want native species that provide food and habitat for native birds and animals.
- Salt-tolerance if located on the coast.
- Wind tolerance, especially if located on the coast. Many fast-growing trees are brittle and susceptible to breakage.
- Whether you prefer an evergreen or deciduous tree. Evergreen trees, like hollies, provide a natural screen all year while some deciduous trees, like maple and bald cypress, provide fall color.
- Is the tree messy, dropping large seed pods, fruit, or leaves?
- The color and shape of leaves and flowers and other ornamental qualities.
- Whether the tree species has known disease or pest issues.
Florida red anise (Illicium floridanum), a small tree/large shrub for shady locations. Photo credit: Mary Salinas UF/IFAS Extension.
Once you choose what species of tree you will add to your landscape, here’s information on Selecting Quality Trees from the Nursery.
Optimum tree health and vigor also depends on the correct methods of Planting and Establishing Trees.
And this site has even more comprehensive information on trees and shrubs: University of Florida/IFAS Landscape Plants.