Grow Your Own Christmas Tree

Grow Your Own Christmas Tree

Christmas is among my favorite holidays.  The religious significance, music, lights, amazing food, fellowship with family, and giving and receiving gifts all lend something special to the season.  However, the tradition that arguably gets the most attention is selecting and putting up a Christmas tree!  Those that participate in the festivities and put up a Christmas tree have three options:  purchasing an artificial tree, purchasing a real tree, or growing your own.

While I like the convenience of a pre-lit tree as much as anyone, artificial trees don’t do a whole lot for the environment or sustainable US agriculture.  They are almost exclusively produced overseas and contain non-biodegradable plastics.  Not the best.  If you select option two and choose to purchase a real tree, you’ll help support a sustainable US agriculture industry!  According to the National Christmas Tree Association, there are ~25-30 million Christmas trees sold annually in the US and 350 million more currently growing on Christmas tree farms waiting their turn!  Purchasing real Christmas trees also ensures that the over 100,000 Christmas tree farm workers remain employed, and the 1/3 million acres US Christmas tree farms comprise will remain non-developed “green spaces”!

But for the green-thumbed Christmas enthusiast that’s willing to put in a little time and effort, there is a third choice – growing your very own Christmas tree right at home!  In the Panhandle, there are several species, Florida natives and not, that make wonderful Christmas trees and are easy to grow!

Red Cedar makes a fine Florida Christmas tree!

Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) – This Florida native is the classic southern evergreen.  Growing quickly to the desired heights of 4’-10’, emitting a “Christmas tree smell”, and possessing dark, dense foliage, Red Cedar makes an excellent Christmas tree!  Red Cedar performs very well in most soils but does not like wet feet and will not tolerate continuously saturated areas.

Leyland Cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii) – A hybrid of Alaskan Cedar and Monterrey Cypress, Leyland Cypress is recognized as one of the most popular Deep South grown Christmas trees for good reason.  Leylands grow exceptionally fast, are a desirable forest green color, and have a naturally conical shape!  Though not recommended as long-term landscape trees in Florida due to disease susceptibility, Leylands do very well in short Christmas tree rotations.

Thuja ‘Green Giant’ – ‘Green Giant’ is a cultivar of Thuja and is similar in appearance to Leyland Cypress.  Though not quite as deep green in color as Leyland, ‘Green Giant’ also grows rapidly (up to 3’-4’ annually), tolerates many soil conditions, and has no serious insect/disease issues.

Arizona Cypress (Cupressus arizonica var. arizonica) – Arizona Cypress is the Christmas tree for those who would normally choose to be different by purchasing a blue, silver, or white artificial tree!  Famous for its striking blue/silver foliage, Arizona Cypress is native to the American Southwest but thrives in the drier sandy soils found in many parts of the Panhandle.

Sand Pine (Pinus clausa) – The quintessential “Cracker Christmas Tree”, Sand Pine is native to the deep sandy ridges of Florida.  Normally thought of as a scrubby, low-value tree, when shaped a little, the short-needled Sand Pine makes an excellent Christmas tree!  Obviously preferring a dry, sandy site but capable of growing nearly anywhere, Sand Pine has no pest or disease issues and grows fast!  If you want a true, old-school Florida Christmas tree, Sand Pine is it.

Regardless of the species you choose, implementing the following few maintenance tips and expectations will lend best results:

  • Cut/remove J or circling roots before planting.
  • Plant just higher than ground level.
  • Refill the hole with native soil from the site.
  • Regular irrigation for the first several months of their lives is necessary and trees will benefit from supplemental fertilizer applications twice a year (spring and mid-summer).
  • Shaping trees each summer with hedge shears to achieve the desired dense, compact shape will allow for a uniform tree with no “holes”.
  • Plant several trees per year to ensure a nice tree come December, just in case.
  • Florida grown Christmas trees will NOT have the exact look of fir or spruce. Adjust expectations accordingly.
  • Most Florida grown Christmas trees do NOT have rigid branches and cannot support heavy ornaments. Again, adjust expectations accordingly.

While Christmas tree species that perform well in the Panhandle will not have the exact look of a classic fir or spruce sourced from the Carolinas, they certainly mimic the look and there is something to be said for walking outside and harvesting your own tree to put presents under!  For more information on growing your own Christmas trees or other horticultural topics, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office!  Happy New Year!

 

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Selecting & Maintaining Trees

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Selecting & Maintaining Trees

Trees provide shade, aesthetics, and perspective to the landscape.  However, they only serve as burdens if not properly selected and maintained.  To help determine what trees do best under certain conditions and to provide information on tree care, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about trees.

Florida maple beginning to exhibit fall color. Photo credit: Larry Williams, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Okaloosa County

Tree Selection

Some trees grow faster than others.  That’s not always a good thing, but if you’re trying to select a tree that grows fast and will provide shade in your yard then you might want to give the following species a try.  Click on the links for more information.

A lot of times you’ll read a particular tree species prefers moist, well-drained soil.  Some coastal soils are very well drained and require supplemental irrigation after establishment to keep some species alive.  One tree that does well in sandy, well-drained soils without supplemental irrigation is the sand live oak.  Another tree, that would never win a popularity contest, but does well in sandy soils is the sand pine.  This tree has a gnarly growth habit, which would make it an interesting focal point in the landscape.  Turkey oaks are another option for dry spots.

There are a lot of fruit tree species that can be grown successfully in the panhandle.  The key to good fruit production is selecting trees that are adapted to the average number of chill hours (usually calculated by the number of hours between 34ºF and 45ºF) your yard receives on a yearly basis.  Some peaches, plums, and nectarines have been developed for our climate.  Citrus such as satsumas and tangerine hybrids grow well in the panhandle, but sometimes require cold protectionPersimmons, loquats, and pears are other fruit trees that grow well.

If you already have mature trees in your yard, then you may be looking for smaller, understory trees to enhance your landscape.

Living this far south, you often have to really seek out trees that change color in the fall.  Dogwoods, Florida maples, and blackgum trees all have great fall color.  Some of the red oaks also have nice fall color.  Two that come to mind are the nuttall oak and the Shumard oak.

Trees can cause a lot of damage if planted too close to sidewalks or buildings.  To determine if a tree will fit in a confined space, you will need to consider its mature trunk flare diameter.

Florida is the southern extreme for growing ginko trees.  If you decide to plant a ginko tree, make sure to select a male cultivar to avoid stinky, slippery fruit.

To successfully plant a tree, you need to start with a healthy tree.  If the tree you purchase was grown in a pot, make sure it isn’t rootbound and doesn’t have encircling roots.  You also should inspect the tree’s form, branching structure,  and look for the presence of included bark.  Please read “Selecting Quality Trees from the Nursery” for more tips on what to look out for when purchasing a healthy tree.

Some trees are more tolerant than others of high winds and flooding.  Please read this publication about tree failure from hurricanes to help determine what tree species are better adapted to these weather events.

Santa Rosa County Master Gardener Pruning a Stone Fruit tree at the WFREC. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Tree Maintenance

Armillaria is a common fungal pathogen that infects trees from their roots.  Other major diseases are more specific to certain species.  A more comprehensive list of tree and shrub diseases can be found on the Ask IFAS website.

Tree establishment period depends on a lot of factors.  Once a tree is established, it’s roots can be equal to about three times the distance from the trunk to the dripline.

Part of the beauty of a bald cypress is its knees.  However they can also be a nuisance for mowing and other yard maintenance.  The purpose of cypress knees is a bit of a mystery and there are a lot of theories on the subject.

Fallen leaves can help add nutrients back to your yard.  Even if you are trying for a manicured lawn, you may want to rake up the leaves and use them elsewhere in the landscape.

Regardless of the species, most fruit trees benefit from a good pruning.  Deciduous fruit trees should be pruned to maintain good branch structure and form, while citrus may benefit from a light hedging.

Trees are a wonderful addition to any landscape, but it’s important you select the right tree for the right place.  Hopefully this article provided some information to guide you in the right direction.

 

What Can Be Done To Prevent Tree Dieback?

What Can Be Done To Prevent Tree Dieback?

Tree dieback is a complex syndrome and slow developing. Dieback is essentially a process in which trees lose leaves and limbs. This usually occurs as a result of severe stress to the tree’s bark or root system, but could be a result of a declining life cycle.

It’s important to note that there is a significant balance between a tree’s root system and the number of leaves and limbs it can support.  For example, if a tree loses part of its root system, possibly due to disease or lawn equipment damage, the tree will forfeit a portion of its leaves. Dieback doesn’t happen overnight, though. It’s a slow process, with larger trees taking much longer time for signs of stress to emerge.  However, a large tree root system is very sensitive to damage, whereas a small tree will adapt quickly and is much more resilient to damage.  So, what can be done to prevent dieback in trees?

First and foremost, trees, like all living things, have a natural life cycle.  Regardless of how you care for your trees, dieback will occur. The most important management measure in extending the life of a tree is to protect the root system and bark.

With each passing year, a tree grows new bark in the rejuvenation process.  The bark replacement process inevitably becomes more difficult as the tree gets older and in turn the tree is more and more susceptible to dieback. If the bark becomes damaged, especially later in the tree’s life cycle, then fungi and insects have a much greater chance to cause serious harm. Treating bark damage with a wound dressing to prevent decay is the recommended procedure.

Lichens come in many forms and are commonly blamed for the decline and death of trees and shrubs, however they do not cause harm. Credit. Sydney Park Brown and Joseph Sewards, UF/IFAS.

A common misconception is that epiphytes, such as lichens and Spanish moss, are tree diseases. Epiphytes are known as “air plants” and thrive in the Panhandle. They survive on moisture and nutrients in the atmosphere and are harmless to trees. However, a tree that becomes inundated with epiphytes may be an indicator of excessive soil moisture, which may lead to root rot.

Lawn weed killers can have detrimental effects to trees, even if the application seems to be from a safe distance.  When using a weed killer near a tree’s root system, confirm on the label that the product is designed to kill green growth only. It can’t be overstated that excessively fertilizing an old tree will greatly accelerate the decline of the tree. Some may think this will stimulate a tree and extend its life, but instead it will do the opposite. Young trees can tolerate fertilizer applications, as they need crown growth. Older trees will simply become top heavy, and structural damage will likely occur.

Don’t forget, trees need space too.  A mature tree forced to occupy a small space will simply not adapt. Be sure to have adequate spacing when planting younger trees and shrubs in the vicinity of older trees. Also, keep your trees pruned away from touching structures and utilities.

Tree dieback is a complex issue to manage. By following these measures, you can help extend the life of your trees and continue to have a picturesque landscape.

For more information on tree dieback, contact your local county extension office.

Please visit Florida Friendly Landscaping, http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/, for more information on maintaining your landscape.

For more general  information on lichens, please see UF/IFAS EDIS document “Spanish Moss, Ball Moss and Lichens-Harmless Epiphytes” by Joe Sewards and Dr. Sydney Park Brown: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP48500.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Spotted Fall Tree Leaves: Harmful or Innocuous?

Spotted Fall Tree Leaves: Harmful or Innocuous?

persimmon leaf

A spotted Japanese Persimmon leaf, Image Credit: Matthew Orwat

In gardening, brown or black spotted leaves are most often an indicator of disease problems or growth issues. This causes us to worry and seek answers as to why this is occurring. This is good since the first step in solving a plant growth or disease issue is diagnosis.

During Fall, the presence of brown or black spots on leaves of shade and fruit trees is usually not cause for alarm, as it might be in the spring or summer. Certain shade trees such as Southern Magnolia, Japanese Magnolia, various maple, persimmon and oak in the Red Oak group show substantial brown and black leaf spotting as Fall arrives. This is due to the fact that these leaves have been attacked by fungal pathogens and insects since Spring and resistance to damage has broken down over time. As Fall progresses, these leaves will senesce (purposeful deterioration due to age, such as at end of season) and fall to the ground. Therefore, this ugly spotting is part of natural seasonal leaf decomposition in deciduous trees.

Although Fall leaf spotting may not be something to worry about, oftentimes we run into plant problems that need quick diagnosis. Fortunately, your local Extension Office and the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic at NFREC exists for these situations. If you need help with plant problems, feel free to contact your local Extension Agent or Master Gardener Volunteer group and they will figure it out or send it along to the Diagnostic Clinic (small diagnostic fee if using NFREC clinic services).

If you happen to live in or near Washington County, we are launching our Second Mondays Free Plant Clinic. Staffed by knowledgeable and friendly UF / IFAS Master Gardener volunteers and your County Extension Agent, we will be available every second Monday of the month from 10am to 2pm at the Washington County Ag Center, which houses the UF / IFAS Extension Office.  We will be located in the Master Gardener Volunteer Library which is just left of the central auditorium double doors. The launch date of this plant clinic is Monday, October 11th. See you then!

Hickory Gall and Anthracnose, a Deadly Combination?

Hickory Gall and Anthracnose, a Deadly Combination?

As homeowners, we do value our trees and no one wants to lose a shade tree especially on the house’s south side in Florida.  On a recent site visit, a hickory tree had multiple concerns.  Upon closer inspection, the tree had a bacterial infection about 30” off the ground with a smelly, black-brown ooze seeping forth.  The leaf canopy was riddled with beetle holes and leaf margins were chewed by caterpillars.  When leaves were viewed under the microscope, thrips (insects) and spider mites were found running around.   The biggest homeowner cosmetic concern arose from hickory anthracnose (fungus) and upon closer inspection found the leaves to have hickory midge fly galls.  The obvious question is should the tree come down?  I’ll have you read the whole article before giving you the answer.

Whole Hickory Gall

Each hickory gall is approximately 3/16″ wide.

Hickory anthracnose or leaf spot as seen in the banner photo is caused by a fungal infection during the wet summer months in Florida.  The homeowner can usually recognize the disease by the large reddish brown spots on the upper leaf surface (sending a sample to the NFREC Plant Pathology Lab will confirm the diagnosis) and brownish spots with no formal shape on the bottom.  Be sure to rake and remove all leaves to prevent your disease from overwintering close to the tree thus reducing infection next year.

Gall Half

A hickory gall has been cut in half to show the leaf tissue.

The fungus can be lessened by good cultural practices and appropriate fungicidal applications.  Please remember it is best left to professionals when spraying a large tree.  This alone is not cause to remove your tree.

Hickory gall is caused by the hickory midge fly, an insect that lays eggs in the leaf tissue.  The plant responds by building up tissue around each egg almost like the oyster when forming a pearl.

As the gall tissue grows, eggs hatch and larva start to feed on this tissue.  The larva will continue to

Gall Larva

The larva has eaten all soft material inside the gall and is ready to pupate.

feed until it is ready to pupate within the gall.  After forming a pupa, the midge fly will eventually emerge as an adult and females will continue to lay eggs on other leaves.  The galls are more of a cosmetic damage and because your hickory leaves will fall from the tree as winter comes, the galls will normally not cause enough damage to worry about each year.  Once again good cultural practices and disposal of each year’s leaves will reduce the gall numbers next year.

In a large tree with many leaves, foliar feeding by beetles and caterpillars do cause damage though the leaves will still produce enough food (photosynthesis) to keep the tree alive.  Most of us never climb our trees to look at leaves to see the small insects/mites and there are more than enough leaves to maintain tree health.

The biggest concern during my site visit was their tree’s bacterial infection.  A knife blade was pushed into the wound area and went in less than 1/4″.  The homeowner was instructed to look at bactericide applications.  In the end, this hickory tree with so many problems is still shading the home and helping cool the house.  It is still giving refuge to wildlife and beneficial insects.  When in doubt give our trees the benefit and keep them in place.  Remember your local Extension agent is set up to make site visits and saving a tree is time well spent.