Planning for Wildlife Habitat

Planning for Wildlife Habitat

A hummingbird gathering nectar from a firespike (Odontonema strictum) flower. Photo Credit: Knolllandscapindesign.com

Do you enjoy watching a variety of birds and butterflies in your landscape?  Have you ever watched squirrels get into the birdfeeder?  Children may learn about wildlife by watching through a window.  Food, water, cover, and space are four essential elements that will create the best habitat for wildlife.  Food could be as simple as adding feeders to attract birds to your yard but having a habitat that sustains them is important.  Florida wildlife and Florida native plants evolved together and are often interdependent.  It is a must to understand what sustains the species you are wanting to attract to your area.  Different species prefer different food/plants.  Insects also provide birds a food source for their young.

Water can be bird baths, man-made ponds, and natural bodies of water such as streams, lakes, ponds on your property.  When relying on a bird bath for your water supply make sure the water is fresh and clean.  Shallow water (1-1.5 inches) is better than deep (over 3 inches).  Birds like sloping sides and a textured surface; they prefer to walk into water rather than dive in headfirst.  Place the bath 5 to 10 feet from a protective cover like shrubs or trees.  This needs to be close enough for the birds to be able to reach safety if there is danger from predators.  A small outpost for birds to land on near the bath can help them check for predators before heading to the bath.

Cover will provide a place to raise young and should have vertical layers for animals to use for safety, shelter, and nests.  Examples of cover that could be added to the landscape are snags that give food for woodpeckers and nesting perches.  Or build your own nesting boxes that are species specific for owls, bees, and bats.  All bats eat insects and substantially reduce the number of nocturnal insects in a neighborhood.

The permanently wet detention pond lined with cypress trees and sawgrass also provides habitat for fish, birds, and reptiles. Photo Credit: Carrie Stevenson, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Escambia County

Lastly it is important to think of your space.  Create large patches of good habitat that span several landscapes or consider working with your neighbors to link the backyard habitats and create a larger area.  It is all about the “Right Plant, Right Place” concept and understanding the area you are working with and the possibilities.  When you go into the last step of planting and attracting wildlife have a plan and know what you would like to attract.  Do your research on what you will need for that wildlife and use your resources, ask your local extension agent for ideas and suggestions!

Many plants in our native landscape provide much of what attracts wildlife and provides them with at least one of the four essential elements.  The article “Planting for Wildlife Habitat!” will give you some ideas of plants and trees that do well in the North Florida area and will help to attract the wildlife you desire!

Planting for Wildlife Habitat!

Planting for Wildlife Habitat!

Humans and wildlife find Chickasaw plums delicious. Photo credit: University of Florida/IFAS

There are many trees that can be a great addition to your space that will provide one of the four essential elements food, water, cover, and space.  Persimmon thrives in a wide variety of conditions from wet or sandy soil to lowlands or uplands.  Deer actively seek out persimmon trees, eating every fruit that is within reach as well as leaves and twigs in the fall and winter.  Other wildlife that enjoys the persimmon trees are squirrel, fox, bear, coyote, raccoon, opossum, and various birds including wild turkey.  The nectar from flowers provides a significant food resource for pollinator species like bees.  These trees are either male or female and at least 3 should be planted together to ensure pollination.  Live Oak is a solid tree that many people in this area said survived Hurricane Michael.  It provides acorns for food and deep shade.  Black Cherry is a host plant for Red-Spotted purple and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  Bitter fruit matures during the summer to fall and is used for jams, jellies, or liqueurs.  Fruits are highly prized by birds and other wildlife.  Wild cherry cough syrup is made from the reddish-brown, fragrant and bitter inner bark.  Yaupon Holly is another tree that birds and wildlife feed on the berries throughout the winter when food is scarce.  Leaves have the highest caffeine content of any other plant native to North America.  Some other trees to consider are Basswood, Red Cedar, Florida Hop tree, Elderberry, Slippery Elm, Sassafras, Chickasaw Plums, and the Toothache Tree.

While yard work is important to maintain an attractive lawn, if done successfully, the resident can spend quality time in other pursuits like watching the wildlife from the front porch.

There are many plants that for the longest time I thought were only a nuisance to the everyday gardener, but I truly learned the phrase “Right Plant, Right Place” with these next few plants that I am going to mention.  Smilax is a vine with thorns that is nearly impossible to get rid of and gets into our shrubs and landscape.  But in the right place smilax provides shelter and food for wildlife.  It has a blue-black berry in the spring and provides medicine, food, and dyes for humans.  There are 2 species of smilax that are only found in the panhandle.  Dog Fennel is native to fields, woodland edges, and roadsides and can be used as an insecticide and antifungal.  It has feather like leaves that are very aromatic.  Blackberry can grow wild and it is an all-around amazing plant for vitamins.  It’s fruit can help fight cancer and decrease cardiovascular disease.  Leaves and bark are useful medicinally and leaves can be used as a tea.  The last plant I must mention is the Beauty Berry.  It is known for its late fall bright purple fruits called drupes, not berries.  This plant attracts birds for food in the fall time in North Florida.  The drupes can also be used for jams and jellies.  Other plants that are great for attracting wildlife are Spiderwort, Dewberry, and Spanish Needle.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2022

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2022

The UF/IFAS Extension Northwest District Horticulture Team is excited to announce our third season of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! free webinars! Please plan to join us this Spring and Fall for all new episodes where we will tackle gardening issues relevant to the Florida Panhandle!

There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:

  1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
  2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at Zoom Link). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one-two weeks before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)

Although we do accept questions from the audience during the broadcast, we may not have time to read them on-air. If you have a great question you think other viewers need to hear, please pre-register through Zoom and submit early!

All webinars are on a Thursday at Noon CDT/ 1:00 p.m. EDT

Date Topic
February 17, 2022 Growing Tomatoes in Northwest Florida
March 31, 2022 Turfgrass and Groundcovers
April 14, 2022 Subtropical Fruits for the Florida Panhandle
May 19, 2022 Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers
September 15, 2022 Winter Garden Planning
October 13, 2022 Gardening Myths and Home Remedies

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Which are the Sturdiest Trees?

Which are the Sturdiest Trees?

Florida’s state observance of Arbor Day falls on January 21st in 2022. On this day, people are encouraged to plant trees and recognize their importance. Trees provide us with shade and shelter, filter air and water, and increase biodiversity as well as acting as a source of materials for building and industry. Half of Florida’s land area is forested and North Florida has a large timber industry. Given the importance of trees to our wellbeing and the erratic and sometimes extreme weather in our region, the question occasionally arises, “What trees are best to plant here?”.

The answer to that question depends heavily on the needs of the person asking it. A landowner looking for long-term profit from forestry may choose to plant longleaf pines, despite the risks that hurricanes pose. A homeowner desiring a shade tree, however, might want a different answer.

There are plenty of varieties of trees that grow well in the panhandle of Florida, and the further one lives from coastal areas, the greater the options. Particularly along the shores, however, choices are limited by soil types, exposure to high winds, and even salt spray. So which are the toughest and hardiest trees for our area?

A sabal palmetto.

Florida’s state tree is the sabal palmetto. Also called the cabbage palm, this palm is particularly cold tolerant, withstanding temperatures down to 15º F. Once established, they are drought tolerant and fairly resistant to pests and diseases, as well as being particularly sturdy in high winds. Though they may be thought of as “common”, this is a testament to their survivability in our climate and they should not be dismissed as an option for landscapes.

A large, old Southern live oak.

Both the Southern live oak and especially the sand live oak are exceptionally survivable trees. Sand live oak is found closer to the coast, where it tends to grow in beautiful multi-trunked forms slightly inland, or in lower thickets along the dunes. It tends not to reach the same heights as Southern live oak, but does well in the harshest of

Sand live oaks growing near the beach dunes.

conditions, lasting through almost anything nature can throw at it. Even if defoliated by heavy storm winds, these trees survive. Hurricanes claim only the occasional live oak that catch enough wind to uproot and topple the entire tree, which is not a common occurrence.

 

The bloom of a Southern magnolia.

Southern magnolia comes in many sizes, from huge old specimens to more compact cultivars such as ‘Little Gem’, which can be trained to grow as hedges. Tolerating a wide range of soil moisture, these trees are rarely harmed by disease, though scale insects often take up residence on their leaves (which rarely seems to bother the trees, even if infestations are heavy). With gorgeous and fragrant blooms in the springtime, Southern magnolia stands up in high winds and makes an excellent addition to a landscape.

For more information on trees that do well in storms, see our EDIS publication on the topic. Also note that native species, trees that are properly pruned, those that are well established as opposed to newly planted, and trees free of disease or damage tend to survive better in any case. Ensuring that plants of any sort are placed in the right spot can serve the landscaper well in the long run as well – see the Florida Native Plant Society’s website for help in choosing the right plants. As always, your local Extension office is available to assist with questions as well.

January is Tree-Planting Time

January is Tree-Planting Time

Even with this young sycamore, you’ll be made in the shade. Credit: UF/IFAS.

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is Arbor Day. Florida recognizes the event on the third Friday in January but planting any time before spring will establish a tree quickly.

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. As a formal holiday, it was first observed on April 10, 1872, in the state of Nebraska. Today, every state and many countries join in the recognition of trees impact on people and the environment.

Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful. A single tree produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.

The idea for Arbor Day in the U.S. began with Julius Sterling Morton. In 1854 he moved from Detroit to the area that is now the state of Nebraska. J. Sterling Morton was a journalist and nature lover who noticed that there were virtually no trees in Nebraska. He wrote and spoke about environmental stewardship and encouraged everyone to plant trees. Morton emphasized that trees were needed to act as windbreaks, to stabilize the soil, to provide shade, as well as fuel and building materials for the early pioneers to prosper in the developing state.

In 1872, The State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” On April 10, 1872, one million trees were planted in Nebraska in honor of the first Arbor Day. Shortly after the 1872 observance, several other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day. By 1920, 45 states and territories celebrated Arbor Day. Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day during his presidency in 1970.

Today, all 50 states in the U.S. have official Arbor Day, usually at a time of year that has the correct climatological conditions for planting trees. For Florida, the ideal tree planting time is January, so Florida’s Arbor Day is celebrated on the third Friday of the month. Similar events are observed throughout the world. In Israel it is the Tu B Shevat (New Year for Trees). Germany has Tag des Baumes. Japan and Korea celebrate an entire week in April. Even Iceland, one of the treeless countries in the world observes Student’s Afforestation Day.

The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow and someday provide wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for ourselves and our children.

“It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the nation’s need of trees will become serious. We of an older generation can get along with what we have, though with growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.”

~Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Arbor Day Message