The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett, once said “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.” While that’s all fine and good and I’m happy that the next generation gets to enjoy the things we grew, most of us would like to enjoy shade in our lifetimes too! If you too want to plant your own shade, one of the best rapidly growing shade tree choices for the Panhandle is the majestic Florida native Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).
Green ash trees have a vase shape form. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
Green Ash is a large (50-100’ tall), oval-shaped, deciduous shade tree native to the entire eastern half of North America, but best of all for those of us craving shade, it grows to its mature height in a relative hurry. While most trees that grow extremely fast tend to be inherently weak and short-lived, this is not the case with Green Ash. Capable of growing 6-10’ in a single year if irrigated and fertilized appropriately and often living well over 100 years, there aren’t many plants in the Panhandle that grow quicker or live longer.
There’s much more to Green Ash than growth rate and life span, however. The tree is also one of the prettiest around. Come on, you didn’t think I’d recommend an ugly plant, did you? A look up into the canopy at different times of the year and one can see the tree’s deep, dark green foliage, good-for-Florida yellowish fall color, and slightly showy light green seed pods. Below, the straight trunk is laced with distinctive diamond-shaped bark that hints at the extremely high-quality wood underneath. Fun fact, Ash is historically the most popular wood used to make baseball bats due to its hardness at a relatively light weight – more MLB home runs have been hit with Ash than any other species!
The compound leaf of a green ash tree. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
As a Florida-Friendly plant, Green Ash is fairly low-maintenance and provides many environmental services. The species, like any other plant, requires supplemental water and fertilizer during the establishment period, generally the first year or so after planting, but doesn’t demand much else from gardeners after that. Green Ash specimens in Florida also don’t have much in the way of pest problems (the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has devastated ash populations in northern states but thankfully has not yet been found in Florida). However, as a host plant for several native pollinators, including the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Orange Sulphur, and Viceroy Butterflies, you may occasionally find caterpillars munching away on the tree’s foliage. If you can handle a little leaf damage, try to leave any caterpillars alone and enjoy the stunning butterflies they later morph into!
Green Ash is a beautiful, ultra-adaptable shade tree. Though the species prefers moist areas, there aren’t many sites the tree can’t thrive in. Do you have a low-lying area near a swamp or stream that stands in water from time to time? Great! Green Ash will thrive. Do you need a street tree to survive in a harsh environment with a cramped root zone surrounded by concrete? Green Ash will be right at home there as well. Green Ash is simply a classic shade tree with many interesting attributes that improves the look of any landscape it occupies. Plant one today!
For more information about Green Ash, other shade tree species, or any other horticultural/agricultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office.
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!
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.
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!
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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.