It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

The last several weeks have brought consistently cool weather to the Panhandle, with a few downright cold nights dipping well below freezing.  Though winter isn’t officially here, that won’t happen until December 21st, grass mowing season is definitely over and, if you’re like me and didn’t cover your raised bed garden on those nippy nights, vegetable growing has also slowed significantly.  So, what are us horticulturally minded folks with cold-weather cabin fever to do?  It’s time to take advantage of sweat-free temperatures, break out the shovels and pruners, and get to work in the landscape!

Master Gardeners demonstrate correct tree planting techniques.

The months of December through February are ideal times for planting new trees and shrubs.  The reasons for this are simple.  Days are short, rain tends to be plentiful, temperatures are cool, and plants are mostly dormant.  While newly installed plants need water to become established regardless of when they are planted, demand for supplemental irrigation is significantly less in winter (one of our rainiest seasons) and the chances of a new planting dying from thirst is slim relative to warmer months.  Also, planting in winter gives trees and shrubs several months of above ground dormancy to focus their resources below ground, recover from the shock of transitioning from a nursery container into your native soil, and produce valuable roots that will help it get through its first summer.  Think about it.  Would it be easier for you to start and finish a major outdoor project in July with one bottle of water to drink or in December with an ice chest full?  Plants prefer the same!

Not only is winter perfect for planting, tis the season for pruning many species too, deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall) in particular!  The first reason to prune these species in the winter is to give the plants several months to begin healing before growth resumes in spring and insect and disease pressure ramps up again.  Many serious pests and diseases of trees are most active during warm, wet weather and all of them have easier access to attack trees through open wounds.  Prune in winter to help avoid unwanted pest and disease infestations.  Also, dormancy has conveniently knocked the leaves off deciduous species’ branches, allowing us a clear view of the tree’s crown and giving us the ability to make clear, clean, strategic pruning cuts.  Proper pruning can help maintain a strong central leader that produces a stately, straight tree and remove dead and diseased branches that could cause problems in the future.

While planting in the winter is always ideal and we just outlined several reasons pruning now can be good, not all plants should be pruned when dormant.  For instance, old-fashioned hydrangeas and azaleas that produce blooms from the previous season’s growth.  Pruning these in the winter removes all the flower buds that would have bloomed the next summer and what’s the point of an azalea or hydrangea that doesn’t bloom?  Also, many small trees and shrubs, like Crape Myrtle and Vitex, may never need pruning if you site them where they will have room to mature without encroaching on other plants or structures.

If you have any questions about planting trees and shrubs, what, when, and how to prune, or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!  Enjoy the weather and happy gardening!

Proper Tree Planting

Proper Tree Planting

A newly planted tree with water retention berm.

A planted tree with water retention berm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Often, Extension agents are tasked with evaluation of unhealthy plants in the landscape.  They diagnose all sorts of plant problems including those caused by disease infection, insect infiltration, or improper culture.

When evaluating trees, one problem that often comes to the surface is improper tree installation.  Although poorly installed trees may survive for 10 or 15 years after planting, they rarely thrive and often experience a slow death.

Fall/winter is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida.  Here are 11 easy steps to follow for proper tree installation:

  1. Look around and up for wire, light poles, and buildings that may interfere with growth;
  2. Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible;
  3. Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk;
  4. Slide the tree carefully into the planting hole;
  5. Position the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface;
  6. Straighten the tree in the hole;
  7. Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball;
  8. Slice a shovel down in to the back fill;
  9. Cover the exposed sides of the root ball with mulch and create water retention berm;
  10. Stake the tree if necessary;
  11. Come back to remove hardware.
A hole being dug for a tree to be planted.

Digging a properly sized hole for planting a tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Removing synthetic material from the root ball.

Removing synthetic material from the root ball. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height.

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida – Santa Rosa County

For more detailed information on planting trees and shrubs visit this UF/IFAS Website – “Steps to Planting a Tree”.

For more information Nuttall Oaks visit this University of Arkansas Website.

Why Don’t We Get Great Fall Color in Florida?

Why Don’t We Get Great Fall Color in Florida?

red fall color on a tree

Intense red fall color of Japanese Maple in Georgia is hard to replicate in our climate. J_McConnell, UF/IFAS

Fall is a favorite time of year for many people. Cool nights, short days, football games and the fast approaching holidays are all signs of summer coming to an end. Floridians who have relocated from other parts of the country may be disappointed to realize we get very little showy fall color even though we can grow some of the same trees in North Florida as other parts of the country. Why is that? Well, although plant breeders may promise “showy fall color” in certain selections, they really can’t promise that year after year because it’s more than just genetics influencing leaf color. Let’s take a deeper dive into the science behind fall color!

Why do the leaves change color?
Lower temperatures and shorter day length indicate to plants that winter is approaching and some physiological changes start to occur. Chlorophyll is a pigment found in leaves that, in addition to capturing sunlight and producing energy, also causes plants to display green during the growing season. As fall approaches, environmental changes tell plants to stop producing chlorophyll and existing pigment begins to break down. The reduction of chlorophyll allows the other pigments present (carotenoids and anthocyanin) to reveal their colors in an array of yellows, browns, oranges, reds, and purples. Different plants have different levels of these pigments and some may not exist at all in certain species. This explains why some plants typically turn only yellow and others may show yellow, orange, and/or red!

Why is there so much difference from year to year?

Variation occurs because environmental conditions and cultural practices play a part in determining how much color will be on display. Rainfall or irrigation amounts in the preceding summer and fall, drought cycles, nutrient levels, sunlight, and day and night temperatures all influence color from year to year.

How do I increase the potential for showy fall color in my landscape?

Choose plants with the reputation of producing desired fall colors in our area. However, keep in mind that because of the influence of outside conditions, you may be in for a surprise from year to year. To increase your chance of having a somewhat predictable fall display, use cultivars instead of seedlings of a plant species. A cultivar is a selection of a plant species that has been chosen for desirable traits, like growth habit, flowering, or fall color.  These attributes are usually easily identified by the way their names are assigned. For example, Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’ is a red maple cultivar known for a full rounded canopy and exceptional red fall color. The reason that cultivars appear more consistent is because they are genetic copies of the parent plant that they are named for. A species or seedling plant is not a clone but comes from seed, which means you will get as much genetic variation as you see in human siblings. Just like children in our own families, each will each shine in their own way and no two will be exactly alike. 

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Creative Landscape Design Brings Dramatic Change

Photo credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Landscapes are an ever-changing setting that can be fun to view as the seasons come and go.  We all have differing ideas of what an exceptional landscape should be.  The point to always keep in mind is what you and your family like.  Are you considering the Florida-Friendly Landscaping elements?  You always want to keep a healthy, attractive environmental sound landscape.  This brings many interesting design concepts to the table.

The kitchen table is exactly where a landscape design needs to begin.  My dad was just the opposite, he would receive or buy plants on impulse.  Load up all these three-gallon plants, take them home and plant without consideration the long-term growth, color combinations, time of bloom and many more topics.  He just loved working in the yard and growing plants.

Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

There are basic principles of landscape design that are used as a guide. While I may stray from them from time to time, I always return to these principles.  Just keep in mind that a landscape is an ever-changing living setting that we will always work to improve.  The visual elements are based on what you see first when you enter a setting and are usually the vibrant high impact plants that may include bright bloom color, size of plant, focal plantings, leaf size and others.  The other side of the visual is the subtle presence of low impact plants with softer colors, small leaves, lower growing plant size.  This visual group often is planted en mass with a flow of plants to create a calming effect for the visitors to your landscape.

When the form of the plant is being considered, there are several points to keep in mind.  Will it have a three-dimensional impact in the landscape setting?  Is the landscape a small backyard or a one-acre open setting?  What are the maintenance requirements of the plant(s) as they mature in size?  A large tree can dominate a small area, but it may be just what is needed for shade with low plantings around it.   In a large setting, multiple large trees may be needed to create a focal point.  I have seen some wonderful tree alleys that help in directing the flow of the landscape down drives, walks, and paths.  These forms should be considered for all plants in the landscape including, trees, shrubs, groundcovers and even hardscapes.

Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Up next is the texture of the plant(s).  Are you looking for large and coarse or small, “softer” leaves?  You may find finely textured plants along paths or at entry areas to steps, softening the hardscape of the steps.   Are the large leaved plants open and airy, allowing light to flow through?  Large coarse leaved plants may be found at the back of landscape beds with fine textured smaller plants in front creating a three-dimensional look or even used as a focal point to pull the gaze of the eye to a determined location.

Color in the landscape has just as much impact as the plant texture, size and form.  Color can bring a bold or a soft statement.  The color is often thought of from blooms, but leaves too change in color with the seasons, from a fresh new bright green, purple, red or other colors in the spring to deeper, more mature colors as summer comes in.  Trunks can also bring unique colors to the landscape from subtle yellows to cinnamon.

There are so many things to think about when creating a long-term vision for your landscape.  Many options come in the decisions that will need to be made.  Do your research and always contact your local Extension office for more information!

 

 

 

Property Law and Tree Damage

Property Law and Tree Damage

Even healthy live oaks need maintenance and occasional trimming to stay safe. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

After storms, Extension agents are routinely asked about whose responsibility it is to maintain a tree along a property line. This becomes particularly important in a situation where a property owner’s tree or branch falls and causes damage to their neighbor’s home or possessions.

To clarify this often contentious issue, reference to legal experts is necessary. In a series of publications called “The Handbook of Florida Fence and Property Law,” two attorneys and a University of Florida law student explain several statutes that give us direction. The section on “Trees and Landowner Responsibility” goes into further detail and cites case-law, but for ease of reading it is summarized below.

Situation 1: Removing a healthy tree on a shared property line.
If two neighbors share a tree on their property line and one of them wants to remove it, the adjoining landowner must give their permission. Removing trees can impact property value, heating/cooling bills, or aesthetic value. Without a neighbor’s consent, the landowner cutting down a tree can be legally liable for damages.

Hurricanes can have serious impacts on trees in their path. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Situation 2: Responsibility for overhanging branches and roots.
A big storm hits your neighborhood, with tons of rain, wind, and lightning. You wake up in the morning and see that a large branch fell from your neighbor’s tree and crushed your kids’ basketball goal. If branches from the neighbor’s tree were otherwise healthy, they are not responsible for any damages resulting from the tree. If it was dead, however, and their negligence contributed to the branch falling, they will be responsible for damages.
Keep in mind that if the neighbor’s tree/branches/roots are in good health but interfering with something in your yard, you may trim them at your own expense. The same goes for your tree hanging in their yard, so while it’s not required, it’s always good to have a conversation first to let them know your plans.

 

After Hurricane Ivan, this tree's root system completed uprooted and destroyed and adjacent fence. Photo credit: Beth Bolles

After Hurricane Ivan, this tree’s root system completely uprooted and destroyed and adjacent fence. Photo credit: Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension

Situation 3: Hurricane Sally blew your neighbor’s tree over and into your yard.
Just like the situation with branches and roots, the same principle goes for an entire tree falling on adjoining property—if the tree was alive, it’s the responsibility of the person whose yard it fell in. If it was dead when it fell, it’s the responsibility of the tree’s owner to pay for damages.

In a complicated situation involving property damage, the saying, “good fences make good neighbors” only goes so far. Be sure to note the health of your trees throughout the year and trim back dead or dying branches. If you see serious decay or have concerns about a tree’s health, contact your county Extension office or a certified arborist. Finally, if the circumstances aren’t easily determined, be sure to contact a licensed attorney and/or your insurance company for direction.