Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

According to Druid lore, hanging the plant in homes would bring good luck and protection.  Holly was considered sacred because it remained green and strong with brightly colored red berries no matter how harsh the winter.  Most other plants would wilt and die.

Later, Christians adopted the holly tradition from Druid practices and developed symbolism to reflect Christian beliefs.  Today, the red berries are said to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross when he was crucified.  Additionally, the pointed leaves of the holly symbolize the crown of thorns Jesus wore on his head.

Several hollies are native to Florida.  Many more are cultivated varieties commonly used as landscape plants.  Hollies (Ilex spp.) are generally low maintenance plants that come in a diversity of sizes, forms and textures, ranging from large trees to dwarf shrubs.

The berries provide a valuable winter food source for migratory birds.  However, the berries only form on female plants.  Hollies are dioecious plants, meaning male and female flowers are located on separate plants.  Both male and female hollies produce small white blooms in the spring.  Bees are the primary pollinators, carrying pollen from the male hollies 1.5 to 2 miles, so it is not necessary to have a male plant in the same landscape.

A holly tree with berries – Sheila Dunning

Several male hollies are grown for their compact formal shape and interesting new foliage color. Dwarf Yaupon Hollies (Ilex vomitoria ‘Shillings’ and ‘Bordeaux’) form symmetrical spheres without extensive pruning.  ‘Bordeaux’ Yaupon has maroon-colored new growth.  Neither cultivar has berries.

Hollies prefer to grow in partial shade but will do well in full sun if provided adequate irrigation.  Most species prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soils.  However, Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and Gallberry (Ilex glabra) naturally occurs in wetland areas and can be planted on wetter sites.

Evergreen trees retain leaves throughout the year and provide wind protection.  The choice of one type of holly or another will largely depend on prevailing environmental conditions and windbreak purposes. If, for example, winds associated with storms or natural climatic variability occur in winter, then a larger leaved plant might be required. Several cultivars have been created by cross pollination with native species or propagation from sports of natives. Check out ‘East Palatka’, ‘Savannah’, ‘Nellie Stevens’, ‘Robin’, and ‘Screen Play’.

The natives are likely to be better adapted to local climate, soil, pest and disease conditions and over a broader range of conditions. Nevertheless, cultivars may be desirable for many attributes such as height, growth rate and texture but should not reproduce and spread beyond the area planted. When introducing a new plant to the landscape it is always important to consider any negative impacts.

There is increasing awareness of invasiveness, i.e., the potential for an introduced species to establish itself or become “established” in an ecological community and even become a dominant plant that replaces native species. Tree and shrub species can become invasive if they aggressively proliferate beyond the windbreak. At first glance, Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), a fast-growing, non-native shrub that has a dense crown, might be considered an appropriate red berry producing species. However, it readily spreads by seed disbursed by birds and has invaded many natural ecosystems. Therefore, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has declared it illegal to plant this tree in Florida without a special permit. Consult the Florida Invasive Species Council (FISP) https://www.floridainvasives.org/ for a list of prohibited species in Florida.

For a more comprehensive (though not total) list of holly varieties and their individual growth habits refer to ENH42 Hollies at a Glance: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg021

Wildflowers 101

Wildflowers 101

Planting Wildflowers

A Florida native wildflower is a flowering herbaceous species that had grown wild in the state’s natural ecosystems in the 1560s when Florida’s first botanical records were created. Planting native wildflowers in Florida benefits natural resources, native pollinators, and other beneficial insects. By planting wildflowers, one is providing shelter for pollinators and increasing wild be & natural enemies of insect pests population. When protecting, enhancing, or restoring habitat to benefit pollinators, choose a mix of native plant species that will bloom throughout the year and provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar for many pollinator species. Site planting and preparation are crucial to establishing new pollinator habitats. The site should be manageable, benefit wildlife, and support the overall management practices of the property.

Wildflowers. Photo: UF IFAS

Wildflower selection

Diversify your selection of seeds. Flowering species native to Florida and suited to specific site conditions are the best choice for attracting and supporting diverse pollinator populations. Try to use seeds that are not native and are produced in Florida. Florida-produced seeds will be better adapted to Florida’s growing conditions. Planting a mixed species that bloom at different times will benefit pollinators throughout the year. Different flower sizes, shapes, colors, and plant heights will attract more pollinators and other insects.

Site Planning & Preparation

Wildflower plots that are planted in full sun provide the most pollen and nectar and are more attractive to pollinators. Bees can start working on flowers early in the day. However, flowers wet with dew may be ignored until they are dry. Plant along field edges on farms, cleared from pesticide drift and areas that will not disturb farming practices. Wildflowers should be planted in areas where the ground is not disturbed regularly. Most bee species do not live in communal colonies or collaborate in rearing offspring; 70% of these solitary bees nest in the ground. Plant in multiple locations that have well-drained. An available water source for irrigation benefits the planting, mainly during seed germination and early seedling establishment. Once plants have been established, additional watering is usually only necessary in drought.

Proper site preparation is needed to minimize weeds throughout plot establishment and growth. At least an entire season of weed eradication before planting is necessary. At least two months before planting, mow the area and remove any thatch. Allow new weed growth to begin, and then treat the site with a non-persistent, post-emergent herbicide. Repeat the herbicide treatment at least twice, two weeks between applications, allowing for more weed growth between treatments. This process can start as soon as weeds grow in early spring. Some herbicides have a residual activity that can kill or prevent the germination of wildflower species typically included in pollinator planting. Herbicide labels list species that are tolerant depending on the rate applied. It is crucial always to follow label instructions. As organic weed management, sites can be prepared using solarization. This technique uses greenhouse plastic to raise high soil temperatures to kill weedy plants and seeds in the top four to six inches of soil. Solarization can be done using large sheets of plastic to control weeds. After either solarization or chemical treatment and mowing, the aim is to have at least 90% of the soil free of plant material to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact during planting.

Photo; Tyler Jones, UF IFAS

Seed the plot

              Depending on the region, plots should be planted between September and January in Florida after an entire season of site preparation. No-till planting is recommended. Years of weed seeds are stored within the soil, waiting to be exposed to sunlight and begin germinating. Tilling an area will disturb the seed bank and promote weed growth rather than wildflower growth. When the plot is ready, mix seeds based on size and weight. Annual and perennial seeds can be mixed and planted together. Alternatively, annuals and perennials can be planted in separate blocks to allow each type to be managed individually. Multiple techniques and equipment are used to spread seeds along the soil surface. Using tractor-pulled equipment is the most efficient option for larger plots but is less successful in evenly spreading lightweight seeds. Be cautious of using a too-heavy roller in very sandy soil. Excessive weight will force the seeds too far under the sand, where they will not germinate. A no-till seed drill is an alternative to spreading seed on the plot surface. Equipment costs of renting or purchasing a seed drill can be expensive for small wildflower plots; however, seed drills can be very efficient for larger wildflower establishments.

Crop Management

Undesirable weeds may establish quickly within the wildflower plot in the first year, especially if the site is not thoroughly prepared. Monitor the plants and try to control weeds sooner rather than later. Fertilization generally is not necessary. If competing weedy grasses start establishing in the plot, use a grass-specific herbicide to achieve control as quickly as possible, preferably while the grass weeds are small. However, if you have included native grasses in your planting, consider using a mechanical control method. The herbicide used will depend on the species you are trying to control. Spray using a coarse/large droplet size to avoid overspray onto desired species. Whenever possible, spray at night to prevent times when pollinating species will be present on the flowers. Always follow the product label when applying herbicides of any type. Hand-pull small patches of competing weeds. Cut or use a weed trimmer on larger patches of weeds. Mowing your planting can reduce weed competition. In perennial-only plots, mow throughout the first year to inhibit the growth of annual weeds. Mow plots were planted with annual and perennial wildflowers in the late fall of the first year after planting. Mow at a low enough level to hit and distribute the seed heads but high enough to avoid disturbing the bases of overwintering perennial plants. The actual timing of this mowing will depend on region, soil type, and weather.

For more detailed information:

Wildflowers For All Seasons – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)

Soil Solarization – Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)

PlantGuide.pdf (flawildflowers.org)

How to Plant a Tree for the Future

How to Plant a Tree for the Future

January is Tree Planting Time

The colder part of the year is the best time to install hardy trees and shrubs.  All their energy is in the root zone.  They will establish much faster than if you wait until they are actively growing leaves.

The shaved rootball (right) is smaller than the rootball before shaving (left). Photo: Shelia Dunning

However, planting them correctly is critical to their survival.  The top three mistakes that people make are: (1) installing too deeply, (2) leaving the rootball undisturbed, and (3) not applying enough water all the way through establishment of the root system.  Unfortunately, it may be years before the mistakes are noticed.

Here are the ten steps for successful planting:

1. Call 811 and have all underground utilities marked before digging the hole.

Hitting a line can be costly and life threatening.

2. Loosen all surrounding compacted soil within the potential root zone of the tree.

Tree roots are close to the surface and need to be able to push through the soil.

3. If the soil is extremely dry and sandy, amend with the entire area with organic material.

This is only needed in coastal regions.

4. Remove the container from the tree and find the top-most root.

All media covering the root flare must be removed.

5. Prepare the rootball by removing encircling roots and shaving the edges of the rootball.

The rootball should no longer be shaped like the container when complete.

6. Dig the hole slightly less shallow than the rootball.

Make sure the bottom of the hole is firm soil, so sinking will not occur.

7. Place the rootball in the ground with the main root showing just above the soil grade.

Oxygen must reach the roots for new roots to develop.

8. Back fill around the rootball with the surrounding loose soil.

Take care to not cover the root flare.

9. Mulch around the outside of the rootball without covering the rootball.

Apply at least 2-3 inches of organic mulch. No more than 4″.

10. Water immediately to settle soil and then on a regular schedule until established.

Minimum of 1 gal per 3 gal plant, every 2-4 days, for 20-28 weeks. Larger plants will require more water at each event.

Mulch should be spread about 3 inches thick around the rootball. No mulch should be spread over the rootball. Photo: Shelia Dunning

Friday, January 20, 2023 is Arbor Day in Florida.  Plant a tree for the next generation.  If it is installed correctly, it can live a good long life.  For more details refer to: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP390 and https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP391 for more details.

Buttonbush:  A Pollinator’s Favorite

Buttonbush: A Pollinator’s Favorite

Beginning in 2007 the US Senate, in support of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, declared the last week of June as “National Pollinator Week.”  As humans, we depend on pollen-moving animals for one out of every three bites of food.  Without birds, bees, bats, beetles, butterflies, and various other animals, many flowers would fail to reproduce.  In Florida there are numerous native plants that serve as hosts for these pollinators.

One of the favorites, due to its heavy flowering over the summer, is Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  It is a semi-aquatic woody shrub to small tree that develops white golf-ball-sized clusters of fragrant flowers, attracting various pollinating animals.  Bees of various species, several different wasps, assorted moths and butterflies, flies and even hummingbirds scramble for the flowers’ sweet treat within each of the trumpet shaped flowers. The pincushion-like flower balls stand on two inch stalks in clusters arising from stem tips and leaf axils.  They are produced over a long period in late spring and summer. The flowers give way to little reddish-brown nutlets which persist on the through the winter.  Buttonbush seeds are important wildlife food, especially for ducks; and the dense, impenetrable tickets provide nesting and escape cover for many wetland birds and herptiles.  Buttonbush is a fast-growing wetland plant that can be grown in a naturalized landscape if given supplemental water during dry spells.  It is at its best, through, in an area where the soil is frequently wet and can tolerate soggy soils.  Buttonbush is not drought or salt tolerant.  The deciduous shrub grows well in full sun to partial shade on soils that are acidic to slightly alkaline.  The leaves of Buttonbush turn yellow in the fall before dropping off.  While short-lived, requiring rejuvenation pruning to improve its longevity, Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) serves a critical role to wildlife in the wetland habitat.  Deer browse the foliage and twigs.  Ducks, especially the mallard, eat the seeds.  And, the summer flowers attract bees, butterflies and moths; our wonderful pollinators.

Turning Leftovers into Valuable Fertilizer with Worms!

Turning Leftovers into Valuable Fertilizer with Worms!

Nutrients found in food waste are too valuable to just toss away. Small scale composting and vermicomposting provide opportunity to recycle food waste even in limited spaces. UF/IFAS Photo by Camila Guillen.

During the summer season, my house is filled with family and friends visiting on vacation or just hanging out on the weekends. The kitchen is a popular place while waiting on the next outdoor adventure. I enjoy working together to cook meals, bbq, or just make a few snacks. Despite the increased numbers of visitors during this time, some food is leftover and ultimately tossed away as waste. Food waste occurs every day in our homes, restaurants, and grocery stores and not just this time of year.

The United States Food and Drug Administration estimates that 30 to 40 percent of our food supply is wasted each year. The United States Department of Agriculture cites food waste as the largest type of solid waste at our landfills. This is a complex problem representing many issues that require our attention to be corrected. Moving food to those in need is the largest challenge being addressed by multiple agencies, companies, and local community action groups. Learn more about the Food Waste Alliance at https://foodwastealliance.org

According to the program website, the Food Waste Alliance has three major goals to help address food waste:

Goal #1 REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF FOOD WASTE GENERATED. An estimated 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed.

Goal #2 DONATE MORE SAFE, NUTRITIOUS FOOD TO PEOPLE IN NEED. Some generated food waste is safe to eat and can be donated to food banks and anti-hunger organizations, providing nutrition to those in need.

Goal #3 RECYCLE UNAVOIDABLE FOOD WASTE, DIVERTING IT FROM LANDFILLS. For food waste, a landfill is the end of the line; but when composted, it can be recycled into soil or energy.

All these priorities are equally important and necessary to completely address our country’s food waste issues. However, goal three is where I would like to give some tips and insight. Composting food waste holds the promise of supplying recycled nutrients that can be used to grow new crops of food or for enhancing growth of ornamental plants. Composting occurs at different scales ranging from a few pounds to tons. All types of composting whether big or small are meaningful in addressing food waste issues and providing value to homeowners and farmers. A specialized type of composting known as vermicomposting uses red wiggler worms to accelerate the breakdown of vegetable and fruit waste into valuable soil amendments and liquid fertilizer. These products can be safely used in home gardens and landscapes, and on house plants.

Composting meat or animal waste is not recommended for home composting operations as it can potentially introduce sources of food borne illness into the fertilizer and the plants where it is used. Vegetable and Fruit wastes are perfect for composting and do not have these problems.

Composting worms help turn food waste into valuable fertilizer. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Detailed articles on how vermicomposting works are provided by Tia Silvasy, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/orangeco/2020/12/10/vermicomposting-using-worms-for-composting and https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/orange/hort-res/docs/pdf/021-Vermicomposting—Cheap-and-Easy-Worm-Bin.pdf Supplies are readily available and relatively inexpensive. Please see the above links for details.

A small vermicomposting system would include:

• Red Wiggler worms (local vendors or internet)

• Two Plastic Storage Bins (approximately 30” L x 20” W x 17” H) with pieces of brick or stone

• Shredded Paper (newspaper or other suitable material)

• Vegetable and Fruit Scraps

Red Wiggler worms specialize in breaking down food scraps unlike earthworms which process organic matter in soil. Getting the correct worms for vermicomposting is an important step. Red Wigglers can consume as much as their weight in one day! Beginning with a small scale of 1 to 2 pounds of worms is a great way to start. Sources and suppliers can be readily located on the internet.

Worm Home - Constructed of Two Blue Storage Bins

Worm “homes” can be constructed from two plastic storage bins with air holes drilled on the top. Additional holes put in the bottom of the inner bin to drain liquid nutrients. Pieces of stone or brick can be used to raise the inner bin slightly. Picture provided by UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, Molly Jameson

Once the worms and shredded paper media have been introduced into the bins, you are ready to process kitchen scraps and other plant-based leftovers. Food waste can be placed in the worm bins by moving along the bin in sections. Simply rotate the area where the next group of scraps are placed. See example diagram. For additional information or questions please contact our office at 850-784-6105.

Diagram to explain how to place food waste in a worm bin

Placing food scraps in a sequential order allows worms to find their new food easily. Contributed diagram by L. Scott Jackson

Portions of this article originally published in the Panama City News Herald

UF/IFAS is An Equal Opportunity Institution.

Celebrate Florida Arbor Day

Celebrate Florida Arbor Day

Old Live Oak
Picture from National Wildlife Foundation

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 most 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