It’s no secret that fall, October specifically, is the best month for wildflower watching in the Panhandle. From the abundant vibrant yellow-gold display of various Sunflowers, Asters, and Goldenrods to the cosmopolitan bright pinks and purples of Mistflower, Blazing Star, and False Foxglove, local native landscapes light up each year around this time. However, if you’re lucky and know where to look, you can also spot two species, Azure Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) and Forked Bluecurls (Trichostema dichotomum) that sport that rarest of wildflower hues – vivid blue.
Forked Bluecurls begins its flower show in late summer, picking up steam in fall, and reaching its peak now as nights get cool and the days grow short. The species’ flowers are easily among the most unique around. Each flower has two distinct “lips” – the lower lip is white and dotted with blue specks, while the top is distinctly pure blue – with characteristically curled blue stamens rising to preside over the rest of the flower below. Though individual flowers are very small and only bloom in the morning, disappearing by afternoon, they appear by the hundreds and are very striking taken together. Various pollinators, especially bees, also find Forked Bluecurls flowers very attractive and frequent them on cool fall mornings. Though the flowers are obviously the highlight, the rest of the plant is attractive as well, growing to 3’ in height and possessing small, light-green fuzzy leaves. Forked Bluecurls, while not exceedingly common, can be found in sunny, sandy natural areas throughout the Panhandle, including well-drained flatwoods, sandhills, and open, disturbed areas.
The second blue bloomer, Azure Blue Sage, is possibly even more striking in flower than Forked Bluecurls. Aptly named and blooming around the same time as Forked Blue Curls, Azure Blue Sage is a much larger plant (often 4-6’ in height) and holds its abundant sky-blue flowers high above the surrounding landscape. Because of their height and their propensity to occur in bunches, Azure Blue Sage’s brilliant tubular flowers are immediately noticeable to passersby and the myriad bee and butterfly pollinators that visit. Beyond its flowers, Azure Blue Sage is a very unusual looking perennial plant, tall and spindly with dark green, narrow leaves held tightly to square stems, a giveaway of its lineage in the Mint family. The species can be found in similar areas to Forked Bluecurls – natural areas in the Panhandle that possess abundant sunshine and very sandy, well-drained soil.
Both species would make excellent additions to mixed perennial landscapes where the soil and sun conditions were right, as they are exceedingly low-maintenance and have the propensity to reseed themselves from year to year. Unfortunately, they are rarer in the nursery trade than they are in the wild and can only be found occasionally at nurseries specializing in Florida native plants. (Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find native nurseries in your area!) However, even if you are unable to source a plant for your home, both these somewhat rare, blue-blooming fall beauties, Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue Sage, are worth searching out in the many State Parks and public natural areas across the Panhandle! For more information about Forked Bluecurls and Azure Blue sage or any other natural resource, horticultural, or agricultural topic, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension Office. Happy fall wildflower watching!
Diospyros virginiana, the Common Persimmon, is a large deciduous tree in the Ebenaceae family. The common persimmon is a southern native small to medium fruit tree that is becoming more popular for homegrown fruit. The bark is grey or black and forms chunks or blocks that give it a checkerboard look. Fall color can be a spectacular red in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8a. It is well adapted to cities but requires fallen fruit maintenance and wildlife control. Its mature height can be 40 to 60 feet, with branches spreading from 20 to 35 feet and a trunk two feet thick, but it is commonly much shorter in landscapes. The trunk can have a singular or multiple trunks, it tends to form colonies. The leaves are alternate, simple, and a rich green color. The leaf margins can be entire or somewhat serrated. The funnel-shaped flower has four petals and ranges in color from white to cream to gray.
Tree Bark Photo: UF
The common persimmon is smaller than a ping-pong ball. The persimmon is a round fruit with an orange to reddish-purple color, with a size of 1 ¼ inches across. The flavor is more fermented and sugary-sweet. In Florida, the season is from late August to early November. Fruit do not ripen at the same time. When ripe, the fruit turns from green to burnt orange. They also fall from the tree. The fruit is soft, sticky, and very delicious, but it needs to be separated from its skin and seeds before being used in recipes. They can be eaten out of hand when fully ripe, pureed, dried, and used in preserves, chutneys, quick breads, puddings, pies, and sweet and savory dishes. The fruit is very favored by wildlife. Persimmon fruit is an essential food source for songbirds, turkeys, and small and large mammals.
Common Persimmon Fruit. Photo: UF
Common persimmon prefers moist, well-drained, bottomland or sandy soils but is known to be very drought- and urban-tolerant. It is a fantastic tree in its adaptability to site conditions, including alkaline soil. It is commonly seen as a volunteer tree in old fields but grows slowly on dry sites. Its fruit is an edible berry that usually ripens after frost. Some cultivars do not require the frost treatment to ripen. Persimmon fruit is hard and astringent when unripe. Most American cultivars require both male and female trees for proper fruiting.
Besides fallen fruit maintenance, persimmon maintenance is easy and is suggested that it persimmon should be planted more often. Due to a coarsely branched root system, transplantation is difficult. The trees should be balled and burlapped when young or grown from containers. The wood from the tree is used for golf club heads because it is tough and almost black.
Common persimmon is troubled by a leaf-spot disease in the south. This disease causes black spots on the leaves and premature defoliation in August in the north and September in the south. The tree will not die from the disease. It is also susceptible to a vascular wilt, which can devastate established trees. There are no severe pests fort his native fruit tree, except occasional caterpillars.
For more information, please contact your local county extension Office.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (Cephalanthusoccidentalis).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.
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
• 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 “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.
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