Trees and Shrubs: the "Bones" of Your Landscape
Trees and shrubs, the woody plants, provide the most
obvious structure, or the "bones," of the landscape. In Florida
we have hundreds of wonderful trees and shrubs from which to choose.
The most sustainable action is to preserve the appropriate existing
woody plants on your property and when selecting new trees and shrubs,
do as your extension agent would advise: "Select the right plant
for the right place." With proper selection and maintenance your
woody plants will provide shade, privacy, and habitat for wildlife.
They prevent erosion, cool their surroundings, and absorb carbon
dioxide from the air. That trees and shrubs also add beauty and
value to any landscape is a lovely bonus.
Evaluating existing woody plants in your landscape is
an important initial step in prudent and sustainable landscape design.
Preserving your existing trees, if they are in good health and growing
in appropriate locations, is smart. However, large trees that have
been weakened by disease, old age, injured roots, or physical restrictions,
such as sidewalks, foundations, or roads may need to be pruned or
removed before they do harm. Periodic evaluations of this kind help
prepare your landscape for hurricanes and other strong storms.
Arranging Your Woody Plants
Before you do any purchasing or planting, develop
a plan. Ideally you'd create a scale drawing of your lot and plan
out different sections to suit your purposes for each area, but
a quick sketch may work well for a simple landscape without too
much slope. Because some trees are adapted for growing in periodic
standing water and some are not, analyze stormwater drainage and
other water flows. Before you plant your new trees and shrubs, build
rain gardens and French drains that you need to handle most of the
stormwater most of the time.
This native pinxster azalea (Rhododendron canescens) is a wonderful understory addition to this piney landscape. This shrub is more than 10' tall and 20' wide. It has totally surrounded a pine trunk. Plan ahead for adult sizes when planting trees and shrubs. >>
Choosing New Trees and Shrubs
When choosing the ideal trees and shrubs for your
landscape, plants native to your specific region are the best place
to start. Native plants have a well-developed tolerance for Florida's
soil, pests, salt air, and its wet and dry seasons. When considering
which trees and shrubs will fit into your landscape plans and think
years ahead about how much space the mature trees and shrubs will
require-vertically, horizontally, and add
30% to the horizontal growth to estimate the root mass.
<< This newly transplanted southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has its mulched watering saucer. My husband and I transplanted this tree five years ago (My Magnificent Messy Magnolias) and since it was the onset of a multi-year drought, I carried many watering cans out to this front meadow over two years. Since its transplant, it has grown at least 6 feet, maybe more. The other magnolia moved at the same time has also done well.
When planting a tree, dig a hole that is two inches
shallower than its root-ball or pot and at least twice as wide-wider
is better. Be sure that the center of the hole provides a solid
footing so the tree won't sink once it's in place. Most trees have
a slight flare where the roots start to spread; size your hole so
that this flare will be slightly above the soil line.
When your tree has been in the ground for at least three months or just before its next growth period, you can, apply a topdressing of compost or a light application of a slow-release, organic fertilizer around, and outside of, the drip line to improve the soil. Do not use fertilizer during a drought period,
though-your new tree doesn't need the added stress of having to support vigorous new growth when water is scarce. Wait for frond growth on palms before applying compost or fertilizer.
Trees and shrubs are the most permanent and prominent landscape plants. Their proper care is a long-term investment. Time spent planning for and choosing the most appropriate trees and shrubs for your landscape, and handling them carefully, will mean greater survival rates, fewer problems, and less work in the long run. Plus growing more trees and shrubs increases the value of your property and is good for the planet.
<< Sweet bay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is a great choice for your landscape here in northern Florida. It's a small tree with leaves and flowers about one half the size of the southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) and will form a thicket if you let it. But one of the best characteristics of this native tree in a wet year like this one is that it will survive in standing water.
Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t in planting zone 8/9. She's wrote, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," published by University Press of Florida that was released in 2009. Now she's written "Organic Methods for Growing Vegetables in Florida" with Melissa Contreras in Miami. The new book was released in Feb 2013. You may contact her or read extra details on her articles and other information posted on her website: www.greengardeningmatters.com.