Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Solutions you can use for your gardening problems.

An Introduction to Aquascaping October 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 11:55 pm
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Florida may be surrounded by saltwater, but there are thousands of freshwater systems (both natural and created) in the form of lakes, ponds, and wetlands scattered across the state.  These seemingly insignificant water bodies play a rather significant role in our state’s environmental issues. They provide flood protection, water purification, and fish and wildlife habitat. In residential neighborhoods, they can even increase property values by added aesthetic appeal.

There is a large disparity in the design of many man-made freshwater systems. The majority will have some type of turfgrass growing all along the banks, right down to the water’s edge. This is common because it’s easy to maintain and properly managed turfgrass acts as a filter for pollutants, reduces erosion, and allows a view across the water. Yet, there are other options.

Aquascaping is the planting of aquatic and wetland plants to enhance or restore the function of a freshwater system, whether natural or man-made. Although this process is only an imitation of nature, the benefits are tremendous.

The key is to identify the slope of the shoreline and choose plants according to their tolerance of water depth. There are four identified planting zones in a freshwater shoreline, although there may be fewer depending on the actual design of the individual water body. If you have the opportunity to design and build a small pond on your own property, consider one that is irregular in shape, since it will have a greater shoreline area and offer more wildlife habitat than a round or rectangular pond.

The deep zone has a water level that ranges between 90 cm and 150 cm deep. Many plants suitable for this zone may be completely submerged year round. Examples include spatterdock and water lilies. The mid zone ranges 15 cm to 90 cm deep and may include plants like arrowhead, maidencane, pickerel weed, and soft-stem bulrush. The shallow zone can have standing water as deep as 15 cm, or can have exposed up to 15 cm above the water level. Many plants for this zone must tolerate periods of complete exposure and partial submergence. Examples include sand cordgrass and blue flag iris. The shallowest zone is known as the transition zone and remains exposed all year, with soil ranging 15 cm to 45 cm above the water level. Salt grass and cordgrass are examples of plants tolerant of this zone.

Because Florida has an abundance of native and exotic, non-invasive aquatic plants, it is not at all difficult to beautify the shoreline of a pond or small lake. Utilize a variety of plants that will look natural, add color, texture, and fragrance to the landscape, provide better defense against invasive species, and offer food and shelter to wildlife. Avoid exotic plants that are invasive or have invasive potential. The University of Florida’s IFAS Assessment of Florida’s Non-Native Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/) offers recommendations about plants based on the north, central, and south regions of the state. The IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu) also provides lots of useful information to get you started.

The final consideration with aquascaping is maintenance. As with any garden or landscaped area, maintenance is necessary to keep away weeds and unwanted invasive plants. Hand-pulling unwanted plants is the best option to maintaining around your pond, although a few chemical herbicides are available for homeowners to purchase in retail garden or hardware stores. If you choose to use herbicides, read all labels carefully. Make sure that the product is labeled for use in or near water bodies, follow all instructions for use, and wear the proper protective gear.

For more information about aquascaping and other Florida-friendly landscaping practices, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office or visit http://FloridaYards.org.


Micro-Irrigation for Florida Landscapes October 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 11:55 pm
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Even with the much needed rains this summer, many landscapes may still require supplemental irrigation during the fall dry season. In many parts of Florida, watering restrictions continue to be in effect, but landscape plants may catch a break from a different type of irrigation system.

Micro-irrigation, commonly referred to as low-volume or drip irrigation, provides a way of watering plants (with the exception of turfgrass) to maintain landscape quality while saving water. Sounds too good to be true? Well, you can’t just install it and walk away, but for the potential water savings, it is well worth the proper planning and maintenance.

For many, an initial glance at a micro-irrigation system may cause you to think it’s nothing more than a soaker-hose. However, micro-irrigation tubing is made of a flexible polyethylene material that allows you to shape the tubing according to your landscape beds and layout of the plants. All of the emitters are pressure-regulated, meaning that an emitter 150 feet away from the connection to the water source will put out the same amount of water as an emitter closer to the water source.

There are several advantages to a micro-irrigation system over a traditional in-ground sprinkler system. Because low-volume emitters are either placed directly on the ground or on very short stakes, there is decreased water loss from evaporation, wind, and runoff. There is also less erosion when watering plants on slopes because water is being applied at a much lower rate. By applying water to the roots of the plants rather than on the foliage, there are fewer pests, weeds, and diseases. Micro-irrigation systems are very flexible, offering options for meeting plants’ water needs, whether they are newly installed, maturing, or established in the landscape.

And the best quality of all? Micro-irrigation complies with all local water conservation codes and ordinances and is not restricted by current water restrictions.

Some of the disadvantages of a micro-irrigation system include clogging of emitters, especially if the water quality is poor (e.g. well or reclaimed water); undetected leaks, if tubing is buried under mulch; and inadvertent damage to micro-irrigation tubing by gardening tools or machinery.

There are three primary types of micro-irrigation, and you may choose to utilize one or all of them in your landscape, depending on your (and your plants’) needs:

In-Line Drip Tubing – Used where plants are installed in rows or close together. Tubing is typically placed below the mulch, reducing its visibility.

Drip Emitters – Used for precise applications, such as in potted plants, hanging baskets, or where plant materials are spaced further apart. May or may not be visible in the landscape.


Micro-Sprays – Irrigate more area per emitter than other types of micro-irrigation. These devices come in a variety of nozzle sizes and spray patters. Emitters are generally visible in the landscape.

As with any irrigation system, ongoing maintenance is needed for efficient operation. Periodically inspect your plants for signs of over- or under-watering to signal a need to change the system run times or indicate a possible leak. Check the soil wetting patterns around each plant; make sure at least half the root zone area is receiving water, although whole root zone application is preferable. Flush the system every few months to clean debris in the lines, and inspect and clean emitters for possible clogs. Finally, determine if emitters need to be moved or added as plants grow.

When designed, used, and maintained correctly, micro-irrigation can improve the efficiency of landscape irrigation through the precise application of water. In more urban areas of Florida, an estimated 70 percent of existing single-family homes have traditional in-ground irrigation systems. Retrofitting existing systems and expanding the use of micro-irrigation in newly installed irrigation systems – along with proper maintenance practices – are key factors in increasing irrigation efficiency and contributing to Florida-friendly landscaping.

For more information about micro-irrigation and other Florida-friendly landscaping practices, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office or visit http://FloridaYards.org.


A Stunning Fall Bloomer: Chinese Flame Tree (Koelreuteria bipinnata)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 6:05 pm
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Source: TopTropicals.com


Driving along the roads the past few days, you can’t help but notice a tree that is awash in color — upright clusters of yellow blooms with rose-colored seed capsules — just in time for Fall. This stunning tree is commonly known as the Chinese flame tree. The botanical name is Koelreuteria bipinnata.

This broad-spreading, deciduous tree reaches a height of 40 to 60 feet and eventually takes on a flat-topped, somewhat irregular silhouette. It is often used as a patio, shade, street, or specimen tree. The small, fragrant, yellow flowers appear in very showy, dense, terminal panicles in early summer, and are


Source: Florida International University


followed in late summer or fall by large clusters of the two-inch-long “Chinese lanterns”. These papery husks are held above the foliage and retain their pink color after drying and are very popular for use in everlasting flower arrangements. The bark on Chinese flame tree is smooth and light brown when young, becoming ridged and furrowed as the tree matures.

Another Koelreuteria species, K. paniculata, is commonly known as the golden raintree and blooms in May and June. It is not as prolific a bloomer and does not have the upright branches characterisitic of K. bipinnata. Additionally, K. bipinnata has twice compound leaves, whereas K. paniculata has single pinnate compound leaves.

According to the University of Florida IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants, Koelreuteria paniculata is recommended with caution as a landscape plant in central and south Florida. It is not as aggressive in north Florida and is recommended there without concern. Koelreuteria bipinnata has not yet been assessed for invasive potential in Florida’s natural areas.

My personal experience with both Koelreuteria bipinnata in Hillsborough County has always been positive. The fall colors are a welcome sight to accompany the drier, cooler weather. As the rose-colored seed capsules come


Source: University of Florida IFAS


raining down onto the ground below, a curious creature appears. Resembling a stinkbug, the jadera bug is a scentless plant bug that congregates by the hundreds to feed on the seeds. Oftentimes, these bugs are not a pest, but can be a nuisance because of their large numbers in one area. I like them because in the process of feeding on the Chinese flame tree seeds, they prevent hundreds of seeds from germinating all over my yard.

But not everyone who has a Chinese flame tree is also graced with the presence of the jadera bugs. It is not known why the bugs will come to some trees but not to others. For those homeowners that don’t get the jadera bugs, they instead get lots and lots of seedlings popping up everywhere in their yard. This is a huge hassle, causing most people to have a love-hate relationship with this plant.

The next time you’re on the road, keep an eye out for a blooming Chinese flame-tree. I’ll let you judge for yourself.

If you already have one and want to share your experiences, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!


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