Mild winter will not harm area's trees

The bottom of the Little Gem leaves are covered with a distinctive brown fuzz, and the leaves are a deep dark green.

IFAS/Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 12:14 a.m.
Q:The weather has been so warm some of my trees are starting to leaf out or bloom. All my plants are confused, are they going to be OK?
A:It has been a particularly mild winter and plants that should be dormant are not and perennials that normally would have died back by now are growing strong. Cold sensitive plants like angels trumpet, fire spike and salvias will just keep growing and blooming until we get a real freeze.
Trees like the red buds, plums and even dogwoods that are blooming and leafing out will continue to do so until we go below freezing. If we get a freeze, the flowers and the tender leaves will be lost. The stems and the older leaves (as those on azaleas) are cold hardy and will come through the cold weather well. So a freeze at this point will not kill our trees. The woody ornamental plants have enough energy reserves to produce another flush of new leaves, and the plant will keep growing fine.
Were we to have repeated cold damage year after year, the trees will become stressed and run into trouble with diseases and insects and that can lead to decline. In the meantime enjoy the mild weather, but delay fertilizing or pruning your plants. Pruning or fertilizing will encourage a new flush of cold tender leaves.
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Q:We are just about done building our new house, and I want to put a shade tree off the southeast side of the kitchen. I would prefer an evergreen tree. Do you have any suggestions?
A:We have so many great shade trees to choose from in North Central Florida, and many of them are deciduous. Any of the tree form hollies that grow in this area would work nicely.
The Savannah holly and the East Palatka holly will grow to 35 to 45 feet in height. They are evergreen and will produce a crop of red berries that stay on the tree and are attractive to birds. The East Palatka holly is a hybrid and is indeed from Palatka. It was discovered growing there in 1927. It has been a favorite in landscapes since its introduction. The Savannah holly is similar to the East Palatka, but its leaves are somewhat softer, and it doesn't always produce a lot of berries.
The loquat tree, or Japanese plum, is another tree that you might consider. It is evergreen and has a nice shape. The loquat also produces aromatic flowers and an edible fruit. Sometimes you get the fruit, other times our friends the squirrels do. Loquats grow to 35 feet - and grow quickly.
But my best recommendation for your site is a magnolia tree. The new small selections like Bracken's Brown Beauty, Little Gem and Hasse are beautiful trees that bloom large white flowers off and on during the summer. They have a lovely shape. Their dark green leaves have brown undersides that will give you interesting looking leaves when the tree is not in bloom. When the plant is finished blooming it will produce seed pods with red seeds. These seeds are eye-catching, and birds will come to feed on them. Buy a healthy specimen, and make sure to plant it slightly above ground level. For more information on proper planting, contact the Master Gardener desk at the Alachua County Extension Office at 955-2402.
E-mail your gardening questions to Wendy at

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