GARDENING

Native trees for residential properties


Published: Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 5:30 p.m.

Frequently, I receive calls from homeowners who would like a tree that will not outgrow a residential lot. The native live oak, a tree that performs well in many settings and soils, simply becomes too large for many of these properties. There are some good alternatives, so I asked the Marion County Forester if he would prepare a list of smaller native trees that perform well in Central Florida. The following recommendations are some of the trees that appear on his list.

Spring is a good time to plant trees because they will have the summer rains and warm temperatures to get established. This time of year presents the longest period a tree can have to push new roots before entering the dormant season next fall. If you plant a new tree, follow the recommended practices. Select a site that has at least six hours of sunlight a day, and one which allows for future growth of the tree. Most trees prefer well-drained soils, so if you have a site that is moisture prone, your selection should be limited to trees that are tolerant of wet sites. When making your selection at the nursery, choose carefully. Select trees that have good form and structure for that variety, with branches that are well attached. Check for trunk taper and firm rooting. Select trees that have a good root system, but are not pot-bound.

Prepare your hole properly, digging slightly shallower than the depth of the pot and twice as wide. Break up the root ball before inserting the tree into the hole to ensure roots do not continue to circle. Check to be sure the tree is standing straight and that it is sitting 1 or 2 inches higher than the surrounding soil. Backfill the hole with the material that comes of out the site, rather than incorporating peat moss, compost or other soil. While planting, periodically inject water into the backfill to eliminate air pockets. Finally, form a berm of soil around the tree, about 4 feet in diameter and 8 inches high. Fill the berm with water to the top of the berm, then cut off the water and allow it to seep through. Do this every day for the first two weeks, unless we have heavy rainfall, then every other day for the following three weeks. Eventually, the goal is to water twice a week until the June rains begin.

The following are some smaller trees to consider:

Holly: There are many varieties of holly. A tough plant that will take cold and drought conditions, these are evergreen and many species can produce colorful berries. Remember that only female holly plants will produce fruit.

Red Maple: The red maple is capable of growing to a large size, but often will fit into more restricted growing areas. Red flowers appear early in the spring. Some years, the fall foliage, which may not color until Christmas or New Year's, can be brilliant. For those with wet sites, red maple is a tree that will tolerate moist conditions.

Hawthorne: Another selection that tolerates both moist and dry soils is the Hawthorne. These have small, lobed leaves and many produce white or pink flowers. There are several varieties of Hawthorne, so do some homework prior to making a final selection.

Wax Myrtle: This low-growing evergreen shrub can be pruned up as a small tree. A drought-tolerant selection, the leaves give off a very fragrant odor when crushed.

Dogwood: This tree exhibits white "flowers" during the spring. These "flowers" consist of four bracts which subtend the small head of yellow flowers inside. Reaching a height of 20 to 35 feet, the dogwood prefers moist (but not wet), partly shaded conditions, but will tolerate full sun. It will not tolerate drought, so supplemental irrigation may be needed during excessively dry periods. "Weaver's White" is a cultivar that seems particularly adapted to the South.

There are additional choices on the County Forester's list, and the Extension Office will be glad to email a copy. Remember, there also are some non-native small tree selections that will perform admirably in North Central Florida conditions. The longer, cool days of spring are a great time to explore local gardens for small tree cultivars, make a list of favorites, then find them and install them in your yard. The result will be small trees that will add beauty and value to your home.

David Holmes is Marion County extension director. Contact him at david.holmes@ marioncountyfl.org.

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