The Registry of Nature
It is important that
we all use common sense to conserve water. In addition to conserving
a valuable natural resource, avoiding water waste will lower your
In the home, check
your water meter at a time when you are sure no water is being
consumed. If the meter is running, you may have a leak. Running
toilets and dripping faucets are easy repairs. Using low flow
toilets and showerheads saves a lot of water. Remember that just one
drop of water is a waste of 2,700 gallons per year!
Outdoors, water can
be collected in cisterns for watering plants or washing cars.
Cisterns are built under homes, underground, or above ground. Also,
the run-off water from window or central air conditioners can be
collected and used for irrigation.
consider the use of what is commonly referred to as "xeriscape" or
low maintenance landscape plantings. First, consider using natives,
drought tolerant species requires less work in watering,
fertilizing, and pest control, and will attract birds and
butterflies to your yard. Second, group plants (native or
non-native) with similar water requirements together for more
efficient water use. Third, using mulch will save water, time,
systems, use rain sensor devices that deactivate the system
when enough rain has fallen. Also, water bedding plants and gardens
with microirrigation, rather than the sprinklers used for grass.
Another tip is to water early in the morning or late in the
afternoon to prevent water waste through wind and heat
Conserving water is the right thing to do, and
will save you money. Encourage friends and guests to do the
a practice that has many advantages for anyone who grows plants. In
simple terms, mulch is any material used to modify the soil
environment. Benefits include moisture retention, weed control, and
moderation of temperature changes in the soil. In addition, organic
mulches help improve soil structure and provide essential plant
be used to cover garden beds, around trees and shrubs, in the yard
in place of grass, in vegetable gardens, and on paths and driveways.
The several types of mulch include organic, plastic, woven ground
cloth, and rock-like materials such as gravel, pebbles and crushed
stone. Each has its place, but the advantages and disadvantages of
each must be considered.
mulch includes pine bark, wood chips, straw, grass clippings, and
shredded twigs and small branches. Any type of dry (aged) plant
material, free of seed pods, can be used as mulch. Cypress mulch has
been popular because of its color and longevity, but should be
avoided because of the destruction of large areas of cypress swamp
necessary for water conservation. Organic mulches decompose and must
be renewed from time to time. As they decompose organic mulches
recycle and return many essential plant micronutrients.
recommendations for applying organic mulch around a tree or shrub
are: 1) to keep it 2 inches from the stem, 2) apply in
a circle 2 feet in diameter for every 1 inch of stem diameter, and
3) maintain a 2-3 inch settled depth, with repeat
applications as it decomposes.
inorganic mineral mulches such as gravel, pebbles, or crushed stone
do not have all of the advantages of organic mulch and are difficult
to remove once applied. Rock mulches have the disadvantages of
providing easy escape for scarce water, and of reflecting solar
radiation, which creates a very hot environment. Weeds are also a
common problem in rock mulches. However, since they do not
decompose, rock mulches do not require repeated applications. Rock
mulch from native sources also adds to the alkalinity of the
soil and creates minor element nutritional problems for many
landscape plants, especially palms.
film, if black, is effective controlling weeds but is rather
unsightly. Although plastic mulch prevents the escape of soil
moisture, it also inhibits the penetration of rain and overhead
irrigation water. Plastic mulch can be covered with an organic or
inorganic mulch material, but because it is slippery, it is
difficult to keep the other material in place. If uncovered, plastic
mulch can absorb solar radiation causing high temperatures in the
soil underneath, which is undesirable for plant roots.
White-on-black plastic mulch is also available. This is a
plastic sheet with a white top and black bottom. It provides the
benefits of weed control, moisture retention, and avoids high soil
temperature. However, the penetration of rain and overhead
irrigation water is still prevented, and the reflection from the
white surface creates a hot environment.
Woven ground cloth, whether plastic or fabric, allows air and
moisture to move through, but does little to conserve soil moisture.
For aesthetic purposes, it should have another mulching material on
top. If an organic mulch is used on top of the ground cloth, soil
moisture can be retained. Ground cloth also suppresses weeds
Compost is the
product resulting from microbial organisms decomposing organic
matter (OM), resulting in a nutrient rich, dark, friable material
that is ideally suited for growing plants. Compost can be
incorporated into the soil, improving soil structure and water
holding capacity. In addition to these physical characteristics it
contains nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and
micronutrients essential for plant growth. And soil compost can also
be used as mulch around plants to moderate soil temperature and
Plant material, paper,
and food scraps (except meat and dairy products) can be used in the
compost pile. Plant material includes grass clippings, leaves,
seaweed that has been washed with clean water, wood chips, sawdust,
twigs, and branches, but keep in mind that twigs and branches should
be put through a shredder-grinder to increase the surface area
before trying to compost. Remember composting depends in the action
of soil organisms on the OM and the more surface area exposed the
quicker the compost is produced.
Soil organisms need
carbon, nitrogen, air, moisture, and heat for decomposition. Carbon
is found in woody plant parts, dead leaves, and paper. Nitrogen is
contained in grass trimmings, living leaves, seaweed, and food
scraps. Carbon and nitrogen must both be present and in proper
proportions (30:1 carbon:nitrogen). Most composting problems occur
from a poor balance of carbon and nitrogen.
Moisture, air, and
temperature are also important in the compost process. All can be
adjusted by turning the compost. For moisture, the compost mixture
should be damp, but not soaking wet. Composting occurs under aerobic
conditions, so the pile should be packed, but not compacted.
Temperature of the middle of the pile should be 122-131oF
to kill weed seeds and plant diseases, but should not exceed
140oF or the microbial organisms will die. The
temperature can be monitored by a compost pile thermometer, and used
to determine when it is time to turn the pile.
There are many
compost bins available through retail stores and catalogs. Home-made
bins work fine also. Small amounts of compost can be made in a drum
or barrel with holes cut out to allow air exchange as the barrel is
rolled or turned over. For composting large amounts of OM construct
a bin not less than 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. Corner posts
supporting vinyl coated wire mesh makes a good compost bin. The 3
feet provides enough material so that the pile can heat properly.
When building the
pile, add your carbon material and nitrogen material in alternating
layers 3-4 inches thick. To insure enough nitrogen is in the mix, a
handful or so of high organic nitrogen fertilizer can be added to
supplement the nitrogen material if needed. Next, add enough water
after each 2 layers to maintain a moist but not wet pile. Finally,
add a shovel full of soil to introduce microbial
Maintenance is easy
with periodic turning and mixing. To determine when the compost pile
should be turned, monitor the temperature in the middle of the pile.
When the pile cools to a consistent temperature, it is time to turn.
In the Keys, piles are usually turned once per week. You will know
when the compost is ready when turning the pile does not cause an
increase in temperature. If properly built and maintained, the
compost pile will produce a finished product in 6-8 weeks.
Pruning: The Cutting Edge of Landscape
Snip, snip, clip,
saw, buzzzzzz….familiar sounds of yard work. Proper pruning is
essential to maintaining a safe and healthy home landscape. And, do
not forget that pruning can be dangerous, so arm yourself with
knowledge before you arm yourself with pruning
Pruning is the
selective removal of plant parts (usually shoots or branches) for a
specific purpose. The goals of pruning are: 1) to create and shape
plant form, 2) to promote plant health and longevity, and 3) to
ensure the safety of people, 4) control growth, enhance flowering
and fruiting. Before you take tool in hand, remember that some
trees, such as mangroves, and other native trees are federally
protected, and require a permit before you trim.
The two general
methods of pruning are the thinning out cut and the heading back cut. The
thinning out cut removes branches at their point of origin. Thinning
is used to reduce the height and the spread of a plant, while
retaining its natural shape. The heading back cut removes the tips
of branches to a bud or node, leaving a stub. Also called pinching
and tip pruning, heading back is used to train young trees and
shrubs by stimulating growth of lateral shoots.
When starting a
pruning job, first prune dead, diseased and damaged wood, crossing
branches, and growth cluttering the center of the plant. Pruning
cuts should be made at a lateral bud, crotch or trunk of plants.
Cuts should be smooth and made with sterilized pruning tools. Tools
can be sterilized with alcohol or diluted bleach.
When tree pruning, prune with the natural shape of the tree. When
cutting limbs (thinning out cuts), be careful not to cut too close
to the trunk. All tree limbs have a branch collar, which is often
visible or feels like a very slight swelling. Prune just past the
collar at an angle, making sure that the collar is not cut so that
the tree will heal naturally. Pruning seal products are not
recommended because they are not needed, and may actually harm the
tree by trapping disease into fresh cuts. This situation may be more
inviting to wood rotting organisms than one with no wound cover.
However, treatment with a fungicide may be beneficial. Also, be aware that
different trees should be pruned at different times of the year,
depending on when they flower and whether flowering occurs on the
current or previous season's growth. Structural pruning and light
pruning can be done anytime. However, no more than 20-30% of the
canopy should be removed in one year.
Other types of tree
pruning include crown raising
cuts and drop crotch
pruning. Crown raising cuts are cuts that remove lower branches.
This is usually done to increase visibility under a tree for traffic
or safety purposes. Drop crotch pruning reduces the length of the
main branch by cutting it just above a lateral branch that is large
enough to assume the role of leader. This is only done in cases
where the original leader goes through power lines. (Planting trees
under power lines should be avoided.) Never top or hatrack a tree:
this is heading back all the branches to an indiscriminate
Pruning. Shrubs are pruned by either heading back or thinning.
Shrubs pruned as a solid hedge should be trimmed so that the base of
the hedge is slightly wider than the top. This ensures maximum light
exposure for the lower leaves; otherwise, the top of the hedge casts
a shadow on the bottom leaves, which then fall off due to lack of
Lastly, and most importantly, a few words on safety. Wear protective
eyewear and gloves. Do not work alone. Never trim a tree near a
power line; call the electric company to prune or call a certified
arborist. If a ladder or chainsaw is required, call a professional
Sterilize cutting equipment after each use to prevent spread