Recognize Poor Planting Techniques and the Consequences of Improper Mulching

This tree was planted too deep and is in decline.

Planting trees is all about the details. For example, did you know the tree will settle and actually sink a few inches? This is why it is important to plant above ground level and never cover the top of the root ball.

Did you know that mulching right against the trunk of the tree can actually cause the tree to decline over a period of years?

How about root girdling? Can you recognize a girdling root? We know someone who can answer all these questions.

Early McCall is a local Arborist in Fernandina Beach, Florida; certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. He has over 36 years in Forestry with a Master’s of Science in Forestry and Genetics. He offer’s services such as Tree Risk Assessment, Diagnosis of Disease and Insect problems, Tree Care, Palm Advice and Tree Appraisals for Insurance Claims.

Click Tree Planting to read his article with pictures from local trees he has assessed and saved.




1. Remove Old Sod
The most common way is to spray with round up, although not environmentally friendly, it is the easiest way to go if your lacking the muscles and energy needed. Wait at least two weeks prior to laying sod after spraying. You may need to spray again or use a hard rake or weedeater to take up the roots. A flathead shovel works the best, you can even use it if you decide not to spray the grass. If it is a large area, you may want to consider renting a sod cutter. The new sod roots must make contact with soil in order to root itself.
2. Spread Milorganite Over Soil
Mixing Milorganite (10lb available for purchase) can help establish the lawn faster and yield a lush lawn. Follow directions on the label for spreading recommendations. This would also be a good time to fill any holes or low areas with soil.
3. Saturate Soil Prior to Planting
Wetting the soil prior to planting gives it a head start to rooting itself.
4. Cut the First Piece of Sod in Half
When you start the second row, cut that piece a third of the way, and the third row should start with a whole piece. It’s like staggering tile, it will eliminate straight lines for water run off.
5. Avoid Pillowing
Pillowing is when the sod edges butt up together; they almost lift each other up at the corners. The edges will dry. To avoid pillowing do not push sod firmly together, instead lay sod in place. If pillowing occurs, continue to water and it will green up.
6. Leave a Quarter inch of Space against Hard Edges such as Pavers, Sidewalks, etc…putting it too close can burn immediately and it will die back anyway
7. Lastly, Water, Water, Water 
Water daily for 45 minutes for a minimum of one week in the summer time. In winter water 3 times a week.  This will vary depending on amount of shade or sun your yard gets. During the second week you may want to cut it back to 3-4 days in summer and 2 days  a week in winter. Tug on the sod, if it resist a bit, than new roots are starting to break ground and establish. New roots will be white. If it rains, take that into consideration and adjust your water schedule appropriately.

This homeowner wanted a shorter grass so we went with Zosia. This took two pallets of sod and was laid in May during the rainy season

For general lawn care tips, check out the recommendations by the  University of Florida Nassau County Extension Office

6 Tips for Indoor Plant Care

  1. GET A WATER TRAY WITH WHEELS. If you plan on having a large potted plant, you absolutely need a water tray with wheels. Ideally, you want it in a spot with bright light throughout the year but that is not always an option. You’ll want to move it over a foot or two as the seasons change to follow the light. It comes handy when you need to clean around it or if you need to arrange the room around for a special dinner or activity.
  2. ALL PLANTS LOSE THEIR LEAVES. You will see drastic leaf drop during the winter time as the sun light hours are much shorter and the plant will drop leaves to conserve energy. Likewise, remove brown leaves so they are not robbing the plant of energy; once it’s brown, it’s not coming back to life.
  3. PLANTS WILL DRY OUT IN WINTER. The plants will dry out faster during the winter. You may notice that the water runs right through the pot at this time. You may have to change your water schedule by watering more frequently but cutting back on the volume of water at each application. You can apply a water retaining supplement in the soil by taking a pencil and poking a hole ¾’s of the way down, fill it a quarter full and cover with soil. The polymers will expand so don’t over do it. Test the chemical in a bowl of water first and note how much it expands before you add it to your pot.
  4. CHECK FOR PEST. Pest such as mealy bugs and scale will attack your indoor and potted plants as well as outdoor. Scout under leaves if you see a decline in your plant and you’ve been watering properly. “Birds nest” mushroom is an indicator that you may be watering too much. Flies are another indicator that it’s too wet. You can pick off the pest if it’s minimal or you can spray with horticulture oil or Neem oil.
  5. NOTE THE SUN ROTATION IN YOUR HOME. When choosing a spot for your plant, take mental notes on where the sunlight hits during the seasons. Generally speaking, in North East Florida, the sunlight will be most ambient on the East and South facing windows during the winter time. During the Summer time, you can get away with putting plants in all the windows; but reserve the West and North side for plants that don’t need direct sunlight or only require a few hours of sunlight per day. Conversely, leave plants that need longer hours of sun for the South and East facing windows.
  6. LASTLY, FERTILIZE EVERY 3-6 MONTHS with a well balanced indoor fertilizer. Chelated Iron is a good way to green up your leaves fast, but it works best as a supplement.

-Vanneza Stubbs

Why you Should NOT Fertilize in Winter

We understand Florida winters can be pretty mild at times and will vary year to year. On the warm days you feel like wearing flip flops and short sleeve shirts, you may be tempted to fertilize to give your plants an extra boost during this time of lull. It feels like a lull because your lawn and ornamental plants are not actively growing and are not as lush as they would be in spring and summer.

During this time of year, most plants are actually dropping their leaves to conserve their energy during dormancy. The roots are not taking up water and nutrition as fast as they would be during the rest of the year.
Fertilizing now would be a waste of money and material and would not benefit your plants (unless of course, it is a cool season annual then none of this applies). In fact, if you fertilized now and the weather warms up for a few days, you may promote new growth which would be damaged by colder weather in late January and February. This could set back your plant’s biological clock several weeks.

Instead of fertilizing now, continue to remove leaf litter away from the trunks of plants to prevent infection and improve air flow. Some yellowing and browning of the older leaves are a normal part of winter leaf drop. When only a portion of the plant is changing color then it may have an infection that you can treat with fungicides and insecticides. If you need help identifying what is wrong with your plant, give us a call and our team of experienced horticulturists can help you choose an appropriate chemical and recommend preventative measures as well.

-Vanneza Stubbs
Landscape Horticulturist

Winter Preparations

There is nothing worse than your tender perennials and tropical plants freezing beyond revival. You worked so hard to get them into the ground and you want to increase their chances of survival through spring. But what do you do after a freeze?
There are many ways to protect your plants; these three steps will give your plants an edge over unprotected plants and we think you’ll find them easy to accomplish.


1. MULCH- If it has been six months since you last mulched your beds, now is an imperative time to complete this task. You want to create a thick layer around the root ball to insulate them during the winter (2-6 inches depending on plant). DO NOT allow mulch to directly touch any of the stems or trunk of your plant. This could create poor air circulation and invite bacteria, fungi and damaging insects to feed on your plant.
2. WATER- Although your plants are dormant during winter months, they still require some degree of water. At least once week is a good general rule to follow except when there is a freeze warning in effect. If a freeze warning is in effect, you should plan to water in your plants at least 24-48 hours prior to freezing temperatures. This avoids desiccation and insulates soil and plant cells.
3. COVER- There are many ways to cover plants and every person may have their own success and failures when properly covering plants. NEVER USE PLASTIC sheets to protect plants. Old blankets or curtains work. You can also purchase frost clothes. Whatever you chose, you should use a structure of some sorts to prevent the blanket from touching fragile plants. This could be tomato cages, crates, string, chair, ladder, bricks, whatever works. Next, you will want to have a large enough blanket to cover the plant entirely, avoiding gaps where air can breeze through. Beach towel clips are excellent for combining sheets for larger plants.

Additionally, you can bring smaller plants or bunch them together under larger bushes or trees. Have you ever noticed plants directly under large trees tend to suffer less damage during a freeze? You can observe this during the morning dew as well.

Lastly, be sure to remove any covers off the plants so they can receive warmth and sun light during the day. If it is expected to freeze again, cover plants prior to sun down. Do not prune frost damaged leaves or twigs. It will be hard to resist; however, this is particularly important to new plants that the roots are not yet established. You may clean up annuals if another freeze is not expected in the near future. If you are unsure what to do, you can always give us a call and ask about your particular plant.

-Vanneza Rivera
Landscape Horticulturist

Fall Guide to Ornamental Grasses

In addition to camellias and our yellow mystery plant featured in November’s E-Newsletter, ornamental grasses are a sure thing for Fall interest. In this article we’ll cover a variety of grasses and when to cut back for next year’s plumes.
Some of our favorites include the native Muhly grass, Cord grass, Purple Fountain Grass, Fakahatchee, and non-natives such as Pampas grass and Lemon Grass.
If you have wet conditions, Cord Grass (Spartina alternifolia) and Fakahatchee are great plants as they are found near banks and marshes throughout the Atlantic coast. They adapt well to their environments and can with stand periods of drought and standing water like the natural tides they are accustomed to on a daily basis.
Can also be used for erosion control.
Does not need to be cut back annually, but doing so will give it a manicured look.
In general, all these grasses are great for erosion control as they clump and can take over a designated area. Muhly grass, Pampas grass and purple fountain grass all have showy plumes that will emerge late summer through fall. Cutting them to the ground will encourage vigor in spring’s growing season. Cut them back as soon as the plumes start to turn brown.
Lemon grass is extremely easy to establish and adds a bold texture and unique architecture to the landscape. You may need to give it a trim twice year to keep it contained or give adequate space for it to sprawl over.
Although drought tolerant, all grasses will need adequate water to establish themselves in the new landscape during the first year.

-Vanneza R. Stubbs

Cassia Tree

Senna bicapsularis Commonly Known as “Cassia” or “Senna”or “Butterfly Bush”

Cassia floribunda

This bright colored yellow is sure to catch your eye during the Fall when other plants enter dormancy. It tolerates most soils but is best grown in dry conditions (after establishment) with full sun. Allow plenty of room for this beauty as she can grow in to a small tree reaching heights of 8-12 feet and up to 6-10 feet around.
Be sure not to confuse it with it’s invasive variety, Senna pendula var. glabrata.

This plant will freeze during the winter and grow back in spring in zones 9-11. Prune for shape or to remove and winter damaged branches after the last freeze of the season. Staking may be required as blooms add excessive weight to branches. In general, this plant is low maintenance and a hit for beginners looking for a flowering tree.

-Vanneza R. Stubbs