Inland Trees

Springtime in Florida is a great time to start landscaping your yard and reducing your lawn area.  Local and migratory birds are adapted to the trees that grow in the habitats of your area.  For example, pine flatwoods and oak hammocks.

There are many surface areas provided by a tree canopy and there are countless  insects, seeds, nuts and even sap for birds to feed on.  Lawn is wysiwyg, “what you see is what you get.”  One hundred square feet of lawn is……  Yet one hundred square feet with a tree on it becomes many square feet of surface over all of the branches and leaves.   Imagine the bird’s eye view and the attraction of trees compared to exposed ground.

Our most prevalent tree, the slash pine, is nearly gone because we have over watered them, driven over their roots with mowers, changed the pH of the soil with fertilizers and changed the drainage around them.  Hurricanes simply finished the job.  There is no reason not to replant with slash pines grown from a local seed source.  These have 12 inch long leaves and are bushy. Just keep lawn grass away from them. Pines from a North Florida seed source do poorly in South Florida where it is hot for too long and the soil is too dry. These have shorter needles which turn brown and eventually die in our local climate.

Dry soil, low fertility, and low pH are preferred by our local South Florida slash pine.  They let in enough light, and increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil with organic matter from their needles, that grass will actually grow better near them than out in the full scorching sun.   To mimic nature, plant saw palmettos beneath the pines and create winding paths. You’ll have an inviting venue for people and wildlife.   The seeds of the pines and palmettos are eaten by wildlife and the dead branches house grubs that feed different kinds of woodpeckers, Plant other pineland shrubs like myrsine, dahoon holly and beauty berry to increase the variety.

Other trees to broaden your yard’s appeal include many leafy species.    Live oak and water hickory provide nuts while hackberry and Florida elm provide seeds for birds as well as leaves for the caterpillars of several butterflies.  Strangler fig droops with fruit several times a year and is crowded with feeding birds.  The orange ruddy daggerwing butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves,  The native red mulberry’s fruit attracts cedar waxwings as they migrate north in the spring.  Fig and mulberry have spreading roots, so don’t plant them near a structure.

A local tree of moist soils, red maple can tolerate average soil once established.  They bloom in February.   The red flowers will be followed by red seeds that turn bright pink when ripe.  It is a fabulous sight to see a large tree pink with seeds.  These feed squirrels, wood ducks and others.  In fact, wood ducks eat the nuts or fruit of oak, hickory, cypress, grapes, sweet gum and elm.  Plant these near a pond and put up nest boxes.  Cypress should only be planted near water or in moist soil.

All trees must be watered two to three times a week for a month or two and as needed for the first year.  Long periods without rain will require some further watering. Keep an eye on your trees for up to two years.  At three to five gallons of water per tree, you are not looking at much water use compared to grass.

Trees are a great start to attracting birds and will shade out weeds in a short time.  When looking for migrating songbirds in the spring and fall, just set down a seat under an oak tree in the early morning and the birds will soon be darting above you.  Plant trees in groups for a more natural look; straight lines look silly. You will be surprised at how fast they grow when grass is kept away from the roots.