EDITOR’S NOTE: Environmental Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi, addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is the Extension Director in Nassau County, Florida and also a University of Florida faculty member.
QUESTION: I see the maples are bursting with color right now. After looking closely, I noticed a pair of seeds. What are they? MM
JORDI: The botanical term for these structures containing the maple seeds is samaras, but they are more often referred to as “helicopters,” or “whirligigs.” All maple trees produce samaras, but red, silver and Norway maples often produce the largest quantities. Over the next few weeks, these seeds will rain down on lawns, decks, roofs and gutters in many locations which can become a nuisance, especially after we have had such a large number of laurel oak leaf drop within the last few weeks. But raking leaves from the yard and removing them from our gutters in the spring is a small price to pay for having such large, beautiful trees on our property.
Both oaks and maples are also the source of much of the yellow pollen we are seeing all over our cars lately, in addition to being the reason for our allergic reactions to pollen. It is possible to take the seeds and propagate your own maple tree. Red maple trees are incredibly fast growers so you should have a nice size tree within a few years. Seed propagation would be a wonderful project for any young person. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing a tree develop from seed.
QUESTION: I have a very shaded lot and I am thinking of adding more ferns to my plant beds. What can you tell me about the Ghost fern? It sounds so intriguing. PD
JORDI: ‘Ghost’ is a hybrid fern which was developed from a cross between Athyrium niponicum var. pictum and Athyrium filix-femina. It gets the popular name Ghost because of the silvery color of the outer edge of the fronds. When temperatures get warmer, the color often gets a hint of blue. The silver color on the fronds comes from its Japanese painted fern parent and the upright growth of the fronds comes from its lady fern parent. It generally grows to no more than 2 ½ feet tall with an even smaller spread. The mature size makes it a wonderful plant for small, shade gardens. It can tolerate dappled light, but direct afternoon sun here will cause brown edges and the plant will be very unattractive if it survives. Ghost fern is less sensitive to dry soils but it should not be allowed to get too dry. If you have a rabbit problem, this plant does not appear to be very appetizing to the furry creatures. However, I must warn you, if rabbits or deer get hungry enough, they will eat most any plant. I have a Ghost fern in my garden now, and it survived the winter beautifully. In some colder climates, the fern is considered deciduous, meaning it will lose its fronds but return when temperatures are warmer. Its cold hardiness zone is 4-8. I am in cold hardiness zone 9a, so those of you on the east part of Nassau County Florida might want to add this little beauty to your landscape. Those of us on shaded lots should consider adding more ferns as they add texture and color to our beds and are fabulous fillers for small, tight areas. But, you know how I feel about Boston fern – please keep it in the pot and do not plant it in the ground here.
QUESTION: I just moved here and I discovered this small little tree in my backyard. Do you know what it is? SZ
JORDI: Well, welcome to Nassau County, Florida. I am glad you brought me a twig with the leaves which helped me identify it quickly. It is called a red buckeye, Aesculus pavia. Red Buckeye is a small North American native tree capable of reaching 25 to 30 feet tall in the wild though is most often at 15 to 20 feet high. Red Buckeye is most popular for its springtime display of three to six-inch-long, upright, red flowers which are quite attractive to hummingbirds. These blooms are followed by flat, round capsules which contain bitter and poisonous seeds. The large, dark green, palmate leaves usually offer no great color change in fall and often drop as early as late September. Red buckeye lives best in cold hardiness zone 6-9a and in full to partial shade (see this publication from the University of Florida for further information).
FREE GARDENING CLINIC APRIL 21, 2014
Rebecca Jordi, Extension Director/Horticulture Agent will conduct a Plant Clinic. All Nassau County, Florida residents are invited to bring plant samples showing problems in their landscapes. Problems will be identified and solutions offered for correction. There is no fee for this service. For information call 904-879-1019. Also, Master Gardeners are on phone duty ready to provide free assistance on Fridays, call 904-491-7340.
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