Gardening In The Panhandle

A Shrub that Likes it Shady

Almost every landscape has a problem area where the sun just doesn’t shine and many plants won’t make it, maybe it’s the north side of your house, under a small tree, or tucked away in an oddly-shaped alcove.  We all know the same old boring green choices that work well here (Holly Fern, Cast Iron Plant, etc.) but maybe you want something a little bit different, something that will provide a pop of color and interesting texture!  Look no further than a recent introduction, a whole-plant mutation discovered from the little-used Grape Holly (Mahonia spp.), aptly named ‘Soft Caress’.

‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia is a beautiful little evergreen shrub from the Southern Living Plant Collection (one of the best of the collection in my opinion) and really is a game changer for full-shade areas.  Some of you may remember the traditional Mahonia, also known as Grape Holly, from your grandmother’s lawn.  Those plants were coarse, spiny, produced messy purplish berries and often appeared generally unkempt.  ‘Soft Caress’ is a major departure from its parent.  Possessing finely-cut, deep green, bamboo-like foliage, this plant’s texture really contrasts well with many traditional shady species.  As a bonus, ‘Soft Caress’ sends up brilliant yellow-gold flower spikes in the dead of winter, certainly a welcome respite from the other barren plants in the landscape; although in this unusually warm year, the plants are just now blooming in the Panhandle.

Photo courtesy: Daniel J. Leonard

‘Soft Caress’ is advertised to grow three feet in height and width, a more manageable size than the larger traditional Mahonia species, but I’m not sure I’d take that as gospel, the three-year old plants (hardly mature specimens) in my parent’s landscape are already that size and show no signs of slowing down.  However, I’ve found you can easily manage their size with a once a year prune to slow down some of the more rapidly-growing canes.  Be sure to time the prune as soon as possible after flowering is finished as ‘Soft Caress’ blooms only once a year and produces its flowers on the previous season’s wood, just like Indica Azaleas and old-fashioned Hydrangeas.

The uses in the landscape for ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia are nearly endless.  It pairs well with almost anything in a shady mixed shrub border.  It works nicely as a foundation plant against a porch or under windows on the north or east side of a house where it will be protected from hot afternoon sun; I have employed a grouping of the plants in this way in my own lawn with success.  It even thrives in containers!  If you want to show off some serious horticultural design skills, mix ‘Soft Caress’ in a large container on the porch with some like-minded perennials for a low-maintenance, high-impact display that you don’t have to replant each season.  All this shrub requires is partial to full shade, moist well-drained soil, and an occasional haircut to keep it looking tidy!  If you’ve been struggling to find a plant that’s a little more unusual than the standard garden center fare and actually looks good in shady spots, you could do a lot worse than ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia. 

As always, happy gardening and contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office for more information about this plant and other gardening questions!

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Author: Daniel J. Leonard – d.leonard@ufl.edu

Horticulture Agent, Walton County

Daniel J. Leonard

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/25/a-shrub-that-likes-it-shady/

Impatiens for Sun and Shade

Source: UF/IFAS.

 

Impatiens are a very popular annual, bedding plant that provide a nice burst of color in the landscape. The traditional Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), or touch-me-not, is the one that most gardeners know as needing part shade, but there are also the New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) that are able to tolerate more sun. In addition to being able to withstand more sunlight, the New Guinea Impatiens also have larger flowers and leaves. Another highlight of the New Guinea impatiens is their increased resistance to downy mildew, a major concern for growers of touch-me-nots, especially in south Florida.

 

While native to the Old World, Impatiens are not known to invade Florida natural areas but may reproduce by seed. Touch-me-nots are known to spread easily be seed. An interesting fact about Impatiens is their bursting seed pods that can send seeds several feet from the parent plant. This characteristic is what led to the scientific name Impatiens – for impatient – and one of the common names – touch-me-not.

 

May is a good time to plant Impatiens in north Florida. They prefer slightly acidic soil and should be planted at a 12-18 inch spacing. Impatiens work well as a border planting or in mass plantings. While New Guinea Impatiens tolerate more sun, they still would prefer some afternoon shade. Those growing in full sun will need extra care to ensure they remain well watered. An all-purpose plant food can be applied at monthly intervals for best performance.

 

Some common varieties of touch-me-nots include ‘Accent’, ‘Blitz’, ‘Carousel’, ‘Dazzler’, ‘Impact’, ‘Impulse’, and ‘Super Elfins’. Common New Guinea Impatiens varieties include ‘Celebration Candy Pink’, ‘Celebration Light Lavender’, ‘Nebulus’, ‘Equinox’, ‘Sunglow’, and ‘Tango’. The newer ‘Sunpatiens’ variety is quite popular and comes in different forms – compact, spreading, and vigorous.

Source: UF/IFAS.

If you have any questions regarding Impatiens, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office or visit our EDIS website at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

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Author: Mark Tancig – tancig00@ufl.edu

Mark Tancig

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/25/impatiens-for-sun-and-shade/

Full Steam Ahead for Vegetable Garden Soil Prep

If you haven’t already, it’s time to prepare the garden space for the summer bounty of fresh vegetables. The following information will help you get started. Just remember, as the soil preparation goes, so goes the vegetable production.

Figure 1: Planting Vegetables in Prepared Soil.

Credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS.

By far the most physical part of vegetable gardening is soil preparation. This is the foundation that your garden is built on, so let’s not cut corners at this stage. Plain and simple, poor soil prep will result in poor garden performance. Before you begin prep, it is a good idea to have a soil sample analyzed. With a soil analysis complete, a more customized fertilizer and application may be recommended for your needs. However, a complete fertilizer like 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 can be used as general purpose. Also, pH can be determined through this test. If the soil is too acidic for vegetables, then a liming requirement may be needed. pH is key information, especially regarding planting time. If one needs lime, it is recommended to wait at least a month before planting to allow the lime to adjust soil pH. Generally, a small amount of lime can be added to a garden space regardless, as lime also contains the vital micronutrients calcium and magnesium. Contact your local extension office for more information on soil testing.

To begin the garden prep, one will first need to remove the weeds from the space. The next step is to turn the soil. This will help aerate the soil and accelerate soil decomposition which leads to higher organic matter. Turing the soil will also eliminate any soil compaction issues that would stifle seed germination. With sandy soils throughout the Panhandle, one will most likely need to amend by spreading a rich organic compost in the space. An application of fertilizer can be mixed in at this stage as well. Always follow the manufacturer’s label regarding application directions. Once complete, the soil should then be turned by digging down six to eight inches. A large garden will require a motorized tiller, but hand-held implements should be fine for smaller spaces.

After the soil is turned, be sure to break up any clods and rake so that the area is level. The soil should be of a fine texture by this point. Again, this makes seed germination much easier and will assist in further root development of transplants.

To have a vegetable garden that all will envy, it begins with soil prep. Remember, not only does a vegetable garden provide nutrition, but it also provides for exercise, a feeling of accomplishment and even could save you a few bucks. Please contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide” by Sydney Park Brown, Danielle Treadwell, J. M. Stephens and Susan Webb: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/VH/VH02100.pdf

Information on garden plot preparation was also provided by Emeritus Vegetable Specialist Jim Stephens, of The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science.

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

 

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Author: Ray Bodrey – rbodrey@ufl.edu

Gulf County Extension Director, Agent II Agriculture & Natural Resource, Horticulture, Sea Grant

Ray Bodrey

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/24/full-steam-ahead-for-vegetable-garden-soil-prep/

Monitoring for Common Lawn Insects

Spittlebug damage on centipedegrass. Photo credit: Larry Williams UF/IFAS

Mole crickets, chinch bugs and spittlebugs are common lawn insect pests to begin watching for this time of year.

Mole crickets can be active in lawns spring through fall, but the best window of opportunity to control them is in June and July.

Soap flushing is a technique to survey for mole crickets. Mix two ounces of liquid dishwashing soap in two gallons of water and apply with a sprinkling can to four square feet of turf in several areas where mole crickets are suspected. If an average of two to four mole crickets appear on the surface within several minutes, then a treatment is probably needed.

Chinch bugs only damage St. Augustinegrass. So if your lawngrass is something other than St. Augustine, don’t worry about this insect.

Damage from chinch bugs tends to begin in April. However, they are more likely to be active during warmer summer months through early fall in the more sunny areas of the yard, particularly if it’s dry.

Inspect a St. Augustinegrass lawn weekly during spring, summer and fall. Look for areas that quickly turn yellow and then straw brown. Part the grass at the margin of the yellowed areas and closely examine the soil surface and base of the turf for tiny insects. Immature chinch bugs are pink to red and are about the size of a pinhead. The adults are only 1/8 inch long and black with white wings.

Spittlebugs attack all turfgrass species but centipedegrass is their favorite. The first generation of adult spittlebugs is abundant in June and the peak population usually occurs in August to early September.

An early sign of spittlebug activity are masses of white, frothy spittle found in the turf. Each piece of spittle contains one immature spittle bug. Infested turf turns yellow and eventually brown. Damage resembles chinch bug injury but usually first appears in shady areas. Closer inspection reveals discolored individual grass blades with cream colored and pinkish-purple streaks running the length of individual blades. As the population builds, the ¼ inch long adults are abundant. As you walk through or mow an infested area, numerous adult spittlebugs fly short distances when disturbed. Adults are black with two orange transverse stripes across their wings.

Correct lawn management can minimize many pest problems. If a pesticide becomes necessary to control a lawn pest, be sure to follow the product’s label instructions and precautions.

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Author: Larry Williams – llw5479@ufl.edu

Larry Williams is the County Extension Director and Residential Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Okaloosa County.

Larry Williams

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/13/monitoring-for-common-lawn-insects/

Increase Crop Diversity to Improve Your Garden

Most of you plant a spring vegetable garden with a number of different vegetable types. However, you may not realize that you are improving the health of your soil and your crops by planting a diverse garden.  Intercropping is a gardening practice of growing different crops in the same field.  When planting a mixture of crops in the same field year after year, it is important to rotate the location of each type of vegetable.  This is a practice known as crop rotation.  Intercropping and crop rotation will help reduce insect pest populations, increase beneficial insect populations, and reduce weed populations.

Crop Diversity

Growing plants in your garden that pest insects don’t like to eat makes the pests work harder to find what they do like to eat.  Studies have found reduced whitefly numbers on squash plantings mixed with a crop of buckwheat when compared to squash planted alone.  Another crop mixture that may be unintentional, but may work in your favor is a row of crapemyrtles along the edge of your garden.  Crapemyrtles will attract the crapemyrtle aphid which will attract predatory insects.  When the predatory insects run out of crapemyrtle aphids to eat, they will move to your garden and begin to hunt pest insects on your vegetable crop.

Squash with living mulch of buckwheat. Photo Credit: Oscar Liburd, UF/IFAS Extension

Trap Cropping

A trap crop is a plant that attracts a pest insect away from your food crops.  Trap crops work best when planted at the edge of your garden, along a fence row, or in movable containers.  A bare space, let’s say 5 feet or so, should be kept between your trap crop and your garden.  This will help keep the pests from moving on to your vegetables.  When you find a good population of pests on your trap crop then it is time to spray them with insecticide or cut the crop down and remove the debris to a location far from your garden.  If your trap crops are planted in containers, then it makes them that much easier to remove from near the garden area.

Cover Crops and Green Manure

Soil organic matter can be increased by the use of green manure and cover crops.  Cover crops are generally planted during the off-season, but they can be planted in between vegetable rows and tilled in at a designated time as a green manure.  Both cover crops and green manure improve the production of your garden by:

  • Suppressing weeds by competing for water, light, and nutrients;
  • Holding the soil in place and preventing erosion;
  • Scavenging for nutrients that can be utilized in future crops;
  • Reducing nematode populations;
  • Providing a habitat for beneficial insects.

A mixed plot of cover crops and trap crops. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Extension

A number of different crops can serve as cover crops or green manure crops.  Most are legumes (bean family) or grasses.  A few that you might like to give a try are:

  • Cowpeas
  • Sunn hemp
  • Sorghum-sudangrass
  • Winter rye

More detailed information on cover crops and green manure can be found at this link: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/aa217.

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Author: Matt Lollar – mlollar@ufl.edu

Matt Lollar is the Jackson County Horticulture Agent. He has 5 years of experience with University of Florida/IFAS Extension and he began his career in Sanford, FL as the Seminole County Horticulture Agent. Matt is originally from Belle Fontaine, AL. He earned his MS and BS degrees in Horticulture Production from Auburn University.

Matt Lollar

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/13/increase-crop-diversity-to-improve-your-garden/

Dig Safely: Call 811

This month, recognized by the Senate and Florida’s governor, reminds diggers why calling 811 before all outdoor digging projects is important to your safety. Before installing a mailbox, fence, deck, garden or tree make sure to call Sunshine 811 to have underground lines marked. 811 is the free national number designated by the Federal Communications Commission.  It notifies utility companies, who in turn send their professional locators to identify and mark the appropriate location of underground line with paint and flags in colors that identify the utility type.  The following colors represent the seven various utilities: red – electric, orange – communications (telephone, cable tv), blue – potable water, green – sewer, yellow – gas, purple – reclaimed water, and white – site of intended excavation.  To learn more about color designation and their corresponding  utility go to: http://www.call811.com/faqs/default.aspx.   Locating marks are good for 30 calendar days.  Any work beyond that requires another call to 811.  If the marks are destroyed before your project is done, stop digging and call 811.

 

Hitting an underground utility line while digging can cause injuries.   Utility service outages can also impact an entire neighborhood and damage the environment. The depth of utility lines varies, and there may be multiple utility lines in one common area.  Even if you think you know where an underground line is, time tends to change things.  Erosion or tree roots can shift those utility lines.  Failure to call before digging results in one unintentional utility hit every eight minutes nationwide.  You could also be financially affected with costly fines and high repair costs.

 

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) provides industry stakeholders with a way to anonymously submit data into a comprehensive database for analysis of the factors that lead to events. An event is defined by the CGA DIRT User’s Guide as “the occurrence of downtime, damages, and near misses.” The number of events submitted to DIRT for 2011 totaled 207,779. However, according to CGA DIRT “when a call is made to the one call center (811) prior to excavation, 99% of the time there will be no damage”.

 

Calling 811 in Florida is the law. At least two full business days before digging, do-it yourselfers and professional excavators must contact 811 by phone to start the process of getting underground utility lines marked.  This is a free service.  Be sure that all utilities have been marked before grabbing the shovel.  If you don’t see locate marks, don’t assume there are no underground utility lines.  Verify with the Sunshine 811 Positive Response system.  Follow up on your one call ticket by contacting 811 again on the third day.  Sunshine State One Call is a not for profit corporation which began with the 1993 adoption of the “Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act,” Chapter 556, Florida Statutes.  Online you can visit: www.online811.com, or call (800) 852-8057.  If you provide a valid e-mail when requesting your locate ticket, positive response updates will automatically be sent to you when all utilities have responded.  For more information on Florida’s law, visit www.Sunshine811.com.

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Author: Sheila Dunning – sdunning@ufl.edu


http://okaloosa.ifas.ufl.edu

Sheila Dunning

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/13/dig-safely-call-811/

Put Some Thought into Tree Placement

It’s really tempting to buy a tree and plant it in the middle of your lawn or directly in front of your picture window, but instead take some time to choose the best spot first. Several considerations such as maintenance and mature size should be taken into account before the site is selected.

Mowing close to the trunk of this Pindo palm has caused repeated injury to the trunk. Photo: JMcConnell, UF/IFAS

Placing a tree in a lawn area without creating a bed can lead to maintenance issues for both the tree and the turfgrass. It is easy to simply cut out a small patch of turf the size of the rootball and install a tree, however, as the grass grows up towards the trunk over time maintaining that grass will become difficult. It is common to see mechanical injuries to tree trunks because weed eaters or mowers have chipped away at the bark when trying to cut the grass. Other potential problems are irrigation zones calibrated for turf delivering the wrong amount of water to trees and herbicides used on grass that may cause injury to trees.

Over time, as the tree canopy grows, it will create shade and any grass trying to grow in that area will thin and be more susceptible to disease and insect pressure. By creating a large ornamental bed for your tree, you will prevent some pitfalls associated with placing the tree in the lawn.

Another common mistake is planting a tree too close to a house or other structure. It can be difficult to imagine how large a tree will grow at maturity because it is not a quick process. Trees placed close to houses may grow into eaves and shed leaves onto roofs and into gutters. This adds to maintenance and can provide mosquito breeding grounds. Also, some tree roots may interfere with walkways or septic systems and should be sited far enough away to avoid these issues.

These Japanese Maples are planted in a bed separate from the lawn making care for both plant types easier. Photo: JMcConnell, UF/IFAS

Be sure to research any tree you plan to install to find out ideal growing conditions and mature size. If you plan ahead and use good maintenance practices, a tree can become an valuable part of your home landscape to be enjoyed for years to come.

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Author: Julie McConnell – juliebmcconnell@ufl.edu

UF/IFAS Bay County Horticulture Extension Agent I

Julie McConnell

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/08/put-some-thought-into-tree-placement/

Tips for Transplanting

Be careful planting cucurbit transplants, as they have sensitive roots. Photo by Molly Jameson.

When I think of the end of winter and the hot temperatures that will soon be here to stay in the Florida Panhandle, I often feel a little melancholy. But the one silver lining that always picks me back up is remembering what warmer temperatures will mean in the garden. This is the start to all the fun, colorful, fruiting crops. Think of the oranges, reds, yellows, and even purples that will soon fill their vines.

As an extension agent, one of the questions I am often asked is whether to start summer vegetables from seed directly in the garden, or to start seeds in pots and transplant them later. The answer is – as is often the case – it depends.

Are you planting tomatoes, peppers, or eggplant? Well, the beginning of April is too late to start from seeds with these crops in our neck of the woods. Buy transplants! Are you growing beans, okra, or root crops? Now that we are past the risk of frost, put those seeds directly into your garden. Are you growing cucurbits, like squash, cucumbers, or melons? You have a choice. You could seed them directly, or you could start seeds in pots. What is the advantage of starting in pots, you ask? Well – this will give you the chance to pick the strongest plants and will allow you to transplant them exactly where you want them. The disadvantage? Other than the extra work, cucurbits tend to be sensitive to disturbance. Be sure to handle with care and do not over water once your seedlings have sprouted.

Transplant into the garden when the plant is about the length of its pot. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Whether you grew the seeds in pots yourself or acquired transplants elsewhere, there are certain practices you can follow to ensure your plant babies have a good start. Here are a few tips when it comes to transplanting into the garden:

What should be considered when purchasing transplants? When purchasing transplants, it is important to make sure the plant is healthy. Look for plants with strong stems, green leaves, and no signs of pest or disease damage. Ideally, the plant should not be much taller than the length of its pot, and should be about as tall as it is wide. Also, avoid vegetable plants that are already producing fruit, this is an indication they have been in their pot too long, prompting them to become stressed. When stressed, annuals often feel they need to hurry and produce seeds to carry on the next generation.

When should transplants be planted into the garden? For spring gardens, plant transplants once danger of frost has passed (late March in the Panhandle), when the transplant has had time to develop a strong root system, and when the transplant is about the length of its pot. If you are growing your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse, allow the plant to “harden-off” by placing the plants outdoors in partial shade for a few hours a day for about a week before transplanting.

What is the transplanting process?

  • First, prepare your garden site with compost and other soil amendments.
  • Water your plants very thoroughly just before planting to decrease transplant shock. The entire root system should be completely wet.
  • Dig a hole that is at least double the width of the plant’s root ball.

    Add fresh compost or worm castings to each planting hole to give your plants an extra nutrient boost. Photo by Molly Jameson.

  • Add one to two handfuls of fresh compost or worm castings to each hole. These soil amendments will improve soil health, introduce beneficial microbes, and provide a slow- release nutrient source for your growing seedlings.
  • Avoid covering any leaves or stems under the soil surface. Remove these lower leaves and stems with sharp garden clippers to minimize the size of the wound.
  • Avoid touching the stem and avoid disturbing the root ball when removing the transplant from its pot. Gently squeeze the pot to loosen the potting soil and turn the transplant sideways or upside down with the palm of your hand to gently “catch” the transplant.
  • Unless the transplant is a tomato, plant it so that the soil level is about the soil level of the transplant, making sure the plant has good structure to decrease susceptibility of falling over as it grows.
  • If transplanting a tomato, plant deeper than the soil level of the transplant, as tomatoes can grow what are called “adventitious” roots – roots that grow from their stem – that will improve overall root development.
  • Make sure to cover up all roots, and water the soil around the plant thoroughly. Continue to water deeply, keeping the soil moist but not soggy, for the next three to four days while the plant becomes established. You can then begin to switch to a normal watering pattern.
  • Always water the soil around the plant, not the plant leaves, throughout the season to decrease susceptibility to disease.

Remember: gardening is a science and an art! And just like art, there are many aspects that are open to interpretation. Have fun gardening – experiment and try new techniques. Keep a journal tracking all your gardening adventures. With time, this can become your road map to the sweetest of summer fruit.

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Author: Molly Jameson – mjameson@ufl.edu

Molly Jameson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/08/tips-for-transplanting/

Permaculture Workshop – April 29

The Jackson County Master Gardeners are hosting “Permaculture: An Introduction” on Saturday, April 29. Join us from 9AM to 2PM on Saturday, April 29 at the Jackson County Extension Office (2741 Penn Ave., Ste.#3, Marianna, FL) to learn the basics of permaculture. What is permaculture you might ask? Basically, it is the utilization of edible plants in your landscape to create a food forest. The workshop is $ 20 and includes lunch. To register or for more details please contact Matt Lollar at mlollar@ufl.edu, (850)482-9620, or come by the Jackson County Extension Office.

Permaculture: An Introduction – April 29

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Author: Matt Lollar – mlollar@ufl.edu

Matt Lollar is the Jackson County Horticulture Agent. He has 5 years of experience with University of Florida/IFAS Extension and he began his career in Sanford, FL as the Seminole County Horticulture Agent. Matt is originally from Belle Fontaine, AL. He earned his MS and BS degrees in Horticulture Production from Auburn University.

Matt Lollar

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/08/permaculture-workshop-april-29/

Landscaping for Children

This sandbox area at Bok Tower Gardens is bordered by a stone “snake” and covered for shade, making it a real draw for small children and their parents. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida and experienced one of their newest additions, a children’s garden. As much a playground as a place for growing plants, it was full of whimsical energy and invitations to explore. The entire area encouraged children to reach beyond their comfort zones and engage with nature, including an outdoor art space, a climbing area made of lean-to logs, and a covered sand “box” shaped like a snake.

In recent years, sociologists, educators, and health experts have bemoaned the loss of free outdoor play in the lives of children. Multiple factors, including the rise in electronic entertainment, more organized, practice-heavy youth sports, fears of crime/abduction or just lack of safe access to ride bikes or walk, have contributed to a drop in the frequency and length of time that kids spend outdoors playing on their own. Many readers can probably relate to my childhood.  We would take off on bikes in the mornings during summer and not come back until we got hungry. We didn’t have cell phones or GPS, and we knew all of our neighbors so we had a place to go if we had a rare emergency. The results of fewer child-led outdoor explorations include increases in childhood obesity, fear of the outdoors, difficulty with balance, agility, and managing excess energy.

When children help plant a garden, they will be more interested in taking care of it–and tasting the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

One way to encourage kids to get outside and explore is to plant something in your yard, school, or nearby park that can serve double-duty as a window to explore. Landscaping with young people in mind should include a variety of plants with interesting heights and textures, fruit-bearing shrubs or trees to engage the sense of taste, and lots of color. Logs to sit and climb on are perfect for developing balance and learning to take calculated risks. In addition, it is important to engage kids in the design and planting of the garden or landscape–if they have a hand in developing the area, they’ll be more invested in its success. In fact, research has consistently shown that children who help care for school gardens are more willing to try the food they’ve helped to grow. Beyond expanding a healthy palate, participation in school gardens can increase “soft” skills, such as the ability to work effectively in a team, better communication, and an increased appreciation for nature. Many kids also do better in science and gain a deeper understanding of proper nutrition after working with gardens.

If you are not a gardener or landscaper but interested in taking children outdoors where they can learn and become more comfortable, the US Forest Service has taken the research related to “nature-deficit disorder” so seriously that multiple “Children’s Forests” have been developed. While there are still very few in the southeastern US, there are dozens around the country.  The stated goals for a Children’s Forest are: 1) Connect kids, families, and adults to healthy outdoor activities across all landscapes. 2) Create new education and career opportunities. 3) Foster an understanding of how our changing environment affects the world and how people can work together to embrace these changes. 4) Provide professional development opportunities for educators, with emphasis on conservation and the natural world. Local state and national parks often provide excellent programs for families as well, such as the National Park System’s Junior Ranger Program.

The landscaping at this coffee shop uses color, log seating/climbing, and a variety of interesting plants to attract children to engage with the outdoors.

A program in Gainesville called “Kids in the Woods” has recognized the lack of youth engagement in the outdoors and created field trips and curriculum for students designed to help make sure they are comfortable in the great outdoors. No matter how you engage the youth in your life with nature, it is important that they get outside, get dirty, and go beyond their comfort zone. Their health, academic success, and even motor skills needed for sports and daily life will reap the benefits!

 

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Author: Carrie Stevenson – ctsteven@ufl.edu

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/04/07/landscaping-for-children/

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