The drier season is just around the corner...

Do you have a bare spot that you would like to see go away? How about a problem getting something to grow in a particular area? I’m not talking about that receding hairline or bald spot, I’m talking about your lawns and gardens. Many residents have these problems, whether it is too much shade under our beautiful oaks, that stubborn orange clay, or that hot, dry sand. Often times, the best remedy for these situations is to use mulch. Mulch is a versatile tool in the home landscape that provides many benefits while adding aesthetic beauty.mulch Mark Tanzig photo

Some of the benefits of using mulch in your landscape include retaining soil moisture, reducing the amount of weeds, insulating the soil (keeps it warm during cold months and cool during the warm season), improving soil health through decomposition, and protecting plants from mower and/or trimmer damage. In addition, mulch can help protect the quality of local lakes and streams by reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff. Therefore, not only can it improve your yard, but it can also help minimize impacts to our precious natural resources.

When purchasing mulch, there are many options available. Local lawn and garden shops offer many different types of mulch based on their origin (type of wood the mulch comes from), texture (shredded vs. nuggets), color, and, of course, cost. When considering these options, here is some information to help you choose:

Origin. Cypress mulch comes from the harvesting of natural cypress wetlands and it not recommended by the University of Florida Florida-friendly Landscaping Program. Pine bark mulch is produced from the paper/pulp industry as a marketable byproduct. Pine needle mulch is harvested from pine tree farms as the trees mature to harvestable size.
Plant Needs. Pine mulch (either bark or needles) can lower the pH of your soils as it breaks down over time. This is great for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, gardenias, and blueberries, but may affect species that require a high pH.
Texture. The coarser the texture, the longer the mulch will last. Finely shredded mulches breakdown quicker than coarse mulches, such as bark nuggets. As the mulch breaks down, it adds organic content to your soil, thus improving soil health.
If you want to save money, you can often contact local tree trimming companies for their hard day’s work. As they trim or remove trees, the smaller material is shredded into mulch and they are often willing to drop it off in your yard instead of paying for its disposal. It is best to allow this freshly shredded mulch to cure for some time before placing it in your garden beds since freshly shredded mulch can temporarily reduce the availability of nitrogen in the soil.

When using free mulch options, be aware that weed seeds may be present.

Be sure to apply the mulch in a two to three inch layer in your landscape beds or around trees and shrubs. It’s not a bad idea to aerate any old mulch already present to prevent matting or compaction. This can be done with a rake or pitchfork.

So cover up that soil to improve the look and fertility of your landscapes and to reduce erosion and stormwater runoff. If you have any questions about mulch, more information is available at the Florida-Friendly Landscaping website:

Palms for North Florida

Palms are year round green addition to any landscaping project.

Palms for North Florida
Edwin R. Duke and Gary W. Knox

Palm (päm) n. Any of various chiefly tropical evergreen
trees, shrubs or woody vines of the family Palmae (Arecaceae),
having unbranched trunks with a crown of pinnate
or palmate leaves having conspicuous parallel venation.

Palms are a prominent part of the Florida landscape. While
many of the palms used in the southern parts of the state
are not cold hardy, there is still a good selection of palm
species that will grow in more northern regions.

Azalea Caterpillars Hungry This Time of Year

One azalea caterpillar probably won’t do too much damage. Credit: Mark Tancig/UF IFAS

One azalea caterpillar probably won’t do too much damage. Credit: Mark Tancig/UF IFAS

Recently, you may have noticed that your azaleas appear stripped of leaves. You get closer and, in fact, the leaves have been chewed right off. If you look carefully, you are likely to find evidence of, or catch red-handed, the azalea caterpillar (Datana major). These creatures show up on azaleas from July to October and can cause severe defoliation of all azaleas (Rhododendron spp.). Disappearing leaves are one sign; their frass (poo) is another, especially when a lot of caterpillars are present.

While this caterpillar turns into a relatively small (1¾ inches), drab (light brown) moth, the caterpillar is the most noticeable, and damaging, life stage. They start off feeding in groups and are only about ½ inch long. At this point they look light brown from a distance due to their yellow body and light red stripes. Once they mature, azalea caterpillars can reach up to two inches long and have a striking appearance with black bodies, bright broken, yellow stripes, bright red head and legs, and little hairs that stick up in the air. When disturbed, they turn up their head and rear end. The small young caterpillars skeletonize the leaves while the larger caterpillars devour the whole leaf.

Depending on how many caterpillars are present, how healthy the plants are, and other environmental factors, damage from azalea caterpillars can get to the point where some control is necessary. The point at which control is necessary is depends on how much injury each homeowner is willing to take before attempting control measures. If you enjoy seeing wildlife in the yard, leaving more caterpillars may lead to more birds later on! If you’re trying for the best lawn in the neighborhood or have caterpillar poo piling up on your pool deck, you’re more likely to have a lower threshold.

Control measures include physical removal and/or chemical control. While they look scary, you can pick them off without injury. If there are too many to pick off, the least toxic chemical control for azalea caterpillars is Bt, which works best on the smaller caterpillars. As always, read all label directions before using any pesticide.

More Information
For more information on azalea caterpillars and their control, see the UF IFAS Featured Creature site. For other azalea and landscape plant concerns, contact your local county extension office.

Dickerson Making Headlines! ;)

We have been honored to be mentioned in several articles for our work. Here are a few of our favorites!

Blending Talent with Experience

By Glenn Dinella & Jenny Agee-Aldridge. 

September 2011 Total Landscape Care

William Dickerson’s early work as a landscaper and natural creativity set him on a course for success.

As a teen, William Dickerson was on the path to his future career but didn’t know it. William Dickerson’s career choice was altered during college by a fortuitous conversation. It took the guidance of a man who would later become Dickerson’s mentor to show him the way.

Today, as owner of Dickerson Landscaping in Tallahassee, Florida, with 22 employees and more than $1 million in annual revenue, he quickly acknowledges the importance of seeking out the counsel of others to ensure a successful business. “It was life changing for me,” he says.

Serendipitous moment

When Dickerson reached his junior year at Florida State University as an economics major in the 1980s, he worked part-time caring for landscapes at residential properties and a church near campus. He enjoyed the creative aspects of the work, and had a knack for it. But at the time, landscaping was a job, not a career.

Then he got to know Manuel “Manny” Leon Ponce, a professor in FSU’s interior design department, while caring for Ponce’s yard. A respected and influential interior designer who lectured around the world, Ponce came to epitomize success to Dickerson. Yet the relationship started because of a mere offhand observation.

“I was standing in his house waiting for my check and noticed a copy of an architecture magazine on the table, and Manny was on the cover. I started to thumb through it. I asked him, ‘How do you get here?’” Dickerson says.

The two fell into an easy conversation, in which Ponce encouraged Dickerson to take some design classes at the university.

“I told him I had no interest in learning about fabrics, and he laughed,” Dickerson says. “He explained the design principles of landscape and interior design were basically the same. He was right.”

“I needed to learn about drafting and various design principles to be really successful in the landscape industry.”

In that moment, Dickerson began to see the potential of a career as a landscape designer. “I needed to learn about drafting and various design principles to be really successful in the landscape industry. I already knew the plants,” Dickerson says.

Ponce spoke with the dean of the interior design department, who allowed Dickerson to tailor a program of study to fit his needs. He graduated with a degree in economics, but had a slew of practical design courses under his belt.

“Manny is the reason I’m in the field today,” Dickerson says, and then adds with a laugh, “I have him to thank and him to blame.” Dickerson’s hands-on experience coupled with his formal education provided the foundation to build a successful business that would weather tough economic times.

Youthful efforts pay

Dickerson’s true beginnings in landscaping came at age 11, caring for the lawn and plants at the apartment complex in Orlando where he lived with his family. Soon after, he started maintaining private gardens around Orlando, eventually acquiring 27 accounts. He did whatever was needed to keep clients happy. “The day might start off with mowing the grass and end with washing the car,” he says.

On summer breaks from college, Dickerson worked in the landscape department and outdoor services at Disney World. He might begin work at 3:30 a.m. under spotlights, preparing an exhibit before the park opened at 10 a.m. “Or, they might close a section for 30 minutes and let us run in and replace some impatiens and get out,” he says. “I pulled out a lot of flowers in their prime because if they were on their way down, they weren’t good enough.”

After graduating from college in 1991, Dickerson started his landscaping business and nursery. One of his biggest regrets is that he didn’t work for someone else before this venture. “I could have learned a lot from my mistakes on someone else’s dime,” he says.

He shares that tip with students he mentors through various organizations.

But business was good, and it was hard to resist going out on his own. He retained many of his old clients from his earlier years and added new ones. The warm, subtropical Florida climate kept his crews busy year-round, and positive word-of-mouth made the business thrive. He even took on a project at FSU, where he landscaped part of the campus near the football stadium. It was one of several commercial projects he accepted. But he didn’t enjoy the commercial jobs as much.

“If you truly care about horticulture, you should stick to residential jobs. There is a lot more creative freedom. With commercial jobs, it’s more about the bottom line, and there are too many people involved in the decision making,” he says.

The company was such a success he stopped taking commercial jobs, opting for the residential work exclusively, where clients were paying top dollar and focused on beauty.

Adapting for tough times

Everything changed when the economic downturn hit in 2008, and so did the way Dickerson and his crews handled business. Instead of choosing projects because they might be artistically challenging or turn a large profit, Dickerson says they took what they could get. He also was forced to let go of several crew members and consolidate his office with his nursery center.

“If you care about horticulture, you should stick to residential jobs. There is a lot more creative freedom. Commercial jobs, it’s more about the bottom line, and there are too many people involved with the decision making.”

“We were in survival mode, just trying to keep the doors open and the lights on. Every job was critical,” he says.

The poor economic climate challenged Dickerson to design jobs in phases and involve clients more in the design process. A no-nonsense businessman who typically focuses more on hands-on work rather than public relations and sales, Dickerson found the extra communication taxing at first, but it soon paid off. “Clients began coming back year after year to add the next phase,” he says.

Optimistic view

Currently, Dickerson Landscaping is a full-service company, offering maintenance, renovation, design consultation and plans, plant installation and hardscaping that includes fencing, decks, patios, water features and outdoor kitchens. Dickerson also manages a retail office space/showroom near downtown, as well as a wholesale nursery in nearby Monticello, Florida.

The majority of his landscape installation projects are residential and handled by two crews. For landscape maintenance, approximately 70 percent is residential and 30 percent commercial, and is served by two crews and one “clean-up crew,” which specializes in renovating overgrown landscapes – a situation that arises often in tropical climates.

Business has picked up. And Dickerson remains optimistic about the future. “The public doesn’t seem as frightened anymore. There is an increased optimism, and people are spending more, but things will never be the same,” he says. Yet, Dickerson’s ability to observe, learn and adapt, which has served well in the past, likely ensures solid footing on the path for the future.