Friday, January 15, is Arbor Day in Florida—and you have all spring to plant a tree! Northeast Florida doesn’t boast the selection that more northern states have to offer, but there are still several species of trees that would make a wonderful addition to your landscape:
Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a common native tree with beautiful spring and fall color; it likes full sun and will take normal to wet soil. Make sure you have yard space for it, as the roots can be damaging to foundations and sidewalks.
Live oak (Quercus virginiana) is the south’s premier tree, and who could argue after seeing a specimen like Treaty Oak in Downtown Jacksonville? It’s a great species for native wildlife, and the semi-persistent foliage promises a green canopy year-round.
Another tree indicative of the South is the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Bald cypress has a pyramidal canopy, flaking bark, and a gorgeous rusty fall color. However, the knees (above-ground roots) that pop up at the base of the tree may give your lawnmower a run for its money, so make sure to create garden bed at its feet.
Several species of tupelo grow well in Florida, however black tupelo’s (Nyssa sylvatica) stately form, large canopy, and brilliant orange to crimson fall foliage make it a personal favorite. Don’t forget to look for the occasional red leaf scattered throughout the canopy during the summer months while all the other leaves are green!
Looking for a smaller tree? Consider adding some real character to your yard with a red blooming understory tree like red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) or a hardy evergreen like Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria)—birds love the holly berries.
Also check out the versatile Walters Viburnum (Viburnum obovatum). This beautiful white bloomer can be a large hedge or stately small specimen tree. With its semi-evergreen habit, white flowers, and black/blue berries, Walters is another wonderful wildlife attractor for the garden.
If you’re looking for a perfect tree for your yard, try not to limit yourself only to the species mentioned here. They are merely some of our favorites at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
Feel free to research ornamental or exotic trees if you find one that catches your eye. Make sure when you’re choosing a non-native tree that it will do well in Northeast Florida’s climate conditions. But beware of pretty exotics in your neighbor’s yard. Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), golden rain tree (Koelreuteria elegans) and mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) are three invasive trees that are difficult to eradicate, both mechanically and chemically, and you will have seedlings popping up throughout you and your neighbor’s yards for years to come. I should also mention that Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), which some people enjoy for fall color or as a wildlife attractant, is illegal to buy, sell or plant in the state of Florida because it’s quite invasive and will crowd out our useful natives.
So, take one last look at that sapling in the bucket. Picture it growing in your yard one, five, or ten years down the road. Imagine the tree towering above, shading you from the blasting sun while listening to the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze. That’s why you plant a tree.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.