Gardening: Height, width and plant selection

EILEEN WARD

When choosing a plant for a particular landscaping area, the mature height and width of the plant is a very important factor to consider. Plants can become stressed when constant pruning is necessary to keep the plant at our desired dimensions. This stress makes plants more susceptible to insect and disease problems.

The Ficus benjamina is one such example. This 50 foot tree is often planted as a privacy hedge or sometimes as topiary trees. During the 1970s, there was a Johnny Apple Seed of Ficus trees who went around planting Ficus seedlings on vacant lots around Marco. Most of those trees are now gone. This tree, a native of India and Malaysia, is much too large for most of our small lots here on Marco. While they are very tolerant of shearing and pruning, this constant pruning can become pricy. Their aggressive root systems will seek out water in nearby water and sprinkler pipes, sewer pipes and pools and will damage foundations, sidewalks and driveways by lifting them. The pruning helps to keep the root systems in check but they will quickly get out of hand if this maintenance is stopped. With so many houses being abandoned, due to the economy, many hedges and previously small trees are being left unattended making it necessary for the neighbors to care for their side of these monsters lest they overtake their landscapes. Not to mention what the root systems are doing undetected underground.

Another serious problem of Ficus is a new insect which is defoliating these hedges and trees. The Ficus whitefly, Singhiella simplex, arrived in Naples a couple of years ago. It is now on Marco Island defoliating hedges and trees everywhere. After being defoliated by the whitefly, Ficus thrips will attack the new flush of growth and curl the leaves causing more leaf drop. This can be the final blow and cause death to the plants and your privacy hedge. There are some effective systemic insecticides which can be applied as a soil drench to avoid harming any beneficial insects which may be attacking the pests. Look for the active ingredient dinotefuran or imidacloprid on the label. Bayer Core Tech or Merit are both good choices. These systemic insecticides can help for 6 to 12 months with just one application. They are also expensive. As for beneficial insect help, five lady beetles, two parasitic wasps and green lacewings have been seen enjoying these whiteflies.

Ficus is not very tolerant of cold weather either and can be damaged when our winter temperatures drop to lower extremes. So if you’re thinking about a new hedge or have lost your existing hedge to insect infestations consider other more appropriate plants. Coco Plum, Podacarpus, Clusia, Viburnum and Ligustrum would all be good choices. Another idea would be to plant small trees with a lower hedge under them or a row of larger plants which are trimmed in an informal style. Some plants to consider would be hibiscus, ixora or copperleaf. Leave the Ficus to people with land to support these monsters.

Eileen Ward and her husband Peter have owned and operated Greensward of Marco, Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company, since 1981.

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