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Florida’s Invasive Landscaping

When hearing the term “invasive species”, many think of lionfish, released pythons, and monitor lizards-all the things heard about on the news. But which species does the most damage to Florida’s ecology? The answer may surprise you.

Invasive plants are plants that are non-native to the United States. They are often purposely introduced for agricultural purposes as well as ornamental purposes but have sometimes been accidentally introduced. In fact, one third of the plants growing on their own in Florida are invasive non-native species.

This may not sound like such an issue, but invasive plants have the abilities to change ecosystems and often times will even push out native plant (and animal) species. In this article, we will be covering some of Florida’s invasive plant species that are commonly used in landscaping, how they affect Florida’s natural wildlife, and what you can do to help.

Camphor Tree (Cinnamomum Camphora)

The Camphor Tree was originally introduced to Florida from Eastern Asia around 1875. When distilling the wood from the tree, camphor is formed. The plants have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes in China and Japan, and the chemical camphor can be found in many over the counter products, such as Vicks VapoRub.

Camphor tree used as ornamental landscaping

The trees were found to be of little profit in Florida, as China and Japan had already cornered the camphor production market. From there, the camphor tree was sold as an ornamental. The plants are attractive and put off a pleasant smell when the leaves are crushed or branches break, but unfortunately, they can be detrimental on Florida’s native ecosystem.

Camphor trees can grow to around 75 feet tall and have wide reaching branches that create canopies. This seems ideal for Florida, as shading the sun cools down homes, but this can be dangerous. When many camphor trees grow together in close proximity, they create a dense canopy and shade-out smaller, ground growing plants.

The spread of camphor trees is aided by the plants high seed yield. Seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals, which allows the seeds to spread quickly and with ease. The camphor tree is able to acclimate to many environments and can quickly take over areas that have been recently cleared or experienced a burn.

In Polk County, a native Florida plant is in danger thanks to the camphor tree. The Florida Jujube is an endangered plant, native to this county. The introduction of the camphor tree is pushing them out. Sadly, this is something we are seeing more and more of.

It can be difficult to remove a camphor tree from your property. The branches are very weak, and often drop twigs or berries, resulting in many saplings around the base of the trunk. It is recommended after the removal to mow the area until no more saplings return. Cut the tree down as close to ground-level as possible and treat the stump with herbicide. Burn the tree debris to destroy seeds or take them to a landfill to ensure they will be buried too deep to sprout.

Melaleuca (Melaluca quinquenervia)

Melaleuca forest forming in the Everglades

Melaleuca is native to Australia and was brought to Florida in the 1906 as a potential source for commercial lumber. It was also planted in the Everglades to dry up the land for development, as well as control the mosquito population. Since then, the spread has been rapid, and today, is threatening one of Florida’s most diverse ecosystems.

Melaleuca grows in dense forests, which displaces plants, disturbs water flow, and changes soil conditions. Invasions make areas uninhabitable for endangered species, like the Florida panther in the Everglades. It also poses a threat for migrating birds, who rely on native fruits and seeds during their migration.

Melaleuca has paper-like bark

The oils present in the plants leaves and its dry, paper-like bark allow it burn at a much higher temperature than most plants, making it a fire hazard, which poses a larger threat on the environment and nearby developed areas. In the springtime, melaleuca puts off a strong smell, which can cause headaches and breathing issues. It’s considered highly allergenic.

Ownership of melaleuca without a special permit is illegal in the state of Florida. If you find that you have a melaleuca tree on your property, the best thing to do is to remove it. Cut the tree as close to the ground as possible and treat the stump with an herbicide. Remove of the debris by burning it or taking it to a landfill to ensure it will be buried too deep to sprout.

Old World Climbing Fern (Lygodium microphyllum)

Old World Climbing Fern is an aggressive, quick spreading fern that forms a thick, suffocating blanket over trees, shrubs, and whatever else is in its path. It is one of the largest invasive threats to Florida.

Old World Climbing Fern covering trees

First recorded in Florida in 1958, 20 years later it was well established and already making an effect on the environment. The fern can climb up trees, and force other plant species to compete with it for light. It smothers ground-dwelling vegetation and can kill fully grown trees. When fires occur, the blankets on the ground create a ladder to help spread fire to the tree canopies, causing more damage and spreading the fire further than it may have reached on its own.

This plant spreads quickly; one fertile leaflet can produce 28,600 spores. Spores are easily carried by wind and water, resulting in further infestation.

It is rare to find this plant growing on properties in well-developed areas, but home owners living in more rural communities may have this issue. If you come across Old World Climbing Fern, contact an environmental department, water management district, or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If self-removal is necessary, the best way to do so is to burn it. But be careful, cleared land makes it easy for another invasive species to take over.

Cogon Grass (Imperata cylindrica)

Man stands in field of wild cogon grass

Cogon grass was originally introduced in the 1930’s as a potential forage for livestock and solution for soil erosion due to urban development. It was soon realized that this plant was little to no help and was more of a nuisance. The grass grows up to four feet tall and spreads rapidly. It grows in thick, dense patches and displaces the homes of endangered ground-dwelling species, like the gopher tortoise.

Cogon grass thrives in hot temperatures, making it an even larger fire threat. It can survive fires that kill fully grown pine trees. This is due to the fact that most of its biomass is underground, meaning the top can be damaged, and grow right back.

Ornamental cogon grass

Cogon grass is sometimes found in landscaping, due to its hardiness and resistance to pests. The blades have serrated edges, so nothing will eat it. It may sound like the ideal ornamental plant, but don’t be fooled, it has been labeled a noxious weed by State and Federal agencies.

In fact, cogon grass is such an issue in Florida that it is illegal to sell hay or sod from fields that it inhabits. If you find cogon grass on your property, remove it by pulling it like many other weeds. Take care to pull out as many roots as possible. Continue to pull the seedlings untill they stop returning. If left alone, cogon grass will grow in large groups that can take as many as five years of herbicide treatment to remove.

Air Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)

First found in Florida in 1905, it is unsure what originally brought the air potato to the United States. It’s possible that it was brought over as a possible food crop, but the toxins found in the fruit made it inedible.

Bubils growing on air potato vine

Regardless of how it got here, it has now taken over. The air potato’s vines can grow between 70 and 150 feet long and grow as fast as eight inches a day once the plant is established. They climb trees and create a canopy in the trees that forces other plant species to compete for light. The dense blankets it forms can block natural processes like rainfall and fires. The vines overgrow and become so heavy that they break branches, and sometimes topple fully grown trees. They shade out ground-dwelling plants and will sometimes completely alter the ecology.

New plants form from the bulbils (the “potatoes”) that the vine grows. Bulbils range from the size of a marble to six inches in diameter. Even the smallest bulbils can sprout, making it extremely difficult to fight back.

There are many vines growing in Florida, to help recognize air potato if there are no visible fruits, check how the vine is growing. Air potato only grows counter-clockwise.

If you find air potato growing on your property, pull the vines out from where it is growing. Be careful to check that you have removed all bulbils. Pile the vines on the ground and spray them with an herbicide, saturate the leaves as much as possible. The herbicide will be absorbed by the tuber underground, killing the plant. Check the surrounding ground for bulbils that may have fallen from the vine and dispose of them. It is not recommended to pull the vines out from the ground, as the remaining roots will grow back. It will be necessary to reapply herbicide to fully eradicate the plant.

Kudzu (Pueraria montana)

Magazine advertisement for front porch ivies

Kudzu was introduced to America at the 1876 World’s Fair Centennial Exhibition. It was originally found useless, until the mid-1930’s, when dust storms began. Congress urged the use of kudzu to fight soil erosion. Farmers were offered up to eight dollars per acre to plant the vines. Also advertised as a “front porch ivy”, kudzu had a helping hand in taking over what is now estimated to be 227,000 acres of land.

Kudzu is a rapidly growing vine. Once established, it will grow up to one foot a day. The vine grows over everything in its path and suffocates anything below it. It will wrap around and squeeze tree trunks, break large branches off of threes, knock down phone and power lines, and has been known to uproot trees.

Since its introduction, it has slowly began swallowing the south. It is currently spreading in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Carolina’s, and Florida. Its span reaches as far as Nova Scotia, Canada.

Kudzu growing over abandoned bus

Often found growing alongside highways, kudzus growth is aided by air flow. It can handle extreme temperatures, growing in temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and will grow anywhere its roots can reach soil. Kudzu grows over anything, it’s estimated that power companies spend about 1.5 million dollars a year on repairing power lines damaged by the weed.

A large concern surrounding kudzu is the impact that it may have on national parks. The Vicksburg National Military Park currently has 190 out of its 2,000 acres of land infested. Infestation of an invasive plant threatens these parks’ protected biodiversity and many endangered species.

The most practical removal of kudzu is removing it mechanically. Herbicides have been found to be more efficient, but the environmental and health impact of herbicides and insecticides has been a public safety concern since the early 1970’s. It takes 40-80 gallons of herbicide to treat one acre of kudzu for one season.

It’s recommended to cut the vine back and mow the vines to prevent regrowth. All the cuttings need to be removed or destroyed to prevent the vines from re-rooting.

Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schinus terebinthifolius)

Vintage postcard with Brazilian Pepper Trees pictured

Brazilian pepper trees were introduced in the 1840’s for ornamental uses. The dark green leaves and bright red berries made it a popular Christmas decoration. The trees grow to about 30 feet tall and are one of the most aggressive non-native plants in Florida.

The plants are native to Brazil but can be found in other parts of South America, such as Argentina. Although they may have been a hit with homeowners for landscaping, these plants are dangerous not only to the environment, but also to humans.

It looks like holly but is actually in the poison ivy family. For many people, coming into contact with the sap or berries will cause a painful rash. Some may experience respiratory issues when the plants are in bloom.

Brazilian Pepper Tree berries

The pepper tree is dangerous to any plant community that it invades, but none as much as mangrove communities. Since these plants have a salt tolerance, they are able to take over estuaries and change the ecosystem, pushing out native species, many of which are endangered. Manatees, sea turtles, crocodiles, alligators, and even bottlenose dolphins use the estuaries as a home. These brackish waters are key for juvenile aquatic organisms to grow without the threat of predators in open waters.

When pepper trees invade and push out mangrove trees it affects the organisms who use the mangroves roots to lay eggs, and small organisms that live within the roots. The pepper trees provide poor habitats for the native wildlife.

With no predators, seeds are able to easily spread. They can be carried by water or birds and small mammals, although the berries can make birds sick after ingestion. These factors help make the Brazilian pepper tree the most widespread non-native species growing in Florida.

To remove a tree from your property, make sure you wear gloves to avoid skin irritation. Cut the tree down as close to ground-level as you can, and then dig a 5-10 foot circle surrounding the stump and pry it out. Try to cut through as many roots as possible. Pick any remaining root out of the soil and refill the hole with fresh soil. Watch for regrowth, and pull any saplings seen.

If you really love the look of your Brazilian pepper tree, but want to remove an invasive species, try the Dahoon Holly. It is a comparable native plant and has the same great Christmas look.

Chinese Tallow (Triadia sebifera)

Chinese tallow is also called “popcorn plant”

Chinese tallow was reportedly brought to the United States in 1772 by Benjamin Franklin, who also introduced soybeans and kale. At the time, it was brought over to be used as a cash crop. The idea was to cultivate the oilseed, but it was found that the plant was useless in agriculture and was from there cultivated as ornamental crops.

The plants became popular thanks to their quick growth, pretty fall colors, and resistance to pests. In fact, nothing eats it, as it has little to no food value for native species and is poisonous to livestock. This has helped the plant spread all across Florida.

Chinese tallow growing in pothole

Chinese tallow is able to adapt to just about any soil conditions. They are found in wet, dry, and saline environments. It grows in forests, in ditches alongside roads, and just about any place a seed sprouts.

The flowers are inviting to pollinators, so fertilization for this plant is easy. Homeowners are urged to remove this plant from their properties if found. Cut close to the ground and treat the stump and surrounding area with an herbicide to kill any seeds that may have fallen off. Keep an eye on the area and pull saplings.

Keep in mind that it is currently illegal to be in possession of Chinese tallow with intent to sell, transport, or plant. If you really love the look of your Chinese tallow, try the bastard copperleaf. The copperleaf is a Florida native within the same family, who has beautiful purple flowers comparable to the Chinese tallow’s.

Mimosa Tree (Albizia julibrissin)

Mimosa blooms

The mimosa tree (sometimes called silk tree) is a very common sight in many parts of Florida. Undeniably beautiful, the trees have been used in landscaping since as early as 1745. While the flowers may be inviting in the spring and summer, come fall the trees lose their blooms and grow 6-inch long, brown pea pods full of seeds.

The seeds themselves cause issues. They are toxic to wildlife and cattle and will also sprout anywhere they can- even cracks in the sidewalk.

Full grown trees range from 20-40 feet in height and can easily establish itself in many different soil conditions thanks to its nitrogen-fixing abilities.

Seeds from mimosa tree

Although quick growing, the plants are not very hardy, and have a relatively short lifespan as compared to other tree species, only around 20 years. A disease called “mimosa wilt” can be carried by the tree and may be able to infect and kill other surrounding species.

If not in a yard, they are commonly found alongside highways and in disturbed areas, such as recently cleared land.

To a remove a mimosa tree from your property, cut the tree down before seeds develop to prevent saplings from growing in the cleared area. Saturate the stump with an herbicide. Unfortunately, mimosa trees can re-sprout from their stumps, so stump grinding or removal may be necessary. Cut or pull any saplings that grow around the area.

There are two native species that are comparable to the mimosa tree. The eastern redbud blooms with pink flowers the same color as mimosas, and sweet acacia blooms with yellow flowers with the same texture and shape of the mimosa.

West Indian Lantana (Lantana camara)

Non-native West Indian Lantana

Lantana is one of the most common landscaping plants and have been used as ornamentals since as early as the 18th century. They are hardy, medium-sized shrubs and can be planted in clusters or as singles. As the plant grows in popularity, it has also grown across the state.

Now, many people recognize the lantana as a wildflower, as they are commonly found growing alongside highways, in drainage ditches, and in pastures or groves. The brightly colored flowers attract pollinators, drawing them away from native plants and wildflowers.

Since its spread, it has formed a resistance to herbicides, which allows it to become a growing issue in the agricultural industry, as it is often times found growing in citrus groves.

West Indian lantana is also toxic to livestock and cattle, which poses a threat to the animals in the fields it grows in. Children may also become ill if they eat the fruit that the plant grows.

This species of lantana is the most common lantana sold at garden centers and nurseries. This is largely because native lantana (Lantana depressa) is almost impossible to find due to cross-breeding with the invasive shrub. Native lantana is now listed as an endangered species.

Native Lantana depressa

Removal of west Indian lantana is difficult. Because of its herbicide resistance, and growth in delicate areas, the best way to manage the plant is through prevention. Check the genus and species of the plant before purchasing as landscaping and remove the non-native lantana from your landscaping by hand pulling and digging up roots. Dispose carefully, as to avoid the spread of seeds.

Look for the native option at nurseries, they are often called Pineland Lantana or Gold Lantana. The native lantanas are a great addition to your landscaping to add a pop of color, or in a flower garden to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” –Howard Zinn

Native plants are a key resource for Florida’s ecosystem and native insect, bird, fish, and mammal species. Non-native invasive plants can leave their effects on the environment, even after they’ve been found and removed. They can change soil conditions, water flow, migratory patterns, and entire ecosystems if left unattended.

To help stop the ongoing spread of non-native invasive plant species, be sure to research what plants are being planted in your gardens. Remove non-native species, replace them with native options, and educate others on the dangers of non-native plants.

By establishing a native plant community, you are also helping to provide food and shelter for hundreds of native and endangered species across the state.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the Fencing Industry

2020 has seen many industries impacted by COVID-19, and the fencing industry is no exception. As a family owned and operated company, we have had to make difficult choices.  We have been fortunate enough to be included in the essential worker category to continue providing security and protection for our customers.  The fencing industry has taken many hits during this pandemic such as tariffs on materials, port closings causing delay of materials, and banning travel on some of our vendors causing delay on deliveries.

 

Lumber:

There is a severe shortage of pressure treated lumber across the United States.  This is causing issues for the construction and fencing industries. The shortage is largely due to the spike in DIY home improvement projects and working conditions in factories due to COVID-19.

Most pressure treated wood comes from Brazil. Exports have slowed down due to shipping ports being closed. American umber mills have also been closed or are working with reduced staff. The demand has been higher than the supply, and it’s estimated that it will be like this for a while.

Pressure treated wood prices have skyrocketed between the months of June and July due to the lack of supply, and prices are expected to continue climbing.

 

Vinyl:

Vinyl product manufacturers are facing the same issue: working at reduced capacity. Our vinyl manufacturer is 32,000 panels backordered, putting vinyl shipments out 6-8 weeks from their ordered dates.

There have also been PVC shortages. PVC is a plastic polymer that can be used for many applications. Many manufacturers began using PVC to make PPE for frontline workers during the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. PVC is being used to make face masks and face shields.

Prices on European PVC exports have risen 8.5%, Indian PVC export prices have increased as well. Plant closures across the US has greatly slowed down vinyl production and distribution. The shortage of available vinyl products is causing prices to raise across the board, imported or domestic.

 

Aluminum:

The construction and automotive industries have been heavily hit by COVID-19. American made metal manufacturers are affected by the virus, as well as external factors, such as the Asian metal market. China is already the world leader for steel, and in 2017 they produced more than half of the world’s aluminum.

The construction and automotive industries are facing tariffs on imported materials, as well as long waiting periods to receive supplies.

 

We at Paramount Fencing remain open, and in the attempt to keep everyone safe and healthy, we have implemented social distancing during our estimates, not to take away our number one goal of educating and assisting each homeowner to help make a well-informed decision.  While more businesses are re-opening their operations, we will continue to push through our daily processing of obtaining fence permits and ordering of materials to complete your installation.  As of now, most of the local county administrative buildings are still closed to the public and taking longer than normal to approve the fence permits.  We appreciate your patience in this matter.  We will work diligently to advance with the installation of your fence as we obtain permitting, HOA approvals and materials.

Hurricane Preparation 2020

Just as we think that 2020 cannot get any crazier, Florida enters Hurricane Season. This year is expected to have an active season, with an estimated 13-19 named tropical storms. NOAA has predicted that 6-10 will become a hurricane, while 3-6 will become major hurricanes (category 3 or above)

This year’s active season could be escalated due to weather conditions in the Pacific. We do not have an El Nino this year, which is warm sea surfaces in the Pacific that helps suppress tropical storms. There is also a possibility that a La Nina will form, causing the waters to cool and react more severely with the warm atmospheric air.

Mixed with COVID, this could make for a very interesting storm season. The CDC is recommending adding hand sanitizers, hand soaps, cleaning supplies, medicine, and face masks to normal hurricane supplies in case of emergencies. Floridians are urged to begin preparing for storms now.

While many of us have lived in Florida through many hurricane seasons, and know how to protect ourselves, how can we better protect our homes from inclement weather? Paramount Fencing recommends the following:

 

  1. Board up windows with plywood or use storm shutters. Entry points such as windows and doors are the weakest points of a home.
  2. Protect against flooding by using sandbags. If you cannot get sandbags, fill heavy-duty garbage bags 1/3 with water and place them side by side to create a makeshift wall to protect your home. Park vehicles on higher ground if possible.
  3. Secure loose objects outside of homes such as patio furniture, playgrounds, etc. Remove anything attached to your fences, such as art, plants, or equipment.
  4. Buy surge protectors to protect home appliances against electrical surges.
  5. “Inventory” your home. This will help with insurance claims if needed. Take pictures of your ceilings, porches, fences, and the serial numbers of electronics.
  6. Trim your trees. Most fence and roof damage comes from falling branches.
  7. Remove gates from fences and place them in the garage. Understand the gate areas are the weakest part of any fence line. They can be easily removed by removing the hinges attached to the gate itself. Simply remove the screws. Do not remove the screws attached to the fence itself.

 

Hurricane season spans from June 1st – November 30th in Central Florida.  In the event you are impacted by a hurricane or tropical storm and suffer any damage, let us know immediately. Understand, the previous customers will always have priority over new customers. If you are not a previous customer, make sure you take the opportunity to reserve a pre-Hurricane estimate. We promise we will work diligently to fix your fence once the hurricane passes.

Our team will be here to help in any way possible. Even if you need assistance in cutting downed trees and removing debris, we are here to help.  We have tractors and chainsaws.

Call us today to schedule a free estimate

407.341.2720

Firework Safety & The 4th

In the blink of an eye, July is upon us, and The 4th is right around the corner. Millions of Americans are looking forward to a day filled with fun- but sometimes fun can be dangerous. Keep reading for some 4th of July facts:

Fun Facts
1. Americans will enjoy 150 million hotdogs on the 4th!
2. Fireworks are an American tradition, dating all the way back to 1777.
3. Americans spend more than $1 billion on fireworks each year. Of that $1 billion, only 10% are set off professionally.

Not-So-Fun Facts
1. 2017 reported 8 direct firework-related deaths
2. There are an estimated 12,900 firework-related ER visits each year.
3. Fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires each year.
4. Fireworks are common causes of roof and fence fires. A fence fire can spread quickly to a house.
5. Every year, thousands of homeowners have to call fence companies to repair or replace vinyl fences that have melted/wood fences that have caught fire due to firework damage.

How can homeowners enjoy fireworks, but protect themselves and their property?
1. Check that fireworks are legal in your area before purchasing.
2. Never hold fireworks in your hands when igniting. Always shoot fireworks off from a flat, cleared off, non-flammable surface.
3. Light fireworks one at a time, away from people, homes, fence lines, trees, vehicles, or any other flammable structure.
4. Keep a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water close by in case of emergencies. Dunk used fireworks into water before throwing away.
5. Children should NEVER handle fireworks- this includes sparklers. Sparklers are the leading cause of firework-related injuries in children under the age of 5.
6. Only purchase fireworks from reliable and licensed source.
7. Never use your fence to shoot fireworks. Fences are often made of flammable material (wood) or are susceptible to damage due to high amounts of heat (vinyl)

The Paramount Team would like to wish everyone a fun, safe 4th of July! If your fence experiences any damage this holiday weekend, give us a call. We look forward, if given the opportunity, to making you another happy fence customer.
407.341.2720

Fence Safety Alert: Fire and Fencing

Fire and Fencing

In the last week, Paramount Fencing has run 3 fence repair estimates where wood fences caught on fire or vinyl fences melted, all of which were self-inflicted.

So be mindful. According to the NFPA, an estimated 14,070 fires occur annually from spontaneous combustion. Barbecue grills account for another 2,600 home and structure fires.

Here are a few things that should never be stored next to a fence.

1. Soaked rags or towels of any type of oils, especially linseed oil: Even cooking oils. Large compost, mulch, manure, and leaf piles can spontaneously combust as well given the right conditions.

2. Any Item that contains glass. To include old windows, sliding glass doors, stained glass and glass table tops. In combination or singularly, depending on the sun's intensity, the above mention can act as a magnifying glass acting as an ignition source.

3. A wood-burning or gas operated barbecue grill. Grills next to a wood fence may result in catching the fence on fire. Place that grill next to a vinyl fence and all it takes is a temperature of 246 Fahrenheit and that vinyl fence will distort. At 500 Fahrenheit that fence will melt.

So Oviedo and Central Florida - let us keep it safe and all do our part. Walk around your fence and look for items that can spontaneously combust. Keep your grills five feet off the fence line, and yes that means your neighbor too.

Helpful Hint by Customfenceorlando.com and Customfenceoviedo.com and Paramountfencing.com 

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