September 19, 2014
By Will Sheftall
Photo: Nick Baldwin
Have you ever wondered what your yard looked like before it was your yard? And what that little piece of Earth’s surface you own and manage would turn into, if allowed to ‘return to nature’ without invasive exotics mucking up the process?
In her June article “Living History in Your Backyard,” Master Gardener Karen Rose sparked our curiosity when talking about our past and future yard. She encouraged homeowners to take stock of the present ‘bones’ of a living history backyard restoration – native trees we already have – and begin to restore additional elements of the natural ecosystem that once lived on our property.
You may have heard or read about vast park-like forests of longleaf pine covering our land, or seen pictures of mammoth bald cypress that lined our rivers. While recreating those vast wilderness landscapes is not possible, we can create reasonable facsimiles on parcels scattered throughout our suburban and agricultural landscape. We can build on what trees might be remnant from the pre-settlement landscape, by under-planting native shrubs, grasses, legumes and other groundcover plants. Restoring more than just the trees also delivers benefits of re-creating a habitat that supports native wildlife – from butterflies and pollinators, to resident songbirds and migrants.
If you’re intrigued by this concept, there’s a new Extension course about natural landscapes starting next month, designed to help you understand what pieces would fit together on your property and why. How do you know what plant community would have maintained itself on your property sustainably, without fertilizer and irrigation? That’s a function of soil type, landscape position (hilltop, mid-slope, lower slope, bottom), and water regime (often really dry, usually moist, sometimes really wet, usually waterlogged). What animals would it attract?
“Well,” you might say, “could somebody show me all of the possible combinations from northern Leon County to the Wakulla County coast, so I can see what would be the most natural fit with my site? The habitat I should aim for in my own restoration effort?” Yes we can, and yes we will! The Florida Master Naturalist Upland Habitats course will meet every other Friday, beginning October 10th and ending December 12th. Each class features a field trip. Master Naturalist co-instructors Will Sheftall, Rosalyn Kilcollins and Bill Boothe will introduce course participants to signature examples of the full range of our region’s natural upland habitats.
The Big Bend is rich in public conservation lands that contain a heritage collection of ‘living museum’ remnants of what our larger landscape once looked like. These special tracts are portraits of the landscape canvas before settlement by humans, before indigenous agricultural development, before European colonization and natural resource exploitation, and before urbanization.
Sign on to this class for a top-flight guided introduction to this heritage collection. Register for the course at http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/fmnp/uh14-24.htm Become a Florida Master Naturalist, and maybe you can create just a little piece of what makes our area so special, right in your own yard.
Will Sheftall is a Natural Resource Extension Agent with Leon County/University of Florida IFAS Extension. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov