One of my favorite landscape plants is the crape myrtle. The taller cultivars, when allowed to grow into tree form, can grow to a height of thirty feet or more. They make wonderful additions to most any landscape. They are well suited to North Florida.
When planted in sunny areas, crape myrtles consistently flower during late spring, summer and even into fall. Flower color varies from lavender, various shades of pink, purple and red to pure white, depending on cultivar. They provide good to excellent fall color as their leaves turn from green to shades of orange and red. And their smooth branches and exfoliating bark provide ornamental value during winter months.
Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) is an underused native tree. It’s not for every landscape and it may be difficult to find in the nursery trade but it should be used more often in our landscapes. It’s a large tree with a mature height of 75 feet with a 35 foot spread.
It provides a brilliant display of red to deep purple foliage in fall. The black gum can tolerate wet or dry sites but prefers moist areas. It’s also somewhat salt-tolerant, has a strong branch structure and is rarely attacked by pests.
Another underused native tree that deserves consideration is American hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). This small to medium size tree can grow to fifty feet in height but more realistically will reach a height of 25 to 40 feet.
This rugged tree will tolerate drought and needs little care once established. Hophornbeam is an attractive shade tolerant tree that should be used more often but it may be difficult to find.
Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is another tree to consider. This tree usually needs special pruning when young in order to develop a desirable branch structure. It doesn’t look like much in the nursery but with proper pruning and a few years of growth in the landscape, it makes a very attractive tree. It can be expected to grow to a height of 35 feet with and equal canopy spread.
Chinese pistache trees can provide spectacular fall color as their leaves turn bright orange-red in late fall. This tree is adaptable and has good drought and pest tolerance.
One final group that I’ll mention is the new compact cultivars of Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora). There are many cultivars to look for with new ones becoming available almost yearly. Cultivars such as ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Glen St. Mary’ have a compact form as compared to the standard Southern magnolia and, as a result, are more appropriate for smaller landscapes.
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Agent, Okaloosa County, December 11, 2014