What’s “Ask Toffer: Oak Season”? This week, The Gabber introduces “Ask Toffer,” a regular column about residential landscaping and gardening. For her first piece, Toffer Ross, the City of Gulfport’s horticulturalist deals with what’s on everyone’s minds – or, at least, their cars: pollen.
Ask Toffer: Oak Season
Hi. It’s me. You know – the old(ish) woman wearing the green shirt and green cap with the Gulfport logo? Freakishly skinny legs? Yep, that’s me.
I’ve been tasked with writing a column a couple of times a month or so about things related to horticulture and landscaping. Specifically, those things occurring in around the coolest little city on the west coast of Florida: Gulfport.
After more than four decades of doing this type of work in this area, I’ve come to expect the same questions from the residents of Tampa Bay at around the same time every year. And what would the perpetual March questions be about?
“What can I do about these LEAVES?” they ask.
“What is that mustard yellow powder that’s suddenly all over everything?” they entreat.
My personal favorite question – “Why are little worms falling from the sky?” – is followed closely by the runner-up favorite question: “Why are my acorns deformed?” Then, about the time I am having trouble breathing because of stifled laughter, they drop the Grand Finale Question: “Why do the squirrels throw the acorns at me?”
So here are the short answers along with some important descriptive information. There are two species of oak trees that are the most common in Gulfport (and in the Tampa Bay area in general): the laurel oak and the live oak. Both species are native to Florida and Tampa Bay, but the live oak is the one that was here before we were.
The laurel oak (quercus laurifolia) grows in a traditional shape with a straight trunk and a rounded crown. Think “lollipop.” The bark is fairly smooth. Although there are slight genetic and regional differences in each tree’s behavior, they tend to drop their leaves in February. The mature leaves of the laurel oak are a true green color and, when the new leaves emerge shortly after the old leaves drop off, they will appear to be an almost fluorescent lime green.
Just after the old leaves drop and before the new leaves appear, little clusters of pollen (aka “flowers”) appear and all hell breaks loose. THEN comes the hailstorm of acorns. Laurel acorns look like a “normal” (read: northern) acorn and don’t tend to cause any concern amongst the humans.
The other species of local oak is the live oak (quercus virginiana). This tree might start out lollypop-ish, but starts to branch out with long curvy, sprawling limbs. Each live oak develops a unique shape unlike any other live oak. Their bark has more grooves – it looks a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. The mature leaves have a bluish cast on the top and a grayish hue on the bottom, giving the leaf an overall sandy green cast. They start their leaf drop shortly after the beginning of the laurel oak’s leaf drop. The flowers (aka “pollen”) do the same routine as that of the laurel oak. Fall, sneeze, repeat. The live oak acorns, however, are a non-conforming oblong shape. Deformed? No, just a weird “Southern Thang.”
The rumors are true: Oak leaves are the best mulch that you will never pay for.
However, it is perfectly OK to rake or blow them into a pile to be bagged and sent to a needy landfill. It is perfectly OK to pay someone else to do that for you. Stimulate that economy.
As for the squirrels, let them work on their target practice. Every time they miss, an acorn might slip beneath the soil. Somehow, someone (if just an angry squirrel) has got to plant the oak trees.
Ask Toffer: Oak Season in Gulfport marked Toffer Ross’ first column for The Gabber. Have a question about gardening and landscaping, or wondering about new landscaping in Gulfport? Send ’em to Toffer at email@example.com. Toffer Ross, MLA CSLA, works for the City of Gulfport as the City Horticulturalist.
We’ve previously quoted Toffer in our three-part series about avocados.