About Central Florida Gardener

Welcome and thank you for visiting Central Florida Gardener. Florida is a unique state in which to garden. It can be frustrating but also rewarding for gardeners who persevere. This blog was created as a resource for Florida gardeners, both new and experienced, in search of information specifically for Florida gardens.

You are invited to participate by leaving your comments, suggestions, tips and recommendations relevant to Florida gardening - don't be shy! Thank you for dropping by to learn more about gardening in the Sunshine state. I look forward to hearing from you! Susan

Friday, June 03, 2011

Wildlife Habitat Restoration Project

I'd like to share a project with you I've been working on. Earlier this year a wooded area that borders my daughter's school was bulldozed to make room for a large retention pond for a highway expansion project.

What once was a wooded area that attracted a variety of birds and butterflies to the school garden...

is now a 200 foot span of wide open area.

The loss of this vital habitat has become evident to Mrs.Wagner, the 4th grade science teacher at the school. After contacting the city and the construction company to see what their plans were for recreating the habitat area, it became clear that she would have to find a way for the school to restore this area. This led to a wonderful teaching moment for the 4th graders on the importance of habitat for wildlife, and the restoration efforts that can be done to recreate the habitat.

She was successful in acquiring a grant from The Mosaic Company and an invitation to the 4th graders to visit a couple of old phosphate mines that have been restored to their original status through their reclamation process. Lucky for me, I was able to take the field trip with them and was amazed at the enthusiasm of their two biologists and the job they had done restoring the old pits. The pits had been completely restored, along with native flora and more than 1,000 gopher tortoises (and the other animals that live in their holes, too) that needed to be relocated for a future phosphate pit. The children had a great time and learned a lot about the necessity of restoring damaged habitats.

The next step for the 4th graders was to begin the process of rebuilding the school's wildlife border. Soon they would be planting native plants, grasses and trees to the small amount of existing plants that survived the demolition which included some native grasses, morning glories, a few wildflowers, Carolina jasmine and wax mrytle (pictured below).

Mrs. Wagner solicited my help in determining what to plant. Armed with the school credit card and a $600 budget...I gleefully ;-) headed off to Cee Jay Nursery to place the order. Carolyn Wilson, owner of the nursery, has the most extensive variety of natives I could find in our area. She was also helpful in suggesting a few additional items, and she even hung around to help the kids plant and provided the class with a Fringe tree Chionanthus virginicus as a gift. 

It was a beautiful spring day when 42 eager kids showed up with shovels-in-hand and quickly got to work planting 70 plus native plants, grasses and trees. 

Scarlet Milkweed Asclepias curassavica, Scarlet sage Salvia coccinea, Firebush Hamelia patens, Muhly grass Muhlenbergia capillaris, Trumpet creeper Campsis radicans, Coral Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens, Coontie Zamia pumila, Elderberry Sambucus canadensis, Simpson Stopper Myrcianthes fragrans, Needle palm  Rhapidophyllum hystrix and American Beautyberry Callicarpa americana  were scattered along the 200 foot border. 

A variety of mid-level and canopy trees...some species for wet ground and some for dry: Live oak Quercus virginiana, Chapman oak Quercus chapmanii, Dahoon holly Ilex cassine, Southern red cedar Juniperus virginiana, Red bay Persea borbonia, Slash pine Pinus elliottii, Red mulberry Morus alba, Red maple Acer rubrum, Yellow haw Crataegus Flava, Yaupon holly Ilex vomitoria and Chickasaw plum Prunus angustifolia  were spaced from end to end...either closer to the retention pond or higher on dry ground according to their needs.

As we were planting the final few bushes a black swallowtail butterfly landed on the Scarlet milkweed much to the excitement of the children. Confirmation that "if you plant it, they will come." Here's a look at the final result. We didn't get everything on our wish list...limited only by our budget and the species available to us...but the wildlife habitat restoration project is well on its way, and with the addition of future grants...more will be added.

The children were pleased with their hard work and have been making sure that the new plantings are watered until they become established.

On a positive note...even though the existing wildlife area was partially destroyed...the new retention pond will provide an additional source of food to the Osprey that nest on the school property. And, in due time the newly established plants, grasses and trees will slowly reclaim this area and more and more wildlife will return.


Ami said...

Susan: Wow, what a great experience you are having with children to restore this place! I think this is the best way to teach kids the importance of habitat for wildlife. The fact that they were able to personally pick and plant the plants is so precious, and I believe they will remember this experience for a long time, if not for the lifetime. Great job!!! You must have felt a great sense of achievement.

FlowerLady said...

What a wonderful experience for those kids. Having the butterfly land on the flowers was great too.

I know you enjoyed helping with this project.


Meems said...

A good thing for the school you were available and knowledgeable to help. What a fantastic learning experience for the children. It won't be long and all those *GREAT* choices of plants will grow and the area will be probably be even prettier now that there is water, too.
Wonderful job!

NanaK said...

What a great project to be involved in, Susan. It looks much better now. I'm sure you had as much fun as the school children did. The plant choices sound like just the right ones for the spot. How nice to get all those trees in there too. You'll have to give us periodic updates on this new native beautyspot.

Susan said...

Ami...It was definitely fun to see how excited the kids were about digging holes and getting their hands in the dirt. We didn't hear one..."I'm hot"....I'm thirsty...etc. They didn't want to leave when all the plants were in the ground.

Flowerlady...It was a total delight for me!

Meems...Hopefully the kids will be able to see a change in the landscape when they return to school in August.

Kay...Great idea! I'll do a post next spring on how the area has changed. Hopefully, we'll be able to plant a few more trees, too.

The Consummate Gardener said...

That is so wonderful! I truly admire you for being involved with the children this way.

FaithieP said...

Perfect lesson for Florida kids...uncontrolled construction has the capacity hurt the landscape, this is how to fix it. Love that!

Hanceyturf said...

If the New Lawn grasses can cope up with the stress, it will be healthy and dense and will be able to resist disease. Sometime the disease may spread and it becomes out of any control. However, the disease resistant cultivars can be implemented to avoid future problems.