Ficus hedge dying? Top 8 alternative privacy hedges
Is your ficus hedge dying? This article will shed light on the whitefly problems of Miami Dade County and privacy hedge plant options to choose from.
Is whitefly killing your ficus hedge?
Whitefly has become a serious problem here in South Florida over the last five to ten years. We all know what whitefly is by now, right? It's that cute, tiny, white, fly-looking thing that attaches itself to the back of plant leaves, like ficus hedges and palms. Whitefly has a white fuzzy appearance, and when the leaves are shaken it looks like a cloud of dust, then you see little bugs flying all over. Is your ficus hedge dying? If so, it's probably due to whitefly.
In Miami, some species of whiteflies can become serious pests of certain vegetable crops, hedges, greenhouse plants, or ornamental plants. Two of the most important species are the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum), and the sweet potato whitefly (Bemisia tabaci). In colder climates, whiteflies die outdoors, but in warmer climates, as well as indoors and in greenhouses, they can reproduce throughout the year with several overlapping generations.
Biology of whitefly
Adult whiteflies are about 1⁄10 to 1⁄16 inch long and look like tiny moths. They have four broad, delicate wings that are held roof-like over the body and covered with a white powdery wax. Adult females usually lay between 200 and 400 eggs. Sometimes the eggs are deposited in a circular pattern in groups of 30 to 40, because the female will often keep her mouthparts in the plant to feed while moving her abdomen in a circle.
Within about a week, the eggs hatch into flattened nymphs, called crawlers, that wander about the plant, usually our prize ficus hedge. Soon, they insert their mouthparts into the plant and begin to feed. After their first molt, the nymphs lose their legs and antennae. They attach themselves to the undersides of ficus leaves with several waxlike rods coming from their bodies, giving them the appearance of small white oval scales. The nymphs remain fixed to the plant and feed for about four weeks. After a pupa stage, the adults emerge and live for about one month. Within a population, all life stages are present, and generations often overlap.
Damage caused by whitefly
Whitefly kill ficus by sucking out plant juices. Because large amounts of sap can be removed, primarily by the developing nymphs, heavily infested plants can be seriously weakened and grow poorly. Leaves often turn yellow, appear dry, and drop prematurely.
Also, whiteflies suck out more plant juice than they can digest, and they excrete the excess as a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew. The honeydew covers leaf surfaces and acts as a growth medium for a black, sooty mold. Both the removal of plant juices and the presence of the black, sooty mold growing on the honeydew can interfere with photosynthesis. In some parts of the country, some species of whitefly can transmit several plant viruses.
Solutions for dealing with whitefly
Treating ficus hedges with toxic chemicals each month gets very expensive. The toll on the environment is also significant, as it poisons our water and soil. In my opinion, it's easier to work with landscape plants that aren't susceptible to whitefly than to spray harmful chemicals in an attempt to control them. Hedge material is a great place to start when it comes to dealing with whitefly.
So, if your ficus hedge is dying, here are my top eight hardy shrubs that can stand up to whitefly in South Florida and Miami.
1. Cherry hedge
The cherry shrub, or tree, grows to 25 feet high, has slender, spreading branches and resinously aromatic foliage. The leaves, bronze when young, are deep-green and glossy when mature, and turn red in cold, dry, winter weather. They are ovate to ovate-lanceolate, blunt to sharp-pointed, and 1½ to 2½ inches long. Long-stalked flowers, borne singly or as many as four together in the leaf axils, have four delicate, recurved, white petals and a tuft of 50 to 60 prominent white stamens with pale-yellow anthers.
The 7- to 8-ribbed fruit, which are oblate, and ¾ to 1½ inches wide, turns from green to orange as it develops and, when mature, bright red to deep scarlet or dark, purplish maroon ('black') when fully ripe. The skin is thin, the flesh orange-red, melting and very juicy; acid to sweet, with a touch of resin and slight bitterness. There may be one fairly large, round seed or two to three smaller seeds, each with a flattened side, more or less attached to the flesh by a few slender fibers.
Native stoppers (small trees/large shrubs in the Myrtaceae family) are excellent choices as low maintenance, salt tolerant, medium to tall privacy hedges, accepting full sun or partial shade (the growth is denser in full sun). Their growth is slow to moderate, but patience will be rewarded as they mature into definite landscape assets.
Stoppers have little to no problems with whitefly and are fairly bug resistant all together. All have striking foliage, new growth often tinged red to pink, and (if not heavily pruned) produce colorful fruit and attract birds.
Firebush is a showy, fast-growing, semi-woody evergreen shrub that can get up to 15 feet tall under ideal conditions, but usually stays much smaller. It has whorled leaves, usually with three but occasionally as many as seven at each node. The leaves are elliptic to oval, about 6 inches long, and gray-pubescent underneath with reddish veins and petioles. They are reflexed upward from the midvein.
Throughout the year, firebush produces showy terminal clusters (cymes) of bright reddish-orange or scarlet tubular flowers, each about ¾ inch long. Even the flower stems are red. The clusters of fruit are also showy. Each fruit is a juicy berry with many small seeds, ripening from green to yellow to red and finally to black. Due to its fast growing and dense foliage, firebush makes for an ideal privacy hedge as well as a nectaring plant for butterflies and hummingbirds. A firebush plant usually has flowers and fruit in various stages, and it loves full sun. We highly recommend this material for a long lasting hedge.
Rounded, shiny green leaves are set off by red-tipped new growth on this most commonly sold variety. The plant produces small white flowers, followed by fruit that's often made into jelly, or as an attraction in a wildlife garden. The plum is pink and ripens to purple with a fairly bland flavor, and the almond-flavored seeds can be roasted and eaten or crushed for use in cooking.
Cocoplums are terrific as hedge shrubs or privacy plants. These native Florida plants can grow to about 15 feet if you let them, though most of the time they're kept trimmed to around 4 feet. This is an easy-care plant that can be kept more manicured for a formal look or left to grow in its naturally pretty rounded shape in a casual landscape style. There's a 'horizontal' cultivar which can be grown as more of a groundcover shrub and is more salt tolerant than 'red tip' cocoplum.
5. Jamaican caper
This 6- to 20-feet tall, native shrub is an upright to spreading plant that is related to plant producing edible capers. The evergreen leaves of the Jamaica caper are light green above, with fine brown scales below. These glossy, oval leaves are folded together when they first emerge and give the plant's new growth a bronze appearance. The leaves also have a notched tip.
Twigs are brownish gray and pubescent. Jamaica caper flowers have very showy, 2-inch long, purple stamens, white anthers, and white petals. The inflorescence is comprised of terminal clusters consisting of three to ten individual flowers. The fruits are 3- to 8-inch long cylindrical pods containing small brown seeds that are embedded in a scarlet pulp. This is a fabulous privacy hedge and is whitefly resistant.
Orange jasmine, or jessamine, is a small, tropical, evergreen tree or shrub growing up to 7 metres tall. The plant flowers throughout the year, makes a fabulous hedge, and has little to no problems with whitefly. Its leaves are glabrous and glossy, occurring in three to seven oddly pinnate leaflets which are elliptic to cuneate-obovate to rhombic.
The flowers are terminal, corymbose, few-flowered, dense, and fragrant. Petals are ½ to ¾ inch long, recurved and white (or fading cream). The fruit of Murraya paniculata is fleshy, oblong-ovoid, colored red to orange, and grows up to 1 inch in length. This is a full sun hedge and one of our favorites!
7. Areca palm
The areca palm (Dypsis lutescens or Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) is a beautiful palm tree from Madagascar. This plant is also known as butterfly palm, yellow palm, golden cane palm, Madagascar palm and Areca lutescens, and is a superior hedge material. It's a common ornamental in subtropical and tropical regions around the world. It's probably the most cultivated nursery palm tree. However, it's endangered and very rare in its natural habitat of Madagascar.
The areca palm is a low maintenance plant and a fast grower. You can grow this exotic plant as a house plant. It will bring a tropical touch into your home and purify the air. The areca is consistently rated among the best houseplants for removing all indoor air toxins.
The graceful areca palm tends to grow in clumps. The adult plant looks like a large bush that can reach 20 feet or more in height with a spread of 5 to10 feet, making it a great hedge plant for privacy. As a houseplant it's usually grown much smaller. Landscape designers love this plant for its simplicity and grace. It needs full sun to part shade.
Green buttonwood Conocarpus erectus (and the silver leaf form) is another Florida native sometimes grown as a hedge. Buttonwood hedges often lose density at the base due to insufficient light (more so the silver leaf form) and misplaced sprinklers. This detracts from what can otherwise be an attractive hedge, and an especially good choice for coastal properties.
Buttonwood experiences a prolonged period of winter dormancy during which there's little leaf renewal, at which time the hedge may lose some density. If installing green buttonwood as a hedge, look for ‘Momba’ a more compact growing cultivar. These need full sun and make wonderful hedges in Miami.
Need help with your privacy hedge?
With over 20 years of landscape design experience in Miami and South Florida, Brent is ready to help you. Get in touch to schedule a consultation and get the privacy you need!