Paul asks some questions about controlling Brazilian Pepper and growing some food:
I have (multiple acres) in Mims. It is mostly pine forest, with lots of saw palmetto. It is also overrun with brazilian pepper.
I would like to get a handle on the Brazilian pepper without bulldozing the entire lot. I also am raising a few chickens on the property. Could you give me some ideas on controlling the plants I don’t want, and suggestions on a boarder plant/privacy shrub? I have your books on Florida food forests and the Florida gardening book.
Some of the things I would like to grow are pecans, peaches, bananas, muscadines, to name a few. I don’t know anything about gardening, so anything low maintenance would be great. Also, there is an abundance of shade, so I don’t know if I need to remove some pine trees or work with what I have.
Good questions. Some areas are better for gardening than others – and the pine scrub is not an easy place to grow.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything that will grow. Pawpaws, hawthorns and blueberries do well in North Florida scrub, and there are certainly some wild edible species that would do well in Mims, though I’d have to spend some time looking around in the brush to figure out what does.
Let’s attack these questions one at a time.
1. Dealing with Brazilian Pepper
My general approach to fast-growing trees like Brazilian pepper is to use them as a chop-and-drop plant, cutting them down over and over again and using the leaves and trunks as mulch.
However, Brazilian pepper may contain growth inhibitors, so using it that way might have drawbacks.
The University of Florida recommends cutting the tree down and immediately painting herbicide onto their stumps:
“Brazilian pepper-trees can be controlled by cutting them down and treating the stumps with herbicide. A saw should be used to cut the trunk as close to the ground as possible. Within 5 minutes, an herbicide that contains the active ingredient glyphosate or triclopyr should be applied as carefully as possible to the thin layer of living tissue, called the cambium, which is just inside the bark of the stump.
The best time to cut Brazilian pepper-trees is when they are not fruiting because seeds contained in the fruits have the capability of producing new Brazilian pepper-trees. If Brazilian pepper-trees that have fruits attached are cut, care should be taken not to spread the fruits to locations where they can cause future problems.”
If I had a bunch of them, I would be tempted by weedkiller. They are nasty and very invasive. Normally, I would try burning them – but the smoke can be toxic, as is the entire tree. Some people working with Brazilian pepper have ended up in the hospital after exposure to the sap. Others suffer rashes and itching. The smoke can really mess up your lungs as well.
It has been reported that you can cut down the trees and cover the stumps with pieces of metal or carpet to cut out the light, then eventually the tree will die. I managed to kill one once by cutting it back to a stump, drilling big holes in the stump and packing them with salt, then covering the entire thing with aluminum foil so the water couldn’t wash the salt out.
Glysophate is easier, and though I don’t normally recommend it, I’d just cut them down and paint the stumps with the stuff.
2. A Border Privacy Shrub
“Natal Plum copes well with salty winds, making it a good choice for coastal areas. It grows in mounds two to seven high and as wide. It’s tolerant of various lighting conditions and is a popular landscaping plant. Because of its double spines —a good identification characteristic —it makes a popular security hedge.”
If I lived a little more inland where it freezes, I’d plant a cattley guava, silverthorn or feijoa.
The cattley guava grows in tropical locations but also takes temperatures down into the 20s:
There are quite a few good options that double as food.
3. Other Gardening Ideas
I wrote a post on gardening in Vero Beach which is quite applicable to your area as well.
Claim back your yard from the Brazilian peppers, then start seeing what does well. A lot of the options in Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening should work well for you. The biggest problem with your area is the soil. It’s tough to grow on that acid, fast-draining sand. Use a lot of mulch, start foliar feeding (foliar feeding works really well when the sand doesn’t hold much nutrition) and get some irrigation going. And compost everything.
Thanks for writing – and good luck.