The PSJ Garden Club welcomed three experts to share their experiences and to field questions about how local landscapes are faring on the anniversary of Hurricane Michael. Brett Cyphers, the Executive Director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD), focused on compelling regional water issues. Ray Bodrey, the Director of the UF IFAS Gulf County Extension, provided a current assessment on agriculture and landscapes while Jeff Johnson, Senior Forester for Gulf and Bay Counties with the Florida Department of Forestry, addressed the current health of trees in the wake of the hurricane.

The staggering loss of trees has increased water run-off and has had an effect on the floodplains of the Chipola River and Econfina Creek. Flood maps being revised will have to be reviewed again, especially for these areas. Overall, plants have survived better than expected. The short duration of the saltwater flooding no doubt helped. Still, many salt intolerant plants perished and there has been an upsurge in invasive weeds. The hurricane's violent winds disrupted bloom cycles, causing trees and shrubs to flower in December. This altered the hormones and these plants are just now resetting. At the same time, millions of trees were snapped and killed. The same convulsing action by the wind induced internal injuries to trees left standing and will be the latent cause of death for even more trees, especially pines. One positive result is that there is an abundance of available mulch. An uptick in pine beetle activity presents another assault to the surviving stock of pine trees. With the current drought, wildfire is a concern. In fact, Mr. Johnson was a bit late to his speaking engagement because he had to deal with a small fire near White City. While wildlife has moved out of areas where trees are gone, animals can be expected to come back with re-growth of the forests.

All three speakers are looking toward the future. For instance, there are programs to help people replant pines. Contact Jeff Johnson at jeff.johnson@fdacs.gov for information regarding these programs.

On the other hand, reach out to Ray Bodrey at rbodrey@ufl.edu to learn about raising alternative crops such as Brassica carinata, an oilseed crop suitable for the biofuel industry. Mr. Bodrey also has the latest updates about research on growing industrial hemp. Non-governmental agencies such as the Nature Conservancy continue to work with the NWFWMD to preserve the quality and quantity of our natural waters.

Communicate with Brett Cyphers at brett.cyphers@nwfwmd.state.fl.us for relevant information.

The encouraging message conveyed during this panel discussion is that although this area has been dealt a blow, both people and the rest of nature are at work to bring our landscapes back.

Per its own bylaws, one main objective of the Port St. Joe Garden Club is to foster and encourage horticulture and the conservation of soil and natural resources. For information about joining the club, please call club president Nancy Edwards at 770-713-3267. To inquire about renting the historic Garden Center for your next special event , please call rental coordinator Sue Meyer at 513-504-1679, email psjgardenclub@gmail.com, or post to the Port St. Joe Garden Club Facebook page.