Lady bird beetle and aphids. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS
The most numerous animals on the planet are insects and although less than 1% cause damage to our landscapes, most are viewed as pests. Many insects perform clean up tasks that keep our environment from being littered with carcasses and trash while others actually attack and feed upon insects that are direct pests to plants.
It is important to recognize that all insects are not pests and take the time to get to know a few that might actually be performing a beneficial job in your landscape. Probably the most easily recognized beneficial bug family in Florida landscapes are the ladybird beetles (Coccinellidae). There are several species of ladybird beetles with different food preferences including mildews, mites, whiteflies, scale insects, and aphids.
Another group of insects that include some predatory species is the stink bugs. Some stink bugs do eat plants, but there are also many that are beneficial such as Florida predatory stink bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus). The Florida predatory stink bug preys on velvetbean caterpillar, okra caterpillar, alfalfa weevil, and flatid planthopper. One of the distinguishable characteristics between plant feeding and insect feeding stinkbugs are the shape of their shoulders. Plant feeders have rounded shoulders and predatory have points on their shoulders.
The next time you are disturbed by a bug in your garden, take a moment to watch what it is eating and try to identify it before assuming it is a pest. After all, there are many beneficial bugs that help to balance out the “bad bugs.”
Frass (toothpick-like projections) extends from entry holes on a Jeruselum thorn damaged by cold temperatures. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Escambia Extension
Winter injury and stress to many trees has attracted granulate ambrosia beetles to landscapes. These beetles mostly prefer weakened trees and cut stumps/logs but have been found to attack some healthy trees as well.
Adult beetles are very small, only about 1/16 inch long and bore into branches and trunks of many woody plants. They will push out small ‘strings’ of boring dust which look like toothpicks. These strings successfully protect the beetles as they establish galleries for laying eggs and rearing young within the tree. The adult females will introduce a fungus (ambrosia) into these galleries on which both the young beetles and adults feed.
Ambrosia Beetle Entry Point. Photo by Matthew Orwat
Many beetles will bore into a plant, mostly along the trunks. Plants may be ultimately killed, not by the beetles but by the fungi that interfere with the movement of fluids within the tree.
If you notice a tree infested with ambrosia beetles, it is best to remove the plant quickly. Remove all infested plant parts from your landscape. If you have a special plant that you want to save, you may be able to cut it back close to the ground, and allow it to resprout. It would be necessary to monitor the remaining portion carefully for reinfestation and treat with an approved insecticide to prevent beetle entry.
Interior of damaged stem.
Rain gardens can make a beautiful addition to a home landscape. Photo courtesy UF IFAS
Northwest Florida experienced record-setting floods this spring, and many landscapes, roads, and buildings suffered serious damage due to the sheer force of water moving downhill. That being said, we are just entering our summer “rainy season,” so it may be wise to spend extra time thinking about how you want to landscape based on our typically heavy annual rainfall. For example, if you have an area in your yard where water always runs after a storm (even a mild one) and washes out your property, you may want to consider a rain garden for that spot.
Rain gardens work similarly to swales and stormwater retention ponds in that they are designed to temporarily hold rainwater and allow it to soak into the ground. However, they are quite different aesthetically, because they are planted with water-tolerant trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowers to provide an attractive alternative to the eroding gully that once inhabited the area! Rain gardens are not “created wetlands,” but landscaped beds that can handle both wet and drier soil. Many of the plants best suited for rain gardens are also attractive to wildlife, adding another element of beauty to the landscape.
This diagram shows how a rain garden works in a home landscape. Photo courtesy NRCS
A perfect spot for a rain garden might be downhill from a rain gutter, areas notorious for excess water and erosion. To build a rain garden, the rainwater leaving a particular part of the property (or rooftop), is directed into a gently sloping, 4”-8” deep depression in the ground, the back and sides of which are supported by a berm of earth. The rain garden serves as a catch basin for the water and is usually shaped like a semi-circle. The width of the rain garden depends on the slope and particular site conditions in each yard. Within the area, native plants are placed into loose, sandy soil and mulched. Care should be taken to prevent the garden from having a very deep end where water pools, rather allowing water to spread evenly throughout the basin.
Besides reducing a problematic area of the lawn, a rain garden can play an important role in improving water quality. With increasing populations come more pavement, roads, and rooftops, which do almost nothing to absorb or treat stormwater, contributing to the problem. Vegetation and soil do a much better job at handling that water. Excess sediment, which can fill in streams and bays, and chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides are just some of the pollutants treated within a rain garden via the natural growth processes of the plants. Many commercial properties are considering rain gardens, also known as “bioretention” as more attractive alternatives to stormwater retention ponds.
The North Carolina Arboretum used a planted bioretention area to manage stormwater in their parking lot. Photo courtesy Carrie Stevenson
A handful of well-known perennial plants that work great in rain gardens include: Louisiana iris, cinnamon fern, buttonbush, Virginia willow, black-eyed Susan, swamp lily, tulip poplar, oakleaf hydrangea, wax myrtle, Florida azalea, river birch, holly, and Southern magnolia. For a complete list of rain garden plants appropriate for our area, visit the “Rain Garden” section of Tallahassee’s “Think about Personal Pollution” website, tappwater.org or contact your local Extension Office.
Nursery IPM Workshop
Research and Education Center
May Building Seminar Room and On
-site Outdoor Nursery Facilities
155 Research Road Quincy, Florida 32351
Don’t miss this hands-on, 2-day workshop focused on integrated pest management (IPM) for nursery crops! Learn how to save resources, reduce pest damage and pesticide use, and create a safer working environment for employees, all while earning 13 pesticide CEUs plus FNGLA CEUs! Georgia pesticide CEUs applied for.
You will learn to identify major pests, plant diseases, and weeds using live samples, lectures, and images. Horticulturists, plant pathologists, entomologists, and weed scientists – – from major universities across the southeastern U.S. – – will teach you about some of the latest technologies to prevent pests and use your smart phone as a pest scouting device. Each participant will receive a free copy of IPM Pro, a mobile device app for IPM in ornamental crops, as well as many printed reference materials. In-depth and focused on IPM in ornamentals, this workshop is one of kind and well worth your time!
Registration is only $15 but you must pre-register to participate; no walk-ins allowed! To register and for more information, go to the registration website
Healthy, Developing Tomato. Image Credit Matthew Orwat
One of the most common tomato problem home gardeners encounter in the late spring and early summer is blossom end rot. The good news is that blossom end rot can be prevented with the use of drip irrigation and adequate fertilization. Since tomatoes need a consistent supply of water to prevent blossom end rot, drip under plastic works well. Blossom end rot effects crops in the solanaceae family and appears as a grey, mushy dead area at the base of the vegetable. It is caused by calcium deficiency but is usually a result of wet / dry cycles brought on by an inconsistent irrigation program. The best cure for blossom end rot (BER) is a consistent level of soil moisture throughout the fruiting cycle.
Bacterial Leaf Spot Symptoms
Due to recent rain, warm days, and cool nights, leaf diseases could be developing, so now is a good time to scout tomatoes.Look for brown spots, spots with halos, wilting leaves, and yellowing leaves. This could be a sign of bacterial leaf spot, which is transmitted when rain splashes soil and water on leaves of the plants. Affected leaves should be removed from the growing area and destroyed. Once leaves are affected, there is no cure, but preventative sprays of copper-containing fungicide (bactericide) plus mancozeb sprays can reduce incidence of infection, if the spray program is initiated before too many spots are present.
For a detailed look at the various diseases of tomato, the EDIS publication “A Series on Diseases in the Florida Vegetable Garden: TOMATO” offers an excellent summary. Another resource UF/IFAS offers for disease diagnosis is the NFREC U-scout website. U-Scout provides information on over 40 potential disease issues in tomato. Additionally, any plant disease can be diagnosed through your County Extension Office and the Plant Pathology lab at the North Florida Research and Education Center.