Satsuma Harvest Season in North Florida

Satsuma Harvest Season in North Florida

Nice crop of satsuma fruit

Nice fall crop of satsuma fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams

When asked what kind of citrus to grow here in North Florida, my default response is satsuma. I usually get a funny look, followed by an attempt by the person who’s asking to repeat the name satsuma. The individual may ask, “What is satsuma… is that a citrus?” I guess the person expected to hear orange, grapefruit, lemon or maybe tangerine.

Satsuma is a type of citrus, technically classified as a mandarin and is sometimes referred to as satsuma mandarin.  The satsuma mandarin is a good candidate for the North Florida citrus enthusiast for a number of reasons.

  • Historically, mature dormant trees have survived minimum temperatures of 14°F to 18°F when budded/grafted to a cold-hardy rootstock such as trifoliate orange or swingle, a trifoliate orange cross. Young trees are not as cold-hardy but, due to their smaller size, are more easily covered with a cloth such as a sheet or lightweight blanket for protection during freezes.
  • Satsuma fruit are ready to harvest October through December, ripening before the coldest winter temperatures. This is not true with most sweet citrus types such as oranges, which are harvested during winter months. Harvesting during winter works well in Central and South Florida where winters are mild but does not work well here in extreme North Florida. The potentially colder winter temperatures of North Florida are likely to result in the fruit on sweet oranges freezing on the tree before they are ripe, potentially ruining the fruit.
  • Our cooler fall temperatures result in higher sugar content and sweeter fruit.
  • Fruit are easily peeled by hand, have few to no seed and are sweet and juicy.
  • Trees are self-fruitful, which means that only one tree is needed for fruit production. This is important where space is limited in a home landscape.
  • Trees are relatively small at maturity, reaching a mature height of 15 to 20 feet with an equal spread.
  • Branches are nearly thornless. This may not be true with shoots originating at or below the graft union. Shoots coming from the rootstock may have long stiff thorns. These shoots should be removed (pruned out) as they originate.

Satsuma fruit are harvested in fall but trees are best planted during springtime when temperatures are mild and as soil is warming. Availability of trees is normally better in spring, as well. For additional cold protection, purchase a satsuma grafted on trifoliate orange rootstock and plant the tree on the south or west side of a building. There are a number of cultivars from which to choose.

For more info on selecting and growing satsuma mandarin, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the following website.

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ch116

Cicadas:  Loud and Large but not Much of a Pest in Florida

Cicadas: Loud and Large but not Much of a Pest in Florida

Adult cicada on tree branch

Adult cicada on tree branch, Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF Entomologist

“What is that noise,” asked the visitors to Middle Georgia when I was a teenager. They were visiting during the summer from El Paso, Texas. I asked, “What noise?” The reply, “That loud noise in the trees.” I responded, “Oh, those are cicadas.’ There are sounds that are so common that sometimes you quit hearing them.

Before the visitors left for El Paso, I made sure to show them the brown, dry shells (exoskeletons) of cicadas that are not difficult to find attached to the trunk of a Georgia pine tree during summer. Cicadas leave their nymph exoskeletons on the trunks of trees and sometimes shrubs when they shed them to become mature flying adults.

You may not have ever seen a cicada but you’ve undoubtedly heard one if you live in Florida. These insects make a loud buzzing noise during the day in the spring and summer. Male cicadas produce their distinctive calls with drum-like structures called timbals, located on the sides of their abdomens. The sound is mainly a calling song to attract females for mating.

Cicadas spend most of their life underground as nymphs (immature insects) feeding on the sap of roots, including trees, grasses as well as other woody plants. They can live 10 or more years underground as nymphs. In some parts of the United States, there will be news reports of when periodical cicadas are expected to emerge from the ground. Periodical cicada species mature into adults in the same year, usually on 13- or 17-year life cycles. Their numbers can be enormous as they emerge, gaining much local attention. However, cicada species in Florida emerge every year from late spring through fall and in much smaller numbers as compared to the periodical cicadas.

Cicada emerging from exoskeleton

Cicada emerging from exoskeleton, Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF Entomologist

There are at least nineteen species of cicadas in Florida, ranging from less than a ¼ inch to over 2 inches in length. Some people might be frightened by their size and sounds but thankfully cicadas don’t sting or bite. They are a food source for wildlife, including some bird species and mammals.

Very rarely, I’ll have someone ask about small twigs from trees found on the ground as a result of the female cicada’s egg-laying process. But because this is usually such a minor issue with practically no permanent damage to any tree, cicadas really aren’t considered to be a pest of any significance in Florida.

For more information on cicadas, contact the University of Florida Extension Office in your County. Or visit the following UF/IFAS web page. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in602

Lessons in Landscaping Provided by Oleander Caterpillars

Lessons in Landscaping Provided by Oleander Caterpillars

Oleander caterpillars, which are active on some oleanders during summer, can provide a number of gardening lessons.

Oleander caterpillar moth on yellow flower

Oleander caterpillar moth on lantana flower. Photo credit: James Castner, UF

The adult moth is striking in appearance. The bluish to purplish moth has white dots on its black wings. The moths resemble wasps as they fly in and around oleander shrubs.

It’s the orange caterpillars with black spots and black hairs that cause problems for some gardeners.

Caterpillars are the larval stage of butterflies and moths. In order to enjoy watching butterflies and moths feeding on the nectar of flowers, some of the caterpillars must survive to become adult butterflies and moths. This is lesson number one.

Oleander caterpillars usually only feed on oleander plants. Oleanders are native to areas of Europe and Asia. This is lesson number two.

Oleander caterpillar on oleander leaf

Oleander caterpillar, Photo credit: Paul Choate, UF

Oleander caterpillars benefit by us planting their food source in Florida.

This relationship between pest and plant is referred to as the key plant, key pest concept. Some other examples include St. Augustinegrass and chinch bugs, gardenias and whiteflies, crape myrtles and crape myrtle aphids, azaleas and azalea caterpillars, camellias and tea scale, roses and black spot, pecans and pecan scab, squash and squash vine borers.

Understanding this concept can be helpful in designing a “low maintenance” landscape.

When you plant roses, you plant everything that goes with roses, including the time and money required to maintain them. This applies to St. Augustinegrass, pecan trees, squash and oleanders. This is lesson number three.

Oleander caterpillars can temporarily damage the appearance of oleanders. But they cause no long-term damage for the plant. This is lesson number four. The damage is aesthetic. Oleander caterpillars can consume great numbers of leaves. However, if the plant is otherwise healthy, new leaves will be produced and the plant will continue to grow. The damage is temporary; there will be no evidence the plant ever had a problem.

To spray or not to spray for oleander caterpillars has to do with a person’s tolerance level.

If you can’t tolerate having oleander caterpillars around and the temporary aesthetic damage they cause, consider the use of Bacillus thuringiensis. It is sold under a number of brand names and many times is referred to as Bt. This bacterium only controls caterpillars so it is friendlier for the beneficial insects. When using any pesticide, always follow the label directions and precautions.

Here are links to UF/IFAS Extension publications with more info.

Spider too Close for Comfort

Spider too Close for Comfort

A number of years ago a gentleman told me about an orb weaver spider that was living by his front door. He said that it had been there for about two months and that it was interesting to watch the construction of the intricate “bug catching” web. However, he explained that he had a number of people coming to visit and he wanted to know about relocating the spider to his backyard.

Golden silk orb-weaver spider

Golden silk orb-weaver spider. Photo credit: UF/IFAS

These types of spiders typically construct their webs in an area and stay in that location based on the environment. Many of the orb weaver spiders rely on flying insects and usually construct their webs several feet or more above the ground. This is a good height to capture many flying insects. As a result, there needs to be items within a reasonable distance to attach and place the web. If a spider is randomly relocated, there may be nothing in reasonable distance to support a web. There needs to be at least a couple of tall shrubs or tree trunks for the spider to construct a web in-between the plants several feet above ground level. It needs to be in an area with limited people movement to prevent disturbance by people walking into it. It needs to be in a location with enough flying insect activity to satisfy the spider. If it’s not the right location, the spider may move back to another location, perhaps the front door area.

Webs built by these types of spiders can be quite large and may be suspended several feet or more above the ground. Some people become annoyed and/or frightened as they accidentally come in contact with these webs, brushing the webs from their face and arms. I’m sure the spider becomes annoyed, too, having to rebuild its web.

Despite their size, orb weaver spiders pose little threat to people. They’re considered beneficial because they feed on a wide range of flying insects. They usually construct webs in relatively sunny, open areas with little wind.

Even though these spiders are beneficial, many people don’t like spiders. If you choose to control spiders in and around your home, keep in mind it’s unwise and impractical, if not impossible, to control all spiders.

By the way, the gentleman concerned about the spider decided to leave the spider at the front door area. He posted a sign next to the web in hopes that his guests would steer clear of the web. He offered his garage entrance to those frightened by the spider.

For more information on orb weaver spiders, visit the below UF/IFAS Extension website.

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_orb_weavers

Annoying Gnats Abound in Northwest Florida this Summer

Annoying Gnats Abound in Northwest Florida this Summer

If you’ve been outside this spring, you’ve probably been bothered by gnats. These tiny flies relentlessly congregate near the face getting into the eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

Eye gnats come right up to the faces of people and animals because they feed on fluids secreted by the eyes, nose and ears. Even though eye gnats are considered mostly a nuisance, they have been connected to transmission of several diseases, including pink eye.

Close up of eye gnat

Close up of eye gnat. Photo credit: Lyle Buss, UF Entomologist

Eye gnats are true flies. At about one-sixteenth of an inch in length, they are among the smallest fly species in Florida. They are known as eye gnats, eye flies, frit flies and grass flies. The name grass flies is somewhat descriptive as open grass areas such as pastures, hay fields, roadsides and lawns provide breeding sites for these gnats. They also breed in areas of freshly disturbed soil with adequate organic matter such as livestock farms.

Even though these gnats can be found in much of North and South America, they prefer areas with warm, wet weather and sandy soils. Sounds like Florida.

The lack of cold weather in late winter and early spring is the more likely reason for why these gnats are such a problem in our area this year. Without having the typical last killing frost around mid-March and with early warm weather and rains, the gnats got off to an early start.

Short of constantly swatting them away from your face or just not going outdoors, what can be done about these irritating little flies?

By the way, I grew up in an area of Georgia where gnats are common. I’ll let you in on a secret… Folks who live in Georgia are known to be overly friendly because they are always waving at people who are just passing through. More than likely, these “friendly” folks are busy swatting at gnats, not waving at others who happen to be driving by. Swatting is a quick swinging action with hand as if waving.

Because of their life cycle, extremely high reproductive numbers in the soil and because insecticides breakdown quickly, area-wide chemical control efforts don’t work well in combating this insect.

The use of the following where gnats are common can be helpful.

  • Correct use of insect repellents, particularly those containing DEET
  • Screens on windows to prevent entry of gnats into homes
  • Face-hugging sunglasses or other protective eyewear
  • Face masks – another use for your COVID-19 face mask

We may have to put up with these annoying gnats until cold weather arrives and be thankful that they don’t bite.

Additional info on eye gnats is available online at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in884 or from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County.