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.

Preventive Tree Maintenance Before High Winds Strike

Preventive Tree Maintenance Before High Winds Strike

The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season got off to an early start with some tropical storm activity before the season’s official June 1 start date. We live in a high wind climate. Even our thunderstorms can produce fifty-plus mile per hour winds.

Severly damaged sweetgum tree from hurricane winds

Storm damaged sweetgum tree. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Preventive tree maintenance is key to preparing for storms and high winds.

Falling trees and flying landscape debris during a storm can cause damage. Evaluate your landscape for potential tree hazards. Pruning or removing trees once a hurricane watch has been announced is risky and tree trimming debris left along the street is hazardous.

Now is a good time to remove dead or dying trees, prune decayed or dead branches and stake newly planted trees. Also inspect your trees for signs of disease or insect infestation that may further weaken them.

 

Professional help sometimes is your best option when dealing with larger jobs. Property damage could be reduced by having a professional arborist evaluate unhealthy, injured or questionable trees to assess risk and treat problems.

Hiring a certified arborist can be a worthwhile investment. To find a certified arborist in your area, contact the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) at 888-472-8733 or at www.isa-arbor.com. You also may contact the Florida ISA Chapter at 941-342-0153 or at www.floridaisa.org.

Consider removing trees that have low wind resistance, are at the end of their life span or that have the potential to endanger lives or property.

Some tree species with the lowest wind resistance include pecan, tulip poplar, cherry laurel, Bradford pear, southern red oak, laurel oak, water oak, Chinese tallow, Chinese elm, southern red cedar, Leyland cypress, sand pine and spruce pine.

Broken pine that fell on roof of home

Broken pine from hurricane. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Pine species vary in their wind resistance, usually with longleaf and slash pines showing better survival rates than loblolly and sand pine. However, when pines become large, they may cause a lot of damage if located close to homes or other valuable structures. As a result, large pines are classified as having medium to poor wind-resistance. For this reason, it’s best to plant pines away from structures in more open areas.

Before and after a storm, tree removal requires considerable skill. A felled tree can cause damage to the home and/or property. Before having any tree work done, always make sure you are dealing with a tree service that is licensed, insured and experienced.

More information on tree storm damage prevention and treatment is available online at http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/stormy.shtml or from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County.

Drought-Tolerant Landscape Plants

Drought-Tolerant Landscape Plants

When we go through dry periods in North Florida some residents become interested in drought-tolerant plants to include in their landscapes. The need for irrigation can be reduced when drought-tolerant plants are used. But don’t overuse these plants. Remember we have periods of rainy weather, too.

Gulf Muhly Grass in Flower

Gulf Muhly Grass in Flower. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Some drought-tolerant plants have poor tolerance to the other extreme – too much water. There are a few plants that can tolerate both extremes but they are the exception. Avoid using drought-tolerant plants on naturally wet or poorly drained sites. But if you have the typical deep sandy well drained soil Florida is famous for, you’d do well to include some drought-tolerant plants on your site.

Drought-tolerant plants are especially well suited for areas that receive little to no irrigation.

Some plants are genetically better able to withstand drought. They have a built-in tolerance of drought. Many of our Florida native plants are designed to grow in our poor water holding sandy soils. Many of the plants native to arid areas of the world possess high drought-tolerance. These plants have characteristics that allow them to better survive dry weather. These features include thicker or waxier leaves, large surface root areas or deep roots and the ability to drop leaves in drought and regain them when moisture is adequate.

Beautyberry with clusters of bright purple berries

Beautyberry with fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams

It’s important to realize that these plants must first establish a root system before they can cope with severe dry weather. Plan to irrigate during dry periods for the first season to allow them to become established.

Some outstanding trees to consider include crape myrtle, redbud, Chinese pistache, cedar (Cedrus species), hawthorn (Crataegus species), American holly, yaupon holly, Southern red cedar (Juniperus species), Live oak, Sand live oak, winged elm, pond cypress and bald cypress. Some people are surprised to learn that pond cypress and bald cypress have high drought-tolerance because these trees are associated with swamps, many times growing in standing water. But once established on a dry site, they exhibit very good drought-tolerance.

Some outstanding shrubs with drought-tolerance include glossy abelia, dwarf yaupon holly, Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis species), beauty berry (Callicarpa americana), pineapple guava, junipers, oleander, spiraea, blueberry or sparkleberry (Vaccinium species), viburnum, Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and coontie (Zamia pumila).

Close up of pineapple guava in bloom

Pineapple guava in bloom. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Some outstanding drought-tolerant groundcovers to consider include beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis), daylily, juniper, lantana, liriope, rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides), Asiatic jasmine and society garlic. Many of the ornamental grasses such as Gulf muhly are good choices as well.

For more ideas on developing a Florida-friendly, water wise landscape, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the below website. https://ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/index.html