An Unexpected Inhabitant

An Unexpected Inhabitant

You never know what you’ll find when you start looking closely in your garden. I was puzzled as to why there were three dead leaves hanging together on my sweetbay tree when all the other leaves looked so nice and healthy. On further investigation, I found a cocoon was made by binding the leaves together and it was firmly attached to the branch with silk.

The hanging dead leaves are a perfect hiding place for the cocoon of the sweetbay silkmoth. Photo credit: Mary Salinas.

This is the cocoon of the Sweetbay silkmoth, Callosamia securifera. Adult females lay their eggs on the native sweetbay tree, Magnolia virginiana, as the caterpillars only feed on sweetbay leaves. The trees tolerate having a few leaves eaten so there is no need to pick off the caterpillars if you find them. Local birds may do that for you as they rely on an abundance of caterpillars to feed their baby birds.

See photos of this beautiful moth with more details on its life cycle.

And then explore Gardening with Wildlife on UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions.

A Weird Tomato!

A Weird Tomato!

Tomato with sprouts. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

What in the world is happening to the tomato in this photograph? Are those hostile parasitic plants taking over the tomato?

No, nothing so sinister. You are just seeing anxious new tomato plants sprouting from the seeds inside the tomato.

A naturally-occurring plant hormone normally prevents seed inside of fruit from sprouting too soon. But sometimes the piece of fruit is hanging around a bit longer than nature planned and the hormone that prevents the seed sprouting is depleted. So, the seeds start to sprout and look like squiggly white worms inside the tomato. With enough time, they pop through the skin and emerge as little tomato plants.

Halved tomato with interior sprouts. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.

This phenomenon also commonly happens in pepper, citrus, apple, jackfruit, avocado and pear.

Yes, you can separate the little plants and plant them on their own if you would like.

For more information on growing tomatoes:

Tomatoes in the Florida Garden

Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide

 

Be Safe During Hurricane Clean Up

Be Safe During Hurricane Clean Up

When there is so much to do in cleaning up after a storm, sometimes we tend to do too much so that it can all get done. Be safe, don’t add to the disaster.

Be careful with that chainsaw! Photo credit: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Take breaks and rest often. Mistakes happen when people are exhausted.
  • Only lift what you can comfortably handle, lifting with your legs and not your back. Get a buddy to help with heavier objects or wait until a team or equipment can assist.
  • Make sure you are adequately hydrated. Always keep water nearby and take a long drink during your breaks.
  • Protect yourself against biting pests such as mosquitoes with insect repellent.
  • Wear protective gloves, sturdy closed toe shoes and long pants.
  • Have a first-aid kit available for minor injuries.
  • Make sure ladders are stable and locked into position.
  • If you are using any type of power equipment, especially a chainsaw, make sure someone else is around. And protective gear is a must. Read about details in this article.

Mosquito Control in Your Landscape

 

A natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael can cause excess standing water which leads nuisance mosquito populations to greatly increase. Floodwater mosquitoes lay their eggs in the moist soil. Amazingly, the eggs survive even when the soil dries out. When the eggs in soil once again have consistent moisture, they hatch! One female mosquito may lay up to 200 eggs per batch . Standing water should be reduced as mush as possible to prevent mosquitoes from developing.

You should protect yourself by using an insect repellant (following all label instructions) with any of these active ingredients or using one of the other strategies:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Para-menthane diol
  • IR3535
  • An alternative is to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants – although that’s tough in our hot weather
  • Wear clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin or apply a permethrin product to your clothes, but not your skin!
  • Avoid getting bitten while you sleep by choosing a place with air conditioning or screens on windows and doors or sleep under a mosquito bed net.

Now let’s talk about mosquito control in your own landscape.

Let’s first explore what kind of environment in your landscape and around your home is friendly to the proliferation of mosquitoes. Adult mosquitoes lay their eggs on or very near water that is still or stagnant. That is because the larvae live in the water but have to come to the surface regularly to breeze. The small delicate larvae need the water surface to be still in order to surface and breathe. Water that is continually moving or flowing inhibits mosquito populations.

Look around your home and landscape for these possible sites of still water that can be excellent mosquito breeding grounds:

  • bird baths
  • potted plant saucers
  • pet dishes
  • old tires
  • ponds
  • roof gutters
  • tarps over boats or recreational vehicles
  • rain barrels (screen mesh over the opening will prevent females from laying their eggs)
  • bromeliads (they hold water in their central cup or leaf axils)
  • any other structure that will hold even a small amount of water (I even had them on a heating mat in a greenhouse that had very shallow puddles of water!)

You may want to rid yourself of some of these sources of standing water or empty them every three to four days. What if you have bromeliads, a pond or some other standing water and you want to keep them and yet control mosquitoes? There is an environmentally responsible solution. Some bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. israelensis or Bacillus sphaericus, only infects mosquitoes and other close relatives like gnats and blackflies and is harmless to all other organisms. Look for products on the market that contain this bacteria.

 

For more information:

Mosquito Repellents

UF/IFAS Mosquito Information Website

 

Florida Native: Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris

Florida Native: Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris

Versatile, easy-care, beautiful, native – what’s not to love about muhly grass?

Muhly grass is a hardy landscape choice with dramatic fall blooms. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

How is it versatile? It makes a perfect border along a fence or structure. Plant it in a single or double row depending on available space. Use a single plant as a specimen in a smaller landscape. Muhly grass can also be planted in mass to serve as groundcover in a larger landscape.

What makes it easy-care? Since it only grows into a 3-foot-tall mound, there is no need to continually prune it as you would have to do for many landscape shrubs that serve a similar function. Plant muhly grass in areas where you only want to have plants grow to a 3-foot height, such as under windows or along a short fence. This clumping grass can be pruned in late winter to remove dead leaf blades, but it is not necessary. There are few pest and disease issues and its’ fertility needs are low. This tough plant can handle both drought and inundation with water. Perfect for a rain garden! Flowering is best in full sun, but it can take part sun as well.

What’s so beautiful about a grass? In the fall, abundant pink to pinkish/purple blooms cover the canopy of the grass and add color to the fall landscape. The wispy blooms move with the breezes and add interest with their movement. The new cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ blooms as early as August and into the winter. If pink is not your color, there is a form with white blooms known as ‘White Cloud’.

Consider adding some muhly grass to your landscape. You will love it as I do.