On a daily basis, it is not unusual for our Extension Office to get calls, emails, and walk-ins with questions about insect identification. Sometimes we even get questions about imaginary insects! The overwhelming opinion by our clientele is that the insects in question are harmful to their landscapes and gardens. This is not always the case since there are more than 100,000 species of insects found in the United States, but less than 1% are harmful.
Recently I received a call about an abundance of bugs in a client’s newly installed sod. He was concerned that the insects were taking over his yard. Luckily, he was able to submit some good quality photos so the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Service could help him identify the insects.
An adult ground beetle (Mochtherus tetraspilotus). Photo Credit: Michael C. Thomas, Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
The photos were sent to a University of Florida Entomologist for identification verification. It turns out the insects were ground beetles (family Carabidae). Adult ground beetles are slender and range between 1/4″ and 3/8″ in length. Their head and thorax are much narrower than their abdomens. Ground beetles are beneficial insects that feed on moth eggs and larvae. They are known predators of soybean loopers, cabbage loopers, and velvetbean caterpillars. It is suspected that the beetles found by the client came from the sod farm and were living in the thatch layer of the sod. They were possibly feeding on sod webworms or other moth larvae.
Accurate identification is the first step of integrated pest management (IPM). In this case, the insect found wasn’t a pest at all. If you need help identifying an insect, feel free to contact your local Extension Agent. For more information on beneficial insects, visit these publications found at edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
I live in the woods, so I mainly have a “natural” landscape. I remove trees, shrubs, and weeds as I see fit, but for the most part things just grow wild. However, there are a few spots in the yard where the previous owners did a little landscaping. Unfortunately, these spots have become a bit overgrown. One spot in particular features some gardenia plants around the HVAC units. At first, I was a little hesitant to prune these shrubs because they provide some shade to the units. However, they have become overgrown and I know they will grow back. I was patient to wait for them to finish flowering.
A gardenia shrub that has become a bit overgrown. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
As you can see in the photo above, this gardenia has become a bit leggy. It is important to also note the good amount of branching and new growth at the base of the plant. There are a few pruning options available for shaping shrubs such as hedging/terminal pruning, selective pruning, and renewal pruning. While a tree form gardenia can be attractive, it wasn’t desired in this situation. This particular case called for renewal pruning to improve the form of the plant. Renewal pruning is probably the easiest type of pruning, because it requires the least amount of thinking. It basically involves removing the majority of old growth.
A gardenia shrub that has been renewal pruned. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
The picture above is of the same shrub that has been pruned heavily. Not only have the older, leggy branches been removed, but some of the newer growth has been removed to allow for better air circulation within the shrub. This will help reduce the incidence of disease.
A gardenia shrub six weeks after renewal pruning. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
Six weeks after being pruned, this shrub is flowering for a second time. In a matter of short time it will be providing much needed shade for the HVAC units again. (That is..if I remember to selectively prune throughout the year.) For more information on how to prune and what to prune, please visit the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions page on pruning.
The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native edible that is often overlooked and misunderstood. Not only does it produce a delicious fruit that looks like a mango and tastes like a banana, but it is also an aesthetic landscape plant. This fruit is slowly gaining popularity with younger generations and a handful of universities (Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri) are working on cultivar improvements.
A pawpaw tree growing in the woods. Photo credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
The pawpaw is native to the eastern United States (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8), however it’s closest relatives are all tropical such as the custard apple, cherimoya, and soursop. The pawpaw, along with these fruits, are known for their custard-like texture which may be a unpleasant for some consumers. Pawpaws are relatively hardy, have few insect pests, and can still produce fruit in partial shade (although they produce more fruit when grown in full sun).
Pawpaws perform best in moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. They are found growing wild in full to partial shade, but more fruit are produced when trees are grown in full sun. However, pawpaws need some protection from wind and adequate irrigation in orchard settings. Trees can grow to between 12 feet to 25 feet tall and should be planted at least 15 feet apart. In the Florida Panhandle, flowers bloom in early spring and fruit ripen from August to October depending on variety and weather.
Young pawpaw fruit growing on a small tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County
A number of improved cultivars of pawpaws have been developed that produce more fruit with more flavor than native seedlings/saplings. The University of Missouri has conducted trials on the following pawpaw cultivars: ‘Sunflower’; ‘PA Golden’; ‘Wells’; ‘NC-1’; ‘Overleese’; ‘Shenandoah’; ‘Susquehanna’; and ’10-35′. Most of these cultivars performed well in southern Missouri, however yields may differ in the Florida Panhandle. The full results of the trial can be found in the “Pawpaw – Unique Native Fruit” publication.
Pawpaws can be propagated by seed or cuttings. Unlike most fruit trees, pawpaws are usually true to seed meaning that saved seed produces a tree with similar characteristics to the parent tree. To save seeds, place fresh seeds in a bag of moist peat moss and refrigerate for 3 to 4 months before planting. To vegetatively propagate, take cuttings (pencil thin in diameter) in the winter and store in a refrigerator until early spring. Cuttings should be chip budded onto seedling rootstock during the spring. Please visit this publication from the University of Nebraska for more information on chip budding.
Pawpaw fruit are ready to harvest when they are slightly soft when gently squeezed. Fruits picked prior to being fully ripe, but after they start to soften, will ripen indoors at room temperature or in a refrigerator. Already-ripe fruit will stay fresh for a few days at room temperature or for a few weeks in the refrigerator. To enjoy pawpaw fruit throughout the year, scoop out the flesh, remove the seeds, and place the flesh in freezer bags and freeze.
Whether you want to add more native plants to your landscape or you are a rare and unusual fruit enthusiast, pawpaw may be the tree for you. They can be utilized as a focal point in the garden and provide delicious fruit for your family. For more information on pawpaw or other fruit trees, please contact your local Extension Office.
I was recently sent some pictures of some unusual growths on pecan tree leaves. At first glance, the growths reminded me of the galls caused by small wasps that lay their eggs on oak leaves. However, after a little searching it became apparent this wasn’t the case. These galls were caused by the feeding of an aphid-like insect known as phylloxera.
Leaf galls caused by pecan phylloxera. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County
The feeding from the phylloxera causes the young leaf tissue to become distorted and form a gall that encloses this female insect called a “stem mother”. These insects are rarely seen, but the hatch from over-wintering eggs in March/April just after budbreak. Once hatched, these “stem mothers” crawl to the new leaves and begin feeding. Once the gall forms, they start to lay eggs inside the gall. The eggs hatch inside the gall and the young phylloxera begin to feed inside the gall and the gall enlarges. The matured insects break out of the gall in May and some will crawl to new spots on the leaves to feed and produce more galls.
Pecan stem damage from phylloxera. Photo Credit: University of Georgia
There are two common species of phylloxera that infect the leaves. The Pecan Leaf Phylloxera seems to prefer young trees and the Southern Pecan Leaf Phylloxera prefers older trees. The damage from each of these insects is nearly indistinguishable. Damage from these insects is usually not severe and merely an aesthetic issue.
Once the damage is discovered on a tree, it is too late to control the current year’s infestation. There are currently no effective methods for control of phylloxera in home gardens. Soil drench applications witha product containing imidacloprid have been limited in their effectiveness.
It’s always fun to add new plant to the landscape. And it’s even more fun to propagate your own plant material. The question is, what plant propagation method is best? The answer depends on a number of factors such as:
- How much time and money is available?
- Is a uniform crop desired or is trait variation preferred?
- What is the plant species being propagated?
Plants can be propagated either by seed (sexual propagation) or by segments of vegetative material (asexual propagation). Sexual propagation takes far less time and effort because new plants are being started from the seeds (offspring) of parent plants. This type of propagation promotes genetic diversity because offspring may not have the exact characteristics of the parent plants. Sexual propagation increases the possibility of hybrid vigor, which is the improved quality of plant material to that of parent plants. Asexual propagation usually takes more time, but generally ensures that propagated plants will maintain the same characteristics as the parent plant. For some species it may be the only way to pass on desired traits to subsequent generations and it may be the only way to propagate certain species. A plant produced vegetatively can become larger than a plant produced by see in the same amount of time.
Tips for Successful Sexual Propagation
- Seed Collection – Seeds should be collected when fruit is ripe, just before they fall to the ground. In general, seeds should be cleaned, dried, and stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (in a refrigerator). However, palm seeds should be planted immediately after harvesting and cleaning.
- Seed Dormancy – Some seeds have thick seed coats the inhibit germination. Some seeds need to be scarified (breaking of the seed coat) and/or stratified (stored in a specific environment) in order to germinate.
- Seed Sowing – Seeds can be germinated in flats or other suitable containers in a seed starting media. Seeds should be planted at a depth of two to three times their diameter, but no deeper than 3 inches. Cycad seeds should be planted just below the medium surface.
Seeds stored in an envelope. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
Tips for Successful Asexual Propagation – In general, asexual propagation is the propagation of plant material from cuttings of stems, leaves, and/or roots.
- Rooting Hormones – Increase rooting percentage, hasten root initiation, increase the number of roots per cutting, and increase root uniformity. Auxin based rooting hormones (Indolebutyric acid (IBA) and Naphthalenacetic acid (NAA)) are available in dry or liquid forms. It is important to use the correct concentration for the particular plant species because over application can cause damage to cutting base.
- Sticking Cuttings – Cuttings should be stuck in the medium only deep enough to support the cuttings and hold them upright (1/2″ to 1″ deep).
- Post-Rooting Care – Fertilization should be applied as soon as roots emerge from the cuttings. However, overfetilization can increase soluble salts and burn roots.
Examples of Asexual Propagation
- Softwood Cuttings – Taken from woody plants usually three to four weeks after a new flush of growth. Commonly propagated species using this method include: crape myrtle; magnolia; oleander; azalea; jasmine; and boxwood.
- Semihardwood Cuttings – Similar to softwood cuttings, but the lower portion of the cutting has become lignified (woody). Usually taken from new shoots six to nine weeks after a flush of growth. Commonly propagated species using this method include: camellia; pittosporum; junipers; and some hollies.
- Hardwood Cuttings – Taken from the previous season’s growth, just before or during the dormant period. Commonly propagated species using this method include narrow-leaved evergreens and deciduous species during the dormant season after leaves have dropped.
- Leaf Cuttings – Comprised of only the leaf blade or the leaf blade and petiole (leaf stalk). Cuttings are stuck upright in the propagation medium with the basal end (petiole end) of the leaf inserted into the propagation medium. Commonly propagated species using this method include begonias and peperomias.
- Root Cuttings – Taken in late winter or early spring from two to three-year-old plant material. Plants propagated by root cuttings may not reproduce true to type if they are budded or grafted. Commonly propagated species using this method include: plumbago; bayberry; oakleaf hydrangea; and yucca.
Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS
This article provides only a brief overview of propagation methods and techniques. For more information on plant propagation please visit University of Florida Plant Propagation Glossary or Plant Propagation Techniques for the Florida Gardener. Please be advised that some plant material is patented and it is illegal to propagate patented material without written authorization or licensing of the patent holder. If it is patented, a notation of patent number will be on the tag.