Creepy Weeds Indicate Problems

Creepy Weeds Indicate Problems

“There are these weeds spreading all over my yard. They have little round leaves that are real close to the ground and creep in every direction. I keep trying to get rid of them by mowing my grass shorter, but they are killing my grass. What are they and how do I get rid of them?” Here at the Extension office, this is a conversation I have had nearly daily for the past month. We are here to help with identification and control of many landscape problems, including weeds.

However, my first word of advice is to change the mowing practice. Short, spreading weeds cannot be mowed out. You need to do just the opposite. Mowing as high as possible (3-4”) will help to reduce weeds by shading them out, therefore, reducing their spread.

In every instance, the weeds have been common lespedeza (Kummerowia striata (Thunb.) Schind syn. Lespedeza striata) and/or prostrate spurge (Euphorbia maculata syn. Chamaesyce maculata). Both grow close to the ground with a spreading habit. Both have small, rounded leaves and produce small, light-colored flowers. But, if you look close, there are significant differences that will help with identification.

Small three-leaved spreading plantCommon lespedeza, also known as Japanese clover, is prostrate summer annual that forms 15-18 inch patches. The stems are wiry.  It has dark green trifoliate Three-leafed with parallel veins and pink flower(arranged in threes) leaves with three oblong, smooth leaflets. Leaflets have parallel veins nearly at right angles to a prominent mid-vein. Its leaves have smooth edges and a short spur at the tip of each leaflet. Flowers appear in late summer with small pink to purple, single flowers found in leaf axils on most of the nodes of the main stems. As common lespedeza matures, the stems harden and become woody.

Prostrate spurge is a summer annual broadleaf weed that spreads by seed. The leaves are oval in shape, small, and opposite along the stem. As it matures, a red spot may form in the center of the leaf, earning it the common name spotted spurge. Another distinct characteristic is the stem contains a milky sap that oozes when the stem is broken. Light pink to white-colored flowers appear from early-summer through the fall.Small rounded leaved spreading plant

Both are annual,broadleaf weeds, so there are several post-emergent herbicides available to kill the ones present. Don’t forget the pre-emergent herbicide application in late winter though. These weeds can drop plenty of seed. The importance of knowing which weed you have is more about the message they are trying to send you. These weeds can indicate other issues that may be part of the reason the grass is thinning and allowing the weeds to take over in the first place.

Common lespedeza is a legume. It thrives when water is plentiful and soil nutrients are low. If this is the weed “taking over” your yard, you need to get a soil test and evaluate your watering habits. Improving fertility and reducing soil moisture will naturally weaken common lespedeza.

If your thin patches of declining grass are being replaced with spurge, it may be time to submit a sample for a nematode assay. Research has shown that spurge is a weed that can thrive with high populations of nematodes. Turfgrass species are easily harmed by nematodes (microscopic roundworms that imbed into and on grass roots). If the assay indicates harmful population levels, unfortunately there are few options for reduction of the nematodes. However, several ornamental plants are tolerant. So, you may need to consider creating a landscape bed area rather than continuing to battle poor-looking grass.

Weeds can serve as indicators to soil conditions that may need to be addressed. Learning to identify weeds may teach you more than just their names.

Why are the Azaleas “Bleaching Out”?

Why are the Azaleas “Bleaching Out”?

Leaf with color fading

Damage caused by azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), feeding. Photograph by James. L. Castner, University of Florida. Severely damaged leaves become heavily discolored and eventually dry or fall off. Symptoms may sometimes be confused with mite injury, but the presence of black varnish-like excrement, frequently with cast skins attached, suggest lace bug damage (Johnson and Lyon 1991).

You may be noticing the color disappearing from your azaleas right now. Do your azaleas look bleached out from a piercing-sucking insect. The culprit is probably azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides. This pest overwinters in eggs on the underside of infested leaves. Eggs hatch in late March and early April. The insect then passes through five nymphal instars before becoming an adult. It takes approximately one month for the insect to complete development from egg to adult and there are at least four generations per year. Valuable plants that are susceptible to lace bug damage should be inspected in the early spring for the presence of overwintering lace bug adults, eggs and newly-hatched nymphs. Inspect these plants every two weeks during the growing season for developing lace bug infestations.

Both adults and nymphs have piercing-sucking mouthparts and remove sap as they feed from the underside of the leaf. Lace bug damage to foliage detracts greatly from the plant’s beauty, reduces the plant’s ability to produce food, decreases plant vigor and causes the plant to be more susceptible to damage by other insects, diseases or unfavorable weather conditions. The azalea can become almost silver or bleached in appearance from the feeding lace bug damage.

However, lace bugs often go undetected until the infested plants show severe damage sometime into the summer. By then several generations of lace bugs have been weakening the plant. Inspecting early in the spring and simply washing them off the underside of the leaves can help to avoid damage later and the need for pesticides.

Adult lace bugs are flattened and rectangular in shape measuring 1/8 to 1/4 inch long. The area behind the head and the wing covers form a broadened, lace-like body covering. The wings are light amber to transparent in color. Lace bugs leave behind spiny black spots of frass (excrement).

Insect with clear wings.

Adult azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), and excrement. Photograph by James. L. Castner, University of Florida.

Lace bug nymphs are flat and oval in shape with spines projecting from their bodies in all directions. A lace bug nymph goes through five growth stages (instars) before becoming an adult. At each stage the nymph sheds its skin (molts) and these old skins often remain attached to the lower surface of infested leaves.

Small dark-colored insect on leaf with shiny black spots.

Nymphs of the azalea lace bug, Stephanitis pyrioides (Scott), with several cast skins and excrement. Photograph by James. L. Castner, University of Florida.

Azalea lace bug eggs are football-shaped and are transparent to cream colored. Lace bug eggs are found on the lower leaf surface, usually alongside or inserted into a leaf vein. Adult females secrete a varnish-like substance over the eggs that hardens into a scab-like protective covering.

Other plant species, such as lantana and sycamore, may have similar symptoms. But, realize that lace bugs are host specific. They feed on their favorite plant and won’t go to another plant species. However, the life cycle is similar. Be sure to clean up all the damaged leaves. That’s where the eggs will remain for the winter. Start next spring egg-free.

For more information go to: http://entomology.ifas.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/shrubs/azalea_lace_bug.htm

July Is Smart Irrigation Month

July Is Smart Irrigation Month

The Irrigation Association (IA) kicks off the official start of this year’s campaign on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. The initiative promotes the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products and services in landscape, turf and agricultural irrigation.

Irrigation (agricultural and turf/landscape) accounts for 65-70% of total freshwater use in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense program, the average American family household uses more than 300 gallons of water per day; roughly 30% of this occurs outdoors. Efficient landscape irrigation systems and practices dramatically reduce water being lost or wasted.

The starting point for improving the efficiency of a home landscape sprinkler system is to calibrate each zone (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00003389/00001) and make adjustments and repairs. That includes the rain shut-off device.

Florida is one of the few states with a rain sensor law. The most recent version of the statute (2010) states the following: “Any person who operates an automatic landscape irrigation system shall properly install, maintain, and operate technology that inhibits or interrupts operation of the system during periods of sufficient moisture.” (Florida Statute 373.62). Regardless of the water source or age of the system, all in-ground irrigation systems must be connected to a functioning rain sensor of some kind.

Rain collecting device with expanding cork disks inside.

Expanding disk Rain Sensor

Expanded disk devices are the most popular rain sensor due to their low cost, ease of installation, and low maintenance. Traditionally, they are wired into the controller, but a wireless version allows for quicker installation and mounting up to 300 feet from the controller. These “mini-click” sensors contain disks made of cork that absorb rainfall and expand, triggering a pressure switch. The disk cover is rotated to adjust for the predetermined amount of rainfall required to trigger the switch. It should be set on ½ – ¾ inch, depending on soil type and rooting depth of irrigated plants. The switch continues to interrupt the scheduled controller as long as the disks are swollen. When the rain stops, the disks begin to dry out. Once they have contracted, the switch closes and the regularly scheduled irrigation cycle begins where it left off before the interruption. These small cork disks wear out in Florida’s heat and need to be replaced. By checking and repairing the sensor parts, the sprinkler system will operate much more efficiently. We have all seen irrigation systems running in pouring rain.  Keep yours maintained to avoid this needless waste of water.

So, join the kids this summer. Go outside and play in the water. Turn on the sprinkler system and check it out. July is Smart Irrigation Month. Let’s see how efficient you can make your system and reduce the water waste in Florida.

Is Colored Mulch Bad for the Environment?

Is Colored Mulch Bad for the Environment?

Brown bark on the ground

Natural bark mulch

There have been a lot of questions about the use of colored mulches in the landscapes. Many individuals are concerned about the possibility of negative environmental impact from the dyes used on wood chips and pine straw. According to the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (https://ag.umass.edu) the primary concern with colored landscape mulches is not the dyes used for coloring. Rather, it is about the sources of wood chips and the possibility of contamination with toxic substances.

The dyes used in coloring wood mulch are primarily of two types: carbon-based dyes and iron oxide based dyes. Iron oxide, the most commonly used dye, is simply a compound of iron and oxygen. As the compound oxidizes, iron is released to the soil but is not considered to be toxic. Dyes that are not absorbed by or adsorbed to the wood would come off with contact, especially if the mulch is wet. There are also some carbon-based dyes used on mulch. These carbon-based colorants are similar to those used in ink and cosmetics. Other dyes for mulch are vegetable-based and therefore organic. At this time, there is no evidence that the dyes used to color wood chip mulch are toxic.

Most of the wood used for making colored mulch comes from recycled wood, i.e. wood scraps, wood pallets, and wood reclaimed from construction and demolition (C&D) waste. Besides the benefits of recycling waste wood materials, the reason why these wood materials are used for colored mulches is that they are very dry and readily absorb or adsorb coloring agents.
Unfortunately, some of the recycled waste wood used for making landscape mulch products is contaminated with various chemicals, such as creosote and CCA (chromated copper arsenate). CCA is the chemical that was used in the manufacturing of pressure-treated wood.

Even though arsenic-based wood preservatives were banned in 2003, there are still plenty of CCA preserved wood being re-purposed. Sometimes wood pallets that have been used in the transport of chemical agents can become contaminated by spills of these chemicals. CCA and other toxic chemicals have been found to be contaminating soil where colored mulch made from these wood products have been applied. CCA treated wood can kill beneficial soil bacteria, beneficial insects, earthworms and young plants. It can also be harmful to people spreading this mulch and animals who dig in it.

Additionally, dyed mulches break down much slower than natural mulches. The greatest advantage to using them is to reduce the expense and time required to replenish the mulch. When wood breaks down, it requires nitrogen to do so. Colored mulch can actually rob the plants of the nitrogen they need to survive. Natural mulches retain moisture and add organic material back to the soil enabling the plants to better utilize nitrogen. Avoiding the use of colored mulches reduces the risk of contamination better than any other practices. Colored pine straw may be an alternative.

It should not be assumed that all colored mulches are contaminated. However, anyone planning to use colored mulch should become familiar with the supplier and the source of the wood used in making it. If C&D waste wood is used, it should be a red flag that there is a possibility of CCA contaminated mulch.

Label fro bag of mulch

Certified Mulch Label

If you wish to improve the chances that the dyed mulch that you are buying is safe for humans to handle look for the MSC Certification Logo on the packaging. MSC stands for Mulch and Soil Council, whose responsibility is to certify that a mulch or soil product is free of CCA-treated wood. According to MSC’s Product Certification program, “Certified mulches and soils can be found at major retailers and garden centers across the country.” If you have concerns after contacting the supplier about the source of the wood used, contact a private environmental testing lab in your area.

While reading packaging, check the source of the product. If the supplier is a land management company rather than a processing mill it may be that mature trees are being removed and shredded. These mulches are sold as “long-lasting”, “no-float” products. They have the appearance of pine straw, but are actually finely shredded cypress from the heart of trees. These are coming from properties where the bald and white cypress trees are harvested for mulch. You can tell that it isn’t pine straw because the mulch pieces lack pine needle structures such as the fascicles and a revolute shape. While the use of these products is not contaminating, it is still depleting the environment. Mulches that are natural by-products are the most Eco-friendly.

 

April is Safe Digging Month

April is Safe Digging Month

Call 811 before you dig. No one wants a weekend project to be the cause of Internet, phone and cable outages. Worse yet, what if someone gets hurt from contact with natural gas or electrical lines? That’s why it is so important to have buried utilities in the yard located and marked before digging. Sunshine 811 coordinates each individual company to clearly mark where the service lines are located. Homeowners are required by law to contact 811 three days before any soil removal is done. The service is free.

Have information prepared before making the request. Describe the work to be performed (e.g. fence install, landscaping, irrigation install), including the type of equipment that will be used. Specify the exact location on the property and how long the work will continue. Finally, provide all the contact information (e.g. name, phone number, e-mail), should there be any additional questions.

Call 811 or request a single address ticket online. Receive a ticket number and wait two full business days, not counting weekends or holidays. Then contact 811 again. Make sure that all the utilities have responded in the Positive Response System (PRS). Sometimes that may mean that the company doesn’t have anything to make in the area.

If there are utility lines running through the yard, they will be marked with specifically colored paints or flags. Red is used for electrical lines, orange indicates communication lines, yellow means gas, blue is used for potable water, purple is reclaimed water, and green indicates sewer lines. White lines may be used to outline digging areas and pink are temporary survey marks. This is the APWA Uniform Color Code.

Every effort is made to locate the lines as accurately as possible. But, the safest thing to do is hand dig to expose the utility line before using any mechanized equipment. Lines can vary up to 24” from the marked line and depths can be less than 5”. Remember there may be access lines running through the property even if that service isn’t utilized at that address.

Keep safe this spring. Call 811 before digging.