Stinging Wasps Active After Storms

Stinging Wasps Active After Storms

As Hurricane Michael was barreling through the Panhandle region, wasp populations were at their highest of the year.  Winds and flooding destroyed many of the nests of paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets and now wasps may be aggressive as they defend themselves or remnants of their nests.   All are capable of multiple stings that are very painful. It is very likely that you will encounter stinging wasps as they scavenge for food and water, as well as seek shelter among debris and exposed trash.

Paper wasp

Many people are stung by paper wasps after storms. They are not attracted to traps.

Here are a few pointers to help deal with stinging wasps.

  • Try not to swat at wasps flying around or landing on you. You may be less likely to receive a sting if you can flick them off.
  • Some wasps are attracted to the sap from broken or recently cut trees. Look before you reach. Wear gloves and other protective clothing when moving debris in case you disturb foraging or nesting activities.
  • Wasps are also attracted to sugars and water. Try your best to keep food and drink cans covered. Completely close garbage containers or bags that contain food debris.
  • Repellents are not effective against wasps.  There are pesticides labeled to spray on smaller paper wasp nests if you find one in a spot close to people’s activity.  These are usually aerosol pyrethroids or pyrethrins.  Make sure you read the label carefully and use the product as directed.
  • Do not use non labeled products like gasoline to manage wasps.  This is not only illegal but can be dangerous to yourself and the environment.
  • There are traps for yellowjackets that you may purchase or make.  These only manage those wasps flying around, not any remaining in a ground nest.

Here is a Do It Yourself Yellowjacket trap from UF IFAS Extension.

  • Cut the top 1/3 off your 2 liter bottle so that you have 2 pieces.
  • Add a bait (fermenting fruit or beer) to the bottom of the plastic bottle.
  • Invert the top portion of the bottle into the base, forming a funnel.
  • Hang or place traps so they are about 4 to 5 feet above the ground. For safety, place them away from people.
Yellowjacket trap

A homemade trap to catch yellowjackets. Photo by Alison Zulyniak

 

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

 

Smart landscaping practices can reduce storm damage

Hurricane season probability and predictions. Graphic courtesy NOAA.

The Atlantic Hurricane Season began June 1. NOAA forecasters are currently predicting a relatively normal hurricane season, expecting 10-16 named storms with 5-9 of them becoming hurricanes. While we in the Panhandle dodged the serious damages inflicted upon the state by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, we have already experienced our first named storm. Subtropical storm Alberto left a relatively light touch along the Florida coast, but has inundated western North Carolina with heavy rains, causing floods and mudslides.

Tree damage to homes and property can be devastating, and one of the first instincts of many homeowners when they see a big storm in the Gulf is to start trimming limbs and removing trees.  However, it is wise to fully evaluate one’s landscape before making an irreversible decision. Trees are crucial for providing shade (i.e. energy savings), wildlife habitat, stormwater management, and maintaining property values.

Downed trees in a row along a hurricane-devastated street. Photo Credit: Mary Duryea, University of Florida

University of Florida researchers Mary Duryea and Eliana Kampf have done extensive studies on the effects of wind on trees and landscapes, and several important lessons stand out.  Keep in mind that reducing storm damage often starts at the landscape design/planning stage!

  • Select the right plant for the right place.
  • Post-hurricane studies in north Florida show that live oak, southern magnolia, sabal palms, and bald cypress stand up well compared to other trees during hurricanes.  Pecan, water and laurel oaks, Carolina cherry laurel and sand pine were among the least wind resistant.
  • Plant high-quality trees with strong central trunks and balanced branch structure.
  • Longleaf pine often survived storms in our area better than other pine species, but monitor pines carefully. Sometimes there is hidden damage and the tree declines over time. Look for signs of stress or poor health, and check closely for insects. Weakened pines may be more susceptible to beetles and diseases.
  • Remove hazard trees before the wind does. Have a certified arborist inspect your trees for signs of disease and decay. They are trained to advise you on tree health.
  • Trees in a group (at least five) blow down less frequently than single trees.
  • Trees should always be given ample room for roots to grow.  Roots absorb nutrients, but they are also the anchors for the tree. If large trees are planted where there is limited or restricted area for roots to grow out in all directions, there is a likelihood that the tree may fall during high winds.
  • Construction activities within about 20 feet from the trunk of existing trees can cause the tree to blow over more than a decade later.
  • Plant a variety of species, ages and layers of trees and shrubs to maintain diversity in your community
  • When a tree fails, plant a new one in its place.

For more information on managing your Florida landscape in hurricane season, visit the University of Florida’s Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery page.

Rain Gardens – A Solution for Runoff

Rain Gardens – A Solution for Runoff

This rain garden used stone for a berm and muhly grass as a decorative and functional plant. Photo credit, Jerry Patee

Tropical Storm Cindy’s early arrival soaked northwest Florida this month, followed by even more heavy rain. Homes in low areas and along the rivers flooded and suffered extensive damage. That being said, we are just entering our summer “rainy season,” so it may be wise to spend extra time thinking about adjusting your landscape to handle our typically heavy annual rainfall.

For example, if you have an area in your yard where water always runs after a storm (even a mild one) and washes out your property, you may want to consider a rain garden for that spot. Rain gardens are designed to temporarily hold rainwater and allow it to soak into the ground. However, they are quite different aesthetically from stormwater ponds, because they are planted with water-tolerant trees, shrubs, groundcovers and flowers to provide an attractive alternative to the eroding gully that once inhabited the area! Rain gardens are not “created wetlands,” but landscaped beds that can handle both wet and drier conditions. Many of the plants best suited for rain gardens are also attractive to wildlife, adding another element of beauty to the landscape.

A perfect spot for a rain garden might be downhill from a rain gutter, an area notorious for excess water and erosion. To build a rain garden, the rainwater leaving a particular part of the property (or rooftop), is directed into a gently sloping, 4”-8” deep depression in the ground, the back and sides of which are supported by a berm of earth. The rain garden serves as a catch basin for the water and is usually shaped like a semi-circle. The width of the rain garden depends on the slope and particular site conditions in each yard. Within the area, native plants are placed into loose, sandy soil and mulched.   Care should be taken to prevent the garden from having a very deep end where water pools, rather allowing water to spread evenly throughout the basin.

This larger rain garden, or bioretention area, functions as stormwater treatment for a large parking lot in North Carolina. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF / IFAS Extension

Besides reducing a problematic area of the lawn, a rain garden can play an important role in improving water quality. With increasing populations come more pavement, roads, and rooftops, which do almost nothing to absorb or treat stormwater, contributing to the problem. Vegetation and soil do a much better job at handling stormwater. Excess sediment, which can fill in streams and bays, and chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides are just some of the pollutants treated within a rain garden via the natural growth processes of the plants.

A handful of well-known plants that work great in rain gardens include: Louisiana iris, cinnamon fern, buttonbush, Virginia willow, black-eyed Susan, swamp lily, tulip poplar, oakleaf hydrangea, wax myrtle, Florida azalea, river birch, holly, and Southern magnolia. For a complete list of rain garden plants appropriate for our area, visit the “Rain Garden” section of Tallahassee’s “Think about Personal Pollution” website.

For design specifications on building a rain garden, visit the UF Green Building site or contact your local UF IFAS County Extension office.

Baldcypress for Tough Sites

Baldcypress for Tough Sites

Bald cypress growing at the edge of a pond. Photo:  Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Bald cypress growing at the edge of a pond. Photo: Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS

Considering planting a tree in your landscape, but not sure what will do well?

Baldcypress, Taxodium distichum, is one tree you should consider for your Florida landscape. This deciduous conifer is native to North America and is suited to a wide variety of situations, even difficult ones!

Baldcypress is found naturally along stream banks and in swampy areas, but also performs well in dry situations once established. Not many trees can tolerate standing water or flooding situations, but baldcypress is well adapted to these tough spots. In areas that flood or remain wet the tree will form “knees” that project out of the ground and add a beautiful feature – just don’t plan to mow in areas where these develop. Not restricted to wet areas, baldcypress also performs well as a street tree or in limited root zone situations such as parking lot islands.

This tough tree has a soft, delicate leaf texture and interesting globular cones that start out green then turn brown as they mature. The foliage is light green through the spring and summer then turns a coppery gold before the needles fall in the winter. The trunk has a reddish color that is also attractive and will grow branches low to the ground, but can easily be maintained with a clear trunk in a street tree form.

Baldcypress will grow in full sun to part shade and is adapted to all soil types except highly alkaline (over 7.5 pH). Sand, loam, clay, or muck can all sustain this native tree. Few pests bother baldcypress, but it can be affected by bagworms and mites. Mature size can be in excess of 100 feet, but trees typically grow 60-80 feet tall in Florida.

For more information:

Taxodium distichum: Baldcypress

 

Learning from the Floods

Learning from the Floods

Just over a year ago, southwest Alabama and northwest Florida experienced a devastating storm that left hundreds without access to their homes and businesses, flooded out and stranded by a hurricane-force storm that didn’t come with the luxury of a week’s warning. Rainfall records in Pensacola go back to 1879, and the April 29-30 storm broke them all, estimating just over 20 inches over the two days. Not only was the rainfall heavy, but the torrent was high in both velocity and volume—at one point, a mind-boggling 5.68 inches fell in the span of one hour. That’s half the annual rainfall of many cities in California and Texas!

gas geysers

A residential street in Pensacola became a raging river a year ago during the torrential floods, putting dozens of people out of their homes. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson UF/IFAS Extension.

With every dark storm cloud comes a silver lining, though, and just like the millions pumped into our regional economy from oil spill-related fines, the April 2014 floods have awakened a “greener” ethic among many residents, business owners, and politicians. According to a study just released by an environmental consulting firm, when asked about infrastructure changes and improvements to flooding and stormwater, attendees at community meetings overwhelmingly preferred “low impact” solutions such as expanded green space, cisterns, rain gardens, and stream restoration to “hard” structures such as bigger underground pipes and more pumps. While traditional engineering infrastructure is still crucial to a community that must maintain roads, stormwater ponds, and buildings, I find it encouraging that residents are interested in trying different techniques that have proven successful both here and in other parts of the world.

rain barrel

The new Langley Bell 4-H Center has four large rain barrels around the building, used to collect roof runoff for landscape design. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson UF/IFAS Extension.

So, how does one prepare for unexpected rain and floods? The first thing is to realize that northwest Florida receives the most annual rainfall (over 60”) of any region of the state, and sometimes it seems to come down all at once.  Preparing landscapes to handle both frequent and heavy rains is an important place to start.  This article will begin a series of articles delving into those “low-impact” stormwater management techniques that can help lessen the impact of the intense storms we experience here in northwest Florida. Many of these practices, such as creating mulch pathways, harvesting rainwater, and installing shoreline vegetative buffers, can be implemented by individual homeowners and help reduce the impact of flooding on a neighborhood and city-wide level