Now is Time to Use Solar Power Against Soil Pests

Now is Time to Use Solar Power Against Soil Pests

North Florida vegetable gardeners have made it to summer and now the plants and gardeners are starting to give in to the heat and humidity. The squash has likely succumbed to squash vine borers, many of the tomato varieties are having trouble setting fruit, stink bugs are all over, and gardeners easily wilt by noon. This is a good time to use our oppressive heat to your advantage in the vegetable garden by solarizing the soil.

Graph of annual temoerature

We have reached the peak of heat. Use it to your advantage in the garden. Source: National Weather Service.

Soil solarization is a method of pest control that creates a greenhouse to heat up the soil in an effort to drive away pests. Pests that can be reduced with soil solarization include weeds, various soil-borne fungal pathogens, and nematodes. Weed seeds can actually be killed by the increased temperatures, sometimes as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, while fungi and nematodes are merely driven deeper into the soil layer as they try to escape the heat. Although they are not killed, this can help vegetable gardeners as it may take these organisms 3-4 months to repopulate in high enough numbers to cause damage. Soil solarization can be considered another tool in your integrated pest management (IPM) toolbox, along with other cultural, physical, and chemical means of pest control.

Picture of raised bed garden covered in plastic.

A raised bed being solarized over the summer. Source: Evelyn Gonzalez, UF/IFAS Master Gardener Volunteer.

To properly execute soil solarization, the site should be in full sun and the existing vegetation removed, either by hand or with a tiller or other implement. Tilling can help loosen the soil surface and allow heat to penetrate deeper in the soil horizon. Before being covered with plastic, the area should receive rainfall or be irrigated, as the water will help conduct heat to greater depths. The next step is to cover the area with plastic. Note that this can also be done over raised beds! Clear plastic is best for maximum solar radiation penetration. Black plastic will heat up mostly on the surface and opaque plastic sheeting may not let enough light in to get temperatures high enough. The plastic should be slightly larger than the area covered, as the edges will need to be buried to create an air-tight seal. It’s recommended to leave the plastic in place for at least six to eight weeks, just in time to begin fall gardening preparations.

It’s important to monitor the site while it’s “cooking” to look for any holes that might appear. Small holes can be repaired with duct tape, while large holes or rips in the plastic may require starting over. Overlapping strips of plastic is not recommended since too much heat will be lost.

You may be wondering what happens to all of the good soil microbes. Well, unfortunately, they are also either killed or suppressed. Fortunately, researchers have found that they are able to repopulate quicker than the pest organisms, especially in soils with a good amount of organic matter.

Much more information on soil solarization can be found in these two documents:

Introduction to Soil Solarization –

Solarization for Pest Management in Florida –

Also, please contact your local county extension office for more gardening tips.

Protect Your Laurel Trees from Ambrosia Beetles with Verbenone.

Protect Your Laurel Trees from Ambrosia Beetles with Verbenone.

Fig. 1 An adult redbay ambrosia beetle compared to the size of a single penny. Credit: UF/IFAS File Photo.

While most bark beetles are important in forest ecology by recycling fallen dead trees and eliminating sick and damaged trees, some of them may impact healthy trees. A group of bark beetles that has become a major concern to forest managers, nurseries, and homeowners is the ambrosia beetle. Ambrosia beetles are extremely small, 1-2 mm in length, and live and reproduce inside the wood of various species of trees (Fig. 1). Ambrosia beetles differ from other bark beetles in that they do not feed directly on wood, but on a symbiotic fungus that digests wood tissue for them. Every year, non-native species of ambrosia beetles enter the United States through international cargo and we have now nearly forty non-native species of ambrosia beetles confirmed in the United States. Among them, the redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus), originally from Southeast Asia, is the vector of the fungal pathogen causing laurel wilt, a disease that devastated the Lauracaea population in the southeastern USA, killing millions of redbay, swamp bay, sassafaras and silk bay.

Fig. 2: A mature dooryard avocado tree with large sections of dead and missing leaves, caused by laurel wilt disease. Summer 2009 Impact Magazine image. Credit: UF/IFAS File Photo.

When these beetles attack a laurel tree, the symbiotic fungus is vectored to the tree’s sapwood after the beetle has tunneled deep into the tree’s xylem, actively colonizing the tree’s vascular system. This colonization leads to an occlusion of the xylem, causing wilting of individual branches and in a matter of weeks progresses throughout the entire canopy, eventually leading to tree death (Fig. 2). The laurel wilt disease has spread rapidly after the vector was first detected in Georgia in 2002.  The redbay ambrosia beetle was first detected in Florida in 2004, in Duval County, attacking redbay and swamp bay trees. At this point, it is estimated that more than one-third of redbay in the U.S.A., 300 million trees, have succumbed to the disease.

Starting in 2017, we examined the efficacy of verbenone against redbay ambrosia beetle in live laurel trees in a natural forest setting. Verbenone is an anti-aggregation pheromone that has been used since the 1980’s to protect lodgepole pine. Verbenone also has the potential to be used over large areas and is currently being used to protect ponderosa pine plantations from the Mountain Pine Beetle in the western US.

We have found verbenone to be an environmentally friendly and safe tool to prophylactically protect laurel trees against redbay ambrosia beetle. Our protocol consists of the application of four 17 g dollops of a slow-release wax based repellent (SPLAT Verb®, ISCA technology of Riverside, CA) to the trunk of redbay trees at 1 – 1.5 m above ground level (Fig. 3). The wax needs to be reapplied every 4 months during fall and winter and every 3 months during spring and fall when temperature is higher. When compared to the control trees without repellents, we found that trunk applications of verbenone reduced landing of the redbay ambrosia beetle on live redbay trees and increased survivorship of laurel trees compared to untreated trees (Fig. 4). Verbenone should be considered as part of a holistic management system against redbay ambrosia beetle that also includes removal and chipping of contaminated trees.

If you have Redbay or other bay species on your property and are concerned about Laurel Wilt Disease or Redbay Ambrosia Beetle damage, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agents for help!

This article is courtesy of Dr. Xavier Martini and Mr. Derek Conover of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy.

Fig. 3: Application of SPLAT Verb on a redbay tree during a field trial

Figure 4: (A): Cumulative capture of redbay ambrosia beetles Xyleborus glabratus following a single application of verbenone vs untreated control (UC). (B) Survivorship of redbay and swamp bay trees treated with verbenone on four different studies conducted in 2017 and 2018.


Florida Invasive Species Awareness Week

Florida Invasive Species Awareness Week

Next week (May 18-22) is Florida Invasive Species Awareness Week! Join us online for an educational video each day at 9:00 am CST on invasive species that are important in our area and what to do about them. See the flyer below and join us on Facebook at for the event!

Invasive species are living things that are not from an area and have adverse affects on people, whether it is their health, the economy, or the environment we live in. The more people who can identify and control these species, the healthier we can keep ourselves, our businesses, and the world around us!

Protect Your Home from Swarming Termites

Protect Your Home from Swarming Termites

Swarm of eastern subterranean termites. Photo by Susan Ellis,

Spring is in the air and that means termite swarming season is near!

Northwest Florida is home to fifteen native species of termites and six species that have invaded from other parts of the world. One invasive species of termite, the Formosan termite, arrived in the southeastern United States in the 1950’s and has been expanding its range and numbers ever since. While our native termites have colonies in the thousands of individuals, Formosan termite colonies can contain millions of individuals and that makes them a greater threat if they invade your home.



Here are some steps you can take to protect your home:

  • Turn off outside lights during termite swarming season – late April through June – the swarms are attracted to the light and may then find entry into your home.
  • Reduce moisture around your home by keeping gutters clean and having them drain at least a foot away from the foundation.
  • Avoid irrigation hitting the house.
  • Plants and mulch should be a foot away from the foundation.
  • Repair leaks and cracks – termites can get into the smallest of spaces.
  • Avoid wood, stucco and siding in contact with the ground.
  • Have an annual inspection by a licensed pest control company. Read the fine print of what is covered and what species/type of termites are included. Some policies exclude coverage for Formosan termites.

For more information:

Subterranean Termites

The Facts About Termites and Mulch

UF/IFAS Featured Creature: Formosan Termites

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Termite Control Information

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Formosan Termite Program

Air Potato Vines and Leaf Beetles

Air Potato Vines and Leaf Beetles

Several Extension offices in the Panhandle are collecting air potato bulbils for National Invasive Species Week. Photo credit: Esther Mudge, Escambia County

The non-native invasive air potato vine (Discorea bulbifera) has wound its way throughout Florida, from pine forests and creek floodplains to backyards. Their heart-shaped leaves are most noticeable in the spring and fall, where they can take over large areas, not unlike their fellow invasive vine, kudzu. In the fall, the plant produces a potato-like tuber called a bulbil, which grows above ground on the vine. The bulbils drop in the winter and then produce new vines the following spring.

The vine’s growth has been uncontrolled or kept back by herbicide for years, until researchers discovered a biological control insect known as the air potato leaf beetle (Liloceris cheni). In the vine’s native Nepal and China, the beetle controls growth by surviving on the leaves of the air potato, its sole food source. After extensive study, the USDA approved the use of these beetles in Florida to control the air potato vine population here. UF IFAS Extension offices statewide have participated in these beetle release programs, providing thousands of beetles to homeowners and property owners seeking to manage the invasive vine using a chemical-free technique. Left alone, air potato vines can smother full-sized trees, blocking the sunlight and causing them to collapse under the weight of the intertwined vines.

From 2012-2015, beetles were able to reduce air potato vine coverage and bulbil density by 25-70% (depending on location and density of beetle population). The active beetle-production phase of a UF IFAS grant has ended, but researchers are committed to the goal of reducing this nuisance species statewide.

To assist with this process, several Extension offices in the Panhandle are sponsoring a bulbil collection during National Invasive Species Week (NISAW, February 23-29).  This effort will serve two important roles: to remove bulbils from the natural environment and to provide a seed source for university researchers seeking to grow air potato vine in a controlled environment, sustaining a continued population of air potato beetles for distribution.

For more information on Air Potato Vines and Leaf Beetles, visit or contact your local County Extension office.

Weeds – More Than Just a Garden Eyesore

Weeds – More Than Just a Garden Eyesore

Nobody likes weeds in their garden.  Weeds are not only ugly, they can host insects and diseases that later spread to your garden.  This situation commonly occurs when weeds belong to the same plant family as the desired landscape or vegetable species, but some insects and diseases have diverse palettes.  For example, I recently witnessed a looper caterpillar on a pokeweed plant.

Looper Damage on a Pokeweed

Looper damage on a pokeweed plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

Loopers are common pests of vegetable gardens and in the landscape.  Probably the most common loopers found in North Florida gardens are cabbage loopers (Trichoplusia ni) and soybean loopers (Chrysodeixis includens).  Cabbage loopers can be found feeding on cabbage, of course, as well as leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, chrysanthemums, and snapdragons.  Weeds that attract this looper are lambsquarters, dandelions, and curly dock.  Soybean loopers like to feed on sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, geraniums, and sunflowers.  They can also be found feeding on oxalis, kutzu, and lantana.

Looper insect

Looper found on pokeweed plant. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

Although weeds can be hosts for pests, they may be used advantageously.  Trap crops can be planted at a garden’s perimeter or windward portion to attract pests away from the desired crop.  A trap crop draws the pest crop away from the main crop.  The trap crop is then destroyed or sprayed with insecticide when the pest insect is found feeding on it.  This allows for a reduction or elimination of insecticidal use on the desired crop.  However, it is important that both the trap crop and the desired food crop or ornamental crop are regularly scouted to keep track of pest populations.

For more information on trap crops and other insect and disease diversion methods you can read the EDIS Publication: Intercropping, Crop Diversity and Pest Management.