Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

Winter Annual Weeds, a Great Place to Hide Easter Eggs

As a boy in a small town in Georgia we had a St. Augustinegrass lawn. My dad started the lawn before I was born. That lawn was still doing fine when I left for college at age seventeen. I don’t remember weeds in the lawn during summer months. I do fondly remember winter “weeds” in that lawn.

To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to what

Bluish Easter egg hidden in chickweed

Blue Easter egg hidden in chickweed. Photo credit: Larry Williams

would have been a plain palette of green. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter and early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.

Wild geranium, another common winter annual, offered another good hiding place for Easter eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves.

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover and hop clover mix

Pink Easter egg hidden in crimson clover & hop clover mix. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers were good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.

I never remember my dad using any weed killer, he rarely watered. The lawn was healthy and thick enough to be a deterrent to summer weeds. But during fall and winter as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, winter annual weeds would run their course.

I’ve heard that the sense of smell provides our strongest memories. I remember the first mowing of the season with the clean smell of chlorophyll in the spring air. It was refreshing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annual weeds were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, played on and typically not worried with.

Most people have winter weeds in their lawns that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with these weeds and they are still here. Most lawns have countless numbers of winter annual seeds awaiting the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.

Spittlebugs and Your Lawn

Spittlebugs and Your Lawn

Two-Lined Spittlebug. Photo courtesy of Evan Anderson.

Problems with turfgrass come in all shapes and sizes. One that may affect your lawn is an insect that has two very distinct life stages. Named for the two distinct stripes on its back, the two-lined spittlebug looks like a plant or leafhopper during its adult life. When it is young, however, it is often camouflaged and not readily visible. The small green nymph hides in a mass of white froth or spittle that it secretes for protection.

The two-lined spittlebug is not a picky eater, though it cannot harm people or pets. It feeds on a variety of plants, piercing the stem or leaves with its mouthparts and sucking out the juices within. While it may not be picky, it does have favorites. Holly bushes are one food of choice for this pest and centipedegrass is another, so those growing this grass should keep an eye open. The protective spittle masses are usually close to the ground, so they may not be readily visible from above.

Centipedegrass displays feeding injury from spittlebugs in the form of purple or white striping along its leaf blades. If infestations are particularly heavy, the grass may turn yellow, then brown, and eventually curl up as the leaves die. Populations of the adults that cause most of this damage are typically largest in June, with another spike around August or September as the year’s second generation matures. Years with excess rainfall in spring and summer will see increased numbers of spittlebugs.

Spittlebug damage on Centipedegrass. Photo courtesy of Larry Williams, Okaloosa County Horticulture Agent.

If you are having a problem with these pests, make sure you are keeping your lawn as healthy as possible with good cultural practices. Proper watering, fertilization, and mowing to the appropriate height can all help to keep grass strong enough to withstand pests. Remove excess thatch, as it holds moisture and can favor the growth of spittlebugs.

Insecticides may be used to help with control as well. Options for Florida include pyrethroids such as bifenthrin, permethrin, and cyfluthrin. Products with the active ingredients imidacloprid and carbaryl are other options. Read the label of any product you choose. If you have questions or need help in identifying a pest problem in your lawn, contact your local Extension office.

A Native Groundcover with a Springtime Surprise

A Native Groundcover with a Springtime Surprise

Powderpuff mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), also called Sunshine Mimosa or Sensitive Plant, is an increasingly popular native plant for home and commercial landscape applications that offers a very show display of puffy pink flowers this time of year!

Powderpuff Mimosa, (Mimosa strigillosa). Photo courtesy of Ray Bodrey.

This Florida native, low-growing groundcover grows no more than eight inches in height, and that would be classified as an extremely vigorous stand. Powderpuff Mimosa is technically a perennial legume, meaning it doesn’t need any nitrogen fertilizer from gardeners.

The groundcover is appealing to the eye with its dark green fern-like leaves.  Not an evergreen, the plants fall into a semi-dormant to dormant state during the fall and winter seasons. Powderpuff Mimosa is a very resilient groundcover as well, needing little irrigation, spreading quickly, and co-existing well with turfgrass. Just a few pots of this species transplanted should cover up to 300 square feet in a season. Although it spreads quickly, it can easily be pruned or mowed if it moves into unwanted areas.

Powderpuff mimosa is a great plant for erosion control due to its deep roots. These deep roots also allow for good levels of drought tolerance. There are very few insect or disease problems with this plant, other than the occasional caterpillar. It is a very wildlife and pollinator friendly plant, with honeybees, butterflies, deer, and more all finding it appealing. It’s even considered a livestock forage, as cattle find it palatable.

Looking to plant powderpuff mimosa in your landscape? Any area that gets mostly full sun is just fine. This plant is adapted to a wide range of soils, but particularly flourishes in well-drained, sandy loam soils.  Be sure to water regularly, especially to ensure successful establishment in your landscape. Find this wonderful little plant at Florida native plant nurseries!

For more information contact the Gulf County Extension Office at 639-3200 or email at rbodrey@ufl.edu.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS Extension website: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/powderpuff-mimosa.html & USDA website: https://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_mist2.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Opportunity for Professional Training

Opportunity for Professional Training

People with lawn care equipmentNo previous experience or accreditation it required to be a landscaper in the state of Florida. So when homeowners are searching for service providers, it is important that they question potential companies about their skills. One good measure is completion of voluntary certifications such as the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP). The FCHP program has been the industry’s standard for measuring horticulture and landscape knowledge since 1984. The training is also useful for property managers, homeowner associations and retail garden center employees, or anyone that wants to know more about Florida’s plants and their care.

 

Plants are complex and variable living things that range from microscopic to the largest of living organisms. With steady population growth in the state of Florida, environmental damage risks created by the use of improper products and practices has continually risen. State and federal natural resource protection agencies have restricted certain horticultural practices, as well as, fertilizer and pesticide application. It takes scientific knowledge to maintain lawns and landscapes, not just a “green thumb” in order to keep plants healthy while reducing contamination to the soil, air and water that we all need.

 

The Florida Certified Horticulture Professional training covers 16 areas, including identification, fertilization, irrigation, pest management, safety and business practices. Lecture and hands-on activities are utilized at each session. The 70-hour course will enhance anyone’s knowledge and will provide the basis for professionals to deliver a skilled service to clientele.

 

If you are a green industry worker or a concerned citizen interested in attending a FCHP preparatory course, there is an opportunity here in Crestview. Beginning Thursday, January 16, 2020 and continuing for 10 weeks to March 19, 2020, the Okaloosa County Extension office will be providing training for $175, which included the newest hard copy manual. Contact Sheila Dunning, 850-689-5850, sdunning@ufl.edu for more information.

Tips for Getting a Non-Irrigated Lawn through a Drought

Tips for Getting a Non-Irrigated Lawn through a Drought

For a state that receives around 60” of rainfall a year, it is sure dry in Florida right now!  In the Panhandle, the majority of our annual rainfall occurs in in bunches during winter and early spring via near-weekly cold fronts, in the mid-summer as a result of afternoon thunderstorms, and periodically in late summer/early fall if a tropical system crosses our path.  Mixed in, however, are two distinct, historically dry periods: the first one in April through mid-May (contrary to popular myth, if we have May flowers, they’re gonna have to make it without April showers) and the second right now in September and October.  The prolonged second dry period that we’re experiencing now makes it difficult to manage the mostly unirrigated, low-input turfgrass common in rural Panhandle lawns and pastures.  It is critical to enter these expected droughts with healthy turf and remembering to employ 3 simple management tips when it quits raining (although you should follow them year-round ideally) can greatly increase your turf’s resiliency!

Unirrigated Centipdedegrass turf showing drought stress- Photo courtesy of the author.

Water Wisely – The average Florida turfgrass requires ¾-1” of water per week and we generally achieve that through rainfall.  However, in our droughty months, supplemental irrigation can be a lawn saver, particularly in high traffic or more stressed areas of the yard.  I realize that many of you, myself included, maintain large lawns without irrigation systems and it’s impossible to keep all your lawn well-watered during drought, but you can maintain the areas around your home, hardscapes and landscaped beds with the highest impact/visibility nicely!  In these areas, put down no more than ¾” of water per irrigation event, a ballpark number that ordinarily allows the turf root zone to become saturated.  Measuring your sprinkler’s water output is easily done by setting several straight-sided cans (tuna or cat food containers work great) under the sprinkler and timing how long it takes to achieve 3/4”.  You might be surprised how much water you waste by leaving a sprinkler running for an hour or more!

Apply Herbicides Appropriately – Herbicides are a great item to have in the turf care toolbox, but if used incorrectly can be a waste of time and money at best, harmful to your turf at worst! Once turf and associated weeds become drought stressed (turning bluish gray, obvious wilting, leaves curling, etc.), it is too late for weed control with herbicides.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, when plants get stressed, they slow or stop their growth and focus on survival.  This survival response prevents herbicides from being taken up properly and ultimately causes ineffectual weed control.  Also, many herbicides specifically state on the product label that they should not be applied during certain conditions (drought, temperatures above 85-90 degrees, etc.).  It is critical that one adhere to these label directions as applying the incorrect product in hot and dry conditions can cause volatility, drift to non-target plants, and in some cases, toxicity to turf you’re treating in.  When it’s droughty like it is now, leave the herbicides in the chemical shed to prevent wasting your time and money and potentially damaging non-target plants!

Unirrigated Centipedegrass turf showing drought stress – photo courtesy of the author

Raise that Deck – Finally, one of the most important turf management strategies during an extended drought is to reduce mowing and raise your mower’s cutting height when/if you do mow.  As mentioned above, plants are already stressed during a drought and physically chopping off a chunk of the turf plant stresses it further, causing an energy-intensive wound response when the plant is actively conserving resources for survival.  Therefore, if you just HAVE to mow, raise the cutting height as high as possible to make the smallest injury possible on the grass and keep your mower blades sharp to ensure a clean cut, which will heal easier and require a smaller energy response from the plant.

During droughts like the one we’re currently in, there isn’t one silver bullet to keep your non-irrigated turf looking good.  However, there are several strategies you can use throughout the year to get your lawn through dry times.  Remember to water ¾”-1” per week when you can, where you can.  Before you water, calibrate your sprinkler to ensure you put out enough water and don’t waste your time and inflate your utility bill by putting out too much! Reduce or eliminate use of herbicides as they are ineffective during stress periods and can harm your turfgrass.  Finally, reduce or eliminate mowing and if you must mow, raise the deck!  If you have any questions about getting your turf through the drought or other horticultural or agronomic topics, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!

Make a Plan for Next Year’s Chamberbitter Management

Make a Plan for Next Year’s Chamberbitter Management

Weeds identification and management is still one of the most common questions we receive at the local UF IFAS Extension office.  Learn about the chamberbitter weed that can grow in turf and ornamental beds and the multi faceted approach that is necessary for management In the Garden with Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.