One of the incredible benefits of living in Florida is exposure to the biodiversity of our wildlife population. From ordinary squirrels and mockingbirds to the more exotic panthers and migratory tropical birds, it is rare one can step outside the house without seeing or hearing wildlife of some variety. One of the practices we “preach” here at Extension is to provide habitat for wildlife in our yards and gardens. While cities and neighborhoods are human-centric, we share these spaces with thousands of wild animals, birds, fish, and insects and should always consider them in our actions.
Attracting birds and butterflies are popular pastimes, and Extension faculty can provide a tremendous amount of information on their preferences and food sources. However, a few unsung critters deserve homes and space as well. Just yesterday, I took a call from a gentleman who was excited to discover a small colony of bats roosting in a tree on his property. He was looking for ways to encourage them to stay, because he realized the countless benefits they provide in free insect control. Many people are nervous around bats of because of their unpredictable, irregular night flight pattern and association with scary stories. However, an average Florida bat can eat 1,000 insects a night, keeping pest populations down, reducing mosquito-borne disease, and saving millions of dollars in crop damage.
In our demonstration garden today, I was delighted to walk up on a black racer sunning itself in the grass. These common garden snakes provide valuable pest control of rats and mice, and are not aggressive or venomous. The fear of snakes often comes from the surprise of finding one unexpectedly, so always be alert and observant when outdoors. Respect for these creatures and a basic working knowledge of common venomous and nonvenomous species can go a long way towards calming one’s nerves. An excellent resource for snake identification in north Florida is this online guide. Like many snakes, this particular snake had been in tall grass, so it is always wise to be cautious in those areas.
This black racer sunning in the grass must have gotten the message about utilizing habitat provided for wildlife! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
To attract wildlife, learn about their life cycle and food sources, and provide shelter, water, and food for the species you are interested in attracting. Keep in mind that inviting wildlife may also draw their predators, but know that this is part of the larger cycle. Always keep safety in mind, and if necessary keep tall vegetation and deep water to a minimum in play areas frequented by young children. The benefits of providing food and shelter for wildlife are countless for human observers and wildlife alike.
Florida pusley is common summer annual weed. Photo credit: Larry Williams
If weeds were a problem in your lawn last summer, the coming weeks are the time to apply a pre-emergence herbicide to prevent their emergence again this spring and summer.
Timing of a pre-emergence herbicide application for summer annual weeds such as crabgrass should be during February when day temperatures reach 65° to 70°F for four to five consecutive days. This generally coincides with when azaleas and dogwoods first begin to bloom. This in not when these plants are in full bloom but when the first flowers begin to open along the lower branches, particularly on azaleas. Note: This timing is not true for chamberbitter. Chamberbitter requires warmer soil temperatures to germinate. Apply a pre-emergence herbicide during April when battling chamberbitter.
Most pre-emergent type herbicides won’t work when applied after weeds are visible. The product must be applied just before seedlings emerge.
The weeds growing now in local lawns are not summer annuals. Summer annual weed seeds are still dormant awaiting warmer spring temperatures to germinate and emerge.
Most of the weeds in yards now are winter annuals. A few include annual bluegrass, chickweed, henbit, hop clover, lawn burweed and wild geranium.
Winter annual weeds in lawn. Photo credit: Larry Williams
A pre-emergence herbicide should have been applied during October to help prevent these weeds.
A few common summer annual weeds include crabgrass, Florida pusley, chamberbitter, sandspur, spotted spurge and doveweed.
If your lawn has a history of summer annual weeds, one control option is to apply a pre-emergence herbicide. Timing is critical in order for pre-emergence herbicides to work.
Look for lawn pre-emergence products that contain the active ingredients oryzalin, benefin, pendimethalin, DCPA or bensulide.
For season-long weed control, a second application may be needed about six to nine weeks after the initial application. To activate some products, irrigation or rain may be necessary following application. Because pre-emergence products may interfere with lawn grass seed germination, delay re-seeding six to sixteen weeks after application.
Overuse of some types of pre-emergence herbicides can cause a lawn to produce short stubby weak roots. So only apply the product if there is a pest to control – in this case, if you have had a history of summer annual weeds. Otherwise, save your money and time. Use pre-emergence herbicides only on lawns that have been established for at least a year. These products can severely injure newly planted lawns.
It is the user’s responsibility to read and follow all label directions and precautions when using any pesticide, including herbicides.
The “new” or “Irish” potato is one of America’s most popular vegetables and a fine cool season crop choice for gardeners in the Panhandle.
The history of the potato is quite interesting. The potato was first domesticated in Peru between 3000 BC-2000 BC. Potatoes were first planted, where in states? Idaho, of course, as early as the 1830’s. By 1900, Idaho’s production exceeded one million bushels. Potatoes are diverse in appearance and uses. Potatoes are high in nutrition and have fewer calories than other starches such as rice, pasta and bread.
In Florida, potatoes can be planted in the winter or early spring. February 1st to March 10th is the prime planting range. As a general production rule, 100 lbs. of seed potatoes will typically yield around ten bushels. Be sure to use only certified seed potatoes for best planting stock. These can be found at most garden centers. For best results, select varieties recommended for North Florida like ‘Atlantic’, ‘Sebago’, and ‘Superior’ (all round, white potatoes). Also, ‘Red Lasorda’ and ‘Red Pontiac’ are viable round, red potatoes. Resist using potato stock bought from produce sections at grocery stores. Odds are, symptoms of a number of diseases will occur. For planting, each seed potato should be cut into smaller pieces, displaying two or more eyes. To prevent fungal pathogens, the most common culprit in potato production, use a light dusting of a fungicide to combating decay.
Figure 1. Red and white potatoes grown in Florida.
Credit: C. Hutchinson. UF/IFAS Extension
It’s best to plant seed potatoes in raised rows, where the height of the mound is 6 inches and the width is 1 to 2 feet. Row spacing should be at least 3 feet apart. The seed furrow should be 3-4 inches in depth, through the center of the row. Seed potatoes should be planted in 1 foot intervals. Cover, and water freshly planted rows. Fertilizing is key. One quart of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 50 feet of row space is needed for the initial application. Through the season, for every 3 weeks, side dress the rows with a pound of 10-10-10 per 50 feet of row space.
Following these steps will ensure a productive potato crop. For more information please contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article and further information can be found in the following the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Growing Potatoes in the Florida Home Garden” by Christian T. Christensen, Joel Reyes-Cabrera, Libby R. Rens, Jeffrey E. Pack, Lincoln Zotarelli, Chad Hutchinson, Wendy J. Dahl, Doug Gergela, and James M. White: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS18300.pdf
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.
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:
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus
- Para-menthane diol
- 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
- 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:
UF/IFAS Mosquito Information Website
This tomato hornworm is being parasitized by beneficial wasps. Photo credit: Henry Crenshaw
Why would anyone allow dozens of wasps to thrive in their garden? Why would they let caterpillars keep moving through their pepper bushes? Don’t they know you can spray for that?
As Extension agents, one of the tenets we “preach” in gardening is the concept of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This technique involves a series of insect control measures that begin with the “least toxic” method of control, using chemicals as a last resort. One of those least toxic measures is “biological control”, in which a natural predator or parasite is recognized and allowed to remove a pest insect naturally. It is important to be able to recognize some of the more common garden predators and parasites. Many times these insects look strange or dangerous, and they are mistaken for pests and killed.
One such beneficial insect to the home gardener is the braconid wasp (Cotesia congregatus). Most people shudder at the mention of wasps, but these tiny (1/8 inch long), mostly transparent wasps are of no danger to humans. Quite the opposite–they are an excellent addition to gardens, especially if you are growing tomatoes or peppers. One of the major pests to these favorite vegetables is the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata), a fat green and white-striped caterpillar.
The beneficial wasp can control hornworms because females lay eggs under the caterpillar’s skin, after which the eggs hatch and larvae feed on the hornworm. After eating through the caterpillar, they form dozens of tiny white cocoons on the caterpillar’s skin. The tomato hornworm is rendered weak and near death, and the vegetable crop is saved.
If you happen to find a tomato hornworm covered in these small oval cocoons, consider yourself lucky. Let the process continue, allowing the new generation of beneficial wasps to hatch and continue their life cycle. They will control any future hornworms in your garden, and the whole process is fascinating to watch!
For questions on integrated pest management, beneficial insects, or growing peppers and tomatoes, call your local County Extension office.
Hydrangea leaf spot disease
Photo credit: Larry Williams
It is not uncommon to see leaf spots on your hydrangeas during late summer and fall.
These spots are caused by a number of fungal diseases. Plant fungi and wet weather go hand-in-hand. Florida’s high humidity, heavy dews and frequent rains during spring and summer provide perfect conditions to allow fungal diseases to flourish. Bacterial leaf spots can be part of this foliage disease mix, too.
Common foliage diseases seen on hydrangeas this time of year include Phyllosticta leaf spot, Target leaf spot, Bacterial leaf spot, Botrytis and Cercospora leaf spot.
These foliage diseases are the norm rather than the exception as we move into the wet summer months and on into fall. As a matter of fact, you would be hard-pressed to find any hydrangea in our area without some evidence of infection now.
This late in the year it is more of a “grin and bear it” problem. In other words, it’s too late to do much about the fact that your hydrangea plant has leaves covered in ugly spots. By now many of the infected leaves are turning brown, withering and dropping prematurely from the plant.
Cercospora leaf spot is one of the most common foliage diseases of hydrangeas. Along with most of the leaf spot diseases, it begins as small dark-colored specks on the leaves. The small specks generally go unnoticed. But as the spots continue to slowly enlarge, mostly maintaining a circular shape, they become more obvious. With heavy infection, individual spots can coalesce forming larger irregular shaped brown areas on individual leaves. The individual spots may have a purplish halo with gray center.
There are some fungicides that can help prevent these leaf spots. But you’d have to begin treatment early in spring before any leaf spots exist and spray the plant every 10 to 14 days during favorable disease development (humid, rainy weather), which is pretty much our spring and summer months. These types of diseases are prevented, not cured. That’s the “grin and bear it” part of waiting until now.
The fungus survives on infected leaves. So, the best thing to do now is to remove and dispose of infected leaves. Also, be careful to not wet the leaves when irrigating the plants during the growing season.
New leaves of spring should be spot/disease free as they emerge. But the cycle of life for these leaf spot diseases will again result in spotted/diseased leaves on your hydrangeas next summer and fall without persistent treatment.
The good news is that these leaf spot diseases normally do not cause permanent/long-term damage for hydrangeas. They just make the plant look ugly.