Dig Safely: Call 811

This month, recognized by the Senate and Florida’s governor, reminds diggers why calling 811 before all outdoor digging projects is important to your safety. Before installing a mailbox, fence, deck, garden or tree make sure to call Sunshine 811 to have underground lines marked. 811 is the free national number designated by the Federal Communications Commission.  It notifies utility companies, who in turn send their professional locators to identify and mark the appropriate location of underground line with paint and flags in colors that identify the utility type.  The following colors represent the seven various utilities: red – electric, orange – communications (telephone, cable tv), blue – potable water, green – sewer, yellow – gas, purple – reclaimed water, and white – site of intended excavation.  To learn more about color designation and their corresponding  utility go to: http://www.call811.com/faqs/default.aspx.   Locating marks are good for 30 calendar days.  Any work beyond that requires another call to 811.  If the marks are destroyed before your project is done, stop digging and call 811.


Hitting an underground utility line while digging can cause injuries.   Utility service outages can also impact an entire neighborhood and damage the environment. The depth of utility lines varies, and there may be multiple utility lines in one common area.  Even if you think you know where an underground line is, time tends to change things.  Erosion or tree roots can shift those utility lines.  Failure to call before digging results in one unintentional utility hit every eight minutes nationwide.  You could also be financially affected with costly fines and high repair costs.


The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) provides industry stakeholders with a way to anonymously submit data into a comprehensive database for analysis of the factors that lead to events. An event is defined by the CGA DIRT User’s Guide as “the occurrence of downtime, damages, and near misses.” The number of events submitted to DIRT for 2011 totaled 207,779. However, according to CGA DIRT “when a call is made to the one call center (811) prior to excavation, 99% of the time there will be no damage”.


Calling 811 in Florida is the law. At least two full business days before digging, do-it yourselfers and professional excavators must contact 811 by phone to start the process of getting underground utility lines marked.  This is a free service.  Be sure that all utilities have been marked before grabbing the shovel.  If you don’t see locate marks, don’t assume there are no underground utility lines.  Verify with the Sunshine 811 Positive Response system.  Follow up on your one call ticket by contacting 811 again on the third day.  Sunshine State One Call is a not for profit corporation which began with the 1993 adoption of the “Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act,” Chapter 556, Florida Statutes.  Online you can visit: www.online811.com, or call (800) 852-8057.  If you provide a valid e-mail when requesting your locate ticket, positive response updates will automatically be sent to you when all utilities have responded.  For more information on Florida’s law, visit www.Sunshine811.com.

Choosing a Lawn Maintenance Company

Choosing a Lawn Maintenance Company

UF/IFAS File Photo

Lawns in northwest Florida are really starting to get going early this year. It is early March but feels much later in the year and many feel behind on their lawn maintenance and various other landscape chores. Maybe it is time to think about hiring a lawn maintenance company to do the job for you. Keep in mind a few tips while trying to decide which company you will hire.

  1. Lawn Maintenance and Landscape companies are NOT required to have a “professional license” in order to operate their business. This means anyone can start a lawn maintenance company whether they have experience or not. All it takes is a quick visit to the tax collectors office to get a tax receipt. This fact should make you want to go the extra mile to be sure you receive excellent service.

    Photo Credits: UF/IFAS File Photo

  2. Make sure the company chosen has the proper amount of liability insurance.
  3. There are licenses required for specific services, such as applying fertilizers or pesticides. Check with the company to be sure that the pesticide or fertilizer applicator will be properly licensed to do the job required. Here is a list of licenses to be aware of while choosing a lawn service:
  4. Receive several quotes from different companies to compare pricing structures and rates. Ask for a very detailed quote. Communicate your needs accurately. Some companies will be better suited for a simple “mow and blow” job while others specialize in a full service job.
  5. Interview the company and be sure they follow University of Florida recommended mowing heights, fertilization rates, etc.* Quiz them on the subject to be sure they are familiar with properly maintaining landscapes.

There are a lot of really good Landscape and Lawn Maintenance professionals working in Northwest Florida. If you take some time while searching you will find a really good company who can help with beautifying your lawn and landscape.


*Call your local extension office to get the recommended mowing heights, fertilization rates, etc.

So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series

So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series

Are you an avid gardener and looking to step it up a notch? Are your gardening eyes bigger than your dinner plate? If you have ever considered selling your bounty for market, you will certainly need to do your homework! One such step you can take is to attend the UF/IFAS Panhandle Extension Team’s So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series.

There’s a lot to know if you want to get into this business! This series aims to introduce new or potential farmers to innovative and environmentally safe production practices, concepts of soil and water management, integrated pest management, how to grow for a farmers’ market, and farm financial management.

Agricultural professionals are actually in high demand. There is an estimated 60,000 highly skilled jobs in agriculture available annually, but only about half of these positions are being filled by graduates in agricultural fields. Additionally, Florida’s farmers are an aging group, and there was an 8% decrease in the number of farms and 26% decrease in acres of cropland from 2002 to 2012.

Fortunately, demand has greatly increased in recent years for locally produced specialty crops, meats, and dairy. There has also been an increase in the number of direct marketing opportunities and small farmers have been able to adopt new technologies, such as season extension techniques and local online marketing, to generate more revenue on small acreages.

The UF/IFAS Extension Panhandle Agriculture Team is hosting the So You Want to be a Farmer? Workshop Series to assist beginning or novice farmers as they navigate the many challenges of getting started.

If you are interested in attending, please register on the So You Want to be a Farmer? Eventbrite page. The cost is $10 per session, with sessions at multiple locations within the east Florida Panhandle.

Please see workshop dates and further details below:

Common Live Oak Problems and Solutions

Common Live Oak Problems and Solutions


The Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) is one of the most iconic figures of the Deep South. Mentioning the words Live Oak invokes all sorts of romantic nostalgia of yesteryear and the reputation is not unearned. In fact, many Live Oaks still stand that were growing on American soil when the first English settlers set foot on Plymouth Rock. They are long-lived, picturesque trees that also happen to be nearly bulletproof in the landscape. Given these factors, it is not surprising that Live Oak is far and away the most common tree included in both residential and commercial landscapes in the Coastal South. However, even the venerable Live Oak is not without its problems; this article will discuss a few of the more common issues seen with this grand species.

The Angel Oak near Charleston, SC

The Angel Oak near Charleston, SC

Few conditions afflict live oak but when they do, improper planting or cultural practices are usually at play. Observing the following best management practices will go a long way toward ensuring the long-term health of a planted Live Oak:

  • Remember to always plant trees a little higher than the surrounding soil to prevent water standing around the trunk or soil piling up around it, both of these issues frequently cause rot to occur at the base of the tree.
  • If planting a containerized tree, remember to score the rootball to prevent circling roots that will eventually girdle the tree. If planting a B&B (Balled and Burlap) specimen, remember to remove the strapping material from the top of the wire basket, failure to do this can also result in the tree being girdled.

Live Oak has few insect pests but there are some that prove bothersome to homeowners. The following are two of the most common pests of Live Oaks and how to manage them:

Typical galling on Live Oak

Typical galling on Live Oak


Galls are cancerous looking growths that appear on the leaves and twigs of Live Oak from time to time and are caused by gall wasps that visit the tree and lay their eggs inside the leaf or stem of the plant. The larvae hatch and emerge from the galls the following spring to continue the cycle. These galls are rarely more than aesthetically displeasing, however it is good practice to remove and destroy gall infected stems/leaves from younger trees as gall formation may cause some branch dieback or defoliation. Chemical control is rarely needed or practical (due to the very specific time the wasps are outside the tree and active) in a home landscape situation.

  • Black Twig Borers can also be problematic. These little insects seldom kill a tree but their damage (reduction of growth and aesthetic harm) can be substantial. Infestations begin in the spring in Northwest Florida, with the female twig borer drilling a pen-head sized hole in a large twig or small branch and then laying her eggs in the ensuing cavity. She then transmits an ambrosia fungus that grows in the egg-cavity, providing food for the borer, other borer adults, and her offspring that take up residence and over-winter in the twig. The activity of the insects in the twig has an effect similar to girdling; the infected twig will rapidly brown and die, making removal and destruction of the infected branches a key component


In conclusion, though there are a few problems that can potentially arise with Live Oak, its premier status and continued widespread use in the landscape is warranted and encouraged. It should be remembered that, relative to most other candidates for shade trees in the landscape, Live Oak is extremely durable, long-lived, and one of most pest and disease free trees available. Happy growing!

Do Your Plants have Problems?

Do Your Plants have Problems?

When you don’t know what’s ailing your plant, ask an expert.


Many gardeners get stumped when a favorite plant of theirs comes down with a strange “something”. Many of these gardeners know about UF/IFAS Extension and call their local horticulture and agriculture agents for assistance in figuring out what’s going on. However, even these experts are often stumped by what they see. Fortunately, the agents have another layer of experts to fall back on. In addition to the resources in Gainesville, we have the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, located at the North Florida Research Center in Quincy. Plant pathologists here can help determine what fungus, bacteria, virus, or viroid may be the problem.


Plant pathologists are basically plant doctors. They use all sorts of sophisticated techniques to determine what is the cause of a particular plant problem, from growing out fungal spores to examining DNA. Not only do these plant doctors tell us what the ailment is, they also provide recommended cures, or control options. They are also doing research to prevent different diseases from taking hold in our area and reduce the impact on our local growers.


Plant pathologist at work!


At a recent workshop in Quincy, we learned that plant pathology researchers are working on a fungus that affects watermelons, virus and bacteria that can wipe out a farmer’s tomato crop, and a virus that could impact our local roses. Working as a team of scientists, they study these pathogens in the lab and conduct controlled field experiments to figure out which techniques are most effective. Some of this research is leading to different methods and/or products that can help growers and gardeners alike keep their fields and landscapes healthy.


So, if your plants have problems, please contact your local Extension Office. If they don’t know the answer, then the network of scientists, including plant pathologists, in the UF/IFAS Extension family can be called on for backup to provide you with the best possible answer.

It’s Wise to Prepare for Storms

It’s Wise to Prepare for Storms

Tropical storm season officially ends November 30. I’m not predicting a storm but even with our average winds during a typical thunderstorm, you’d be wise to prepare.

Falling trees and flying landscape debris during a storm can cause damage. Evaluate your landscape for potential tree hazards. Pruning or removing trees once a hurricane watch has been announced is risky and tree trimming debris left along the street is hazardous.

Photo credit: Larry Williams, UF/IFAS.

Photo credit: Larry Williams, UF/IFAS.

Now is a good time to remove dead or dying trees and to prune decayed or dead branches Also inspect trees for signs of disease or insect infestation that may further weaken them.

Professional help sometimes is your best option when dealing with larger jobs. Property damage could be reduced by having a professional arborist evaluate unhealthy, injured or questionable trees to assess risk and treat problems. Hiring a certified arborist can be a worthwhile investment. To find a certified arborist in your area contact the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) at 217-355-9411 or at www.isa-arbor.com. You also may contact the Florida Chapter of ISA at 941-342-0153 or at www.floridaisa.org.

Consider removing trees that have low wind resistance, are at the end of their life span or that have potential to endanger lives or property. For example, laurel oaks are relatively short-lived, usually showing considerable dieback as they reach 50 years. They tend to lose their strength and stability faster than most other oaks and have low wind resistance. Consider removing a big, old laurel oak within falling distance of your home before the next storm.

Tree species with the lowest wind resistance include pecan, tulip poplar, cherry laurel, Bradford pear, southern red oak, laurel oak, water oak, Chinese tallow, Chinese elm, southern red cedar, Leyland cypress, sand pine and spruce pine.

Pine species vary in their wind resistance, usually with longleaf and slash pines showing better survival rates than loblolly and sand pine. However, when pines become large, they may cause damage if located close to homes or other valuable structures.