What’s that Webbing on My Tree Trunk?

What’s that Webbing on My Tree Trunk?

There are numerous insects and insect relatives that can produce webbing, and webbing can be a sign that something unwanted is near. Arachnophobes might grow uneasy at the sight of a spiderweb, and gardeners might frown to see the tiny filaments that spider mites spin. Tree lovers might assume that webs on a tree are a sign that caterpillars such as the eastern tent caterpillar have taken up residence. But what about webs on a tree trunk?

Bark louse webbing. Photo courtesy of Evan Anderson.

If you come across a tree trunk coated in silk, chances are you’re looking at the work of a bark louse. Also known as psocids or tree cattle, these little insects eat all the stuff that sticks to a tree’s bark. Lichen, moss, algae, and dead bark can all end up as meals for a hungry bark louse. The good news is that while lichens don’t hurt trees, neither do bark lice!

Bark lice spin their webbing as protection from predators. They often produce large quantities of webbing, because there are often large quantities of bark lice present. The name ‘tree cattle’ comes from the fact that they form these large colonies, and move in a manner similar to cattle in groups. While swirling swarms of creepy-crawlies rarely make people feel at ease, don’t worry about these. Acting as a sort of clean-up crew, they will do their work, grow and mature, and move elsewhere by themselves.

There are often several generations of bark lice each year in Florida, so they may reoccur. No control is needed for these insects, though if leftover webbing is considered aesthetically unpleasing it can be removed by spraying with a sharp jet of water. For more information about bark lice, see our EDIS publication at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN553.

Bark louse nymph. Photo courtesy of Evan Anderson.
Vegetables for the Summer Heat

Vegetables for the Summer Heat

Unlike areas with cooler climates, North Florida’s weather is a bit of a rollercoaster. Where the traditional four seasons allow for one growing season, the panhandle’s temperature changes create two growing seasons – spring and fall. During the winter, temperatures fall too low to keep plants happy, so those who expect to grow tropical plants in Florida may be disappointed. During the summer, the heat and humidity climb to levels that even plants can find stressful! Many of our vegetable crops simply can’t handle the extremes and wither away.

There are a few edible plants we can grow, however, that don’t seem to mind the hot weather. If you simply can’t live without a productive garden during the summer, you might consider trying these:

Cowpeas

Also called Southern peas, black-eyed peas, or field peas, these are known for their ability to produce a crop despite the harshest of conditions. Actually a bean rather than a pea, they take 65 to 125 days to grow to full maturity, depending on variety. Because they are a nitogen-fixing legume, they have also been used as a cover crop.

Malabar Spinach

Malabar Spinach. Photo Credit: James M. Stephens, UF/IFAS

Popular in Asian countries, Malabar spinach is actually a vining plant unrelated to true spinach. It grows quickly and is edible both raw and cooked, though some people may not appreciate its mucilaginous texture. Similar to okra’s sliminess, this quality does make it useful for thickening soups. Malabar spinach may be propagated from seed or by cuttings, which root easily. The plant also produces berries which, while not toxic, have very little flavor and tend to stain whatever they touch.

Okra

A traditional Southern favorite, okra takes the heat and keeps producing. Related to cotton and hibiscus, it grows pods that are ready to harvest after 60-70 days. Seeds have a tough exterior and need to be soaked overnight before planting. Harvest every couple of days at least for best results, as pods that grow too large become tough and fibrous.

Seminole Pumpkin

A Seminole pumpkin. Photo credit: UF/IFAS

Though they may need extra attention paid to them due to their attractiveness to pests, Seminole pumpkins are a great option for a summer planting. Similar to butternut squash, these cucurbits aren’t your traditional carving pumpkin, but they make great eating. Give them plenty of room to spread out in a sunny space. They take 120 days after planting before they’re ready to harvest, and their thick skin allows them to be stored for a long time after.

 

Sweet Potato

Does well in sandy soil? Check. Doesn’t mind the heat? Check. Sweet potatoes are great for our neck of the woods. Start out with disease-free slips for best results, and pick varieties such as ‘Beauregard’ that do well in our area.

Yardlong Beans

Related to cowpeas, yardlong beans grow on a climbing vine. The beans themselves, as the name suggests, are contained in a pod that can reach 36 inches in length. These can be picked and cooked much like green beans while the pods are still tender.

Panhandle Beekeeping Resources

Panhandle Beekeeping Resources

When people think of livestock, honeybees may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Bees are, however, a very significant part of agriculture. It is estimated that 30% of the crops we use for food are pollinated by honeybees. That’s around $15 billion of crops! On top of that, these hardworking insects also produce honey, wax, and other products that we can use.

For those who want to get into the world of beekeeping, it can be a challenge to absorb all the information that’s out there. Thankfully, there are resources out there to assist. If you or someone you know are interested in apiculture, you might try:

Online resources. The University of Florida (UF) publishes research-based information in its EDIS publications. For topics relating to beekeeping specifically, you can go here: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/beekeeping. From there you can find links to specific publications, such as the Florida Beekeeping Management Calendar and much more. UF also has a Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab with online resources about their Master Beekeeper program and Bee College at https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/honey-bee/.

The American Beekeeping Federation maintains a website with tons of information on beekeeping at https://www.abfnet.org/. From there you can join the federation, find local groups, and find nationwide educational opportunities and resources for beekeepers.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) requires beekeepers to register hives. You can find information on that here: https://www.fdacs.gov/Agriculture-Industry/Bees-Apiary/Apiary-Inspection. This site has a lot of extra information on beekeeping and links to other resources as well!

Local Resources. While digital sources of information can help, nothing can take the place of simply having other beekeepers to go to for answers. Local beekeeping organizations are a great place to start. Listed by county, here are some from across the panhandle:

County / Counties Organization Meeting dates / times
Escambia Escarosa Beekeepers Association 2nd Tues. / month at 7 pm.
North Escambia Bee Association 2nd Mon. / month at 7 pm.
Santa Rosa Santa Rosa Beekeepers Association 3rd Thurs. / month at 7 pm.
Okaloosa Tri-County Beekeepers Association Last Tues. / month at 6:30 pm.
Walton New association forming now! TBD. Contact Walton County Extension for info – (850) 892-8172
Holmes / Washington Central Panhandle Beekeepers Assn. 1st Mon. / month at 6 pm.
Bay Tupelo Beekeepers Association 2nd Mon. / month at 6 pm.
Jackson Chipola Beekeepers 3rd Mon. / month at 6 pm.
Leon / Jefferson / Wakulla / Gadsden Apalachee Beekeepers Association 2nd Tues. / month at 6:30 pm.

As always, your local Extension office is available for help as well. Happy beekeeping!

 

 

 

Soils…and Testing Them

Soils…and Testing Them

For anything growing in the ground, soil is a very important thing. Soil gives plants a place to anchor their roots so they don’t fall over, holds water and nutrients for them to use, and supports a wide variety of living things that contribute to plant growth. Whether you want to grow a lawn, garden, or landscape bed, knowing a little about your soil can make a big difference in the quality of your plants!

There are a lot of terms that relate to soils. Some helpful ones to know include:

  • A chart of soil textures. Credit: Natural Resource Conservation Service

    Soil particle sizes / soil texture. A soil that is composed of large particles is sandy, a soil with tiny particles is clayey, and a soil with mid-sized particles is silty. Multiple sizes of particles can mix together to form a soil, which is why you may see soils referred to with terms like, “sandy loam” or “silty clay loam”. This mixture of particle sizes gives a soil its texture.

  • Soil acidity / pH. The pH of a soil refers to its level of acidity. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. Low numbers mean the soil is acidic, while higher numbers mean it is basic, or alkaline. 7 is neutral, and many plants grow best in a slightly acidic soil (around 6.5). Some plants, like blueberries and azaleas, prefer a more strongly acidic soil (4.3-5.5). If the soil pH is too far from the plant’s preferred level, it may not be able to take up the nutrients it needs even if they are present in the soil. To raise the pH or make the soil less acidic, we can add garden lime; to lower the pH or make it more acidic, we can add sulfur (though this is not as long-term a solution).
  • Organic matter. All the living things out there die at some point, and when they do, other living things break them down as food. Fungi, bacteria, tiny insects, and more are all out there working to make sure you aren’t wading through piles of dead things. Instead, all that decomposed and partially decomposed plant (and animal) matter become part of the soil. Organic matter is part of a healthy soil, and helps it hold onto water and nutrients that plants can use.
  • Compost. When you make a pile of dead plant matter and help it decompose on purpose, you’ve made compost. By controlling the material you put into a compost pile as well as the amount of water and oxygen it gets, you can speed up the decomposition process and end up with organic matter to use in your garden.
  • Mulch. Mulch is any substance that sits on top of the soil. Wood chips, bark nuggets, pine straw, or even synthetic mulches like sheets of plastic are used to help keep weeds from growing and retain soil moisture.

Sandy soils can grow gardens, though they may need a little more attention!

To gather information about the soil, it can be a good idea to do a soil test. Your local Extension office can help you figure out how to do this. Once you do, you’ll receive information on your soil pH, what plant nutrients are in the soil, and recommendations on how much lime and fertilizer you’ll need to add for the year. Test your soil before you add any major amendments such as lime or fertilizer. This will help you add the right amounts at the right time – too much fertilizer, for example, can harm plants or run off into surrounding water bodies, causing environmental damage.

You can find more information on soil testing here, or visit your local Extension office. Soil tests can take up to two weeks to return a result, so plan ahead!

 

Which are the Sturdiest Trees?

Which are the Sturdiest Trees?

Florida’s state observance of Arbor Day falls on January 21st in 2022. On this day, people are encouraged to plant trees and recognize their importance. Trees provide us with shade and shelter, filter air and water, and increase biodiversity as well as acting as a source of materials for building and industry. Half of Florida’s land area is forested and North Florida has a large timber industry. Given the importance of trees to our wellbeing and the erratic and sometimes extreme weather in our region, the question occasionally arises, “What trees are best to plant here?”.

The answer to that question depends heavily on the needs of the person asking it. A landowner looking for long-term profit from forestry may choose to plant longleaf pines, despite the risks that hurricanes pose. A homeowner desiring a shade tree, however, might want a different answer.

There are plenty of varieties of trees that grow well in the panhandle of Florida, and the further one lives from coastal areas, the greater the options. Particularly along the shores, however, choices are limited by soil types, exposure to high winds, and even salt spray. So which are the toughest and hardiest trees for our area?

A sabal palmetto.

Florida’s state tree is the sabal palmetto. Also called the cabbage palm, this palm is particularly cold tolerant, withstanding temperatures down to 15º F. Once established, they are drought tolerant and fairly resistant to pests and diseases, as well as being particularly sturdy in high winds. Though they may be thought of as “common”, this is a testament to their survivability in our climate and they should not be dismissed as an option for landscapes.

A large, old Southern live oak.

Both the Southern live oak and especially the sand live oak are exceptionally survivable trees. Sand live oak is found closer to the coast, where it tends to grow in beautiful multi-trunked forms slightly inland, or in lower thickets along the dunes. It tends not to reach the same heights as Southern live oak, but does well in the harshest of

Sand live oaks growing near the beach dunes.

conditions, lasting through almost anything nature can throw at it. Even if defoliated by heavy storm winds, these trees survive. Hurricanes claim only the occasional live oak that catch enough wind to uproot and topple the entire tree, which is not a common occurrence.

 

The bloom of a Southern magnolia.

Southern magnolia comes in many sizes, from huge old specimens to more compact cultivars such as ‘Little Gem’, which can be trained to grow as hedges. Tolerating a wide range of soil moisture, these trees are rarely harmed by disease, though scale insects often take up residence on their leaves (which rarely seems to bother the trees, even if infestations are heavy). With gorgeous and fragrant blooms in the springtime, Southern magnolia stands up in high winds and makes an excellent addition to a landscape.

For more information on trees that do well in storms, see our EDIS publication on the topic. Also note that native species, trees that are properly pruned, those that are well established as opposed to newly planted, and trees free of disease or damage tend to survive better in any case. Ensuring that plants of any sort are placed in the right spot can serve the landscaper well in the long run as well – see the Florida Native Plant Society’s website for help in choosing the right plants. As always, your local Extension office is available to assist with questions as well.