Are there Scorpions in the Panhandle?

Are there Scorpions in the Panhandle?

There are many species of insects and Arachnida (Arachnid) found in the Florida Panhandle. A specific arachnid that often brings fear and dread is the scorpion.  There are 3 species of scorpion found the Panhandle. The Florida Bark Scorpion is commonly found in and around the home. The others, the Hentz Stripped Scorpion and Guiana Striped Scorpion, typically live in the woods.  One point to remember is that all three species prefer to avoid contact with humans and save venom for their preferred dinner meal, which includes many pests like include roaches, millipedes, silver fish, other spiders, and maybe a few termites. 

bark scorpion
Florida bark scorpion. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS – Santa Rosa County

Scorpions are most often found outdoors under bark mulch around plants and under logs and other items on the ground.  When moving wood from woodpiles, remember to wear gloves and fully inspect them if pieces of wood are coming indoors for fireplace use.  Be sure to keep outdoor firewood stacked away from the home. 

Are the three Florida Scorpions found in the Panhandle capable of giving a fatal sting?  The quick answer is no, but it is painful – as this author can attest to twice over the last twenty plus year.  The last sting was in my laundry room and occurred about two months ago.  Individuals with elevated allergies that react to other insect stings, such as bee, wasp or yellow jacket stings, should take precautions and seek medical assistance if necessary. 

Keep in mind scorpions are considered beneficial as they hunt and consume many insect pests we commonly have in and around homes.  They are most often found in landscapes under things we may move that have been in contact with the ground.  Scorpions prefer to stay in moist dark areas.  They are nocturnal hunters, so remember to turn on lights when walking around the house at night, especially in kitchen, laundry, or closet areas.  They will quickly hide once the light is on.  If shoes are left outside on porches or other open areas be sure shake them out.     

Control methods involve several options that amount to making the setting less hospitable for scorpions to frequent.  Look for possible hiding areas in and around the home.  Seal around plumbing fixtures under the sinks, around exterior vents, and cracks/spaces around windows and doors.  Do not store wood or other stackable products in attic or basement areas.  It is recommended that if pesticides are used to consult with a commercial licensed pest management company.  Use of pesticides can have mixed results as scorpions can go two plus months without eating after consuming an insect.  Placing a yellow sticky board under sinks or tucked away in laundry areas can help catch a scorpion.  Place these cards out of reach of pets or children as they are very sticky. 

Landscape Installation Planning and Preparation

Landscape Installation Planning and Preparation

It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year.  It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.

Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all.  This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well. 

Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within.  Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals.  This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase.  If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process.  Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services. 

Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth.  Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful.  If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration.  Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site.  If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings.  The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance.  Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range).  Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information. 

The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light.  Space should be considered both above and below ground.  With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height?  If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option.  Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant.  If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas.  Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option.  Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil.  If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment. 

The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one.  As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking.  Enjoy your gardening experience.

Spiders in the Landscape and Garden

Spiders in the Landscape and Garden

Unknowingly we interact with many small creatures in our everyday lives. Spiders are one of these groups that are beneficial to the function of human activity.  This group receives much publicity as being dangerous to people and our pets.  While there is always a possibility of being bitten and having venom injected by a few types of spiders, most all others are harmless to people.  The primary benefit of spiders is their propensity for catching insects outside and in the home that are identified as harmful to people.  Spiders come in all shapes and sizes with many hiding away, never to be seen by people.   

Spiders are often included in the same group as insects, but this is not true.  They belong in the group arachnids and are closely related to ticks, scorpions and mites.  Spiders have two body sections (cephlothorax and abdomen) and have eight legs while insects have three body sections (head, thorax and abdomen).  Scorpions usually remain outdoors and may be found indoors during hot dry periods.  They are nocturnal hunters of pests that include roaches.  None of the scorpions native to Florida are capable of providing a lethal sting, but it is painful when it occurs, leaving a sore and swollen at the sting area.  I was reminded of this after stepping on one in the late evening while moving around the kitchen with no lights on.  If the person that is stung has allergic reactions to bee stings, observe them and take precautionary health measures needed.

The spider is an important predator of harmful insects and can be found about any where in and around the home, in the garden, and many other places in the great outdoors.  An Extension Entomologist I knew from North Carolina State University always mentioned, when presenting to Master Gardener Volunteer classes, that at almost any time given time, we are within two to three feet of a spider, with most so small we never see them.  They are great at keeping the beneficial and harmful insect populations in balance in nature.

If you decide to spray to manage your spider population, keep in mind that by reducing the number of spiders in the landscape, you can create a reverse problem with harmful insect populations increasing dramatically.  If big webs are a bother, simply take a broom and knock them down.  They will rebuild by the next day, but you may not need to be in that area for a while.  Always be careful and wear gloves when working in the garden, especially areas that are dark and covered, such as irrigation valve boxes, wood stacks, and other similar places.  These are prime locations where the Black Widow or Recluse spiders may be set up, waiting to ambush roaches and other insects.  If you are bitten by either seek immediate medical care. 

Finally, spiders are fun to observe in nature! One of the most interesting spiders to watch is observable during fall in Florida – the Yellow Garden Spider.  They build large webs and often place a zig zap signature in the middle.  This large spider catches many insects in the garden and landscape.  With early morning sunlight and dew hanging on the web during the fall, it makes for a beautifully create piece of art.  Enjoy nature and all the creative processes that occur from a safe distance – spiders included!

Daylilies: Spring Flower Beauties

Daylilies: Spring Flower Beauties

One of the more popular flowering perennials grown in the landscapes of Florida and throughout the Southeast is the daylily.  This blooming perennial traveled with many of the early settlers.  They brought this plant for several reasons beyond the enjoyment of the bloom display, it was considered a source of food by including the petals and buds into the cooking of specific dishes.  

The daylily is an easy to grow plant that requires less management than many of the other perennials grown in the garden settings of the landscape.  Daylilies are linked to the lily family but are not actually in this family, Hemerocallis in Greek is Hemero for “day’ with Callis meaning “beauty”.  The passion by many professional breeders and novice growers can be seen in the many selections and varieties in the plant industry today.  This plant brings interest and joy to anyone that visits your landscape gardens. 

Hemerocallis x 'Mystic Red Dragon'
Hemerocallis x ‘Mystic Red Dragon’. Photo Credit: J. Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

This clump forming plant can be grown in different soil types from sandy loam, clay to muck edges near wetlands.  The location for best performance is sandy well drained soil with high amounts of organic matter.  It has a moderate salt level tolerance lending itself as one perennial to consider in coastal settings.  The best way to accomplish the levels of organic matter is to till the bed area for planting, add three to four inches of compost or well-rotted manure plus a ½ pound of 3:2:1 ratio fertilizer to a 100 square foot bed.  The 3:2:1 is a Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium fertilizer recommendation.  Till all of this into the previously tilled bed to a six-inch depth.  This mix of sand or clay with organic matter at the six-inch soil depth places it where the roots will grow.  

Daylilies multiply in several different ways from forming clumps of plants from a single plant over three to four years that can be divided into separate plants and replanted to expand the bed area for managing the color display of the original plant.  Plant breeders cross pollinate between selected plants that have desirable characteristics.  These characteristics may be ruffled outside edges on the petals, bright or daker petal color, a change in color from the outside portion of the flower petal to the throat area at the center of the bloom or even the height of the scape which is the stem that emerges from the leaf clusters near the base that supports the flower display. 

Hemerocallis x 'Oriental Impressions'
Hemerocallis x ‘Oriental Impressions’. Photo Credit: J. Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Daylilies can be purchased at many box stores in containers and easily transplanted in the garden.  Another option is to visit local daylily nurseries as they often have more named variety options with many different flower colors available.  Local nurseries usually grow plants in the ground so they will need to be dug and purchased as a bareroot. When planting bareroot daylilies look at the location where the leaves emerge near the base just above root area and plant one and a half to two feet apart.  Make sure to plant no deeper than at that point of root and leaf growth area known as the crown.  The crown must be above the soil level for quality growth. 

After planting and watering in the plants be sure to mulch the bed with three to four inches of pinestraw or bark mulch.  This manages weed growth and keeps soil moisture at consistent levels reducing stress to the plant.  If periods of dry weather conditions occur watering the plants will be needed to keep the plants from stressing.

Landscaping in the Panhandle of Florida: Opportunities & Challenges

Landscaping in the Panhandle of Florida: Opportunities & Challenges

Landscaping in the Panhandle of Florida comes with many opportunities and challenges in this diverse plant environment of coastal, flatwoods (aka pine woodland), sandhills, and clay soil areas running adjacent to the Alabama/Georgia lines.  Sandy soil is the predominate soil of the panhandle area from coastal saltwater marshes and brackish bay waters to wetlands and drier well drained quartz sandy soils of the sandhills.  Unique ecosystems can be found in all these areas.  One of the areas with the largest plant diversity is the Longleaf Pine savannahs found in the sandhills.  Now comes the question of landscaping decisions for your residential living. 

Native landscape plants. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County.

Understanding your soils and how to improve them where you live is critically important before putting the first plant in the ground.  We live in an area of abundant rainfall and this will impact the chemistry of your soils.  Make an appointment with your local horticulture agent at the University of Florida IFAS Extension office in your county to discuss your soil and landscape ideas.  Taking soil samples will likely be needed. With instruction you can easily collect the samples needed to be sent and received to determine the best options. 

With abundant rainfall, leaching of key nutrients will occur removing base cations that can include potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca) and others.  This all leads to soils being more acidic in nature.  Nutrient resources may need to be added and checked every 2-3 years, just be sure to follow the soil sample recommendations.  Soils near wetland areas can leach differently than the deep quartz sandy soils of the sandhills.  Adding organic amendments is a recommended practice.  Just how much will depend on your soil setting; talk with your horticulture Extension agent.  Often new homesites and commercial construction areas have soil brought in to raise or level construction locations.  Understanding the movement of water through these newly added layers to the existing soil below will determine drainage and nutrient movement within this site.  It can be confusing making decisions about adding soil nutrients, lime, and organic amendments. 

Challenges in new soils in landscape. Photo Credit: Stephen Greer, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County.

Once all this is settled you can start thinking about how to enjoy this wonderful Panhandle outdoor living opportunity.  Creating living spaces comes in many ways from building patios, porches, decks, outdoor kitchens, and strategically places chairs and benches.  Talk with your family and others who may enjoy these places with you.  Gazebos or barbeque grill areas may be in the plans.  Placing these into the landscape takes planning. Draft designs and think of creative solutions for the site.  Look at the site elevation changes from high areas to low wetland areas.  Will you need “No See Um” screen for the porch to keep out the small insects or install ceiling fans to keep the breeze moving? 

There are many questions to be asked. Create a list to be addressed before beginning a project and then determine the cost.  Enjoy the adventure!