Going bats for insect control

Going bats for insect control

The Case for Bats

Biological control is a pillar of integrated pest management.  It may seem a bit daunting the principle is simple.  All things in nature have predators including insects.  Biological control is simply building a conducive environment for the predators of undesired pests.  One animal not often thought of in this capacity is bats.  Insectivores by nature, these underutilized creatures have a big impact to your open spaces.  Their steady diet of moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera) and flies (Diptera, which includes mosquitoes) reduce insect pressure to your gardens and landscaping.

I know what you are thinking.  How effective can they possibly be?  Pregnant females consume up to two thirds of their body weight through the summer months while rearing pups.  Bats are small but keep in mind that these are not solitary animals.  In south Texas, a single large colony consumes enough insects to save cotton farmers an estimated $741,000 per year in insecticides.  That is just to illustrate the point as you won’t be able to attract huge colony.  There is no reason to believe a smaller colony will not provide similar services in your gardens.


Now that your interest is piqued, how can you attract bats to your property?  Installing a bat house is the easiest way.  They are typically a two foot by one foot structure holding single or multiple chambers in which bats roost.  It provides shelter from predation and weather while providing a place to rear pups.  Though commercially available they may be built at home with minimal cost.  Place the bat house in a location with morning sun at least 12 feet off the ground.  Ensure there is enough airflow around the house to keep them cool, but that the structure is watertight.  Mount houses on poles next to buildings and you’ll have better success attracting residents.  With everything in place, it is time to discover who will most likely be your new neighbor.

bathouse on pole

photo: Joshua Criss


The Bats of North Florida

Florida is home to 13 species of bats statewide.  Of these, 11 may be found in the Panhandle but only 3 are common enough to be routinely seen.  The Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is the most common.  Medium sized with brown fur, they have a long tail, wrinkled cheeks, and roost in man-made structures.

Brazillian free tail bat

Photo: IFAS

Second most common are Evening bats (Nycticeius humeralis).  These dark brown to yellow bats have short ears with a broad hairless muzzle.  They are tolerant of other bat species often roosting in tandem with them.

Evening bat

Photo: IFAS

Finally, the panhandle is home to Southeastern Myotis (Myotis austroriparius).  Easily the smallest of these bats, they are dull gray to brown with a lighter belly and long hairs between their toes.  This species is the bat most likely to eat mosquitoes.

Southeastern Myotis

Photo: Jeff Gore, FWC

Finally, the panhandle is home to Southeastern Myotis (Myotis austroriparius).  Easily the smallest of these bats, they are dull gray to brown with a lighter belly and long hairs between their toes.  This species is the bat most likely to eat mosquitoes.

A Word of Caution

No article on wildlife would be complete without a word of caution.  Bats are wild animals and should be treated as such.  Never touch a bat on the ground as it most likely is not healthy.  Bats do not generally cause issues but have been known to be disease vectors.  Call a professional to collect the animal and never bring it into your home.

Bats can be a wonderful tool in controlling pests on your property.  Creating habitat can help reduce pesticide need and cost to the homeowner.  For more information on bats, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.


Important Topics in Lawn Management

Important Topics in Lawn Management

The lawn is a staple when you picture the typical American home.  It is where your kids play, where you stand to associate with your neighbors and the first impression you give to passers-by.  It has also no doubt been a subject of frustration as you notice brown patches or open spots.  Could this situation have been avoided in the first place?  Lawn care is a topic we address in extension extensively.  Proper maintenance practices will help your lawn be green and healthy providing you with years of enjoyment.  Below are a few principles that if applied will help you avoid issues and grow a worry-free yard.

First Steps

Before you do anything else you will need to know what species you are working with.  In this area we have warm season grasses with names like centipede and zoysia.  Their individual characteristics will identify yours from the others.  For instance, centipede grass is a lighter color with a course textured blade about 1/16 to 1/8 inches wide and a creeping habit as it spreads via stolon.  This is very basic, as identifying grasses could be a day long course on its own.  Knowing your lawn species will inform you as to mowing height and when periodic tasks such as dethatching may be necessary.  All of these are necessities for a healthy lawn, but there are two universal tasks that need to be on the forefront of your mind.


Irrigation is arguably the most important topic in lawn care.  Improper watering may cause your grass to die back opening bare spots for weeds and insects to infiltrate.  Scheduled irrigation is not the best option.  Your grass will tell you when it needs water.  Look for indicators such as folding blades, color change, and lingering footprints as keys to irrigation.  When you see these, apply ½ to ¾ inch of water preferably in the early morning.  Take your soil type into consideration when watering as you will want this water in the root zone.  Sandy soils may need a little more to saturate the area while clay may need to soak in through multiple applications.  Watering only when required will encourage deeper rooting of your grass.  So, how do you know how long to run your system?  Calibrate your system by placing straight sided cans in your watering zones.  Run the system until they fill to the desired level.  The amount of time this takes will tell you how long you should run the system.  While you are calibrating the system, take a look at where the sprinkler heads are aimed.  Readjust any that place water in undesired locations like the street.  Lastly, install a rain sensor.  The Panhandle received an average 68.32 inches of rain in 2021*.  There is no need to run your water system if mother nature is doing it for you.

*per FL Climate Survey https://climatecenter.fsu.edu/images/docs/Fla_Annual_climate_summary_2021.pdf

Sprinklers watering athletic field

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.


Fertilization is another often misunderstood topic.  Grass is a plant, and therefore requires nutrients to thrive. Over doing it in certain grasses may cause them to die back much like improper irrigation.    Application rates vary by grass species and are given in terms of required nitrogen per 1000ft2 for a single growing season.  You can tell how much Nitrogen a fertilizer has by looking at the first of the three-digit NPK rating.  It indicates the amount by weight in the bag (8-8-8 = 0.08lbs nitrogen per 1lb fertilizer).  Keep in mind that rate of fertilizer your grass needs is for the entire year.  This means you will want to apply multiple times.  So, if you need 13lbs of fertilizer it is best to apply about 4.33lbs three times across the growing season versus all at once.  Only apply fertilizer during active growth.  In the Panhandle this is mid-April through mid-September.  Appropriate rates and timing will keep those expensive fertilizers in your root zone and not in our local waterways.

Gardener fertilizing yard


Appropriate care will provide lush healthy growth and a full lawn.  Taking the time to identify your grasses will inform you as to what it needs to support your family for years to come.  Appropriate irrigation and fertilization will in-turn support the health of local watersheds and potentially save you some money and effort.  For more information on lawn maintenance, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.


Pest Management: An Integrated Approach

Pest Management: An Integrated Approach

Getting your landscape set up in the spring is an in-depth process.  Trees are pruned, soil amended, and the plantings have been accomplished.  Now you have exactly the look you want.  It would be easy to sit back, open a beverage of your choice, and watch it all come together.  Don’t get comfortable just yet, there is a group of pests eyeing your plants.  Insects come in many forms, looking to make a meal from your hard work.  Do not fear though, there is a straightforward way to protect yourself from these creatures.  Integrated pest management is a system of four control approaches designed to mitigate pest damage while minimizing impact on the environment.

Identification is Key

Before any of these steps may begin pests must be identified.  This starts with scouting your landscape via visual inspection.  Insects leave signs of their presence wherever they visit.  Be sure to inspect every part of your plants including the underside of leaves.  Here is where you will find insect eggs or frass (excrement) which are tell-tale signs of activity.  Once discovered, you need to identify your specific pest.  Insects are identified by their mouth parts when assessing plant damage.  Chewing insects remove leaf material (think caterpillars and grasshoppers).  Speckled leaves of brown and yellow is a symptom of piercing/sucking insects such as aphids.  Other times you may only find damage after the fact where black leaves turn out to be covered in sooty mold.  The sooty mold grows on the excreted honeydew of aphids, whiteflies.  Once identified, it is up to you to decide if the level of damage is worth it and how you would like to approach limiting the damage.

Sooty mold on ixora

Sooty mold on Ixora Photo Credits: UF/IFAS Kim Gabel

The First Three

The first strategy is cultural control wherein you optimize the environment in which your plant grows.  Improved drainage and removal of plants susceptible to insect attack are excellent examples.  You should also look into the lifecycle of insect pests to remove anything that will provide habitat.  The next control is mechanical.  This methodology is the most work intensive but comes with the least environmental impact as insects will be removed by hand.  Biological control is like mechanical control except that removal of the pest is left to natural predators.  There are many, but birds and lady beetles are best known.  Creating habitat for these will help keep insect populations to an acceptable level with the bonus of falling into Florida friendly landscaping philosophies.

Chemicals are Not the Bad Guy

Chemical control is the final approach.  Some may be surprised to find this here, but it is effective.  With the above in place, you may find there are still insect issues.  Chemicals will be your next step but do not feel put off by this approach.  Research the best products for your situation and follow the instructions on the label to the letter.  The label is designed to reduce risk to you and the environment while providing effective pest control.

Insect pests have plagued gardeners since the first person intentionally planted anything.  Controlling these pests using a multipronged approach is the optimal way to reduce damage to your plants while minimizing environmental impact.  Following the methodology in this post will bring a pest free landscape that you and your family will enjoy.  For more information on integrated pest management, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.



The Cornus of Florida

The Cornus of Florida

A Problem of Anticipation

The feeling is palpable, everyone is ready for spring.  Can you hear them?  The seeds beckoning in their packets, begging you to bury them in the soil.  Every gardener struggles with this dilemma in early spring, but this year will surely be different.  Maybe just maybe I can get my garden planted and watch with bated breath as life peeks its tiny shoots through the soil.  Inevitably, harsh reality will set in with the realization that there will be a freeze dowsing your dreams before they take root.

Trying as that may be there is a respite.  A small group of plants has heard your concerns.  They provide the early spring color we so desperately seek in our landscapes.  The trees and shrubs have answered your cries reaching out in the most beautiful way they know how.  The saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana) have given us their teacup flowers all purple and perfect.  The azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) are in full swing with all their magnificence shining bright.  There is one tree that stands above them all in Florida landscapes.  This month you’ll begin to see a tree that is the ultimate harbinger of springtime.  A tree so native in the Panhandle that it bears the state’s name within its own.  The tree I am speaking of is the Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Dogwood flower and bracts in bloom. Photo Credit Jim Stasz, USDA

Dogwood flower and bracts in bloom. Photo Credit Jim Stasz, USDA

A Tree Described

Florida in this instance derives from the Spanish florido meaning “full of flowers”.  This tree will not disappoint on this front.  A very common home landscape feature, it performs well in zones 5-9A.   Growing between 20-30 feet in height with the spread to match, they may be pruned to a single trunk or allowed to grow in multiples to fit the landscape.  This tree is known for early spring color, and thrives in sun of shade.  Sometime between March and May, a splash of white or pink (sometimes red, cultivar dependent) lasting several weeks will rear up amid your winter scenery.

The showiness of this plant is not a flower, but a protective leaf structure known as a bract.  The true flowers are small yellow to green clusters in the center of these bracts.  Depending on the site conditions, the foliage turns maroon and the flowers to red berries in the autumn.   The spring flowers, and later berries are a useful food source for pollinators and local birds respectively.

Dogwood trees in the wild. Photo Credit Smithsonian Institution

Dogwood trees in the wild. Photo Credit Smithsonian Institution

More Information

Flowering Dogwoods is a valuable addition to any gardener’s plot and fits right into a Florida Friendly Landscape.  For more information on these trees, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.