Weed control is never ending in Florida landscapes. If there is a bare area of soil, weeds take advantage of that void and make themselves at home. Ideally, we would use good cultural practices that minimize weed invasion, but if prevention is ineffective and you need to use an herbicide, make sure you are using that tool properly.
When I talk to homeowners and commercial applicators about weed control, many times they have selected the appropriate product but are still struggling with management. While troubleshooting the problem, many times I discover, the reason is related to poor uptake because the client is not making herbicide applications to what I like to call “happy weeds.”
When using an herbicide, you need to think about how it works. Not the deep level chemical reactions, but rather consider how the active ingredient is going to be delivered to whatever physiological function of the plant it is targeting.
Does the herbicide need to be absorbed by the leaves/stems/roots?
Once absorbed, does it need to travel through the vascular system of the plant (translocation)?
What effect will temperature, moisture, mowing/trimming have on product uptake?
All these factors are very important because if a plant is stressed, the primary response is survival. During excessively hot weather plants close off stomata, form waxier surfaces, and do everything they can to retain moisture – which also includes reduced absorption of herbicides. In cool weather, the plant may be dormant or have slowed growth that will reduce translocation.
Mowing and trimming reduces leaf surface area minimizing uptake. Overcoming injury also triggers the plant to go into water conservation mode which also limits product uptake.
So, what do I mean by “happy weeds”? For herbicides to be effective, they should be applied when growing conditions are ideal for your target plant. Optimum soil moisture, soil temperature, ambient temperature, and minimal stress lead to “happy weeds” that are primed to accept herbicides and translocate if needed. Plants in survival mode will have their defenses activated and this decreases herbicide efficacy.
Always read and follow entire label instructions of all pesticides.
When you hear the word “pollinator”, what is the first insect that comes to mind? If I had to guess, you would probably say honey bee. European honey bees play an important role in agriculture as pollinators and honey producers, but there are hundreds of native pollinators often overshadowed by the beloved honey bee you should know about, too!
One such group of pollinators native to Florida are sweat bees. Sweat bees get their unfortunate name from their nutritional requirements of salt that are sometimes sourced from sweaty humans. They rarely sting but are capable, and they can certainly be annoying to people when they lick salt off their skin. This behavior tends to get more attention than their important role as pollinators.
A subgroup of sweat bees are furrow bees. Furrow bees nest in the ground or rotting wood and may be solitary or eusocial. In-ground nests are composed of branching tunnels in sandy soil at a depth between 8 inches and 3 feet with a small entry roughly the size of a pencil. Within the tunnels, the mother creates individual cells stocked with nectar and pollen and lays an egg. The larva feeds on these provisions and pupates underground eventually emerging as an adult. The life cycle can vary from a few weeks to a year or more depending on species and environmental conditions.
Furrow bees are generalist feeders which means they will visit many different flowers, so diverse landscapes are attractive to them. In my northwest Florida garden, I see them often on sunflowers, Black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cosmos, tithonia, zinnia, and tickseed.
If you are looking for a low maintenance plant that has attractive foliage and flowers and attracts wildlife, consider planting fennel. Fennel was planted in the pollinator garden at the Extension office in Bay County as a butterfly host plant for swallowtail butterflies in 2014 and has been a showstopper ever since. Fennel is a short-lived evergreen perennial that will reseed in the garden, but it is easy to remove plants if you get too many. It performs well in full sun to light shade and is quite drought tolerant once established.
The fernlike foliage has a delicate texture that contrasts with most landscape plants. Large umbels of tiny yellow flowers reach for the sky each spring and attract lots of pollinators and butterflies to the garden. Fennel is a culinary herb and leaves, flowers, and seeds can be used to season dishes with the mildly licorice flavor.
Last spring, I attended a seminar at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy hosted by the Gardening Friends of the Big Bend (GFBB). Brie Arthur was the guest speaker and taught us about foodscaping, gardening with grains, and other traditionally agronomic crops that I had not considered for my landscape. Excited by her presentation I made some purchases at the GFBB plant sale including a small sandwich bag filled with sesame seed. Little did I know this would turn out to be one of my favorite plants last summer!
My first attempt at growing sesame was in a flower bed that received overspray from turf irrigation and about 6 hours of direct sunlight. The plants were small and although they flowered, were nothing to get excited about. Despite this lackluster first attempt, a few weeks later I threw some seed out alongside sunflower seeds in a different bed that receives full sun, no irrigation, and has sandy soil. I watered by hand for about two weeks, if we received no rain, to get the seeds to germinate and seedlings off to a decent start. The foliage that emerged in this bed looked so different from the first batch of sesame that I thought that I had mixed up my seeds. The foliage was wider and the plant was denser compared to my first attempt. I was completely stumped on what I was growing and started sending pictures to colleagues. Nobody knew what I was growing and apps just confused the issue further. Once it bloomed it resembled sesame, but I was still puzzled, so I took lots of photos and sent them to UF Extension Botanist Marc Frank. He confirmed that all these vastly different looking plants were indeed sesame! He advised that the long history of cultivation has led to extreme variability in the species which was certainly on display in my garden. This was a good reminder that the best way to identify plants is with their flowers.
For weeks, the sesame bloomed and was bombarded by bumble bees and other pollinators. To encourage more flowering, I continued to deadhead instead of letting it go to seed. We had summer thunderstorms that knocked it over and it just sent new stems skyward and kept on blooming. The sesame thrived in the harshest part of my garden until winter set in. Since I was growing it for pollinators I kept deadheading and never attempted to harvest seed.
Sesame is very drought tolerant and is sensitive to too much water or humidity, so plant it in a spot with well-drained soil, good air flow, and away from irrigation overspray for best results.
The UF/IFAS Extension Bay County Pollinator Garden is the proud recipient of a Little Free Library built, stocked, and installed by the Bay County Library Foundation. We were incredibly fortunate the foundation had the perfect box designed and painted by local artist Heather Clements just waiting for the perfect place to be installed!
You might be asking yourself, how does a Little Free Library work? It’s very simple, if you want a book you take one and if you have a book to donate you leave it in the box. Our box includes books for all ages and reading levels including children’s books in English and Spanish and of course gardening and wildlife topics. As people exchange books the titles and topics will change and evolve over time.
If you are in Panama City I hope you will take a moment to pick out a book and enjoy our demonstration gardens at 2728 E. 14th Street, Panama City and visit the virtual garden for educational information about the garden inventory.