Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Managing Pests

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Managing Pests

Syrphid larva and oleander aphids.
Syrphid larva and oleander aphids. Photo credit: Lyle Buss, University of Florida.

When we think of pests we tend to focus mainly on insects. Insects make up roughly 80% of animal life, however only about one percent of insects are considered pests. The rest help pollinate crops, kill pests, clean up dead stuff, and make honey. Unfortunately, plants suffer from many more types of pests such as weeds, disease, and us. This episode of “Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE!” was all about managing pests.

Many soft-bodied insect pests can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Many insecticidal soaps are on the market that can help control pests like aphids and whiteflies. However, dish soaps are manufactured for cleaning dishes and not labeled for pest control. More information on insecticidal soaps can be found in the publication “Managing Plant Pests with Soaps”.

Although dish soap isn’t a good option for insect control, there are some things from around the house that can be used to help manage pests. The publication “Do-It-Yourself Insect Pest Traps” offers some excellent options for monitoring and managing pests with traps.

Florida is home to a plethora of insect pests. The Ask IFAS website has many articles on insect pests common in the garden.

Companion planting is the practice of planting two or more plant species close to each other to improve growth and/or pest control of one or more of the species. The article “Companion Planting: What is it?” offers some great recommendations and examples of this technique. Marigolds are an excellent companion plant because they can help deter and suppress nematode populations.

Some people prefer to only use naturally derived products for pest control. The publication “Natural Products for Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida” extensively reviews some of these products. Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) is a bacteria found in soil that can be used for caterpillar pest control.

We love our squash, cucumbers, and watermelons in the South, however there are a number of insects that like to eat them too. More information on cucurbit insect pests and their management can be found in the publication “Insect Management for Cucurbits”.

Armyworms like to feed on just about everything. The Ask IFAS website has a nice collection of publications on all types of armyworms.

Some fungi are fun to eat while others kill our landscape plants. One common fungal disease found in the landscape is Entomosporium leaf spot. This disease is very common on Indian hawthorns. The article “Keep an Eye on Your Indian Hawthorn” describes this disease and it’s control.

Aphids are a very common insect pest. In fact, some plant species have specific aphids. More information on different aphid species and their control can be found in the publication “Aphids on Landscape Plants”.

A plant in the wrong place is considered a weed. Some plants are particularly good at finding the wrong place and can take over our lawns. The publication “Weed Management Guide for Florida Lawns” offers solutions on controlling common lawn weeds.

Ticks can be pests of pets, livestock, and humans. Texas A&M has created an excellent website on everything about ticks.

Cockroaches do a nice job cleaning up litter when they’re outside, but we don’t need want them in our houses whether they’re cleaning up trash or not. The publication “Cockroaches and Their Management” is a great resource for cockroach species identification and management.

As previously mentioned, there are a lot more good insects than bad insects. For more information on predatory insects and biological controls check out the publication “Natural Enemies and Biological Control”.

Nature is fascinating and most people are lifetime learners. To help find out what you’re looking at, give the iNaturalist website and app a try.

Armadillos don’t mean any harm and can be kind of cute. However, they can make a mess of our yard and they build their dens in some undesirable locations. The publication “The Nine-Banded Armadillo” provides information on armadillos and their management.

Fire ants are pests of our lawns and pastures and their sting is brutal. For more information on fire ants please refer to the publication “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas”.

Pests can be pesky, but they are manageable if you keep up with the art and science of their control. If you need help with identification and pest management options please don’t hesitate to contact your local Extension Office.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.

Pheromone Traps

Pheromone Traps

Insects use pheromones to attract their mates and communicate with each other. Ants use pheromones to tell fellow ants where to find food. Aphids use pheromones to warn each other about potential predators. And all insects use pheromones to call for a mate.

So what exactly are pheromones? Pheromones are substances that are secreted by an individual and received by another individual of the same species. In humans, pheromones are most commonly found in sweat and detected by the olfactory system. Most animals have a functioning vomeronasal organ inside their noses to detect and process pheromones. However, it is debatable whether adult humans possess a functional vomeronasal organ.

Although most of us may not be able to detect insect pheromones, scientists have been able to identify and synthesize the pheromones of many economically important insects. These pheromones are impregnated on rubber and plastic dispensers and placed in different types of traps depending on the pest. The pheromone traps attract males of the target species. These traps are commonly used for monitoring, but in some cases can be utilized to disrupt mating habits which can help control some pests.

The most common pheromone trap in this part of the country is probably a boll weevil trap. Growing up, I thought they looked like little green lighthouses. These traps consist of a yellow-green cannister with an inverted funnel on top that contains the pheromone. While you may not be growing cotton in your home garden, there are some other common insect pests you may want to monitor and possibly disrupt.

Pecan nut casebearer trap with pheromone bait.
Pecan nut casebearer trap with pheromone bait. Photo Credit: UGA Cooperative Extension

Pecan Nut Casebearer (PNC) – These moths are gray with a dark line of scales on their forewings. PNC moths are about 1/3 inches long. They lay their eggs on the outside of pecan husks in April/early May. Their larvae bore into the base of developing nuts and remain inside the nuts for four to five weeks to feed then pupate. A tent-type trap with pheromone can be hung in a pecan tree in April or May to help monitor for this insect. Depending on how many trees you have, multiple traps can be installed to possibly disrupt the mating cycle of this pest.

A yellow sticky trap with Asian citrus psyllids circled.
A yellow sticky trap with Asian citrus psyllids circled. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) – These tiny insects are about the size of the tip of a pencil (about 1/8 inches long). They vector the Huanglongbing (HLB) disease also known as citrus greening. This disease blocks the nutrient uptake tissue of citrus trees and eventually kills infected trees. Traps consist of a yellow sticky card with a pheromone bait sometimes impregnated on the twist tie hanger. The citrus industry has been heavily impacted by citrus greening, so monitoring for this pest is very important.

An abundance of clearwing moths on a pheromone trap that has been pulled apart.
An abundance of clearwing moths on a pheromone trap that has been pulled apart. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Clearwing Moth – There are numerous species of clearwing moths that bore into the trunks of fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs. One of the most common is the peachtree borer. These insects don’t look like a typical moth. Instead, they resemble wasps. Tent-type pheromone traps can be used to monitor for clearwing moths and potentially disrupt their mating habits. Another common clearwing moth is the ash borer (lilac borer). As their name would suggest, these moths bore into the wood of ash trees, but they also like various Ligustrum species and olive trees.

These are just a few of the species of insects that can be monitored by pheromone traps. To help with the timing of trap dispersal and placement, you should get a grasp of concept of “Degree Days”. Degree day accumulation is used to predict important life events for particular insects such as the average egg laying date, egg hatch date, and larval development. More information on calculating degree days can be found in the article “Predicting Insect Development Using Degree Days” from the University of Kentucky. Fortunately for us, we can skip some of the math by utilizing the AgroClimate Growing Degree Days Calculator. Simply select the weather station closest to you on the provided map and a graph will appear.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Pollinators

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Pollinators

Wildflowers. Photo Credit: Tyler Jones, University of Florida/IFAS

To celebrate “No Mow March”, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE was all about pollinators. “No Mow March” was inspired by “No Mow May” events that were originally organized in Great Britain then adapted by some of our more northern states. Lawns in the panhandle definitely need to be mowed in May, so we set our sights on March.

Most warm season turfgrass species don’t grow much (or at all) in March, but some people may feel the need to mow their lawns. If you feel the need to mow, we recommend you leave the borders of your lawn or a small area un-mowed. This will encourage flowering plants to bloom and bring more pollinators to your yard.

Butterflies are loved by many for their beauty, but they also pollinate a lot of our favorite plants. To encourage butterflies to visit your garden, try planting some things they like to eat. The publication “Butterfly Gardening in Florida” provides lots of information about bringing butterflies to your yard. Be sure to check out the tables in the article for information on seasons and life cycles. If butterflies aren’t your thing, then search for plants by pollinator species in this webpage on Nectar Plants. Some plants have Extrafoliar Nectaries to attract a diversity of insects.

If you’re interested in anything about any insect, then you’ll enjoy the Featured Creatures website. You can search by species name or by what they like to eat.

Not all bees live in hives. Some bees, like mason bees, prefer to live in above ground “houses” or “hotels”. You can build your own pollinator hotel if you follow the simple steps found in the article “Build Your Own Pollinator Hotel”. And here’s even more information on “gardening for bees”.

Not all pollinators are bees or butterflies or insects at all. Learn about all sorts of pollinators in the article “Pollinators: It’s Not All About the Bees”. Some of the best avian pollinators are hummingbirds.

Some of us live in the woods and need suggestions on shade loving plants. The article “Landscaping in the Shade” provides some good information on what plants can handle shady spots. A number of different ornamental gingers like the shade.

Turfgrass isn’t the only groundcover on the market. There are lots of alternatives like frogfruit and perennial peanut that attract pollinators.

What better way is there to attract native pollinators than to plant native plants?! Here’s a series of articles on native plants. If butterflies are what you’re after, then (native) milkweed is your plant of choice.

Some plants just like to be around each other. More information on companion planting can be found in the article “One Secret to “Organic” Gardening. Companion Planting”.

If you’re interested in being a part of “No Mow March”, the first step is to sign the pledge at Also, be sure to record your “No Mow March” observations at iNaturalist.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Small Scale Vegetable Gardening

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Program Summary: Small Scale Vegetable Gardening

a mix of vegetable plants
A mixed vegetable garden. Photo Credit:

It doesn’t get much better than eating fresh vegetables out of your own garden. I guess you could add a beverage to the mix to improve the experience. A dry chenin blanc would probably go well. Unfortunately, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE steered clear of wine as a topic, but the featured agents did focus on vegetables.

Container Gardening

Size does matter when it comes to container gardening. Think about the full grown size of the plants you plan to grow when selecting a container size. For most vegetables, 10 inches wide by 10 inches deep is sufficient, but you can grow in much larger containers. The larger the container, the more room the roots will have. For more information on gardening in containers, check out the articles “Don’t Think You Have a Green Thumb? Try Container Gardening!” and “Container Gardens for Outdoor Spaces”.

If you have a really deep container and don’t want to spend the money on potting soil to fill it up, then you’re kind of out of luck. Rocks or other materials placed in the bottom of containers will create a perched water table. So basically, you’re creating a shallower container by putting materials other than potting mix in the bottom. The physics on this topic is better explained in “Rocks in Pots: Drainage or Perched Water Table Problems?”.

It’s best to start with new potting soil each year. Especially if you plan to grow the same plant species/families in the same containers. However, if you do plan to reuse potting soil, make sure to mix it up a bit with a trowel or dump it out and put it back in the container or another container. Also, choose a different crop than what you grew in the soil the previous year. Here’s an interesting publication on growing squash in recycled potting soil.

Raised Beds

Raised beds are a great option if you live in an area with poorly drained soil or with a soil that doesn’t hold nutrients. They also can be built on legs like a table to save your back some stress. More information on build a raised bed can be found in the article “Building Raised Beds”.

Vegetables need space to grow whether they’re planted in the ground, in a small container, or in a raised bed. Recommended varieties for container gardening and spacing recommendations can be found in this container gardening fact sheet from UF/IFAS Extension in Leon County.

Who says you can’t landscape with vegetable plants and fruit trees? Vegetables such as cabbage and kale can add a depth of color and texture to your annual flower beds. And blueberry bushes and citrus trees have beautiful blooms that bees love.

Trellises can be easily built and attached to raised bed gardens. Pole beans and Malabar spinach are just a couple examples of vegetables that need something to climb on. Lettuce and other small vegetables can be grown vertically in different hydroponic systems.

Plant Selection

Some seeds can be sown directly into the garden while others should be started in trays and transplanted. More information on sowing seeds and timing can be found in the Vegetable Gardening Guide. Just make sure to check out the tables at the end of the guide.

Some plants are more tolerant of salt air and salt water. This doesn’t mean you can water these plants with the Gulf of Mexico, but they will tolerate a little bit of salt. A list of salt tolerant vegetables can be found in “Salt Tolerant Vegetable Gardening”.

The North Florida Gardening Calendar provides a month-by-month list on what to grow when.

A number of cherry tomato varieties produce a big crop fast and over a long period of time. A list of recommended cherry tomato varieties can be found in this article on cherry tomatoes.

Pole beans can be planted as early as February in the panhandle. More information on pole beans and other legumes can be found in the Legume Production Chapter of the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida.

There aren’t a lot of options for perennial vegetables in North Florida. A perennial vegetable that can be grown here, taro, can be invasive. If you plan to grow this vegetable, please consider growing it in a container. Fortunately, we have a lot of options for perennial fruiting crops. More information on growing fruit trees can be found in the publication Dooryard Fruit Varieties.

Blackberries grow well in North Florida. You may want to try the thornless varieties ‘Freedom’, ‘Traveler’, ‘Osage’, and ‘Ouachita’. More information on growing blackberries can be found in the publication “The Blackberry”.

Some vegetables grow well in the shade. The “Veggies and Herbs Made in the Shade” publication includes a list of shade loving vegetables and herbs along with growing tips.

Community gardens provide a place to garden for people that may not have space at home. Gardening in these plots also gives people a place to meet their neighbors. Information on starting a community garden can found in the publication “Starting a Community Garden”.

Homegrown beets don’t taste anything like the ones your grandmother gave you out of a can. More information on growing beets and other root crops can be found in the Root Crop Chapter of the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida.

Research has shown that kids are more likely to eat vegetables that they grow. The publication “Why is Exposure to Nature Important in Early Childhood?” provides more information on this subject.

Pest Management

Vine borers and leaf footed bugs are some of the most damaging pests to a vegetable garden. Planting early in the season can help avoid these pests, but if you’re too late on planting then you might want to give some natural products a try. The publication “Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida” provides some good pointers on controlling these and other insect pests.

Squirrels and other wildlife can also be pests in the garden. Deterrents can help keep these pests out of the garden.

Tomatoes are disease prone. Good air circulation and crop rotation can keep some diseases under control. Pruning tomatoes can help improve air circulation. Other control methods are outlined in these Tomato Disease Publications.

Ants don’t usually mess with your vegetables, but they can be a nuisance when working in the garden. Fire ant management information can be found in the publication “Managing Imported Fire Ants in Urban Areas”.

Squash and other cucurbits don’t last long in wet areas. They don’t last long on the vine in the first place. Growing on plastic mulch, or even pine straw, can help these vegetables stay dry. You may also want to consider building a trellis for vining cucurbits. Also, make sure to harvest in a timely manner. Squash that overripen on the vine attract insect and disease pests and just don’t taste very good.

Weeds can compete for nutrients with your crops and don’t look very attractive in the garden (or anywhere). If you’re tired of hand weeding, the Vegetable Production Handbook of Florida lists herbicide options by crop.

Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.

Supporting Native Wild Bees in the Florida Landscape

Supporting Native Wild Bees in the Florida Landscape

This article was written by: Joanna Jaramillo Silva1, Rachel Mallinger2, Xavier Martini3

1 Ph.D. Student, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology

2 Assistant Professor, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology

3 Assistant Professor, North Florida Research and Education Center, University of Florida, Department of Entomology and Nematology

Bees are the primary pollinators of plants, essential in natural and crop environments for guaranteeing global food security to the human population. Florida is home of more than 300 species of native wild bees, which rely on pollen and nectar from flowers to survive. However, a global pollinator decline reported for honeybees and wild species (including insects, birds, and bats), is decreasing the worldwide provision of pollination services. Food limitation (pollen and nectar), resulting from decreasing flower diversity and quantity, is one of the multiple causes of pollinator decline. Pollinator-friendly plants are receiving attention from people of various disciplines such as the scientific community, stakeholders, Master Gardeners, and citizen science groups willing to participate in pollinator conservation efforts.

Domestic gardens

Domestic gardens comprise a substantial proportion of land in the urban landscape and are often the most significant component of green space; they play essential roles in conserving plant genetic resources, insects, and other wildlife, and have social and economic value. Gardens behave as islands of usable habitat surrounded by urbanization, and they present varying benefits for pollinators. There is generally a positive relationship between high pollinator abundance, flower diversity, and bloom evenness. Gardens for pollinators propose to solve the pollinator crisis by enlarging greenspaces in urban areas by planting more flowers in urbanized environment and by improving the diversity of floral resources for pollinators.

Pollinator friendly plants

There are different categories of floral traits: qualities that attract pollinators such as floral size and color, and physical characteristics that reward the pollinator (nectar and pollen quantity and quality). Flowers with higher quality and quantity rewards are more attractive to pollinators. Nectar provides the main sugar source for insect pollinators; its energetic value is determined by its sugar concentration. The volume of nectar produced by flowers will directly affected visitation by honeybees and bumblebees, butterflies, and birds. Pollen on the other side, consists of the main source of protein for most pollinators.


1.                Provide a Mix of floral shapes and sizes.

There is usually a positive correlation between flower size and nectar volume: long tube flowers usually provide more nectar, whereas open or flat flowers provide more pollen. In addition, flower shapes are also associated with different pollinator types (Fig. 1). Long-tongued insects (Butterflies, and some bees) visit deep corolla tube flowers, while short-tongued pollinators (wasps, flies and some bees) remain on short tube or open corolla flowers.

Mixed Flower Shapes
Figure 1. Examples of plants with long tube flowers, short-medium, and open corolla flowers (From left to right: Butterfly on a Pardon my pink (Monarda didyma) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva); Carpenterbee on Salvia Indigo spires (Salvia longispicata x farinaceae) (Credits: Kelly Thomas); Sweat bee on Gaillardia pulchella) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva).

2.                Provide a mix of flower colors

Color patterns influence the flower’s attractiveness and increase the efficiency of pollination by helping insects orient on the flower and guide them to the reward (Fig. 2). Bees prefer white, yellow, or blue-purple flowers. Orange, pink, and red flowers attract other pollinators such as butterflies.

Different Colors
Figure 2. Examples of native plants to Florida that display different colors Native to Florida (From left to right: Butterfly on Spanish needles (Bidens alba), Tickseed coreopsis (Coreopsis leavenworthii), Sckullcap (Scutellaria arrenicola), Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea), Swamp Rose-mallow (Hibiscus grandiflorus), Carpenterbee on False-Rosemary (Conradina grandiflora), Spotted beebalm (Monarda puctata), Blanket flower or Firewheel* (Gaillardia pulchella) . Credits: Joanna J. Silva
*A recent discovery suggests that Firewheel is not considered native to Florida, but it is widely cultivated. It is probably not native to the rest of the eastern USA as previously thought (ISB: Atlas of Florida Plants ( – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (

3.                Include a pollinator hotel

Add a bee nest box for the native bees that build their nests above ground. Solitary bees and wasps will take up residence in a pollinator hotel after you place it outside. 

4.                Provide flowers throughout the year.

Pollen and nectar collection varies seasonally for honeybees, while many other solitary bee species collect pollen continuously during adult foraging to feed their larvae. Design the garden to have three or more different plants blooming at any given time during the growing season, which is March through November in northern areas of the state (Fig. 3).

Flowers Throughout the Year
Figure 3. Honeybee on Viburnum (Winter) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva), Honeybee on Salvia Indigo spires taking nectar (Spring-Summer) (Credits: Walker Bensch), False Rosemary and Muhlly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) (Fall) (Credits: Joanna J. Silva).

5.      Include native plants.

A “Florida native plant” refers to a species occurring within the state boundaries prior to European contact, according to the best available scientific and historical documentation. Florida is home to over 4,867 species of plants; 3,314 species are considered native of which 230 species are endemic.

6.      Chose the right plant for each location.

Success depends on using the right plant in the right place, especially by considering plant’s cold hardiness (Fig. 4). Plant selection for landscapers, nurseries, and gardens requires individual site criteria and an evaluation of individual plant performance under different environmental circumstances, such as water, soil, and temperature.

Figure 4. Hardiness zones in Florida (
Figure 4. Hardiness zones in Florida (

7.      Resources