Fruit Thieves: Roof Rats

Fruit Thieves: Roof Rats

We often think of plant pests to be only insects.  However, plant pests can also be fungal and bacterial diseases, weeds, and even rodents.  That’s right, rodents, like squirrels, mice, and rats!  One particularly annoying rodent pest of the garden is the roof rat (Rattus rattus, a.k.a. citrus rat, fruit rat, black rat, or gray rat).  Roof rats are native to southern Asia.  This is the same species that was responsible for carrying the bubonic plague around the world.  Roof rats are the most detrimental rodent pest to fruit crops in the state of Florida.  In addition to fruit crops, they feed on stored animal and human food.  Roof rats live in attics, soffits, walls, and outbuildings.  They also chew through wires, pipes, and walls.  Roof rats damage some fruit crops (like citrus and melons) by first creating a half dollar sized hole, then they hollow out the fruit.  In crops without a rind or peel, like peaches and tomatoes, they just eat large chunks.

Roof rat damage to tangerines.

Roof rat damage to tangerines. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Adult roof rats are 12-14 inches long with tails longer than their body length.  In Florida they have been identified in three color phases: black back with gray belly; gray back with light gray belly; and brownish gray back with a white or cream colored belly.  Other than fruit damage, evidence of infestation includes 1/4-1/2 inch long droppings and rub marks left along travel trails.  Roof rats will travel up to 150 yards from their den for food and water.  They breed year-round and have litters of 5-8 pups with a gestation period of only 21 to 23 years.

An adult roof rat.

An adult roof rat. Photo Credit: Alabama Cooperative Extension System

A well-thought-out integrated pest management strategy is needed to control and potentially prevent roof rats on your property.  Integrated pest management is a strategy consisting of multiple tactics to control a pest.  These tactics include scouting (looking for evidence of the pest population); prevention; trapping and exclusion; biological control such as predators; and rodenticides and repellants.

  • Prevention – Roof rats are good climbers and swimmers.  It is important that fruit trees are planted away from the house, fences, and outbuildings.  Make sure to prune fruit trees away from these structures if they can’t be removed or transplanted to another location.  Also prune branches from touching the ground to help prevent rats from using trees for cover.  Sheet metal (18-24 inches wide) can be loosely wrapped around the tree trunk to keep rats out of the tree.
  • Trapping – Rat traps can be placed in several strategic locations.  Traps (triggers facing down) can be attached to the trunks of trees.  Traps can also be attached to the stringer boards on a fence.  Make sure that traps are only set from dusk to dawn to avoid killing non-target species like birds and squirrels.  Leave traps in place for at least a week before moving them because roof rats are cautious of new objects.
  • Rodenticides & Repellants – Poisons should only be used after all other control methods are exhausted.  Most products are very toxic to humans, pets, and wildlife.  If used outdoors, poison baits must be placed in tamper-resistant bait stations.
  • Biological Control – Rat snakes and king snakes are good natural predators for roof rats.  If you have more open spaces you may consider building a barn owl house.  Barn owls and hawks are also natural predators.  You may also consider getting a farm cat to help control the population.  Cats will kill juvenile rats, but have trouble catching adult rats.

Hopefully you will never have to encounter roof rats or other rodents invading your yard and house.  However, if they do come around more information is available in the publication “Pests in and Around the Southern Home“.

Meet the Agent – Donna Arnold

Meet the Agent – Donna Arnold

Donna Arnold, University of Florida/IFAS Extension - Gadsden County

Donna Arnold, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Gadsden County

Donna Arnold is the Small Farm and Residential Horticultural Agent for the Gadsden County since January, 2022. Her main role as an agent is to provide educational programs, related to sustainable agriculture to farmers in Gadsden County north Florida. These programs in small farms and residential horticulture include: best management practices, production, harvesting, marketing, and sustainability issues. In addition, she will provide direction and leadership for the Master Gardener Program also in the County.

Donna holds a Master of Science Degree in Entomology form Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). In her research she examined the prevalence of Solenopsis invicta virus 3 (SINV-3) in fire ant alates collected in north and central Florida. Previously, she was employed to the Oberlin High School Kingston via Ministry of Education Youth and Culture in Jamaica for over 20 years where she was an Agricultural Sciences teacher and the Head of the Agriculture Department. Her job duties involved managing the school tutorial farm and supervision of members in the agriculture department. She also participated in many on the job trainings and earned certificates in the field of Agriculture and was a part of the National 4-H clubs.

Donna Arnold in Beekeeper Jacket

Donna Arnold in Beekeeper Jacket

Her experience in Agriculture began at an early age; she was raised in a small farming community in East Rural St Andrew, nestled in the blue mountain regions of Jamaica. Farming was the main source of income there – Coffee and vegetable crops predominately grown. Since agriculture was embedded in her from a tender age, this act as a catalyst to propelled her to learn more about the pedagogical aspects. Donna’s formal agricultural experience began at Elim Agricultural School, now known as Sydney Pagan Agricultural School, where she was awarded a certificate in General Agriculture.

She later worked in extension with Rural Agricultural Development Authority under the Ministry of Agriculture. During her tenure she saw the need to upgrade educationally to better served her farmers in rural communities, therefore, she pursued an Associate of Science degree in Agriculture (ASc.), and a Bachelor of Technology in Food System Management and Agriculture Production (BTECH) respectively, at the College of Agricultural Science and Education (CASE). After which, she pursued a Diploma in Teacher Education at the Short wood Teachers College.

With the knowledge and skills garnered this led to her understanding that agriculture plays a vital role in food security because she believes a country is not independent until it can feed itself. It was always Donna’s intention to continue working in Agricultural extension, there she believes she can make a positive impact on farmers lives since they are the drivers of food production.

During her spear time one can find Donna tending plants, working with honey bee research and, watching home and garden television series. Her motto is “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” by Winston Churchill

What Does a Vegetable Garden Cost?

What Does a Vegetable Garden Cost?

a mix of vegetable plants

A mixed vegetable garden. Photo Credit:

It’s never too early to start thinking about your spring vegetable garden.  Have you ever wondered how much it costs to grow your own vegetables?  Does it cost less to grow your own vegetables or buy them from the grocery store or farmers market?  A number of factors are involved with answering these questions and budgeting for your home garden.


The materials used are specific to your own vegetable garden.  If you do everything by hand you may need a hoe, rake, and spade along with a number of other tools you can use from year to year.  When budgeting for you garden you would need to think about the life expectancy of these tools.  Let’s say a $20 rake lasts for 10 years.  In that case, you would budget $2/year ($20 ÷ 10 years = $2/year) for the rake.  This might also be the case with a bag of fertilizer.  You may buy a 50 pound bag of fertilizer and use half the bag in year one and the other half in year two, so the cost of the fertilizer would be cut in half for your yearly budget.  Other materials may be purchased for just one growing season such as pine straw for weed suppression or you may buy only enough seeds for the season.


A lot of work goes into growing your own vegetables.  If you have the time and enjoy gardening then you may choose to charge yourself nothing for your work.  However, from a cost analysis perspective you may want to put a value on your work.  This will give you a better comparison to buying vegetables.


Of course you could create your own budget based on all the costs that go into gardening.  But why do that, when it’s already been done for you.  The UF/IFAS Costs and Benefits of Vegetable Gardening publication includes a Microsoft Excel Cost Workbook to help answer some of these cost questions.  This budget template is customizable, so it’s important that you consider all the costs for your vegetable garden.  If you are looking for more detailed crop budgets, there are a lot of North Florida Enterprise Budgets available from UF/IFAS.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Selecting & Maintaining Trees

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Selecting & Maintaining Trees

Trees provide shade, aesthetics, and perspective to the landscape.  However, they only serve as burdens if not properly selected and maintained.  To help determine what trees do best under certain conditions and to provide information on tree care, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about trees.

Florida maple beginning to exhibit fall color. Photo credit: Larry Williams, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Okaloosa County

Tree Selection

Some trees grow faster than others.  That’s not always a good thing, but if you’re trying to select a tree that grows fast and will provide shade in your yard then you might want to give the following species a try.  Click on the links for more information.

A lot of times you’ll read a particular tree species prefers moist, well-drained soil.  Some coastal soils are very well drained and require supplemental irrigation after establishment to keep some species alive.  One tree that does well in sandy, well-drained soils without supplemental irrigation is the sand live oak.  Another tree, that would never win a popularity contest, but does well in sandy soils is the sand pine.  This tree has a gnarly growth habit, which would make it an interesting focal point in the landscape.  Turkey oaks are another option for dry spots.

There are a lot of fruit tree species that can be grown successfully in the panhandle.  The key to good fruit production is selecting trees that are adapted to the average number of chill hours (usually calculated by the number of hours between 34ºF and 45ºF) your yard receives on a yearly basis.  Some peaches, plums, and nectarines have been developed for our climate.  Citrus such as satsumas and tangerine hybrids grow well in the panhandle, but sometimes require cold protectionPersimmons, loquats, and pears are other fruit trees that grow well.

If you already have mature trees in your yard, then you may be looking for smaller, understory trees to enhance your landscape.

Living this far south, you often have to really seek out trees that change color in the fall.  Dogwoods, Florida maples, and blackgum trees all have great fall color.  Some of the red oaks also have nice fall color.  Two that come to mind are the nuttall oak and the Shumard oak.

Trees can cause a lot of damage if planted too close to sidewalks or buildings.  To determine if a tree will fit in a confined space, you will need to consider its mature trunk flare diameter.

Florida is the southern extreme for growing ginko trees.  If you decide to plant a ginko tree, make sure to select a male cultivar to avoid stinky, slippery fruit.

To successfully plant a tree, you need to start with a healthy tree.  If the tree you purchase was grown in a pot, make sure it isn’t rootbound and doesn’t have encircling roots.  You also should inspect the tree’s form, branching structure,  and look for the presence of included bark.  Please read “Selecting Quality Trees from the Nursery” for more tips on what to look out for when purchasing a healthy tree.

Some trees are more tolerant than others of high winds and flooding.  Please read this publication about tree failure from hurricanes to help determine what tree species are better adapted to these weather events.

Santa Rosa County Master Gardener Pruning a Stone Fruit tree at the WFREC. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Tree Maintenance

Armillaria is a common fungal pathogen that infects trees from their roots.  Other major diseases are more specific to certain species.  A more comprehensive list of tree and shrub diseases can be found on the Ask IFAS website.

Tree establishment period depends on a lot of factors.  Once a tree is established, it’s roots can be equal to about three times the distance from the trunk to the dripline.

Part of the beauty of a bald cypress is its knees.  However they can also be a nuisance for mowing and other yard maintenance.  The purpose of cypress knees is a bit of a mystery and there are a lot of theories on the subject.

Fallen leaves can help add nutrients back to your yard.  Even if you are trying for a manicured lawn, you may want to rake up the leaves and use them elsewhere in the landscape.

Regardless of the species, most fruit trees benefit from a good pruning.  Deciduous fruit trees should be pruned to maintain good branch structure and form, while citrus may benefit from a light hedging.

Trees are a wonderful addition to any landscape, but it’s important you select the right tree for the right place.  Hopefully this article provided some information to guide you in the right direction.


Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Houseplants

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Houseplants

Houseplants can soften up the interior of your home and help clean the air.  They can also supplement your holiday decorations and help create stunning focal points.  To help determine what plants do best under certain conditions and to give pointers on plant care, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about houseplants.

spides plant

A spider plant on a coffee table. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Environmental Conditions for Houseplants

Unless you live in a glass house, you’ll probably want to choose houseplants that do well in low light conditions.  A guide for what light level different houseplants prefer can be found on the Gardening Solutions Light for Houseplants page.  This page also provides useful tips on supplemental lighting.

Some houseplants are better at cleaning the air than others.  A list of houseplants that do a good job improving indoor air quality can be found on the Gardening Solutions Houseplants That Clean the Air page.

The best way to determine if your houseplants need water is your own green thumb or whatever finger you choose to stick in the potting mix, but for some interesting information on outdoor soil moisture meters check out this informative publication on soil moisture sensors.

Houseplants need a good quality, well-drained potting mix to thrive.  Tips on selecting a potting mix can be found on the Gardening Solutions Container Media page.

Houseplant Pests

One of the best ways to rid houseplants of insect pests is to set the plants outside for a few days and let the pests move on.  For some information on pest control products in and around the home check out the publication Natural Products for Managing Landscape and Garden Pests in Florida.

Fungus gnats are mainly a nuisance, but some species can feed on living plant tissue.  Darkwinged fungus gnats are known to feed on ferns, orchids, and geraniums.

Houseplant Propagation

One way to increase your houseplant population and save a few dollars is to propagate your own plants.  The University of Florida/IFAS created the Plant Propagation Glossary to help with any propagation questions you may have.

Air layering is a propagation technique that not only allows the prospective plant to thrive from the nutrients of the mother plant, but it also saves space.

moth orchid

A moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.) outdoors. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Specific Species Info

Orchids in the genus Phalaenopsis are easier to care for than other genera of orchids.  The American Orchid Society provides some great tips on caring for orchids indoors.  Some people choose to water their orchids with ice cubes.  The Ohio State University has a publication that provides some more insight on watering Phalaenopsis orchids with ice cubes.

A lot of cacti do well indoors.  A popular cactus during the holiday season is Christmas cactus.  Christmas cactus have interesting foliage, but their blooms are what people want to see.  Some tips on getting your Christmas cactus to bloom on time and general care information can be found in this Christmas Cactus Preparation fact sheet.

Have you ever wanted to grow fruit trees indoors or do you want some tips on bringing containerized fruit trees indoors for the winter?  The Growing Fruit Crops in Containers publication provides some good tips on growing fruit trees indoors.

Unless you have a house with a lot of windows or a sunroom, plumeria don’t make the best houseplants.  They need at least six hours of sunlight per day and need to be at least three years old to bloom.  If you are interested in propagating plumeria, then check out this publication on propagating plumeria from cuttings.