Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Invasive Species

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Invasive Species

Invasive species are all around us, from invasive plants like cogongrass to invasive amphibians like Cuban tree frogs to invasive insects like red imported fire ants.  These species affect our ecosystems by outcompeting native species for nutrients or food and other precious resources.  To help with the management of these noxious organisms, the October 2021 edition of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE educated the public on invasive species.  The highlights from the webinar are listed below.

Cogongrass dominating the landscape. Photo credit: Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

Invasive Species Education

For general invasive species terminology please visit.  Invasive Species Terminology: Standardizing for Stakeholder Education

Here’s a great resource to help educate the public about invasive plant species.  Florida Invasive Plant Education Initiative

The University of Florida has developed a comprehensive list of invasive plant species.  Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas

Invasive Species Control

Cogongrass Control: Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica) Biology, Ecology, and Management in Florida Grazing Lands

Bamboo Control: Bamboo Control

Chinese Tallow (Popcorn Tree) Control: Natural Area Weeds: Chinese Tallow (Sapium sebiferum L.)

Armadillo Management: Baiting the Nine-Banded Armadillo

Dollarweed Control: Pennywort (Dollarweed) Biology and Management in Turf

Doveweed Control: Biology and Management of Doveweed (Murdannia Nudiflora) in Ornamental Crop Production


Should Pepper Seeds Be Saved?

Should Pepper Seeds Be Saved?

There seems to be a lot of interest in being sustainable and saving seeds is one way to be food sustainable.  Should you save seeds from your garden?  When it comes to peppers and a number of other vegetables in your garden…it depends.

Wakulla Master Gardener Bill Osborne shows off some of the peppers he grew.

Hybrid vs. Open-pollinated

If you plan to save seed from your peppers, you first need to determine whether you planted open pollinated or hybrid peppers.  Hybrid varieties are produced from two distinct pepper varieties and are often designated by “F1” appearing after the variety name.  The seed from hybrid varieties is not usually saved because it does not produce plants and fruit that are true to the original variety.  Open-pollinated varieties are developed from inbreeding plants for multiple generations to develop a stable genetic make-up.  Seeds saved from these varieties will produce plants and fruit that are true to type.

How to Save Seed

To save seed of a known variety, it is important to isolate flowers or plants to ensure cross pollination from other varieties does not occur.  There are four common ways to isolate flower/plants.

  1. Isolate plants from pollinizer insects by growing them indoors or in a greenhouse.
  2. Cover individual plants with insect exclusion netting.
  3. Separate different varieties by at least 400 feet.
  4. Put a small bag over an emerging flower until it has self-pollinated.  Then remove the bag for fruit development.

The options above will help ensure your plants produce seed true to type.  A fun experiment would be to save seed from plants/fruit that are not isolated and planted near other pepper varieties.  There are endless possibilities on the peppers your new varieties would produce and you may end up developing your own named cultivar.  You could also choose one of the isolation techniques listed to selectively cross different pepper plants.  One misconception about growing peppers is that hot peppers planted near sweet peppers will influence the flavor of the sweet peppers.  As you may have gathered from the information about crossing varieties, the flavor of the next generation will be influenced by hot and sweet pepper being allowed to cross pollinate.

German Sandoya (left) examining seed samples in a lab at the Everglades Research and Education Center. Photo University of Florida/IFAS

Harvesting and Processing Seed

Peppers should be allowed to mature before seed is harvested.  In fact, germination rates are higher when peppers are allowed to dry for at least one month before seeds are harvested.  Make sure that no mold or disease is on the peppers, because this could affect germination rates.  To harvest the seeds, simply remove them from the pepper and remove any flesh from the pepper.  If the seed was harvested from fresh peppers, rinse the seed thoroughly and allow to dry before placing in a sealable bag or container.  If the peppers were allowed to dry before seed harvest, then the rinse step can probably be skipped.  Store the seed in a cool, dark, and dry location such as a refrigerator.

Yellowjackets: Friend or Foe

Yellowjackets: Friend or Foe

Last week I was trimming shrubs around my house and I had the wild idea to pull up a couple yaupon holly saplings around the base of a live oak tree…without looking.  As I was pulling up one of the saplings I felt a piercing sting on my ankle.  I yelled some obscenities and ran away as quickly as I could, but it was no use.  By the time I got far enough away, I had been stung eleven times and I still had a few yellowjackets flying around in my shorts.

Southern yellowjackets create underground colonies that can hold over 2,000 yellowjackets. Photo Credit: UF/IFAS

Two species of yellowjackets can be found in Florida along with a similar species known as the baldfaced hornet.  The eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) is found in eastern North America and the southern yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa) is found in the eastern United States, Mexico, and Central America.

yellowjacket nest

Southern yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa (Drury), nest dug from ground.
Credit: Gerald J. Lenhard;

Yellowjacket colonies are started in the spring by a single queen that mated in the fall and overwintered.  Yellowjacket nests consist of a series of horizontal combs that may be above ground, underground, or both.  The queen builds the initial nest and forages for food on her own.  Her offspring then assume all jobs except for laying eggs.  In the fall, larger cells are built for a new batch of queens.  The new queens then emerge, mate, and seek shelter for the winter.  The old queen dies and the remaining colony breaks down.

Yellowjackets aren’t all bad, they provide a great service to our gardens and landscapes by attacking a number of insects that are pests to our crops.  However, the moral of this story is to always be aware of what is lurking under your feet and above your head.  And maybe yaupon hollies shouldn’t be messed with regardless of their native invasiveness.  Nests are less active at night, but any disturbance will trigger an attack.  However, it is best to leave nest removal to professionals.


Springtailed Invaders

Springtailed Invaders

A month or so ago I was leaving for work and I noticed a strange substance near the entrance to the house.  The substance was blue and my first thought was crushed chalk from my kids writing on the sidewalk.  Upon closer investigation I realized the substance was moving!  It was now clear to me that the substance wasn’t chalk, but a congregation of insects.  Naturally, I took pictures and collected a sample to bring into the county extension office…where I work.  I looked at the insects under the microscope, but I wasn’t able to determine the species.  So I sent some samples off to the University of Florida/IFAS Entomology and Nematology Department and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

A swarm of Desoria flora

A swarm of Desoria flora on damp, outdoor steps. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

The experts identified the specimens as Desoria flora, a species of springtail insects endemic to Florida and originally described in Alachua County in 1980.  Both entomologists thought it was unique the springtails were swarming.  Springtails live in leaf litter and upper layers of soils.  They are sometimes found in the potting mix of indoor and outdoor plants.  Clients bring springtail specimens in to the office for identification from time to time.  However, this was the first time I had seen them in a congregation.

A linear springtail

A linear springtail. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

If you find interesting insects, plants, or fungi and want them identified, please bring them into your local Extension Office.  We’d be happy to help you identify the specimens.  But sometimes we have to mail things off to a specialist.


Palm Tree Problems

Palm Tree Problems

Palm trees are great for adding a tropical feel to your landscape.  For the most part, they are easy to care for, however there are a number of environmental and nutritional factors that can affect palm tree growth.  Extended drought conditions can cause palm trunk to contract or shrivel and extended periods of moisture can cause trunks to swell and crack.

A palm tree with an irregularly shaped trunk due to water stress.

A palm tree with an irregularly shaped trunk due to water stress. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Palm trees are monocots and do not have lateral meristems or vascular cambium.  In dicot and coniferous trees these structures produce additional xylem (water transport structures) internally and phloem (nutrient transport structures) and bark externally.  This means that once the apical meristem (frond producing portion of the palm) dies, the tree dies.  It also means that wounds to the trunks of palms are visible for life instead of healing over like in dicots.  If you were to cut the top out of a red maple, a number of it’s branches would fight to take over as the main trunk.  If you were to cut the top out of a palm tree , you would be left with a dead snag for a tree.  Palms certainly have unique structures and growing habits.  Visit this publication from Dr. Timothy Broschat for more information on palm tree anatomy and morphology.

A palm tree with a wound near the base of its trunk.

A palm tree with a wound near the base of its trunk. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Palm trees display nutritional disorders differently from other trees.  Their nutritional balance gets disrupted if too much nitrogen is applied.  This often happens when high nitrogen turfgrass fertilizers are applied near palm plantings.  The recommended palm fertilizer is 8-2-12 (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) plus 4 magnesium all available in 100% slow release form.  A soil test is recommended to determine if other micronutrients are needed in addition to magnesium.

Potassium-deficient older leaf of Dictyosperma album (hurricane palm) showing translucent yellow-orange spotting.

Potassium-deficient older leaf of Dictyosperma album (hurricane palm) showing translucent yellow-orange spotting. Photo Credit: Timothy K. Broschat, University of Florida/IFAS

Potassium is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies observed in palm trees.  For more detailed information on palm tree nutrient deficiencies please visit the publication: Nutrient Deficiencies of Landscape and Field-Grown Palms in Florida.

This article provides just a glimpse of some of the common issues that affect palms.  For more information on what could be going on with your palm trees and general palm tree care please visit Ask IFAS: Palm Care.