We work very hard to maintain our gardens and then we look up and vines are growing 20′ into the trees. I get asked frequently “what is growing up my trees?” My first answer is “probably the same things growing on your fences.” These include Smilax species, commonly called catbrier or greenbrier, Vitis rotundifolia, referred to as wild muscadine grape, Parthenocissus quinquefolia or Virginia Creeper, and the one to be most careful with, Toxicodendron radicans, known by many as Poison Ivy.
Spring growth on the Smilax vine.
Smilax is a native vine that grows quickly in spring and all summer. There are 12 species in Florida and 9 species commonly found in the Panhandle. Besides being armed with thorns on their stems and some leaves, Smilax spreads by underground stems called rhizomes. If you choose to ignore it, some species can cover your trees and the stems become woody and hard to remove. This vine also produces fruit and seeds are dispersed by birds all while the underground rhizomes are spreading under your lawns and gardens.
Smilax can quickly cover a tree trunk.
Removal can be difficult and mowing the vines only encourages more growth. When trying to remove by hand, wear heavy leather gloves and some eye protection because of the thorns. Cut the stems about three feet above the ground which allows you some stem to pull on to bring it out of your tree. You also then have a handle to pull and try to remove some of the rhizome from underground. Digging rhizomes is time consuming, but gives you piece of mind that they won’t come back immediately. Our family actually harvests the new shoots in spring and we use them like asparagus.
Wild muscadine grape is also native and difficult to remove. Most of the vines in nature are male and only produce by runners along the ground and then grow upwards. The female vine can produce 4-10 grapes in a cluster and then reseeds itself.
Wild muscadine grape covering a fence.
Wild grape completely covers plants and eventually the plants underneath can die. There are no thorns to contend with when removing wild grape, it is just time consuming, especially if it has taken over your fence or natural areas.
Virginia Creeper is a native vine, still considered a nursery plant in some areas of the country, and has bright red fall color.
Virginia Creeper climbing a tree trunk.
It is most often confused with poison ivy because of having five leaflets per leaf whereas poison ivy only has three leaflets per leaf. It spreads by seeds, runs along the ground, and is the easiest of these four vines to remove from your property.
Poison Ivy is a native vine distinguished by its three leaflets with the individual leaflets getting up to 6″ long. This vine spreads by seeds and underground rhizomes. What makes removal of this vine difficult is the urushiol oils which causes the skin rashes and blistering.
Poison ivy covering a tree trunk.
Care must be taken to cover up all skin and I recommend wearing waterproof clothes versus cotton which can absorb the oils and transfer them to your skin. Under no circumstances should these vines be put on the burn pile, the oils can become airborne and then you can inhale them.
Here are a few helpful tips when battling these native vines. First have patience and be dedicated, this removal will not happen over night. It may take a year or two to rid your property of the original vines. Be diligent though, because birds will continually land in your trees and deposit more seeds to get a fresh start. Try to remove vines when they are young and just beginning to climb your trees and fences. If you know you don’t have the time or energy to remove the vines from all your trees, at least cut the vines close to the ground to reduce flowering and new seeds. Be careful with poison ivy because falling leaves still contain oils. Once the vines start to have a new flush of growth, spray a non-selective herbicide on new growth and you should have good results. Lastly, remember one person can make a difference in trying to reduce the number of nuisance vines in our communities.
Here are some sited references to help with your removal tasks. Key to Nine Common Smilax Species of Florida. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fr375. Smilax is a Vine that can be Difficult to Control. http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/2017/04/21/smilax-is-a-vine-that-can-be-difficult-to-control/. The Muscadine Grape (Vitus rotundifolia Michx.) https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/hs100. Muscadine Grape Vines: Difficult to Control in Your Landscape. http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/2017/03/24/muscadine-grape-vines-difficult-to-control-in-your-landscape/. Parthenocissus quinquefolia: Virginia Creeper https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fp454. Identification of Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, Poison Sumac, and Poisonwood. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/EP220.
Our Gardening in the Panhandle blogs cover many horticultural topics concerning yards, however let us not forget about properties that contain a body of water (pond, lake, retention or detention basin, stream, river or Gulf of Mexico). Out of the nine Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ principles, five directly deal with water quality. Those principles are #2 Water Efficiently, #3 Fertilize Appropriately, #6 Manage Yard Pests Responsibly, #8 Prevent Stormwater Runoff, and #9 Protect the Waterfront. An easy argument can be made that the remaining four principles (#1 Right Plant, Right Place, #4 Mulch, #5 Attract Wildlife, and #7 Recycle) can also impact water quality on your properties.
Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension
The quickest and easiest way to start improving water quality is setting up a maintenance-free zone along your shore. At minimum, you should keep all chemicals 10′ away from the water’s edge and increase that distance as your slope becomes steeper. Chemicals include all fertilizers (#3) and any pesticides/herbicides (#6) meant for the landscape (there are times when situations arise where treatment of the water is warranted). If you must fertilize up slope, make sure to reduce irrigation (#2) to about 25% of normal the first time which keeps the fertilizer from dissolving and running down your slope’s surface (#9).
Cascades Park in Tallahassee, FL.
If possible replace turfgrass with a no mow zone containing plants adapted for shorelines to prevent applications of fertilizer and chemicals. Plants (#1) other than turfgrass will have deeper roots, stabilize the bank better and absorb more chemicals before entering the water. These taller plants in turn can become habitats (#5) for birds and other specimens which can increase your ecosystem’s biodiversity. Some properties have collection swales or low lying areas where water pools and then flows into the water. It is best to understand how water flows through the property and reduce chemicals in those areas too (#8).
Heavy rains caused water levels to raise around this pond and decomposing leaf litter added a film over the pond.
As gardeners, we tend to compost our leaves and yard debris (#7) plus use mulch (#4) to reduce water loss from our soils. Keep mulches and compost piles away from flood zones and when possible keep leaves from washing into your water as they can create films on the surface. Never allow grass clippings to land on water surfaces as they will add nutrients when tissue decays.
As Florida continues to grow, we all must play an important role in keeping our water clean and safe for us, animals, birds, and aquatic life. If you have questions on improving your water quality, please contact your local county Extension Agent or Water Regional Specialized Agent (RSA). For additional information visit these other sites.
Protecting Florida’s Water Resources: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/florida-friendly-landscapes/floridas-water-resources.html
Living on Water’s Edge: http://www.sarasota.wateratlas.usf.edu/upload/documents/LivingontheWatersEdgeFreshwater.pdf
Urban Fertilizer Ordinances in the Context of Environmental Horticulture and Water Quality Extension Programs: Frequently Asked Questions: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/AE534
Our trees and vines are flowering and lawns are starting to green up naturally, but one glance at the calendar and it is still early spring. The last official frost date for the Florida panhandle can be into April depending on location. We know our day time and night time temperatures are still fluctuating every other day. We also know the stores and nurseries are stocked with shelves and pallets of fertilizer. So the big question is when can I fertilizer my lawn?
Overseeded ryegrass on a centipedegrass lawn.
My answer after years of practice is always it depends, but my non-scientific rule of thumb to homeowners is wait until you mow three weeks in a row and make sure you’re past the last frost dates for your area. If you need to mow three weeks in a row for height, then your lawn is actively growing and most likely we are into a temperature range good for fertilizer applications. If you apply fertilizer to a lawn that is dormant, the fertilizer will not be taken up by your roots and it can leach below the root zone wasting money while not improving the lawn and possibly causing environmental concerns.
With that said, there are some factors to consider. We always recommend doing a soil test first. This can be done in advance of spring. Your test results might indicate having sufficient nutrients in the soil, so not applying would save you money and the lawn would still look good. The soil test will also indicate what nutrients are in excess or lacking, then you can apply only the nutrients needed.
I have found that fertilizer is still very much misunderstood. When I ask homeowners whether they consider fertilizer to be medicine or a stressor, most will answer medicine and we all know if a little medicine is good, then a bit more is better. However, it is more accurate to think of fertilizer as a chemical stressor. If my lawn is unhealthy, then I force my lawn to grow and it can further weaken my plants. Think of it like this, if you’re not feeling well at night before you go to bed, should you consume one of those big energy drinks? Not if you want to sleep and hopefully feel better in the morning. Apply fertilizer when the lawn is ready and capable of having a positive response when spring fully arrives.
Wakulla County Extension office mixed species turf.
Here are some items you should know before you fertilize the lawn. Fertilizers used in Florida should have a license number that begins with F followed by a series of numbers. It is important to check your fertilizers before you apply. You need to know what type of turfgrass you have in your lawn. We have a lot of bahiagrass and centipedegrass lawns in the panhandle. Each will require a different regiment. You are only allowed to apply one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet per application and you should never apply more than the recommended rate. I always refer to a childhood fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” when thinking about plant health. Slow and steady makes for a better lawn in the long run. This means you need to measure your lawn, understand how to calculate the nitrogen and then apply correctly with the right equipment and spreader patterns. We also recommend very little phosphorus (the middle number on the fertilizer bag 15-0-15) for Florida lawns. Our soils are usually sufficient and this is another item your soil test results will confirm.
Remember, your local Extension office is always here to help especially making sure you treat the lawn right. Think before you apply because your long-term goal is improving the lawn quality.
The Florida Fertilizer Label (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss170) and General Recommendations for Fertilization of Turfgrasses on Florida Soils (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh014). T. W. Shaddox, assistant professor; UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33314
Homeowner Best Management Practices for the Home Lawn (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep236). Laurie E. Trenholm, professor, Extension turfgrass specialist, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh006). L. E. Trenholm, professor, turfgrass specialist, Department of Environmental Horticulture; J. B. Unruh, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; and J. L. Cisar, retired professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
Centipedegrass for Florida Lawns (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/lh009). J. B. Unruh, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS West Florida Research and Education Center; L. E. Trenholm, associate professor, turfgrass specialist, Environmental Horticulture Department; and J. L. Cisar, professor, turfgrass specialist, UF/IFAS Ft. Lauderdale REC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
For all my years in the classroom, I never let students say the “d-word” when discussing soil science. In some instances, we had a “d-word” swear collection jar of a quarter when you used the term and even today, I hesitate from spelling the word out in text due to feedback from all those I have corrected. In case you still need a clue on the “d-word”, it ends in irt.
As a horticulturist for 46 years, I have read, heard, and been told many secrets to growing good plants. I still hold firm that without proper knowledge of how soil works, most of what we do is by chance. Soil is a living entity comprised of parent material (sand, silt, and clay), air, water, organic matter (OM), and microorganisms. It is this last item which makes our soils come to life. If you have pets, then you know they need shelter, warmth, air, water, and food. From this point forward think of soil microorganisms as the pets in your soil. If you take care of them, they will take care of your plants.
Sandy soil without any organic matter at the Wakulla County Extension office.
There is a huge difference in habitat from a sandy soil to a healthy soil with a good percentage of OM (5% – 10%). In one gram of healthy soil (the weight of one standard paper clip), you can have bacteria (100,000,000 to 1,000,000,000), actinomycetes (10,000,000 to 100,000,000), fungi (100,000 to 1,000,000), protozoa (10,000 to 100,000), algae (10,000 to 100,000), and nematodes (10 to 100) (1). A teaspoon of healthy soil can contain over four billion organisms (2). These microorganisms are part of the soil food web and they form a relationship between soil and your plants. They help convert nutrients to useable forms and assist with other plant functions.
The question becomes how to take care of your soil pets. For years we have performed practices that compromise these populations. Growing up we put all of our grass clippings in the weekly trash. We know now how valuable those clippings are and to leave them be. Two practices still common today though are tilling and raking leaves.
Master Gardener Volunteer vegetable bed with organic matter added.
Tilling has a limited purpose. If I place a layer of organic matter on top of the ground, then tilling incorporates the OM which feeds my pets. Excess tilling of soil introduces large amounts of oxygen which accelerates the breakdown of OM thus reducing our pet populations over time. Another adverse result from tilling is disturbing the soil structure (how the parent materials are arranged) which can reduce pore spaces thus limiting water percolation and root growth. There is a reason agriculture has adapted no-till practices.
Raking leaves (supposedly the sign of a well-kept yard) is removing large amounts of OM. Do you ever wonder why trees in a forest thrive? All of their leaves fall to the ground and are recycled by the microorganisms. Each of those leaves contains macronutrients (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and magnesium) and micronutrients (boron, copper, chlorine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc) which are necessary for plant growth. You would be hard pressed to find all those nutrients in one fertilizer bag. So recycle (compost) your leaves versus having them removed from the property.
We are in our off season and tasks such as improving soil health should be considered now for soils to be ready in spring. Remember a little organic matter at a time and never work wet soils. As your OM levels build over the years, remember to change your watering and fertilizing schedules as the soil will be better adapted at holding water and nutrients. Soil tests are still recommended before fertilizing.
If you would like more tips on improving your soil, contact me or your local county horticulture extension agents. For a more in depth look at caring for your soils, read The Importance of Soil Health in Residential Landscapes by Sally Scalera MS, Dr. A.J. Reisinger and Dr. Mark Lusk (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ss664).
- Chapter 2: Soils, Water, and Plant Nutrients. Texas Master Gardener Training Manual.
- The Importance of Soil Health in Residential Landscapes. 2019.
Normally, you will have one of four answers: “yes”, “no”, “I don’t know” or “what are super bugs?” The answer to the last one is an insect or other pest that has become resistant to chemical treatments through either natural selection (genetics) or an adaptive behavioral trait.
The next question is do you treat insect or pest problems at home with a purchased EPA registered chemical (one purchased from the nursery or other retailer)? If you answered yes, then the next question is how many times in a row do you apply the same chemical? If you only use one chemical until the product is used up, then you might be creating super bugs. Do you ever alternate chemicals and if you answer yes, do you understand chemical Modes of Action (how the pesticide kills the pest)? If you do not, then chances are the rotating chemicals might act in the same way. Thus, you are creating super bugs because in essence you are applying the same chemical with different labels.
Click on image for a larger view. Taken from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in714.
One of the first ways to reduce creating super bugs is to practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The very last step of an IPM philosophy is chemical control. You should choose the least toxic (chemical strength is categorized by signal words on the label: caution, warning, and danger) and most selective product. A chemical label advertising it kills many pests is an example of a non-selective chemical. You want to choose a chemical that kills your pest or only a few others. In Extension education, you will always hear the phrase “The label is the law.” To correctly purchase a chemical, you must first correctly identify the pest and secondly the plant you want to treat. If you need help from Extension for either of these, please contact us. Before purchasing the chemical, always read the whole label. You can find the label information online in larger print versus reading the small print on the container.
IRAC phone app.
You now have the correct chemical to treat your pest. Wear the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) and apply according to directions. If your situation is normal, the problem is not completely solved after one treatment. You might apply a second or third time and yet you still have a pest problem. The diagram explains why you still have pests or more accurately super bugs.
Now the last question is how do we really solve the problem given that chemicals are still the only treatment option? A bit more work will greatly help the situation. You need to download the Insecticide Resistance Action Committee (IRAC) guide and find the active ingredient on your chemical label (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi121 or https://irac-online.org/modes-of-action/ and select the pdf). If you are like me, you can just download the IRAC MoA smartphone app and type in the active ingredient; otherwise, Appendix 5 in the pdf has a quick reference guide. Either way, you will know the Group and/or Subgroup. A lot of commonly purchased residential chemicals fall within 1A, 1B or 3. The successful treatment option is to select chemicals from different group numbers and use them in rotation. If you start practicing this simple strategy, your treatment should be more successful. Then when someone asks if you are creating super bugs, your answer will be no.
If you have any questions about rotating your chemical Modes of Action, please contact me or your local county Extension agent. For more resources on this topic, please read Managing Insecticide and Miticide Resistance in Florida Landscapes by Dr. Nicole Benda and Dr. Adam Dale (https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/in714).