The oncoming of spring is heralded by several events. Wildflowers bloom, temperature rises, and insects awaken from their wintry slumber. The latter of these is the impetus for this article. I’m sure you have heard the buzzing of the bees already, but there is more to come. Florida is host to 315 species of native bees in addition to honey bees (Apis mellifera) which are a non-native species. Native bees in Florida are separated into six families, fulfilling several niches within our landscape. This article is only focused on a few of these.
The Sweat Bees
The sweat bees fall into the family Halictidae. These vary greatly in appearance and size with the majority being very small. Often metallic black, but may also be seen in shades of green, blue, or purple they are hard to miss in your landscape. Most sweat bees are ground nesting though some can be found above. Wildflowers, stone fruits, and sunflowers are the primary nectar sources for these bees particularly in early spring.
Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are in the family Apidae. Ground dwelling, the queen overwinters in the soil emerging in early spring to feast on wildflower nectar. Often mistaken as carpenter bees (Xylocopta spp.), they are distinguishable by the hairs covering their bodies which are lacking in carpenter bees. They are one of two bee species seen carrying pollen sacks, honey bees being the other. All but one of the five species in this genera may be found in the Panhandle where they are important pollinators for many native and ornamental plants.
One of our more unique species, Mason bees of family Megachilidae live above ground lining their nests with mud. Solitary by nature, these are prominent pollinators of fruit trees and blueberries. A variety of color makes them difficult to even identify as a bee. They often come in dark blue, black, or white striped. Much like honeybees, some species of mason bees are purchased from online sources specifically for orchards.
Carpenter bees are the final subject covered here and are split into two subfamilies. Large carpenter bees (Xylocopta spp.) chew their nests into solid wood. That the wood is sometimes fence posts, water tanks or your home means that this insect may be an economic pest. These are large and as mentioned above often mistaken for bumble bees. Small carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.) are differentiated mainly by size as they are much smaller than the large carpenter bee. They may be a variety of colors as well and nest by hollowing out the pith of broken or burnt plant stems. As they make their nests in already broken plant tissue, they are not considered of economic importance.
Native bees are an important part of pollination in the Florida Panhandle. It is worthwhile to get to know which species are active in your landscape. Provide habitat and nectar to them, and they will help your plant life bloom. For more information on creating habitat for native pollinators, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.
As a boy I remember our St. Augustinegrass lawn. I fondly remember winter annual weeds in that lawn.
Many of these so called “weeds” are native wildflowers. And a number of pollinators use these wildflowers.
To see clumps of winter annuals in our yard and in neighbors’ yards was a natural part of the transition from winter to spring. They added interest to the lawn. It was expected to see henbit with its square stiff stems holding up a display of small pinkish purple flowers in late winter to early spring. A clump of henbit was a great place to hide an Easter egg, especially a pink or purple one.
Wild geranium offered another good hiding place for eggs with its pink to purple flowers. Large clumps of annual chickweed would nicely hide whole eggs. Green colored eggs would blend with chickweed’s green leaves.
Crimson clover with its reddish flowers, hop clover and black medic with their bright yellow flowers provided good hiding places for Easter eggs. Plus, clovers add nitrogen back to our soils.
The lawn was healthy and thick enough to limit summer weeds. But during fall and winter, as the lawn would naturally thin and go dormant, these winter annuals would run their course.
I remember the clean smell of freshly mowed grass in spring with the first mowing. Once mowed and as the heat took its toll, by late April or mid-May, these winter annuals were gone. What was left was a green lawn to help cool the landscape as the weather warmed. The lawn was mowed high as St. Augustine should be, watered only occasionally during dry periods, played on and typically not worried with.
Most lawns have winter annuals that let us know spring is near. Perhaps we worry too much with these seasonal, temporary plants that may have wrongly been labeled as weeds. Besides, how long have we been doing battle with them and they are still here. Most lawns have winter annual seeds that await the cooler temperatures and shorter days of early winter to begin yet another generation. By May they are gone.
UF/IFAS Extension agents in the Florida Panhandle are asking you to join in on “No Mow March” in 2023. The idea is to holdup on mowing until the calendar flips to April, allowing pollinators to enjoy these common winter annuals.
Here is a website with more information on No Mow March. On this site, you’ll find a link to sign up to be a participant, check out what Okaloosa and other counties are doing by clicking on “Events” and see more about pollinators, all on this site.
Need an excuse to not mow your lawn this month? UF/IFAS Extension agents in the Florida Panhandle are asking residents to skip their soon-to-be-weekly outdoor chore until the calendar flips to April.
The idea for “No Mow March” is borrowed from “No Mow May,” a concept begun in the United Kingdom that has now spread to northern parts of the United States.
“Obviously, our lawns are growing way too quickly by the time May rolls around,” said Beth Bolles, UF/IFAS Escambia County horticulture agent who is leading the pilot effort this year. “Here in North Florida, March is our transition period, when grass is exiting dormancy. But it’s also when pollinators are starting to become more active, so it’s the perfect time to celebrate them and promote their health and habitat.”
Bolles is quick to point out, though, that the month is about more than just turf.
“We recognize that some communities have rules to follow regarding their lawns,” she said. “There are other things you can do to encourage pollinators to visit, whether it’s container plants or adding new shrubs or pollinator houses. We encourage everyone to find their own way to participate.”
The first step in participating is to sign the pledge at go.ufl.edu/NoMowMarch. Visitors can also use the website to find virtual or in-person events geared to the topic, learn tips for adhering to homeowners association guidelines while still promoting pollinators, and record observations to a No Mow group on iNaturalist.
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
The Multicolored Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) was introduced from Asia and intentionally and quickly established itself over the entire United States.
The Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle (MALB) adults can be distinguished from other lady beetle species by a pair of white, oval markings behind the head that form a black M-shaped pattern. Most adults have nineteen black spots on their forewings, but variability is common and spots may be missing. Adult MALBs consist of several color patterns (morphs), varying from solid orange to red with black spots.
This species is often mistaken for the seven spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata), which was introduced from Europe. Both species are usually found feeding on the same insect host and plants.
Both species tend to overwinter in large numbers. However, the Seven Spotted Lady Beetle overwinters under rocks, abandoned shrubs and forest edges. In contrast, the MALB is attracted to light and often aggregate and overwinter in dwellings, entering through cracks or crevices.
Due to the onset of winter and scarcity of food, MALB is more noticeable November to January in north Florida. As a result, they are a nuisance during the flight period, aggregating in walls and other parts of dwellings.
Once they enter your dwelling and experience warmth, they fly around and annoyance progresses. They produce a yellow, viscous, foul-smelling defensive substance when disturbed. The defensive substance usually leaves spots on furniture and the foul odor lingers in the air.
Seal building or caulked entry point to prevent infestation.
If beetles get inside your dwelling, a black light trap can be used.
Vacuum cleaners can be used to remove them, though, while effective, it will result in some spotting and foul odor.
In conclusion, though a nuisance, lady beetles are considered to be valuable natural enemies and should be tolerated and conserved when possible.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications:
Citrus is one of the most cherished fruit trees in the Panhandle. Citrus owners are well aware that every year the main damage to their trees come from citrus leafminer (CLM). CLM is a small moth and its larvae feeds between the tissue layers of new leaf growth, causing serpentine mines to form under the leaf cuticle (Fig. 1). The feeding damage results in leaf curling and distortion, and severe infestations of CLM on young trees can retard the growth of trees. Another threat concerning CLM in Florida is that the mines provide an open wound for citrus canker to enter, a bacterial disease that has been found recently in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, and Alabama.
Most commercial growers deal with CLM in young trees by a soil application of systemic insecticide before the flush season, followed by a foliar insecticide when the systemic drench’s toxicity is declining. Homeowners, however, have limited access to these chemistries. Garden systemic insecticides that include imidacloprid (Bayer’s Tree & Shrub Insect Control™, Merit®, etc.) and dinotefuran (Greenlight Tree and Shrub Insect Control™, Safari®, etc.) are among the few options for CLM control. For the best efficacy, those insecticides should be applied two weeks before the start of the flushing season to allow time for the insecticide to move from the roots into the canopy. To avoid leaching of insecticide away from the root zone, soil applications should be made within a 24-hour period without rain. Citrus trees usually have several flushes per year, depending upon cultivar, climate, and crop load. However, in the Florida Panhandle, most citrus cultivars have two major flushes in May and September.
Importantly, systemic insecticides are only efficient against CLM for small immature trees; therefore, the only products labeled for use against CLM on mature trees are foliar sprays. Horticultural oils or insecticides with spinosad (such as Monterey® Garden Insect Spray) are some options available for homeowners. However, achieving leafminer control with foliar applications on mature trees is challenging due to unsynchronized flushing of trees. Foliar applications should be timed with the appearance of the first visible leaf mines. In any case, be sure to READ THE LABEL and follow all the label directions.
Cultural practices, and non-insecticidal methods.
For isolated trees in a backyard, cultural practices and control through mass trapping are usually sufficient to control CLM and insecticide use is not recommended, especially for mature trees. One of the basic cultural practices is to remove any stems that grow below the bud union or from the rootstock, also called ‘suckers’ (Fig. 2). Those rootstock shoots compete with the scion shoots and are great reservoirs for CLM; removing them will help reducing CLM population. On isolated trees, mass trapping using CLM pheromone provide good results (Fig. 3). The mass trapping method is constituted of a delta trap baited with a lure that emits a large quantity of CLM sex pheromone. CLM males are attracted by the odor and are captured in the delta trap’s sticky liner. Those traps are commonly used by growers to monitor CLM populations, but for homeowners they are sufficient to control CLM on a single tree. This trap and a lure method should protect a single tree for approximately 3 months. Finally, the last option is the use of biological control. Several natural enemies are predators or parasitize CLM. In some case, biological control can reduce CLM populations by 90%. Primary predators of CLM include ants, lacewings, and spiders, as well as a parasitic wasp, Ageniaspis citricola that was introduced into Florida and has become established (Fig. 4).