A mole cricket has a face only a mother could love. They are so strange looking, in fact, that in the past week I’ve had two people ask me what they were. They have large, round, helmet-like heads, undersized eyes, and massive front claws used for digging. Unlike your garden-variety crickets, which really don’t cause any major damage to home landscapes, the mole cricket is quite the turfgrass menace. Instead of hopping about aboveground, they tunnel beneath the lawn and feast on the roots and leaves of grass, often destroying entire yards. They are also vegetable pests, going after tomatoes, cabbage, and peppers.
Mole crickets spend most of their time below ground and form burrows for hiding, laying eggs, and traversing through their territory. In mating season, males create a monotone song that averages 88 decibels—as loud as a motorcycle! The call comes from their burrows, which have funnel-like openings that expand at the surface, creating amplification comparable to a horn.
The tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus) is the most common to our area and is an invasive species from South America. UF IFAS has had a specific research program related to mole cricket management since the late 1970’s. One successful outcome of this program has been the introduction of a biological control species, the larra wasp (Larra bicolor). The wasp manages mole cricket populations by stinging and temporarily paralyzing crickets. A female will then deposit an egg into the mole cricket’s body. The cricket recovers and goes about its daily routine until the egg hatches, at which point the larval wasp feeds on and eventually kills the mole cricket. Along with the wasp and release of flies and a nematode that also manage mole crickets, the biocontrol methods introduced between the 1980’s and 2004 have resulted in a 95% reduction in mole cricket populations in north Florida.
If you are seeing mole crickets, you can attract larra wasps to your property by planting shrubby false buttonweed or partridge pea plants, which the wasps feed on. If you have serious damage from mole crickets, check out this thorough Mole Cricket Integrated Pest Management Guide, or contact the horticulture agent at your local county extension office to get a site-specific recommendation for management.
Trying to rejuvenate your flower beds can be challenging during these hot days and warm nights. This presents a chance to carefully select and plant varieties that not only endure but thrive in the scorching summer season. Luckily, Florida gardeners have many options, including bulbs. Bulbs are known for their ability to flourish and produce beautiful flowers year after year with proper care. Three of these, Aztec Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily, can be planted during the month of August.
The Aztec Lily, a tender perennial bulb, belongs to the Sprekelia genus in the amaryllis family and is one of only three known species. Among them, Sprekelia formosissima stands out for its striking and showy flowers. Growing from 12 to 36 inches, Aztec Lillies are typically colored from scarlet to deep crimson, though there are also pink and white varieties available. Each bulb has the potential to produce multiple flower stalks annually, usually in sequence rather than all at once. The flowers exhibit bilateral symmetry, resembling the velvety appearance of an orchid. Aztec Lilies should be planted in full shade to part sun and can tolerate acidic and alkaline soil. These plants are incredibly versatile and well-suited for various landscaping purposes, such as mass planting, border decoration, adding accents to garden designs, and attracting butterflies to butterfly gardens.
The Walking Iris, Neomarica spp., is a clumping herbaceous perennial, growing to a height of 18 to 36 inches. These plants boast attractive light green leaves and small Iris-like flowers that bloom periodically throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Although the flowers have a short lifespan, they still add a delightful splash of color, making the Walking Iris an interesting addition to any landscape. The Walking Iris thrives in both full and partial shade, making it a versatile choice for your garden. While it can adapt to various soil types, it truly flourishes in moist areas. When grouped together in shady areas, the Walking Iris creates a lovely and eye-catching display. Its upright foliage, coupled with the occasional blooming flower, makes a bold statement in the overall landscape.
Native to Florida, the Spider Lily (Hymenocallis latifolia) is a captivating perennial featuring alluring foliage and fragrant white blossoms. This clumping plant exhibits long, dark green leaves that emerge from an underground bulb, gracefully reaching a height of 24 to 36 inches. During the summer and fall seasons, the Spider Lily adorns itself with numerous white flowers, known for their enchanting fragrance, remarkable longevity, and delicate appearance. For optimal growth, place your Spider Lily in either full sun or part shade, and ensure the soil is well-drained. With its rapid growth, the spider lily serves as an excellent ground cover option, spreading its beauty across the landscape. Alternatively, it can be strategically planted in borders or highlighted as a specimen plant, adding charm and elegance to any garden or landscape design.
In the world of flora, the Aztec Lily, Walking Iris, and Spider Lily stand out as captivating gems worth exploring. Each possessing its unique allure and charm, these three species display nature’s diversity and ingenuity. For more information about summer bulbs, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.
It is mid-summer with temperatures outside in the 90’s plus, so you may wonder why article on landscape installation considerations during this time of year. It simply is an excellent time for planning and preparing for fall and winter site prep and planting well before it arrives, reducing a time crunch when it is time to plant.
Think healthy plants for our Northwest Florida settings, proper preparation of the site before planting, and many other points to be successful with establishing a landscape that will be enjoyed by all. This article will address the use of woody ornamental plants, but many things discussed can be applied to perennials and annuals as well.
Before starting, make sure to do your homework not only on the plants and placement in the landscape, but any county, city, or homeowner association requirements to work within. Many neighborhoods have review committees for these approvals. This commitment by you when purchasing property and a home can be a part of the closing papers during the purchase. If you are required to submit for an approval before work can begin you might want to consider consulting with a professional landscape company to assist in this process. Always ask for references and sites you can visit before securing services.
Site preparation can be a afterthought, with limited funding focused on this critical area, but properly addressing it leads to healthy, vigorous plant establishment and future growth. Understanding the site from soil type and drainage, size of area, sunlight, water availability, plus needs of prospective plants goes a long way to being successful. If there are plants already established on site that may be worth keeping, be sure to include them in the consideration. Determining soil drainage, moisture retention that would be available to plants, soil pH and structure will also go a long way to determining the type of plants that work best for the site. If, for example, your site does not drain well and holds higher levels of water in the root zone area (top 12″ of soil), consider plants that grow well in wet settings. The next steps are determining soil pH and nutrient needs for general landscape plant growth performance. Many plants thrive in slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0 range) while others grow best in moderately acidic settings (pH 5.0 to 6.0 range). Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office in your county for additional information.
The landscape site brings other considerations for plants to flourish, involving space and light. Space should be considered both above and below ground. With the above ground area, is there room for the limbs to expand in width and height? If pruning is required to manage the size, considering another plant may be a viable option. Next is the root growth and expansion opportunity for the plant. If the root area is limited in space, other options may need to be considered to mitigate compacted soils or pavement areas. Adding raised beds for better soil drainage and increased root growth room may be an option. Be sure to know your soil type and use a similar soil with characteristic that match the existing soil. If you do not, there can be incompatibility that leads to a hard pan layer between the soils reducing potential root zone establishment.
The desire to develop and establish an enjoyable landscape for all to appreciate can be a challenge, but a positive one. As a reminder, call and go visit with your local UF IFAS Extension office, there is great research information available for the asking. Enjoy your gardening experience.
Since Ponce de Leon first set foot in Florida around Easter in 1513 and gave the state its name – he called it La Florida, which loosely translates to flowery in English – Florida has been known for its amazing native wildflower displays. Florida’s primary native flower shows do indeed occur in the spring (the one observed by Ponce de Leon) and fall, but my favorite Florida “wild” flower is neither a native nor does it bloom in April or October. Rather, the Philippine Lily (Lilium formosanum) does its thing each year in the heat of the summer, when not much else wildflower-wise is blooming.
Hailing from Taiwan and the Philippines but naturalized throughout the Panhandle, the Philippine Lily is easy to spot. Often confused with Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum), which blooms much earlier in the year, Philippine Lily blooms mid-July to August and sports classic lily-type flowers held high on study stems that may reach 7’ or higher. Emerging from the drab green of the surrounding summer landscape, Philippine Lily’s very large (10” or more), very fragrant, trumpet-shaped, creamy-white flowers are showstoppers. The propensity of the flowers to appear in elegant, “nodding” clusters of a dozen or more also adds to the effect. Admired by gardeners and other passersby during the day, at night these wonderfully scented flowers become a whirring site for evening pollinators, particularly the enormous Hummingbird, or Sphinx Moth.
In addition to being a beautiful surprise in natural areas, Philippine Lily is among the easiest and most versatile of landscape plants to grow. The species prefers partial shade, but the thousands growing along roadsides in full sun speak to its adaptability. It is also right at home in our often dry, sandy Panhandle soils, and no special soil amendments are needed for the species to thrive. To get plants started, one may use either seeds or transplants from existing stands. If using seeds, simply sow them in your desired garden location into loosened garden soil, cover lightly, and water – the same seed sowing method can be used in pots for transplanting or sharing with friends later. Alternatively, you can dig or pull bulbs from natural areas where Philippine Lily already exists – assuming you have permission from the property owner. These newly dug and planted Lilies will need babying with regular water for several weeks to reduce transplant shock and improve survival.
Philippine Lily is probably best sited in the back of landscape beds to take advantage of the plant’s height and display its flowers over lower growing perennials. Siting in the back also allows pre and post bloom Philippine Lily stalks to hide amongst other plants as they don’t add much aesthetically when not in flower. Philippine Lily pairs very well with other low-maintenance summer-blooming perennials like Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), and others.
While not a native wildflower, Philippine Lily certainly adds to North Florida’s reputation as La Florida! They are among the easiest to grow, highest impact “wild” flowers Panhandle gardeners have at their disposal. Enjoy them this summer in natural areas and consider adding a few to your landscape! For more information on Philippine Lily or any other horticultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office. Happy gardening.
2022 has been a good tomato growing year for many Panhandle gardeners, myself included. It would have been difficult to have better climatic conditions to aid a terrific tomato harvest. After enduring a late frost just before Easter, the Panhandle then experienced two mild months in April and May that combined with nearly a month of dry weather during fruit development to deliver an excellent fruit set season with minimal disease and insect pressure. However, despite the favorable growing conditions, I have talked with several gardeners that once again struggled to yield a good crop of fresh garden tomatoes. Why is that? With the Panhandle tomato home gardening season nearing its conclusion, now is a perfect time to revisit 3 of the most common mistakes that prevent an excellent harvest!
Not Starting Early – Since Memorial Day, the rain and heat have really ramped up. These hot, wet conditions are perfect for developing tomato plant problems like fungal and bacterial diseases, not to mention the fact that tomato plants will stop setting fruit once nighttime temperatures rise above 75 F. While spraying fungicides preventatively can certainly help decrease disease incidence, the absolute best thing a gardener can do is try to get ahead of the disease-bringing heat and humidity by starting plants early when more favorable growing conditions prevail. So, what is early? I try to have tomato transplants in the ground by March 15 or soon after*. If you plan to grow plants from seed, they should be started indoors mid-January for planting outdoors in mid-March. Most tomato varieties take between 60 and 80 days to mature after planting, so a mid-March planting date normally yields harvestable tomatoes by the middle of May, comfortably beating the June disease deadline. *Planting early means protecting plants from occasional late frosts. Be prepared!
Not Scouting Your Plants – Pest and disease problems are a lot easier to manage if caught early and the best way to do that is to spend time with your plants. If you scout (just walking by and giving plants a short inspection) daily, you’ll learn what tomato plants and the beneficial insects that hang around all the time are supposed to look like an and be able to spot abnormalities and bad bugs when they occur. While tomato diseases and pest outbreaks can certainly cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time, they don’t reach disastrous levels immediately – be vigilant and catch them early!
Not Fertilizing and Watering Correctly – It takes a lot of energy for a tomato plant to grow a nice, bushy plant AND yield an abundance of America’s favorite vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you ask). To produce that necessary energy, gardeners must ensure plants receive adequate nutrition and water. Here’s my general prescription. At planting, apply a general purpose, slow-release fertilizer according to the label rate (for example, Osmocote, Harrell’s, or similar) and gypsum (a calcium supplement that helps prevent blossom end rot) at one pound per hundred square feet of garden. Then, supplement later in the season with a quick-release general purpose fertilizer sufficient to drive growth and fruit development. Watering is more of an ongoing concern. For the first couple of weeks of the tomato plant’s life, you can get by with watering once a day or every other day. As the plants get larger and the days get hotter however, watering twice daily is often needed to prevent wilting down in the heat of the day. Allowing tomato plants to wilt, even for a little while, is an excellent way to encourage blossom end rot and a subpar harvest!
When tomato season rolls around in 2023, remember to start early, scout often, and water and fertilize correctly. Follow those few tips and you’ll be well on your way to a great harvest in 2023! For more information about growing tomatoes or any other horticultural or agricultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension Office at 850-674-8323 or email email@example.com. Happy Gardening!