Unknowingly we interact with many small creatures in our everyday lives. Spiders are one of these groups that are beneficial to the function of human activity. This group receives much publicity as being dangerous to people and our pets. While there is always a possibility of being bitten and having venom injected by a few types of spiders, most all others are harmless to people. The primary benefit of spiders is their propensity for catching insects outside and in the home that are identified as harmful to people. Spiders come in all shapes and sizes with many hiding away, never to be seen by people.
Spiders are often included in the same group as insects, but this is not true. They belong in the group arachnids and are closely related to ticks, scorpions and mites. Spiders have two body sections (cephlothorax and abdomen) and have eight legs while insects have three body sections (head, thorax and abdomen). Scorpions usually remain outdoors and may be found indoors during hot dry periods. They are nocturnal hunters of pests that include roaches. None of the scorpions native to Florida are capable of providing a lethal sting, but it is painful when it occurs, leaving a sore and swollen at the sting area. I was reminded of this after stepping on one in the late evening while moving around the kitchen with no lights on. If the person that is stung has allergic reactions to bee stings, observe them and take precautionary health measures needed.
The spider is an important predator of harmful insects and can be found about any where in and around the home, in the garden, and many other places in the great outdoors. An Extension Entomologist I knew from North Carolina State University always mentioned, when presenting to Master Gardener Volunteer classes, that at almost any time given time, we are within two to three feet of a spider, with most so small we never see them. They are great at keeping the beneficial and harmful insect populations in balance in nature.
If you decide to spray to manage your spider population, keep in mind that by reducing the number of spiders in the landscape, you can create a reverse problem with harmful insect populations increasing dramatically. If big webs are a bother, simply take a broom and knock them down. They will rebuild by the next day, but you may not need to be in that area for a while. Always be careful and wear gloves when working in the garden, especially areas that are dark and covered, such as irrigation valve boxes, wood stacks, and other similar places. These are prime locations where the Black Widow or Recluse spiders may be set up, waiting to ambush roaches and other insects. If you are bitten by either seek immediate medical care.
Finally, spiders are fun to observe in nature! One of the most interesting spiders to watch is observable during fall in Florida – the Yellow Garden Spider. They build large webs and often place a zig zap signature in the middle. This large spider catches many insects in the garden and landscape. With early morning sunlight and dew hanging on the web during the fall, it makes for a beautifully create piece of art. Enjoy nature and all the creative processes that occur from a safe distance – spiders included!
Purslane on a Calhoun County back porch. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
The biggest problem folks have with flowering potted plants in the heat of summer is remembering that they need water, lots of it. One way to work around having to remember to water every single day is to plant something that doesn’t like too much water but still can churn out a great daily flower show. For this job, there’s only one choice, Purslane (Portulaca oleracea).
Purslane is a super showy, low-growing, succulent-type annual that loves it hot and a little on the dry side. If planted in the ground, it will form a 6-8” tall flowering carpet over the surface of the soil, but I think it really shines when allowed to fill and then spill over the sides of a container! Individual purslane flowers close shop for the day in late afternoon, but cheerily pop back open as soon as day breaks the following day. For best results, make sure the container you plant in has ample drainage holes in the bottom and fill with a quality, quick-draining potting mix. After planting, top dress with a slow-release fertilizer according to the label rate and water only when the soil begins to dry out (every other day or so, generally). Plant a Purslane today!
Turfgrass remains a popular groundcover for most home landscapes. Perennial peanut offers potential as a turfgrass companion in North Florida. Learn the pros and cons of using perennial peanut with existing turfgrass with UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.
Turf lawns provide an excellent groundcover that hold soil in place, filter pollutants, and are beautiful. However, turfgrass may not be your first groundcover choice, due to heavy shade, landscape layout, or just personal preference. In that case, there are a lot of alternative groundcovers on the market. To help determine what groundcovers do best under certain conditions and to provide information on lawncare and groundcover maintenance, this month’s Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! was all about groundcovers.
‘Needlepoint’ Perennial Peanut in a yard. Photo Credit: Daniel Leonard, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Calhoun County
The University of Florida/IFAS has a long list of publications on alternatives to turfgrass. The comprehensive list can be found at Ask IFAS: Groundcovers.
White clover is a groundcover that may be best suited in a mix with other groundcover species. The publication “White Clover” provides some excellent information on growing this plant.
A number of factors come into play when you are choosing a turfgrass species. Some species are more tolerant of shade than others and maintenance levels are species and variety specific. The “Choosing Grass for Your Lawn” webpages can help answer some common questions. For additional information on turfgrass species a list of EDIS publications and other UF/IFAS websites is available at Ask IFAS: Your Florida Lawn. (Note: Buffalograss is not recommended for Florida.)
Fertilizer is required to maintain a healthy lawn. A list of lawn fertilization publications and links can be found at Ask IFAS: Lawn Fertilizer.
Lawns in the southeast are susceptible to a number of different diseases mostly thanks to our hot and humid weather. But there are some preventative and curative practices you can implement to help keep disease under control. The “Turfgrass Disease Management” publication answers a lot of questions about disease control.
Past episodes of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE can be found on our YouTube playlist.
Bulbs are my favorite class of ornamental plants. They generally are low maintenance, come back reliably year after year, and sport the showiest flowers around. While many bulbs like Daylily, Crinum and Amaryllis are very common in Panhandle landscapes, there is a lesser-known genus of bulbs that is well worth your time and garden space, the Rainlily (Zephyranthes spp.).
Rainlily, aptly named for its habit of blooming shortly after summer rainfall events and a member of the Amaryllis family of bulbs, is a perfect little plant for Panhandle yards for several reasons. The plant’s genus name, Zephyranthes – which translates to English as “flowers of the western winds”, hints at the beauty awaiting those who plant this lovely little bulb. From late spring until the frosts of fall, Rainlily rewards gardeners with flushes of trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, and yellow, with some hybrids offering even more exotic colors. While these individual flowers typically only persist for a day or two, they are produced in “flushes” that last several days, extending the show. Though Rainlily flowers are the main event for the genus, beneath the blooms, plants also offer attractive, grass-like, evergreen foliage. These aesthetic attributes lend themselves to Rainlily being used in a variety of ways in landscapes, from massing for summer color ala Daylilies, to use around the edges of beds as a showy border like Liriope or other “border” type grassy plants.
Unknown Rainlily species blooming in a raised bed. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Continuing along the list of Rainlily attributes, the genus doesn’t require much in the way of care from gardeners either. Most species of Rainlily, including the Florida native Z. atamasca, have no serious pests and are right at home in full sun to part shade. Once established, plants are exceedingly low-maintenance and won’t require any supplemental irrigation or fertilizer! Some Rainlily species like Z. candida even make excellent water or ditch garden plants, preferring to have their feet wet most of the year – putting them right at home in the Panhandle this year. And finally, all Zephyranthes spp. do very well in containers and raised beds also, adding versatility to their use in your landscape!
The one drawback of Rainlily is that they can be somewhat difficult to find for sale. As these bulbs are an uncommon sight in most garden centers, to source a specific Zephyranthes species or cultivar, one is probably going to need to purchase from a specialty internet or mail-order nursery. As with other passalong-type bulbs though, the absolute best and most rewarding way to obtain Rainlily is to get a dormant season bulb division from a friend or fellow gardener who grows them. There are many excellent unnamed or forgotten Zephyranthes cultivars and seedlings flourishing in gardens across the South, waiting to be passed around to the next generation of folks who will appreciate them!
Even if you must go to some lengths to get a Rainlily in your garden, I highly recommend doing so! You’ll be rewarded with years of low-maintenance summer color after the dreariest of rainy days and will be able to pass these “flowers of the western wind” on to the next gardening generation. For more information on growing, sourcing, or propagating Rainlilies, check out this EDIS publication by Dr. Gary Knox of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) or contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office! Happy Gardening!