Mulch provides nutrients to soil and plants, reduces weed growth, controls soil temperature, and improves the look of lawns and gardens. It gives the landscape a neat, uniform appearance and is an excellent Florida-Friendly choice for hard-to-mow areas and shady spots. One should keep a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch on plant beds. Always leave at least 2 inches of space around tree trunks to prevent rot. Create self-mulching areas under your trees by allowing fallen leaves to stay in place. Though bark and wood chips are typically the most common mulch, other forms are just as beneficial. The following are the best overall mulches for Panhandle gardeners!
Bark and Wood Chips
Bark and wood chips are frequently used on flower beds and around small bushes and shrubs. As they decay, the material provides nutrients to the soil. Both materials are inexpensive and can be found at most gardening supply stores. Cedarwood chips are popular for their repellent properties, keeping fleas and other pests away.
Pebbles and Rocks
Pebbles and rocks are effective in retaining soil moisture and minimizing weed growth. They are excellent mulch alternatives for flower beds. Rocks are economical in cooler climates, where heat retained by rock mulch can extend the growing season. Since rocks do not decompose, they don’t provide nutrients to the soil. If you’re looking for a nutrient-rich mulch alternative, rocks are not a good choice. This can be easily remedied by fertilizing your landscape to provide more nutrients. If you decide to use pebbles or rocks, keep in mind that they can be difficult to remove if you switch to a different type of mulch a season or two.
Leaves and Pine Needles
Leaves and pine needles are an affordable nutrient-rich mulch alternative. Rake and gather fallen leaves each season and redistribute them above your soil. For the best results, one should shred the leaves. Let the shredded leaves dry before adding them to your garden to reduce bacteria growth and pest infestations. Pine needles decompose and add nutrients to the soil, just like other organic forms of mulch. They work best with plants that prefer acidic soil conditions, like holly gardenias, roses, and chrysanthemums. You can buy bundles of pine needles at your local gardening store or gather them from your own trees and spread them around your garden.
Grass clippings are a cost-efficient alternative to traditional mulch. However, they must be dried out or composted before use to prevent potentially damaging heat from affecting plants. If you treat your lawn with chemicals, don’t use grass clippings in your flower or garden bed.
Compost is an affordable mulch alternative and enriches the soil by adding essential nutrients. Apply compost above your garden or lawn in a thin layer. Compost improves the soil, adding nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen to your garden. One can make it yourself with discarded vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and water.
Newspapers effectively keep weeds at bay, retain moisture, and regulate soil temperatures. Newspaper is equally functional compared to traditional mulches, but is not as visually appealing as other options. Moisten the newspaper slightly before laying it above the soil so that it stays in place. Then, add a thin layer of organic mulch on top. Apply five to eight sheets of newspaper at a time. If using newspaper without another mulch on top, shred it before applying it to your garden. Newspaper is biodegradable and will deteriorate like other mulches.
White tailed deer. Photo credit: Rebekah D. Wallace University of Georgia bugwood.org.
There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of deer in the panhandle, especially when it comes to them strolling in my yard looking for something tasty to eat. My vegetable garden suffered repeated assaults by hungry deer this past fall and winter. The garlic and cayenne pepper-based products only worked for a few days when freshly applied. I had to try something new this spring.
And my new method has worked. I purchased a motion activated high impact sprinkler that can be set to activate day or night. It has worked like a charm! There are various vendors but I purchased mine through a hardware store online for about $70. I put a splitter on my closest outdoor spigot and have a dedicated hose running to the sprinkler. This allows me to also have a regular hose for watering attached to the spigot. The hose must be turned on all the time. One problem that I am hoping to avoid this summer is that the water in the hose may get too hot in the summer heat and split the hose, so I am looking to maybe trench to keep the hose and the water inside a bit cooler.
Motion activated impact sprinkler protecting the vegetable garden from ravenous deer. Photo credit: Mary Salinas, UF/IFAS Extension.
You can also choose plants that deer do not like to eat such as live oak, dogwood, muhly grass, coneflower and black-eyed Susan. However, keep in mind that when food is scarce deer will forage on plants that they normally would not eat. Southern magnolia is considered quite deer resistant but the one I planted this past winter was mostly defoliated by deer.
A natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael can cause excess standing water which leads nuisance mosquito populations to greatly increase. Floodwater mosquitoes lay their eggs in the moist soil. Amazingly, the eggs survive even when the soil dries out. When the eggs in soil once again have consistent moisture, they hatch! One female mosquito may lay up to 200 eggs per batch . Standing water should be reduced as mush as possible to prevent mosquitoes from developing.
You should protect yourself by using an insect repellant (following all label instructions) with any of these active ingredients or using one of the other strategies:
Oil of lemon eucalyptus
An alternative is to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants – although that’s tough in our hot weather
Wear clothing that is pre-treated with permethrin or apply a permethrin product to your clothes, but not your skin!
Avoid getting bitten while you sleep by choosing a place with air conditioning or screens on windows and doors or sleep under a mosquito bed net.
Now let’s talk about mosquito control in your own landscape.
Let’s first explore what kind of environment in your landscape and around your home is friendly to the proliferation of mosquitoes. Adult mosquitoes lay their eggs on or very near water that is still or stagnant. That is because the larvae live in the water but have to come to the surface regularly to breeze. The small delicate larvae need the water surface to be still in order to surface and breathe. Water that is continually moving or flowing inhibits mosquito populations.
Look around your home and landscape for these possible sites of still water that can be excellent mosquito breeding grounds:
potted plant saucers
tarps over boats or recreational vehicles
rain barrels (screen mesh over the opening will prevent females from laying their eggs)
bromeliads (they hold water in their central cup or leaf axils)
any other structure that will hold even a small amount of water (I even had them on a heating mat in a greenhouse that had very shallow puddles of water!)
You may want to rid yourself of some of these sources of standing water or empty them every three to four days. What if you have bromeliads, a pond or some other standing water and you want to keep them and yet control mosquitoes? There is an environmentally responsible solution. Some bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. israelensis or Bacillus sphaericus, only infects mosquitoes and other close relatives like gnats and blackflies and is harmless to all other organisms. Look for products on the market that contain this bacteria.
In north Florida, the arrival of warm weather and plenty of rain means it’s time to battle the mosquitoes again. Those pesky little blood-suckers are out and about, often keeping us from enjoying our outdoor pursuits. With some preventative steps, you can reduce the potential for mosquitoes to occur in your yard.
Mosquito larvae. Credit: Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
As we should all be aware of by now, mosquitoes require water to complete their lifecycle. Eggs are laid near the water and will dry out if they do not remain near a water source. The larvae, or “wrigglers”, that hatch from the eggs, are aquatic and will not survive out of water. The pupae, often called “tumblers”, are also aquatic and must be in water to survive. From the pupae hatch the adults, the growth stage we want to avoid.
Mosquito pupae. Credit: Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.
The best method to reduce mosquitoes in your yard is to remove or empty water-holding containers. This prevents the conditions needed for the egg through pupae stages to survive. These water-holding containers can include birdbaths, old buckets, gutters, tarps, rain barrels, and a variety of other items. Even a small bottlecap is enough to breed mosquitoes. Regularly emptying these water-holding containers every 3 to 5 days will stop that most annoying final life stage – the biting adults.
Another way to prevent the aquatic stages of mosquitoes from thriving is to use a larvaecide, specifically Bti. Bti is a bacterium that is sold as either small dunks or doughnuts and can also be found as small granules. Placing a dunk or a few granules in a birdbath will prevent larvae from developing and won’t harm the birds or other organisms that may visit, including frogs, bees, butterflies, and mammals. Bti is a selective pesticide, only effective for control of mosquito, midge, and fungus gnat larvae.
Various mosquito breeding habitats. Credit: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS
Even if you’ve cleaned up or drained all water-holding containers on your property, there will likely still be some adult mosquitoes looking for a bloodmeal. Wearing long pants and sleeves, using mosquito repellents, and keeping window screens in good order are effective methods to prevent being bitten.
Local mosquito control agencies will often provide services to fog for adults. However, this will want to be your last resort, as the pesticides used to control adults are not as selective as the Bti used for the larvae. This results in non-target damage, meaning that insects besides mosquitoes, including beneficial insects, may also be harmed. Therefore, controlling mosquitoes during their aquatic lifestages helps reduce the need for pesticides that can harm beneficial insect populations.
The UF/IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory Research and Education Center has a great website – https://fmel.ifas.ufl.edu/ – of mosquito-related information, including the various species of mosquitoes in Florida and which repellents work the best. For additional information on controlling mosquitoes and other pests, please contact your local Extension Office.
You’ve probably heard some tips to prevent picking up ticks in the past, but did you ever wonder why some work and others don’t? Understanding the life cycle and behavior of common ticks can help you succeed with your prevention measures.
Life Cycle of American Dog Tick. Credit: Centers for Disease Control
A general life cycle for ticks includes four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The egg hatches into larva which require a blood meal to molt into a nymph which again requires a blood meal before molting to an adult.
The adult female also requires blood feeding in order to produce eggs, which she lays in high numbers – some species lay up to 6,500 eggs!
Because blood is required for development, ticks have to be resourceful in finding hosts. Knowing this can help you understand why some tips work better than others.
Wear clothing that covers skin and avoid sitting on the ground or logs in brushy areas. Adult ticks exhibit a behavior called “questing” where they climb to the top of grasses and vegetation with their forelegs extended and wait for a host to come by. The American Dog Tick‘s primary host are dogs, but they will also target cattle, horses, and humans.
Apply repellents to exposed skin and clothing (different products are labeled for where they are applied, follow all directions). These chemicals repel ticks and can reduce likelihood of tick attachment, but ticks have been known to crawl over treated areas to access untreated body parts.
Keep grass and vegetation maintained and clean up debris that may harbor small mammals and rodents. Early in the tick life cycle it targets smaller animals for blood and they can
hide or shelter in debris piles and vegetation.
Always shower and check yourself for ticks after being in areas where ticks may live, especially when temperatures are warm. Nymphs can be less than 1 mm long, so check carefully!