Creating a Pollinator Paradise: Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Birds to Your Garden

Creating a Pollinator Paradise: Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Birds to Your Garden

In the ever growing urbanization of our world today, green spaces are hard to come by but are so essential to biodiversity conservation. Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, play a crucial role in our ecosystem by facilitating plant reproduction. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change. However, by making simple changes to your garden, you can create an environment that supports and protects your pollinators. In this article, we will discuss ways to turn your garden into a pollinator paradise.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on flower. Photo taken 09-26-22. UF/IFAS Photo by Cat Wofford.

Choosing Native Plants

Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, making them ideal for supporting native pollinators. Research native species that thrive in your region and incorporate them into your landscape. Aim for a diverse selection of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the year to provide a continuous food source for pollinators.

Flowers and insects at the student gardens on the University of Florida campus. Pollinating bee. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones.

Providing Shelter and Nesting Sites

Pollinators need more than just nectar-rich flowers; they also require sheltered spaces for nesting or overwintering. By incorporating features such as brush piles, dead trees, and nesting boxes you are creating habitat diversity for the pollinators. Leaving some areas of bare soil for ground-nesting bees and providing water sources like shallow dishes or birdbaths can further enhance your garden’s appeal to pollinators as well.

Avoid Chemical Pesticides

Chemical pesticides not only can harm pollinators, but they can also directly disrupt ecosystems. Instead of reaching for a spray on the shelf to deter pests, consider using a natural pest control method such as companion planting, handpicking pests, and encouraging natural predators like ladybugs and birds. Certain organic gardening practices not only protect pollinators, but can also promote your garden’s overall health.

Embrace Imperfection

A manicured garden may look appealing, but it can be sometimes inhospitable to our pollinator friends. Create a more naturalistic approach by allowing certain areas of your garden to grow wild. Letting plants go to seed, leaving some leaf litter, and allowing flowers to fade and form seed heads provide valuable resources for pollinators throughout their life cycle.

A butterfly garden at a Florida-Friendly Landscape. UF/IFAS Photo taken by Cat Wofford 9-29-23

Educate and Inspire Others

Because pollinator numbers have rapidly declined in recent years, awareness and education of their importance to our ecosystem is crucial. Spreading the word of their importance and how you can contribute to conservation efforts truly helps the cause. UF/IFAS Extension has made great efforts in hosting workshops, giving presentations, and sharing information through newsletters and social media about the importance of creating pollinator habitats. We encourage you, your neighbors, friends, and community members to join in the movement of creating pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes.

By transforming your garden into a pollinator paradise, you not only enhance its beauty, but also play a vital role in conserving biodiversity. Every flower you plant and every habitat you create contributes to the well-being of bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators. Together, we can make a difference and ensure a thriving ecosystem for generations to come.

For more information, please visit:



On occasion, homeowners report being troubled by certain slimy visitors to their gardens. Perhaps not the first pest most people would think about in their landscapes, snails are nonetheless a source of frustration for some. While many species are harmless or even beneficial, some can make a nuisance of themselves by munching on plants, or even just congregating in large numbers.

Just sighting a snail is not always cause for alarm. Snails are gastropods, a type of mollusc that is closely related to slugs. Snails may be found in the water or on land, and terrestrial species are often seen in areas where moisture is plentiful. Many feed on decaying organic matter, doing the important job of breaking down dead material in the environment. Others may eat living plants, and can cause consternation when they chew holes in the leaves of vegetables or ornamentals. A few may even act as predators, such as the native rosy wolf snail, which attacks other snails.

Farmers have found difficulty in dealing with Bulimulus sporadicus, a species introduced from the West Indies. This species is often found in moist areas, and seems to prefer feeding on decaying plant matter rather than live plants. However, it is prolific and gregarious, with large populations appearing on walls, fences, irrigation emitters, and on plants. Peanut growers may have difficulty screening the shells, which are around the same size as a peanut, from their harvest. Growers relying on irrigation to water their crops may find nozzles clogged by snails seeking out moisture. And homeowners may find their homes polka-dotted with dozens of these little creatures.

When snails get together, it may be an alarming sight. Bulimulus sporadicus doesn’t seem to damage plants, but does like to congregate. Photo credit: Danielle Sprague

If you are having trouble with snails, consider trying to reduce areas of higher humidity that they may shelter in. Mulch, dead vegetation, or weedy areas can all hold moisture, making happy homes for slugs and snails. While it may be difficult or almost impossible to control humidity, denying pests their shelter can help to keep them away.

Commercial repellents are available. Copper fungicides may protect plants from fungal diseases as well as leave residues that snails find distasteful. Hydrated lime or sulfur dust at the base of plants can repel snails, though be aware that they may have an effect on the pH of the soil if used in large amounts, or over time.

Traps can be of some help in reducing snail populations. A dish with steep sides, sunk into the ground and baited with something attractive, may be able to trap snails in it. Beer, fruit, or leafy greens like lettuce can work, though they may also attract raccoons or other animals.

Some baits containing molluscicides may also be available, but these may or may not be effective.

For more information, see our EDIS publication on terrestrial snails here:

2024 Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! New Year – New Format

2024 Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! New Year – New Format

Since 2020, we have delivered timely webinars using Zoom and Facebook Live to reach Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! viewers. In 2024, we are changing things up just a bit. Due to changes in the way Zoom and Facebook interface we will only be transmitting live through Zoom.

What does that mean for our Facebook viewers? We will still post Events about upcoming programs with links to register for the episode and will continue to share videos after they are uploaded to YouTube (usually this is within 24 hours). Thank you for your patience as we make this change

Below is our lineup for 2024 – we hope you will join us!

All episodes start at 12 p.m. CDT/1 p.m. EDT

February 1, 2024Spring Vegetable Gardening
March 7, 2024Palm Selection and Care
April 11, 2024Temperate Fruit for NW Florida
May 30, 2024Benefits of a Healthy Lawn
September 12, 2024Fall Vegetable Gardening
October 10, 2024Vermiculture and Composting Tips
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Propagating Plants by Leaf and Cane

Propagating Plants by Leaf and Cane

The subject of plant propagation by leaf and cane is a continuation from my article on propagating plants by layering, written in late October.  Plants can be generated in multiple ways with leaf and cane techniques emerging as a possible indoor winter and early spring project.  Not all plants can be propagated with a leaf or parts of leaves.  Fortunately, some of the plants that can are ones we all enjoy growing indoors or in protected areas outdoors, like a covered porch and other similar locations.  Do an assessment of indoors windows with bright light and a few hours of sunlight for the best success.  If you are fortunate to have a backyard greenhouse that is heated, you may want to try it there.

One of the simplest ways to grow a new plant is by clipping a leaf and petiole section off an existing plant that has certain characteristics you like (bloom color or the growth of the plant).  African violets and sedum are plants that can be easily propagated in this manner.  The length of petiole connected to the leaf should be around 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches in length, this portion of the leaf will be planted in potting mix.  I would suggest planting two in a small to medium sized container to increase the chance of a successful rooting and the new plant establishing.  When the new plant leaves have emerged, usually in 6 – 10 weeks, they are clipped away from the original leaf and petiole.  Some will reuse the original and replant, but I tend to discard and begin with a new one. 

Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings.
Plants being propagated by leaf cuttings. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS

Next up is trying to propagate using a leaf without the petiole.  This form of propagation can occur with plant that possess fleshy leaves that are thicker, with more energy to produce a new plant.  The jade plant, snake plant and African violet are examples of plants that root and form new plants successfully in this way.  Place a leaf or a piece of leaf vertically into a container filled with slightly damp plant media.  Be sure the leaf midvein is placed into the soil as this will likely be the site of the new plant’s emergence. 

Cane cuttings are yet another process for propagating a new plant.  If you have ever grown a Dieffenbachia, better known as dumb cane or corn plant, they can become leggy and require staking to keep limbs from bending away from the center of the plant.  If you look closely, you may see dormant adventitious buds (nodes).  These buds will be the future leaf emergence area for the new plant.  With a sharp clean knife cut remove a 6 – 10-inch section of the stem.  The top leaf areas and smaller stem section can be removed and discarded. 

Next, cut so that two stem sections are together with at least 2 nodes.  Place the sections horizontally or vertically with the bottom third of the section indented into the potting media for go plant to soil contain.  Make sure the node is facing upward.  Once rooted with new leaves emerging, you may transplant them into a selected pot for future growth and establishment. 

As mid to late spring arrives and the danger of frost passes, you can move the plants to a covered porch or under tall shade trees with filter sunlight for the summer and early fall.  Enjoy creating new plants and maybe share a few with family and friends!

Edible chitosan coating: A sustainable approach to extend the shelf life of blackberry fruit.

Edible chitosan coating: A sustainable approach to extend the shelf life of blackberry fruit.

Chitosan is used as an edible coating material to extend the shelf life of perishable commodities. It is a natural polysaccharide derived from chitin, a main component found in the exoskeleton of crustacean such as crabs, shrimps and insects. Chitosan is nontoxic, biocompatible, biodegradable and has antimicrobial activity that works against a wide range of bacteria and fungi. The incorporation of chitosan into the packaging material or direct application on the food surface helps to inhibit the spoilage caused by microorganisms. Moreover, chitosan has good moisture barrier properties as moisture accelerates the deterioration of many food products, leading to microbial growth, enzymatic reactions, and other forms of spoilage.  Chitosan-based coatings or films act as a protective barrier against moisture, helping to maintain the quality of the food and prolong its shelf life. Chitosan can be applied as an edible coating directly onto the surface of fruit, vegetables, and other perishable products. This coating provides a protective layer, retarding moisture loss, reducing microbial contamination, and maintaining product quality for a longer period. Previously, chitosan applications were noticed to be efficient in reducing postharvest decay in strawberries, avocado, papaya, mango, and blueberry.

Blackberry (Rubs spp) belongs to the family Rosaceae and is known as super food due to its high nutritional value containing vitamin C, antioxidants, and phenolic compounds. Blackberry is a deciduous crop that grows best in temperate climates. Several blackberry species are native to Florida, and varieties that performed well in North and North Central Florida include Osage, Chickasaw, Apache, Arapaho, Choctaw, Ouachita, and Kiowa. Recently significant planting of different blackberry varieties has been done in North Florida due to the favorable climatic conditions. However, highly perishable nature of the fruit poses substantial implications for fresh market and storage.

Cold storage is a widespread approach used to extend the shelf life of fruit, including blackberries. Cold storage helps to slow down various biochemical and physiological processes, involving respiration and microbial growth, which are responsible for the deterioration of fruit quality. Blackberry fruit is fragile and highly perishable and must be handled with care. Moreover, blackberry fruit is typically stored no more than 2-3 days at cold temperatures (1 to 2C). In addition, blackberries are also susceptible to water loss, fruit softening, fungal rot, mechanical injuries, leakage, and red drupelet reversion.

Fig 1: Chitosan treated fruit after 21 days of cold storage cultivar (Osage) Credit: Muneer Rehman, UF/IFAS

Fig 2: Effect of chitosan on the shelf life of blackberry fruit (Osage) stored at 1◦C for 7 and 21 days. Credit: Muneer Rehman, UF/IFAS

Chitosan emulsion as pre-harvest spray application significantly reduced fruit weight loss (%) in blackberry fruit stored at 1C for 7, 14 and 21 days. Fruit weight loss during cold storage is a critical factor in deciding the blackberry quality. Furthermore, weight loss (%) has correlation with fruit firmness, leakage, red drupelet reversion and marketing index.   

Fig 3:  Pre-harvest spray application of chitosan emulsion reduced fruit weight loss (%) during the fruit stored at 1C for 7, 14 and 21-days Credit: Muneer Rehman, UF/IFAS

Blackberries stored in cold storage showed signs of mycelium growth if conditions were favorable for fungal development. The most common contaminants during the postharvest handling and storage of blackberry fruit are fungi and molds. Direct application of chitosan on the fruit surface reduced the mycelium growth.


Fig 4:  Chitosan treated fruit (A, top photo) with no or little sign of mold, while (B, bottom photo) is control.

                                                       Credit: Muneer Rehman, UF/IFAS

Research trials on the effect of different concentrations of chitosan emulsion alone and in combination with growth bio-stimulants as pre-harvest and postharvest are ongoing at Fruit Physiology Lab, North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy.

Thriving Landscapes in Low Water Conditions

Thriving Landscapes in Low Water Conditions

It has been dry as a bone lately, and your landscape is beginning to reflect that fact. Before you call it the dreaded “D” word you should understand that these dry periods are part of our yearly weather cycle.  This year, we are drier than usual which means we are indeed in a drought. This can be alarming as you’ve doubtless spent tons of time and money on your landscape and want it to thrive. Irrigating as much as possible may seem attractive but is not necessarily the best strategy. Let’s first look into a few questions. What happens to your plants when Mother Nature turns off the waterworks? What can be done to prevent the mass die-off of our landscape plants?

Drought Response

Before we delve too deeply into the subject, it’s worth taking a few lines to discuss what happens to plants in periods of drought. Many will close the tiny pinpricks in their leaves known as stomata to prevent water loss. This is known as a drought avoidance strategy, and while seemingly foolproof also prevents moisture absorption while shutting down photosynthesis. If this condition persists, the plant will begin to lose the macronutrient carbon and sugars. When a lack of water becomes long term, the plant will perish as it lacks resources.

Close up of black eyed susan flower
UF/IFAS photo: J. Criss

Other plants utilize a drought tolerance strategy. Unlike the avoidance strategy, these plants leave their stomata wide open despite the lack of moisture in the soil. The advantage here is that photosynthesis never stops. They’re banking on a return of water before they perish from dehydration. Most of your landscape plants utilize the first of these strategies. Your gardening habits and strategies are crucial to keep your plants thriving even in our extreme heat.

Gardening Practices

The practices you implement in your gardens are what we refer to in this business as “cultural practices.” You may have heard of these at lectures on Integrated pest management, but they are just as applicable in landscape management.

Irrigation is easily the most crucial of these practices as improper watering is the number one killer of plants. Deeper watering delivered less frequently encourages deeper rooting and higher drought tolerance. Irrigation should occur early in the morning just before sunrise to prevent evaporation and mitigate fungal issues as plant water use begins at sun rise. Frequency and volume are the next critical factors in watering. Turf grasses need 1/2 to 3/4 inch of water, but only when they present the three signs of wilt including folded blades, a bluish-grey hue, and lingering footprints. Bedding and landscape plants are a little trickier as they don’t have standardized signs of wilt. You’ll need to pay close attention for loss of vigor in the leaves which are likely to be subtle. When these signs present, apply enough water to reach their root zone. A great way to extend the time between irrigation events is to amend soils with organic matter and to utilize mulch. These retain moisture keeping your plants less thirsty.

Irrigation system on athletic field
UF/IFAS Photo T. Jones.

Fertilization can be another far more detrimental to plant growth than you think. While it’s true that your plants need nutrition for vigorous growth, only those deficient in the soil are limiting factors. This is simply not possible to create a fertilization strategy without soil testing. Your extension office can facilitate testing, which should occur at a minimum every three years. Balance these deficiencies with your plant’s needs to create a healthy landscape.

Pruning is the final practice to look at for healthy landscapes. Turfgrasses need to be cut at a height conducive to their growth. This varies for each grass type, so make sure you know yours. Landscape plants may also need species specific pruning practices such as deadheading to maintain healthy growth.

To Sum Up

The key takeaway from this article is that stress free plants are more capable of tolerating less than ideal growth environments. Familiarize yourself with the needs of your plants and provide them with what they need to thrive. Very often this means less intensive maintenance practices. For more information, see this  Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.