Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Fall Preparation in the Garden!

Carrots need enough space so as not to compete for light, nutrients, or moisture. Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Photo by Full Earth Farm.

Yes, that’s right! We made it through the hottest part of the year and we are looking ahead to fall just around the corner!  I am excited to be discussing September and what we can do to prepare for fall in the garden.  As the nighttime temperatures start to cool down, we are given many more options.

For annual color plantings in September, try Ageratum, Celosia, Zinnias, and Wax Begonia to add fall color to your landscape.  Bulbs will also add color, texture, and pattern to a bed.   If you have some extra space, a variety of elephant ears could really accent a bed or you could always go with the classic calla, narcissus or zephyr lily.  Popular vegetables to plant in North Florida in September are broccoli, carrot, cabbage, and collards. See Vegetable Gardening in Florida This is also the time of year to establish strawberry plants.  Some great herbs to get started are Mexican tarragon, mint, rosemary, and basil.

Strawberries growing on "plastic" to protect them from water splashed fungal spores found in soil. Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

Image Credit: Matthew Orwat UF/IFAS Extension Washington County

There are many things that can be done in your lawn during September.  Monitoring your lawn for its health and potential insect pests is important this time of year.  Common insects to scout for are fall armyworms, chinch bugs, mole crickets, and sod webworms.  The last fertilizer application should be done by the middle to end of September.  Make sure you choose a fertilizer with little to no phosphorus unless a soil test shows differently.  To maintain a healthy lawn, avoid weed and feed products and only apply herbicides in areas with high infestations of weeds. Weed and feed products are not recommended because the timing of when to fertilize and the timing of the weed killer is not always the same. The best management practice is to use a separate treatment for weeds and when possible spot treat weeds.

If you already have bulbs in your landscape from previous growing seasons, this is the time to divide and replant those that are big.  You can also add organic matter to new planting areas. Continue working on your vegetable plants and prepare them for either transplants for a fast start, or plants seeds for more variety.  Throughout your landscape, it is important that plants are getting the right amount of water as we go in and out of wet and dry weather this time of year.

October will be here before we know it in just a couple of weeks. Look out for the next article to come.  We will be getting into the cooler nights and more options for planting vegetables and herbs!

Bats are Beneficial for the Community

Bats are Beneficial for the Community

Bats bring a beneficial component to your property and community.  This flying mammal is an exceptional nocturnal feeder of many insect pests and they are important pollinators of many food plants.   However, several challenges face this night flyer, like reduced roosting locations, reduced foraging sights, and over use of pesticides.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer

There are ways to attract bats to your backyard, farm, and community.  Placement of bat boxes with ample water sources nearby is a good start.  Water sources are another area of importance to attract bats.  Have you sat by a swimming pool and witnessed a bat swoop down and skim across the water?  It is likely they are either consuming a little water after feeding on a large number of harmful insects or are wetting their modified arms (wings) to help remove dust and dirt to reduce drag on their wings.  Bats are the only mammal that are capable of true flight, the modified wings with skin spanning between specific bone structures allows them to accomplish this amazing action.

We often refer to bats as blind, but they can see shadows if out during daylight hours.  This poor sight is not helpful enough for survival, this is where their echolocation abilities come into play.  Humans studied bats to better understand how they make the sounds that bounce of an object and back to their sensing system that includes exceptional hearing.  They locate and consume insects this way.  If this sounds familiar, sonar systems were developed by studying this process.

Bats are the major harvester of night-flying insects, many that carry diseases that impact humans and other animals.  Insect prey for bats include cockroaches, mosquitos, moths, beetles, gnats and others.  A Big Brown Bat can catch and consume 3,000 to 7,000 mosquitos a night.  Multiple this by a large bat population the amount of harmful insects harvested can go into the thousands of tons in a year.  This is a positive impact for our forest and agriculture lands against major pests.

Florida is home to 13 different species of bats.  They are always on the hunt for warm, dry, dark areas that are either natural or manmade narrow crevices.  Out of all of these species, 4 bats are the primary inhabitants of bat houses.  The Evening Bat and Brazilian free-tailed Bat are the most common in the panhandle of Florida.  The Big Brown Bat and Southeastern Bat can at times occupy houses.

Photo courtesy: Matt Lollar

You can often locate bats boxes at your garden and agriculture centers or order online.  Another option is to build your own boxes.  Just remember the best way to erect a bat box is on a tall post.  It is recommended to set the boxes around 10 feet off the ground.  Placing boxes on trees creates a setting for potential predators to approach and feed on bats.  Snakes have been known to enter and feed on young bats that are not fully developed and at best are poor fliers.

As a reminder, never touch a bat or any other wild animals.  Bats that are healthy are not found on the ground, so assume the bat is not health and may be carrying a disease.  On a final note, enjoy sitting on the back porch and watching the acrobatics of these amazing mammals in the evening sky.

Easy Identification for Leafcutter Bees

Easy Identification for Leafcutter Bees

In a garden with a variety of flowers, pollinators will be abundant.  Sometimes we don’t always recognize the specific pollinator when we see it, but there are some native pollinators that leave other signs of their activity. One of our medium-sized native bees will leave a distinctive calling card of recent activity in our landscape.

Leafcutter bees have collected circular notches from the edges of a redbud tree. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

If you see some of the leaves of trees and shrubs with distinct circular notches on the edges of the leaves, you can be sure the Leafcutter bee is present.  The females collect the leaf pieces to make a small, cigar-shaped nest that may be found in natural cavities, such as rooting wood, soil, or in plant stems.  Each nest will have several sections in which the female places a ball of pollen and an egg.  The emerging larvae then have a plentiful food source in order to develop into an adult bee.

When identifying a leafcutter bee in your landscape, look for a more robust bee with dark and light stripes on the abdomen.  These bees also have a hairy underside to their abdomen where they carry the pollen.  When loaded with pollen their underside will look yellow.

Leafcutter bees are solitary bees that are not considered aggressive.  A sting would only be likely if the bee is handled.  Your landscape will have many plants that a leafcutter may use for nesting material.  The pollinating benefits of these bees far outweigh any cosmetic injury to the plant leaf margins.

Visit Featured Creatures to see a photo of the leaf pieces made into a nest.

Integrated Pest Management: The Basics

Integrated Pest Management: The Basics

Integrated Pest Management or ‘IPM’ is a sustainable approach to managing plant pests by using several different methods to cause the least harm to people, property, and the environment. IPM focuses on the management of problems rather than their eradication. Using IPM strategies in your garden is one way to ensure its productivity!

Avoiding Pest Problems

Prevention is key to IPM! It is important to select the right plant, for the right place at the right time. It’s also important to select pest-resistant plant varieties and maintain healthy plants through proper watering and fertilization.

  • Plan before you plant. Be sure not to plant in a location not suited for a particular plant. Stressed plants are more susceptible to insects and disease.
  • Start with healthy plants. Do not plant plants with insects or disease.
  • Monitor the lawn and garden regularly. You’ll want to be able to detect a pest problem earlier rather than later.
  • Water and fertilize properly. Too much of either can make plants vulnerable to insects and disease.
  • Encourage beneficial insects in your garden. Learn to recognize the insects in your garden and let the good ones do the work for you!

Recognizing Pest Problems

Depending upon the insect and the life cycle stage they are in, they may look different than we are used to! Here is a photo of the pupal stage of a lady beetle.

Scouting or monitoring the garden or plants in the yard frequently helps detect problems early. Some of the common insects you’ll find in your garden are: aphids, mealybugs, scales, whiteflies, thrips, mites, caterpillars, and stinkbugs. Often times you’ll find damage from the insect before you see the insect itself. Chewed or deformed leaves, sooty mold or a colony of ants scurrying up and down stems are all signs an insect may be present.

Treating Pest Problems

IPM is the best strategy for dealing with pests in the lawn and garden. IPM strategies:

  • Remove affected plant leaves or parts. If an insect or disease is heavily concentrated in an area, you can reduce or eliminate the problem by simply removing it.
  • Pick insects off by hand. Be sure to dispose of them so they don’t make it back into the garden.
  • Look for beneficial insects. If you see a pest outbreak, try to determine if it is being managed by natural enemies. Many insects such as ladybugs and lacewings prey on pest insects and removing them will just help the pest insects. If you need help identifying insects, contact your local county Extension agent!
  • Try the above strategies before pesticide use. If the problem persists and pesticides are needed, use products that have a reduced-risk to the environment such as insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, botanicals, or microbials.
  • Read and follow all pesticide label instructions. The label is the law!

For more information on integrated pest management, please visit:

 

Stinkhorn Mushrooms

Stinkhorn Mushrooms

While there are many fungi that produce mushrooms out in the world around us, there are some that are particularly notable. Edible varieties such as the lion’s mane, jelly ear, and chanterelle may be welcome additions to the landscape. We may have to look out for harmful fungi that cause leaf spots on our landscape plants, toxic mushrooms that could cause harm if ingested, or even things like sooty mold that indicate the presence of another problem (plant-damaging insects, in that case). Then, there are stinkhorn mushrooms.

Stinkhorn Mushroom. Photo courtesy of Evan Anderson.

While not poisonous (indeed, some varieties are edible) and not harmful to plants, these mushrooms are usually unwanted by homeowners. Why? There are two things that make them undesirable. First, they emit an odor that may resemble rotting meat, raw sewage, or some delightful combination of the two. Secondly, some species strongly resemble…well, the genus name Phallus may give some indication. Suffice to say that if your landscape mulch appears to have an inappropriate anatomical addition after a cool rain, you may have a stinkhorn mushroom.

These fungi are decomposers of dead plant material, breaking down wood chips, fallen leaves, or old tree stumps. This is an incredibly important role in the ecosystem, but stinkhorns are particularly offensive as they go about doing their job. The reason for their smell, specifically, is because they need to spread their spores. To do so, they attract insects. Unlike many plants which use beautiful flowers with pleasant fragrances to attract pollinators, stinkhorns attract a different crowd of helpers. They exude a slimy mass of spores that are appealing to flies and other invertebrates that enjoy feces, dead animals, and the like. The insects transport spores from place to place as they feed on the slime.

Stinkhorn Mushroom. Photo courtesy of Evan Anderson.

If you smell or see these mushrooms in your yard or landscape, don’t worry. They won’t last long and may be beneficial to the environment. If they become intolerable, stirring mulch up can help discourage their growth, or they can be removed physically (perhaps with a tool or while wearing gloves, at least). If they recur in an area time after time, look out for their early stages of growth, which may resemble puffballs or small eggs, and remove them then. Fungicides tend not to be effective and may harm other beneficial fungi in the environment.

For more information, see our EDIS publication on stinkhorn mushrooms at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/PP345.

Year ‘Round Interest with Juliet™ Cleyera

Year ‘Round Interest with Juliet™ Cleyera

Plants with variegated foliage are very popular landscape selections.  As flowers fade on other plants, the colors of variegated foliage continue to add interest through multiple seasons.

A very adaptable shrub that has been around for a long time, now has a selection with beautiful variegated foliage.  Juliet™ cleyera offers green and white evergreen foliage that can brighten up a garden year around.  New foliage adds additional interest with a maroon tinge.

Variegated foliage of Juliet™ cleyera. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Like other selections of Cleyera, Juliet™ needs to be matched to an appropriate spot to accommodate its mature size.  Shrubs will reach about 8 feet in height with a spread of about 5 feet.  Plants may look best when left to grow in a more natural form with light selective pruning.  This shrub is probably not suited for planting in front of home windows but used as a specimen or as a nice screen plant.

Once established, cleyera is a low maintenance plant and is adapted to grow well without routine irrigation.  My home landscape has very well drained soil and I have not needed to apply supplemental irrigation to two cleyera shrubs in over 20 years.  Consider a spot that receives full sun or partial shade for your plants.

An added advantage of cleyera shrubs in general is that bees are attracted to the flowers so it makes an additional nectar source for pollinators in the spring.