White, Fluffy, Woolly Stuff on My Plants

White, Fluffy, Woolly Stuff on My Plants

Homeowner accounts of white fluffy woolly masses on woody ornamentals, oak trees and Muhly grass have been on the rise. The good news is they are native insects that need a nursery for their young and will cause little harm to the host plant.  The bad news is scientists know very little about the complete live cycle and role in the environment of these insects.

Within the cottony mass there are citrus flatid planthoppers, woolly oak aphids, or Muhly mealybugs. The adults have laid eggs or birthed their young on the leaves. The young nymphs have excreted large amounts of the woolly wax to protect them from predators and weather while they grow larger. Food from the plants is needed to grow, so these piercing-sucking insects are removing sugars from the host plant. But, typically it is not enough to significantly change the plant’s appearance, so most people are not alarmed until they notice “all the white stuff”.

Adult citrus flatid planthopper, Metcalfa pruinosa (Say). Credits: Photograph by: Lyle J. Buss, University of Florida

The only one that moves quickly are the citrus flatid planthoppers. When a person reaches for the flocked branch, something small moves and seems to jump at you. Most likely the jumping direction is away from you, but it still may be startling. They are planthoppers (Metcalfa pruinosa), an insect in the order Hemiptera.  As the name implies, they occur on citrus but can also be found on many woody ornamentals and other fruit trees.  The adult planthopper wing arrangement is tent-like, meaning that the forewings are held over the insect abdomen in a tent configuration.

Stegophylla brevirostris Quednau colony on oak. Photograph by Susan E. Halbert

Woolly oak aphids are conspicuous pests on oak (Quercus spp.), because they are covered with large amounts of flocculent wax. Two genera of woolly oak aphids occur in Florida. One species, Stegophylla brevirostris Quednau, is common, and the other, Diphyllaphis microtrema Quednau, is rare. Florida woolly oak aphids are recognized easily by the large quantities of woolly wax that they secrete. Beneath the wax, aphid bodies are pale. Young nymphs are typically pale green, and they tend to be more mobile than adults. The majority of reports of woolly oak aphids indicate a preference for live oak (Quercus virginiana Mill.) as the host. These aphids are live-bearing females. It is not known how these aphids disperse, but possibly they are picked up and carried by birds and larger flying insects because of the sticky wax that surrounds the bodies of the aphids.

Muhly grass infested with mealybug. Photo: Beth Bolles

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a generally pest free plant in its native habitat, however, the native mealybug, Stemmatomerinx acircula, has made an appearance on plants in various landscapes. Insects feed on the leaves and are grey with white wax that may have some filaments. You may also see long ovisacs on the leaves which contain eggs and crawlers. With close inspection, you will notice they have legs and can move about.

So “what do you do?’  If the plant doesn’t appear to be suffering, let nature take its course. “This to will pass.” If someone demands perfection, use insecticidal soap to reduce the population.  The soft-bodied creatures will dry up before they can become adults. To read more about these odd creatures of nature go to: https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/

Select and Plant Trees for Florida’s High Wind Climate

Select and Plant Trees for Florida’s High Wind Climate

Many future problems can be avoided by paying attention to tree selection, planting and maintenance in Florida’s high wind climate. We may think of tropical storms causing tree damage but our typical summer thunderstorms can produce winds in excess of 50 miles per hour with downbursts reaching over 100 mph. 

There is no way to protect trees from all storm damage. Trees are not adapted to worst-case storms, such as Hurricanes Michael or Ian, only to our average wind climate.

It’s wise to take time to select and correctly plant the right trees for North Florida.

Past hurricanes have taught us that large growing trees planted too close to curbs, sidewalks or buildings blow over easily because they don’t have adequate room to develop a sound root system. It’s best to either plant these trees farther away, plant trees that may stay small, or increase the size of space allocated for tree root growth.

Research and storms have taught us that tree roots need large soil spaces for strong, stable growth. The more rooting space trees have, the less likely they are to fail. Strong root growth is essential for tree stability and health. Large maturing trees need at least 30 feet by 30 feet (900 ft. sq.) of rooting space. Many construction practices such as paving over roots, raising and lowering soil grade, and soil compaction from equipment result in root injury for existing trees, making them less durable and less stable.

Magnolia Tree in the Landscape. Photo courtesy Stephen Greer

Studies have also shown that trees growing in groups better survive high winds compared to individual trees. A group was defined as five or more trees growing within ten feet of another tree, but not in a row.

A short list of large maturing, storm resistant trees to consider include live oak, sand live oak, bald cypress, pond cypress, black gum and magnolia.

Do some homework and take a look at tree species that have done well in your area. If you don’t want or need a large tree in your yard, there are many small and medium sized wind-resistant trees from which to choose, like Crape Myrtle and Vitex. Many palms are wind resistant too, particularly the cabbage palm.

Having success with trees in the landscape involves starting with healthy, well-developed trees. Plant the right tree in the right place. Follow good planting procedures, including not planting trees too deep and providing adequate root space to allow for strong, healthy root growth. Practice correct maintenance techniques, which includes learning how to prune to produce a structurally sound tree. Finally, consider if it is time to be proactive and have large over-mature, declining trees removed and replaced before the next storm.

The following UF/IFAS Extension link, Trees and Hurricanes, includes the most current recommendations on tree selection, planting and pruning. https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/treesandhurricanes/wind_and_trees.shtml

Math for the Home Gardener

Math for the Home Gardener

Math isn’t always fun! Here is Euclid explaining math in Raphael’s The School of Athens. Credit: Creative Commons.

There are a lot of things gardeners need to know to cultivate a beautiful landscape. Between plant zones, scientific names, soil chemistry, and pest identification, being a gardener takes curiosity and willingness to learn new things. Unfortunately, one topic that needs to be well understood, especially when it comes to applying pesticides and fertilizers, is a subject that many cringe when they hear it – mathematics!

Some of the most common mathematical concepts to have a good grasp on for gardening include area, converting decimals to percentages and vice versa, estimating volume and converting units, and determining how much fertilizer to be applied based on your fertilizer grade.

Here’s a couple tips to help you gardeners out with math.


Most often, we need to know the square footage of our gardens. Rectangles are straightforward, you multiply length (in feet) by width (in feet) to get feet squared. Since most yards are not rectangles, we sometimes need to use other shapes to best calculate the area, such as circles and/or triangles. The area (A) of a circle is , where “π” is 3.14 and “r” is the radius (half of the diameter or the distance from the center to the edge). Remember that the little raised 2 means you multiply the radius by itself twice, not by two.

Most of the time, square feet is the best area unit to use. But just in case you need to know, one acre equals 43,560 square feet. So, if you find your lawn is 10,000 square feet, that means you have 0.23 of an acre (10,000/43,560).

Get your calculator’s out! Credit: iStockphoto.

Percent Conversions

This one may be better understood by most, but this becomes important later when we determine fertilizer needed or doing volume conversions. Basically, any percent can be divided by 100 to convert it to a decimal that can be used easily in other calculations. For example, 15% is the same as 0.15 (15/100). The easy way to remember is that 100% is the same as one, and 50% is the same as 0.5.

Volume Estimation and Conversions

Determining volume is required when figuring out how much mulch is needed for a garden bed or soil required for a raised bed. Converting one unit to another is especially important when determining how much pesticide product is needed to prepare a mixture.

For mulch and soil, the cubic feet (cf) or cubic yards (cy) are needed to figure out how many bags or truckloads will be needed. Most bulk products are sold by the cubic yard. Since we are dealing with volume, we need three measurements, the length, width, and depth. If we want to add three inches of mulch to a 500 square foot garden, we multiply the 500 by 0.25 feet (3”/12” equals 0.25 inches) to get 125 cubic feet. That is about 62 bags of mulch from the hardware store, which are often sold in 2 cubic foot bags. If we divide 125 cubic feet by 27 (three feet in a yard so 3’ x 3’ x 3’ = 27) we now have the answer in cubic yards and find that we need about 4.5 cubic yards of mulch. One cubic yard is roughly a half of a full-size pickup truck bed.

When it comes to converting liquid volume units to help with pesticide mixtures, fortunately we have the internet to help. However, it is a good idea to at least be familiar with converting ounces to gallons and vice versa. Since 128 ounces equals 1 gallon, to go from gallons to ounces you multiply by 128. For example, 0.5 gallons equals 64 ounces (0.5 x 128). To go from ounces to gallons, we just divide by 128. For example, 192 ounces equals 1.5 gallons (192/128).

Applying the proper amount of fertilizer keeps your landscape healthier and protects local waterbodies. Credit: UF/IFAS.

Calculating Fertilizer Needed

Okay, bear with me, as we are about to do some hard math and piece together several of the above concepts. First of all, most fertilizer rates are provided by extension resources and given in terms of pounds of a particular nutrient for a set area, usually 1,000 square feet. For example, when using slow-release fertilizer a homeowner should apply no more than one pound of nitrogen for every 1,000 square feet of lawn. To figure out how much actual fertilizer to apply to meet the recommendation, we will need 1) the recommended rate, 2) the size of the lawn, and 3) the fertilizer grade on the product (the three numbers that represent the percent N, P, and K). Our rate is one pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. The size of our lawn is 50 feet by 30 feet, so 1,500 square feet. We are going to use a 16-0-8 fertilizer. Now, here is the hard part! To figure out how much of our 16% nitrogen fertilizer will provide one pound of nitrogen, we need to convert 16% to a decimal (16/100 = 0.16) and then divide the amount of fertilizer we need by that number – 1 pound/0.16 – to find that 6.25 pounds of our fertilizer product are required for each 1,000 square feet. Since we have 1,500 square feet, we need to multiply our answer by 1.5, which gives us a total of 9.4 pounds.

Math is hard and there are usually many methods to get the same solution. When using pesticides and fertilizers in the home landscape, it’s important to make sure we’re using the right amount of materials to minimize the chance of harming ourself, our plants, and the local environment. If you need help, or would like someone to check your work, contact your local extension office.

Growing Tomatoes: GIP Live Reference Materials

Growing Tomatoes: GIP Live Reference Materials

The February Q&A on Growing Tomatoes offered valuable tips for the home gardener to be successful with tomatoes in 2022.  Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked.

Let’s start out with the panels favorite tomatoes including hybrids and heirlooms.

Evan:  Supersweet 100, Sungold
Larry:  Amelia, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple
Sam: Better Boy, Tasti Lee, Sweethearts
Matt: Mountain Magic, Mountain Rouge, Bella Rosa
Daniel: Black cherry and Big Beef

Why are tomatoes red?

Can we grow tomatoes year around?

I have very sandy/loamy soil. Do I have a chance at successfully growing tomatoes?

What is the best time to start tomatoes in North Florida?

If one grows in raised beds, should one rotate where in the bed tomatoes are planted?

If you plant tomatoes in mid-March, how long will they continue to produce fruit?

I’m thinking of trying hydroponic gardening on a few tomato plants this year. Do you think a 50/50 mix of perlite and vermiculite would be a good approach for a soil medium? I’d like to use 5-gallon buckets and keep maintenance to a minimum.

What tomatoes grow best in inland Bay County? Coastal vs inland considerations.
Best type for all day sun (speak to tomatoes light requirements)

What is the best tomato variety for Northwest Florida? I need one go-to variety for both regular tomatoes and cherry type.

How to get more tomatoes, less vine?

My tomatoes get black on the bottom and rot. What causes this and how do I prevent it?

Do tomatoes need a lot of water?

Why do my tomatoes split/burst/crack while on the vine?

Any suggestions for how to handle especially wet years like last summer? My tomatoes really suffered.

How do I keep the leaves from getting dark spots that spread and kills foliage? 

How do you string tomatoes vine to a stake?

What causes catfacing?


Every year I’m having trouble with an amazing amount of insect infestations on my tomatoes & peppers I grow in containers. What can I do to help?

How do marigolds (which variety) or basil aid tomatoes?

Please talk about save tomato seeds to grow. Some can’t afford to buy potted tomato plants.

Can you add nutrients into the soil from last year’s tomatoes to reuse again this year?

Garden to Table: Growing Winter Herbs

Garden to Table: Growing Winter Herbs

Multi-cropping at a Gainesville, FL organic garden.

As we go into the winter here in the Panhandle the following herbs will do well: cilantro, parsley, fennel, thyme, chives, oregano, sage and dill.  Basil is a popular herb but will need to be inside by a kitchen window this time of year.  It will drop leaves below 40 degrees F.

Cilantro: Needs full to partial sun, excellent soil drainage, and can be sued at 6 inches in height.  The dry seeds are used to make the spice Coriander.

Parsley: Loves the cool weather and will bloom in the spring.  Parsley likes afternoon shade.  The seeds do take longer to germinate so do not give up on this plant.  The root has a strong flavor and is used in holiday dishes.  Parsley is beneficial to your health and contain vitamins A, C, K and is also high in calcium and iron.

Fennel: Needs full sun and moist soil.  Fennel should not be planted near dill or cilantro because it will cross pollinate and reduce seed production.  Fennel is good for digestive health and the shoots, leaves, and seeds are all useful in cooking.  This plant also is host to the black swallowtail caterpillar.

Thyme: Needs full sun, well-drained soil and is extremely drought tolerant.  Thyme does very well in a windowsill.  This plant is highly attractive to bees and creates a delicious honey.

Chives: Prefers sunlight and well drained soil.  This can be used for an onion or garlic flavor to your dish.  It will need to be divided every couple of years since it grows so well here.  Also, very good mixed into butter or cream cheese as a spread.

Oregano: This is the most widely used culinary and medicinal herb.  It has tiny purple flowers that bloom all summer.  It needs full sun and well-drained soil.  Its best flavor is when you harvest the leaves as the flower buds form.  The stems can be cut and dried and used in the cooking as well.

Sage: This herb needs full sun and very well drained soil.  It is a small silvery leaf plant that is a very popular seasoning during Thanksgiving for turkey.  It is also good on other poultry.

Sage. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

Dill: This herb likes full sun as well and serves as a host plant to the Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  It is a very aromatic herb used both for its leaves and the seeds.

When harvesting herbs look for leaves that are young and tender with good color.  Wash your herbs and pick them as you need them for best flavor, unless you plan to store them.  When storing fresh herbs, it is important to know that they lose their flavor over time.  They will store in the refrigerator from 1-3 weeks, freezer, and if dried can last up to 3 years.

Source: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/ vegetables/herbs.html

Garden to Table: How to Use in Your Recipes

Garden to Table: How to Use in Your Recipes


Women making vinegar at a class in Starke

Herbs are often underutilized in our cooking. There are many benefits of growing and using herbs. They add flavor to foods and beverages and reduce the need for salt, fat, and sugar. Herbs are also easy to grow at home and low maintenance!

Herbs can be used fresh, dried, and frozen. There are several tips of how to use herbs in your kitchen. You will need to adjust recipes depending on how the herb is prepared.  For example, 1 tablespoon of finely cut fresh herbs equals 1 teaspoon of dried herbs and is equivalent to 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of ground dried herbs. It is always best to start with small amounts and add more to taste. Dried ground herbs can be used on meat, soups, sauces, and vegetables to name a few.

In hot dishes fresh herbs should be added near the end of the cooking time. If they are delicate herbs, you could do it in the last 1 to 2 minutes and less delicate herbs in the last 20 minutes of cooking. In cold dishes, herbs should be added several hours before serving or overnight. Each herb has its own flavor profile, so experiment and see which you like best!  Some common herb and food combinations are basil and tomato products, rosemary and meats, sage and poultry, and mint and desserts. Have fun trying different combination of herbs and food and remember to start with little and add as needed for the desired taste!

Source: Minton, Emily and Maddox, Martha. 2018. “Cooking with Fresh Herbs.” UF/IFAS Extension. FCS8932/FY1209: Cooking with Fresh Herbs (ufl.edu)