The moon-like eyespots and long tails on its wings are identifying features of the luna moth. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
We hear about butterflies all the time–their beautiful wing patterns, how to plant entire gardens for them, and the fascinating migration patterns of monarchs. But if you look around, you might just find their night-dwelling cousins, the moths, have some pretty incredible traits, too.
I find luna moths (Actias luna) just as interesting as many of the colorful butterflies native to our area. Luna moths are considerably larger than the little brown and black moths you see fluttering around streetlights. Their wingspan can be up to 4” wide, with long, tapering tails trailing behind them. The moth is native to the entire eastern portion of the United States, but has a longer life span the further south it resides. Luna moths live year-round in Florida, with up to three generations (trivoltine) born annually. They are pale green, and adults have a furry white underbelly. Lunas are so eye-catching that they have been featured on the cover of a field guide to moths, postage stamps from the United States and other countries, and as the mascot of the insomnia medication, Lunesta.
The caterpillar of the luna moth is bright green and warns off predators by making an intimidating clicking sound. Photo credit: University of Florida
Luna moths have several celestial ties in their name. All the moths in its larger family, Saturnidae, have round eyespots (which fool would-be predators) composed of concentric circles like the rings of Saturn. “Luna” comes from the Latin for moon, after the moon-colored eyespots on its back.
Luna moth caterpillars are fat and green—the classic caterpillar—and about 2.5” long. Their preferred host plants in the south are typically sweet gum, hickory, walnut, and persimmon trees. Interestingly, the caterpillars can make a sound, typically described as a clicking noise. Biologists believe this noise-making is a defense mechanism, performed as a precursor to spitting up unpleasant fluids to fend off predators. Several studies have shown that the twisting motion of the adult luna moth’s long tails in flight can interrupt the echolocation of bats, helping the moths evade predation.
Need tips on planting and caring for trees? The primary focus in care of your newly planted tree is root development. It takes several months for roots to establish and newly planted trees and shrubs do not have a very strong root system. Start by digging the hole in a popcorn bowl shape. Once planted, backfill around the root system, but be careful not to compact the soil as this will hinder root growth. Be sure to keep the topmost area of the root ball exposed, about one to two inches. A layer of mulch will be applied here.
Frequent watering is much needed, especially if you are planting in the summer. Water thoroughly, so that water percolates below the root system. Shallow watering promotes surface root growth, which will make the plant more susceptible to stress during a drought. Concentrate some of the water in a diameter pattern a few feet from the trunk. This will cause the root system to grow towards the water, and thus better establish the root system and anchor the tree.
Figure: A Traditional Staking Option. Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS Extension.
Mulch is important in the conservation of soil moisture. Pine needles, bark, wood chips, and other organic materials make a great mulch. A three inch layer of mulch will usually suffice. It’s important to keep the mulch a few inches from the trunk as mulching too close to the tree trunk can cause rot.
You should always prune the bare roots of trees during planting. These exposed roots in containers can be damaged in shipping and removing some of the roots will help trigger growth. Pruning some of the top foliage can also reduce the amount of water needed for the plant to establish, as well. Trees and shrubs grown and shipped in burlap or containers usually need very little pruning.
Newly planted trees often have a difficult time establishing if the root system cannot be held in place. Strong winds and rain can cause the plant to tip over. Avoid this by staking the plant for temporary support. A good rule of thumb to determine staking need is if the trunk diameter measures three inches or less, it probably needs some support! Tie the stake to the plant every six inches from the top. However, only tie the trunk at one spot. Don’t tie too tightly so that the tree has no flexibility. This will stunt the growth of the tree.
Following these tips will help ensure your tree becomes well established in your landscape. For more information please contact your local county extension office.
Information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication: “Planting and Establishing Trees” by Edward F. Gilman and Laura Sadowiski: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf%5CEP%5CEP31400.pdf
Supporting information also provided by UF/IFAS Extension Forestry Specialist Dr. Patrick Minogue, of the North Florida Research Education Center in Quincy, Florida.
Q. One of my two fig trees has produced a few figs. The other one, which is the largest and healthiest tree, has never had a fig on it. Both where planted six years ago. Why is it not producing?
Mature fig tree with fruit. Photo credit: Larry Williams
A. It may be a matter of age and being overly vigorous. When a fruit tree is younger, it puts most of its energy into producing leaves and shoots. Until the plant becomes mature and slows down in the production of leaves and shoots, it will produce few to no fruit. It may take a year or two more for your tree to slowly and gradually switch from producing mostly leaves and shoots to producing and maturing some fruit. Patience is needed.
Be careful to not overdo it in fertilizing and/or pruning your fig tree. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, or severely pruning the tree will result in the tree becoming overly vigorous at the expense of setting and maturing fruit. This includes fertilizer that the tree may pull up from a nearby lawn area. A tree’s roots will grow outward two to three times beyond its branch spread into adjacent lawn areas.
The end result of being heavy handed with fertilizing and/or overdoing it in pruning is the same – it forces the plant to become overly vigorous in producing leaves and shoots at the expense of producing and maturing fruit.
In addition, the following is taken from an Extension publication on figs and includes the most common reasons for lack of fruiting, in order of importance.
- Young, vigorous plants and over-fertilized plants will often produce fruit that drops off before maturing. If plants are excessively vigorous, stop fertilizing them. Quite often, three of four years may pass before the plant matures a crop because figs have a long juvenile period before producing edible quality fruit.
- Dry, hot periods that occur before ripening can cause poor fruit quality. If this is the case, mulching and supplemental watering during dry spells will reduce the problem.
- The variety Celeste will often drop fruit prematurely in hot weather regardless of the quality of plant care. However, it is still a good variety to grow.
- An infestation of root-knot nematodes can intensify the problem when conditions are as described in item 2.
- You could have a fig tree that requires cross-pollination by a special wasp. This is a rare problem. If this is the case, then it will never set a good crop. The best way to resolve this is to replace the plant with a rooted shoot of a neighbor’s plant you know produces a good crop each year.
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer
Lawn areas come in all sizes and shapes. Some are large open expanses providing long views and others are smaller versions surrounded by shrubs and trees creating a more private and secluded setting. There are a number of reasons for reducing the size of a lawn with some coming into play with your decisions. A home lawn is often an important part of the landscape that provides a place to play outdoors from picnicking, tossing the ball to taking a quite stroll.
Maintaining a healthy lawn is important to an overall performance of this part of the landscape. Several factors are involved in the success in keeping a strong and resilient lawn. Understanding the needs of a grass to remain healthy involve soil testing to address soil pH and nutrient needs plus water challenges. Misuse of fertilizer and over irrigation can be costly to you and to the overall health of the lawn. These decisions can lead to reducing lawn size to managing cost or removing underused areas.
There are big benefits to reducing your lawn from saving time in mowing, trimming and other manicuring needs to saving energy costs involving the lawn mower not to mention reducing pollution from the mower or weed eater. The reduced amounts of pesticides needed to manage weeds and disease to the lawn saves time and money.
Another way to look at the reducing the size of our lawn is there will be more space for expanding plant beds and potential tree placement. These settings increase the opportunities for a more biodiverse landscape providing shelter, protection and food options for birds and other wildlife.
Photo Courtesy: Stephen Greer
The lawn can serve as a transition space that leads from one garden room space to another, while still offering a location to bring the lawn chair out to enjoy all that is around your lawn. Lawns and the landscape are ever changing spaces, especially as your trees and shrubs grow and mature to sizes that can directly impact the lawn performance. Often levels of shade will diminish edges and other areas of the lawn. This often will define the reduction of the lawn size moving going forward. Just remember that lawns and landscapes occupy a three-dimensional space involving the horizontal, vertical and overhead spaces. Just look around and think about what is best for you, your family and the setting.Are you more interested in developing other parts of the landscape? With many of us spending more time at home over the last year plus it gave time to think about the outdoor areas. Growing our own vegetables may be a new or expanding part of the landscape with the use of raised beds or interplanting into the existing landscape. Gardening can assist in reducing stress while at the same time providing that fresh tomato, lettuce, herbs and other fun healthy produce.
What ever your decisions are enjoy the lawn and landscape. For additional information, contact your local University of Florida IFAS Extension office located in your county.
If you are looking for an interesting native plant that attracts wildlife and makes a statement, look no further than Weeping Yaupon Holly Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’. The weeping growth habit with olive green leaves and white bark are attractive year-round. A bonus are the showy bright red berries that attract birds in the fall and winter. It is a cultivar of Yaupon Holly Ilex vomitoria which is tolerant of variable light and soil conditions making it a very adaptable plant.
Weeping Yaupon is a small evergreen tree that grows 15-30 feet tall with a mature width of 6-12 feet. Once established it has a high tolerance to drought conditions and is also able to sustain salt spray making it a good fit for coastal landscapes.
For more information visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ST312