Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Tree Stowaways

 Photo courtesy Okeechobee County Extension.

Remember the scene in “Christmas Vacation” where the squirrel jumps out of the Griswold family Christmas tree? Well, Christmas tree stowaways are not always that obvious (or dramatic- thankfully). There is a much smaller pest that may sometimes be found on a cut tree brought home for decorating.

Cinara spp.  Photo courtesy Okeechobee County Extension.
Cinara spp. aphids are sometimes found on Christmas trees. They are large and brown to black and have been mistaken for engorged ticks. This naturally gives some people cause for concern. But these aphids are feeding only on the host plant and pose no threats to humans or their pets. (Not even a sneaky little squirrel…) If these are found on a Christmas tree it is not necessary to take any action.

Click here for more information on Cinara aphids.

Click here for more information on fresh Christmas trees, including fresh Florida Christmas trees.

This year we bought a Florida tree from a Christmas tree farm nearby and it is beautiful. We had the opportunity to select and cut our very own tree. It made for a day filled with great memories and a wonderful, healthy, fragrant tree. There are several kinds of Florida Christmas trees to choose from- we selected a sand pine, Pinus clausa, for it’s soft needles and more “traditional” Christmas tree look.

Support your local Christmas tree farmer-click here for info. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Shipping Home Grown Citrus

If you grow citrus in your yard you might like the idea of shipping your fruit to relatives far and wide for holiday gifts. Although this is a wonderful idea, you should know the rules for doing so. Due to the presence of citrus canker in Florida, all fruit shipped out of state must be packed by a licensed commercial packinghouse operating under a USDA compliance agreement, whether the fruit was produced in a commercial grove or in a residential yard. 

The packinghouse will remove plant debris, wash, disinfect and then pack your fruit in shipping containers marked with the appropriate certification. This is done because studies have shown that fruit processed in this manner poses a minimal risk to spreading citrus canker. This helps to protect other citrus-producing areas from the unwanted “gift” of citrus canker.

Your fresh fruit gift will provide Florida “sunshine” to your gift list and help protect citrus producers!

Click here for a list of packing houses that accept home grown citrus for processing.

Click here for more information about growing citrus in your yard.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"Baby, it's cold outside..."

Brrr! The cold weather is finally here and you’re not the only one in need of protection from the cold. Just like people, plants have temperature ranges they prefer. Here are some tips to help you protect your landscape this winter:

Plant the right plant in the right place! A Floridian wouldn’t do well in North Dakota this time of year, and likewise a tropical plant won’t thrive here when the mercury drops. We are in hardiness zone 9b, so be sure to plant things that are suited to our location. For plants that may not quite be suited to this location you may be able to help them by planting them in protected locations such as a south-facing area protected by walls, fences, hedges (evergreen of course), etc.

Keep your plants healthy! When you are stressed you are more likely to succumb to some malady and your plants are no different. Proper fertilization, watering, and pruning will go a long way in keeping plants healthy. Click here for information about the fertilizer ordinance in Pinellas County to ensure year-round compliance.

If you are going to cover your cold sensitive plants to protect them from frost, remember that the cover should be raised above the plant.  Also remember to remove any plastic covers on sunny days to avoid burning the plant.

For more detailed information on cold protection for plants click here.

Bundle up and don’t forget to take care of your plants!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Give Us Your Input Today

Your opinion counts! We need your help to do the best job possible. Pinellas County Extension strives to deliver the most current information on topics that are important to you. Each year we evaluate our efforts to provide up-to-date, research-based information to our community. To help us deliver what is valuable to you as our reader, we would like you to take a short survey. Please select the link below to access the online survey. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and your responses will be anonymous. Please take the survey today!

Thank you for your time and continued support.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More Spectacular Fall Color: Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) is a wonderful small native tree.  It can either be a large shrub or a small tree, growing up to about 25 feet tall and with a spread of about 15 feet wide.  It will tolerate clipping and can be formed into a hedge, left to grow into a large vase-shaped shrub (wider at the top, narrow at the bottom), or trained into a small tree.  It has small leathery leaves with scalloped margins, or edges.  The fine texture of the plant makes a nice hedge.  There are also dwarf varities for use in smaller landscape applications.  It's quite a versatile plant.
Close up of the fruit.
This time of year is one of the best times in terms of color for the Yaupon Holly.  The (female) plants are resplendent with fruit right now.  The fruit of the Yaupon Holly is called a drupe- which looks like a berry.  Most trees have red fruit, but yellow varieties can be found.  In addition to the lovely sight of the fruit they are also a wildlife attractor and will encourage birds to visit your yard.  The fruit is great for birds because they persist on the plant well into winter, providing a food source when others have become scarce.

Wouldn't these make lovely holiday decorations as well!

Yaupon Holly in it's natural vase shape.

Ilex vomitoria 'Dodds Cranberry'

The "Planting Pinellas" blog will take a short holiday next week for Thanksgiving and return the following week.  Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Unusual Fall Color: the Floss Silk Tree

This is not your typical fall color! The floss silk trees (Ceiba speciosa) are in bloom and they put on a great show, but their pink flowers are not your usual fall color. This curious tree also has a thick green trunk covered in spines which can be seen in the pictures below. The trunk is often bottle-shaped (wider at the base and narrower as you move up) which you can also see in the photos below.

This tree can grow up to 50’ tall and have a spread of 55’. It is fast growing at first and then slows down as the tree matures. The floss silk tree is considered a lovely specimen tree in the landscape. The trees lose their leaves in September and are usually bare by the time the spectacular flowers burst. The beautiful flowers are seen between September and December. After that the tree remains mostly bare until spring when the leaves flush out again. The leaves are palmately compound with 5-7 leaflets (not pictured). Between the blooms and the new leaves you will see the seed pods. They look like big white cotton balls that come from pear-shaped pods. The “silk” found in these pods was once used as stuffing for pillows and mattresses.

If you don’t have one of these beautiful trees near you please come by and visit the Extension office- the pictures you see here were taken of the one in our parking lot. You can’t miss it this time of year!

Friday, November 5, 2010

What’s in bloom: Flat-top Goldenrod

Fall is a spectacular time in Florida for wildflowers! There is a lot of color in our landscape this time of year. One of the wildflowers in bloom right now is Flat-top goldenrod, Euthamia caroliniana. This plant is a native and is also a nectar plant for Monarch butterflies in south Florida. Flat-top goldenrod is not a true goldenrod species, although it was once classified in the same genus as true goldenrod (Solidago).
Flat-top goldenrod typically grows up to 3 feet tall and spreads by seed and also by rhizomesIt is a perennial with narrow leaves which are alternately arranged.  The name flat-top comes from the flat-topped appearance of the inflorescence, or cluster, of bright yellow flowers.  It flowers from September through November, so get out there and enjoy it now!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Haunted Horticulture V - Jack-o-Lantern Mushroom

By Noah Siegel (Amanita virosa) (Omphalotus olearius (DC.) Singer (33857)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This week's blog was written by guest blogger Dustin H. Purcell, MS.  Dustin is a Mycologist/Plant Pathologist who studied at the University of Florida.  Many thanks to Dustin for his eerie contribution!

If you ever come across glowing toadstools in the woods, do not be alarmed. You are not imagining things or having an alien encounter. You are one of the few to have observed the bioluminescent (light generating) jack-o-lantern mushroom in person. It earned this name not only because of the spooky iridescent glow it emits but also because of the large clusters of pumpkin-orange mushrooms it produces. They grow on rotting logs and buried stumps and can be found in Florida sporadically throughout the year following rains… unfortunately, due to this year’s very dry October, you are not likely to find any this Halloween.

By Noah Siegel (Amanita virosa) (Omphalotus olearius (DC.) Singer (33856)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Like all mushrooms, this is a fungus and not a plant. Mycologists (scientists who study fungi) have named it Omphalotus olearius, though older field guides may call it Omphalotus illudens or Clitocybe illudens. It is relatively common in wooded areas throughout the southeast: You may have even seen its pumpkin-like masses of mushrooms during the day. However, few have witnessed its jack-o-lantern-like glow. The light is produced very dimly and requires the right combination of total darkness, a healthy growing mushroom, and eyes that are well adjusted to the dark… However, photographers easily capture their eerie green light on film using long exposures to magnify the intensity of this bioluminescent phenomenon. Many Pinellas county residents have witnessed two other bioluminescent phenomena that our area has to offer: fireflies (also called lightning bugs) and the phosphorescent glow of plankton in our warm coastal waters. If you’d like to add the jack o’lantern mushroom to the list of glowing creatures that you’ve seen, you have two options:

1. Wander without a flashlight through a wet forest on a dark moonless night far away from the light pollution of the city while hoping to see glowing toadstools, or

2. Keep your eyes peeled for a pumpkin-looking cluster of mushrooms in your yard and neighborhood

I would be a little reluctant to take option 1, especially on Halloween night. While not nearly as spooky, option 2 still may not be an easy task. Mushrooms, even glowing ones, can be very difficult to identify. Dr. James Kimbrough, a mycologist at the University of Florida, has written a field guide called Common Mushrooms of Florida that can help with the identification. Unless you have access to a mushroom expert, this IFAS book (or another good mushroom field guide) is probably your best bet. Once you find some, I’m told that you can collect them, wrap them in some moist (not soggy wet) paper towels to keep them from drying out, and take them into a dark closet to behold the spectacle of their eerie jack o’lantern glow.

In case you were wondering, this mushroom is poisonous! It is never recommended to eat mushrooms, except those found in the grocery store or farmers’ market… The chance of misidentification is too high, and the risks are too great… But there’s no reason to be scared of wild mushrooms (after all, they are a neat little bonus in the landscape), just don’t eat them.

IFAS Extension Bookstore link for Dr. Kimbrough’s book.
Firefly link.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Haunted Horticulture IV - Alien Invaders!

There is an alien invader taking over Florida land as we speak. It creeps slowly across the landscape right in front of us. It spreads with the help of birds, small mammals, and unsuspecting homeowners. Wherever the alien goes it chokes out native habitats to establish strongholds of its own kind. Even more sinister, just touching this alien can be dangerous for some people. What is this strange invader?

The name of this alien invader is Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius.

The plant was introduced to Florida in the mid 1800s as an ornamental plant. It has since taken over and continues to spread and destroy natural habitats in Florida. If that wasn’t enough to prove to you what a nasty plant this is, it’s also a member of the same plant family as poison ivy. Yes, that means that contact with the plant may cause a rash or irritation. Some people experience respiratory irritation while it’s in bloom, from late summer through November. You may see them in bloom right now.
Now that you know this alien invasion is taking place, you can help stop it! If you have a Brazilian pepper- remove it! Don’t think you can control it. Birds will eat those seeds and they will disperse them far and wide once they digest and pass them. Helping control the spread of these alien invader plants is one of the many ways you can help protect Florida’s unique ecosystems.

Click here for more information.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Haunted Horticulture III - BATS!

No Halloween is complete without a terrifying bat, right? But bats should not be feared- they provide many beneficial services. Hollywood has long pushed the image of the vampire bat that sucks human blood. This is not an accurate portrayal of bats at all. In fact, only 3 out of the more than 1,100 species of bats consume blood. Those that do consume blood, lap it up from small cuts in the animal- not by sucking the blood at all. Moreover, the typical victims are livestock that don’t even seem to notice these bats. If you are still worried, relax- these kinds of bats are only found in Central and South America.

The bats that are common in Florida are actually quite beneficial. Many of them eat insects- and we know how much insect control help we need here. One bat can eat thousands of insects in just one night! Furthermore, their droppings, known as guano, are a nitrogen rich organic fertilizer. In the tropics there are bats that help with seed dispersal and pollination too.

What’s even more exciting about bats is that they are the only mammal that can truly fly. It is a common misconception that bats are “flying rats”, when in fact they are believed to be more closely related to monkeys. (Note: although flying monkeys may conjure up frightful images of their own, do not be alarmed.)

Bat populations in Florida are on the decline, mainly from habitat destruction, but our use of pesticides has reduced their food source as well. Click here if you would like to learn more about building your own bat habitat.  Of course, you want to avoid having them roost in your attic. They can cause unpleasant odors and frightful sounds, so be sure to seal all holes and gaps on the exterior of your home. Click here for more information on bat proofing you home.

Some other useful bat links:

Conservation of Bats in Florida:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Haunted Horticulture II - Huntsman Spider

Seeing one of these spiders in your house would be pretty scary, right? The huntsman spider, Heteropoda venatoria, is a spider that does not use webs to ensnare its prey. The huntsman relies on speed, strong mouthparts, and poison injection of their victims. Even scarier right? Only if you are a cockroach! That’s right, this scary looking, rather large arachnid (3-5” leg span!) is actually a helpful predator of cockroaches and other home-invading pests.

The huntsman is a tropical species, and while it is not a native of Florida, our warm climate has allowed them to become established in south Florida and they are seen throughout the southeastern U.S. It has adapted to human environments and is often found in homes or sheds. If you are so inclined you can hunt for the huntsman outside at night as well. If a light is shined on them their eyes reflect that light and look like blue spots in the darkness. Spooky.

Even though it looks pretty intimidating, the huntsman is not a dangerous spider- but it will give a painful bite, so I would refrain from playing with one.

Click here for more information.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Haunted Horticulture I - Carrion Flower

Carrion Flower (Stapelia gigantea)

Carrion flower is also known as the giant toad flower or the dead horse plant.  The flower blooms this time of year and smells like carrion- the carcass of a dead animal.  Spooky, isn’t it?  The flower attracts blow-flies which in turn pollinate the plant.  The plant itself resembles a cactus with spineless stems.  Carrion flower likes sun and a moderate amount of water in a well-drained soil.  This plant can be propagated by cuttings in the spring.  Due to the smell of the blooms I recommend growing this outside.  These photos were taken this morning at the Floida Botanical Gardens.

Friday, September 24, 2010

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

This week I would like to highlight a plant that provides the landscape with brilliant color this time of year. The color comes mainly from the bright clusters of berries (usually around September) that provide food for birds. The pink to lavender colored flowers are commonly seen in midsummer in clusters along the stem.

American Beautyberry is a Florida native that tolerates a wide range of soil and light conditions. A beautyberry shrub can grow up to 8 feet tall and just as wide if given the space. When they are small these shrubs look best grouped together and can make a nice buffer from an undesirable view. A large shrub can also make a lovely specimen. Here is a large beautyberry shrub from the native garden here at the Extension office:

Click here to learn even more about this wonderful plant!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chinch bugs!

Chinch bugs (Blissus insularis) are an all too common pest in St. Augustinegrass. They are found on many kinds of turfgrass, but St. Augustinegrass is their favorite. You have heard of them, but do you think you would recognize one? The adult chinch bug is between 1/8-1/10 of an inch long. Pretty small, huh? They are black with white wings that each have a characteristic triangular black mark:

Adult and fifth instar (development stage between each molt)

Nymphs (juvenile stages)

Nymphs (juvenile stages) are a red-orange color with a white band and they darken as they mature, which takes about 4-5 weeks. About 7 to 10 generations develop each year in southern Florida with one generation lasting about 6-8 weeks in hot temperatures.

Chinch bug populations are typically clumped in certain areas in a lawn. Often they will start in stressed turf and are often seen along sidewalks, patios, and driveways where drought stress is more common. The insect has piercing-sucking mouthparts that they use to pierce the leafblade and extract vital plant fluids. Once the damage is done and one area is brown and dead, they will keep moving on to neighboring areas in the turf.

Widespread chinch bug damage.

Proper lawn care can prevent or minimize chinch bug populations from establishing themselves in your lawn. A healthy turfgrass will be more resistant to them. This means mowing at the right height and not over-watering or over-fertilizing. The rapid lush growth that results from too much water and/or fertilizer is just what chinch bugs love to feed on.

There are also some natural predators of chinch bugs that help keep populations in check: big-eyed bugs, predatory earwigs, spiders, and a small wasp, Eumicrosoma benefica, that parasitizes chinch bug eggs. Because you want to keep these natural predators around you will need to keep pesticide applications to very specific areas and be sure to use them sparingly (always carefully following the pesticide label of course). The fact sheets linked below will indicate appropriate pesticides and if and when it may be necessary to use them. Pay attention to the part about chinch bugs becoming immune to pesticides. This is just one more reason to use them as seldom as possible.

If you suspect chinch bugs in your lawn you can bring a sample to us here at Extension and we can see if they are present. Be sure to bring a large sample, about 8"-10” square of your turfgrass that includes a progression of healthy green grass to brown damaged/dead grass. The following fact sheet explains a method by which you may check for chinch bugs in your own lawn:

Southern Chinch Bug Management on St. Augustinegrass

Southern Chinch Bug Management in Florida (December 2008)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Have you seen this weed?

Photo: UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension

Chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria) is a summer annual that germinates from early summer through early fall. This is an aggressive weed that can take over landscape beds and invade lawns. As you can see from the photos, the leaves somewhat resemble mimosa leaves with small bumpy looking fruits under the foliage. Chamberbitter can grow up to 18” tall and will grow in full sun or shade conditions. Early detection and persistent pulling are the keys to controlling this weed. Be sure not to shake the soil from the roots, as that might spread the seeds. Once the weeds have been pulled, be sure to dispose of them in the trash to prevent the spread of this prolific weed.

This is what chamberbitter looks like when mowed along with turfgrass.

Here you can see the small fruit beneath the foliage.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pest Alert: Oriental Fruit Flies found in Pinellas County

According to a recent press release from the Florida Depart of Agriculture and Consumer Services, two male Oriental fruit flies were discovered in traps in Safety Harbor. The Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) discovery has prompted an increase in the local monitoring for this pest in Pinellas County, particularly within an 81 square mile area around the traps where they were found.

According to the press release: “The Oriental fruit fly is considered one of the most serious of the world’s fruit fly pests due to its potential economic harm. It attacks more than 100 different fruits, vegetables and nuts, including citrus, apples, guava, mango, tomatoes and peppers. As with other fruit flies, it is not safe to rule out many plants as potential hosts. The fruit flies lay their eggs in the fruits and vegetables. In a few weeks, the larvae or maggots hatch and render the fruits or vegetables inedible.”

If you have questions please call the Florida Depart of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 888-397-1517.

Oriental fruit fly fact sheet from the University of Florida.

Exotic fruit fly information.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Help, my plants are drowning!

Wow, have we seen a lot of rain over the last week. Many parts of Pinellas County are completely saturated and some are dealing with standing water. Many plants in the landscape are not tolerant of standing water. Under these conditions the roots are unable to get oxygen and essentially the root system suffocates. Some plants can tolerate up to a week or so in these flooded conditions while others will be damaged after only a day or two. Recovery from this situation is just as varied, as some plants will recover in just one growing season while others may decline and die. Healthy established plants will generally fare better than older stressed plants and young seedlings. Here are some of the symptoms that you might see above-ground if your plants have root damage from standing water:

-leaf yellowing or browning
-droopy foliage
-leaf drop
-leaf and stem wilting
-stem and limb die-back
-plant death
The landscape showing signs of root damage due to flooding.

There are some things you can do after this occurs to lessen the damage to some plants. If you have container plants that have been flooded put them up on blocks, bricks, gravel, etc. to allow the drainage of excess water. Due to erosion you may have sediment, mulch, etc. deposited on your plants after the water recedes. Carefully remove this sediment so as not to harm the roots. You may also have exposed tree roots where the soil was washed away. These roots should be covered with soil to protect them. Try to return the soil to its original depth/condition, as putting too much soil on the roots will also reduce the oxygen available to them. The goal is to return to pre-flood conditions as soon as possible. Furthermore, according to the University of Florida, “trees showing signs of flooding stress should have up to ½ the leafy tree canopy removed to reduce the stress imposed by soil conditions. Reducing the size of the canopy will improve the chances for tree survival”. It is recommended that you consult an arborist for this activity.

Wet soils are also favorable for a number of soil-borne root and crown rots including Fusarium spp. and Phytophthora spp. These organisms are responsible for a number of root and crown rots that are potentially fatal. Keep a watchful eye on your landscape after flooding for symptoms that often look similar to drought stress like wilting or a dull appearance to leaves. Contact Extension if you suspect these infections as there are different control and sanitation methods that may help manage the spread of the organisms. Different plant species and root and crown rot species call for different responses that would be too numerous to explore here. So, keep an eye on your landscape and an umbrella at the ready!

Leaf discoloration due to leaf and crown rot in Liriope muscari.

Disclaimer: This post only addresses freshwater flood impacts. Salt water flooding brings with it a host of other issues too numerous to address in this post.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Avocado Lace Bug

The avocado lace bug (Pseudacysta perseae) is a pest that has become increasingly significant to avocado plants since the early 1990s. The avocado (Persea americana) is the main host for this pest in Southern coastal Florida. The avocado lace bug does damage to avocado leaves with its piercing-sucking mouthparts. This pest attacks the underside of the leaves where it feeds by extracting chlorophyll and other plant fluids. This causes destruction of plant cells and leads to the chlorotic and necrotic damage you see in the photos below. When looking at a tree with this pest you may observe leaves that look brown and “scorched”.

The avocado lace bug is a very small pest- only about 2mm as an adult. This can make it difficult to see the insect, but you can see them on the photo of the underside of the leaf- they look like little black specks. It may be easier to see them using a hand lens or you can shake an infested branch over a sheet of white paper. They will be easier to spot and identify on the paper than on the leaf. Here is a close-up of the avocado lace bug:

The adults are the larger ones with the “lacy” wings on the left and the nymphs are the smaller black insects on the right. The black oily-looking specks are the eggs.

If there is a large infestation of avocado lace bugs it may result in some defoliation, and the resulting damage from the pest can become an opening for the introduction of infections. If you discover that your avocado has this pest there are a few controls at your disposal. A strong jet of water will dislodge them from the plant, but may not kill them. This is probably most effective if the infestation is minor. Insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils are effective controls if they are applied directly to the insects. Monitoring for this pest in the future will be necessary and the treatment will need to be repeated as necessary according to the label. Of course, the mechanical control using the jet of water can be used anytime.

Click here for more information:

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tropical Sod Webworms

There are several pests that affect lawns in Florida. (Don’t we know it?) Here we will highlight a particular lawn caterpillar called tropical sod webworm (Herpetogramma phaeopteralis). Tropical sod webworm is an insect that undergoes complete metamorphosis. They have an egg stage, larval stage (several), pupal stage, and adult stage. The most damaging stage of the tropical sod webworm is the larval stage, which we all know as the caterpillar. A mature tropical sod webworm is about ¾”-1” long and is grayish-green in color. The more of your grass they have eaten- the greener they may appear.

Two tropical sod webworm caterpillars. The curled position at center is how you might find them resting during the day in your lawn.

Their turfgrasses of choice include St. Augustinegrass, bermudagrass, and zoysiagrass. They are most active in our area from spring through fall, but can be found year-round in South Florida. They feed on the grass blades and can cause a “ragged” appearance to the blades. If you have tropical sod webworm you may notice a thinning of leaf density and eventually brown patchy areas in the lawn. Tropical sod webworm larvae feed at night and can usually be found during the day coiled up at the soil surface. The presence of the moth (adult stage) is another sign of their existence. These moths lay their eggs on the grass blades and are active mainly from dusk until dawn. Click here for more information on tropical sod webworm and control methods.

The moth (adult stage) of the tropical sod webworm.

A properly maintained lawn can reduce the susceptibility of your turfgrass to these insects. Some of the practices that can strengthen your lawn include: proper mowing height for your turfgrass species, proper irrigation practices, and proper fertilization. Too much nitrogen can cause rapid leaf growth, which in turn increases your odds of caterpillar problems. Click here for more information on proper turfgrass maintenance.

Click here to watch an informative YouTube video on tropical sod webworms by Doug Caldwell, Ph.D., the Commercial Landscape Horticulture Extension Agent in Collier County, FL.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mole Cricket Hunters

Mole cricket, photo courtesy of Texas A&M Univ.

Summer is in full swing! It’s hot, rainy, and plants are growing. All of that tasty succulent growth is like a buffet for a wide array of lawn and garden pests. In the coming weeks you may discover that your lawn has mole crickets. Mole crickets are especially troublesome in bahiagrass lawns, but will damage other types of turfgrass. There are three species of mole crickets found in Florida: the shortwinged mole cricket, Scapteriscus abbreviatus; the southern mole cricket, Scapteriscus borellii; and the tawny mole cricket, Scapteriscus vicinus. Mole crickets are adept at digging and as they tunnel through the ground they sever grass roots. They eat both the roots and shoots of grass and will leave unsightly brown patches in your lawn and sometimes cause the earth to bulge up. To add insult to injury (literally) they are considered a tasty treat by raccoons and armadillos that may dig up your lawn for a mole cricket snack.

Mole cricket damage

There is an easy way to find out if you have these little diggers. Simply mix up a concoction of 1.5 ounces of liquid dishwashing soap in 2 gallons of water. Sprinkle this mixture over 4 square feet if your turf. If 2-4 mole crickets appear within three minutes of the application then you may consider a control program. There are several controls listed in the link below called “Pest Mole Cricket Management”, but I would like to focus on a particularly interesting method using “Mole Cricket Hunters” aka the Larra wasp, as a biocontrol.

Biocontrol is quite simply the use of a beneficial insect to control a pest insect. In the case of mole crickets there is a parasitic wasp called the Larra wasp (Larra bicolor) that will attack all three species of mole cricket here in Florida. (To learn more about the way they attack and kill mole crickets please see the last link below.) The Larra wasps do not sting humans unless you try to catch one and hold it in your hand. But why would anyone do a silly thing like that? They are already present in at least 31 Florida counties, including ours, so all you have to do is encourage them to frequent your landscape. How can you do that? It’s easy: plant host plants that the wasps obtain nectar from. The two most popular choices are shrubby false buttonweed (Spermacoce verticillata) and partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata). They are both Florida native wildflowers and require very little assistance to grow and thrive. The University of Florida’s entomology department recommends planting these before you have a mole cricket problem, but there’s no time like the present to employ an environmentally friendly control like this! For more information please see the following links:

Mole Crickets

Pest Mole Cricket Management

Mole Cricket Hunters

Friday, July 30, 2010

You can help control the mosquito population!

In light of several recent mosquito related stories in the news, it is important to discuss controlling mosquitoes around your home. If water collects in containers like empty pots, gutters, trash cans, and bird baths, in two to three days you may experience an increase in mosquitoes. There are about 70 species of mosquitoes in Florida. They breed in rain pools, floodwater, roadside puddles, and practically any temporary body of fresh water. Eggs are laid by female mosquitoes in dry areas and when it rains the eggs hatch into mosquito larva in the standing water. It only takes three days for the mosquito to become an adult. As little as a half-cup of water can breed enough mosquitoes to cause a problem. There are some helpful things you can do around your home before and after it rains to prevent mosquitoes from maturing:

-Remove or empty small containers, examples: paint buckets, toy buckets, aluminum cans.
-Cover or empty large containers, example: rain barrels, wheel barrels, kiddy pools.
-Change outside pet water bowls regularly.
-Flush bird baths every two days.
-Empty or flush plant saucers and rooting plants in jars.
-Cover or remove tires.
-Clean out gutters.
-Turn canoes and small boats over or cover them.
-Chlorinate swimming pools.
-Stock ornamental ponds with fish.
-Flush water from bromeliads or treat them every 30 days with Bt mosquito granules.
-Remove debris from ditches so the water can flow.
-Fill in any low spots in your yard, if possible.

If everyone in our community would do these simple tasks around their homes, we would have fewer mosquitos in the area and a healthier place to live and work.

Tracking Down your Mosquito Problems

Useful mosquito links

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yellow Poinciana (Peltophorum pterocarpum)

After a long, cold winter (for Florida) we are being rewarded in the landscape. The Yellow Poinciana is in full bloom in parts of Pinellas County, and they are spectacular. Large clusters of bold yellow flowers are blanketing the trees. They are like a ray of sunshine in the tree canopy. The flowers also have a pleasant smell that is often described as grape-like.

The Yellow Poinciana is not native to Florida, but is cold hardy in our area. This tree makes a great shade tree or specimen tree if you have lots of space, but care should be taken not to plant it too close to structures, driveways, or sidewalks. They have a shallow root system that can be destructive to hardscape and also increase the tree’s susceptibility to being blown over in severe wind storms. A Yellow Poinciana may grow as tall as 50’ with a crown spread of 35’-50’, so be sure to give this tree plenty of space. In the right location the Yellow Poinciana can be quite the show stopper!

IFAS Fact Sheet on Yellow Poinciana

Photos courtesy of Jane Morse, Pinellas County Commercial Horticulture Agent.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Drywood termites

Uninvited guests are always a challenge here in the Sunshine State- whether it’s insects or your aunt that won’t leave your guest room. Here’s a little bit of information about one of these unwelcome visitors, the drywood termite.

The drywood termite (genus Cryptotermes) refers to a group of termites that live within and feed on wood, as opposed to subterranean termites which have their colonies in the ground. One drywood termite in particular, the West Indian Drywood Termite, Cryptotermes brevis (pictured above), is widespread in the tropics and common in Florida. Drywood termites can be identified by looking at the wings of the alates. Alates are the reproductive stage, also known as swarmers. They have two pair of hairless wings with three or four dark veins on the leading edge of each wing. (Subterranean termites will have only two of these darkened veins.) The bodies are medium brown in color and just under a half-inch long, including wings. The alates fly from dusk until dawn and are attracted to lights. This behavior is usually noted between April and June, but we have been getting calls and specimens here at Extension with more frequency lately.

To check for damage within your home you will want to look for the following:
-A blistered appearance on wood.
-A hollow sound when wood is tapped.
-The presence of fecal pellets, or frass (pictured below, enlarged to show detail) found in piles. This frass is actually similar in size to coffee grounds, about 1-2mm.

If you suspect a drywood termite infestation, call a licensed Pest Control Operator for inspection. You may also begin by bringing a specimen to the Pinellas County Extension for identification and control information.

Drywood Termite Fact Sheet

Is it an ant or a termite?

Drywood termite control options