Sod webworms sightings.

Homeowners with St. Augustinegrass and Zoysiagrass are starting to see tiny tan moths erratically flying over the lawn.  These moths will rest in turf and other groundcovers and fly up when disturbed. They are not strong flyers so they tend to come to rest in plant material short distances away.

The adult female moths will lay small cluster of eggs on the grass blades at night.  About a week later, larvae emerge and begin feeding on grass blades in the evening.  On St. Augustinegrass, there will often be notches along the edges of the blades. In zoysiagrass, there is a surface blade feeding which makes blades look whitish.

Sod webworm damage in a St. Augustinegrass lawn

The first signs of sod webworm damage in a St. Augustingrass lawn. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.



Caterpillar damage on Zoysiagrass. Photo from UF IFAS Extension.

Damage often occurs in localized spots and then can spread out depending on the intensity of the infestation.  In many lawns,  areas look a little ragged and may appear shorter than surrounding grass  Since turf is actively growing at this time of year, it can often regrow after feeding damage.

If you have a more serious issue that is resulting in thinning areas, you may need to make an insecticide application. Consider a least toxic approach like B.t. or spinosad or apply a more broad spectrum lawn insecticide as a spot treatment.  Make your application in the early evening and follow label directions for applying water.  Be patient and remember that grass often has time to recover from  damage during late summer and early fall.

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A Pollinator Favorite

African blue basil is an attractive warm season feature in the garden. Photo by Beth Bolles, UFIFAS Extension Escambia County

Basils are a favorite plant in the summer herb garden and an absolute must for those who enjoy fresh leaves for a sandwich or delicious homemade pesto. While we grow basils as a food enhancer, an added benefit is that those basil selections that form flowers area very attractive to pollinators.  If you would rather not let your favorite basil form flowers, consider adding a specific species that is grown more for its attractiveness to pollinators than its culinary uses.

African blue basil is a hybrid of two basils that has inherited a camphor flavor from one of its parents. Although edible, the flavor may not be appealing to those who are familiar with more traditional basil flavors.  Plants produce abundant flowers that are pink with a dark purple base, although flowers are sterile so no seeds will be formed.  If you want more African blue basil, you must purchase transplants or start your own from cuttings off the main plants.

Many bees and beneficial wasps will visit flowers of African blue basil. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Like other basils, African blue basil does like soils amended with composts that are well drained. Plants thrive in full sun and will form rounded mounds that will be much larger than more culinary basils, up to five feet in some gardens.  Plants do form woody stems and although frost tender, some plants may return in the spring in more protected areas.

Although some edible gardeners may not want to allow space for a basil that they will not use in the kitchen, the amount of pollinator activity on this selection makes it a benefit to any edible garden for all the frost free months.

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Not All Palm Fertilizers are the Same

Palms are often lacking nutrients in our sandy soil but realize that not all palm fertilizers are good for your plant. Look for a fertilizer where all the nutrients are in a slow release form. The fertilizer analysis will be 8-2-12-4 (Nitrogen – Phosphorus – Potassium – Magnesium). Also read further on the label for Polymer Coasted Sulfate of Potash, Magnesium Sulfate (Kieserite), and Chelate (Iron EDTA). These are the forms of nutrients that will be beneficial to your palms. Apply 1.5 lbs of this fertilizer per 100 square feet of area.

Potassium deficiency begins in older leaves that yellow and then have brown margins. Pruning these off will make the deficiency worse.

Learn more about palm fertilizing In the Garden

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Garden Drama with Amazon Dianthus

We may shy away from drama in our lives but drama in the garden is always welcome. One plant series that will be a prominent feature in any garden bed is the Amazon Dianthus series.

Amazon Dianthus series is showy in the garden or in a container. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Although we normally consider Fall the time to plant dianthus, the Amazon Series developed by PanAmerican Seed company can be planted in Spring for blooms that extend into Summer. This is the combination of two dianthus and the results are plants with striking colors and longer blooming cycles.

The Amazon series comes in a few bright colors including Amazon Neon Cherry, Amazon Neon Pink, and Amazon Rose Magic. Flowers are held on stems about 1.5-2′ tall and foliage is an attractive dark green. Plants are generally low maintenance but be sure to deadhead flowers as they fade. Plants will need rich, well drained soil and full sun.

Neon Cherry. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Neon Pink. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County











If you don’t have room for the Amazon dianthus series in your landscape, plants will also grow well in containers to brighten a patio or deck.

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Native Shrub Option for our Sandy Soil

We often talk about sandy, nutrient poor soil in Florida and how difficult it is for growing many favorite landscape plants. Gardeners may spend considerable time and money amending soils with organic matter to improve the quality for growing plants.

The low maintenance approach is to embrace your sandy soil and consider plants that thrive in sandy, well drained soil. One very attractive native shrub that actually prefers this type of soil is False rosemary, Conrandina canescens.

False rosemary is a member of the mint family that is well adapted to drier, sandy soils. It can be found in many coastal communities growing in natural areas.  It is easily recognized in the spring and early summer by light purple blooms.  Considered a small shrub or groundcover, False rosemary needs full sun.  One plant can easily spread out to 4-5 feet with a height of 2-3 feet.

False rosemary is an attractive native plant for Gulf Coast landscapes. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF Escambia County Extension

False rosemary does have aromatic foliage and is attractive to bees. It is a very low maintenance plant once established and the few plant issues tend to be related to soils with too much moisture and plants being shaded after establishment.  New seedlings will emerge around the main plant when growing conditions are right.  If you want to try this native plant in your landscape, talk to your local nursery.

False rosemary flowers are attractive to pollinators. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF Escambia County Extension

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Lack of Winter Chill a Problem for Fruit

Many of us are enjoying our warmer temperatures this winter, but many deciduous fruit crops really need cold temperatures in order to break dormancy for the year.  In areas that experience cold temperatures plants have evolved the ability to survive by slowing growth and protecting sensitive tissues by going dormant.  In order to break out of dormancy and begin growth again, plants experience an amount of chill hours (temps between 32 and 45 degrees F) that is suitable for specific areas.  In our area, we normally range between 400 and 600 chills hours.

Arapaho blackberry has chill requirements that match those received in our area.

If we choose a fruit plant whose chill requirements match the amount of chill in our area, the plant will generally resume growth when it is safe for buds and tender tissues to develop.  If we choose a plant with chill requirements higher than the amount our area receives, then the plant is not signaled to break dormancy and we end up with very sparse growth and no fruit.

So far in the winter of 2016-17, Escambia County has not received ‘normal’ amounts of chilling temperatures.  Common fruit like apple, peach, some blueberries, and certain selections of blackberries may be affected by this by not breaking out of dormancy.  This can impact your flower and fruit formation.  For commercial growers, it can impact the amount of fruit available and even fruit prices at markets.

Since fruit trees are an investment of time and money, these are not plants that can be easily replanted to match chill hours with changing weather patterns.  Your future decisions to grow fruit trees may include crops that don’t rely as much on chill hours to be successful.


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An Important Tip When Installing Sod

It won’t be long before homeowners start thinking about sodding a new lawn or renovating areas of their existing turf. Although sodding when turf is dormant is acceptable, it is best to install sod that is green. One reason is that you can see if any sod pieces are infested with weeds such as bermudagrass . This perennial grass is very difficult to manage once it becomes established in centipede, St. Augustine, or zoysiagrass. Always remove turf pieces with bemuda during the installation process to prevent it from taking over a patch of your new lawn.

Bermudagrass growing in a piece of centipede sod. This piece should have been removed during installation to prevent the bermudagrass from taking over a patch of new centipede lawn.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Disturb the Rootball

A new tree or shrub is an investment for the future. When we pick an ornamental plant, we have the hope that it will survive for many years and offer seasons of beauty that enhance our landscape.  Time is often spent picking a suitable spot, preparing the planting hole, and watering until establishment.  We give it the best of care to make certain that our new plant becomes a more or less permanent feature.

With all of our tender love and care for new ornamentals, there is one important practice that we may neglect. Most homeowners purchase plants in containers and it is common to find rootballs with circling roots.  If any root ball problems are not addressed before installation, the life of your plant may be shorter than you want.

Ten years after installtion, this plant was ultimately killed by girdling, circling roots.

Ten years after installation, this plant was ultimately killed by girdling, circling roots. Photo by Warren Tate, Escambia County Master Gardeners.

The best practice for woody ornamentals is to cut any roots that are circling the trunk or container. Homeowners may slice downward through the rootball around the entire plant. For shrubs, it is recommended to shave off “the entire outside periphery of the rootball” to eliminate circling roots. These practices allow the root system to grow outward into new soil and greatly reduce the possibility of girdling roots killing your plants years after establishment.

Circling roots are cut before installation. Photo by Beth Bolles, Escambia County Extension

For more information on shrub establishment, visit the UF Publication Planting Shrubs in the Florida Landscape.

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Look More Deeply for Causes of Plant Wilt

Plants have specific ways of telling gardeners that there is a problem but not all plant symptoms lead us directly to the cause. During drier conditions, we often use wilting leaves as an indicator that water is needed.  This can be a reliable symptom that the soil is lacking moisture but it is not always the case.  Wilting leaves and herbaceous branches actually tell us that there is not adequate water in the plant.  It does not necessarily indicate lack of moisture in the soil.

Leaf wilt may not always indicate dry soil.

Leaf wilt may not always indicate dry soil.

There can be many reasons why water is not being absorbed by roots and moved to tissues in the plant. The obvious place to start is by checking soil moisture.  If soil is powdery several inches deep around the plant, water is likely needed. However, if you ball the soil up in your hand and it holds together, there may be another reason for lack of water reaching the upper plant parts.  The harder part is determining why the root system is not taking up water.  Causes can be a rotted root system from too much water, a poorly developed root ball that has circling or kinked roots, and even problems in the soil such as compaction.  Insects, diseases, and other pathogens can also injure root systems preventing the uptake of water.

So before automatically grabbing the hose or turning on the sprinkler, do a little soil investigation to make sure that the plant wilt is really indicating lack of water in the soil. If you need help in your diagnosis, always contact your local Extension office.

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Spiny Orb Weaver Spider

The year’s mild winter and frequent rain showers have created lush lawns and gardens with an abundance of insects. As a result, we are seeing many predator arthropods taking advantage of the available feast.  One of the morning interesting creatures in the garden is the spiny orb weaver spider (Gasteracantha cancriformis) that has an interesting body shape.

Spiny orb weavers are common spiders in landscapes that might not be noticed since they are much smaller than the Yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) and the Golden silk spider (Nephila clavipes). Once viewed, the spiny orb weaver will catch your attention because it’s abdomen has six ‘spines’ or points that extend out.  Spiders also have a mix of yellow, white, red, or black marking on the abdomen.


Spiny orb weaver in the center of the web waiting for a meal. Photo by Beth Bolles

Although spiders are small, the webs which are common amongst shrubs, trees, and edges of woods become quite substantial in the fall. There may be up to 30 spirals that extend out with the spider situated in the center.  You may unexpectedly encounter a web when walking through the garden or mowing around trees and shrubs.  There is no worry if a spider accidently gets on you as bites are not common and not considered serious.

Spider working on her web. Photo by Beth Bolles

Spider working on her web. Photo by Beth Bolles

Some may refer to the spiny orb weaver as a crab spider based on its shape, but it is a web building where the true crab spiders are active hunters often found resting on flowers in order to ambush a meal.

Enjoy our fall weather and look out for this beneficial spider in your landscape.

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