Your lawn and nature

Our concept of the perfect, lush green lawn is often not at all what nature intended. If nature had its way, lawns would be meadows, fields, brush, and finally, trees. Large open spaces planted in just one type of plant are a feast for nature’s host of insects and diseases.
When it comes to pests in a lawn, many homeowners seem to be more concerned about the appearance of their lawn and less worried about the cost of controlling these pests. Turfgrass can tolerate a certain number of insects without being killed. But, the same number of insects can cause significant visual damage. The seriousness of an insect problem can depend on the visible damage that the homeowner is willing to tolerate.
If your level of tolerance is zero, then your approach will be a lot different from that of the average homeowner who can tolerate some damage. Zero tolerance can cost a lot of money and time. And it can contribute to long-term environmental problems. Floridians spend millions to control insects on lawns.
Scientists tell us that insects can become resistant to insecticides. It is possible to kill most pest insects with insecticides but at least a few survive. And, it’s the ones that survive that develop resistance to insecticides and then pass the resistance to their offspring. The next time these insects become a problem, the same insecticide won’t effectively control them. Insect resistance is a constant challenge for agricultural scientists.
Gaining a better understanding of the biology of pests and their ecology allows us to reduce pesticide applications or use more environmentally friendly chemicals. Research also makes it possible to find natural enemies of insect pests, which can help keep pest populations in check. Scientists also help develop turfgrass varieties that are more insect resistant.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to change public perception. It means changing public expectations. It means that a certain amount of damage is acceptable to use pesticides more effectively. Such expectations change slowly.
I’m not saying that we should do away with our lawns. I am saying that perhaps our expectations for our lawns are too high. Use lawn grass where it is needed, where it serves a purpose. Take time to become better familiar with the type of lawn grass you have, along with how to manage it correctly. And even though we do have some tools to help battle the array of lawn pests, if you set out to have that “perfect” lawn, be ready to do battle with nature, a continual and perhaps lifelong struggle.
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Too deep

Planting trees and shrubs too deep is a common cause for plant decline or death. In some cases, it only takes planting the roots a few inches too deep to stunt or kill a nice tree or shrub.

There are two ways that deep planting results in decline and/or death of landscape plants. It suffocates roots and rots the base of the trunks.

Tree and shrub roots must have oxygen. Roots grow and live where there is adequate oxygen. As a result of suddenly being placed too deep in the ground, the roots slowly suffocate, die and decay. It can take months to a few years for plants to show symptoms that there is a problem. By then, it’s too late to undo or to correct the problem.

In addition to root suffocation, the lower part of the plant’s trunk begins to rot as a result of being planted too deep. The trunk is supposed to be exposed to air, not covered with soil. As a result of being covered with soil, the bark and wood begin to rot and the plant’s vascular system becomes compromised. Sugars manufactured in the leaves through photosynthesis are the plant’s food. These sugars move down to “feed” the roots through the inner bark (phloem). As the soil covered bark and phloem decay, the movement of these sugars is decreased and the roots slowly starve. Again, the resulting plant decline is usually slow.

To prevent planting depth problems with trees and shrubs, follow these planting guidelines.

Before planting, find the point where the top most main root emerges from the plant’s trunk. This point is called the trunk flare, as the trunk usually suddenly gains diameter (flares out) at the point of main root attachment. Because many plants will already be too deep in the container, you may have to remove the upper most potting medium before finding one or more main roots. The main roots I’m referring to will be comparable in diameter to some of the plant’s main limbs in diameter. If all you’re finding are small fibrous roots, you’ll have to keep digging until you uncover at least one of the main roots. Next, dig a hole just deep enough to allow the tree or shrub to be placed in its new hole so that this uppermost main root is at the soil surface, level with surrounding grade, after the plant has been planted. It’s best to err on the side of planting too shallow verses too deep.

More information on how to plant trees and shrubs correctly is available through these UF/IFAS Extension links. Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

To winterize or not to winterize? That is the question.

Many people fertilize their lawns too late with too much nitrogen. They wrongly call this practice “winterizing.”

The word “winterizer” is misleading. Many of the so-called winterizer fertilizers available in our area can cause more damage than good. The time to fertilize our warm-season grasses in Florida is during the growing season, not when the grasses are going to “sleep” for the winter.

Our lawn grasses respond to day length and temperature. As the days become shorter in late summer and fall and the temperatures become cooler, our lawn grasses begin to slow down in growth as they prepare to become dormant for winter.

Applying high nitrogen fertilizer toward the end of the lawn growing season interferes with the dormancy process, forcing the lawn to “wake up” (produce new tender growth) at the wrong time of year. You set the lawn up for cold injury.

That late young, tender growth is more susceptible to cold injury and is likely to be damaged by the first frost or freeze. And, many times, this damage goes unnoticed until the following spring when sections of the lawn fail to green up. In North Florida, mid-September would be the latest that the University of Florida recommends applying nitrogen to our warm-season lawns.

Fall is somewhat a mirror image of spring. The day length of fall (Autumnal equinox) is 12 hours, and the day length of spring (Vernal equinox) is 12 hours. Equinox means “equal night.” Most places on Earth has approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness during the beginning of fall and spring. Our air temperatures are somewhat similar during spring and fall, as well.

Because spring and fall conditions are very similar, we need to be careful with fertilizer timing. A somewhat comical way of thinking about this is that the lawn doesn’t know if you want to go dormant or resume growth when you apply fertilizer too late in fall under spring-like conditions. It doesn’t know if it’s time to “wake up” or go to “sleep.”

Our lawn grasses actively grow during the warmer months of spring, summer, and early fall. They are designed to go dormant in fall and winter. The cooler temperatures (particularly cooler night temperatures) and shorter autumn days trigger these grasses to slow down.

Also, for the fertilizer to benefit your lawn, it needs to be applied while the grass is actively growing when the grass can readily take it in. As the lawn is going dormant and when the soil temperature is cooler, much of the fertilizer that could have benefited the grass is wasted and ends up in our groundwater.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Timing is everything

Hot summer months are not the time to use most lawn herbicides.
“Do not apply when the temperature exceeds 90°F.”
“Allow 12 hours after application before watering maximum lawn effectiveness on listed weeds.”
“Apply the product when weeds are small and actively growing in the spring or fall.”
“Over-application or rates above those recommended on this label can cause turf injury.”
“To the extent consistent with applicable law, the buyer assumes all risks of use, storage or handling of this product not per label directions.”
“It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”
“Apply only when the wind is no more than ten mph.”
“Avoid drift onto vegetables, flowers, and unlabeled ornamental shrubs and plants as injury may result.”
“Applying this product in calm weather when rain is not predicted for the next 24 hours will help to ensure that wind or rain does not blow or wash pesticide off the treatment area.”
“Do not apply this product to St. Augustinegrass (all varieties) below 50°F. Do not apply to St. Augustinegrass (all varieties) when temperatures are above 85°F unless temporary turf injury can be tolerated. Do not make applications of this product to St. Augustinegrass when the turf is going into dormancy in the fall, or if temperatures are expected to drop below 40°F within ten days of application.”
“Use caution when applying this product to warm-season turfgrasses when the turf is going into dormancy in the fall or coming out of dormancy in the spring as some injury may occur.”
“Do not broadcast apply this product when air temperatures are above 90°F (85°F for St. Augustinegrass) unless temporary turf injury can be tolerated.”
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Renewed fire ant activity in fall

Fire ants’ fondness of fall arouses a flurry of activity. And that renewed activity provides an opportunity to control this pesky insect. The thing that triggers the increase in fall fire ant activity is the mild temperature range. 

Two primary means of controlling fire ants work best when daytime temperatures range from 70°F to 85°F. That’s because the fire ants are closer to the soil surface and more active in that range.  

When treating single mounds with a contact insecticide, it’s critical to treat when the queen and brood are close to the surface, between 70 and 85 degrees. And when using any fire ant bait, it’s best to put that out when the ants are foraging for food. And they are most actively doing that between 70 to 85 degrees. Be sure to follow all label directions on the product for the best results. 

Actively foraging ants will pick up a bait and carry it back into the nest within minutes. That’s important because the baits tend to go rancid quickly and are no longer attractive to ants. So, if you put a bait out when it’s too hot, above 90°F, or too cool, below 60°F, it’s just going to sit there. 

The window for treating fire ants during fall is narrow. As the fall deepens and winter comes on, temperatures may quickly dip below the ants’ ideal range. The ants move deeper in their nests and become less active.

The sudden appearance of large mounds in fall isn’t a sign of a fire ant population explosion. It’s mainly that the ants already there have become more active and visible. Rain has a great deal to do with that. In hot, dry weather, you don’t see much change in fire ant mounds. When the weather cools, though, the ants become more active. Then, when it rains, the mounds seem to pop out of the soil, and the fire ants bring the wet soil up out of the nest, building up the mound. Mounds more than a foot high have been there close to a year or longer. The mounds of younger colonies will be much smaller. 

Even though you probably will not kill one hundred percent of the fire ant nests you treat, the fall is an excellent time to reduce their numbers. 

For more information on fire ants and their control, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or use the following link to access an Extension publication on fire ants. 

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Landscaping for Wildlife

Landscaping to create a wildlife habitat is not tricky, but careful planning is needed. This involves planning to include food, shelter, and water for those wild critters you wish to attract. 

To improve wildlife habitat, one place to start is to replace unused or declining lawn areas with beds or groupings of trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants. Including low-maintenance native plants in your landscape can be a key to attracting wildlife. 

We have a wealth of native plants from which to choose in Florida. The following are a few native plants suitable for use in North Florida landscapes to provide food and cover for wildlife. Native maples such as Florida maple and red maple produce seeds that squirrels use. Nuts from hickory trees are important food for many wild animals. Many birds eat the fruit from our native dogwood during the fall and winter. The bright red berries of the American and Dahoon hollies are an excellent food for birds and other wildlife, and they provide ornamental value to the landscape during winter. Southern red cedar provides both superb nesting cover and small fruits for birds. The black gum or tupelo is a good bee tree, and it provides berries for many mammals. The cabbage palm has fruits that are important to many of our native wild animals. Florida has more native plants suitable for use in home landscapes than any other state. In most cases, our native animals do best in landscapes with plants native to the area in which they live. 

Leaving a couple of dead trees on an average-sized lot can easily provide a nesting site for many cavity-nesting birds such as kestrels and woodpeckers. For safety and aesthetic reasons, consider leaving a dead tree a reasonable distance from a house or removing the top portion. Properly placed and cared for nest boxes also can enhance cavity-nesting bird populations. 

Leaving a low natural area or wet spot on your property where seasonal flooding occurs or creating a permanent water source can attract wildlife in an urban environment. A reliable, clean source of water is essential, especially during hot summer months. Small ponds and birdbaths are good ways to provide water. Keep in mind that many birds prefer baths with textured bottoms for firm footing, and butterflies generally do not drink free-standing water. 

The following UF/IFAS Extension links provide more information on landscaping for wildlife. 

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Don’t blame goldenrod


Goldenrod is easily recognizable this time of year with its showy yellow flowers held high on stems moving back and forth by autumn winds. A field full of these vivid yellow blossoms is a sight to see with a bright blue fall sky as a background. But too often, this plant is blamed for the sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes that many people suffer while goldenrod is blooming.

The common culprit causing these allergy symptoms is ragweed, not goldenrod. Ragweed blooms at the same time as goldenrod, August to frost. Some sources report that seventy-five percent of all Americans with allergies to pollen-producing plants are also allergic to ragweed pollen.

Ragweed releases billions of tiny, lightweight pollen grains into the air this time of year. Its windborne pollen causes much of the hay fever problems. Goldenrod pollen is too large and heavy, and sticky to be windborne. It relies on insects to carry its pollen. I suppose if you put your nose up into a cluster of goldenrod flowers and took a big sniff, you might be bothered by the pollen. But otherwise, it’s not going to get into your nose.

Goldenrod is an innocent bystander as ragweed remains camouflaged, releasing its pollen. Ragweed visually blends in with other green plants. Even though common ragweed, an annual, can grow three to greater than six feet in height, it just does not get your attention. It is pretty common along roadsides, vacant lots, and abandoned fields. Its inconspicuous flowers start as green, similar in color to the leaves, turn yellowish-green, and finally dry to brown. They are never showy. 

You could attempt some basic control options to remove ragweed on your property, such as hoeing, hand-pulling, or mowing young plants. But common ragweed is found in every state in the United States except for Alaska and is located in most Canada. And, I have seen sources indicating that ragweed pollen can travel up to 700 miles carried by the wind. 

Enjoy the bright yellow flowers of goldenrod this fall. But please do not blame them for your allergies.

Additional information is available online at and from the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County. 

Other Extension topics available on this site or from the Extension Office in your County include agriculture, natural resources, 4-H & youth development, lawn and garden, and family resources. 

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Office

2021 Peanut Butter Challenge

Spread the word and the peanut butter. Join County Extension Offices around Florida along with University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the Florida Peanut Producers Association to help take a bite out of hunger by participating in a local peanut butter drive.

We are competing against other peanut producing counties in Florida for the most jars of peanut butter donated. Participate and help make your County a winner. The Florida Peanut Producers Association and the Florida Peanut Federation match donations.

Bring unopened jars of peanut butter to one of the below drop-off locations October 1 through November 24. All peanut butter collected will be donated to local food pantries to help feed families in need during Farm-City Week.

Peanuts are grown on an estimated 163,000 acres in Florida with Okaloosa County growing almost 3,000 acres. The two largest peanut producing counties in Northwest Florida are Jackson County with almost 35,000 acres and Santa Rosa County with more than 22,000 acres.

Ten states grow 99% of the U.S. peanut crop: Georgia (which grows about 42% of all U. S. peanuts), followed by Texas, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The southeast is the largest peanut production region, with Florida producing approximately 9% of the total national crop.

The majority of peanuts grown in Florida are dried, shelled and processed into peanut butter, roasted nuts, candy or other products. But for those that enjoy boiled peanuts, we do have some fresh market peanuts, also referred to as “green” or “boiling” peanuts sold this time of year as peanuts are being harvested.

It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. About 290 million US residents eat peanut butter as a high-protein, high-energy, high-nutrient delicious food according to a 2017 survey. Keep children eating locally grown peanuts in healthy, nutritious and yummy peanut butter by donating jars of peanut butter.

Drop-off locations include:

The UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County

Okaloosa County Extension Office
3098 Airport Road in Crestview
Open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Okaloosa County Farm Bureau Office
921 West James Lee Blvd. (Hwy. 90) in Crestview
Open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Note: Some locations will be closed Wednesday, November 11 for Veteran’s Day observance.

For more information about the Peanut Butter Challenge, contact the Okaloosa County Extension Office at (850) 689-5850. Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent

Prune Azaleas in Spring

Florida Flame Azalea

Q. Is it too late in the year to prune my azaleas? My azaleas are leggy and open. I’d like for them to be fuller in appearance. 

A. The best time to prune azaleas is in spring when their flowers have faded but before July. Azaleas begin forming their flower buds in late summer to early fall. So, avoid pruning too late because doing so will either disrupt flower bud initiation or remove the dormant flower buds altogether. The result of pruning azaleas too late (after July) is few to no flowers the following spring. 

There’s a couple of basic ways to go about pruning azaleas. You can quickly shape them with pruning shears, or you can take a little more time and strategically remove only the taller shoots. The desired result will help you decide which method to use. If you want a more formal-looking plant, you may wish to shape the plant with shears. If you want a more natural-looking plant, you can take out the taller shoots. I usually prefer to mostly prune out the taller shoots through a series of thinning cuts. In doing this, I follow the taller shoots back into the plant and try to cut them where they originate. In other words, I prune them where they come out of another branch or the main trunk with hand pruners. By doing this, I reduce the overall height without having to shear the plants. The result is a more natural-looking plant instead of one that looks like a ball or box from being sheared. 

It’s important to know that the new growth produced due to a pruning cut is produced a few inches below the cut. So, you’ll need to make strategic pruning cuts where you’d like the plant to fill in and be less leggy – remembering that new growth only occurs a few inches below each cut. You may need to come back after the new shoots reach eight to twelve inches in length and prune them back to stimulate new growth. This should result in a fuller/thicker, less open plant. You should be able to do all this before July. 

You can strategically remove a few taller branches to help make the plant more uniform at any time without reducing flower production. But shearing or severely pruning azaleas after July will significantly reduce next spring’s flower production. 

More information on azaleas is available at or from the UF/IFAS Extension office in your County. 

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Office

Right plant, right place results in Florida-friendly landscape

Tree roots impacting parking area. Photo courtesy of IFAS

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to speak at the International Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot in Orlando. I provided eight presentations on the topic “Right Plant, Right Place.”

The audiences consisted of people mostly from Florida but there were attendees from other parts of the U.S. and even from other countries in attendance. I started each presentation with the question, “Do any of you have all the right plants in all the right places in your landscape?” Not a single hand was raised in response to this question.

Most people do not have all the right plants in all the right places in their landscapes, including myself. Hopefully, no one is on the other extreme of having all the wrong plants in all the wrong places, either.

Most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes. As a Florida gardener, you’d be wise to better implement this idea into your landscape.

Right plant, right place does require some knowledge of your property’s site conditions and knowledge of plants to be used on the site. The main idea is to best match the plants to the existing site conditions.

How often do we place shade loving plants in full sun or poor salt tolerant plants along the coast or plants that are native to wet areas such as wax myrtles on deep sandy, dry sites? These misplaced plants will not be “happy” and eventually will have problems.

How often do we take a plant in a gallon size container, plant it under a low window and expect it to stay the same size? Or, what about the sixty-foot tree under a twenty-foot power line. Plants are designed to grow. Find out the mature size, in height and width, and place the plant where it has plenty of room to develop into its mature size.

Right plant, right place involves choosing plants that will stand up to our wind climate, humidity, heat, rain, winter weather, etc. Certain plants such as tulip and lilac don’t perform well here because of the lack of sufficient cold weather and the fact that it becomes too hot too early. But we can grow other flowering bulbs such as amaryllis and other flowering shrubs and trees such as crape myrtle and chaste tree.

With some planning and forethought in selecting and placing plants, your Florida landscape can be aesthetically pleasing, easier to maintain and more Florida-friendly.

For additional information on selecting the right plants for your landscape, contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office in your County or visit the below website.

Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent