Gardening In The Panhandle

Fall is an Excellent Time to Plant Daylilies

Fall is an Excellent Time to Plant Daylilies

Daylilies in full bloom. Image credit UF / IFAS Solutions Website

“A penny saved is a penny earned” is the famously frugal advice from Poor Richard’s Almanac. The author Benjamin Franklin, elder statesman and founding father of the United States, offered this simple pearl of wisdom to 18th century American colonist to remind them to cautiously manage their assets.

This concept has met the test of time and had been resurrected in a variety of guises. Individuals, families, companies and governments have all applied a variation of this resource management concept, especially when their economic outlooks are challenged.

As basic as the idea is it can be applied to almost any situation, even the home landscape. Daylilies, the commonly encountered flowering ornamental in many 21st century Wakulla County gardens, is an excellent example of getting the most return for the least output.

The daylily is a popular flowering perennial with East Asian origins which has adapted well to Florida landscapes. Plants are available in a wide variety of growth habits, flower shapes and colors, including yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, near-white and shades and combinations of all of these.

Flowering starts in March for early-season bloomers with late-season cultivars starting in mid-May. The typical bloom period is about four to seven weeks, although some varieties bloom even longer.

Daylilies are colorful and easy to grow. Propagation is easy this time of year, just dig, separate, and replant.

As their name accurately indicates, daylilies are members of the lily family, in the genus Hemerocallis. “Hemero” is Greek for “day” and “callis” for “beauty,” so the scientific name translates to beauty for a day.

For the adventurous eater, the flower buds and petals of daylilies are edible raw, boiled, stir-fried, steamed, stuffed, or battered and fried. Dried daylily petals, called “golden needles,” are used in numerous Chinese dishes.

Many of the modern varieties of daylilies available today have been developed from native Chinese species. Early settlers from Europe and Asia brought many of the original species with them to America.

Daylilies grow best in full sun or filtered shade. The darker colored red and purple varieties flourish better in partial shade, while light colored yellows, pinks and pastels varieties need full sun to bring out their best colors.

The filtered light level under pine trees is ideal for growing daylilies. Heavy shade should be avoided because it will cause thin, spindly growth and poor flowering.

The soil pH should be between 6.2 and 6.8, with 6.5 being optimal.

The soil of daylily beds should be topped with three to four inches of organic matter, such as peat, compost, or well-rotted manure. The amended soil should be mixed or tilled, leveled and then moistened.

Daylilies survive dry conditions well because of their extensive root systems. However, the number and size of blooms, plant growth, and overall vigor can be adversely affected by prolonged drought.

Daylilies multiply fairly rapidly and plant division is an easy way to propagate them for new locations in the home landscape or to share with friends. Division is best done immediately after the flowering season.

Dig the entire clump and shake or wash off the soil without damaging the roots. It is easy to see where the divisions can be made with smaller clumps being easily pulled free to establish a new planting.

The home gardener can expand and share the beauty of these perennials and only spend a little time to accomplish this. No doubt Ben Franklin and Poor Richard would approve.

For more information, check out this excellent publication titled “Daylilies for Florida”.


Author: Les Harrison –

Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, Agriculture and Natural Resources. He works with small and medium sized producers in the Big Bend region of north Florida on a wide range of topics. He has a Master’s of Science Degree in Agricultural Economics from Auburn University and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Journalism from the University of Florida.

Les Harrison

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Prepare NOW to Avoid Lawn Burweed Infestation Later

Prepare NOW to Avoid Lawn Burweed Infestation Later

Burweed, Soliva Sessilis. – Image Credit: Joseph M. DiTomaso, University of California – Davis, Creative Commons License

On the top of my list of lawn related annoyances is stepping into a patch of burweed, Soliva sessilis, which is in the sunflower family and is also known as spurweed. The leaves are opposite along the stem and sometimes resemble parsley. The main ways in which burweed can irk the casual gardener are sticking to socks, sneaking in with the dog, or littering flower beds with its nuisance. It can also hide in the house and reappear when shoes are removed. This causes pain in both the foot and the ear.

Lawn burweed has been an especially noticeable problem in lawns. Over the years, extension offices throughout Northwest Florida have been fielding many questions and finding solutions to lawn burweed infestations!

Maintaining a healthy vigorous lawn will prevent weeds from taking over. If your lawn is reasonably healthy and only a few instances of this weed exist, try to mechanically remove them and encourage the lawn to outgrow them.

If an infestation of burweed occurred last year on a specific patch of turf, take note. The best time to apply pre-emergent herbicides to control burweed is in October, when nighttime temperatures drop to between 55-60 degrees F for a few consecutive nights. A widely used pre-emergence product for burweed control is isoxaben, which is sold under the brand name of Gallery as well as others. It prevents the weed from emerging from the ground when it germinates and can be used on St. Augustine, centipede, bahia and zoysia lawns, as well as in ornamental shrub beds. In northwest Florida, this herbicide needs to be applied in October for best results. A second application later in the season might be warranted. For more information about control, please consult this excellent article on lawn burweed management.

Now is the time to control burweed before it gets started. As temperatures cool  burweed seed will germinate, as it is a winter annual. In cases where it is already coming up, control with post-emergent herbicide may be warranted.


The active ingredients mentioned above are present in a variety of ‘trade name’ products* available from your local garden center, farm supply or co-op. Be sure to read label instructions carefully and contact your local extension office for any assistance. I hope all the northwest Florida lawn managers prevent burweed this fall so that lawns will be burweed free next spring.

Happy Gardening!



Author: Matthew Orwat –

Matthew J. Orwat started his career with UF / IFAS in 2011 and is the Horticulture Extension Agent for Washington County Florida. His goal is to provide educational programming to meet the diverse needs of and provide solutions for homeowners and small farmers with ornamental, turf, fruit and vegetable gardening objectives. Please feel free to contact him with any questions you may have.

Matthew Orwat

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Readying Your Raised Beds for Northwest Florida’s Best Gardening Season

Readying Your Raised Beds for Northwest Florida’s Best Gardening Season

I had to do a hard thing last week.  My battle-worn okra, eggplant and pepper plants that had produced so reliably since June and endured all the summertime challenges (heat, insects, disease, and a hurricane to name a few) were finally pulled out of my raised bed garden and discarded.  A combination of lowered yields, increased insect pressure, and the fact that one can only eat so much okra in a calendar year sealed their fate.

However, before planting our cool-season veggie favorites, like those tender leafy greens and wonderfully crunchy carrots, there are a few things to do to get our raised beds in shape to give maximum yield performance and make growing a little easier.

Replenish the Soil

One of the main benefits of raised beds is the ability to grow in near-perfect soil conditions.  If I was relegated to gardening in my yard’s less than ideal native sandy soil, I might have given up altogether by now and I suspect many of you would be in the same boat.  Raised beds totally alleviate this problem and give gardeners the opportunity to grow in rich, fertile soil composed of your favorite homemade soil mixture (mine is two parts mushroom compost to one part aged pine bark) or commercial potting mix/compost.  However, at the end of each growing season, you will notice you have a bit less soil in your beds than you did at the beginning.  While frustrating, this is a natural process for soils rich in organic material – they naturally break down and decompose!   So to give your veggies’ roots the maximum amount of growing space for the coming season, top off your beds with a quality soil/compost mix and till it in before sowing seed or setting out transplants.

Eliminate Competing Roots

If you have a mature tree anywhere near your raised bed garden, you are going to be in for a surprise when you till that new compost in!  It turns out that tree roots like that rich, fertile raised bed soil just as much as vegetables do and will seek it out. It is not uncommon for mature trees to have root systems that stretch horizontally two to three times the height of the tree, meaning a 50’ oak tree could have roots growing well over a hundred feet away from its trunk!   Therefore, unless you have a totally tree-free property, battling tree roots in your beds will be an ongoing issue.  For instance, each fall, when I transition from warm season to cool season crops, I find that my neighbor’s Laurel Oak has filled all three of my raised beds full of feeder roots glad to be free of the infertile sand.  This is a problem because those roots suck up vital water and nutrients meant for my vegetable crops, robbing them of reaching their full potential.   It is good practice to thoroughly till your beds’ soil and remove as many of the competing roots as you can.  Doing so will give your new plants a head start on becoming established before the competition returns.

Depleted soil and competition from tree roots are two of the biggest threats to your raised bed’s performance.  By planning ahead and accounting for both of these things prior to planting your fall garden, you will be more likely to reap a larger yields when harvest time comes! For more information on raised bed vegetable gardening and other horticultural questions, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.  Happy fall gardening!


Author: Daniel J. Leonard –

Horticulture Agent, Walton County

Daniel J. Leonard

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Summer Wildflowers of North Florida Roadsides

Summer Wildflowers of North Florida Roadsides

The network of backcountry roads winding through north Florida offer pleasant views of rolling pastures, fields of cotton, old tobacco barns, and, occasionally, a scenic overlook of our local “hills”. Many of these roads follow the original trails blazed by early settlers, or even Native Americans. Traveling along these small roads during the late summer, drivers are also presented with an abundance of wildflowers along the road. It’s fun to imagine travelers of past generations being awarded the same colorful displays in days of yore.


Traveling a country road in 1905 when they were all country roads! Likely enjoying same roadside wildflowers. Credit: State Archives of Florida – Hays.


Some of the most common roadside wildflowers of late summer include Spanish needles (Bidens alba), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), silkgrass (Pityopsis spp.), slender scratchdaisy (Croptilon divaricatum), goldenaster (Chrysopsis spp.), and, one that the early settlers wouldn’t have seen, showy rattlebox (Crotalaria spectabilis), an invasive, exotic species that was introduced in the 1920’s.


Spanish needles. Credit: Brent Sellers – UF/IFAS.


Goldenrod. Credit: Larry Williams – UF/IFAS.


Silkgrass. Credit: JC Raulston Arboretum – NC State University.


Scratch daisy. Credit: Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants – UF/IFAS.


Showy rattlebox. Credit: Doug Mayo – UF/IFAS.


Many of these roadside wildflowers can also be found in home lawns and landscapes, usually in areas infrequently mowed, such as fence lines and field edges. Except for showy rattlebox, these roadside wildflowers are native species adapted to dry, disturbed sites, like roadsides. These native species provide ecosystem services to many native insects and other pollinators, including honey bees. Depending upon site particularities, allowing these plants to thrive in the residential landscape can provide similar ecosystem services and similar reward of color as is found along country back-roads.


While most folks would probably just consider these plants weeds, that determination depends upon an individual’s situation and each gardener’s opinion. In one yard, maybe it’s a weed, but along the roadside, it’s called a wildflower! Certainly, if left to set seed, these plants will spread. Mowing prior to seed maturity can help keep them in check while still getting a temporary show of color. Again, any showy rattlebox should be controlled since it is an invasive, exotic species that can invade natural Florida ecosystems and smother native plants. It’s also toxic to many animals if ingested.


North Florida’s roadside wildflowers are a pleasure see while cruising the back roads. If recognized and allowed to grow in residential landscapes, these plants can provide the same aesthetic and environmental benefits.

If you are interested in what’s growing in your yard, or local roadside, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.


Author: Mark Tancig –

Mark Tancig

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Whiteflies Invade the Panhandle

Whiteflies Invade the Panhandle

Over the last month or so, home gardeners and commercial growers alike have noticed what look to be large dust particles floating through the air. It’s probably not uncommon to have inhaled a few or even a few hundred of these mysterious particles. Most likely, these “particles” aren’t dust at all but whiteflies instead. Whiteflies are small (less than a tenth of an inch long), white, soft-bodied insects.  They aren’t flies but are considered ‘true bugs’ by entomologists. The most common whitefly species in Northwest Florida is the silverleaf whitefly, also known as the sweetpotato whitefly. Whitefly numbers have exploded exponentially this year because of last years’ mild winter. These irksome insects feed on a variety of annuals, shrubs, vegetables and trees.

Whitefly adults and eggs.

Magnified whitefly adults and eggs. Photo Credit: James Castner, University of Florida/IFAS.

Whiteflies typically feed on the underside of leaves. Initially, disturbed leaves will become pale in color, then a sticky substance may develop on the surface of the leaves. This sticky substance is called honeydew. Honeydew is actually a sugary substance excreted by the whiteflies as part of their elimination process, similar to what aphids and scale insects produce. After honeydew is deposited, sooty mold develops to feed on this readily available sugar source. Sooty mold is a fungus that forms a gray to black colored coating on plant leaves.  It normally grows on leaves that were previously covered with honeydew. Sooty mold hinders the ability of leaves to absorb light and ultimately limits photosynthesis.

Pale squash leaves due to feeding from whiteflies.

Pale squash leaves due to feeding from whiteflies. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS.

So what should be done to control whiteflies? It depends on what is being grown. If whiteflies are present, the role of beneficial insects should be taken into consideration. Plenty of predatory insects such as lady bugs and green lacewings are around to feed on whiteflies. In fact, leaving the whiteflies alone on your trees and shrubs will attract more predatory insects. Below are some whitefly control methods that produce minimal damage to beneficial insect populations.

Whitefly Control in Vegetables

  • Sticky Traps – Yellow sticky traps are a good way to monitor whitefly populations and can help determine when insecticide application is appropriate.
  • Insecticidal Soaps – Insecticidal soaps are usually applied as a 1 to 2 percent solution (2½ to 5 tablespoons per gallon of water). It is important to follow the application directions on the label. Insecticidal soap should be applied in the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and the temperature is below 85°F. Some insecticidal soaps available at local lawn and garden centers include: Bonide Insecticidal Soap, Bonide Insecticidal Soap, and Bayer Advanced Natria Insecticidal Soap.
  • Horticultural Oils – Horticultural oils should be handled like insecticidal soaps. Like the soaps, they should be applied in the evening.  Some horticultural oils available at local lawn and garden centers include: Bonide All Seasons Spray Oil, Southern Ag Parafine Oil, and Garden Safe Neem Oil.
  • Other Insecticides – Harsher chemicals are not recommended for the home gardener, because whiteflies have become resistant to most products on the market. Use of broad spectrum insecticides may also contribute to an increase in whitefly populations because they kill beneficial predatory insects.

Hopefully winter will be cooler this year and the profuse whitefly population will be knocked back. Until then, we wish all home gardeners the best of luck with fall gardening!


Author: Matt Lollar –

Matt Lollar is the Jackson County Horticulture Agent. He has 5 years of experience with University of Florida/IFAS Extension and he began his career in Sanford, FL as the Seminole County Horticulture Agent. Matt is originally from Belle Fontaine, AL. He earned his MS and BS degrees in Horticulture Production from Auburn University.

Matt Lollar

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It’s Fall… Now what Do I Do with my Lawn?

It’s Fall… Now what Do I Do with my Lawn?

While yard work is important to maintain an attractive lawn, if done successfully, the resident can spend quality time in other pursuits like watching the wildlife from the front porch.

With the passing of September the end is in sight, well at least the end of summer, and hopefully summer-like weather. The hot humid days of August gave way to the hot humid days of September,now October, and the Florida Panhandle is finally experiencing cooler temperatures. At least temporarily.

Days have shortened noticeably and the plants have noticed. Foliage growth has slowed and seed production is in overdrive.

As the season slowly shifts, the needs and care for the lawn and landscape are changing too. Inputs need six months ago and environmental factors which were true in the spring are now being altered by the immutable and timeless forces of nature.

Fertilizer is one factor which must be considered in light of the dormant season’s approach. Inappropriate or excessive application will waste resources and end up in the water supply where it will do no good.

As many warm season grasses and plants are reducing their growth rates to prepare for winter, the need for nutrients slows. Nitrogen, the first number on a fertilizer tag’s list of ingredients percentages, is especially vulnerable to misuse by the well-intended but inexperienced or uninformed person.

Over application of nitrogen will promote the aggressive growth of tender green foliage in the lawn. If a frost or freeze occurs when the tender vegetation is presence, the plant will experience excessive damage or death.

The directions on home and garden fertilizer bags, and soil test report all recommend restricting or eliminating nitrogen application late in the growing season. This is sound advice.

Herbicide use changes in the late summer and autumn also. As with misapplied fertilizer, misused herbicides will waste resources and can end up in the water supply.

Weeds and other targets of herbicides must be actively growing for the herbicide to work effectively. Late summer and fall can present challenges to effectively applying herbicides.

With very few exceptions, plants must be actively growing for herbicides to work properly. Plants slowing towards dormancy will not absorb as much herbicide and may, species depending, be completely immune.

Herbicides do not work on plants which are under drought stress. It is important to remember early fall is the driest time of the year in panhandle Florida, nature’s way of forcing a fall growth shutdown.

Yard waste and grass clipping will help refresh mulch in flower beds and on tree root zones. The summer heat and humidity have combined with bacterial activity to breakdown the current supply of mulch.

The on-site utilization of yard waste as mulch or as a basis for compost is a good practice to establish. It will benefit the landscape and reduce the multiple layers of expenses required to collect, haul and dispose of this material.

If properly composted, the material reduces the chances of introducing weeds, insects and diseases which can be on commercial products. Another way to look at the subject is “What is produced in the Florida Panhandle stays in the Florida Panhandle…and saves everyone money in the process.

While Septembers early weeks were just as oppressively hot and humid as August, relief seems to be here. Be ready to spend the cooler days enjoying a private bit of paradise in Northwest Florida without worrying about problems which could have been avoided.

To learn more about getting the lawn and landscape ready for autumn, contact your UF/IFAS Extension Office.



Author: Les Harrison –

Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director, Agriculture and Natural Resources. He works with small and medium sized producers in the Big Bend region of north Florida on a wide range of topics. He has a Master’s of Science Degree in Agricultural Economics from Auburn University and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Journalism from the University of Florida.

Les Harrison

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Golden Fall in the Panhandle

Golden Fall in the Panhandle

Silkgrass Pityopsis spp. Picture by: Sheila Dunning

Each fall, nature puts on a brilliant show of color throughout the United States. As the temperatures drop, autumn encourages the “leaf peepers” to hit the road in search of the red-, yellow- and orange-colored leaves of the northern deciduous trees.

Here in the Florida Panhandle, fall color means wildflowers.  As one drives the roads it’s nearly impossible to not see the bright yellows in the ditches and along the wood’s edge.  Golden Asters (Chrysopsis spp.), Tickseeds (Coreopsis spp.), Silkgrasses (Pityopsis spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) and Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are displaying their petals of gold at every turn.  These wildflowers are all members of the Aster family, one of the largest plant families in the world.  For most, envisioning an Aster means a flower that looks like a daisy.  While many are daisy-like in structure, others lack the petals and appear more like cascading sprays.

So if you are one of the many “hitting the road in search of fall color”, head to open areas.  For wildflowers, that means rural locations with limited homes and businesses.  Forested areas and non-grazed pastures typically have showy displays, especially when a spring burn was performed earlier in the year.

With the drought we experienced, moist, low-lying areas will naturally be the best areas to view the many golden wildflowers.  Visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation website,, to see both what’s in bloom and the locations of the state’s prime viewing areas.

And if you are want to add native wildflowers and other Florida-friendly plants to your landscape join the Master Gardeners for their Fall Plant Sale to be held Saturday, October 14 from 8 am to noon at the Okaloosa County Extension Annex located at 127 SW Hollywood Blvd, Ft. Walton Beach.


Author: Sheila Dunning –

Sheila Dunning

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Fig Leaves Dropping Early?

Hopefully, by this time of year, most north Florida gardeners have harvested their figs and are enjoying fig preserves or fig bars. But if you’ve noticed your fig leaves dropping a little early, it may be a sign of the fungal disease Fig Rust (Cerotelium fici).

Figs are a great fruit tree for the north Florida home garden. Not only do they provide a tasty reward (if you can keep the birds and squirrels away), but they are fairly easy to maintain and are bothered by relatively few pests and diseases. One of the few diseases that can be common, however, is fig rust, especially when conditions are favorable. In the case of fig rust, a fungus, warm humid weather is what it likes and well, we have plenty of that.

Figs are a great fruit tree for North Florida. Credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS.


The first signs of the fig rust disease are small yellow to yellow-green spots/lesions on the upper surface of the leaf that turn a reddish-brown color as they get larger. A heavy infestation causes the leaves to turn yellow and drop early. While fig rust does not injure the fruit, repeat occurrences of premature leaf drop can adversely affect the overall health of the tree, resulting in yield loss. Another concern is that if the leaves drop too early, the tree will flush out with new growth heading into winter. This new growth can be injured by early freezes and cause a loss of fruit the following season.


Fig rust on leaves. Credit: UF/IFAS.


What can you do to prevent and/or cure fig rust? Unfortunately, once you see the yellowish-green/reddish-brown spots on the leaves, it’s too late to provide any control. As always, proper cultural practices can help. Pruning the tree to provide adequate airflow keeps the leaves as dry as possible during our humid summers. Remember to prune fig trees in Florida after fruit harvest, not in the dormant season, since fruit is borne on previous year’s growth. Another cultural control to prevent fig rust is to rake diseased leaves out from under the tree. The fungal spores in the fallen leaf litter pass the disease on to next year’s leaves. Other cultural controls include providing adequate moisture and placing a healthy dose of mulch around the tree. Figs require minimal fertilizer. Using a general complete fertilizer with micronutrients (such as a 10-10-10), young trees should receive 1 cup (1/2 pound) and mature trees 4-8 cups (2-4 pounds) per year.

There are currently no chemical controls approved for fig rust in Florida. The classic Bordeaux mix is recommended by various authors to be used as a preventative fungicide during the dormant season, before the lesions appear on the leaves. The Bordeaux mixture is a mix of copper sulfate, lime, and water in a 1:1:10 ratio and is considered an organic pesticide.  This mix has been used since the late 19th century and was discovered by accident after botanists and farmers realized that grapevines sprayed with the mix to deter theft had less fungal problems. As with any pesticide, be cautious when using. Overuse of copper-based fungicides can cause copper to build up in soils, leading to potential issues to plant and human health.

While figs are generally worry free for our area, fig rust is one disease to be on the lookout for. Good gardening practices can reduce the occurrence of this disease and ensure a bountiful harvest. For questions on growing figs or about the fig rust disease, visit the UF/IFAS EDIS website – – or contact your local Extension office.


Author: Mark Tancig –

Mark Tancig

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Smart Sampling

A glass jar with the lid secured is one method of bringing a live insect sample to your local Extension Office. Photo: JMcConnell, UF/IFAS

One of the roles of a Horticulture Extension Agent is to help identify pests found in the landscape. Weeds are fairly easy for people to sample, simply take some pictures or dig it up and bring it into the office, but what about insects?

Slow moving insects may be easy to photograph and if their size, shape, and coloration is very distinctive that may be enough for a good identification. But sometimes a photo isn’t worth a thousand words and the best way to get accurate identification is to bring in a physical sample.

The quality of the sample is going to either help or hinder with identification, so here are some tips:

  • Never leave samples in a hot car – insects desiccate and become brittle in intense heat. Some details such as number of antennae segments or tarsi on legs are used to positively identify insects; missing pieces can lead to misidentification.
  • Bring a live sample if it can be done safely and securely. Small, disposable plastic containers, jars with tightly sealing lids, and reused food or medicine containers work well.
  • Small insects such as ants can be collected using a paintbrush dipped in rubbing alcohol which can then be swirled to release the ants into a vial/jar containing a small amount of alcohol. Small soft bodied insects can be collected this way, but may lose their color which may impede identification.
  • Crushed or otherwise damaged samples should not be submitted.
  • Limit samples to landscape or household pests – your local Extension Office is not a medical facility and is not equipped to handle or process samples that contain bodily fluids, skin scrapings, or similar materials. Please consult a physician for suspected human parasites.

Other helpful information that can be used for identification is the location of the insect, behavior (active night/day), and food source if known.

If insects must be mailed, please follow packaging directions found in this publication Insect Identification Service.




Author: Julie McConnell –

UF/IFAS Bay County Horticulture Extension Agent I

Julie McConnell

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Gear Up for Leon County Extension’s Garden Educator Training Series

The Garden Educator Training Series helps garden leaders start or improve their school or community garden. Photo by Molly Jameson.


By Tiffany Torres

Tiffany Torres is the Family Nutrition Program Northwest District Food Systems Specialist with UF/IFAS Extension.

With the cooler months of fall upon us, school gardens across the Panhandle are beginning to awaken from their summer slumber. Soon, students and teachers will begin to replenish the soil, plant their seeds, and dive into an engaging edible education experience.

For these schools and communities, gardens are much more than just a few beds of carrots. School gardens serve as outdoor classrooms, bringing academic concepts to life in new and exciting ways, while also encouraging environmental stewardship. In addition, school gardens can expose students to lifelong healthy eating habits by inspiring them to try new fruits and vegetables. In time, the school garden can become a facet of school culture and pride, ultimately reinforcing an overall healthier school food environment for students, teachers, parents, and the broader community.

School gardens can inspire students to try foods, impacting their eating habits long-term. Photo by Molly Jameson.

To help support teachers and other school garden stakeholders on this journey, specialists at the University of Florida IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program developed a seasonal school and community garden training. The “Garden Educator Training Series” provides teachers and volunteers with tools for improving school garden education, enjoyment, and long-term outcomes. This monthly education and networking opportunity welcomes teachers who want to start and sustain school gardens, college students who want to volunteer with local gardening projects, and other garden enthusiasts, such as Master Gardeners, who want to lend their time to ensure the success of school and community gardens.

Each session includes three engaging components: 1) seasonally relevant, hands-on gardening skills; 2) curriculum and education connections; and 3) community organizing strategies to build team commitments. Sessions also include an opportunity to share successes and challenges amongst fellow attendees, resulting in a stronger school and community garden network. Each garden project leader will build a “Living History Binder,” which they will fill with resources throughout the series and use with their team to help organize their garden projects.

Through the Garden Educator Training Series, it is our hope that everyone involved will gain tangible and valuable skills to launch or improve their school or community garden projects. The program will give educators the tools necessary to design their gardens to be outdoor classrooms; promote health and wellness through gardening; facilitate community engagement; and teach students valuable life skills such as teamwork, cooperation, focus, and patience –  inspiring the next generation of “garden leaders, not just garden weeders.”

The Series provides teachers and volunteers networking opportunities and tools to improve school garden education. Photo by Molly Jameson.

Interested in participating in the Garden Educator Training Series? The Series is free of charge, and will take place at the Leon County Extension Office (615 Paul Russell Rd, Tallahassee, FL). Fall sessions are 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on September 14th, October 12th, November 9th, and November 30th. To register, visit the UF/IFAS Leon County Eventbrite website (

For further information, please contact the UF/IFAS Extension Office at Leon County by calling (850) 606-5200.


Author: Molly Jameson –

Molly Jameson

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