Gardening In The Panhandle

Florida Natives: Stokes’ Aster

Florida Natives: Stokes’ Aster

‘Mel’s Blue’ Stokes’ Aster. Photo credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS Extension.

Florida is home to some of the most beautiful flowering perennials. An exceptional one for the panhandle landscape is Stokes’ aster (Stokesia laevis) as it is showy, deer resistant and easy to care for. Unlike other perennials, it generally is evergreen in our region so it provides interest all year.

Upright habit and profuse blooming of ‘Mel’s Blue’ Stokes’ Aster. Photo credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS Extension.

The original species of Stokes’ aster has purplish-blue flowers but cultivars have been developed with flowers in shades of white, yellow, rosy-pink and a deep blue. The flowers are large, eye-catching beauties that bloom in spring and summer. They also last well as a cut flower. You will find that bees and butterflies will appreciate their nectar! Remove spent flowers after blooms have faded in order to encourage repeat flowering.

A location in your landscape that provides part sun with well-drained rich soil is best for this perennial. Stokes’ aster is native to moist sites so it does best with regular moisture.

Stokes’ aster attracts butterflies like this black swallowtail. Photo credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS Extension.

As with many perennials, the plant will form a large clump after a few years; this gives you the opportunity to divide the clump in the fall and spread it out in your landscape or share the joy with your gardening buddies.

For more information:

Gardening with Perennials in Florida







Author: Mary Derrick –

Residential Horticulture Extension Agent for Santa Rosa County

Mary Derrick

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It’s Raining, It’s Pouring ……..

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring ……..

Recent rains in the panhandle have kept many gardeners indoors. While we’re mostly watching the rain from inside, there are some lawn and landscape tasks to consider.


The most obvious is to turn off any automatic irrigation systems. Although rain shut-off devices are required for all automatic irrigation systems in Florida, many homeowners’ systems are not properly installed, are turned off, or are absent all together. Irrigating during times of adequate rainfall not only wastes a precious natural resource, but it can also be damaging to your turf and landscape plants by creating the perfect conditions for disease, especially fungi.

A rain shut-off device ensures that your irrigation system doesn’t come on during rainy weather. Photo by: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

Something else to consider during all of this rain are potential mosquito breeding sites. Our most irritating mosquito species, those day-biting Asian tiger mosquitoes, love to breed in any small or large, water-holding containers around the house, including birdbaths, plant pot saucers, watering cans, five-gallon buckets, tarps, rain barrels, and the list goes on. The best method of control is to drain these containers every three to five days to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching. Another way to reduce larvae from hatching is to use a Bti product, which come in donut shaped dunks or as crumbles that can be sprinkled in the container. Bti controls mosquito, blackfly, and fungus gnat larvae, but does not harm beneficial insects and animals like birds, bees, butterflies, lizards, and frogs. If mosquitoes from the swamp or wetland behind your lot worry you, remember that those ecosystems have a diversity of insects that prey on mosquito larvae. Those containers in the yard do not have predators and can be a large source of the most aggravating mosquito species. For control of larger areas, including those natural ecosystems, contact your local mosquito control agency for assistance.

Bti bits are a way to prevent mosquito larvae from becoming biting adults. Photo by: Mark Tancig, UF/IFAS.

If you like to play in the rain a little, this is a good time to walk around and observe any runoff issues in the yard (make sure to do this only when it’s safe!). The ideal situation is to have runoff drain away from the house and percolate into landscaped areas. When surveying the yard in the rain, things to look for include areas of standing water (that could be a good location for a rain garden) and areas where erosion may be occurring (consider using berms or plantings to better direct and slow the water). Before doing any major drainage work, always check with your local building department. Some municipalities may require permits to ensure your improvements do not affect your neighbors or others downstream.

Rain gardens can turn a low, soggy spot into an aesthetic addition to your yard. Photo by: Courtney Schoen, TAPP.

If you have any questions about rain shut-off devices, mosquito control, or stormwater runoff, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for more information. Enjoy the rain; it will be sunny and hot before you know it!


Author: Mark Tancig –

Mark Tancig

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Celebrating and Attracting Pollinators

Celebrating and Attracting Pollinators

Wildflowers near Live Oak, Florida. Image Credit, UF / IFAS

Unfortunately, reports from the National Research Council say that the long-term population trends for some North American pollinators are “demonstrably downward”.

Ten years ago the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated “National Pollinator Week” to help raise awareness.  National Pollinator Week (June 19-25, 2017) is a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them.  Habitat loss for pollinators due to human activity poses an immediate and frequently irreversible threat.  Other factors responsible for population decreases include: invasive plant species, broad-spectrum pesticide use, disease, and weather.

So what can you do?

  • Install “houses” for birds, bats, and bees.
  • Avoid toxic, synthetic pesticides and only apply bio-rational products when pollinators aren’t active.
  • Provide and maintain small shallow containers of water for wildlife.
  • Create a pollinator-friendly garden.
  • Plant native plants that provide nectar for pollinating insects.

There’s a new app for the last two.

The Bee Smart® Pollinator Gardener is your comprehensive guide to selecting plants for pollinators based on the geographical and ecological attributes of your location (your eco-region) just by entering your zip code.  Filter your plants by what pollinators you want to attract, light and soil requirements, bloom color, and plant type.  This is an excellent plant reference to attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, bats, and other pollinators to the garden, farm, school and every landscape.
The University of Florida also provides a low-cost app for Florida-Friendly Plant Selection at: or go on-line to create a list of these same plants at:

Not only can you find out which plants attract pollinators, you will be given the correct growing conditions so you can choose ‘the right plant for the right place’.

Remember, one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat is made possible by pollinators.


Author: Sheila Dunning –

Sheila Dunning

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Workshop on New and Re-emerging Rose Diseases and Pests, July 11, 1-5 pm.

Workshop on New and Re-emerging Rose Diseases and Pests, July 11, 1-5 pm.

Come to this free workshop to learn about the latest results of University of Florida and national research on roses. Receive hands-on training on symptoms and management of rose rosette disease, rose mosaic disease, crown gall, and rose pests.


FL Pesticide CEUs, FNGLA CEUs and GA Pesticide CEUs have been applied for!


This program is geared for nursery and greenhouse growers, landscapers, municipal maintenance personnel, Extension personnel, Rosarians, rose enthusiasts and science teachers. Sponsored by Farm Credit of Northwest Florida and Harrell’s.


To register for this FREE event, please go to:




Author: Gary Knox –

Gary Knox is an Extension Specialist and Professor of Environmental Horticulture with the University of Florida at the North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy. Dr. Knox’s research interests focus on evaluating species and cultivars of woody plants for their invasive potential as well as for ornamental characteristics. In addition to research plantings, Dr. Knox is working with a nonprofit volunteer group to develop “Gardens of the Big Bend,” a series of botanical, teaching and evaluation gardens at the Center.

Gary Knox

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Frequent Rains Induce Slime Mold in Panhandle Lawns

Frequent Rains Induce Slime Mold in Panhandle Lawns

Slime Mold Sporangia. Image Courtesy Matthew Orwat

Although black or white streaks are shocking when they appear on an otherwise healthy lawn,  slime molds are rarely harmful.

Slime mold is actually caused by the small round fruiting bodies of a special type of fungal-like organisms called Myxomycetes. While regularly present in the soil, they usually make a visual appearance on warm humid days in late spring or early summer after extended periods of rain. This extended period of heat and humidity, currently being experienced in the Florida Panhandle, initiates the perfect climate for slime mold development.

As depicted in the picture, slime mold makes the lawn look like it was just spray-painted with black or grey paint.  They can sometimes be pink, white, yellow or brown as well. The round fruiting bodies, called sporangia, carry the spores which will give rise to the next generation of the mold. After a few days the sporangia will shrivel up, release the spores and leave no noticeable trace on the lawn.

Closeup: Slime Mold in Centipedegrass. Image courtesy Matthew Orwat

Currently, no fungicide exists to control slime mold because chemical control is not necessary. An excellent method to speed up the dissipation of slime mold is to mow or rake the lawn lightly. This will disturb the spores and hasten their departure. Another effective removal method is to spray the lawn with a forceful stream of water.  This process washes off the slime mold sporangia and restores the lawn to its former dark green beauty.

Excessive thatch accumulation also increases the probability of slime mold occurrence.

For more information consult your local county extension agent consult the UF / IFAS Slime Mold Fact Sheet, or read the Alabama Cooperative Extension publication Slime Mold on Home Lawns.

Slime Mold in Centipedegrass. Image Courtesy Matthew Orwat


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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Plan Before Fertilizing a Lawn

Plan Before Fertilizing a Lawn

Fertilizer spreader use is in full swing throughout the Florida panhandle

Fertilizing a lawn properly in the summer can enhance the landscape without inducing disease or harming the environment .

One universal activity is seasonal lawn and landscape maintenance. While some consider it a chore, many view it as a means to enhancing their personal environment.

The list of tasks are, for the most part, standard with few surprises. Raking leaves and pine straw, replacing shrubs which did not make it through the winter, and fertilizing the lawn and landscape.

While a routine undertaking, applying fertilizer requires thought and consideration to be effective without negative consequences. It should be a deliberate and well-planned accomplishment which is science based.

The proper selection of a fertilizer should be based on a soil test. Every UF/IFAS Extension Office has supplies for pulling and submitting a soil sample for evaluation.

The results, which can come via mail or e-mail, will tell the homeowner what nutritional deficiencies exist in their lawn and landscape. Based on the type of grass or shrubs, the report will deliver the information on the fertilizer analysis needed for optimum plant performance.

With this information in hand, the homeowner can visit a local retailer who can provide the product which meets the needs of the landscape without wasting excess nutrients. Excess soil nutrients can easily be relocated to bodies of water when storm water washes it downstream.

Homeowners have several types of fertilize from which to choose for use on their lawn. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Dry blend fertilizer is usually the least expensive and is easy to find in the market place. It is a mixture of minerals and compounds which are combined to produce a particular analysis, such as 10-10-10.

This analysis is ten percent nitrogen, ten percent phosphorus, and ten percent potassium with the remaining 70 percent being micronutrients and inert carrier. Applied correctly, it can be effective at delivering the needed nutrients.

It is most effective when applied several times throughout the growing season. The grass and shrubs will then have a continuous supply of the needed nutrients over time.

Soil test kit available from your local Extension office. Photo: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS.

One potential problem with dry blend fertilizer is the particle size of the different nutrients. If irregular, they can separate during transportation to the retailer.

This can be easily corrected by the homeowner. Just pour the contents of the bag into a container and mix using a can or shovel.

Dry slow-release fertilizers are gaining popularity, but they are more expensive. They have a sulfur or polymer coating on the particles which allows for the slow release of the nutrients.

A single application can last for up to six months which frees the homeowner to pursue other activities. The most common use of this product is with shrubs and potted plants.

Liquid fertilizer concentrates are available, but the convenience comes at a high cost. It is easily diluted for use, but uniform application over a large area can be challenging.

No matter which form is used, proper application will grow good results. A healthy and well maintained lawn and landscape leave more time for other springtime pursuits.

To learn more about the fertilizer for your landscape, contact your county agent and refer to this section on our website devoted to lawn fertilization.




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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Landscaping in Coastal Areas

Landscaping in Coastal Areas

Salt shear and onshore breezes often cause coastal maritime forests to grow at a slant away from the coast. Credit: Florida Master Naturalist Program

People from other parts of the country often move into Florida with expectations of their landscape beyond its capabilities. Those gorgeous peonies that grew up north or the perfect tomatoes they grew in California seem to wither in the heat or succumb to any number of insect or fungal pests. Adapting to our conditions takes listening to those with more experience, changing old habits or varieties and definitely adjusting expectations. Once you understand what the north Florida climate requires, you might be pleasantly surprised with a bumper crop of lemons or a thriving hibiscus that would never have worked in Michigan.

The same idea applies to landscaping on the beach or near areas of saltwater. Particularly on barrier islands like Perdido Key, Santa Rosa Island, and the coastal islands around Apalachicola, the influence of salt spray and hot, dry, sandy soils cannot be underestimated. If you have ever looked closely at the shape of the mature oak trees on the back sides of sand dunes, you’ll notice they’re shorter and tend to lean and grow away from the beach. This is due partially to the onshore breeze that steadily blows off the water, but also due to a phenomenon called salt shear. Salt shear occurs in areas where breaking waves release salt, which evaporates from water droplets and blows into the landscape. Unless specifically adapted to living in a saline environment, the salt can halt growth of the plants receiving the bulk of the spray. Many plants adapt to this by sealing up any vulnerable growing tips and sending energy for growth to the other side, resulting in a sloped shape. Land further inland from the Gulf will have consecutively less salt spray to endure.

Keep in mind that the soil on a barrier island is highly porous; it does not hold water nor nutrients well. The best option is to look at what grows there naturally, and select some of the most attractive and hardy choices for a home or commercial landscape. Knowing that a residence or commercial business is located within these environmental conditions, the best way to ensure success is to work with your surroundings instead of against them.

Click to view slideshow.

Below are a handful salt-tolerant options to consider.

Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis): The yellow-blooming beach or dune sunflower will reseed and spread along as a hardy groundcover.

Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris): Muhly grass is a native clumping grass commonly used in Florida landscapes. It has showy pinkish-purple blooms in mid-fall.

Beach cordgrass (Spartina patens): Beach cordgrass is a native grass that serves as a sand stabilizer. While not particularly showy, it can serve as a good foundation plant.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens): These evergreen shrubs are extraordinarily hearty and long-lived. They produce a fruit that is an important food source for wildlife.

False rosemary (Conradina canescens): This evergreen shrub blooms purple, attracts wildlife, and is a hardy native species.

Firebush (Hamelia patens): Firebush has long-lasting red blooms that attract hummingbirds and native butterflies.

Blanketflower (Gaillardia pulchella): These colorful wildflowers attract pollinators like bees and butterflies and are extremely drought and salt tolerant.

Sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa): This ground-running plant has colorful, spherical pink blooms and attracts bees. The delicate leaves of the plant are sensitive to touch, and will fold up when touched.


For more information on salt-tolerant coastal plants and trees in our area along with cold-tolerant palms, contact your local Extension agent or Native Plant Society.


Author: Carrie Stevenson –

Coastal Sustainability Agent, Escambia County Extension

Carrie Stevenson

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Healthy and Delicious, Oyster Mushrooms Can be Grown at Home

Healthy and Delicious, Oyster Mushrooms Can be Grown at Home

Following basic instructions, grow oyster mushrooms using sterilized straw, a plastic bag, oyster mushroom spawn, and water. Photo by Sunny Liao.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) – which have nothing to do with oysters besides their similar shape – are some of the most delicate, subtlety flavored, and easiest to prepare mushrooms of the culinary world.

They can easily be fried, stir-fried, or braised within a matter of minutes in broths, vinegar, wines, and sauces; or added to soups, stuffed, or mixed with chopped garlic. Other mushrooms, such as shiitake, are sturdier and impart a meatier flavor and texture to a dish. Oyster mushrooms, especially those lighter in color, pair well with seafood or a white meat. Highly perishable, you will want to freeze oyster mushrooms after sautéing with butter or oil to preserve, or dehydrate them to enjoy at a later date.

In addition to being an easy mushroom to prepare, oyster mushrooms are a great source of fiber, protein, and many vitamins and minerals, as well as an excellent source of the antioxidant ergothioneine.

Oyster mushrooms can come in many shades, from cream-colored, to gray, golden, tan, and brown. Their white colored gills, when present, extend from beneath the cap down to their very short stems. They are often described as smelling slightly like licorice and can grow up to about nine inches, but are best consumed young when tender and mild.

Oyster mushrooms grow in many subtropical and temperate environments, commonly found in nature growing in layers, decomposing the wood of dying hardwood trees. This decomposition benefits the ecosystem, as the mushrooms return nutrients and minerals back into the soil.

Interestingly, oyster mushrooms are one of the few known carnivorous mushrooms. The mycelia of the fungi can consume and digest nematodes, which is how it is thought the oyster mushrooms acquire nitrogen.

Arguably one of the best qualities of oyster mushrooms are the ease to which they can be cultivated at home. Using sterilized straw, a plastic bag, oyster mushroom spawn, water, and following basic instructions, oyster mushroom can be produced in as little as two weeks!

You can learn all about oyster mushroom production on the Penn State Extension page: Cultivation of Oyster Mushrooms (

Once you have the materials gathered, follow this guide, developed by UF/IFAS Suwannee County Extension, to prepare oyster mushrooms bags at home: Preparation of Oyster Mushroom Bags (

As well as being healthy and delicious, oyster mushroom cultivation is fun, and just needs a small amount of space and effort!



Author: Molly Jameson –

Molly Jameson

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Ground Pearls, the Peril of Local Lawns

Ground Pearls, the Peril of Local Lawns

Typical ground pearl damage to lawn. Photo Credit: Larry Williams

There are numerous reasons why maintaining a North Florida lawn is challenging and ultimately frustrating.

One such reason is ground pearls.

Ground pearls, small-scale insects that bother turfgrass roots, are soil dwelling pests that are not much of a problem in northern lawns. But they are quite the problem in North Florida lawns.

Most people, having never heard of ground pearls, may blame weeds, mole crickets and a multitude of other possible causes for their lawn’s demise. But in the last two to three years, this insect seems to have become more of a problem in many of our lawns, including mine.

Unfortunately, there is no effective chemical control for ground pearls in lawns.

Ground pearls feed on roots of bermudagrass, bahiagrass, St. Augustinegrass and zoysiagrass but prefer centipedegrass. They suck juices from the roots. Their feeding eventually causes areas of the lawn to thin and die out to bare ground, especially when the grass is under stress due to drought, nutritional deficiencies, etc.

Reddish adult female ground pearl & immature “pearl” stage. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Many times, the dying areas are somewhat circular or serpentine in pattern. Sometimes the circular areas coalesce, forming larger, irregular shaped dying areas. Weeds tend to invade infested areas.

The quote below, taken from a UF/IFAS Extension publication on this insect, provides some insight into their life cycle. “Clusters of pinkish-white eggs, covered in a white waxy sac, are laid in the soil from March to June. Tiny crawlers attach to roots and cover themselves with a hard, yellowish to purple, globular shell. These “pearls” range in size from a grain of sand to about 1/16 inch. They may occur as deep as 10 inches in the soil. The adult female is 1/16 inch long, pink in color, with well-developed forelegs and claws. Adult males are rare, tiny, gnat-like insects. One generation may last from 1 to 2 years.”

It is the immature stage (nymphs), which look somewhat like tiny pearls from which they get the “ground pearl” name. In this stage, they look like tiny shiny pearls once they are uncovered and exposed to sunlight. They are less than a BB in size. They overwinter in the “pearl” stage.

The ineffectiveness of insecticides is at least partly due to the ground pearl’s ability to avoid insecticides because of being protected in the soil and because of the prolonged protective “pearl” stage of its life cycle.

Since there are currently no biological or chemical controls that work, it’s recommended to minimize lawn stress and maintain proper fertilization and irrigation to help grass tolerate the damage.

Additional information on ground pearls is available at the following UF/IFAS Extension publication “Ground Pearls”.


Author: Larry Williams –

Larry Williams is the County Extension Director and Residential Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Okaloosa County.

Larry Williams

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Not All Palm Fertilizers Are The Same

It is common in Northwest Florida for palms to show signs of nutrient deficiencies. In general our sandy soil is often nutrient poor and available nutrients can easily move out of soils with frequent rainfall.  In landscapes where fertilization is occurring, often the wrong types of fertilizer are applied.   Fertilizer miss-application actually increases nutrient problems for the palm.

Palms can be deficient in many nutrients but the most common deficiencies we see in landscapes are from inadequate amounts potassium and magnesium. The simple solution would be to purchase a fertilizer labeled for palms to correct the problem.  The difficulty is that most easily available fertilizers for palms do not have the correct form of nutrients that are required for the problems.  With the exception of nitrogen, all other nutrients are in a quick release form so while the slow release nitrogen lasts for 2-3 months, all other nutrients have been used up.  In response, the palm is encouraged to grow by the nitrogen but does not have enough of the other critical nutrients to carry out vital plant functions.  What we see is often older leaves that are yellowing, browning, and die off before they should because the plant is pulling any available potassium and magnesium from old fronds to support new growth.  Without the application of proper nutrients to the soil, the deficiency can continue until even new fronds are affected or the palm dies.

The fertilizer used for lawns does not have all the slow release and correct forms of nutrients for the palms. Older leaves turn yellow and brown indicating potassium deficiency. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County.

There is a solution that will help keep your palms healthy and attractive. Make sure you choose a specially designed fertilizer that has all nutrients in slow release form.  Look for an analysis such as 8-2-12-4 (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium-Magnesium).  Also read further on the label for Polymer Coated Sulfate of Potash, Magnesium Sulfate (Kieserite), and Chelate (Iron EDTA).  These are the forms of nutrients that will be beneficial to your palms.

Look in the area ‘Derived From’ (outlined in blue) on your fertilizer label to find the forms of nutrients. Photo by Dr. Monica Elliott, US/IFAS Extension.

If you have a mixed landscape where the palms are planted in the lawn, be sure to keep all lawn fertilizers out of the root zone of the palms. Lawn fertilizers do not have the correct forms of nutrients for palms. Remember also that palms roots extend many feet beyond the palm canopy so your ‘no lawn fertilizer zone’ may be past the mulch ring.

The recommendation from the University of Florida is 1.5 pounds of fertilizer over a 100 square foot area. Broadcast this on top of the ground and lightly water after application.  In North Florida, you will likely apply the correct palm fertilizer about at least two times in May and end of August or 1st of September.  If you are not able to use a palm fertilizer with the correct form of slow release nutrients, it is best not to fertilize palms at all.


Author: Beth Bolles –

Horticulture Agent, Escambia County

Beth Bolles

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